If you volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium, chances are you have that one animal that’s your favorite. For me, it’s two: our northern fur seals, Commander and Woodstock. We’re extremely lucky to have them here at the Aquarium, as there are only 12 northern fur seals in aquariums nationwide. Commander is a 9-year-old male fur seal that we have on breeding loan from the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. Woodstock (or Woody as we like to call her) is a female who was born here at the Aquarium 23 years ago! Looking at our fur seals, it’s hard to believe that Commander is much younger than Woody. This is because fur seals have the largest sexual dimorphism of all mammals—which means that there is a huge difference in sizes between genders. Females weigh about 110 pounds. A male’s weight fluctuates seasonally and can be as low as 300 pounds in the winter and 600 pounds in summer!
Many people mistake northern fur seals for sea lions, which is very easy to do. They are in the same subgroup of pinnipeds, which includes sea lions and true seals, like our harbor seals. Fur seals and sea lions are in a separate family than the true seals, called Otariidae, which means they have external ear flaps, which true seals lack. Both fur seals and sea lions have nails on their back flippers that are used for grooming.
While both Woody and Commander are in my favorite species at the Aquarium, Commander is definitely my favorite individual animal. I love to do my volunteer shift down in the Family Activity Center where I can watch him through the large under water windows in his exhibit. He loves to swim and I enjoy watching how graceful he is. Woody is just adorable to look at; she likes to take naps on her deck when it’s nice and sunny outside.
Fur seals are also great climbers, a skill that they show off during feedings. Because they can walk on all four limbs, they are able to climb forward and backward, something true seals cannot do. Commander is an excellent climber, which he demonstrates when he climbs the rocky wall of his exhibit to look at Woody through the glass in the neighboring exhibit!
To see these majestic creatures, visit us here at the Seattle Aquarium. Who knows, maybe you’ll even see me there with my favorite animals!
With the Sound full of amazing creatures like orca whales, harbor seals and giant Pacific octopuses, why should we care about little old plankton? Because, says Dr. Ginger Armbrust, the health of plankton in the ocean ultimately determines the health of the planet. “Phytoplankton are responsible for generating about half the oxygen on Earth,” she says, “So every other breath you take, thank a phytoplankton!”
Dr. Armbrust, Director for the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington and principal investigator of the Armbrust Lab, will share highlights from her research on phytoplankton during the second of our Sound Conversations events at 7pm on April 11. Watch the video clip below, then join us to learn about the critical role these organisms play in our global carbon cycle, and ultimately, in our global climate. Tickets are $10 per person; click here for more details and to register.
Here at the Seattle Aquarium we have four sea otters: Adaa, a 13-year-old male found on an airport runway; Lootas, a 15-year-old female found orphaned in Alaska and rehabilitated back to health here; Aniak, a 10-year-old female born here to Lootas; and Sekiu, our 1-year-old female born to Aniak and Adaa.
Sea otters are an important species in the food chain as they keep sea urchin populations under control so they don’t eat all the kelp, which protects many other species. At one point, over 100,000 sea otters called the Pacific Northwest home, but the Washington sea otter population was hunted to extinction at the turn of the 19th century. The reason otters were so prized was because their fur is the densest in the world, with anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million hairs per square inch of skin. In the late 1960s, many otters were collected from Alaska and re-released off the coast of Washington in an effort to repopulate this area. Fortunately, they are now protected from hunting and have made a recovery in Washington waters. Today there are roughly 1,100 sea otters off our coast.
Sea otters are a special type of marine mammal because they don’t have a layer of blubber to keep them warm. Instead, they rely on their thick fur and high metabolism to do the job. Otters need to constantly groom their fur and blow air into it to stay warm. You can watch them do somersaults in the water and see the air bubbles coming off them here at the Aquarium.
Sea otters need to eat around 25% of their body weight every day; roughly 15–20 pounds. At the Aquarium, their diet consists of a variety of shellfish, squid, fish, crabs and shrimp.
As a volunteer, I get to interact with these animals on a weekly basis. My favorite time to visit them is during evening trainings, when they swim up to the windows to look at the people walking by. It’s also fun watching them feed. Each otter has a special “station” they are trained to go to during feeding times. This helps the biologists identify which animal is which, and also makes sure no one is left out of receiving food.
Come down to the Seattle Aquarium this weekend during Marine Mammal Mania (April 5-7) to learn more about these adorable animals!
What do 22 Seattle Aquarium youth volunteers, MC Hammer, Martin Sheen, Kid President and Macklemore all have in common (besides a great fashion sense, that is)? All could be found at the Key Arena on March 27 for the first ever We Day in the United States. We Day celebrates youth’s ability to change the world through service.
Nearly 15,000 youth from across Washington earned their admission to We Day by volunteering, raising money, or through other forms of service both locally and globally. To earn their tickets, youth volunteers at the Seattle Aquarium have been busy interpreting to the public, planning “An Hour for the Ocean” on World Ocean Day, and raising money via their face painting station for a yet-to-be-determined international conservation cause. Since January 1, youth volunteers have already recorded over 5,000 hours of service and have raised approximately $3,000.
We Day featured inspirational stories from people who are actively working to make a difference, as well as an impressive lineup of celebrities and performers. Our youth volunteers left the event feeling excited and inspired to continue their hard work on behalf of the Seattle Aquarium and the Puget Sound: We Love You campaign. Nearly every one of our 22 youth reported that their favorite speakers were those that were making a difference, as opposed to the celebrities in attendance. They’re excited to share their experience at We Day with friends, family and fellow volunteers and continue to fulfill our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment.
Seattle Aquarium volunteer Annie Spalding is at the end of an incredibly challenging decade. She was treated for cancer—along with her mother, grandmother and brother. Her brother didn’t survive. But Annie chose to create something positive from the heartbreak she and her family endured. “I wanted to make a difference,” she says. “And I also wanted to follow my bliss.”
Annie’s love for Puget Sound led her to the Aquarium, where she participated in our donor-supported volunteer training program and began volunteering about a year ago. “I was shocked when I learned about the Pacific trash gyre through my work at the Aquarium,” she says, referring to the vortex of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. She was particularly saddened by the amount of plastic in the gyre—especially because she’s curious about the possible connection between plastics and cancer.
With that, Annie found her personal mission. A dental hygienist, she began taking note of the amount of single-use plastics her office was throwing away. She wondered if other options were available. With the support of her supervisors, she began an investigation that included a waste audit. Her discovery? That 65 percent of the office’s trash—most of which was plastic—was recyclable.
Annie’s office, Queen Anne Dental Group, is now recycling their plastic. And Annie hasn’t stopped there. She’s launching a website that will help other businesses learn about recycling their plastics, and was interviewed about her efforts by NPR. “This is a great way for me to create positive change,” she comments. “To make a bridge between something that was so difficult and connect it to what I love.”