Seattle voters: vote NO on Initiative 123

Ballots will be mailed today for the August 2 election. For Seattle voters, the ballot includes a little publicized initiative that is of great importance to the Seattle Aquarium and to all those who live in the region. Passage of this initiative would reverse the work of thousands of citizens over the past seven years and toss out the Waterfront for All plan—replacing it with a substitute plan to build a new elevated structure that would permanently divide the city from the waterfront.

The Seattle Aquarium board of directors has voted to oppose Initiative 123. Please carefully consider these points and join them in voting NO as well:

  • I-123 offers only a vague description of an elevated structure on our waterfront, which would retain a portion of the seismically unsafe viaduct. Proponents initially sold this as Seattle’s version of New York’s High Line—but the landscape architect for the High Line, James Corner, strongly criticized the idea in a recent Puget Sound Business Journal article.
  • I-123 creates an unelected and self-selected board with no public accountability.
  • I-123 would give this board a blank check on the City general fund, requiring the City to pay for this undefined plan, which currently has no cost estimates.
  • I-123 has no requirement for public input.
  • I-123 would give proponents the right to any surplus City property to fund the project.
  • I-123 would put other City priorities at risk, including public safety, affordable housing, and other vital services.
  • I-123 would allow private, commercial development in the waterfront public right of way.

Please see this link to the Seattle Times op-ed page for more detailed information.

Your support is important—please vote NO on Initiative 123!

Bob Davidson
President & CEO
Seattle Aquarium






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Creature feature: giant clams

Have you ever been mesmerized by the giant clams in the Aquarium’s Pacific Coral Reef exhibit? Learn more about them here, get even more details from our giant clam fact sheet, then come check them out on your next visit!

giant clam

How giant is giant?

There are actually several species of giant clam, all in the genus Tridacna. The largest species, Tridacna gigas, can grow over 4 feet long and weigh over 600 pounds! We don’t display that kind at the Seattle Aquarium—but we do have the species T. derasa, T. squamosa, T. maxima and T. crocea.

giant clam - pacific coral reef

Does big equal old?

Scientists don’t know how long these animals live, but here are some things we do know: All giant clams mature first as male, which can happen within two years, depending on the species. They later transform into reproductive females, which happens after several more years (again, exact timing depends on the species). Two of the larger clams in the individual window exhibits at the Aquarium have been with us for 20 years, according to Senior Aquarist Alan Tomida. One of the larger ones, also in an individual window exhibit, as well as the smaller ones in the main Pacific Coral Reef exhibit, came to us in 2008.

PCR-giant clam edited

Getting a grip

Most bivalves have a strategy for sticking down to the substrate, whether it’s rock or sand: mussels have byssal threads and many clams have a digging foot. How do giant clams stay in place on the reef? It’s different for the different species. The smaller species, T. crocea (which grows to 6 inches) and T. maxima (which grows to 12 inches), use strong byssal threads. T. crocea can also use its shell itself to bore into the rock. Those two species need a firm grip because they live in shallower water with more wave action, compared to the two larger species, T. squamosal (which grows to 17 inches) and T. derasa (which grows to 24 inches)—both of these live at the outer edge of a reef, in deeper, calmer water. They stay in place by virtue of their bottom-heavy shells and weak byssal threads.

PCR - giant clam

Shimmer and shine

The shimmering patterns on a giant clam’s mantle come from iridophores, cells that reflect the light. These cells aren’t just beautiful—they’re useful as well. Iridophores and pigments act as sunscreen, blocking UV rays that could damage the clam’s flesh (just as most of us would be damaged by too much exposure to tropical sunshine). These clams also have amino acids that serve this sun-blocking purpose, so that function doesn’t completely explain their brilliant coloration. Coloration is partly determined by genetics, but a species can’t be identified simply by the color of the mantle. Individual clams have their own unique coloration, a bit like an orca’s saddle patch or a harbor seal’s spots. Examining the shell is the definitive way to identify the species of a giant clam.

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Know your beach-this week from the beach

#4 in a series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

This past July 4th weekend I was out on the beach at Lincoln Park and Constellation Park (Alki). Lincoln Park was up first, on Saturday. Fellow blogger and photographer Jen Strongin was our beach captain for this shift. She was so organized and on it. It made it easy for us volunteers to get set up for the day and out on the beach. Unfortunately we didn’t have too many people to talk to—it was a slow morning on the beach. Plus we had the challenge of a beach covered in sea lettuce, a type of green algae we see a lot of on our local beaches. It makes for a very slippery beach walk and gives us a little challenge finding the creatures in the inter-tidal zone.

