Have you seen the grunt sculpins in the Seattle Aquarium’s Puget Sound Fish exhibit? They’re entertaining to watch because of their awkward way of swimming: they “crawl” on the tips of their finger-like pectoral fins in a series of twitchy hops, jerks and jumps. Despite their poor swimming abilities, they’ve successfully adapted to life in high-current areas—thanks in part to some much-needed help from giant barnacles.
“In the wild, grunt sculpins frequently live in areas where giant barnacles are found,” says the Aquarium’s Curator of Fish and Invertebrates Tim Carpenter. “The barnacles need high water flow to get their food—and grunt sculpins use the barnacles’ shells as protection and egg-laying sites.” In a shrewd act of camouflage, a grunt sculpin will sit in a barnacle shell facing outward. In this position, the shape of its head bears a striking resemblance to the former resident of the shell. “It affords an animal that would have a hard time outrunning a predator a leg up in its environment,” notes Tim.
All animals that have adapted to life in a specific niche can be at risk if anything in that environment changes. That’s definitely the case for the grunt sculpin, which relies on strong, calcareous barnacle shells for protection and reproduction. If a barnacle’s ability to build its shell is hindered due to changing chemistry in the ocean—brought about by ocean acidification, for example—many other species are affected, both directly and indirectly, including the grunt sculpin.
It’s just another strong example of species interdependence, and another reminder to care for and preserve our marine environment. Interested in learning more about grunt sculpins? Visit the Puget Sound Fish exhibit at the Aquarium!
Some of our proudest moments at the Seattle Aquarium occur when we see students working to fulfill our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment. In a particularly impressive example of this, a group of Suquamish Tribe students from Chief Kitsap Academy recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak at the national level as part of the Coastal America Partnership’s 4th National Student Summit on Oceans and Coasts.
The students worked with Aquarium staff on an ocean acidification awareness project, producing a short film, poster presentation and action plan to share information with coastal tribes, other youth and the general public.
They gave a presentation to a panel of scientists and agency leaders at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on March 11, showed their film at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian on March 14, and were honored with the opportunity to open the summit with a traditional Suquamish gathering song on March 9.
Congratulations to these students, whose hard work and creativity may inspire people from all over the country to care for our marine environment.
The latest addition to our Birds & Shores exhibit is a male black-bellied plover, who came to us from the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA. He was introduced to the sandy side of the exhibit in late February, joining the killdeer, and is acclimating well.
The black-bellied plover, Pluvialis squatarola, is the largest plover in North America—with stocky stature, long, pointed wings, and a short, thick bill. During the winter months, these birds are a mottled mix of gray and black on their backs with white undersides. Breeding males molt into vivid white on the crowns of their heads, with a distinguishing solid black on their throats, breasts and upper bellies (the feature for which they are named). Breeding females show quite a bit more variation in color but never achieve the vivid contrast of the males. All plumages show a characteristic white rump, tail and wing stripe, along with distinctive black axillaries in the “wing-pits” which are visible during flight or outstretched movement. Fun fact: the black-bellied plover is the only American plover that has a hind toe on its feet—although this feature is extremely difficult to see in the bird’s natural environment.
Black-bellied plovers spend the winter on coastal beaches and estuaries, and breed in the lowland areas of the Arctic tundra. They forage primarily by sight with the “stop-run-peck” strategy that is characteristic of all plover species (and different from the probing strategy of sandpipers). Their winter diet includes invertebrates, bivalves and crustaceans; during breeding season, they feed primarily on insects. They are listed as “species of least concern” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Kokanee salmon have been added to the Aquarium’s salmon hatchery trough—and this is the first time we’ve ever exhibited them. Hatched two weeks ago, they came from the Lakewood Hatchery in Auburn. After growing up in the display trough for several months, they will be moved into our stream exhibit.
Kokanee salmon are the landlocked form of sockeye salmon. They live in freshwater streams their whole lives and never migrate to the ocean; therefore, they’re much smaller than sockeye. Locally, kokanee populations can be found in Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish, Issaquah Creek and other small creeks that feed into these bodies of water. Kokanee range in length from 10 to 18 inches and spawn from early August through late December.
What distinguishes kokanee salmon from other salmon species?
Males: back and sides are bright red to dirty red-gray; head is bright to olive green; tail is green to black; large dorsal hump.
Females: colors aren’t as bright, but they’re red above the lateral line.
Both: possible spots on back or tail fin.
“Jacob, meet Roberta. Roberta, meet Jacob.” Photo taken by Janna Nichols.
The Seattle Aquarium’s annual Octopus Week event came to a close on February 24—but not before it made some wonderful memories for plenty of Aquarium visitors, including a 4-year-old boy named Jacob.
Jacob was in Washington to visit his grandmother Janna, who happens to be the outreach coordinator for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). Says Janna, “One of the things he had his little heart set on was seeing an octopus. So we headed to the Aquarium on Sunday afternoon.”
She continues, “It was crowded but very well staffed—they even had people bring critters around to you while you stood in line to get in.” Jacob was delighted to see an octopus, and also had a great time playing our octopus parachute game and dressing up in an octopus costume.
The highlight of his visit, though, came when he saw Aquarium Diver Roberta Brooks in the Window on Washington Waters exhibit. Says Janna, “Not content to sit near the back with his parents, he wriggled his way to a front-and-center spot…he was mesmerized!” After the show was over, Jacob waited patiently for a chance to say hello to Roberta in person. With her in the water and him on the “dry side,” they touched their hands to the glass and even did a little dance together. “It was the coolest ever,” says Janna.