Inspiring conservation with empathy

Research shows that encouraging and developing empathy for animals in children is an important motivator toward action on the animals’ behalf. Seeing animals receiving exceptional care at the Seattle Aquarium and learning about the importance of a healthy habitat for their well being helps children transfer their resulting feelings of goodwill to marine animals in the wild, as well as Earth’s one ocean.

Through a generous donation by an anonymous donor, your Aquarium is in the midst of a multi-year project, Inspiring Empathy for Our Marine Environment, dedicated to compiling, sharing and implementing best practices related to empathy development in children. In conjunction with the Woodland Park Zoo and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, the Seattle Aquarium has conducted a review of literature and generated tools to measure empathy-related outcomes; the Aquarium has already implemented empathy into several of its programs. One area of particular focus for the Aquarium has been helping children draw connections with less-charismatic animals—such barnacles and corals, which frequently aren’t recognized by children (and even some adults) as being animals at all.

In support of this project in 2016, Aquarium staff made leadership presentations at two national conferences; developed and held three workshops for formal and informal educators; contributed a chapter for a textbook on ocean literacy; and began planning a project that will support empathy development in children across the country.

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Seattle Aquarium volunteer shares artistic talents with Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Seattle Aquarium volunteer and artist Kait Rhoads is leading the creation of a glass jellyfish sculpture to be installed in the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s (PDZA’s) new Pacific Seas Aquarium, which is slated to open next summer.

Rhoads’ rendition of how her sculpture will look in the atrium of the Pacific Seas Aquarium.

On October 27, Kait worked with hot shop team from Tacoma’s Museum of Glass and students from Hilltop Artists to create the glass tubing that will make up the 10-foot tentacles and two-foot bells of three giant glass jellyfish. She was joined by Dr. Chad Widmer, PDZA’s jellyfish aquarist, who is also a glassblower, as she and her team made the tubing that will eventually be threaded onto wire “tentacles” and attached the jellyfishes’ bells. Rhoads was assisted by members of the Hilltop Artists, a nonprofit organization allows students from diverse backgrounds to learn the art of glassmaking.

Kait Rhoads, right, with Hot Shop Manager and Gaffer Ben Cobb in the Museum of
Glass Hot Shop. Photo: Rozarii Lynch.

When complete, Rhoads’ jellyfish will be suspended overhead in the new aquarium’s atrium. “I feel honored to be able to create artwork for the new aquarium,” she said. “Researching jellyfish with Chad Widmer has been such an inspiration. My hope is to spread the message of ocean ecology through the wonder of jellies. Working with Hilltop Artists and the Museum of Glass will help create a community connection to the sculpture, as well as to the aquarium, the zoo, Puget Sound and the entire ocean.”

Kait has been a Seattle Aquarium volunteer since 2013. She enjoys sharing her love for the ocean through her vibrant glass art pieces. “Creating conservation messaging in artwork is a delicate balance,” she says. “How do you show people that nature is wonderful and we need to protect it without scaring them? If you can make them curious…” she pauses. “That’s what I aim to do with my work.”

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Citizen Science

“Amazing is the only way I could explain it.” That’s the review from a student participant in Citizen Science, one of the many Aquarium outreach programs that exists with your support. This hands-on, inquiry-based marine science education program is designed to stimulate science inquiry in historically underrepresented high school students in the Puget Sound area.

In 2016, the program completed its tenth year with approximately 440 students and 14 teachers from 13 schools collecting nearshore monitoring datasets on 14 local beaches. These datasets are available to and used by governmental and environmental agencies including Washington State Parks and the City of Seattle. Said one teacher, “The program provides valuable real-world experience with science—there is no substitute for it that would be possible in the classroom. It definitely helped me achieve my goal of getting the students familiar with a real field study and how to conduct one.”

“Citizen Science allowed me to have my first experience with a formal research project in a real-world situation rather than a classroom lab. It increased my interest in pursuing a career in science because I like how we got to get outside to “work.” I am more aware of my surroundings at the beach now; I learned that there are so many more organisms on the beach than I had previously thought, and I feel a more heightened desire to protect the environment in order to preserve these organisms. Sticking with the long-term project taught me to persevere and motivated me to pursue answers to my questions.”

—2016 Citizen Science student participant

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Part 6: Seattle Aquarium assists with Hardy, the rescued sea otter

Guest post by Seattle Aquarium biologist Carol Jackson

Hardy is living up to his name! He is doing great and no longer requires formula from a bottle—he’s graduated to a diet of solid food including clams, squid and pollock fillets and now weighs 20.7 pounds (9.42 kgs). During my shift, his last meal of the day was at 7:30pm.

This was the last week of evening feeds for Hardy, and from this point forward he will eat during the day at the same times the adult sea otters. He gets several buckets of ice during the day and plenty of toys to keep him busy in between naps.

He had a blood test today to access his health. His coat looks great—he’s doing a great job with self-grooming. What a handsome animal!

We at the Seattle Aquarium really enjoy collaborating with other institutions toward common conservation goals—it’s so important to work together for continued learning opportunities and public engagement. Thank you, Vancouver Aquarium!

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Gills Club: girls getting smart about sharks

With help from you, the Seattle Aquarium is now actively connecting young girls with female scientists via the newly launched Gills Club, a STEM-based education initiative developed by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

Combating the notion that “only boys like sharks,” the effort is targeted at girls ages 6–12, who learn about the work and research of female scientists from around the world during activity-filled meetings. The goal? To inspire shark and ocean conservation, and provide a powerful reminder that careers in marine science are for everyone.

Says Marine Science Interpreter Melody Upton,  “The really great thing about Gills Club is how we are trying to connect young girls to not only science in general but to female scientists, and helping them learn more about sharks with the hopes of inspiring shark and ocean conservation. It’s been incredible to help support young girls be involved in the shark science field and empower them to live every week like it’s Shark Week!”

Q & A: Gills Club

A conversation between Marine Science Interpreter Melody Upton, Gills Club member Grace (age 6), and Grace’s mom, Michelle.

Melody: What are some of your favorite things about Gills Club?

Grace: It’s cool. We get to learn about sharks and things that we might have never ever known. It’s really fun!

Michelle: Grace is interested in becoming a wildlife veterinarian so anything to do with animals and science is perfect for her. The girls really get a chance to independently learn, and I like that.

Melody: What’s one thing you’ve learned at Gills Club?

Grace: When you are looking on the underside of a shark, if there are two sets of under fins then it’s a boy, and if wasn’t, it’s a girl.

Michelle: A shark has a very large liver in order to control its buoyancy.

Melody: What do you think about sharks, Grace?

Grace: We need them because they are important to the food chain. Some sharks are really cool because they can glow or they don’t eat meat. Like lantern sharks and whale sharks.

Registration for the October 29 Gills Club meeting is now open! Visit our website to register.

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