Passionate about the Seattle Aquarium-from her home in California

“Puget Sound is such an incredible and unique treasure…people in Seattle are fortunate to see it every day. And the Seattle Aquarium is the embodiment of the treasure that is Puget Sound.” Listening to longtime Seattle Aquarium supporter Lesley Canfield talk about Puget Sound and the Aquarium, you’d never guess that she lives in California.

Lesley has had many years to develop her deep appreciation for the Sound. A California native, she was enticed to visit our area in 1986 by her soon-to-be-husband, Brad, who lived in Seattle. “He took me to Ivar’s, on a ferry ride, to visit the Aquarium…I was just dazzled by all of it,” she says.

It was just a few years later, after her marriage and subsequent relocation to Seattle, that a fortunate concurrence of events took place which created a new sense of purpose in Lesley’s life: she and Brad bought a house on Hood Canal, and she became involved with the Seattle Aquarium.

“We saw the crab population radically diminish along the Hood Canal shoreline,” says Lesley. “The environment was changing before my eyes…I had to do something, help make a change. I couldn’t just sit back.”

Lesley Canfield

Lesley joined the Seattle Aquarium board in 2004 and quickly became involved—chairing the annual Splash! fundraiser, among other key roles, and supporting the Aquarium’s transition to a true conservation organization. “When I first joined the board, there were just two staff members devoted to conservation,” she notes. “Now the team has grown and become the hub of the wheel for so many conservation and education organizations. Conservation is being approached extremely strategically at the Aquarium, and I think it will lead to great success.”

Lesley retired from the Seattle Aquarium board in 2014 and returned to her home state of California, where she remains an avid supporter of the Aquarium’s conservation mission. “Being part of the Aquarium for so long and then moving two states away—my passion is still there,” she says. “I believe it’s important to support the Aquarium and its conservation work no matter where you are. Because, as the Aquarium grows and expands, it becomes much more than a local resource…its impact and reach expand exponentially.”

What would Lesley say to potential Aquarium donors? “I would tell them that their money is very well spent, and that their support goes to work right away,” Lesley responds. “Also that direct gifts can create direct results.” She continues, “If your passion is sea otters, you can find programs that help further understanding of sea otters in the wild and under human care, or help care for animals at the Aquarium. And if you’re passionate about bringing underserved audiences to the Aquarium, every dollar you donate allows another child to experience amazing animals, and to learn about how to care for the marine environment.”

For Lesley, it’s all about ensuring that future generations will be able to enjoy the same sense of wonder that she and her family feel every time they stroll a Puget Sound shoreline. “We raised our kids on the beach—that’s where they played,” she says. “And we need to preserve that for those who follow.”

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Sayonara, single-use plastics! Hello, healthier ocean!

Some sobering plastic facts:

  • Plastic packaging makes up 26 percent of the volume of all plastic produced worldwide—and nearly all of it is single-use.
  • Thirty-two percent of all plastic packaging ends up in the ocean.
  • Over 150 million tons of plastic are already in the ocean—with an additional eight million tons entering the ocean every single year.

Clearly, stemming the flow of single-use plastics into the ocean is vitally important. To do our part—and set an example for visitors—the Seattle Aquarium recently committed to a significant reduction of single-use plastics across our facility.

That resulted in some major changes in our café: no more plastic straws, no more soda cup lids, and no more plastic beverage bottles. Instead, we’re offering paper straws and a great variety of beverages packaged in aluminum, glass—and even cardboard! In the gift shop, we’ve moved away from selling water bottled in plastic; instead, customers can choose cardboard cartons of water or, even better, reusable water bottles that can be filled at stations located in the Aquarium.

This commitment is part of a bigger-picture initiative by aquariums around the country, teaming up through the Aquarium Conservation Partnership to combat the challenge of plastic pollution. What does it mean for us?

Spread the word

While recycling and beach cleanups are important, these actions don’t keep up with the amount of plastic entering the ocean—every single minute of every single day, a garbage-truck’s-worth of plastic goes into the ocean. We invite you to join us in avoiding single-use plastics, and encouraging friends and family to do the same. Together we can decrease the demand for plastics production and show that we’re serious about keeping our oceans clean.

Choose alternatives to single-use plastics

There are plenty of options: reusable straws, bags, cups and water bottles. By investing in these innovative solutions, you help foster a culture of less waste and protection of our marine areas.

Thank you for doing your part to protect Puget Sound and our one world ocean!

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Know your beach-this week from the beach

#3 in the 2017 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin. 

baby octopus

I was talking with a great family last weekend at the beach and their 4-year-old son said to me, “The water is coming back! That is bad news!”

He was talking about the tide coming back in. Indeed, it was bad news for us humans who love exploring the wondrous tide pools during low tide, but very GOOD news for the myriad sea creatures who struggle to survive a few hours out of the water that keeps them alive. We had lots of good stewards join us at the beach this week who helped to ensure that the animals, whose homes we like to visit, stayed protected during the stressful time of low tide by observing with our eyes, leaving animals where we found them and sometimes even giving animals a little extra protection with a covering of cool seaweed.

