Aquarium for all: Open House welcomes diverse families

With generous support from members and donors, each October the Aquarium invites community members to enjoy a special night of learning, inspiration and fun. Attendees come from households receiving support from selected human service organizations in King County. For many, it is their first opportunity to visit the Aquarium.

To make the evening accessible for all, admission is free. Because many of the families are new to the United States, signs are printed in eight languages: English, Somali, Amharic, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Arabic, Chinese and Spanish. Volunteers from the Aquarium and our community ticket partners provide interpretation services in nine different languages. And the evening’s talks are given in English, Cantonese and Spanish—all in the name of removing barriers to engaging with the wonders of the ocean.

The Seattle Aquarium partners with the Environmental Science Center (ESC), which initially created and hosted the Open House event, to produce it. The ESC is also the source for the youth volunteers, students from Highline High School’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, to staff activities and provide interpretation services. ESC also provides much of the evening’s transportation for families and volunteers traveling to/from the event.

Last fall’s event drew 684 people—mostly families, who eagerly explored exhibits and chose from activities including squid and salmon dissection demonstrations, a make-your-own shark headband station, a diver show and more. Thank you for the support that allows as many people as possible to engage with our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment!

Increasing Aquarium access        

Through social services agencies and community centers run by the City of Seattle Department of Parks & Recreation, the Seattle Aquarium’s community ticket program donates complimentary admission tickets to families who might otherwise experience barriers to visiting us. For more information, visit

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Seattle Aquarium 2017 Hawaii reef research report

2017 marks the ninth consecutive year that Seattle Aquarium staff members have conducted reef fish surveys at eight sites along the northwestern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. Below is a recap from the team, which included Aquarium staff members Alan Tomita (fish counter and chef), Amy Green (water quality analysis), Joel Hollander (fish counter and dive safety officer), Tim Carpenter (camera operator and equipment lead) and Shawn Larson (camera operator and trip leader).

Day 1: February 2

This is year nine of our annual Hawaii reef research where we go to Hawaii in early February to survey eight sites around the northwest side of the Big Island of Hawaii using scuba and underwater cameras. This year we received a $35,000 NOAA coral conservation grant to conduct our fish and coral surveys as well as to add a water quality component to determine the relative health of the nearshore marine environment.

Today was a travel day. We left Seattle at 10:30am and 45 degrees, and arrived in Kona at 3:30pm and 75 degrees. Nice change. The rest of the day was spent picking up water quality and diving supplies as well as food. We arrived at the home of our hosts, Dom and Marie Addario, in Puako at 6pm. We were greeted by a very large humpback whale breaching. It’s wonderful to be back!

Day 2: February 3

First full day in Hawaii. The water looked very nice and inviting with small waves and no wind. We stayed in Puako and were able to get four surveys on both sites 1 and 2, as well as collect water samples for water quality (DDT/DDE, a legacy pesticide that is persistent in the environment and toxic; pyrethrins, a popular pesticide and toxic to aquatic life; PBDE or flame retardants, used in a variety of products and toxic; glycophate, the active ingredient in Roundup and thought to be potentially toxic to coral reefs; nitrate, a nutrient found in fertilizers and in sewage; phosphate, a nutrient found in detergents; ammonia, a compound found in sewage and fertilizers; enterococcus bacteria, a bacteria indicative of sewage contamination; and microplastics that have become widespread in  the marine environment and toxic to marine life). Our sites in Puako are semi-protected which means there is no aquarium collecting of fish and fishing is limited to pole fishing only, no nets or spearfishing. These sites had many fish in the surveys—more than we have seen in previous years.

Day 3: February 4

Another great day in northwest Hawaii. Perfect conditions for reef surveys and water quality sampling. We drove up to our sites 6 and 7 in Mahukona. These sites are not protected and any type of fishing is allowed as well as aquarium collecting. The weather and water were perfect and we were able to conduct four surveys on each site and collect water quality samples. Later in the day, back down in Puako, we tried to survey site 5 which is at the end of Puako Road and a popular surf spot when there are waves. When we got there, sure enough there were surfers and the waves were too large for us to shore dive. We were done for the day.

