Mayor celebrates partnership: success on Seattle's waterfront!

A project that finished on time and on budget? Now that’s something to celebrate!

To recognize the timely repayment of a loan from the City, the Seattle Aquarium Society recently presented a check for $1.45 million to Mayor Ed Murray. This was the final payment for the bridge financing of $5.2 million for the 2005–2007 New Currents Aquarium expansion project. The arrangement was part of a $42 million public/private partnership that restored the structural integrity of historic Pier 59 and expanded the Aquarium exhibit and public spaces by 30 percent.

Congratulations and thanks to the Aquarium Society campaign, chaired by Ted Ackerley and Stuart Rolfe, which raised $20 million of the project costs. With the addition of a new entrance on Alaskan Way, major new exhibits and a café, as well as expansion of the gift shop and evening event facilities, the successful project helped increase Seattle Aquarium attendance to 800,000 visitors per year and secure its place in the top 10 aquariums in the nation by attendance.

Mayor celebrates partnership: success on Seattle's waterfront

Pictured left to right: Seattle Aquarium President & CEO Robert W. Davidson, Deputy Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams, past Aquarium Board Chair and Campaign Co-Chair Ted Ackerley, Aquarium Director of Finance & Administration Ryan Dean, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Parks Superintendent Jesus Aguirre.

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Luminescence in the animal kingdom

Luminescence in the animal kingdom

What’s luminescence? You can probably guess that it has something to do with light. The dictionary defines it as “the creation of light by processes that don’t involve heat.” And you may already know that some creatures are bioluminescent (which means they employ a chemical process that allows them to create their own light). Fireflies and glow worms on land, for instance. In the marine world, anglerfish are well-known bioluminescent animals. And Puget Sound-area residents may have been treated to the sight of bioluminescent plankton in the water at night.

There are other forms of luminescence in the animal kingdom. Many marine animals use a form of luminescence called biofluorescence, which requires an input of light from an external source. In biofluorescence, short wavelength light (such as UV-A or black light), which is invisible to the human eye, is absorbed and then reemitted as longer wavelength of light, which is visible. This causes the substance to glow with a distinct color. This glow lasts only as long as the substance is exposed to the UV light. We are able to see examples of this in some of the corals in the Seattle Aquarium’s Pacific Coral Reef exhibit, as well as the green anemones in the Life on the Edge and Birds & Shores exhibits.

What advantage does biofluorescence provide to these animals? For corals, it seems to play a role in their relationship with the photosynthetic algae, or zooxanthellae, dwelling within their tissues. Biofluorescent fish may use it as a covert form of communication, displaying markings only visible to members of their own species. Studies of biofluorescent fish revealed a yellow filter within their eye structure that likely allows these animals to detect fluorescent light. It may also serve as a form of camouflage.

Can you think of any other advantages that biofluorescent animals might have? Share your ideas with us during your next visit to the Seattle Aquarium!

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Seattle Aquarium's river otter Waadah has passed away

Waadah, river otter at Seattle Aquarium

It is with great sadness that the Seattle Aquarium reports that male North American river otter (NARO) Waadah has passed away. Over the last few days Waadah had been exhibiting lethargy and poor appetite associated with age-related heart disease, a condition that is quite common with geriatric river otters. After close monitoring and veterinary evaluation, the decision was made to humanely euthanize him.

The median life expectancy for a NARO is approximately 12 years. It is a testament to the care Waadah received at the Seattle Aquarium that he lived such a vital, energetic life until he was well over 17 years old. There are currently 264 river otters living in facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and only two of those river otters are older than Waadah.

Waadah and his brother Skagway were born to a litter of four pups found under a home on Hood Canal, Washington in spring 1998. The homeowner contacted a trapper to remove mother and pups. Waadah and Skagway were both brought to an animal rehab facility in Port Townsend, Washington and were later transferred to the Seattle Aquarium. They became the original occupants of the Aquarium’s river otter exhibit, which opened in the summer of 1998.