Communing with a Lewis' Moonsnail

One animal particularly vulnerable during the low tides is the Lewis’ moon snail. These large, marine snails spend much of their time burrowed in the sand for protection. They live out in deeper waters during the fall and winter and come closer to shore in the spring and summer to mate and lay their eggs. Their large shells (sometimes almost 6” in diameter) house their even larger bodies, including their tremendous foot that can extend up to 12” in length! Although moon snails can pull their entire, enormous selves inside their protective home and close themselves in with their front-door-like operculum, they will suffocate to death if they stay shut inside for too long. A good reason to observe them where they are rather than picking them up and scaring them back inside their house!

Moon snail diagram

So many moon snails were observed this low tide series! It was a treat to get to watch this gal at Constellation Beach gather sand on her foot and burrow herself deeper into the sand. It was looking as though she might have been getting ready to lay some eggs! You can see the remnant of a moon snail egg collar next to her. The ultimate egg sandwich—the moon snail gathers sand on her large foot, deposits a layer of eggs, adds more sand and then seals it all up with some thick, sticky mucus! Five hundred thousand babies will hatch out in about six weeks as the egg collar starts to break apart. You can also see evidence of a moon snail meal in the photo above. They love clams and will use their tongue-like organ, called a radula and covered in hundreds of tiny, sharp teeth, to drill into the clam’s shell in order to suck out the meaty insides with their proboscis. Those holes in clams were not put there by someone to make a necklace!

mossy chiton

woody chiton

Underside of a Chiton

 Gumboot Chiton

Like the moon snail, chitons have a soft body with a large foot and a protective exterior. Rather than one single shell, chitons have a coat of armor consisting of eight hard plates. These plates are visible on almost all species, the gumboot chiton being an exception. The gumboots have a leathery, skin-like girdle that covers their plates of armor. We have a resident gumboot at Constellation Beach. Well, actually, several! The one pictured here, seen on the smaller, rocky breakwater, is a whopping 10” in length. It seems to have made a home for itself in deeper waters, so we only get a glimpse of it on our super low tide days. You are more likely to see smaller species, like the mossy and woody chitons, clamping down on the rocks during low tide. They keep moisture in this way and also protect themselves from being eaten by ravenous gulls. Every once in a while though, I spot one on the move. As you can see here, they are pretty speedy!


The jellies are back! People often ask me at the beach, “Can I touch it? Will it sting me?” All jellies sting, but some have more potent stings than others. Coming into contact with these two species, the water jelly and cross jelly, probably won’t have much of an impact on your human skin. However, some people are extra sensitive, so always err on the side of caution when you see jellies. Both of these jellies are small in size, usually maxing out around three inches. They are translucent and hard to see during the day unless you are really keeping a close eye out for them. At night, they both have the ability to glow in the dark! Did you know jellies are plankton? Even though we tend to think of plankton as something we cannot see with the naked eye, the word plankton refers to any organism that cannot effectively swim against the current. Ever seen a giant mola sunfish? They are plankton too!

sand dollars

Sand dollars

Underside of Sand Dollar

Underside of a sand dollar

Burrowing Sea Cucumber

Burrowing sea cucumber

Ochre Star

Ochre sea star

Believe it or not, sand dollars, sea stars and sea cucumbers are all related. They’re all in the same phylum, Echinodermata, meaning “spiny skinned.” In the above photo of the sand dollars at Seahurst Beach, you can see the living animals, covered with deep purple spines and the remains of a dead animal, the white shell or “test.” On the top of this “test,” we see a flower pattern with five “petals.” This is where the sand dollar has tube feet that help in respiration. When you flip that “test” over and look at the underside, you’ll see a central hole and radiating branches. The hole is the sand dollar’s mouth and the branches are grooves that, along with mucus, help ferry food to the central mouth.

Beach etiquette tip of the week: Leave your furry family members at home. Dogs are not allowed on our Seattle beaches—on leash or off.

It was another great week at the beach—thanks again to all of our amazing volunteers and visitors! Wait, did I mention already we saw a baby octopus at Lincoln Park Beach?! There’s nothing better than that! Anyway, if you enjoy taking photos of your beach explorations, make sure to tag them on social media with #seattleaquarium, #beachnaturalist, #knowyourbeach. We hope to see you the week of June 22 for our next low tide series. Happy tide pooling!

Meet Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists on local shorelines this summer! Check our website for dates, times, locations and directions.

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About Jen:

Jen writes:

“I ventured westward from Albany, NY and fell madly in love with our city from the moment I arrived. It was 21 years ago this August when Seattle first charmed me with its lush, forested parks, beautiful beaches, and water and mountain views (when the skies are clear enough) all around.

I spent the first half of my 21 years here immersed in Seattle’s wonderful coffee culture. My husband and I owned and operated Victrola Coffee on Capitol Hill until 2008. We sold our business that year to spend more time with our newborn son and I have been a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama and budding photographer and naturalist ever since! It started with me taking my young son to the beach, gazing into tide pools and wanting to know more about what we were looking at. Soon, I was going to the beach by myself, every low tide I could, and following the Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists around asking questions. 🙂

I signed up to be an interpretive volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium in 2013, became a beach naturalist volunteer in 2014, and this will be my second year as an official member of the Seattle Aquarium staff as a beach captain. My favorite place to be is on the beach, with my camera, sharing my love and knowledge of our intertidal dwellers with the hope that I will inspire others to love and protect the Salish Sea and the ocean beyond.”

