Seattle Aquarium conservation update

One of the goals of our 2011–2030 Strategic Plan is to “provide leadership across our community as the region’s premier platform for marine conservation education and ecosystem understanding.” One way we work to achieve that goal is by aligning with like-minded organizations and initiatives to strengthen marine conservation efforts. Our work in this area is highlighted by two recent activities:

Green Marine is an international organization of hundreds of ship owners, ports, terminals, shipyards, suppliers, governmental bodies and environmental groups dedicated to environmental excellence in the maritime industry. In 2014, the Seattle Aquarium became the first American aquarium to affiliate with this effort, joining the Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia as well as the Port of Seattle. In May of 2015, we hosted the West Coast’s first Green Marine conference.

I-1401 Mark and Vulcan

State Initiative I-1401, “Saving Animals Facing Extinction”, goes to voters this November. If passed, it would be a felony to sell, buy or trade particular animal species, or their parts/derivatives, within the state of Washington. Animals that would receive this protection include elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, pangolins, sea turtles, sharks and manta rays.

The initiative closely matches a national effort launched this year by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), of which the Seattle Aquarium is an accredited member, to encourage all member organizations to engage in endangered species action and education.

Our board of directors voted to authorize the Aquarium to work closely with leading partners, including Vulcan, the Woodland Park Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, the Humane Society, and others, to support I-1401. On July 1, we hosted a press conference highlighting the collaborative support for this effort, and delivery of 300,000 signatures to the Washington Secretary of State’s office.

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A quiz: what do you call a group of sharks?

Hint: it’s the same thing you do when you’re chilly! Just like their counterparts on dry land, groups of marine animals have names that can be pretty surprising. Take our quiz and see how well you do! Answers are listed below.

Group name options: Army, Bed, Cast, Rookery, Run, School, Shiver, Smack, Raft, Walk, Wreck

WCN animal group collage with numbers



1. Walk of sea snails, 2. Rookery of seals, 3. School of rockfish, 4. Run of salmon, 5. Army of herring, 6. Bed of urchins, 7. Raft of sea otters, 8. Shiver of sharks, 9. Smack of jellyfish, 10. Cast of crabs, 11. Wreck of seabirds.

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Explained: the mystery of Mr. Potato Head at the Seattle Aquarium

Mayhem and Mr. Potato Head 2

“Why is there a Mr. Potato Head in that exhibit?” It’s a question we often hear from curious visitors. Our answer starts with the big word “enrichment.” It’s described by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (or AZA, of which the Seattle Aquarium is an accredited member) as “a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animals’ behavioral biology and natural history. Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors, thus enhancing animal welfare.”

Essentially, enrichment is an opportunity for animals to satisfy their behavioral needs, optimize their level of mental stimulation, and create a rich, variable environment. Aside from being a requirement of AZA accreditation standards, it can be a lot of fun!

For instance, bubbles and other changeable features mix up the look of the harbor seal exhibit. Ice toys exercise our mammals’ minds and bodies as they work to get the frozen treats inside. Hard hats and fake kelp provide something for those busy sea otter paws to manipulate. But it’s important to remember that good animal husbandry is also a form of enrichment. Interactions with a diver, a gravel wash, or a change in lighting can be a stimulating and varied experience for our mammals, birds and fish alike.

harbor seals and ice



Enrichments are designed and carried out on a varied schedule to elicit specific goals; for example, to stimulate a natural nesting behavior or to encourage foraging. They’re offered to invertebrates once a week; fish twice a week; octopuses three times a week; and birds and mammals every two days. They fall into five major categories:




  1. Environmental. Example: water temperature changes for fish to stimulate seasonal behaviors like mating.
  2. Sensory. Example: ice, spices and even music added to the harbor seal exhibit.
  3. Food. Example: Delivering food to our shorebirds in multiple ways—scattered around the exhibit, raked under the sand or hidden in PVC pipe.
  4. Behavioral/social. Example: Opportunities for interaction with other animals (including humans) such as our octopus blind date event every February.
  5. Toy/manipulative. Example: Buoys, boomer balls, Frisbees and other objects for our fur seals to manipulate with their mouths and flippers.

enrichment itemsIn order to provide safe, appropriate and effective enrichments, our life sciences staff must have a deep understanding of the animals’ natural behaviors. That includes both the species’ natural history as a whole and the unique behaviors of the individuals or communities in our care. Enrichment for a fur seal will look different from a sea otter and even more so from a cuttlefish.

