Seattle Aquarium's river otter Waadah has passed away

Waadah, river otter at Seattle Aquarium

It is with great sadness that the Seattle Aquarium reports that male North American river otter (NARO) Waadah has passed away. Over the last few days Waadah had been exhibiting lethargy and poor appetite associated with age-related heart disease, a condition that is quite common with geriatric river otters. After close monitoring and veterinary evaluation, the decision was made to humanely euthanize him.

The median life expectancy for a NARO is approximately 12 years. It is a testament to the care Waadah received at the Seattle Aquarium that he lived such a vital, energetic life until he was well over 17 years old. There are currently 264 river otters living in facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and only two of those river otters are older than Waadah.

Waadah and his brother Skagway were born to a litter of four pups found under a home on Hood Canal, Washington in spring 1998. The homeowner contacted a trapper to remove mother and pups. Waadah and Skagway were both brought to an animal rehab facility in Port Townsend, Washington and were later transferred to the Seattle Aquarium. They became the original occupants of the Aquarium’s river otter exhibit, which opened in the summer of 1998.

The two remaining river otters at the Seattle Aquarium, Skagway and Molalla, can be seen in their exhibit. Molalla, who was born at Oregon Zoo, came to the Aquarium in February 2014. He is about three years old.

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Aquarium volunteers participate in Seattle Youth Climate Action Network

Seattle Youth Climate Action Network

The Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (CAN), a partnership between the youth programs at the Seattle Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo and Pacific Science Center, recently wrapped up its first year of programming by sending three youth, including the Aquarium’s own Youth Ocean Advocate Sahayra Barojas, to the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit in upstate New York to present on the foundation of Youth CAN and to learn about hosting a summit from a well-established program.

Seattle Youth CAN had a busy year of activities, with youth from each institution planning and hosting a variety of activities focused on climate education and action over the course of the year. The Seattle Aquarium hosted a training on ocean acidification which featured guest speaker Dr. Chris Sabine from PMEL and a movie night to screen the documentary Chasing Ice. Youth also had the opportunity to participate in tree planting events, receive training at the zoo on how climate change impacts animals, and meet with scientists and engineers developing technology to address climate change and other environmental concerns. In all, over 300 youth participated in events put on in partnership Seattle Youth CAN.

Youth CAN group photo with logo

The culminating event for Youth CAN was a Youth Climate Summit held in October at Woodland Park Zoo. Eighty-five youth and 15 community partners met to discuss climate issues and possible climate action projects. Youth came from the partner institutions as well as from the broader community of young people interested in climate action.

Youth CAN has recently been recognized on NOAA’s climate.gov website as one of 30 case studies for youth engagement in climate action. Additionally, the group has been awarded a second grant by The Ocean Project to continue its work in 2016. In the future, Seattle Youth CAN hopes to grow the number of youth participating in the network and have a broader impact on our community.

Click here to learn more about the Seattle Aquarium’s youth volunteer programs!

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Redd alert: our chinook salmon are hatching!

Chinook salmon alevins hatching

Some are still eggs in the redd (the term for a nest of salmon eggs), but many have hatched into the alevin, or newly hatched baby salmon, you see above.

Female salmon dig their redds in river beds and deposit their eggs in the fall; the eggs hatch during the winter. What if humans were like salmon? What if, instead of the protection of our mother’s womb, we got the nurturing abilities of a rocky river-bottom? It’s a wonder that any of these salmon survive, especially when we consider that a river is much more dynamic than the hatchery trough at the Aquarium.

Only the strong survive

In ideal conditions (hardly ever present in a natural stream setting), 80% of the eggs will make it out of the gravel to a free-swimming life. Storms, disease and predation take some of them out of the running. Also, female salmon may dig their redds on top of existing redds—this is called superimposition. The original eggs may not survive the digging activity.

