Traci Belting with sea otter Adaa.
After a career in animal care that started when she was still in college, spanned 40 years and was capped off by 16 years and countless hours tending to and training the animals that make their homes with us here at the Seattle Aquarium, Curator of Birds & Mammals Traci Belting retired on March 4.
“I was quite literally raised at the beach in southern California,” says Traci. “Swimming, body surfing, scuba diving and sailing—and I was fascinated by every animal I ever saw. I had no doubt I wanted to spend my life around marine life and share that passion with others.”
At age 16, Traci started working at Marineland of the Pacific, the first oceanarium on the West Coast of the United States. She continued working there in the summers while in college and, after she graduated with a degree in biology from UCLA, she joined them full-time. From there, Traci spent nine years at the Minnesota Zoo, where she worked with free-flight birds of prey and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. In 1996, Traci returned to the West Coast as the marine mammal manager at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, where she worked with polar bears, beluga whales, walruses and Magellanic penguins.
Traci feeding a walrus pup at Marineland in the early days of her career.
Traci joined the Seattle Aquarium as our Curator of Birds & Mammals in 2005. During her time here, she also shared her expertise as the AZA Sea Otter Species Survival Plan Coordinator and spent 12 years as a subject matter expert for AZA’s Marine Mammal Taxon Advisory Group and was on the board of directors for the International Marine Animal Trainers Association.
Before sailing off into the figurative sunset, Traci agreed to answer a few questions about her career and years with the Aquarium.
Q: What was your greatest learned lesson over the course of your career, and the biggest challenge you faced along the way?
A: Working with animals requires the ability to work well with others. Once I realized every person’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness, it became easier to forgive myself and others when we failed. As far as challenges, to work in this industry you have to be willing to live with a broken heart. We live longer than the species we care for so, if you work long enough, you will lose a friend. Every one of those animals owns a little piece of your heart.
Q: What have been the best things about working at the Seattle Aquarium?
A: I’ve never worked at such a mission-centric organization. You can start or stop a discussion just by asking, “How does this serve our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment?” I especially appreciate the dedication to accuracy in science. It might be cute to train a harbor seal to kiss or a fur seal to salute but it would not be accurate behavior. Instead, the Aquarium makes the animal’s own stories, natural history and conservation the focal point.
Q: What will you miss the most?
A: The Bird and Mammal animal care team is called the BAM team for short. Each team member is dedicated and passionate and loves working here. We work well together, have each other’s backs and sometimes even have squabbles just like a close family…so I call them my BAMily. I will miss my BAMily.
Q: How would you describe your personal relationship to marine conservation and the Aquarium’s mission?
A: I feel strongly that the animals that live at an Aquarium are not only the emotional connection between our guests and the ocean, but that those animals should be part of education and research that helps us find the answers to important conservation questions. I’ve had amazing opportunities throughout my career and I’m grateful for every part of it, but I definitely saved the best for last when I was hired by the Seattle Aquarium.
Traci working with fur seal Commander, who lived at the Seattle Aquarium from 2009 to 2015.
Traci’s dedication, expertise, talent, sense of humor, generosity and kindness have left an indelible mark on the Seattle Aquarium and all who have been fortunate enough to work with her. We thank her for her extraordinary years of service, will miss her greatly, and wish her all the happiness in the world in her well-earned retirement.