Come see enrichment in action on your next visit to the Seattle Aquarium!



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Seattle Aquarium's Jim Wharton to be featured on Shark Week

Jim Wharton - Ninja sharks

Cue the theme from Jaws: our own Director of Conservation and Education Jim Wharton will be featured during Shark Week on the Discovery Channel! He’ll provide on-camera commentary for a show called Ninja Sharks, airing July 8 at 10pm PST. “Shark Week really stoked my interest in sharks,” Jim says, “And that led to my interest in the ocean and its conservation.”

View the clip above from the segment, titled The Hammerhead: The Electric Vision Shark.

Describing himself as a “near-fanatical devotee” of raising awareness of shark diversity, Jim took to Twitter to express fervent support for Alien Sharks—his favorite Shark Week show of recent years. “I’m probably the show’s biggest fan,” he laughs. His enthusiasm was noted by a Discovery Channel producer, who eventually asked him to participate in the Ninja Sharks program.

Although the show’s name may make it sound like it portrays sharks as ocean “bad guys,” it’s actually focused on the adaptations (or “ninja skills”) and conservation of six shark species, many of which haven’t been featured in other Shark Week programming. The inside word from Jim is that the sections dedicated to threshers and salmon sharks are particularly great—and that this year’s edition of Shark Week features many programs filled with awe, wonder, solid science and strong messaging around marine conservation.

Be sure to check out the Aquarium’s budding reality TV star on the Discovery Channel, July 8 at 10pm!

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Philanthropy begins early at the Seattle Aquarium

The Youth Philanthropy Team

Have you ever noticed youth volunteers painting faces during a visit to the Seattle Aquarium? And wondered where the money from the donation box goes? Youth philanthropy is one of four tracks within the Youth Ocean Advocates high school volunteer program. Participants in this track have the opportunity to develop an understanding of how philanthropy works by using funds raised from their donation-based face-painting station to award their own grants.

Members of the youth philanthropy team recently awarded five grants to nonprofits and schools for equipment for marine science research and education. The grants went to: The Center for Aquatic Sciences’ CAUSE program, an inner-city youth development program; Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery to connect water quality with salmon health for students in kindergarten through ninth grade; Babylon Junior/Senior High School for a touch tank to bring kindergarten, first and second grade students to their marine science classes; Mote Marine Laboratory for a “manatee cam” that will be used in manatee research and live-streaming; and Planeta Oceano for shark research to provide a comprehensive biological, fisheries and social-economic assessments of sharks and rays in northern Peru.

“Philanthropy team participants not only have the rewarding opportunity to give to the ocean conservation community, but also to learn about the granting process by developing their own granting program,” comments Youth Engagement Coordinator Dave Glenn. “Grant writing and securing funding is a skill that youth volunteers will need as they pursue careers in marine science, conservation and education. What better way to learn about the grant process by developing their own?”

The three other Youth Ocean Advocates program tracks include youth interpreters, through which participants work directly with guests visiting the Aquarium, answering questions and providing information about marine life and the marine environment; field conservation, which brings participants and Aquarium staff together to develop opportunities to engage large numbers of youth in field volunteer opportunities such as beach cleanups and habitat restoration; and a social media campaign called Puget Sound: We Love You, a youth-driven awareness campaign that encourages youth to advocate in their communities by utilizing their existing social networks to engage their family, friends, and school peers to take conservation action.

Visit our website for more information about the Seattle Aquarium’s Youth Ocean Advocate program!

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