E-Newsletter Articles

October 2011

Salmon Homecoming

According to Northwest Native American legend, salmon were actually people with superhuman abilities and eternal lives. Out of compassion for hungry humans, they turned themselves into fish for the tribes to eat, on the condition that the humans agreed to throw all the bones back into the water so the Salmon people could regenerate. For as long as the tribes respected this rule, the salmon would return every year.

At the Seattle Aquarium, we might not throw bones in the water, but we certainly celebrate the importance of salmon both in our local ecosystem and as a touchstone of Native American culture. On September 15–17, the Aquarium hosted the 19th annual Salmon Homecoming — a three–day event that featured a variety of environmental and cultural activities geared especially towards approximately 750 students and teachers from underserved communities in Seattle, and from local tribal schools.

Salmon Homecoming featured a "School Days" program on Thursday and Friday in Waterfront Park, just south of the Seattle Aquarium. There were also special salmon–themed dive shows in the Great Hall. The fair was aimed at 4th and 5th graders and was free of charge. The program focused on four themes:

  • Salmon life cycle and ecosystems
  • Habitat protection and restoration
  • Storm water and Pollution
  • Culture and Communities


In addition, the public event on Friday evening and all day Saturday included a canoe welcoming ceremony, powwow, a salmon bake, and various cultural performances.

Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, once described salmon as "the measuring stick of well-being in the Pacific Northwest," and we at the Aquarium couldn't agree more. In fact, the importance of this species to our ecosystem forms a huge part of all our education efforts from Aquarium classes that focus on Northwest salmon, to the messages our volunteer Beach Naturalists deliver to the public on local beaches during the summer.

Partnering with local tribes and environmental agencies on Salmon Homecoming is just one more way the Aquarium lives its mission of inspiring conservation of our marine environment, and at the same time celebrates the Pacific Northwest Native culture that permeates our entire region.

How many Sea Otters are there in Washington?

On a windy week in July, Seattle Aquarium staff took part in the 22nd annual Washington sea otter survey. Shawn, Caroline and Julie hiked for three hours from the road to the beach so they could count sea otter adults and pups, and record the types of food in their diet.

The annual survey tracks the population of sea otters along the Washington coast, allowing for long term evaluation of population health and growth. Biologists and volunteers trek to beaches like Cannonball and Father and Son through good weather and bad, to count and mark where local sea otter populations live.

It is not easy to spot a sea otter from the beach, so counters look for a head (which looks like kelp) and flippers. They use powerful binoculars and cameras to accurately identify individuals. The areas are pretty remote so planes are used to take aerial shots. The population is determined by using the manual count along with numbers counted in the photos. The 2011 results will be tabulated by the end of the year, though it looks like the population has held steady.

The history of the Washington sea otter is tragic. In the mid-1700s, sea otters were discovered by Russian explorers and quickly prized for their pelts. By the early-1900s, many of the populations were wiped out. By the time protection for the species was introduced, there were only a few small groups remaining along the west coast. Sea otters were extinct in Washington at the turn of the century and were re-introduced to Washington from animals taken from the Aleutian Islands in the 1960s. Re-introduction was rocky at first but now the population along Washington has grown to about 1,000 animals.

Sea otters love living along the rocky shores of the Washington Coast. The diversity of food provides a healthy diet and the rocky outcroppings are a safe place to live and raise pups. There is hope that the population will increase over time, though lower invertebrate and fish diversity, decreased kelp cover, and pollution could have a negative impact.

The Seattle Aquarium’s participation in the annual sea otter survey is funded by community contributions. Aquarium staff joined biologists and volunteers from the WA Department of Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Quinault Indian Nation, Makah Indian Nation and the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium to complete the survey.

C.J. Casson joins the AZA Accreditation Committee

Barbara Owens

The Seattle Aquarium is a proud member of AZA — the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. AZA accreditation inspections are managed by a group of AZA professionals along with a panel of twelve zoo and aquarium experts. This summer, Seattle Aquarium’s own Director of Life Sciences, C.J. Casson, was nominated and voted onto that very prestigious commission!

If an American zoo or aquarium would like to be considered an accredited institution, they must pass an application and rigorous inspection process that meets or exceeds the AZA's standards for animal health and welfare, fundraising, staffing, and involvement in conservation efforts. As an AZA accreditation commissioner, C.J. will be reviewing applications, conducting interviews, writing professional standards, and providing mentoring, training, and guidance to zoo and aquarium personnel.

C.J. and the rest of the commissioners are responsible for accrediting all aquariums and zoos in North America and additional foreign facilities that are accredited by AZA. C.J. is delighted by this new role, seeing it as a tremendous learning opportunity. He will work with some of the most respected individuals in the zoo and aquarium community and help shape the future standards of this industry. C.J. and his team will also be working on renewing the Seattle Aquarium’s accreditation in 2012.

Halloween Party: a Family Party at the Aquarium

If you have ever visited the Seattle Aquarium’s Ocean Oddities Exhibit you know there are some strange and spooky creatures that call the Aquarium home. But on Thursday, October 27th, Leaf Scorpion fish, Spotted Boxfish, and Convict Blennies will not be the only creepy critters on Pier 59 as the Aquarium hosts our annual Halloween party. 

This donor-appreciation event will feature themed food, drinks, games, and activities. Hundreds of costumed Seattle Aquarium donors and their families will arrive to spend the evening indulging in the festivities. Guests will participate in a costume parade throughout the Great Hall and Life on the Edge. They will watch divers carve pumpkins underwater in our Window on Washington Waters Exhibit (and they’ll even get to vote for their favorite underwater creation).

In addition to the usual Halloween tricks and treats, this event will also include themed educational activities. Children will have the opportunity to explore the Aquarium and learn more about our marine mammals, giant pacific octopus, and Puget Sound fish.

Gather your children or grandchildren and dig out that old Batman costume, because this event promises to be chock full seasonal spook and fun. Please contact Christie Cotterill by phone (206) 838-3907or email for more information.

A Message from our CEO

The mission of the Seattle Aquarium is “Inspiring Conservation of our Marine Environment.” To achieve our mission, the Board of Directors and Senior Leadership team of the Seattle Aquarium recently went through a rigorous process to create an ambitious strategic plan. This plan will inspire marine conservation within our visitors and catalyze public engagement in the wonder, science and future vitality of Puget Sound and our oceans.

One of our specific goals is to expand our role as a key partner in marine science, education and public action. To accomplish this goal we are meeting with a number of marine conservation leaders and will keep you advised of our progress.

Together, we can Inspire Conservation of our Marine Environment. Knowledge plus action!