Diving in with both feet for Boeing’s 100th birthday

 Congratulations to The Boeing Company, which recently reached an exciting milestone: 100 years of aviation industry leadership. We at the Seattle Aquarium celebrated from the depths of Puget Sound (well, actually, from our Window on Washington Waters exhibit) while the Space Needle acknowledged the centennial from on high!

Congratulations to The Boeing Company—and a special thank you to Randy J. Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing commercial airplanes, and immediate past chair of the Seattle Aquarium board of directors. Here’s to many more years of partnership, success and innovation!

 

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Aquarium medalists

Lots of human swimmers have been winning prizes in South America recently—and we’ve got plenty of record-setting marine animals right here at the Seattle Aquarium, too! Here are just a few of the amazing feats they achieve:

Pacific spiny dogfish

Longest vertebrate gestation

Pacific spiny dogfish are ovoviviparous, which means they carry and hatch their young inside their bodies—and these animals do that for up to two years before the youngsters emerge! If we took this competition to the open ocean, the dogfish would only be beaten by a few fellow species of shark, including the basking shark and frilled shark.

northern fur seals

Longest migration

Northern fur seals are the winners here, with a migration of up to 6,000 miles round-trip. That’s like swimming roughly from Seattle to Miami and back. Extending this competition to species outside of the Aquarium would yield a very different result: gray whales migrate up to 12,000 miles annually.

northern sea otter

Densest fur

The prize goes to the northern sea otter, with nearly 1,000,000 hairs per square inch. In second place is a species named for this very characteristic, the northern fur seal. Their coats come in at about 300,000 hairs per square inch. Congratulations to the fur seal for medaling in two events!

Sticking the landing

Leafy hornmouth snails take home the prize for having a shell specifically shaped to help them land upright (48 percent of the time) or at least on the side from which it is easiest to right themselves (37 percent of the time).

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Creature feature: sablefish

Visitors to our Underwater Dome exhibit often ask, “What’s that funny looking gray fish?” Sometimes they’re asking about wolf eels (which aren’t eels, despite their name)—but more often, they’re referring to sablefish.

sablefish

Despite sometimes being called “black cod” and having some similarities in appearance, sablefish are not a true cod. They’re one of only two members of the Anoplopomatidae family. True cod belong to the family Gadidae.

FAST FACTS

Name: Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria), also known as black cod

Habitat: Typically sandy or muddy seafloor areas deeper than 600 feet (adults)

Range: Throughout the North Pacific

Size: Up to 3 feet long and 55 pounds

Life span: Up to 90+ years*

Diet: Fish, crustaceans and cephalopods

Reproduction: Sablefish are typically reproductively mature at 5–7 years of age. They spawn in winter in deep water. Eggs develop for about two weeks before hatching. At this stage larvae rise toward the surface, where they may be carried long distances by currents (in some cases over 2,000 miles in six to seven years).

The sablefish in our Underwater Dome exhibit came to us from a NOAA research program in 2013. NOAA monitors both sablefish movement and abundance. Movement is tracked via tag and release programs and abundance via longline and trawl surveys. Sablefish have been evaluated by the Seafood Watch program and are currently listed as both a “Best Choice” and a “Good Alternative,” depending on the location and method used to catch them.

*Wait a minute, what? Sablefish can live to be over 90 years old?! It’s true. And how do we know that? Scientists typically use the otolith, or ear bone, to age fish. This structure is part of the acoustico-lateralis system, contributing to hearing and buoyancy in living fish. More of a stone than a bone, the otolith is formed from regular growth and hardening of layers of aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate, in the fish’s skull behind its eyes. Since the growth is regular, it can be counted under a microscope like rings in a tree. Similar to tree rings, the otolith growth can be challenging to interpret, depending on factors like ocean conditions, calcium carbonate availability, and the fish’s overall health. Because of this, additional means of aging fish have been used to predict the otolith’s rate of accuracy, including radio carbon dating. According to one study by NOAA, the otolith was highly accurate in predicting age with only a one percent chance of over-predicting the fish’s age by one or more years—that’s pretty impressive!

