Sandra Dubpernell

2018 Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Text by Dan Pedersen

When a party of tourists asked Sandy Dubpernell when the next Orca capture event was scheduled in Penn Cove, anyone else might have thrown up their hands. The question came her way at Coupeville Wharf, site of a large marine education display describing the horrific Orca captures of the 1970s.

“Mustering every bit of composure, Sandy quietly explained that the capture of Orcas is illegal in the United States,” said her friend and fellow Sound Water Steward, Marty Crowley, who nominated Dubpernell to be Island County’s 2018 Coastal Volunteer of the Year. On Saturday, Feb. 3, it was announced before a packed house of more than 600 attendees at Sound Waters University, held at South Whidbey High School, that Dubpernell was chosen for the award.

“I’ve always been amazed at Sandy’s patience as she explains, again and again, why Orcas are endangered and what it means when she calls them an indicator species,” Crowley said.

Dubpernell, a stained glass artist at Penn Cove Gallery, moved her studio and her life from New York to Coupeville in 1988 and began looking for ways to volunteer in the community. By 1993 she had graduated from the WSU Beach Watchers program, and she’s been volunteering and teaching about Island County’s marine life ever since.

 “She became involved in the Rosie the Gray Whale project and found her niche –- responding to dead, smelly creatures on the beach,” said Susan Berta, co-founder of Orca Network and the Langley Whale Center.  “She has a scientific mind, the imagination and creativity of an artist and photographer, toughness and stamina, curiosity and drive to learn and investigate everything about the marine world, and the ability to  have a great time while accomplishing unpleasant tasks with a sense of humor!”

“She’s also very organized, meticulous and takes pride in the work she accomplishes to help conserve marine mammal life around Whidbey Island,” adds Dr. Stephanie Norman, veterinarian for the local stranding network.

Among Dubpernell’s many volunteer roles, she is coordinator of the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network in addition to serving on the board of Orca Network. She is also a regular docent, since 2014, at the Langley Whale Center where she curates the center’s extensive marine mammal specimens.

A member of Sound Water Stewards, Dubpernell is the eighth county resident honored since 2011, when the Island County Marine Resources Committee and WSU Extension – Island County created the Jan Holmes Coastal Volunteer of the Year award. Today, Sound Water Stewards also co-sponsors the award as a third partner.

Holmes, for whom the award is named, joined the young Beach Watcher program in 1990 and, within a few years, earned her masters degree in marine biology. She led the effort in shoreline intertidal monitoring that resulted in Island County having more information about its shoreline than probably any other county in all of Puget Sound, according to Don Meehan, former director of WSU Extension – Island County. She was a leader of the all-volunteer eelgrass monitoring team, a very technical group. Like Dubpernell, Holmes loved teaching and loved helping others.

Preceding Dubpernell as winners of the Coastal Volunteer Award were Barbara Brock, Sammye Kempbell, Phyllis Kind, Jill Hein, Ken Urstad, Bob Gentz and Connie Clark.