Stroll along almost any Seattle beach during low tide on a summer weekend and you’ll see that the shore is alive! Not only will you witness Puget Sound’s multitude of marine plants and animals, you’ll also see Beach Naturalist program volunteers: advocates for these living wonders sharing their knowledge with beachgoers.
Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists are local citizens who care about Puget Sound beaches and want to help protect them. More than 100 have volunteered to help people learn about and enjoy area shorelines. Beach naturalists know their beaches: they can help you enjoy the habitat without harming it; tell you what sea stars eat; explain why barnacles stand on their heads; describe how moon snails lay their eggs; and so much more. “The enthusiasm and excitement of our beach naturalists transfers directly to the public—it’s a wonderful, infectious thing!” beams Janice Mathisen, community outreach coordinator at the Seattle Aquarium. “To be able to meet a family and educate them on what a treasure we have here in Puget Sound is amazing,” she adds.
New beach naturalist guest blog series!
Follow the Seattle Aquarium blog this summer season for a new guest blog series, titled “Know your beach–this week from the beach.” Guest bloggers and Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin will share with us their findings from local beaches during summer low tides.
Get to know our beach naturalists:
Bobby is new to the Beach Naturalist program, joining after encouragement from a co-worker who is a seasoned volunteer.
His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle three 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.
“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 first 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.”
So come and meet us on the beach this summer! For beach locations and accurate directions, visit SeattleAquarium.org/beach-naturalist.
#1 in a series of guest blog post by Seattle Aquarium Marine Science Interpreter Lindsay Holladay:
Last week I was at Seattle Aquarium giving talks about harbor seals, instructing visitors how to gently touch sea stars in the tide pools, and interacting with scuba divers feeding the fish in the Underwater Dome. This week, I’m over 50 miles off the northeast Pacific coast, as part of a team sending remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) thousands of meters underwater to explore the ocean’s depths. How did I get here?
Lindsay on the back deck of E/V Nautilus with ROV Argus in the background.
The adventure started several years ago when a coworker introduced me to NautilusLive.org, the website that live-streams deep-sea explorations of Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus. Watching deep sea research in real-time immediately sparked my sense of wonder! This ship is the ocean exploration and operation platform for Ocean Exploration Trust, founded by Dr. Robert Ballard. He is famously known for discovering the resting place of the Titanic, but far more importantly, he discovered black smokers in the Atlantic and hydrothermal vents off the Galapagos Islands.
While I already have pretty much my dream job at Seattle Aquarium, and I get to scuba dive in Puget Sound, I had very little knowledge about the deeper ocean floor just out our coastal back door. Turns out, there’s still much to be discovered, as less than five percent of our ocean has been explored. So, when I found out the Nautilus was accepting formal and informal educators’ applications to join the ship exploring off the NE Pacific, I jumped at the opportunity. I applied, made it through a rigorous interview process, and was awarded the Science Communication Fellowship!
Lindsay prepping ROV Argus for a dive with Deck Chief Mark DeRoche and scientist Sarah Seabrook, a researcher from Oregon State University.
Fast forward a few months of training and preparation and I am now sitting in the control van atop the ship, watching the ROVs explore the wreck we only moments before identified as the SS Coast Trader. This is historic because the merchant vessel was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942. I know the history is significant, but I’m more struck by the hundreds of huge lingcod, yellow-eye rockfish and spiny dogfish sharks living on this unintentional artificial reef. The same species I visit every day in Seattle Aquarium’s Underwater Dome, I’m now observing at 400 feet deep alongside live broadcast viewers around the world. Something I know from my time at the Seattle Aquarium is that rockfish can live over 100 years, so there’s a chance some of those rockfish were alive when the ship sank 74 years ago.
Lindsay with Hercules, a specialized ROV capable of collecting niskin bottle water samples, sediment cores, and biological and geological specimens.
Finding and surveying this wreck is just one of our varied expedition goals over the next three weeks. Dr. Robert Embley, senior researcher at NOAA/PMEL and lead scientist on this expedition, explained today, “We have a real potpourri of scientific objectives,” including mapping methane seeps, collecting sediment cores as geologic and biologic samples, exploring a rare deep-water sponge reef, and cataloging deep-sea coral DNA from water. My role in the expedition team is to help communicate the science, engineering and excitement of ocean exploration out to a global network of viewers. What is so amazing is that whether observers are tuned in from their offices, classrooms, or from the Nautilus control van, we are all seeing the ROV footage together for the first time. My watch is from 8 to 12 morning and night when ROVs are active. If I’m on watch, you can hear my voice along with my teammates in the control van—type in your questions for us, and follow along with real-time deep-sea discoveries. So tune in to NautilusLive.org and explore along!
Lindsay Holladay is a marine science interpreter at Seattle Aquarium and a 2016 Science Communication Fellow with the Ocean Exploration Trust. She is currently spending three weeks aboard the E/V Nautilus, exploring methane seeps and deep-sea ecosystems along the Cascadia Margin.
It’s a question often asked of our beach naturalists when they volunteer on local shorelines during low-tide days each summer. The photo below offers a great hint. The animal is a moon snail, and the gray “plunger” is the snail’s egg case. They’re a common sight on Seattle beaches in the summertime, and they are commonly mistaken for litter. They look like rubber, but they are actually made of sand, with a middle jelly layer that contains the snail’s eggs. The mother moon snail turns upside down to lay her egg mass, and as it emerges, the mother’s mucous adheres sand to the outside of the egg mass, and the collar shape forms as she moves her shell and foot. The eggs (roughly 500,000 of them) take about six weeks to hatch.
