When Barney Met Siku
Barney, one of the popular, playful harbor seals at the Seattle Aquarium, may have met his match—courtesy of the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
In April, the Point Defiance and Seattle Aquariums agreed to cooperate in a breeding program: we sent Q, one of our two male seals, to Tacoma and they sent Siku, one of their five females, to us. The hope is that the pairings will result in baby harbor seals at both aquariums.
Since harbor seals are ubiquitous from California to Alaska, and everywhere in Puget Sound, why not capture them in the wild for exhibition? Thirty years ago, that was a fairly common practice. But these days, most harbor seals in zoos and aquariums are living in the care of humans because they were born there (as is the case with Barney and Q); or they were initially rescued from the wild for rehabilitation as the result of injury or illness, and subsequently deemed non-releasable.
Our local population of harbor seals is generally healthy, and the animals that do require rehabilitation are usually releasable afterwards. Breeding programs offer the opportunity to keep the population of animals in zoos and aquariums steady and healthy. In fact, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recommended this particular breeding as part of their population management plan for harbor seals.
Harbor seals like Barney and Siku are excellent ambassadors for their species and for marine conservation in general; they help us tell our story and encourage the public to take critical challenges to the marine ecosystem seriously.
Over the next eighteen months, we will completely renovate the harbor seal exhibit to make a better home for our seals and a better educational experience for our visitors. Once complete, we’ll have enough room for up to five seals—and perhaps one of them could result from the pairing of Barney and Siku.
The Reef Stuff
Would you ever mistake a coral for a jellyfish? Probably not. Yet corals are related to jellies, as well as to other invertebrates such as sea anemones and sea pens.
There are thousands of varieties of coral, and one of the most recognizable is the stony, or reef-building, coral. Like all corals, these comprise thousands of tiny marine animals that live in colonies. When the animals die, they leave behind their hard skeletons, which become building blocks for new corals to attach to. As time goes by, this accretion of animals and their skeletons form reefs—some as small as a rock, others as big as the Great Barrier Reef.
Reef-building corals share some characteristics with plants—for example, they need direct light to grow. Corals thrive because of their symbiotic relationship with specialized photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae that live within their tissue. Like rain forests, which house approximately 50% of the world’s terrestrial species, coral reefs are vital to the ecosystem, providing habitat to 25% of all marine species—including fish, mollusks, worms, crustaceans and sponges, to name just a few. Yet they occupy less than 0.1% of the ocean’s real estate.
Like the rain forest, corals are a fragile ecosystem. Corals are particularly susceptible to even the most moderate changes in their environment. Storms can break the colonies apart; pollution can dissolve the calcium carbonate structures; a few degrees change in temperature can kill the animals entirely. When a reef is in danger, the entire chain of life that depends on it is imperiled, as well.
For these reasons, collecting coral from the wild is carefully regulated. In fact, the Seattle Aquarium doesn’t collect coral at all—the majority of the reef-building corals we have here have lived in a captive environment for a very long time, and much of what you’ll see in our exhibits we’ve grown ourselves.
Coral forms an important part of our Pacific Coral Reef exhibit—not only because it’s beautiful to look at, but because it is a cornerstone of the tropical ecosystem, and gives us an opportunity to educate visitors about the interconnectedness of marine life, from the tiniest polyp on a reef to the vast array of marine animals, large and small, whose lives depend on its continued health.
Why I: Gavin Ropke
This month we’d like to introduce you to Gavin Ropke, one of our Beach Naturalist volunteers. Gavin shared with us why she initially volunteered for the program ten years ago—and what keeps her coming back.
I first heard about Beach Naturalists through word-of-mouth. I used to work with Janice Mathisen, educator and naturalist extraordinaire, and she suggested I check out the program. I had not volunteered with an organization that worked so directly with the public before and at first it was a bit intimidating.
This is now my tenth season and I learn more every year. The Aquarium staff works hard to add new information to the trainings, which keeps the veterans on their toes. The volunteers are a great bunch of people; it’s fun to renew old friendships. And the beach marine reserves keep evolving, changing and growing richer each season. I love seeing what’s happened through the year and talking to people about those changes.
