Sustainability is one of the core institutional values of the Seattle Aquarium and sustainable seas is one of our conservation priorities, with a special focus on sustainable fisheries. We envision a future in which we balance ocean health and human needs, without compromising the communities or ecosystems of tomorrow.
So…what do the animals in our care eat? The short answer: the same restaurant-grade seafood that humans do, even while we’re temporarily closed to the public. Some animals also eat products that don’t appear on most (human) menus, like krill, mysid shrimp and rotifers (microscopic aquatic animals). We mainly purchase bulk frozen seafood, such as market squid, Alaskan pollock and capelin. A small volume of supplements and other unique products (~2%) are also purchased to support the unique dietary requirements of tropical animals and salmonids.
Freezing seafood when it’s collected preserves quality, kills any parasites and prevents spoilage. We keep the frozen seafood in our own freezers until it’s needed—then defrost before feeding it to the animals in our care. As our Curator of Mammals & Birds Traci Belting says, “Since our animals eat their food raw, it’s imperative it be of the highest quality!“
SAMPLER PLATTER: TYPES OF FISH EATEN BY THE ANIMALS IN OUR CARE
Shown at the top of our photo, you might know this squid species as market squid, opalescent squid or calamari—its scientific name is Doryteuthis opalescens (opalescent spear squid). Because they grow quickly and reproduce at a young age (only living four to nine months), they can keep up with fishing pressure.
Just below and to the left of the squid are krill. The krill we feed to the animals in our care are mainly sourced from an Antarctic fishery that’s certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Directly below the squid is a herring, and below that is a mackerel—we feed both to giant Pacific octopuses, mammals, birds and the largest fish in our care. Herring and mackerel are both high in fat, which provides a lot of calories. Most herring fisheries are listed as “Good Alternatives” in the Seafood Watch guidelines, and a few are even “Best Choice.” Speaking of Seafood Watch…The Seattle Aquarium has been a Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Conservation Partner since 2006, and its ratings are considered for all of our seafood purchases, including the seafood purchased for our human visitors. According to Seafood Watch ratings, 67% of our bulk seafood products are sustainable. The remaining 33% don’t have a Seafood Watch rating at this time. The reason for the lack of ratings? Because these products are harvested mostly to support the specialized diets of animals in human care and/or represent a smaller, boutique fishery. We’ve shared our assessment results with the Seafood Watch Science team to help inform which unrated species should be prioritized for their next round of research.
Last but definitely not least: anchovy, anyone? That’s the fish at the bottom of our photo. We source our anchovies from the U.S. West Coast, which is a sustainable fishery for northern anchovy (our local species), but most of those fish are used as bait. People usually eat European anchovy on their Caesar salads and pizzas; however, there’s a growing fishery here in Washington and in Oregon for anchovies that are used as food fish.
Above are mussels from Penn Cove Shellfish, the same vendor that delivers to some of Seattle’s finest seafood restaurants. We too purchase mussels, particularly to help satisfy the voracious appetites of our sea otters. Shellfish aquaculture is typically low impact because they don’t have the same concerns as some farmed finfish, including resources to feed them and risk of disease.
We invite you to visit our website to learn more about sustainable seafood! You can also watch this video featuring Executive Chef Molly DeMers to learn more about the Aquarium café’s commitment to sustainable foods. (Fast fact: We are founding members of and have “leader” status with the James Beard Foundation’s Smart Catch program, which recognizes restaurants committed to sustainable seafood. Chef Molly recently achieved a grade of 100% for the seafood we purchase for our guests!)