Inspiring sea otter conservation—from an inland state

Three sea otters floating in the ocean


“I came to the Seattle Aquarium in 1996,” says Diane Tomecek. “That’s where I fell in love with sea otters.” And, spoiler alert: that love led Diane to establish the Sea Otter Foundation & Trust (SOFT) in the heart of land-locked Colorado.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. “I’ve always been an animal lover,” says Diane, “And the Seattle Aquarium has a lot to do with my love for sea otters.” That love only grew in the 15 years between Diane’s first visit to the Aquarium in 1996 and 2011, when she learned about our biennial sea otter conference and decided to attend.

“Dr. Mike Murray from the Monterey Bay Aquarium was the keynote speaker that year,” notes Diane. “He spoke about the need for a dedicated sea otter fund and it just sparked something in me.” Diane was already working in the nonprofit arena, mostly human services—and, she says, “I wanted to get back to animals and the environment.”

Diane worked quickly. She presented the idea for what would become SOFT at the 2013 sea otter conference and the new foundation was officially launched later that year.

SOFT funds grants related to sea otter research, conservation and education. “We hope to focus on areas that aren’t funded easily or anywhere else,” says Diane. “I’d like to see us become a go-to for sea otter education.” SOFT receives 15–17 grant applications per year; the number of awards varies from year to year—and the Seattle Aquarium has even been one of SOFT’s grantees.

Diane also shares her passion for sea otters with students. “We go to elementary and high schools, aiming to inspire future marine biologists,” she says. That might seem like a tall order in a state that’s about 1,000 miles away from the nearest sea otters living in the wild. But Diane has a strategy that’s working: “We connect sea otters to river otters because we have them here in Colorado,” she explains, “And people are so excited to learn even though we don’t have sea otters nearby. We can still bring the sense of the animals to them.” She adds, “They’re just adorable. People love them.”

And, of course, in our digital era, location matters less—while commitment, which Diane clearly has in abundance, matters more. We thank Diane for her outstanding advocacy and commitment to sea otter conservation!

Subscribe to the Seattle Aquarium Blog

Get news and updates from the blog delivered to your inbox