Seattle Aquarium sea star wasting disease update

Since the end of October 2013, the Seattle Aquarium has been actively collaborating with a variety of institutions—including the Vancouver Aquarium, SeaDoc Society, Cornell University, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the USGS National Wildlife Health Center—to respond to the ongoing unusual mortality event occurring in sea stars along the West Coast. Below, Seattle Aquarium staff veterinarian Lesanna Lahner shares an update on developments since our December 2013 blog post:

At this time, the condition has been labeled Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) and the cause has yet to be determined. Reports of SSWD along the West Coast, particularly along the Oregon coast, have increased recently. Twenty sea star species have now been documented as affected by SSWD. Reports from the coast of California note that sea urchins may be dying in large numbers in or near areas that are affected by SSWD as well.

The search for a cause continues. A potential pathogen that is associated with SSWD has been isolated by microbiologists at Cornell and more information will be released soon by that laboratory at their discretion. There have been reports that SSWD is related to warming waters, El Niño, Fukushima, or the consumption or shellfish by sea stars—however, there is currently no evidence to substantiate those claims.

SSWD has not only impacted sea star populations in the wild; it has also impacted sea stars in the Seattle Aquarium’s exhibits, which are filled with filtered water pulled from Puget Sound. SSWD has caused mortalities of Pycnopodia helianthoides (sunflower sea stars), Pisaster ochraceus (purple sea stars) and an increasing number of other species including mottled, rainbow, vermillion and leather sea stars. All sea stars have received veterinary medical care and close monitoring throughout this unusual mortality event.

The Seattle Aquarium continues to work diligently with a variety of professionals to determine the cause of SSWD while providing support to ongoing research and updates, as they become available, to the Aquarium community. Check back for more information as it becomes available!

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Learn about plastics in Puget Sound during World Ocean Weekend

World Ocean Weekend 2014

Learn to be an ocean hero at the Seattle Aquarium during World Ocean Weekend on June 7 and 8. We’ll feature a variety of activities and talks for the entire family—several of them dedicated to the problem of plastics in the ocean, and actions each of us can take to help.

Did you know that plastic in the ocean never truly disappears? It just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. And no matter what size the plastic is, it can do tremendous harm to the animals and life forms in the ocean. You can help by disposing of litter properly, reducing your use of single-use plastics, and recycling waste whenever possible.

While you’re at the Aquarium for World Ocean Weekend, you can also learn about the efforts of our neighbors to the south, Argosy Cruises, to clean up waste along Seattle’s waterfront.

For more than 20 years, each May through October, Argosy Cruises has run a waterfront cleanup program to rid the waterfront of “unnatural” debris from the waters of Elliott Bay between Piers 71 and 48.  The program is run in conjunction with the Downtown Seattle Association’s Metropolitan Improvement District.

Using their launch the M/V Beaver, a crew of two Argosy employees armed with long-poled nets scoop up debris not produced by nature. Most items that are picked up are made of plastic, in an almost endless variety: Styrofoam, toys, toothbrushes, bags, bottles, nets, lines, shoes, balloons, hoses, hats, tires and more. In past years, 30-gallon plastic drums were also retrieved. On average, nearly 3,500 pounds of “junk” is removed from Elliott Bay through the program each year.

We thank Argosy Cruises for their hard work on behalf of our marine environment—they’re true ocean heroes. See you at the Aquarium for World Ocean Weekend! Click here for a schedule of activities.

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Support the Seattle Aquarium during the Seattle Parks for All campaign

Did you know that the Seattle Aquarium is 501(c) nonprofit owned by the City of Seattle, which means that the City owns our facility—Piers 59 and 60, and the buildings in which our exhibits are housed?

That’s why we endorse the “Seattle Parks for All” measure, which would create a new Seattle Parks District, continue major maintenance support for the Aquarium, and create sustainable funding for and equitable access to Seattle’s parks overall. The Seattle City Council recently voted unanimously to place this measure on the August 5 ballot and we hope Aquarium supporters who are registered voters in the City of Seattle will support it when the time comes.

Thanks in advance for supporting the Seattle Aquarium with your vote on August 5!

