What do Aquarium divers want from Diving Santa this year?

All of our divers have wish lists, but more than anything, they want to help you have a plastic-free holiday! Below, see some of their tips on how to be an ocean hero now, and in the future:

Diver Reindeer Lindsay wants a plastic-free ocean so that spiny Pacific lumpsuckers can have healthy habitats to live in! By choosing reusable gift bags, bows and recyclable wrapping, you can help reduce the amount of plastic and glitter that ends up in the ocean.

Diver Elf Katie would love everyone to be ocean heroes and help reduce single-use plastics. Since Katie loves to bake, she’s using reusable containers when she passes out her goodies to friends and family!

What Diver Reindeer/Elf Roberta really loves about the holidays is sharing gifts that keep on giving—to the ocean! Reusable items like insulated metal mugs and water bottles, reusable straws and shopping bags are some of her favorite gifts to give.

Diver Reindeer/Elf Kim can’t wait to dive with Santa this year, and spend more time watching our amazing rockfish perch and nap on blades of kelp! Kim loves to give and receive the gift of experiences with her friends and family. Join Kim and be an ocean hero this year by giving gifts such as special events or shared meals to reduce the amount of plastic packaging that may end up in the water. Another great holiday tip from Kim: if you are wrapping gifts, use ocean-friendly recyclable and reusable materials!

Bird and mammal team member Julie loves being green—from caring for plants to giving ocean-friendly holiday gifts. This year, Julie’s biggest holiday wish is for a healthy ocean! She’s giving handmade gifts to reduce the amount of waste that often comes with store-bought presents.

Join the Seattle Aquarium and be an ocean hero this holiday season by considering ways to eliminate single-use plastics!

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From concept to creation: designing a rockwork display

Longtime Aquarium Aquarist Chris Van Damme joined forces with Associate Curator of Life Sciences Joel Hollander and Aquarium volunteer Eva Funderburgh Hollis to create a beautiful and authentic-looking piece of rockwork that was recently unveiled in our Puget Sound Fish exhibit. Below, Chris shares his thoughts about the project and how the process of creating the rockwork played out:

The inspiration for this project came from wanting to create some rockwork that mirrored the geology up in Neah Bay, which is where we do our collecting. In particular, I wanted some verticality and a swim-through feature that the fish could use; something beyond just a tumble of rocks against the backdrop.

I researched products with which to build it, started working with the material—and then discovered that Eva, one of our volunteer divers, is also a sculptor. Joel mentioned the project to her and she expressed interest in it. We met, did some clay modeling and discussed what we wanted to create.

We landed on a concept and I then built a spine for the structure. Next, we started laying Styrofoam—Eva glued it on and carved it down. When we achieved the shape we’d agreed upon, we applied the epoxy, and the product turned out really well.

However, when we tried to put it in the water, we found out it floated because there was so much Styrofoam inside it. We then had to remove the Styrofoam, which ended up requiring us to cut access holes in the base and chip and vacuum it all out. We then put it in the main exhibit area here for about three weeks or so to verify that it would sink, and to season it as well. We also painted it, with help from staff member Lindsay Holladay, to simulate coralline algae so that it wouldn’t go into the exhibit space without looking like it belonged.

Now that it’s been there a while, it has creatures on it—anemones and different invertebrates. It’s starting to create that habitat that we’d envisioned and it’s only going to get better with time.

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‘Tis the season for Aquarium animals that remind us of the holidays!

Get in the spirit and keep your eyes out for these festive animals on your next visit to the Aquarium!

In the main Pacific Coral Reef exhibit, check out the snowflake moray eel, echidna nebulosa. It tends to hang out on the right side of the reef—at dusk, evening or during feeding times.

As you explore the Tropical Pacific exhibit, keep an eye out for the comet, calloplesiops altivelis. This beauty is also known as a marine betta because of its resemblance to the unrelated freshwater fish. It can be seen hiding in rocky cracks and crevices during the day. If you spot a tail protruding from a craggy corner, it’s most likely the comet employing its favorite defense mechanism—hiding face-first in a cave.

When you arrive at the alcid exhibit, be sure to keep an eye out for the white band murre, uria aalge. She has unique white eyeliner which is more prominent during breeding season but still visible now.