The two remaining river otters at the Seattle Aquarium, Skagway and Molalla, can be seen in their exhibit. Molalla, who was born at Oregon Zoo, came to the Aquarium in February 2014. He is about three years old.

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Aquarium volunteers participate in Seattle Youth Climate Action Network

Seattle Youth Climate Action Network

The Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (CAN), a partnership between the youth programs at the Seattle Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo and Pacific Science Center, recently wrapped up its first year of programming by sending three youth, including the Aquarium’s own Youth Ocean Advocate Sahayra Barojas, to the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit in upstate New York to present on the foundation of Youth CAN and to learn about hosting a summit from a well-established program.

Seattle Youth CAN had a busy year of activities, with youth from each institution planning and hosting a variety of activities focused on climate education and action over the course of the year. The Seattle Aquarium hosted a training on ocean acidification which featured guest speaker Dr. Chris Sabine from PMEL and a movie night to screen the documentary Chasing Ice. Youth also had the opportunity to participate in tree planting events, receive training at the zoo on how climate change impacts animals, and meet with scientists and engineers developing technology to address climate change and other environmental concerns. In all, over 300 youth participated in events put on in partnership Seattle Youth CAN.

Youth CAN group photo with logo

The culminating event for Youth CAN was a Youth Climate Summit held in October at Woodland Park Zoo. Eighty-five youth and 15 community partners met to discuss climate issues and possible climate action projects. Youth came from the partner institutions as well as from the broader community of young people interested in climate action.

Youth CAN has recently been recognized on NOAA’s website as one of 30 case studies for youth engagement in climate action. Additionally, the group has been awarded a second grant by The Ocean Project to continue its work in 2016. In the future, Seattle Youth CAN hopes to grow the number of youth participating in the network and have a broader impact on our community.

Click here to learn more about the Seattle Aquarium’s youth volunteer programs!

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Redd alert: our chinook salmon are hatching!

Chinook salmon alevins hatching

Some are still eggs in the redd (the term for a nest of salmon eggs), but many have hatched into the alevin, or newly hatched baby salmon, you see above.

Female salmon dig their redds in river beds and deposit their eggs in the fall; the eggs hatch during the winter. What if humans were like salmon? What if, instead of the protection of our mother’s womb, we got the nurturing abilities of a rocky river-bottom? It’s a wonder that any of these salmon survive, especially when we consider that a river is much more dynamic than the hatchery trough at the Aquarium.

Only the strong survive

In ideal conditions (hardly ever present in a natural stream setting), 80% of the eggs will make it out of the gravel to a free-swimming life. Storms, disease and predation take some of them out of the running. Also, female salmon may dig their redds on top of existing redds—this is called superimposition. The original eggs may not survive the digging activity.

Chinook salmon alevins

Life at the bottom

At what point will the alevins pictured above leave the gravel and start swimming? After they’ve used up all the nutrition from their “lunch boxes,” the yolk sacs attached to their undersides. At that point, they will become free-swimming juvenile salmon, or fry. How long it takes for a salmon egg to hatch and emerge from the gravel are largely dependent on temperature. This is because salmon are ectothermic animals (remember this blog post?), so their growth and metabolism increase as the surrounding temperature increases. Chinook salmon eggs take roughly 47 days to hatch in 52°F (11°C) water. In those same conditions, it will take those chinook alevin 84 days to absorb their yolk sacs and become fry.

Chinook on top

Chinook salmon are roughly three times more likely than pink, chum, or sockeye to make it from egg to the fry stage. Why? They spawn at lower densities, so there are fewer of the problems that come with competition for space. As the largest salmon species, they can dig the deepest (and therefore safest) redds. They also spawn in large rivers, which may be able to buffer the effects of storms better than small streams.

Come see the alevins at the Seattle Aquarium—and learn more about salmon with our fact sheet!

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