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Billy Frank, Jr., 2011 winner of Seattle Aquarium Medal, passes away

A message from Seattle Aquarium President & CEO Bob Davidson

We at the Seattle Aquarium were saddened to learn of the recent passing of Nisqually Tribal member and internationally recognized Native American civil rights leader Billy Frank, Jr.

Billy spent much of his life advocating for human rights for all, particularly the Indian people of Western Washington. He was on the front line in the controversy protecting treaty-guaranteed Indian fishing rights in the 1960s and ‘70s. His perseverance landed him in jail more than 40 times, but he also helped guarantee Indian fishing rights when the Boldt Decision was handed down in the late 1970s.

Billy applied his reputation, his talents and his energy to reach across many divides to preserve the Pacific salmon and its habitat. He was a true statesman, a wise elder nudging contentious factions to resolve their differences and protect the salmon and the habitats it requires. His hope for the future of Puget Sound and the survival of the salmon, orcas and his ancient heritage were inspiring to us all.

In a biographical book called Messages from Frank’s Landing, Charles Wilkinson quotes Billy as follows: “I don’t believe in magic. I believe in the sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking. They’re measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How healthy we are. Because we and they are the same. That’s what I believe in.”

Billy didn’t need mountains of research studies to tell him that we have much work ahead of us, and our renewed commitment will be his legacy. Our condolences to Billy’s family and loved ones.


Bob Davidson, President & CEO
Seattle Aquarium

About Billy Frank, Jr.:Billy Frank Jr.
In 1981, Billy Frank began serving as Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, where he “spoke for the salmon” on behalf of 20 Treaty Indian Tribes in Western Washington. Among many affiliations, Frank was a member of the Leadership Council, the governing body of the Puget Sound Partnership; the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition; Native American Fish and Wildlife Society; National Congress of American Indians; and the Timber-Fish-Wildlife Process Policy Committee.

Billy Frank was celebrated regionally, nationally and internationally as an outstanding Native American human rights leader and was been the recipient of numerous recognition awards including The Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism; The Indian Country Today American Visionary Award; The Nature Conservancy Conservation Hero Award; and the White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation Leadership & Personal Stewardship award. He was honored in 2011 with the Seattle Aquarium’s highest award, the Seattle Aquarium Medal, which is presented annually to an individual whose leadership and lifetime accomplishments reflect the mission of the Seattle Aquarium: Inspiring Conservation of our Marine Environment. In Billy Frank, Jr., we found a leader who was committed to the survival of the salmon species and to preserving and protecting Puget Sound.

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Seattle Aquarium hosts second biennial giant Pacific octopus workshop

Seattle Aquarium Octopus Workshop

Over 70 octopus experts and enthusiasts gathered at the Seattle Aquarium on Saturday, March 29 for our second biennial giant Pacific octopus (GPO) workshop. The day-long event highlighted current research on Enteroctopus dofleini, the world’s largest species of octopus. Included in the day’s agenda were several papers and roundtable discussions about octopus husbandry, biology, physiology, ecology and behavior.

The Seattle Aquarium has a long history of exhibiting octopuses—and GPOs are even found directly in the waters below our pier. We’re currently researching GPOs, using  genetic markers for population analysis to determine if unique and separate populations of this species exist between Puget Sound, the outer Washington coast, and Oregon. Dr. Shawn Larson, the Aquarium’s curator of conservation research, presented the latest findings from this research at event. What Dr. L arson has found out thus far is that there is genetic structuring between octopuses in Puget Sound, the outer coast of Washington, Oregon and Vancouver Island. This shouldn’t be surprising because, as adults, octopuses don’t travel very far—so their greatest migrations occur during the first four months of their lives, when they are planktonic larvae. Analysis of several females and their egg strings pointed to octopuses employing multiple paternity (or mating with several males) when reproducing to ensure genetic diversity in the female’s one and only clutch of 20,000–100,000 eggs before she dies.

The event concluded with a remembrance of Dr. Roland C. Anderson, longtime Aquarium biologist and world-renowned GPO expert.

The next GPO workshop is scheduled for March of 2016. To learn more about GPOs, click here—and come see them in person at the Seattle Aquarium!

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