Sea otter experts from around the world gather at the Aquarium

Seattle Aquarium Sea Otter Conservation Workshop

Since 1999, the Seattle Aquarium has hosted biannual sea otter conservation workshops. These workshops over the years have developed into the largest meeting of sea otter biologists in the world and include delegates from the US, Canada, Europe, Russia and Japan.

This year’s workshop, held at the end of March, was the biggest one yet. It included three days and 54 presentations on wild sea otter population trends, biology, ecology, outreach, advocacy, veterinary medicine, captive husbandry and conservation. The workshop provided an opportunity for sea otter experts from around the world, including representatives from every U.S. institution that keeps captive sea otters, to gather and exchange information.

According to Seattle Aquarium’s Shawn Larson, curator of conservation research, “almost everyone active in sea otter research and conservation attends this unique conference to exchange ideas, develop new partnerships and strengthen old ones … There really is no other meeting quite like it!”

The Seattle Aquarium is home to five charming sea otters including Sekiu, who was born at the Seattle Aquarium in January of 2012, and Mishka, a rescued Alaskan sea otter pup who joined the Aquarium family on Super Bowl Sunday 2015.

The Seattle Aquarium is passionate about these outgoing and intelligent mammals and proud to be a leader in sea otter conservation locally and around the world.

Posted in Conservation, Marine Animals | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Kids: #1 fans of Aquarium diver shows

Three times each day, divers take to the water in the Aquarium’s 120,000-gallon Window on Washington Waters exhibit—the mammoth home to more than 800 fish and invertebrates indigenous to Pacific Northwest waters. At a breathtaking 20×40 feet, the main window offers an expansive view as the divers interact with the animals inside the exhibit, as well as the eager visitors outside the glass. Thanks to specialized masks, the divers are able to communicate with interpreters on the “dry side,” and answer questions from the audience.

Kids especially love a chance to watch and talk to the divers. One of our young guests, Zora, asks for diver Nicole by name when she visits the Aquarium. Zora likes to sit up front for the diver show and dance along to Queen’s song Under Pressure—she’s got great moves!

Another young guest, Ethan, brings his own diver (a repurposed astronaut) along to diver shows and made diver Cari smile when he proclaimed, “Divers are my favorite thing in the water!”

If you haven’t seen a diver show in the Window on Washington Waters exhibit, you’re missing out. Join us daily at 10am, 11:30am or 12:15pm.

Posted in Marine Animals, Seattle Aquarium | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sound Conversations ocean acidification event draws full house

Sound Conversations: Ocean Acidification

On April 2, the Seattle Aquarium brought the ocean acidification community together to network and learn about innovative approaches to addressing ocean acidification from leaders in the fields of research, policy and public engagement. “Sound Conversations 2015: Addressing Ocean Acidification” featured talks focused on Washington State’s leadership in ocean acidification and the Aquarium’s involvement in the XPRIZE Ocean Health competition.

The event attracted over 250 attendees, who explored interpretive materials related to the issue of ocean acidification—and enjoyed oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms—during a reception preceding the program. KING 5 Chief Meteorologist Jeff Renner served as the evening’s moderator.

In his opening remarks, Aquarium President & CEO Robert W. Davidson commented, “It’s a mind-bogglingly serious and daunting time, but also an exciting time,” before introducing the first of the evening’s speakers: Martha Kongsgaard, chair of the Marine Resources Advisory Committee (and recipient of the 2015 Seattle Aquarium Medal).

Kongsgaard sounded a note of urgency, saying, “We believed the ocean was a system too big to fail. We need to act now,” and, “Climate change isn’t philosophical and it shouldn’t be political—it’s math.”

Next to speak was Wendy Schmidt, philanthropist and title donor of the Ocean Health XPRIZE. In describing the critical importance of the ocean, she presented eye-opening facts including:

  • The ocean represents 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and 99 percent of its living space.
  • Half of all the breaths we take are from the ocean.
  • Two billion people get their primary protein from the ocean.
  • Three billion people’s primary occupation is related to the ocean.
  • The ocean’s average pH has risen 30 percent since pre-Industrial times—at a faster rate than any time in the past 55 million years.
  • Only five percent of the ocean is mapped.

Schmidt then sounded a call to action, saying, “Our impact on the planet has become impossible to ignore.” She described the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, in which more than 200 million gallons of crude oil were pumped into the Gulf of Mexico. Schmidt sponsored a competition to develop a means to capture oil from the water more efficiently and, she said, “In 14 months, we’d seen more advances than in the past 20 years.”

Her involvement in that competition was the beginning of what has led to the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE: a $2 million global competition to develop the world’s most accurate and affordable pH sensors. The contest began in the fall of 2013 and, in February of this year, the top submissions were tested in the waters below the Aquarium’s pier. Winners will be announced in July.

Drs. Jan Newton and Terrie Klinger, co-directors of the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, spoke next, describing their work to “assess and understand what’s driving ocean acidification in Washington waters, to provide forecasts and assess how species respond.” Dr. Klinger, recipient of the 2015 Seattle Aquarium Research Award, described effects of ocean acidification that are already being observed in local species such as Dungeness crab. “Washington is a leader in the effort to understand this issue and take action,” she commented in closing.

Dr. Chris Sabine, director of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, was next to speak, noting that ocean acidification is impacting marine fish—not just shellfish. He cited pteropods, planktonic snails that have adapted to swim in the open ocean, and which are a significant part of the diets of juvenile salmon, as prime examples.

Dr. Nina Bednaršek, research scientist at the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, continued the discussion on pteropods, noting that their shells, which are quite thin naturally, are starting to dissolve with the effects of ocean acidification. “Currently,” she said, “One out of two shells we observe are severely affected by dissolution. That number will increase to 70 percent by 2050.” Pteropods affected in this way lose their swimming ability and are prone to infection and predation. “They are the canary in the coalmine for ocean acidification,” she stated.

Dr. Bednaršek ended the evening with words of hope, saying, “I’m a firm believer that science can make a change.” Visit the Seattle Aquarium and our website for more information about ocean acidification, and stay tuned for future blog posts about this critical issue.

Posted in Conservation, Seattle Aquarium | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Creature Feature: Clown Triggerfish

Clown triggerfish

Size: Up to 20 inches long.

Range: Found in the western Pacific and Indian oceans, most commonly along external reef slopes.

Diet: Crustaceans, mollusks and echinoderms (which include animals like sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and sand dollars).

Fast facts: Triggerfish get their names from the fact that their first three dorsal spines are adapted in such a way that the first one, which is very strong, can be braced into an upright position by the second, allowing the animals to lock themselves into holes. When they want to come back out, the second spine acts as the “trigger” to unlock the first.

Posted in Marine Animals, Seattle Aquarium | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Aquarium volunteers plant trees to sequester carbon

A group of 24 Aquarium Youth Ocean Advocates, adult volunteers and staff recently spent time working with King County Parks to plant 725 trees at Soaring Eagle Regional Park in Sammamish. The Aquarium partners with Forterra to purchase trees and coordinate the effort to plant them in Seattle-area parks and forests to help sequester the carbon output from the Aquarium. This was our third year in a row of partnering with Forterra on this project and it also attracted the largest-ever group of Aquarium volunteers to help plant the trees!

Thank you to Aquarium Conservation Manager Mark Plunkett for continuing to lead this great effort and to Youth Engagement Mentor Karlie Roland for coordinating our Puget Sound: We Love You campaign youth for a great day in the sunshine, getting dirty and supporting our mission: Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment! Click here to read a previous blog post about our partnership with Forterra.

Posted in Conservation, Seattle Aquarium | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment