E-Newsletter Articles

June 2015

Q&A with Splash! speaker Hyejoo Ro

Hyejoo Ro

Youth Ocean Advocate Hyejoo Ro brought the house down at our annual fundraising gala on June 5, inspiring the packed house to generously contribute to the Aquarium’s conservation education fund—and helping the Aquarium achieve the milestone of raising over a million dollars during the event. Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, we were able to raise a grand total of $1,020,000!

A senior at Shorewood High School in Shoreline, Hyejoo has served as a Youth Ocean Advocate at the Seattle Aquarium since December of 2012, and has recorded an incredible 880 hours of service in support of the Aquarium’s mission. Below, she shares thoughts about her experience and bright future.

Q: What inspired you to become a youth volunteer at the Aquarium?
I always knew that I wanted to do something involving the ocean and was truly inspired by the marine environment because I had a connection with it at such a young age. My parents loved to bring me outdoors to the beach, ferry rides, and an old family friend had a boat so I was able to spend a lot of my childhood on the water and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest in general. Since all my good and happy memories involve the water somehow I wanted to have my life include the marine environment. So I was inspired to become a youth volunteer because I want to keep that feeling of happiness and serenity.

Q: What do you love best about volunteering?
I love being able to “dork out” and be genuinely excited about science. The Aquarium is like a safe haven for ocean nerds like me. Not only am I surrounded by fellow volunteers that have an interest for the marine environment but I’ve noticed that my excitement can be contagious. The fact that there are guests who are genuinely interested and want to learn from you really is a satisfying feeling. I love long conversations with guests who ask questions and still want to know more even if I already told them everything I know about a certain topic or animal. I also love my fellow volunteers and how we have something deeper to talk about rather than television shows or what homework is due. Some of my closest friends are my fellow volunteers.

Q: What’s been the biggest surprise about your experience?
Definitely getting to the point of being able to speak at a large-scale event like Splash!. Before being a youth volunteer, I was quiet and shy and deathly afraid of public speaking. But I have seen myself grow to be able to display leadership qualities. I had no idea about the skills I would develop in a relatively short period of time. Now I am proud of who I’ve become—I’ve gained so much confidence in my abilities to interact with people and I’m thrilled that I have a story to tell.

Q: In what ways has this experience impacted you, and how might it impact you in the future?
It’s allowed me to be exposed to the skills I’ll need for the workforce and prepare early. I’m interested in going into a field of marine science and aware that it can get competitive. This experience helped me get my foot in the door and gain some experience in the field. As a youth volunteer, I’ve had networking opportunities where I was able to meet people in various career fields—for example, the previous UW marine biology academic advisor, scientists at the UW Friday Harbor Labs, Director of Ecology Maia Bellon, and Governor Jay Inslee.

Q: What would you tell other teens who are considering applying to the Youth Ocean Advocates program?
Go for it and take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. Even if you know nothing about the ocean except for knowing that we have seven of them, that’s okay. You learn so much from just being at the Aquarium, near people who study marine animals for a living. Being a youth volunteer not only teaches you scientific facts, it also helps you gain valuable and applicable life skills. And the animals are pretty cool too.

We thank Hyejoo and wish her success in her studies at the University of Washington starting in the fall!

Save the dates for Aquarium events

Leu and Siku

The Aquarium’s marine mammals were in the news twice in late May, with a life-saving intervention for fur seal Leu, and a somber announcement regarding harbor seal Siku.

On May 22, a young visitor to the Aquarium tossed a small object into the main sea otter pool, where northern fur seals Flaherty and Leu were spending the day. The child’s mother notified staff and let them know that the object was a “stress ball,” made of stretchy cloth and scented with dried lavender. As soon as the ball entered the pool, the fur seals began tossing it around—similar to the way they sometimes play with their food. Although Aquarium staff entered the exhibit mere moments after being alerted to the presence of the foreign object, no ball was found.

Flaherty and Leu were shifted back to the fur seal exhibit and a quickly assembled Aquarium dive team searched the sea otter pool for the ball, but to no avail. On Tuesday morning, Dr. Lindsay Helvey and the staff of Northwest Equine Veterinary Associates, and our staff veterinarian, Dr. Lesanna Lahner, took some digital radiographs which confirmed that Leu had ingested the ball. Dr. Lahner then did some research on similar balls sold nearby and discovered that they are primarily filled with whole flax seeds.

In the warm liquid environment of Leu's stomach, the ball expanded and the contents became sticky with a gelatinous coating. The ball was not only too big to pass from Leu’s stomach into his intestines, but also too big for him to regurgitate. It was stuck.