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WOW(W): a 10-year anniversary!

WOWW diving

Guest post from Cari Garand, marine science interpreter and diver at the Seattle Aquarium

Our Window on Washington Waters (WOWW) exhibit is celebrating a big milestone. Ten years ago on June 21, 2007, WOWW became the exhibit that welcomes visitors from around the world to the Seattle Aquarium. This exhibit showcases what life is like along the outer coast of Washington state—specifically, a dive site called Mushroom Rock, found in Neah Bay.

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WOWW offers the perfect way to get to know our underwater neighbors, many of which you could find hanging out under the Aquarium itself. This 120,000 gallon exhibit houses hundreds of local species from coho salmon to the much-adored wolf eel.

The water has changed color over the years.

As cold Puget Sound water rushes through at 1,600 gallons per minute, it brings with it plankton that have settled down and started to grow. The colonization of this exhibit has been amazing to watch over the years. Encrusting coralline algae, baby anemones, even nudibranchs grace the cracks and crevices of the rocks, creating a dynamic and thriving ecosystem. These animals are just a few examples of our “other group of volunteers” that call the Aquarium their home.

The local marine life in the exhibit is definitely a draw—and so is one specific type of mammal that can be found floating in its waters at 10am, 11:30am, 12:15pm and 3pm on the weekends: Aquarium divers! Dive staff and volunteers have been giving high fives through the 12.5-inch-thick acrylic since the beginning. Diving in our cold Puget Sound water (which varies from around 45 to 55 degrees F) does require a lot of gear but that has never stopped our divers from adding a little flair to their outfits. WOWW has seen the likes of hula divers, Seahawk fans, and even Santa!

WOWW provides a unique opportunity to connect people to the water beneath us in Puget Sound and Washington’s outer coast—all part of our one big ocean. So come and explore to help us celebrate the Window on Washington Waters exhibit’s tenth birthday!

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Know your beach-this week from the beach

#2 in the 2017 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

I am so excited for my second year of being a beach naturalist and the chance to keep blogging for the Seattle Aquarium. My first shift of the season was at Dash Point State Park in Federal Way. This is the most southern beach our naturalists cover. Dash Point is a unique beach for our team for a couple reasons:

  1. It is a state park so the rules are a little different. There were lots of dogs on the beach and lots of families out harvesting shellfish (more on that shortly).
  2. It is all sand. No rock shelves or boulders for sea creatures to hide on. This meant we had to look for the smaller creatures and the ones that live under the sand.
Dash Point’s wide sandy beach

Dash Point’s wide sandy beach

It was Memorial Day weekend and the sun was out. The park was absolutely packed with families out enjoying the warm temperatures and blue skies. Our naturalist team hit the beach and we had no shortage of curious kids and families. Since I knew I was not going to find any sea stars or anemones I focused my attention onto the moon snail egg collars. These gray, rubbery, plunger-looking things that most people think are washed-up trash are actually made by the large moon snails that love sandy areas like the ones at Dash Point. The egg collars not only hold millions of moon snail eggs, they also serve as homes and dinner for a variety of tiny creatures. When you find a moon snail egg collar, gently turn it over, keeping it very close the ground. There are often a variety of sea slugs and snails underneath. One of the creatures that I was finding under almost every other collar was a type of sea slug called an opalescent nudibranch. This gastropod is one of the favorites of beach naturalists. They can grow up to three inches long. They are a beautifully shimmery, almost translucent pearl color with brilliant orange tips on their feathery cerata (the part that helps them breathe). They also can have bright teal streaks along their body and their horn-like rhinophores just add to the adorable factor.

Unique opalescent nudibranches:

unique opalescent nudibranches collage 1unique opalescent nudibranches collage 2

Since shellfish harvesting is allowed at this state park (check this URL), we got the rare chance to see massive horse clams (Pacific gaper) and geoducks out of their sandy homes below the surface. We generally only get to see their siphons sticking a few inches out of the sand, filtering water in and out as they eat. The geoducks were so fascinating to see—they are huge! Their body and shell can be to three to four feet below ground, and their long siphon can still reach up to the surface to feed. Watching the families work as a team to get these mollusks from their deep homes was really interesting, and I was exhausted just watching them.

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One last unique feature of Dash Point’s beach is a massive sand dollar aggregation. This area is filled with thousands of eccentric sand dollars. The purple ones are alive, covered in dense, tiny spines. They can live for up to 10 years, and what we often find on the beach is the white exoskeleton after they have died.

Eccentric sand dollar aggregation

Eccentric sand dollar aggregation

A live Eccentric sand dollar makes its way deeper into the sand

A live Eccentric sand dollar makes its way deeper into the sand

Meet Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists on local shorelines this summer! Check our website for dates, times, locations and directions.

About Bobby:

This is Bobby’s second year as a beach naturalist.

His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle four 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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