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Know your beach-season recap

#8 and final in a series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

It’s been an amazing season on the beach! A few highlights:

pacific red octopus

In early June, Jen had an incredible week—a 17-inch long California sea cucumber, a humpback whale breaching off Golden Gardens beach, bald eagles, moon snails laying eggs, flatfish, sea pens, huge Dungeness crabs, shrimp, sea stars and…lots of octopuses! A grand total of seven were reported from a single day at Lincoln Park beach in West Seattle!

Bobby had his first day as a beach naturalist at Constellation Park where he discovered a gap in the rock, revealing a hidden little world for sea stars and anemones. At the boulder wall he found lots of purple sea stars, and some of the largest anemones he had ever seen.

Crab #2

As June wrapped up, Jen found a new game to play with young beachgoers—“beach detective,” where kids used their senses to determine if the crabs they found on the beach were really dead. A gentle touch to see if they moved; if not, they picked them up and felt how heavy they were. Then, they gave them a good smell. If the crab didn’t smell really stinky, they tried opening the carapace. If it opened easily and looked like the crab below, they knew they had “crab clothes” or, more technically, a molt! This crab had just grown a little bigger and left its old exoskeleton behind.

Bobby loved exploring the beach over the 4th of July weekend. His favorite moment was when a little explorer brought him over to see a fish he found. It was a gunnel, a small fish that can often be mistaken for an eel. This particular gunnel was not moving and they feared it was dead, but it wriggled to life when Bobby lifted it up to take a closer look. The kid was so excited that the fish was ok! He wanted to keep it safe and make sure it made it back under the rock.

Squid

One of the coolest finds this summer? A huge squid that washed up on Olympic Sculpture Park beach!

rocks are homes

Beach etiquette tips:

  • Leave things where you find them. Excited about your discovery? Bring a naturalist/teacher to the creature.
  • Touch sea stars gently with one wet finger.
  • Only move rocks that are small enough to be moved with one hand. Carefully return rocks to the exact position you found them in.
  • Carry a small garbage bag to pick up trash.

Thanks to everyone who explored the beach with us this summer—hope to see you next year!

For more information about the Seattle Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist program, visit SeattleAquarium.org/beach-naturalist.

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Barney the bubble blower

Visitors to our harbor seal exhibit this month have sometimes been treated to an interesting sight: Barney blowing bubbles in the water. Is he just enjoying the sunshine and goofing around? Nope. The behavior is actually related to the summer breeding season.

During breeding season in the wild, adult male harbor seals display a variety of behaviors in their efforts to attract females: rolling over; splashing the water with their flippers and/or tails; scratching; biting and growling; and—our favorite—blowing bubbles.

barney underwater

Seattle Aquarium Bird & Mammal Biologist Carol Jackson says Barney has been seen making a regular circuit around the harbor seal exhibit, stopping by the north window to blow bubbles, then heading under the ledge to make some noise (growling or roaring).

If it was possible to hear this roaring from outside the exhibit, it would sound a bit like an airplane flying by. Barney’s roommate Q will sometimes add a few of his own bubbles to mix, but Hogan has been staying out of it. He remains on dry land during these displays, sometimes sticking his head underwater to check out the action.

Why isn’t Hogan joining the male posturing? It could be related to his relative youth. Hogan is 3 years old this summer, which could be the start of his sexual maturity—but it could also be a few more years before he’s ready to show off with the big boys.

This activity usually stops the first week in August, so plan a visit to the Aquarium soon to check it out! Plus, check out our daily “Meet Our Marine Mammals” sessions and harbor seal fact sheet to learn more.

And, as long as we’re talking about harbor seals…pupping season in Puget Sound is June through September. If you’re lucky enough to spy a harbor seal pup on a local beach, remember to stay at least 100 yards away and keep pets leashed. Pups often come to shore to rest and regulate their body temperatures—seeing them doesn’t mean they’re sick or injured. Thanks for sharing the shore with our beautiful wild harbor seals!

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