Sound Conversations: Learn how we #stopsucking with Dune Ives on May 17

Do you know where the plastic straw you used in your iced latte or soda goes after you toss it in the trash? Many end up in landfills but others end up as part of the growing problem around single-use plastics polluting the ocean.

Last year the Seattle Aquarium helped launch the Strawless in Seattle initiative—a one month campaign to encourage local restaurant owners and consumers to #stopsucking by giving up single-use plastic straws.

The initiative, which was organized by the Lonely Whale Foundation, challenged as many as 500 local businesses to give up their plastic straws in an effort to promote ocean health. The result was an estimated 2.3 million single-use plastic straws being removed from circulation.

We are proud to announce that one of the lead architects of this effort and executive director of the Lonely Whale Foundation, Dune Ives, will be joining us as part of our Sound Conversation Series in May.

Dune has been championing ocean conservation initiatives for more than a decade and more recently has been working to raise awareness and drive measurable impact around single-use plastics. Prior to joining Lonely Whale, Dune was the head of Paul Allen’s Vulcan Philanthropy and led the Great Elephant Census, Global Fin Print, Smart Catch, and the BLM Coal Leasing Program PEIS lawsuit.

The Aquarium was proud to be part of the Strawless in Seattle campaign and is trying to do its part by reducing the number of single-use plastics used throughout our facility. Our Sound Conversations event with Dune will be discussing some key drivers of environmental degradation and species decline throughout the world, and continued efforts to get more people to #stopsucking.

Our talk-show-style conservation event will be taking place on Thursday, May 17 at 7pm (reception); 7:30pm program begins, and will be hosted by Jeff Renner.  Tickets are $25 per person/$20 Aquarium Members/$10 students. Click here for more details and to register.

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Science + an act: how the canary got its groove back

Canary rockfish are one of the most eye-catching fish in the Aquarium’s cold water exhibits, but there are not as many of them in the ocean as there used to be. Luckily for us, and for the canary rockfish, that is changing.

Canary rockfish, Sebastes pinniger

These fish live up to 80 years, and everything during that life happens slowly. Canary rockfish are slow to grow, slow to reproduce and slow to do just about everything—so there was a time when we were fishing them from the ocean faster than their populations could replenish. In 2000, the canary rockfish was declared overfished and a plan was put in place to grow its populations on the entire west coast of the United States. Because of the canary’s long life span, managers knew this wouldn’t happen overnight. They projected that their plan would bring canary rockfish back to harvestable levels by 2057. Just a few years ago in 2015, this science-based management paid off, and the canary rockfish fishery was declared rebuilt—40 years ahead of schedule!

So who was it that deemed this fishery overfished in the first place? And who put the recovery plan into action? Thanks to a federal law called the Magnuson–Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (phew!), the canary rockfish was brought back from the brink. This law is probably one that you’ve never heard of, but once you do, you can’t help but be proud of this important legislation. First passed in 1976, the goal of the Magnuson–Stevens Act is to better regulate how the U. S. manages its ocean resources, so that fisheries can continue to produce into the future. Since its inception, the law has been reauthorized twice by Congress, always with strong bipartisan support. It is a proven success, and not just for the canary rockfish. Over the past two decades, this federal management program has brought 43 fisheries stocks back from being overfished.

Juvenile canary rockfish

Right now, Congress is reviewing how we manage our fisheries. The Seattle Aquarium, and members of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership, are urging our local representatives to make science the driving factor in how we make fisheries management decisions. Science-based decision making supports a healthy ecosystem, resilient communities and a thriving economy. Our coastal communities have relied on ocean resources for hundreds of years—or in the case of the Coast Salish peoples since time immemorial. Together, with effective science-based management, we can help ensure that our local fisheries thrive for generations to come.

Thank you for your continued support of the Aquarium, and make sure you come visit us soon so you can see the amazing canary rockfish and other species that directly benefit from some of the best-managed fisheries in the world.


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Cool jobs at the Aquarium: facilities team

“No two days are the same!”

That’s a sentiment echoed by many on the Seattle Aquarium facilities team, which handles a broad array of tasks in the areas of engineering, maintenance, custodial, safety and security. “We support the entire organization, working behind the scenes and for our visitors. We’re not the stars of the show, but we’re important,” says Facilities Manager Jesse Phillips-Kress. “We’re facilitators.”

The skill sets of facilities team members are just as diverse as the tasks they do. “We’ve got everyone from a traditionally trained engineer, to a biologist, to tradespeople and jacks-of-all-trades,” says Jesse. The team is critical for the operation and safety of the Aquarium and, as such, someone who can respond to an emergent need is on-site every minute of every day. That’s especially important for our animals, when an exhibit malfunction can mean life or death if not addressed quickly.

7,000,000 gallons per day

Unlike land-locked aquariums that must “make” their own salt water, the Seattle Aquarium’s waterfront location allows us to pump directly from Puget Sound. Approximately seven million gallons of seawater come in and out of the Aquarium each day. For comparison, our largest exhibit, the Underwater Dome, holds about 400,000 gallons.

