Ominous and obscure animals at the Seattle Aquarium

Just in time for Halloween, here’s a peek at some of the creepy creatures on exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium. Get to know them here, then come check them out in person during your next visit!

Creeping pedal sea cucumber

Creeping pedal sea cucumber, Psolus chitonoides

This scaly echinoderm can be found creeping along in our Puget Sound Fish and octopus exhibits. It uses its oral tentacles to ensnare detritus floating in the water; however the tentacles themselves contain a toxin to deter any potential predators of the cucumber itself.


Sablefish, Anopoploma fimbria

Something about those beady eyes makes this fish look a little creepy! But many find it mightily tasty too—and may know it by its other common names: butterfish and black cod.

Red brotula

Red brotula, Brosmophycis marginata

This deceptive fish is longer than it appears and uses slime to protect itself from predators. Although unknown to many visitors, it’s been living in our Puget Sound Fish exhibit for over 10 years. A recent den rearrangement makes its hiding place slightly more visible.

Spotted ratfish

Spotted ratfish, Hydrolagus colliei

This cartilaginous fish is a marine-world Frankenstein, appearing to have the head of a rabbit, the body of a fish and the tail of a rat. There are dozens of species of ratfish in the Order Chimaera. In Greek mythology, the Chimera was a monster with the head of a lion, body of a goat and tail of a serpent. Other names for ratfish include ghost shark and spookfish. Learn more about them here!

Devil scorpionfish

Devil scorpionfish, Scorpaenopsis diabolus

This motionless, amazingly well-camouflaged fish could easily sneak up and scare you. With venomous spines, a downturned mouth and those eyes—there’s just something about them!

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Halloween quiz: poisonous vs. venomous sea creatures

With the celebration of ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night nearly here, there’s no better time to talk about poisonous and venomous critters at the Seattle Aquarium. Do you know the difference between poison and venom? Most people associate venom with snakes, which provides a good hint about the correct answer to our question: venom is always delivered via a wound (a sting or a bite, for example), while poison is ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Both poison and venom contain both contain toxins, which sea creatures use to catch prey and/or defend themselves. Toxins are molecules, often in a cocktail of combinations that may affect the nervous system (neurotoxins), overstimulate the immune system (allergens) or even eat away at the flesh (proteolytic toxins)!

Do you know what animals at the Seattle Aquarium are poisonous and which are venomous? Test your knowledge below!

Sea anemone:

sea anemone




Venomous. A rockfish’s dorsal, pelvic and anal spines all contain a mild venom.

Sea urchins:

Sea urchins

Gotcha! Local sea urchins, like those on exhibit at the Aquarium, have long, sharp spines but don’t produce toxins. Some tropical species of sea urchins are venomous, however.




Cabezon eggs:


Poisonous. If you ate cabezon eggs, although we can’t imagine why you’d want to, you could experience nausea, diarrhea or—at the extreme end—go into a coma. It’s thought that the poison in these eggs may be an adaptation to provide protection after they’re laid, typically in shallow water.



Venomous—but not poisonous, so this fish is actually recommended for human consumption in many areas.



Venomous. An octopus bites with its beak, then injects venom into the wound via its saliva.

Puffer fish:

Puffer fish

Poisonous. Tetrodotoxin is what makes the puffer fish poisonous—it’s the same toxin found in blue-ringed octopuses, which are venomous (one of the marine world’s most venomous animals, in fact, and NOT on display at the Seattle Aquarium!).


Moon jellies

Venomous. Moon jellies, like those found in the Ring of Life exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium, deliver a mild sting to humans that results in little to no reaction.

Moray eel:

moray eel

Gotcha again! Moray eels can deliver a very painful bite but aren’t venomous.


Get to know more about these animals on your next visit to the Seattle Aquarium!

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A continuing problem: sea star wasting disease update

Sea star wasting disease comparison

In late 2013, millions of sea stars began dying along the entire west coast of North America and in Puget Sound—even along the Seattle waterfront, directly under the Aquarium’s pier. The condition, soon labeled sea star wasting disease (SSWD), caused the animals to waste away, giving the impression of “melting.” Below, Seattle Aquarium staff veterinarian Dr. Lesanna Lahner shares an update on the collaborative effort to understand the disease.

Sea star wasting disease continues to be a problem for sea stars along the west coast of North America. Since it was first observed two years ago, many strides have been made in understanding the disease including the isolation of a virus, termed sea star-associated densovirus SSaDV, that may be associated with it. More work is being done to understand the role this virus might play in the disease process and the Seattle Aquarium is collaborating with Dr. Ian Hewson from Cornell on this topic.

