Octopus census update

giant Pacific octopus

The Seattle Aquarium is making some changes to our annual giant Pacific octopus (GPO) census, which means we won’t be doing the annual count (which in recent years has been conducted over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend) this winter.

Going forward, we’ll conduct the surveys in October rather than January, due to the weather-related complications we’ve regularly experienced in the past couple of years. More importantly, in an effort to be more consistent with our census, we’ll focus the annual octopus counts on six dive sites. Our hope is that the consistency will provide some scientific insight to GPO populations over time.

Why focus on six sites? Over the last 16 years, divers have surveyed many dive sites throughout Puget Sound and, while this has given us a general overview of where octopuses are in the Sound, it hasn’t been able to tell us much about the octopus population as a whole.

That’s one problem with the data we’ve collected. The other is that we haven’t had a single dive site surveyed every year—which prevents us from getting a complete picture of what is going on year to year. Taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the recent creation of octopus protected areas in Puget Sound, we reworked our previous approach to create something that will hopefully provide us with interesting and useful data, and a more complete picture of what’s going on with our GPO population.

The new census will look very similar to what we’ve done in the past, but we’ll now be focusing our efforts on comparing six dive sites. Three of the sites are in the new octopus protected areas, and three are in unprotected areas. And, as noted previously, we’ve moved the timeframe so that the census will now take place in October. Our hope is that October will offer a better window of weather, allowing more opportunities for people to get out and dive.

One thing that hasn’t changed: we’ll continue to use the local dive community to help us gather this data—including charter boat dives, which proved to be a big success and lots of fun in 2015. We’ll provide more information about the dive sites and specific dates later this year. Stay tuned!

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The birds and the bees and the fishes in the sea

You might already know about the birds and the bees as they relate to birds and bees…but what about the birds and the bees for the fishes of the sea? Between winter and spring is the time when most of the Aquarium’s cold-water fish reproduce, and keen-eyed visitors may be able to see signs of it in our exhibits—if they visit soon!

Keep reading to learn about three types of reproduction and what to look for on an upcoming visit to the Aquarium! FYI, reproduction for our warm-water fish doesn’t follow this same seasonal cycle; it may take place year-round and be time to lunar cycles instead of seasons.

Oviparous reproduction

How does it work? The mother lays eggs, then the young hatch out of those eggs. Ninety percent of bony fish and 43 percent of cartilaginous fish reproduce this way.

What to look for: A spotted ratfish cruising around the Underwater Dome with two egg cases trailing behind it. Also recently sighted in the same exhibit: whitish clusters of lingcod eggs. On a nearby rock, you may be able to see a male lingcod guarding more of these eggs.


Viviparous reproduction

How does it work? The young develop inside the mother, then she gives live birth (similar to human reproduction). Surf perches are some of the only true viviparous fish. Certain sharks, such as hammerheads, blue sharks and bull sharks, also reproduce this way.

What to look for: If you see blue striped perch in the Underwater Dome that are just a couple inches long, you are seeing fish that were born in the exhibit! Most of the fish that are born or hatched at the Aquarium are small enough to return to Puget Sound via the open-water system that supports the exhibits in which we feature fish native to our local waters. But these young perch are anywhere from 1.6 to 2.4 inches long at birth, too large for the open-water system, and as such are one of the few larval fish that may remain at the Aquarium for the duration of their lives.


Ovoviviparous reproduction

How does it work? The eggs hatch within the mother’s body, and then she gives live birth to the young. From the outside, this looks just like viviparous reproduction. The big difference is that there is no placental connection between the mother and young—instead, the young are nourished by an egg. Rockfish are ovoviviparous—as well as rays and some sharks.

What to look for: The baby bump on a yelloweye rockfish in our Window on Washington Waters exhibit. At her mature size, she may release 500,000 live little rockfish. The young will be about one-fifth of an inch long when they’re born, which usually happens around the height of the spring plankton bloom (so those young fish have food) and at night (for protection).


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Fifteen 2015 Seattle Aquarium animal highlights

What a year it was! There’s a lot to look forward to in the new year, but first a look back. We’ve rounded up our top 15 animal highlights from 2015, take a look!

1–2: Welcome to Leu and Flaherty

Fur seals Leu and Flaherty joined us last March from New England Aquarium. At 4 and 3 years old, respectively, they are relative youngsters and it will be a treat to see them grow up. Leu now weighs in at 102 pounds; younger Flaherty is tipping the scales at 78 pounds. They’ll be between 350 and 600 pounds when they’re fully grown!

Leu and Flaherty

3: Sweet young puffling

What’s a puffling? A puffin chick, and we were delighted to welcome one on August 1, 2015. We later determined that the chick is a girl.

Baby puffin

4–12: Orcas galore

It was a banner year for the Southern Resident orca community—eight baby orcas were born in 2015, making it the biggest baby year since 1977, when nine calves were born to J, K and L pods (the group that comprises the Southern Resident community). Best wishes to all the new babies and their moms in the coming year!

orca baby

13: Hello, Hogan

After much anticipation, harbor seal Hogan arrived at the Seattle Aquarium from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (PDZA) on December 8, 2015. Hogan is the 2 ½- year-old offspring of our own Q and PDZA female Shila. Come meet him on your next visit to the Aquarium!


14: Mishka, Mishka, Mishka

Northern sea otter Mishka arrived in late January, 2015—and was diagnosed with asthma late last summer. She’s since learned how to use an inhaler to receive the medicine she needs; read our previous blog post for the story.

Mishka using inhaler

15: Salmon surge

2015 included the largest run of fall chinook salmon that the Columbia River has seen since 1938. At the Seattle Aquarium, we celebrated the hatching of our chinook salmon in December—read our blog post for details!

Chinook salmon alevins hatching

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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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