It’s very humbling to see the impact the program has had on the beaches and the animals that live there, as well as the growth in public awareness about the beach and the near shore. I love when a six-year-old tells me that I have to remember to get my fingers wet before touching an anemone. Oh, and to use just two fingers!
One of my favorite things about going to Golden Gardens is listening to the stories people tell. People who have lived near that beach for years and go there regularly are excited that animals they haven’t seen in decades are returning to the eel grass and sand bars.
There are many reasons why volunteering for the Beach Naturalist program is important to me. If I had to name just two, I’d say that, first of all, I live in a beautiful place and I feel blessed to be here. I want to honor that and do whatever I can to help mitigate human impact on Puget Sound. I believe if I convince one person to wash his car on a permeable surface instead of on the street, then my time on the beach has been well spent.
Secondly, I grew up on a different ocean. I spent lots of time on the beach, with friends and by myself. It would have been wonderful to have a knowledgeable person there to help me find and identify all the living things that surrounded me. Now, I sometimes get to be that person. It is a joy.
Our donors make a Splash!
Playful sea otters may have been the focus of Splash! this year, but the star of the show is you, our generous donors and sponsors who gave more than $700,000. Thank YOU for helping preserve the Puget Sound for future generations.
Last week, more than 600 guests joined us for a fun-filled evening. But the true focus of the event was to generate support for the educational programs provided to youth and teens like Anja. For those of you who heard Anja speak, you understand the significant turn her life took after visiting the Aquarium in the 5th grade. If you did not get a chance to hear Anja’s compelling story, you can read about it in her own words.
Thank you to everyone who made Splash! a success. We are especially grateful to our honorary chairs, Chad and Jennifer Mackay, our title sponsor, The Boeing Company, and our presenting sponsor, Snoqualmie Tribe. And of course we could not have done it without the dedicated volunteers and staff who gave unselfishly of their time. And, thank you to YOU, our amazing donors who continue to support our mission: Inspiring Conservation of our Marine Environment.
The World’s Our Ocean
Stand on the end of Pier 60, and the ocean is literally at your feet.
We may call this corner of it “Elliott Bay”—and the body of water beyond that “Puget Sound” or “the Salish Sea,” and beyond that the “Pacific ocean.” But on our aptly-named Blue Planet, 70% of whose surface is covered by water (and only 3% of it fresh!), all those bays, sounds, seas and oceans add up to one big ocean.
June 8th is “World Oceans Day,” as declared by the United Nations in 1992. Here at the Seattle Aquarium, we extend the celebration into World Ocean Weekend. This year, from June 8th through June 10th, visitors enjoyed a variety of activities focused on our oceans’ interconnectedness, the challenges facing our marine ecosystem, and simple steps we can all take to make a positive difference.
While our activities were fun, there were serious messages behind them. Small children loved our parachute game, for example—but as they were playing, they were also learning about whales, and how these magnificent animals are found in every ocean. A training session with our harbor seals offered staff an opportunity to talk about the hazards marine trash poses to seals and other animals. And our teen volunteers recruited people via their Facebook page, Puget Sound: We Love You, to participate in beach cleanups on World Oceans Day itself.
Early Member Days
The sun rises earlier in the summer months and so do we. Every Sunday, from June through August, we’ll be opening our doors to our members half an hour earlier than usual—at 9:00am
A Message from our President & CEO
This summer I am proud to announce our first foray into children’s writing. Edwin the Super Duper Otter takes readers on a journey with Edwin as he learns confidence and the importance of friends. This charming interactive book is an excellent tool for parents who are looking to inspire a love of reading and marine life in their children.
The Aquarium is an important educational tool for parents and teachers. By encouraging curiosity in children at a young age, we help prepare them to become engaged students. Our hope is that by stimulating young minds, we create interest in science education and marine conservation.
On a state and national level, robust dialogue is taking place about education for students. The importance of learning outside the classroom is a conversation we value and encourage. We are committed to providing the best opportunities for children to enhance their science education, which is why we have joined together with the Pacific Science Center, Burke Museum, Museum of Flight, Islandwood and Woodland Park Zoo to create a new Informal Science Learning Consortium – more about this to come. Together, we can work to achieve our mission: Inspiring Conservation of our Marine Environment. Knowledge plus action!