Only water destined for exhibits with filter-feeders like barnacles and anemones, which depend on the plankton in “raw” seawater to survive, is untreated. Water for our remaining exhibits is filtered to varying degrees and, in the case of tropical exhibits, heated as well. “It’s a complicated process,” says Engineer Bob Kiel. “We’re trying to replicate the habitat and conditions for optimum animal health, and in a way that provides a dynamic presentation for our visitors.”

What flows in also, eventually, flows back out. Facilities team members periodically test the water being returned to Puget Sound to ensure it falls below the allowable limits set by regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Departments of Ecology and Agriculture.

“When you’re on water, everything shifts”

Building maintenance at the Seattle Aquarium has an extra layer of intricacy because of our location over Puget Sound. Although the force of the tides can’t be felt, their movements exert a definite impact on our building. “Nothing stays square,” laughs Jesse. “Even something as simple as hanging a door becomes much more involved.”

Whether it’s hanging doors, creating custom animal life support systems, reuniting a lost child with their parents, or installing tiny ladders in the gutters to aid baby gulls who have accidentally slipped down the roof – every day on the facilities team holds new challenges and opportunities to learn.

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The octopus – our thriving neighbor

Pigeons, squirrels, gulls, raccoons and…octopuses?

We’re all familiar with the many animals that live among us as they forage for food and navigate around buildings and parks throughout the city. But you might be surprised by new research that shows that a very different neighbor, our very own giant Pacific octopus, has something in common with these city-dwelling animals.

Synanthropic species is a scientific classification for animals who have learned to live in urban environments. The term describes undomesticated (wild) animals or plants that live in close association with people and that adapt to benefit from our activities.

A new study published in the journal Urban Ecosystems this past February, has shown a preliminary link between urban habitats and giant Pacific octopus populations. The research, which was coauthored by one of the Aquarium’s very own staff Amy Olsen, found that giant Pacific octopus numbers were greater in deep water, urban areas around Puget Sound in comparison with more rural locations.

Why do researchers think octopuses like living by people?

More common species of synanthropes like birds and rodents, often thrive in cities due to the abundance of food that we as humans unwittingly provide for them. However, researchers theorize that giant Pacific octopuses have become our neighbors not because of food—instead they are seeking out urban areas because of the habitat generated by human debris.

As an invertebrate octopuses can do amazing things with their bodies and will often make sunken boats, old piers or even a discarded bottle their home. An adult octopus can weigh up to 150 pounds and have an arm span 20 feet across—yet they can fit themselves through a hole about the size of a lemon. Any diver will tell you that it is not uncommon to see an octopus make a den in an abandoned tire or some other piece of debris found at the bottom of Puget Sound.

Learn more about this amazing species by visiting the Aquarium!

The giant Pacific octopus is the largest species of octopus in the world. They can change color and texture at will, and the Aquarium is highly invested in their success.

Every year the Aquarium participates in an annual census to track how the local octopus population is doing. The data collected, and the changes in it from year to year, provide insight into how these important animals use habitat and affect the areas they inhabit. This year with the help of staff and volunteer divers, we were able to count 39 giant Pacific octopuses at 16 dive site locations.

Come visit us at the Seattle Aquarium to view Vincent, our male giant Pacific octopus or read more about the many amazing adaptations of octopus on our website.


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Eelgrass: nursery of the sea

Meadows of grass growing below the surface of Puget Sound? It may not be the same as the grass on your local playfield—but it’s there, and it serves a vital purpose.

You’ve probably seen eelgrass on the beach at low tide. Many people mistake it for seaweed, but it’s a perennial, underwater grass, and it spreads the same way grass does on land—with rhizomes.

Eelgrass is found in subtidal and intertidal estuaries, bays and coves in temperate climates throughout the world. Like perennial plants on land, eelgrass grows in the spring and summer, then decays in the fall and winter. Eelgrass blades can grow to be up to three feet long.

What makes eelgrass so extraordinary—and unique—is that it provides an important, irreplaceable home for young marine creatures including crabs, salmon, scallops, herring and more. That’s because eelgrass blades provide food for an array of invertebrates, which in turn become a rich food source themselves.

At low tide, eelgrass shelters small animals, protecting them from warm temperatures and predators. And, similar to grass on land, eelgrass helps prevent erosion—by cushioning the impact of waves. Eelgrass also benefits humans by filtering polluted runoff.

Juvenile salmon, or fry

No other underwater plant duplicates what eelgrass does.  But, as shoreline development has increased around the world, eelgrass has declined. Dredging ravages eelgrass beds. Docks can block the light that eelgrass needs to grow. Rising temperatures may also cause eelgrass diebacks. And, when eelgrass is destroyed, entire populations of fish and invertebrates are affected.

Eelgrass restoration efforts are underway, locally and worldwide. In 2010, the Washington state Department of Natural Resources recommended a 20 percent restoration of eelgrass by 2020. Whether or not the goal is attainable remains to be seen—but work continues, with “gardeners” cultivating eelgrass in tubs, and divers planting the specimens below the surface.

Sculpin eggs on eelgrass

You can help preserve eelgrass simply by not walking on it when you visit the beach. Instead, kneel at the edge of the eelgrass bed and gently explore below the blades. Interested in learning more about eelgrass? Join the Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists this summer!

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