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Whale of an auction at marine centerThe Poulsbo facility hopes to bring in funds to upgrade its tanks and displays.

Several years ago, a dead gray whale washed ashore in Liberty Bay. Alarmed neighbors asked that it be carted away before it began to smell.But Poulsbo Marine Science Center members smelled something much different: opportunity.The whale's skeleton now hangs from the center's ceiling, the centerpiece of a facility now looking for new funds and members among Bainbridge and North Kitsap residents.Almost everybody under the age of 40 on Bainbridge - or Kitsap County for that matter - has probably had classes there, says Dick Krutch of Bainbridge Island.The center is a regular part of the curriculum for several grade levels in the Bainbridge Island School District, Krutch says, and nearly half of the center's 400 members are island residents.When the whale surfaced, more than a dozen volunteers hauled the carcass onto a nearby driveway. They quickly slapped the sobriquet of Slick onto the unfortunate animal because of the difficulties of standing upright as the animal's bodily fluids began coating the concrete. Armed with masks, raingear and strong stomachs, they resembled a late-20th century version of Moby Dick as they began hacking into the corpse, flensing blubber and removing internal organs.When they'd finished, the bones were submerged in shallow water to allow crabs and other marine creatures to complete the natural process of picking them bare. Eventually, the 24-foot-long now-pristine skeleton was reassembled and hoisted overhead in the center's main lobby.This literal hands-on approach characterizes many of the center's other activities. Kids are encouraged to please touch, despite the chorus of yuks that such an invitation may evoke among the more squeamish. Dixie's centerFounded shortly after the 1962 Seattle World's Fair by Dixie Lee Ray - who eventually became Washington governor - the center moved to its current Front Street location in 1991.Some of the exhibits are starting to show signs of wear, said board member Nancy Sefton.So the center is embarking on an ambitious fundraising program to raise $175,000 to upgrade existing exhibits and add newer ones that will increase its already extensive interactive experiences. A typical modular exhibit, for example, might contain a media display with CD-ROM, small touch pool, aquarium and interpretive graphics.In addition, they hope to replace the current rectangular tanks to create what Sefton terms a more real tidepool appearance.The plan is to suspend graphics above the tanks, so students touching sea anemones and starfish need merely to glance up to learn more about what they're exploring.A corporate sponsor wishing to finance a new exhibit will have its name and logo permanently attached to the display, she said. As a typical non-profit organization, Sefton said, the center receives no government funding and is entirely self-supporting.OceanFest, the fourth annual dinner/auction fundraiser for the Marine Science Center, will be held Oct. 6 at Poulsbo's Sons of Norway Hall.Krutch and Sefton hope that the event generates at least $15,000 to begin the process of upgrading exhibits, as well as increasing the center's outreach programs.The $29.95 ticket price includes a salmon dinner, and open no-host bar will also be available. The auction - both live and silent - includes more than 200 items. More than half of those have been donated by Bainbridge residents, Krutch said.Auction items include lunch with Gov. Gary Locke, cruise trips, British Columbia fishing adventures, special gifts from prominent Northwest politicians, 18 holes of golf for four, and art and sculpture.Others items are seats on a Foss tug during next year's big Elliott Bay tugboat race; 200 daffodils planted by the donor; a Turkish rug; a signed NBA basketball; and a gourmet geoduck clam dinner that includes shellfish harvesting lessons at the waterfront home of the chef.The Seattle Dixieland band Ain't No Heaven Seven, a group comprised of practicing and retired physicians, will provide live music.The Sons of Norway Hall is located at 18891 Front Street, at the north end of Poulsbo's main street along the waterfront. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the center at (360) 779-5549 or Krutch at 842-3140.

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