In the photo below, you can see a microscopic peek inside that egg collar (for a chance to check out the microscope that captured the image, visit the Aquarium for Family Science Weekend, May 28-30!).
Another common sight on the beach that invites questions? Clamshells, like the one pictured below, with sunken holes near the hinges. How do the holes get there? Perhaps you guessed it—they’re the work of moon snails. They use their radula (or rasp-like structure of tiny teeth) to drill holes in clamshells—then it’s clam on the half shell for lunch!
Interested in learning more about the amazing creatures on local beaches during low tide? Join Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists this summer! They’ll be stationed at a dozen Puget Sound shorelines on low-tide days throughout the summer. Click here for the complete schedule, locations and accurate directions.
Five spotted seahorses (Hippocampus kuda) are now on display in our Tropical Pacific exhibit! They join our one lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus).
The Seattle Aquarium has traditionally displayed lined seahorses—but we made the decision to switch to spotted seahorses because they’re found in the tropical Pacific (and are thus a good match for the theme of the exhibit), while lined seahorses are native to the Western Atlantic and Caribbean.
Spotted seahorses prefer sea grass habitats in sheltered bays and estuaries. They feed on small invertebrates such as shrimp. This species can be nearly 12 inches in length, but animals often appear shorter due to the way their tail curls up. They are variable in color, despite their alternate common name: yellow seahorse.
Our sole remaining lined seahorse is not the only fish at the Aquarium that mixes with a school of a different species. Look for the following loners in our exhibits the next time you visit!
Pile perch with blue striped perch in the Underwater Dome
Look for pile perch’s more deeply forked tail and the dark, vertical bar on the side of this fish’s body. In contrast, the blue striped perch has many thin horizontal stripes.
Yelloweye rockfish with canary rockfish in the Octopus Exhibit
The juvenile yelloweye has a deep red-orange color and two prominent white horizontal stripes, which fade away as the fish matures. Canary rockfish have only one prominent white stripe, along their lateral line.
Seattle Aquarium Laboratory Technician Amy Green recently traveled to San Diego with Tucker, a rescued olive ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated at the Aquarium. Tucker was joined by Comber, a rescued Pacific green turtle that was rehabilitated at the Vancouver Aquarium. Both turtles will continue care at SeaWorld Rescue before release into the wild.
Sea turtles are among the animals protected under the recently passed Washington State Initiative 1401, which prohibits trade of 10 land and sea animals (and/or their parts) in our state, and also aims to reduce our state’s contribution to the illegal poaching and animal trafficking that are dramatically reducing populations of endangered species in the wild.
Today, in honor of Endangered Species Day, Amy shares highlights from her experience traveling with Tucker:
The day was upon us—Thursday, April 21 was moving day! Seattle Aquarium staff members including Conservation Research Curator Dr. Shawn Larson, Lab Specialist Angela Smith, Veterinarian Dr. Lesanna Lahner, Director of Public Affairs Tim Kuniholm and I spent the morning preparing for Tucker’s big day. Preparations included checking the turtle travel boxes, packing any medical necessities, and organizing logistics of the trip. Aquarium Engineer Bob Kiel, along with Rob Sorensen, designed and built our custom turtle shipping box. The inside of the wooden box is lined with foam and neoprene to keep Tucker comfortable during the trip. It has rows of holes near the lid to allow for air movement. After one last check, the turtles were both placed in their respective boxes, and off we went to the U.S. Navy base.
Seattle Aquarium sea turtle shipping box. Designed and built by Bob Kiel and Rob Sorenson. Turtle stencil by Amy Green.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) requested the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard with the flight transport. They coordinated to schedule travel during regular pilot training; the Coast Guard used this opportunity to train for other emergency situations that could involve passengers requiring critical care during the flight.
Vancouver Aquarium Veterinarian Dr. Karisa Tang, Laura Todd of USFWS, KING 5 environmental reporter Alison Morrow and I accompanied Tucker and Comber on the flight, onboard a C-130 Hercules aircraft (super cool!). The flight was “slow and low” to keep the air temperature up in the mid-70s for the turtles. Both turtles kept calm during the flight, which was about four hours long.
A U.S. Coast Guard C-130 Hercules, used to transport both rescued sea turtles to San Diego.
Dr. Lesanna Lahner with Coast Guard pilot and crew.
The plane was equipped with jump seats and headsets.
View out the window of the Puget Sound.
Upon arrival in San Diego, SeaWorld Rescue crew members began moving the turtles from the transport boxes to their own animal crates. We loaded up into the vans to head to the SeaWorld Rescue facility, in Mission Bay, California.
Tucker being unloaded from the C-130 Hercules.
We drove into SeaWorld, and prepared to unload both turtles. Each was wrapped carefully in a sling and put on a cart to be weighed. Tucker was first, and after being transported into the holding pool, he immediately swam to the opposite end. He started small dives along the pool and was quite active, which was a relief to see after a long transport. Both turtles were now in their new temporary home.
SeaWorld Rescue team members carefully wrap Tucker in a sling to be carried and weighed easily.
Tucker in his new pool at SeaWorld Rescue San Diego.
This whole endeavor couldn’t have happened without the combined effort and collaboration of many parties. Tucker and Comber’s care, treatment and recovery will continue at SeaWorld Rescue, under permit by the USFWS. They have expected release date of late summer, when the ocean has warmed enough to ensure the best chance of successful survival and return to the wild.
From left to right: Mike Price, assistant curator of fish and invertebrates (SeaWorld), Amy Green, laboratory technician (Seattle Aquarium), Dr. Karisa Tang, veterinarian (Vancouver Aquarium), and Laura Todd (USFWS).