By midday, Leu was clearly in distress and becoming less and less responsive. Dr. Lahner organized and led an all-star team of specialists—including Dr. Betsy Lutmerding of the Navy's Marine Mammal Foundation; Dr. Justin Rosenberg, veterinary intern at the Vancouver Aquarium; Dr. Kendra Bauer, veterinary intern from Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium; veterinary technician Teresa Casson of the Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle; and human gastroenterologist, Dr. Darik Taniguchi and his wife Jo Taniguchi, who is a nurse, both of Seattle Gastroenterology Associates—to come to Leu’s aid. The team worked into the wee hours of the night during a four-hour medical procedure, carefully cutting open the ball and removing enough flax seeds to make it possible for the ball to be safely pulled out through Leu’s mouth.

Leu recuperated nicely and remained under veterinary care and off exhibit for the next several days as Aquarium staff continued to monitor his condition. Commented Curator of Birds and Mammals Traci Belting, “We tell many stories to our guests about the perils of foreign object ingestion when wild animals consume human-generated trash. Unfortunately animals in the wild don't have an expert team to save their lives the way fur seal Leu did.”

On a very sad note, female harbor seal Siku delivered a premature, stillborn pup on May 31. This was 10-year-old Siku’s first pregnancy. She quickly resumed eating and made a fast recovery. Necropsy results are pending.

It’s summertime—meet us at the beach!

Seattle Aquarium's Beach Naturalist program

With the return of warmer weather comes the return of one of the Aquarium’s most beloved programs: Beach Naturalists. This grassroots, volunteer-driven public education program is designed to engage Puget Sound citizens by fostering positive attitudes about marine wildlife and their habitats.

The need for such a program is great: Escalating population growth in Seattle/King County has intensified recreational use of local beaches, and this heavy use has led to habitat degradation and declines in number and diversity of Puget Sound’s intertidal/nearshore species.

To help protect our shorelines, Aquarium-trained volunteer Beach Naturalists take to local beaches on low-tide days each summer. Wearing their signature red caps, they engage with beachgoers from all walks of life to offer lively, informative, hands-on education about the nearshore habitat and the creatures that live there; the challenges facing that habitat; and practical changes individuals can make in their beach exploration behavior to enjoy the environment while protecting this fragile habitat.

Over the program’s 16-year history, Beach Naturalists have engaged in 302,000 conversations with the public on local beaches—over 60,000 of those took place in 2014 alone. The number of volunteers attracted to the program has grown significantly: from 70 in the program’s first year to 230 in 2015.

This season, volunteer naturalists will be stationed at 12 local beaches—from Richmond Beach in the north all the way to Dash Point in the south. We’d love to see you at one of them! No reservations are needed for this free, drop-in program. Click here for dates, times, locations and driving directions.

July 1: welcome back, central waterfront!

Seawall update

The second season of seawall construction is nearly complete—and the businesses of Seattle’s central waterfront are poised to reopen on July 1. Construction will cease completely during the summer and resume on October 1. We’re delighted to welcome nearby business back to the neighborhood, and look forward to a busy summer season.

Starting this fall, seawall construction will take place directly in front of the Aquarium, with fencing and mobilization of large construction equipment just east of Piers 59 and 60. The sidewalk will be removed and pedestrian traffic rerouted to our entrance. Once the sidewalk is removed, sheet piles will be installed to separate Elliott Bay (and the Aquarium) from the large trench that will be required to remove and rebuild the seawall.

The target completion date for this work is July 1, 2016. As usual, we’ll feature plenty of engaging events and activities to keep visitors coming through our doors this fall, winter and spring—and eagerly await the completion of this vital project, which will benefit not only our institution and the central waterfront, but the entire Puget Sound region as well. In the meantime, here’s to a fantastic summer at the Aquarium and along the waterfront!

A message from our President & CEO

Bob Davidson

The Seattle Aquarium reached an important milestone with the completion of our draft master plan. The draft was published to our website on June 9 and, on June 16, we held a public open house to present it and gather feedback from the community. I was joined by the architect we’ve retained for our proposed expansion project, Marc L’Italien of the San Francisco-based firm EHDD, to share highlights of our vision for the future Seattle Aquarium.

An expanded Seattle Aquarium will align with Seattle’s revitalized waterfront—while increasing the Aquarium’s effectiveness and capacity as a platform for scientific research, marine conservation education and civic engagement. We’ll consolidate the feedback we’ve received on the draft plan over the next several weeks and will present it to the Seattle City Council in July. I invite you to review the plan on our website. You can also learn more and express your support for an expanded Seattle Aquarium by visiting our advocacy website.