Seattle Aquarium welcomes northern fur seal Chewbacca

Chewbacca (or Chewy for short), new fur seal at the Seattle Aquarium

The Seattle Aquarium has a new resident—Chewbacca, or Chewy as he’s affectionately known, a 12-year-old male northern fur seal who came to us from the Moody Gardens aquarium in Galveston, Texas!

Accompanied by one of his keepers and our own staff veterinarian Lesanna Lahner, Chewy arrived at the Aquarium yesterday via transportation donated by FedEx Express. He appears to be settling in beautifully. Although he’s undergoing a routine quarantine from Commander, our other male fur seal, he’s still available for public viewing. After the quarantine period, which should last several weeks, the process of socializing Commander and Chewy will begin.

Adult northern fur seals spend the majority of the year in the North Pacific Ocean looking for food. Only when they come ashore during the summer for mating season do they interact with other seals. Though it’s natural for fur seals to spend most of their lives alone, nonbreeding males are sometimes seen socializing in bachelor groups. “That’s the situation we’re replicating here at the Seattle Aquarium,” notes Curator of Mammals and Birds Traci Belting.

Chewy was born at the New York Aquarium to a father named Yoda. He is one of only 11 northern fur seals in zoos and aquariums throughout the United States. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan manages northern fur seals, with the goal of ensuring the sustainability of a healthy and genetically diverse population. The Seattle Aquarium has housed northern fur seals since opening in 1977 and was the first facility to have a northern fur seal pup conceived in captivity, born in a zoo or aquarium and survive into adulthood. A male born here at the Aquarium 14 years ago, Isaac, is currently on a breeding loan the New England Aquarium and has sired two pups!

Come meet Chewy during your next visit to the Seattle Aquarium! To learn more about northern fur seals, click here.

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Seattle Aquarium research trip to Hawaii, part 3

Seattle Aquarium staff members recently traveled to Hawaii to complete their sixth year of monitoring reef fish abundance off the northwest coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The non-invasive monitoring is performed via video sampling done in cooperation with the Washington State University and the Hawaii Department of Aquatic Resources. “We’re searching for shifting baselines, an ecological indicator of changes in fish abundance and diversity that may correlate with local environmental changes or other factors such as changes in human use activities,” notes Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson. Data has already been used for educational and management purposes in Hawaii.

Below are Shawn’s notes from the third day of the trip.

Mahukona

Mahukona.

Day 3: February 6, 2014

On the third day on the island we headed north about 20 miles to Mahukona, where we have two research sites in areas open to all fishing methods and aquarium collecting. The swell was high again and the sky overcast, so we waited until the ocean calmed a bit and the clouds parted so it wouldn’t be too dark on our underwater surveys.

We were able to survey both sites although the large swells made the visibility less than optimal. We did, however, still see plenty of fish with lots of butterflies and goats. Later in the afternoon we tried to survey our last research site—the end of the road in Puako—but the swell was just too big to get out. We will have to try that site tomorrow.

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Seattle Aquarium research trip to Hawaii, part 2

Seattle Aquarium staff members recently traveled to Hawaii to complete their sixth year of monitoring reef fish abundance off the northwest coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The non-invasive monitoring is performed via video sampling done in cooperation with the Washington State University and the Hawaii Department of Aquatic Resources. “We’re searching for shifting baselines, an ecological indicator of changes in fish abundance and diversity that may correlate with local environmental changes or other factors such as changes in human use activities,” notes Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson. Data has already been used for educational and management purposes in Hawaii.

Below are Shawn’s notes from the second day of the trip.

Diving off of Pete McCormicks boat

Diving off of Pete McCormicks boat.

Day 2: February 5, 2014

Today we headed south to Kona to dive our two research sites just off of the Old Kona airport. We dove with our friend and boat captain Pete McCormick off of his boat, the Hopena. Boat diving these sites is such luxury because all of our other sites are shore-based. We were able to survey both sites 3 and 4 in about three hours and then had time for one proficiency dive with Pete before heading back to the marina. After unloading the boat, we met up with our research partners from the Department of Aquatic Resources (DAR) Hawaii, the equivalent fish management unit to our Washington Department of Fish and Game. Bill, Steve and Megan joined Pete and the Aquarium team for a late lunch to talk about the research and our findings. The plan is to publish the first five years of data this year and the DAR is part of that process. Bill suggested some analyses that we could do with the data as well as a new survey site that he would like monitored. We are the only team that does underwater video in Hawaii consistently using the same methodology and going to the same sites year after year to document trends.  

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Seattle Aquarium research trip to Hawaii, part 1

Seattle Aquarium staff members recently traveled to Hawaii to complete their sixth year of monitoring reef fish abundance off the northwest coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The non-invasive monitoring is performed via video sampling done in cooperation with the Washington State University and the Hawaii Department of Aquatic Resources. “We’re searching for shifting baselines, an ecological indicator of changes in fish abundance and diversity that may correlate with local environmental changes or other factors such as changes in human use activities,” notes Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson. Data has already been used for educational and management purposes in Hawaii.

Below are Shawn’s notes from the first day of the trip.

Seattle Aquarium biologists Joel, Alan, and Tim at Puako

Seattle Aquarium biologists Joel, Alan, and Tim at Puako.

Day 1: February 4, 2014

We arrived last night after a long and weary travel day but woke refreshed and ready to start work. We dove two sites in our central research area, Puako, which is a small community in south Kohala with arguably the best shore diving in the Big Island. We got in the water as soon as the sun was high enough to film, around 9am, and dove site 1. The visibility wasn’t as good as it could have been but it was good enough to film, about 20 feet. Around noon we dove our next research site in Puako, site 2. The swell had picked up and it was a bit challenging to get through the surf with all our gear on while avoiding big rocks, corals and long-spined urchins! The dive was awesome with lots of fish, including a nice-sized moray eel and an octopus! Getting out proved to be the most challenging for the first team and we got a bit beat up by the waves. That’s ok, it’s all in a day’s work and the diving was fantastic!

Check back to read Shawn’s reports from the other days of the trip. Click here for more information about the Seattle Aquarium’s research efforts.

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Seattle Aquarium featured on Scientific American blog

Octopus Blind Date at the Seattle Aquarium (February 14, 2014)

The Aquarium’s “Octopus Blind Date” event was featured on the “Octopus Chronicles” section of the Scientific American  blog—on Valentine’s Day, appropriately enough! The article described our ever-popular, annual attempt to help sparks fly between a male and female octopus, as well as our various Octopus Week activities. Staff biologist Kathryn Kegel was also quoted throughout the article.

Missed the blind date? That’s OK! Here is a short video of the event.

There are still plenty of Octopus Week activities for you and your family to enjoy. Click here for details, and we’ll look forward to seeing you at the Seattle Aquarium!

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