Other research directed at better understanding SSWD has been done recently at the Seattle Aquarium, with generous support from The Boeing Company. This past summer, three interns worked with me on a variety of sea-star-related projects including 1) the effects of ocean acidification conditions on the general health of sea stars and on SSWD progression; 2) better understanding the coelomic fluid of healthy and diseased sea stars; and 3) radiographic evaluations of healthy and SSWD-affected stars. Evaluating coelomic fluid is like doing blood work on a mammal. It tells us a lot about what is going on inside the sea star on a physiologic level. The radiographic studies included fascinating diagnostics like plain film radiographs (x-rays), computed tomography (CT scan), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of both healthy and diseased sea stars. These radiographic studies gave us new insight into what’s normal for sea stars and what’s happening in live stars affected with sea star wasting disease. These valuable coelomic fluid and radiographic studies were made possible due to generous support from collaborators including Dr. Nicole Stacy at The University of Florida School of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Tori McKlveen at the VCA Specialty Clinic of Seattle.

The Seattle Aquarium recently co-funded a dive survey of the San Juan Islands with the SeaDoc Society and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) to look at the population impacts of SSWD. Over 100 dives were done as part of this survey by highly trained scientific divers. Before SSWD, between 20 and 30 sunflower sea stars would be seen on a single dive. Unfortunately, the findings were quite grim and not a single sunflower sea star could be found. Other areas are reporting very low numbers of sea stars and increasing numbers of urchins. The recruitment of young sea stars in most regions has been reported as low by collaborators.

The Seattle Aquarium continues to collaborate with many other institutions on SSWD research and is dedicated to understanding SSWD for the conservation of our marine environment. We will be hosting an international workshop in January of 2016 of sea star disease researchers to identify priorities for SSWD research moving forward. Stay tuned for more updates!

For more information, read our previous SSWD blog posts.

December 10, 2013: Seattle Aquarium update on mysterious sea star disease

July 1, 2014: Seattle Aquarium sea star wasting disease update

August 6, 2014: Latest developments on sea star wasting disease (SSWD)

November 20, 2014: Sea star wasting disease (SSWD update)

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Seattle Aquarium vet assists in sea otter surgery

Emergency surgery for Corky, a sea otter rescued by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
Photo provided by Vancouver Aquarium.

Dr. Lesanna Lahner, our staff veterinarian, recently traveled to Vancouver, B.C. to assist in emergency surgery on Corky, a sea otter at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Corky was rescued near Tofino, a district on the west side of Vancouver Island, in August. He was diagnosed with a fractured rib, possibly due to being struck by a boat, which led to air being trapped under his skin and a condition called subcutaneous emphysema. Unable to dive or forage for food, he was transferred to the rescue center for treatment.

The emphysema subsided but follow-up tests revealed that one of Corky’s kidneys had ruptured, probably during the initial trauma. The rupture caused Corky to begin passing large amounts of blood and, by October 5, it became clear that he would need surgery. With the rescue center’s head veterinarian, Dr. Marin Haulena, out of the country at a conference, reinforcements were needed. Dr. Lahner and Dr. Alex Aguila, a veterinary surgeon from the Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle, headed north to assist Dr. Karisa Tang, veterinary fellow at the Vancouver Aquarium.

For Dr. Lahner, the decision to make the trip to help was an easy one. “We’re part of a small community of specialized veterinarians who collaborate to ensure that these wonderful animals get the best care possible,” she says. The team performed a series of life-saving procedures: they removed one of Corky’s kidneys in a procedure called a nephrectomy; opened his urinary bladder (in a procedure called a cystotomy) to remove blood clots; and gave him a blood transfusion. While conducting these procedures, the group was making history as well: Corky was the first sea otter ever to have a kidney removed, and first known to receive a blood transfusion.

Corky will continue to receive critical care at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Read our sea otter fact sheet to learn more about these amazing animals!

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The facts of (jellyfish) life

Jellyfish lifecycle
The medusa form of jellyfish (with its bell-shaped body and long tentacles) is just one of several stages in the jellyfish life cycle. Jellyfish progress through a number of other forms.

Thanks to a recent intern project, the lagoon jelly area in our Tropical Pacific exhibit now features a small ephyra bowl to give Aquarium visitors a glimpse of another phase of the jellyfish life cycle. Ephyra are the free-swimming jelly stage that comes before full-grown medusa.

Jellyfish reproduce both sexually and asexually. One generation (the medusa) reproduces sexually and the next generation (the polyp) reproduces asexually.

Moon jelly (Aurelia aurita) males in their medusa form, which can be seen in the Ring of Life exhibit, release sperm trails that are taken up orally by moon jelly females and fertilized internally. Lagoon jelly (Mastigias papua) medusas, on display in Ocean Oddities, spawn directly into the water. For both species, fertilized eggs develop into a multi-cellular planula and then into polyps that live on the sea floor.

At the polyp stage, jellies resemble tiny anemones and reproduce asexually by strobilation. When a polyp strobilates—segmenting its body to reproduce—it releases tiny ephyra into the water. Within a few weeks, a bell appears and the ephyra are considered medusa, starting the whole process over again!

How small are the ephyra? They’re tiny! About the size of this circle.

Go see them for yourself in the Tropical Pacific exhibit on your next trip to the Seattle Aquarium.

Please note: The ephyra bowl may periodically be empty as the population of ephyra fluctuates.

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