Support the Seattle Aquarium: vote YES on Prop 1 by August 5!

Parks for All - Vote YES

Seattle voters have a chance to cast a vote next month for the Aquarium and city parks. The Aquarium is supporting “Seattle Parks for All” and I hope you will too.

We’ve joined dozens of other citizens’ organizations to enthusiastically support Proposition 1. The “Seattle Parks for All” measure will help ensure that our city’s parks—including the Seattle Aquarium—are well maintained and accessible for generations to come.


Proposition 1 will replace the expiring parks levy with a lasting park district solution designed to address a $267 million maintenance backlog at many of Seattle’s most popular City-owned destinations, including the Aquarium. It will cost the owner of a typical $400,000 home only about $4 a month more than what they are currently paying. After more than a year of careful study, the measure was proposed by a special Seattle Parks citizens committee, endorsed by Mayor Murray—as well as all five preceding mayors—and has the unanimous support of the City Council as well.

For more information on the measure, visit

Ballots are due by August 5. Thanks in advance for supporting the Seattle Aquarium!

Bob Davidson



Robert W. Davidson
Seattle Aquarium

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"War of the Whales" features Aquarium award winner Ken Balcomb

Ken BalcombWorld-renowned orca expert Ken Balcomb, who is the executive director of the Center for Whale Research and was the recipient of the Seattle Aquarium’s 2006 Conservation Research Award, is a principal player in “War of the Whales,” a gripping new book by Joshua Horwitz.

Reading more like an intrigue novel than a factual account, the book tells the true story of the struggle to balance the needs—and the very survival—of whales in our world’s ocean against the needs of the government to protect its citizenry. At the center of the story are environmental attorney Joel Reynolds, Ken Balcomb and, of course, the majestic whales themselves.

Ken recently agreed to answer a few questions for us about the book and what has become his life’s work—studying and working to protect whales.

Q: Who should read “War of the Whales” and why?

A: Anyone concerned with the welfare of wildlife should read “War of the Whales” because the story is essentially about national defense versus environmental defense. Perhaps there is no clearer example of societal momentum having paid too little attention to environmental degradation, with the result that even a clear choice is now extremely difficult because of unknown and/or unforeseen potential consequences. The reader is shown all angles on this important subject that has not heretofore had much public concern.

Q: The book details the effects of sonar—a technique that uses sound to navigate, communicate or detect objects underwater—on whales. What happens to a whale when it’s exposed to sonar?

A: It is the sudden onset of fast rise high amplitude sound waves that is most alarming to a whale, and then it keeps on happening—like if you were inches away from a fire alarm when it intermittently sounded. You might have instantaneous hearing damage if the alarm sound was loud enough and you would naturally try to move away; but in water the sound is transmitted very efficiently at high amplitude for long distances, causing a large area known as “the zone of injury.” Whales will naturally try to move away and escape from this zone, but they cannot move as fast as the sound waves. The precise mechanism of the injuries seen in whales that die in or near this zone is debated; but, it is no longer debated whether significant numbers of whales die, many of them far beyond the zone. Whales that frantically get as far away as possible from the zone may swim into shallow water and onto beaches, leading to death by other causes such as overheating, gas bubble trauma and shark attacks. Nonetheless, the cause of these deaths can be reasonably attributed to sonar.

Q: Are all whale species affected similarly by sonar?

A: Different species of whale respond differently, partly depending upon their hearing frequency specialization, partly depending upon their natural behavior repertoire—such as shy species, inquisitive species or fearless species—and partly depending upon their personal experience. It also depends upon the amplitude of the sonar in the vicinity of the whale.

Q: Are there other forms of underwater noise that are as damaging to whales as sonar?

A: Other underwater “noise” events that can be as damaging as sonar to whales include underwater explosions such as bombs; air guns used for undersea oil exploration and seismic research; earthquakes; and lightning strikes. Explosives and air guns have zones of mortality and injury that have been well-studied. Earthquakes and lightning strikes can produce extremely loud broadband noise events underwater, but these are usually transient episodes with lots of low frequency energy in the environment in which marine mammals evolved.

Q: What other marine animals are impacted by sonar and/or underwater noise?

A: More studies are required to create a complete list of marine animals that are affected by sonar and/or underwater noise, but essentially all mammals and hearing-capable vertebrates are liable to be affected, depending upon “exposure” levels and frequencies. All creatures can be affected by explosions, and the injury/mortality data is available for both in-air and underwater for many laboratory species.

Q: How frequently are the Southern Resident orcas impacted by sonar/other forms of underwater noise?

A: In the inland marine waters of Washington State, the Southern Residents are rarely exposed to sonar nowadays, but they have suffered some very high exposures in the not-too-distant past from both the U.S. and Canada.

Q: What can people do to help?

