Seattle Aquarium 2016 Chairman's Dinner honorees

Chairmans 's Dinner 2016

Pictured from left to right: Bob Donegan, board chair; Robert W. Davidson, president and CEO; Peter Seligmann, Seattle Aquarium Medal winner; Gini Beck, Scott S. Patrick Award winner; Jeffery R. Cordell, Conservation Research Award winner; and Randy Tinseth, immediate past chair

The Seattle Aquarium bestowed its annual awards at our annual Chairman’s Dinner on January 27. The evening began with remarks and recap of the Aquarium’s 2015 activities by Board Chairman Bob Donegan. Immediate Past Chair Randy J.  Tinseth then presented longtime board member Gini Beck with the Scott S. Patrick Inspirational Award. Named for the late Aquarium board member and Seattle Seahawks executive who served with extraordinary passion, the award annually recognizes the Seattle Aquarium board member whose service best exemplifies the passion, leadership and enthusiasm which characterized Scott Patrick’s life and board service.

Seattle Aquarium President & CEO Robert W. Davidson presented the evening’s remaining awards. Conservation International Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder Peter Seligmann was honored with the Seattle Aquarium Medal, which is presented each year to an individual whose leadership and lifetime accomplishments reflect the mission of the Seattle Aquarium: Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment.

Peter Seligmann is a passionate, influential advocate who has provided a lifetime of leadership on issues related to global health. A dynamic communicator and thought leader, has been an influential and inspiring voice in conservation for nearly 40 years. He works in partnership with governments, communities, and businesses to find solutions to ensure the sustainability of our natural resources.

Seligmann began his career in 1976 with The Nature Conservancy, serving as the organization’s western region land steward, and later became the director of the California Nature Conservancy. He is currently the chairman and CEO of Conservation International, a global nonprofit organization that he co-founded in 1987. Under his direction, Conservation International has become a cutting-edge leader in valuing and sustainably caring for nature for the well-being of people.

The University of Washington’s Aquatic and Fishery Sciences Principal Research Scientist Jeffery R. Cordell received the Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award, which honors individuals performing leadership research in the field.

Cordell has been a research scientist at the UW School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences since 1977. His research mainly focuses on understanding how juvenile salmon and the invertebrates they feed on are affected by human development and how degraded habitats can be improved. His current work is focused on salmon habitat along Seattle’s central waterfront and is a key element of the ongoing seawall replacement project.

Despite the highly altered shoreline, Elliott Bay and downtown Seattle still serve as a migratory corridor and rearing habitat for juvenile salmon, including the threatened chinook species. The need to replace the seawall prompted the City to form a team to focus on habitat enhancements along the central waterfront, and presented a unique opportunity to improve the habitat conditions of the structure. Cordell has led the long-term research, funded by the City of Seattle and Washington State Sea Grant, to design, install and monitor large-scale test panels at three locations along the waterfront.

Cordell and his team tested the potential benefits of slopes and crevices along the seawall, exploring how and whether engineered complexity can increase species diversity and abundance. As a result, Seattle will be the first city in the world to incorporate habitat panels into a large expanse of seawall. The city plans to monitor the panels for several years after construction, generating the data needed to design future ecologically beneficial seawalls, both in Puget Sound and around the world.

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Sustainable seafood for all!

Our commitment to sustainable seafood here at the Seattle Aquarium extends beyond our own dinner plates: all the animals in our care, from fur seals to flounders, have diets that include as much sustainable seafood as possible.

Sustainable seafood means making choices that are healthy for our oceans. To make sure the food is healthy for our animals as well, the seafood we feed them is always frozen when collected (to kill parasites and prevent spoiling) and defrosted before feeding. As our Curator of Mammals & Birds Traci Belting, who is in charge of our seafood supply, says, “Since our animals eat their food raw, it’s imperative it be of the highest quality!“

sustainable seafood

You might know this squid species as market squid, opalescent squid or calamari. Because they grow quickly and reproduce at a young age (only living four to nine months), they can keep up with fishing pressure.

The krill seen here, as well as the smaller shrimp-like euphasids that we feed, are collected in the Antarctic. The fishery is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

We feed herring (above) and mackerel (below) to our giant Pacific octopus, our mammals and our largest fish. Both are high in fat, which provides a lot of calories to our animals. Most herring fisheries are listed as “Good Alternatives” in the Seafood Watch guidelines, and a few are even “Best Choice.”

Anchovy, anyone? The West Coast fishery for northern anchovy (our local species) is sustainable, but most of those fish are used as bait. People usually eat European anchovy; however, there is a growing fishery here in Washington and in Oregon for anchovies that are used as food fish.

Our mussels are from Penn Cove, and the same vendor that delivers to some of Seattle’s best seafood restaurants. Shellfish lend themselves to low-impact aquaculture because they don’t have the same concerns as some farmed finfish including resources to feed them and risk of disease.

Visit our website to learn more about sustainable seafood!

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Aquarium hosts sea star wasting summit

On January 14 and 15, the Seattle Aquarium convened a gathering of experts from around the country to discuss the latest findings about sea star wasting disease (SSWD). The disease causes sea stars to waste away, giving the impression of “melting.” First observed in Washington waters in June of 2013, it has impacted 20 sea star species along the west coast of North America. SSWD has killed millions and millions of sea stars is being called the largest wildlife die-off ever recorded. Says Seattle Aquarium staff veterinarian Dr. Lesanna Lahner, “In just a few years, sunflower sea stars have gone from being one of the most common species in Puget Sound to being incredibly hard to find.”

sea star wasting disease

Sea stars are keystone species—which means their presence and role within an ecosystem has a disproportionate effect on other species within the same ecosystem. Sea stars, for example, prey on sea urchins. With the loss of sea stars in the wild, there are observations that sea urchin populations are increasing and expanding their ranges.