If you spy a piece of bright-red kelp with eyes lurking amidst the grunt sculpins in the Puget Sound Fish exhibit, you’re in luck! You’ve just spotted the kelp poacher, agonamalus mozinoi.

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High school “sketch artists” learning the ropes of marine science illustration

Earlier this year, Seattle Aquarium Marine Science Interpreter Lindsay Holladay was awarded a grant through the Women Divers Hall of Fame (WDHOF) to teach 10 weeks of marine science illustration to local high school students. She’s been working with a small group of 12 high school juniors and seniors from the Center School of Seattle. She recently shared her thoughts about the experience with us.

“I’ve been really amazed at the diverse mix of interests from the students. About half identify as ‘scientists’ who are interested but not versed in art, and the other half are artists with an interest in the marine world. Our 90-minute sessions are a mix of marine science discussions and illustration technique practice. Already, we’ve covered topics ranging from ocean acidification, sustainable fishing practices and resident orca threats to salmon habitat restoration. In these discussions we’ve brainstormed and drafted ways that artists can be visual educators on tough to understand science issues. We’ve articulated and illustrated marine mammal skeletons, explored crab molts and shellfish anatomy and this week we’re dissecting squid. We practiced field sketching at the Olympic Sculpture park pocket beach and we’ll be visiting the Seattle Aquarium for more field sketching on November 29. Say “hi” if you see us walking around with our sketchbooks.

I’m really grateful both to the WDHOF who provided the funding and to the Seattle Aquarium for letting me run off early on Wednesdays this fall to get to class and for supplying the shells and molts kit. I know it’s expanding these young folks’ understanding of and appreciation for our local marine world. Know what’s also really cool? All of the participants get to keep the supplies that are provided during the class sessions—including a set of art pens, graphite pencils, color pencils and watercolors to keep them practicing new techniques even after the program is over.”


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Just what the doctor ordered

On rounds at the harbor seal exhibit with the Aquarium’s vet

Ever wondered what it would be like to be the primary care physician for the 10,000-plus animals that make their homes at the Seattle Aquarium? Senior veterinarian Caitlin Hadfield, VetMB Dipl. AZCM Dipl. ECZM, could tell you all about it—she’s the doctor in charge for our mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates, and she recently allowed us to tag along while she cared for the Aquarium’s harbor seals.

Caitlin listens to Q’s heart, lungs and gut.

Time for your checkup

Aquarium husbandry staff monitor the health of our animals every day; Caitlin performs full physical exams and also cares for animals with injuries, illnesses or other health issues. “All the Aquarium’s animals have care plans that are customized to their species and individuals within the species,” she notes.

Harbor seals receive full physicals at least two times per year, including an eye exam, ultrasound, and voluntary blood and fecal samples. And, just like your doctor does during your checkup, Caitlin uses a stethoscope to listen to the heart, lungs and abdomen of each seal. She listens closely: “Because of their thick blubber layers,” she laughs, “their body sounds are a bit muffled.”

Caitlin also looks in the seals’ eyes, ears and mouths—just like your doctor does with you. But in Caitlin’s case, expert training is the essential element that allows her to perform the exam. Aquarium husbandry staff work with the animals each day, teaching and practicing behaviors that allow them to voluntarily participate in their own health care.


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Tools of the trade

Outside the exhibits, Caitlin works behind the scenes, using specialized equipment—just as your doctor would—to monitor animal health. The ultrasound machine is a particularly useful tool, and one that can be pressed into service for virtually any of our animals.

As you may know, ultrasound machines use sound waves to look at tissue density, providing a picture of what’s happening inside the body. Says Caitlin, “We can use our ultrasound machine to check for pregnancy; look at organs; understand what’s happening behind an injured eye; learn why a belly looks big…it’s our best diagnostic option, and allows us to pinpoint issues that we might not detect otherwise.”

Analyzing an ultrasound scan behind the scenes.

Interested in learning more about harbor seals? Check out our harbor seal fact sheet—and spend some time at the harbor seal exhibit during your next visit to the Aquarium. Check the daily activity schedule when you arrive; you may be able to watching a training session!


See a harbor seal in the Sound or on a local beach? Don’t approach!

Although they may look friendly, harbor seals in the wild can be dangerous. The human contact shown in our photos is the result of years of training and trust-building; you should never get that close to a harbor seal, or any marine mammal, in the wild—for their health and yours.




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