Sea lettuce can hide some grumpy sea creatures, like this large red rock crab.

The families that did come out were excited to see what they could find. The kids were inquisitive and asking so many great questions, plus they were just as excited as we were about the smallest creatures. We found many beautiful lined chitons. These small (up to 2”) mollusks have striking colors, patterns, lines, and zigzag patterns. These little creatures have become one of my favorites finds on the beaches. It is like finding a little piece of art or jewelry.

Lined chiton on a rock.

One thing that we beach naturalists do to find interesting small creatures is to gently pick up and turn over moon snail egg collars (we will talk more about those in a bit). Underneath the egg collar we often find opalescent nudibranchs, colorful and flamboyant little sea slugs. This day we found a group of barnacle-eating dorids. These small sea slugs feed exclusively on barnacles, sucking out the barnacle from its shell with a unique pumping mechanism.

Barnacle-eating dorids with their eggs on a moon snail egg collar.

One of our exciting finds of the day was a small fish called plainfin midshipman. This species of toadfish normally lives in very deep waters, but comes to the intertidal zone to breed. This fish has bioluminescence, producing a fluorescent green glow. It is also a very vocal fish making grunts and hums that can be heard from the shore, all to find a mate.

Plainfin midshipman fish hiding under the sea lettuce.

As our time on the beach was coming to an end and the tide was making its way back in, we had a rush of families coming down to the water. Most of the interesting creatures were now back underwater, but we helped them find small shore crabs and teeny-tiny hermit crabs. The best thing that happened on the beach was this little boy shouting out to me, “Scientist, I found a kwab!” It put a huge my smile on my face and everyone around.

Sunday I was out on the beach at Constellation Park and it was a busy day. We had a great turnout and hosted a deaf community walk. All of our usual suspects were spotted: lots of purple sea stars, large rock crabs and anemones.

A painted anemone opens up as the tides rises.

A real treat for all the beachgoers were two large moon snails. Moon snails are voracious predators, hunting clams through the sand and drilling through their prey’s shells. Look for clam shells with holes in the tops and you will know a moon snail just had dinner! Another interesting thing about moon snails is their egg collars, which dot the intertidal zone. Now, hopefully you were much smarter than me, but when I first moved here and started exploring beaches I thought these round plunger-like things came off of a boat. Now I know that they’re egg collars, created by the moon snail, and each contains 500,000+ eggs! When people asked what the egg collars are made of, I like to describe them as an ice cream sandwich: a layer of sand, then eggs, and then sand—all held together with moon snail mucous (the kids love that). And then I start craving an ice cream sandwich.

My favorite moment of the day was when a little explorer brought me over to see a fish he found. It was a gunnel, a small fish that can often be mistaken for an eel. This particular gunnel was not moving and we feared it was dead, but it wriggled to life when I lifted it up to take a closer look. The kid was so excited that the fish was ok! He wanted to keep it safe and make sure it made it back under the rock. When other kids came running over to see what we were looking at, he made sure they didn’t hurt the gunnel. I was one proud beach naturalist.

Little explorers and I help a gunnel back to its home.

Other photos from the beach:

About Bobby:

Bobby is new to the Beach Naturalist program, joining after encouragement from a co-worker who is a seasoned volunteer.

His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle three years ago from San Antonio, Texas.

Bobby is an avid photographer and enjoys capturing his adventures of the Pacific Northwest. During the week you will find him biking to work where he leads a creative team at a local marketing agency.


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Seattle Aquarium staff lend a helping hand in marine mammal rehabilitation: Part 5

Julie & Mariko

Seattle Aquarium bird and mammal team members Julie Carpenter and Mariko Bushcamp recently traveled to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California to assist in the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit research hospital and educational center dedicated to global conservation of marine mammals through their rescue and rehabilitation work, as well as educational outreach and scientific research efforts.

Julie and Mariko were able to assist in important rehabilitation efforts, learn more about the West Coast marine mammal stranding network, and bring back a wealth of knowledge to the staff and visitors of the Seattle Aquarium. Through this collaborative relationship, we hope to continue to educate people about the critical work being conducted at The Marine Mammal Center and the many environmental issues affecting marine mammals.

Learn about Julie and Mariko’s experience in this five-part blog series.