A: The public should learn about this subject and generally be suspicious of “spin-doctoring” the story to favor a particular “side” to the discussion. I think the book is very balanced, and the reviews from all sides have been favorable-to-humbling from the point of view of this protagonist. Of course, contributions to our nonprofit Center for Whale Research help me recruit and train the next generation of dedicated whale researchers; and contributions to the Seattle Aquarium help educate the people about these amazing animals.

We thank Ken for his insightful responses to our questions! “War of the Whales” is available for sale at the Seattle Aquarium gift shop.

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New art exhibit opens at the Seattle Aquarium

Raven Skyriver, whale

Now on exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium: blown glass sculpture by Tlingit artist Raven Skyriver and limited-edition prints by Aleut artist Thomas Stream. The works from both artists feature beautiful renditions of animals native to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

Raven Skyriver, who grew up on Lopez Island, is passionate about the wildlife of the Puget Sound area. He’s known for creating works that are unusually large for blown glass. Using paddles, pads, shears and other hand tools, he and his small team form the bodies of the sculptures while the glass is hot. The pieces are cooled over a few days, and can be sandblasted, etched, acid-bathed or ground when fully cold.

Thomas Stream was born on the island of Kodiak in Alaska; his family moved to Seattle when he was a young boy. The animals featured in his prints are adorned with traditional Aleut headgear.

Click here for more details about the exhibit. Be sure to visit our Life on the Edge exhibit to see these beautiful, inspiring works of art! The exhibit will be up through the end of the summer, and all works on display are for sale. Raven Skyriver also has a solo exhibit, Descent, at Seattle’s Stonington Gallery now through July 31.

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Letter to the Seattle Aquarium from a young marine advocate

Sarah, who lives near Puget Sound and will enter third grade in September, was inspired to write us the following letter after reading a recent newspaper article about the mysterious wasting disease affecting sea stars along the West Coast:

Dear Seattle Aquarium,

My name is Sarah. My mom and I read the article about how the starfish disease is affecting the ocean in the Seattle Times.  It is very upsetting that starfish are dying. So, I thought of an idea to help figure out what is wrong with the starfish. 

My idea is that you could find some healthy starfish in the ocean, and then send the healthy starfish to different countries where there are many good marine biologists. Those biologists in other countries can get together to find the best medicine for the starfish. 

By reaching out to other countries, maybe we’ll find other ideas that we didn’t think about yet. And the rest of the world should know that this is a problem.

Please let me know if there is anything I can help with to solve this problem. If I should send this to a different scientist’s organization, can you let me know? Or can you forward this for us?

Thank you,


The Seattle Aquarium’s staff veterinarian, Dr. Lesanna Lahner, wrote back to Sarah with the following response:

Thank you, Sarah, for caring so much about our oceans and the sick sea stars. Your ideas are really, really great! Someday you’ll make an amazing scientist if you choose to.

I am particularly impressed with your idea of an international collaboration—in fact, I like it so much that I will get in touch with some sea star biologists in Australia and parts of Asia to see if they can help out with this problem. Some scientists have contacted me from other countries and told me that in years past they have had sick sea stars, but never as many as we have now.

Thank you again, Sarah, for caring! I’m deeply impressed.

Lesanna Lahner DVM
Staff Veterinarian
Seattle Aquarium

We’ll continue to provide updates on the sea star wasting disease—please read our recent blog post for details. And thank you to Sarah for taking action to help our local sea stars!

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Seattle Aquarium sea star wasting disease update

Since the end of October 2013, the Seattle Aquarium has been actively collaborating with a variety of institutions—including the Vancouver Aquarium, SeaDoc Society, Cornell University, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the USGS National Wildlife Health Center—to respond to the ongoing unusual mortality event occurring in sea stars along the West Coast. Below, Seattle Aquarium staff veterinarian Lesanna Lahner shares an update on developments since our December 2013 blog post:

At this time, the condition has been labeled Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) and the cause has yet to be determined. Reports of SSWD along the West Coast, particularly along the Oregon coast, have increased recently. Twenty sea star species have now been documented as affected by SSWD. Reports from the coast of California note that sea urchins may be dying in large numbers in or near areas that are affected by SSWD as well.

The search for a cause continues. A potential pathogen that is associated with SSWD has been isolated by microbiologists at Cornell and more information will be released soon by that laboratory at their discretion. There have been reports that SSWD is related to warming waters, El Niño, Fukushima, or the consumption or shellfish by sea stars—however, there is currently no evidence to substantiate those claims.

SSWD has not only impacted sea star populations in the wild; it has also impacted sea stars in the Seattle Aquarium’s exhibits, which are filled with filtered water pulled from Puget Sound. SSWD has caused mortalities of Pycnopodia helianthoides (sunflower sea stars), Pisaster ochraceus (purple sea stars) and an increasing number of other species including mottled, rainbow, vermillion and leather sea stars. All sea stars have received veterinary medical care and close monitoring throughout this unusual mortality event.

The Seattle Aquarium continues to work diligently with a variety of professionals to determine the cause of SSWD while providing support to ongoing research and updates, as they become available, to the Aquarium community. Check back for more information as it becomes available!

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