Chinook salmon alevins

Life at the bottom

At what point will the alevins pictured above leave the gravel and start swimming? After they’ve used up all the nutrition from their “lunch boxes,” the yolk sacs attached to their undersides. At that point, they will become free-swimming juvenile salmon, or fry. How long it takes for a salmon egg to hatch and emerge from the gravel are largely dependent on temperature. This is because salmon are ectothermic animals (remember this blog post?), so their growth and metabolism increase as the surrounding temperature increases. Chinook salmon eggs take roughly 47 days to hatch in 52°F (11°C) water. In those same conditions, it will take those chinook alevin 84 days to absorb their yolk sacs and become fry.

Chinook on top

Chinook salmon are roughly three times more likely than pink, chum, or sockeye to make it from egg to the fry stage. Why? They spawn at lower densities, so there are fewer of the problems that come with competition for space. As the largest salmon species, they can dig the deepest (and therefore safest) redds. They also spawn in large rivers, which may be able to buffer the effects of storms better than small streams.

Come see the alevins at the Seattle Aquarium—and learn more about salmon with our fact sheet!

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Forecast: cloudy with a touch of sediment

Cloudy Exhibit

Why is the water in the Seattle Aquarium’s exhibits sometimes a bit cloudy? Because it’s pumped directly from Puget Sound, where the underwater weather report has recently included (in addition to 100% humidity) colder temperatures and partially cloudy waters. With continued winter rain events on the horizon, we can expect to see less-than-crystal-clear water in our exhibits many more times this year.

This begs the question: what causes the water in the Sound to get cloudy? Seasonal rains and wind stir up sediment from the bottom of local rivers; the sediment is then carried down to Puget Sound, where it causes reduced visibility. This is a natural cycle that provides nutrients (like carbon and nitrogen) to Puget Sound. Read on for answers to some common questions we’ve received about our cloudy water.

Does the Aquarium have a filtration system?

The pumps off Pier 59 bring in over 4,000 gallons of saltwater from Elliott Bay every single minute. That water goes through various sand filters, UV filters and coolers depending on the destination. Despite all that, the water in our exhibits still provides a very good indication of what water conditions are like out in Puget Sound. When it’s cloudy in the Sound—it’s cloudy in our exhibits.

How does this affect animals in the Sound?

These seasonal rains are helpful to adult salmon! When salmon are born, they imprint on the scent of their home stream, since each river and stream has a distinct chemical “fingerprint.” These seasonal rains wash the scent of the river downstream, helping to lead adult salmon home.

Is it pollution?

Though the cloudiness is not pollution, it is a good reminder that all the rain from our streets and neighborhoods washes down to the Sound, either directly or through storm drains. No matter where you live, all drains lead to the ocean.

Here are a few ways you can help keep the Sound clean:

Remember that untreated water from storm drains goes directly into Puget Sound, right into the homes of our underwater neighbors. We can carefully dispose of chemicals and fertilizers and pick up after our pets to keep Puget Sound clean. Also, keep your car tuned up to ensure that leaking oil and chemicals don’t get washed into the Sound—and wash it at environmentally friendly carwashes.

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Here comes Hogan!

We’re thrilled to introduce the newest Seattle Aquarium resident, Hogan the harbor seal! Hogan arrived on Tuesday, December 8 after moving from his previous home at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA), where he was born on June 2, 2013.

Hogan is actually returning to his roots by coming to the Seattle Aquarium—his father is our very own Q! Here’s the backstory on that: The Seattle Aquarium and PDZA, both accredited members of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), participate in the organization’s harbor seal Species Survival Plan (SSP). As part of the SSP, Q was transferred to PDZA in April 2012 on a breeding loan. While there, he sired two pups with two different females: Shila, Hogan’s mother, and Qilak, who gave birth to a pup named Saya.

At two and a half years old, Hogan is gray with light gray spots. His weight varies seasonally, but he’s still growing and currently weighs 121 pounds. Along with Q and Barney, he’ll enjoy a diet composed of a variety of fish including herring, capelin, mackerel and squid. Like his weight, his diet will fluctuate seasonally and range between six and 15 pounds of food per day. He was named after Holly Hogan Reed, a beloved veterinarian at PDZA who passed away in 2012.

Come say hello to Hogan during your next visit to the Seattle Aquarium! And read our harbor seal fact sheet for more information about these charismatic animals.

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