Part 1: An opportunity to assist at The Marine Mammal Center
Part 2: Northern elephant seals
Part 3: California sea lions, northern fur seals and Guadalupe fur seals
Part 4: Pacific harbor seals
Part 5: Rehabilitators working together with zoos and aquariums

Rehabilitation facilities like The Marine Mammal Center as well as aquariums like the Seattle Aquarium both play an important role in species conservation. Sometimes the federal government will deem a stranded marine mammal to be “non-releasable.” This means that because of the animal’s circumstances or injuries, it does not have the capability to survive in the wild.

non-releasable animals

Pictured: Some of the non-releasable animals living at the Seattle Aquarium.
Top left: Leu, northern fur seal
Top right: Skagway, North American river otter
Bottom Left: Long-billed curlew
Bottom right: Mishka, northern sea otter

The Seattle Aquarium works to educate visitors on conservation issues and offers homes to “non-releasable” marine mammals. The Seattle Aquarium has provided homes to various rescued animals including northern sea otters, North American river otters, northern fur seals, and various diving birds and shorebirds.

Marine Mammal Center harbor seal release

Picture: The Marine Mammal Center harbor seal release
Photo © The Marine Mammal Center

Learn more about the Seattle Aquarium’s conservation efforts and how you can donate at You can learn more about The Marine Mammal Center at

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Final days at sea

#3 in a series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium Marine Science Interpreter Lindsay Holladay:

It was the final hour of my last watch aboard E/V Nautilus. Our remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were ascending from the expedition’s fifteenth and deepest dive. I looked around the control van at the other seven members of the 8–12 watch and asked them to share their highlights from our past 21 days at sea. Our navigator and data manager described seeing sharks, octopuses or deep sea fish. The scientists remembered discovering that first unexpected methane seep bubbling out of the ocean floor. Our ROV pilot and engineer recalled how we overcame challenging moments collecting samples or repairing the vehicles.

Then viewers from around the world began typing in their favorite moments too: the shipwreck, collecting core samples, watching Pacific sunsets, experiencing the tubeworm habitat from their classroom, watching our ROV Argus pilot become an experienced Hercules pilot. Once again I was struck by the magnitude of our ocean explorations and how many people around the world had been touched.

I’m taking away many wonderful memories and experiences from my time as science communicator aboard E/V Nautilus. I learned so much about the technical aspects of life at sea and just how diverse the deep Pacific Ocean ecosystems are off our wild Northwest coast. I discovered how many different career paths there are in ocean exploration and marine science. And while it’s difficult to narrow it down, here are a few of my highlights from our exploration voyage along the Cascadia Margin:

Ultimately, we explored many methane seeps, but the Astoria Canyon seep stands out as a special moment. I wish everyone could have seen the excitement in our scientists’ eyes as they realized we were seeing exposed hydrate layers (frozen methane) for the first time in an unexpected location. In this video, you can relive the experience and hear our team’s elation from the control van.

Deep sea corals have been marked as a species of interest by NOAA because of their unique requirements and their ability to harbor many other organisms. By piecing together old trawling information, we were able to land almost directly on a dense bamboo coral habitat. In addition to the colorful and fragile corals, we saw crabs, nudibranchs, anemones, basket stars, urchins and octopuses. In this video or this photo album, you can see many of those creatures living and feeding on the corals.

I had heard of coral reefs before this trip. But I’d never heard of, much less seen, a sponge reef. Part of our exploration to this area in Gray’s Canyon was to confirm these rare glass sponges were indeed growing on top of older sponges in a reef formation. It was stunning to see the myriad colors and shapes and exciting to know this is the first of these habitats to ever be documented off of Washington. For more views of this underwater treasure, view the Ocean Exploration Trust’s photo album.

My favorite invertebrate is the octopus and we had no shortage of sightings of the cool cephalopod. Here is a beautiful montage of the octopus species that we saw along the Cascadia Margin.

Thanks for following along on this adventure! My time aboard E/V Nautilus has come to a close but the exploration of our ocean is only just beginning. Join the Corps of Exploration all summer and ask your questions as other teams research unexplored areas of the eastern Pacific Ocean on

About Lindsay:
Lindsay Holladay is a marine science interpreter at Seattle Aquarium and a 2016 Science Communication Fellow with the Ocean Exploration Trust. She is currently spending three weeks aboard the E/V Nautilus, exploring methane seeps and deep-sea ecosystems along the Cascadia Margin.



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