The Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s Puffin Cruises, which explore the various birds and sea life that occupy Protection Island near the mouth of Discovery Bay, kick off their summer season Saturday. (PTMSC)

Puffin cruises to circle Protection Island

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is bringing back its annual Puffin Cruises beginning Saturday.

The cruises will run every Saturday night through Aug. 12.

Cruises leave from Point Hudson Marina at 6 p.m. for a three-hour tour around the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is at the mouth of Discovery Bay.

Tickets for the Saturday tours are $80 per person, $60 for members of the marine science center or the Audubon Society. Reservations are required.

The tours are guided by naturalists from the marine science center, who provide commentary during the cruise about the local wildlife and their habitat.

“These cruises are our most popular wildlife viewing cruises all year,” said Janine Boire, Marine Science Center executive director, in a press release.

“We are in the southern-most part of the nesting range for tufted puffins. At this time of year, there are nesting pairs on Protection Island and Tatoosh Island.”

In the summer, Protection Island hosts roughly 100 different marine bird species which flock to the island to live, breed or just rest during a long migration, the marine science center said.

The island plays host to two colonies of tufted puffins, which can be found well into the northwestern coast of Alaska and south to California.

The colonies on Protection Island are the last two that consistently return to the Puget Sound area, according to the marine science center.

Protection Island also boasts one of the world’s largest nesting colonies of rhinoceros auklets, a close relative of the puffin.

While there are some migratory populations, close to 70 percent of the bird species found on the island are native to the Puget Sound area, according to Brian Kay, the marketing and development coordinator for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Many of the local inland seabirds found in the Puget Sound region nest on Protection Island, including glaucous-winged gulls, the marine science center said.

Along with the large variety of birds, a number of marine mammals summer on the beaches of Protection Island. More than 1,000 harbor seals use the island to rear and rest their new seal pups and elephant seals will often haul themselves out to molt during the summer months.

The island was established as the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge in 1982.

Reservations can be made online at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-puffintour or via e-mail at cruises@ptmsc.org.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.