The Seattle Aquarium has been involved in the effort to understand SSWD from the start, collaborating with institutions including the Vancouver Aquarium, SeaDoc Society, Cornell University, USGS Wildlife Conservation Society and many others, to determine the cause of this unusual mortality event.

Some questions about the disease have been answered but many others remain. “Determining the cause of die-offs in wildlife is always challenging but even more so when it’s happening underwater,” comments Dr. Lahner. A virus has been found that is associated with the disease in some species, but its definitive cause remains to be determined. Current thinking says it could be toxins in the environment or changes in the sea stars’ immune function due to changing water temperatures and ocean acidification.

We’ll update our blog with developments regarding this disturbing die-off as they occur. In the meantime, click here for media coverage of the summit, and visit our website for an overview of SSWD and our previous blog posts on the topic.

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Rescued sea turtle recuperating at the Seattle Aquarium

sea turtle

Did you know that the Seattle Aquarium is Washington’s only recognized sea turtle rehabilitation facility? When sea turtles strand along the coastline, they can be brought to our facility and nursed back to health by our expert staff. Such was the case in December, when a cold-stunned Olive Ridley sea turtle was picked up on the south end of Cannon Beach in Oregon and transported to the Seattle Aquarium for rehabilitation.

Olive Ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea), are found worldwide in warm or tropical waters. They are listed as a “vulnerable species” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to their globally declining numbers.

“Turtles that strand from chronic cold exposure, like this turtle, are in rough shape because they have been cold for quite some time,” says Aquarium staff veterinarian Dr. Lesanna Lahner. “Their health issues can include organ dysfunction along with severe infections like pneumonia. As the turtle is slowly warmed back up, the organs can begin to function again, slowly, and the immune system starts to fight infections. It’s a delicate balance of managing the homeostasis of the animal while dealing with severe illness like pneumonia,” she continues.

sea turtle

Since arriving in December, the turtle has been under the care of Dr. Lahner and our lead sea turtle rehabilitator, Dr. Shawn Larson, and her staff. Many hours of skilled care have gone into making sure that the turtle can swim, eat and slowly recover from severe pneumonia. “The turtle is getting better daily but is still not healthy enough for travel and release,” says Dr. Larson. “The animal will likely be at the Aquarium for another month or two.” Adds Dr. Lahner, “The Seattle Aquarium team did a great job providing round-the-clock care during the critical time.”

If you see a stranded marine mammal or beached turtle anywhere in Washington please call 1-866-767-6114.

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Focus on northern fur seals

Flaherty and Leu

Did you know a mature male northern fur seal can weigh over 600 pounds? That’s a lot larger than Flaherty and Leu, the two fur seals who joined the Seattle Aquarium last March. They’re still young and growing, though: Flaherty is three years old and currently weighs in at approximately 90 pounds; Leu is four years old and tips the scales at around 120 pounds. When fully grown, they’ll weigh between 350 and 600 pounds, depending on the season. Mature female fur seals, on the other hand, are much smaller. An adult male fur seal can be up to six times larger than an adult female! Sexual dimorphism is the term for size difference between males and females—and the sexual dimorphism between male and female fur seals is the largest of any marine mammal species.

nothern fur seals - male vs. female size

Northern fur seals are also distinguished by their big eyes, which help them see at night; the large flippers that propel them through open water; and, maybe most notably, their thick, luxuriant fur. That fur made them especially attractive to hunters for many years. As a result, northern fur seals are listed as “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Their total population, estimated at 1.1 million, is far less than it used to be—and their numbers are declining.

What’s the reason behind the population decline? That’s a question that’s been on many researchers’ minds, and the answers have been slow in coming. Field research on northern fur seals is no easy task since the animals breed in the summer on remote islands in the North Pacific and, until recently, no one truly understood where they went the rest of the year. As it happens, more than 50 percent of the wild northern fur seal population breeds on the Pribilof Islands in Alaska—so it’s there that researchers from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) focused their efforts. Researchers attached satellite-linked time depth recorders (SLTDRs) to the animals; the SLTDRs then transmitted data on location, time, and depth of dives in real time so that animals could be followed while at sea. The collected data confirmed that northern fur seals are amazing distance swimmers and travel thousands of miles in search of food. Much more remains to be learned about northern fur seals, especially with regard to their population decline.

Fur seals in zoos and aquariums are a rarity as well: just seven are on exhibit in the United States, including our own Flaherty and Leu. The Seattle Aquarium has a long history with northern fur seals. We’re one of just three facilities in the United States—and the only one on the West Coast—to exhibit them. In 1983, our facility became the first in the world to have a northern fur seal conceived and born in human care. A total of five fur seals born here lived to adulthood. Isaac, the final of these, was born in 2000 and moved to the New England Aquarium in 2009 as part of a collaborative breeding loan. While there, he sired our own Flaherty—which made us especially happy to welcome him to the Aquarium last year. It’s a fur seal full circle!


Interested in learning more about northern fur seals? Read our fur seal fact sheet, then come to the Aquarium to meet Flaherty and Leu—and check out the interactive kiosk next to our fur seal exhibit!

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