Seattle Aquarium heads to the Big Island!
Part 1 of 2

Hawaii research trip 2015The Seattle Aquarium recently completed its seventh year of a research project off the northwest coast Hawaii’s Big Island: monitoring reef fish abundance. Data is gathered using a method similar to the one used in our temperate fish surveys: non-invasive monitoring through diver-performed video sampling. This work is being done in cooperation with Washington State University; California State University, Humboldt; and the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources.

Says Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson, “We are searching for shifting baselines, which are an ecological indicator of changes in fish abundance and diversity that may correlate with local environmental changes or other factors such as changes in human use activities.” Data collected has shown a steady increase in fishes in our study sites and has already been used for educational and management purposes in Hawaii.

Below, Dr. Larson shares her journal entries from the first three days of the five-day research trip.

Day 1: Tuesday, February 3

Puako houseArrived at our hosts’ beautiful house in Puako late last night. We spent the morning getting all our gear together and picking up tanks. In the early afternoon we were able to get our survey dives done at site 1. It was beautiful and we saw many fish that we hadn’t seen at this site before. Plus there were many juvenile fish of all species. It was a great dive.

Day 2: Wednesday, February 4

Hawaii research trip 2015The waves were too big for us to access our sites from shore so no diving today. After we were shut out by the surf at Puako we headed 20 miles north to try our research sites at Mahukona. When we got there the waves were just as strong as down south—but what killed our hopes of diving here was the fact that the ladder that we relied on to get into and out of the water was gone. Two weeks ago the north side of Hawaii experienced record high tides combined with very heavy surf, and many nearshore areas were damaged, including our entry sight at Mahukona. Frustrated, we headed back to the house and spent the rest of the day preparing for our talk at the historic church in Puako at 6pm, which was attended by approximately 30 people and very well received, with lots of good questions and interest in our work.

Day 3: Thursday, February 5

Hawaii research trip 2015Today was our day in Kona (about a 30-minute drive to the south of Puako) to dive with Captain Pete McCormick off his 25-foot Parker motorboat. We were hoping to be able to dive on Sites 3, 4 and 8. However the swells were pretty big and after we surveyed sites 3 and 4 in Kona, we tried to make it down to site 8 (another hour boat ride) but it was too rough. We’ll try to pick up site 8 again Saturday.

Check back soon for part 2 of our Hawaii research trip 2015 series! In the meantime, for details about the Seattle Aquarium’s other research projects, visit our website.

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Seattle Aquarium youth volunteers participate in tree planting event

Youth Ocean Advocates

On January 31, eight high school volunteers from the Seattle Aquarium’s Youth Ocean Advocates program joined teens from Woodland Park Zoo and Pacific Science Center to plant 150 trees, 30 shrubs and 30 understory plants along the Burke Gilman trail.

This was the inaugural event for the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (CAN), a partnership between the teen programs from the Aquarium, zoo and science center. Youth from the three institutions will be meeting regularly to learn about climate change and how to take climate action.

The trees planted were purchased by Woodland Park Zoo’s membership in Forterra’s Evergreen Carbon Capture program (formally Carbon Capturing Companies). The Aquarium is a founding member of this program—read our previous blog post for details.

Interested in becoming a Seattle Aquarium youth volunteer, or know someone who might be? Orientations for our summer session will take place in March. Visit the Youth Ocean Advocates page on our website for details!

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Longtime Seattle Aquarium volunteer celebrates with a final dive

Janet, Seattle Aquarium volunteer

In December, one of the Seattle Aquarium’s longest-serving volunteer divers, Janet Hensley, took her last dip in the Underwater Dome—and, notes Volunteer Services Manager Katrina Bettis, “It was a unique dive that she will no doubt never forget.” Early morning divers hid a special sign in the waters of the exhibit, out of view of anyone who happened to be strolling through, and waited until the right moment to surprise Janet during her dive shift.

Says Katrina, “Later that evening when Janet was relaying the story to me, she said, “My dive buddy Phil kept telling me I should go to a particular area in the exhibit and I couldn’t figure out, but eventually I went over anyway.” When she did, she discovered the sign that had been left for her. Another volunteer who was on the “dry side” in the Dome said Janet got really quiet and then could be heard over the speakers, crying.

Janet’s final dive took place 20 years and three months to the day she started volunteering with the Seattle Aquarium. Her husband, family and friends gathered to witness it. The Underwater Dome holds a special place in the lives of Janet and her husband—they were married there long before the Aquarium began its private event rental program. Janet doesn’t think of the Seattle Aquarium as a place she volunteers…she thinks of it as extension of her family.

We thank Janet for her many years as a volunteer—during which she doubtless inspired thousands of Aquarium visitors! Interested in becoming a Seattle Aquarium volunteer or volunteer diver? Visit the volunteer page on our website for details and upcoming orientation dates.

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Why Aquariums Matter

Seattle Aquarium President & CEO Robert W. Davidson’s TEDxRainier talk, Why Aquariums Matter, was recently published to TEDxRainer’s YouTube channel.

View the 15-minute talk below, which Davidson delivered on November 22, 2014 at Seattle’s McCaw Hall as part of the annual TEDxRainier event.

The talk features, as Davidson notes, “stories of discovery and of positive action”—touching on issues affecting our one world ocean as well as those closer to home: ocean acidification, the Pacific trash vortex, sea star wasting disease, and the protections established for giant Pacific octopuses in Puget Sound in 2013.

Davidson comments, “Each of us has a personal aquarium window that magnifies and clarifies the world around us. Through this lens, if we’re lucky, we may feel a child’s wonder. The power of water, every drop, touching us to act while there’s still time.”

Watch the video, then visit our website to learn more! You can send comments or your own thoughts on why aquariums matter to

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Hello, Mishka! Seattle Aquarium welcomes a new sea otter

Mishka, 6 month old sea otter coming to Seattle Aquarium

Great news! Mishka, a rescued Alaskan sea otter pup, will soon be making her home at the Seattle Aquarium. She’ll be arriving very early tomorrow morning and it’s expected that Aquarium visitors will be able to view her on Sunday, February 1—making Super Bowl Sunday even more super!

Mishka, which is Russian for “little bear,” is just over six months old and is coming to the Aquarium by way of the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska. After being caught in a fishing net in July 2014, she was rescued, rehabilitated at the Alaska SeaLife Center, and deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). Her caretakers in Alaska report that she’s been enjoying a diet of surf clams, crab, mussels, capelin, squid, herring and pollock and now weighs just over 26 pounds. They also say that she seems to have a lot of fun with enrichment activities, particularly piles of ice.

Because Mishka has been living indoors, Aquarium staff will be systematically acclimating her to her new outdoor environment. After she arrives on Saturday, she’ll be placed in the Aquarium’s sea otter holding pool, where the windows will be covered and stanchions will be used to keep visitors out of the area. Based on Mishka’s behavior, the window coverings will be gradually removed in sections. Over the following few days, the stanchions will be moved closer to the windows until she gets used to people being close. In time, as she becomes comfortable in her new surroundings, we will introduce Aniak as her first companion.

Northern sea otters have made their homes at the Aquarium since we opened in 1977. In fact, we have the distinction of being the first zoo or aquarium to have a sea otter pup conceived, born and survive into adulthood. Multiple populations of sea otters are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act—northern sea otters are threatened. As accredited members of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), the Aquarium and Alaska SeaLife Center are working collaboratively to place sea otters that have been deemed non-releasable by the USFWS. Initiatives like this help further our goals related to conservation research and education about this species.

Check out our fact sheet to learn more about northern sea otters—and come meet Mishka on your next visit!

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