To gear up for Discover Science Weekend, November 11–13, we’re putting together a guest blog series featuring some of the researchers who will be joining us for the event. Our third and final post is from the Seattle Aquarium’s own Angela Smith, a laboratory specialist.
The Seattle Aquarium has been conducting conservation research since 1995. We have an in-house Washington Department of Ecology-accredited laboratory, three staff members and seven volunteers. We regularly conduct water quality testing of all the exhibits, including ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, salinity and fecal coliforms. However, most of our research is focused on marine mammal conservation endocrinology. We use non-invasive techniques of measuring reproductive and stress hormones through opportunistically collected fecal and saliva samples. These samples come from our harbor seals, river otters and sea otters. We now have 21 years of fecal endocrine data on our sea otters, as well as many others throughout the world.
We also conduct in-situ field studies such as the annual Washington sea otter survey organized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), which we have participated in since 2001. In addition, we have a multi-year study of foraging behavior and patterns of sea otters along the northern Washington coast, which began in 2010. To date, we have six years of data comprising approximately 2,000 foraging dives.
Not all of our research involves mammals. The Seattle Aquarium has been conducting rockfish surveys in Puget Sound for 12 years. We also annually travel to Kona, Hawaii, where we have seven years of video surveys of fish abundance in the reef ecosystems documenting coral cover and coral reef fish diversity. For well over a decade, the Aquarium participated in sixgill shark research, a collaborative effort with WDFW and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Most of the tagging and genetics sample collection occurred right under the Aquarium’s pier. This work was featured in the documentary, Mystery Sharks of Seattle.
Most recently, our work has turned toward animal rehabilitation. The Aquarium has participated in sea turtle rehabilitation for many years. In December 2015, a cold-stunned olive ridley sea turtle, Tucker, was found on Cannon Beach in Oregon. Following transport to this facility, he received intensive on-site care until his transfer to Sea World San Diego, the rehabilitated sea turtle destination on the West Coast. Over the years, the Seattle Aquarium has also reared orphaned sea otter pups that were not releasable back to the wild. At the beginning of August this year, a sea otter pup was found stranded on Rialto Beach on the Washington Coast. For two full months, the pup, Rialto, received around-the-clock care until he was ready to be transferred to his forever home, Vancouver Aquarium.
Angela Smith is a laboratory specialist who works in the Seattle Aquarium laboratory with Amy Green and Dr. Shawn Larson. She has assisted primarily with the water quality testing, endocrinology and genetics projects which include sample processing and analysis. Originally from Virginia, she has lived in the Seattle area for almost 20 years and worked for the Aquarium for 19 of those years. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Norfolk State University and a master’s degree in marine science from College of William and Mary.