An estimated 600 people of all ages from the Puget Sound region and beyond attended Flipper Fest on Alki Beach, Sunday, May 31, 2015. There was truly something for everyone at the educational outreach event held at the Alki Bathhouse and sponsored by Seal Sitters MMSN. The underlying theme of Flipper Fest was marine debris and pollution and ways we can all help marine life.

A non-stop steam of kids waited to be “tattooed” with seals, orcas and turtles by an immensely popular face-painter. As they stood patiently in line outside the Bathhouse, there were opportunities to talk with orca experts from NOAA Protected Resources and The Whale Trail about the life-size, inflatable replica of J-pod member, J-26 or “Mike”.

Inside the building, the public and volunteers discovered how scientists study killer whale populations. They were challenged to match up photos of orca fins and saddle patches with resident J-pod whales in group photos - just like the researchers do to identify orcas in the wild. As they did so, NOAA educator Peggy Foreman shared facts and life history about each animal.

Exhibitors brought an extraordinary array of artifacts for the public to examine (photo above: WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations intern shows off a sea turtle). Among the many marine biology items on display were fully articulated skeletons of an adult harbor seal and male sea otter, an ear bone from a gray whale, and 8-ft long piece of baleen from a bowhead whale, huge teeth from a sperm whale and flipper bones from a harbor porpoise.

Representatives from NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network were on hand to talk about responses to live and dead marine mammals, as well as the upcoming harbor seal pupping season and what to do if you see a seal pup on the beach. Groups included Seal Sitters MMSN, Sno-King Marine Mammal Response, MaST Stranding Team, WDFW-MMI and Cascadia Research (for a map and contact info for the networks, click here). Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalists helped folks identify the tiniest of beach critters, so they can enjoy the beach without harming them.

There were lots of opportunities to learn not only about the marine life of Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest, but also how to protect it from the many dangers of marine debris, derelict fishing gear and pollution. In the “Let’s Talk Trash” corner which was draped in gill nets, crab lines and buoys, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Tox-ick, Seal Sitters and Northwest Straits showed informative videos with interactive displays. Adults and kids alike took the “Escape Cord Challenge” and learned how crab pots work - and about the urgent efforts being made to reduce the number of whale entanglements in crab gear.

Experts explained about trash and toxins that enter our waterways from streets, sidewalks and sewers. By sharing powerful information and adopting simple lifestyle changes, we can all work together to make our marine environment safer for wildlife. People left the event empowered with the knowledge to make a difference.

After months of preparation, almost 50 Seal Sitters volunteers pitched in on Sunday to make the event a success. Volunteers began arriving as early as 9am toting ladders, banners, signage, iPads, refreshments and their own personal tv monitors to display videos.

Like clockwork, tables were set up according to pre-planned diagrams, including a kids art area and raffle booth. The in-progress bottle cap artworks (inspired by East Coast artist Denise Hughes) were placed on easels next to hundreds of colorful caps, awaiting children’s imagination. Thanks to Denise who donated a print of “Seal Pup” bottle cap piece, created especially for this event from a photo of seal pup Shanti. It adorned the entrance from Alki Beach. Volunteers directed arriving exhibitors and helped unload vehicles and provide any additional assistance.

Promptly at 1pm, the yellow “protected marine mammal” tape was removed from the entrances and Flipper Fest opened to the public. The Bathhouse immediately filled to capacity with an excited crowd. Even though the weather turn brisk and breezy later in the afternoon, the event continued to draw a good audience throughout the day.

Special thanks to everyone who participated - the Flipper Fest exhibitors who so elevated this event with such amazing displays and expertise, the many area businesses who donated prizes for the raffle drawings and raised funds for Seal Sitters’ stranding and educational activities and the many people who purchased the $1 tickets.

Thanks to our dedicated Seal Sitters volunteers who made this event possible.

For related blubberblog posts listing all participants and contributing businesses and additional photos, please click here.
(respond to all marine mammals, dead or alive)
Seal Sitters MMSN
NOAA West Coast MMSN
Sno-King Marine Mammal Response
WA Department of Fish and Wildlife - Marine Mammal Investigations
(a leading researcher of emerging diseases in marine mammals)
PAWS Wildlife Center, rehabilitation partner of NOAA MMSN.

CETACEANS (whales, dolphins, porpoises)
Cascadia Research Collective performs research to protect marine mammals, with a focus on cetaceans.
American Cetacean Society, Puget Sound Chapter with a special focus on local orcas and environment.
NOAA Protected Resources conserves, protects and recovers species of marine mammals and sea life.
The Whale Trail inspires stewardship of whales and environment by providing a network of viewing sites.

Puget Soundkeeper Alliance actively patrols and monitors the health of Puget Sound.
NW Straits Foundation/Derelict Fishing Gear Program removes dangerous marine debris from our waters.
Tox-ick is dedicated to preventing stormwater and polluted runoff through video documentation.

Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalists

Thanks to all the exhibitors who participated in Flipper Fest and the businesses who so generously donated raffle prizes!
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In 2013, Seal Sitters completed a grant project entitled "The Year of the Seal". The intent of the educational project was to raise awareness about the health of the Salish Sea and its marine life. Learn more here, including a video showing the intricate step-by-step creation of "Sentinels of the Sound" sculpture.