Meet “Crush” and “Tank,” two western snowy plovers who recently joined us at the Seattle Aquarium!
These tiny brown-and-gray birds—they weigh only 1.23 ounces each, about the equivalent of a nine-volt battery!—have a big impact on everyone who meets them with their “ability to capture the hearts of visitors because of their tiny, adorable appearance,” says Animal Care Specialist Sara Perry.
“I love the fact that we have this unique opportunity to exhibit a species that can really connect with our mission,” she adds. “Especially being a threatened species, Crush and Tank can be huge ambassadors for their species in the wild.” Western snowy plovers have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1993. Humans are primarily responsible for snowy plovers’ population decline: Their nesting sites are on beaches and vulnerable to development by humans, as well as to predators and bad weather.
Finding a new home
How did these two birds end up at the Aquarium? Crush, a female, came to us from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in May 2019 and had been in a zoo/aquarium setting for about two years. Tank, a male, arrived from SeaWorld San Diego’s rehab facility in October 2019 at only five months old.
This is a good time to note that all the marine mammals and birds at the Aquarium were either born at a zoo or aquarium or have been deemed non-releasable according to the guidelines established by government agencies and policies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Migratory Bird Act. Rehabilitated, non-releasable birds have sustained some sort of illness or injury that would prevent them from surviving on their own in the wild, but they still can have the opportunity for a great life in a zoo or aquarium setting. All but one of the Seattle Aquarium’s seven shorebirds are rehabilitated individuals, and two birds have been housed here since 1992. Crush and Tank both sustained serious wing injuries that made them unable to fly, so they can’t be released but they are otherwise completely healthy.
So why were they moved two states up the coast? Sara offers some insight here: “Rehab individuals often become available when you least expect it. There is a strong networking partnership between the AZA [Association of Zoos and Aquariums] community and rehabilitation facilities. We all work together in a cooperative effort to find the best permanent placement for individuals that have been deemed non-releasable at that time. The Seattle Aquarium had the exhibit space and appropriate resources to give Crush and Tank a great home.”
Tank, for example, hatched in a monitored population on Coronado Island, California, in May 2019. That August, however, biologists from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research noted he was injured and missing part of his wing, likely from a potential predator. So they brought him to SeaWorld San Diego for rehabilitation and care as they sought a new home for him where he could be an education and exhibit bird (since he was non-releasable). The Seattle Aquarium worked with San Diego Zoo Global’s Pacific Coast Bird Conservation team, SeaWorld San Diego, and veterinary staff to bring Tank here in late October. After Tank successfully cleared quarantine, he was introduced to the sandy area of our Birds & Shores exhibit in late November.
Crush had a different path to Seattle. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the main shorebird rehabilitation facilities in California and “works hard to make a difference to the threatened western snowy plover population,” as they explain on their website. Crush had been rehabilitated there and then stayed on in their exhibit beginning in January 2018. However, because of natural territorial behaviors among the exhibit birds, she needed a new home, so the Seattle Aquarium was contacted and she joined us in May 2019.
The Seattle Aquarium is currently the only AZA-accredited facility with this special species on exhibit. That means our lucky visitors get a fairly close-up view of these shy birds now that they’re becoming more acclimated to their exhibit.
Tank and Crush are just two of the fascinating birds you’ll find when you visit the Aquarium. We hope these cute ambassadors help our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment, because it’s up to humans to preserve their nesting sites, habitats and food chain—as well as those of the many other incredible animals living in and around the ocean.