Day 4: February 5

Today we headed south from Puako to our sites 3 and 4 off of the Old Kona airport. These two sites are also semi-protected, like Puako. Today we were treated by meeting our new boat captain, Mark Johnston, who took us to our sites in his Parker 25 boat. This was a welcome change as these sites are relatively far from shore and involve a long surface swim when diving from shore. The swell was a little big and we did have some surge conditions underwater but the fish diversity was high and there were lots of fish to survey.

Day 5: February 6

Today we are back in Puako but the swell was too big for us to access our last Puako site, site 5, from shore. We tried our best but it was too big and we risked everyone being beaten up by the waves and banged on the lava. So we went to other access points where we could get in the water to search for more sites and new fish. We found garden eels, bi-colored anthias fish and wire coral. Very nice dives.

Day 6: February 7

Today wasn’t the best day for diving: the swell was big, four to six feet,-and we couldn’t access site 5 from shore. We tried to charter a boat through Kohala Divers, where we get our scuba tanks in Kawaihae, but the boats weren’t even going out! We had to do something, so we drove 2.5 hours south to South Point and hiked to the famous “plastic beaches” and the green sand beach. We hiked for three hours and were able to document the plastic trash that has washed ashore here from the edge of the North Pacific gyre which is full of floating plastic debris and estimated to be three to four times the size of Texas. The south end of Hawaii is on the edge of the North Pacific garbage patch in the gyre. We collected a water sample to test all our water quality parameters and of course microplastics.

Day 7: February 8

Today the swell was big again but the wind had died down. We still couldn’t survey our site 5 from shore but we were able to charter a boat from Kohala Divers and get out on the water. The swell however was still very big at site 5 and we were only able to survey the deepest section of our transect. In addition, the visibility was poor with lots of stirred-up sand in the water, making seeing and counting fish difficult—the data from this day will definitely have an asterisk on it as less than ideal and not comparable to other years. In the evening we gave a talk to 30 people in the historic Puako church about our research and its findings thus far. They were a great audience and appreciated the work we do for their reef.

Day 8: February 9

Today we can’t dive as we fly tomorrow so this is called a de-gas day. But there was lots of work to do. We traveled two hours from Puako to the other side of the island to the University of Hawaii Hilo to give a talk to a marine science class about our research. We also dropped off water samples from our surveys to the researchers there to run the nutrient analyses such as ammonia, phosphate and nitrates. The class was very interested in our work and asked lots of great questions. From there we traveled another two hours back over to Kona to give a talk at the harbor for the Kona community about our work. Again, we had about 30 people who were very interested about our work and supportive of our efforts. Later that night we took our research partners with DAR (Division of Aquatic Resources) out to dinner. This is our last day in Hawaii; tomorrow we fly home. It’s been a great trip!

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Cephalo-fun at the Seattle Aquarium

As we finish up Octopus Week, February 18–26, we thought we’d share the love with a couple amazing relatives of the giant Pacific octopus.

Stubby squid at the Seattle Aquarium

Stubby squid, Rossia pacifica

Winter is the best season for recreational divers to spot the stubby squid. During summer, it moves to deeper water to reproduce, but in the winter it inhabits the shallows. Even so, these animals can be hard to find, burying themselves in the sand as they wait for shrimp to ambush.

One thing that sets these unique animals apart from the cephalopod crowd: despite their names, they’re not squid. They belong to the order Sepiolida, which is more closely related to the order Sepiida (cuttlefish) than to the order Teuthida (squid). Like cuttlefish and squid, stubby squid do have eight arms plus two tentacles.

Red Octopus at the Seattle Aquarium

Pacific red octopus, Octopus rubescens

A Pacific red octopus, on the other hand, is definitely an octopus. It belongs to the order Octopoda, along with hundreds of other octopus species. This particular species is the much-smaller cousin of the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini). A Pacific red octopus typically grows to no more than 1.5 pounds and a 20-inch arm span during its two-year life span.

Pacific red octopuses are sometimes mistaken for baby giant Pacific octopuses, but there are some clues to help you tell the difference:

  • Pacific red octopuses have “eyelashes,” three small projections called papillae under each eye.
  • Despite its name, the Pacific red octopus is typically less red in color than a giant Pacific octopus, tending toward a more brown/grey palette
  • While giant Pacific octopuses tend to have paddle-shaped skin projections, those of the Pacific red octopus are more rounded.


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Birds, bees and octopuses

As you may already know, we couldn’t play Cupid to giant Pacific octopuses Pancake and Raspberry this year—turns out Cupid’s arrow had already hit the mark with female Raspberry, who started laying eggs before her blind date with male Pancake. On Valentine’s Day, we released her back into Puget Sound, which will allow her to find a den in which to lay the remaining vast majority of her eggs.

Giant Pacific octopus at the Seattle Aquarium

But if Pancake and Raspberry had actually met…and if the proverbial sparks had flown between them…what actually would have happened? In other words, how do octopuses reproduce?

If you look carefully at a male octopus, you’ll notice that one of his eight arms is not like the others. When mating, the male uses that special arm, called the hectocotylus arm, to transport a spermatophore from his mantle into the female’s. His sperm is deposited into her oviduct, to be stored in an organ called the spermatheca until they are needed.

The eggs themselves only become fertilized as they are being laid; they must pass through the spermatheca before exiting the female octopus’ body. Each fertilized egg is then coated in a nutritious, protective jelly and a protective sheath, called the chorion, before being laid inside the den chosen by the female.

Pancake, a giant Pacific octopus at the Seattle Aquarium

Interested in learning more about octopuses, and/or trying to spot a male’s special arm? Join us for Octopus Week, February 18–26, featuring hands-on activities, special talks and more each day!

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Seattle Aquarium cute couples alert!

We may have been thwarted in our attempt at an octopus blind date this year, but there are still some very charming “couples” on exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium.

A quick note before you get too starry-eyed: Not surprisingly, relationships in the animal kingdom are quite different from human relationships. Animals may couple up for a moment, a season or a lifetime—but mating for life isn’t as romantic as it sounds. Animals that choose to mate year after year do so for practical reasons: they’re busy establishing territory, incubating eggs and/or caring for young…spending that time and energy attracting a new mate every year minimizes reproductive time.

That said, please join us in celebrating these twosomes at the Aquarium—and come see them in person during your next visit!

tufted puffins

Tufted puffins

In the wild, tufted puffins form pairs to share in the duties of incubating their egg and feeding their chick. They will return to the same nesting area and the same partner year after year. Here at the Aquarium, our tufted puffin couple Red Blue Band (male) and Yellow Band (female) have bred and hatched two chicks that now live in the exhibit with them: Purple Band (male, born in 2014) and White Band (female, born in 2015, also known as “Gill”).

Yelloweye Rockfish

Yelloweye rockfish

They may not always be seen together, but the two large yelloweye rockfish in the Window on Washington Waters exhibit often couple up during the winter/spring. Lately they’ve been seen swimming circles around each other (during which time the male will turn very dark in color) in a fishy courtship dance. Rockfish have internal fertilization and give birth to live larval young. The number of young depends on the species of rockfish, and the age and size of the individual, but can be hundreds of thousands of baby rockfish!

mated wolf eels

Wolf eels

We have two pairs of wolf eels denned up together in the Window on Washington Waters exhibit and another pair in the Underwater Dome. Previously thought to bond for life, we now believe that wolf eels can switch partners from season to season.

Can’t get enough of octopuses, even though Cupid’s arrow didn’t fly this year? Join us today on Facebook Live to see a live octopus release, and then join us for Octopus Week, February 18–26, for special activities and lots of chances for up-close looks at these amazing creatures!

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