E-Newsletter Articles

October 2015

Mishka the sea otter becomes a media darling

Mishka, sea otter at Seattle Aquarium

Recent news that one-year-old Mishka, who joined the Aquarium just this past January, is the first sea otter to be diagnosed with asthma attracted media attention from all over the world—generating, as of earlier this week, 685 news stories from 477 different outlets and reaching an audience of 1,239,463,328 readers! And no wonder: it’s a compelling story that reinforces the connection of marine animals to humans, and to the environment we all share.

Like many of her human counterparts, Mishka began having trouble breathing when smoke from the Eastern Washington wildfires moved into the Puget Sound area in August. Our staff veterinarian, Dr. Lesanna Lahner, made the diagnosis of asthma using the same methods an M.D. would use on a human. She also confirmed that Mishka was the first sea otter to receive the diagnosis.

As shown in the many news stories that featured her, Mishka is now learning to use an inhaler, just like humans do, to receive medication that will help her breathe better. Even the medication in the inhaler is the same as that used by humans! Mishka has been responding well to the training, which involves using some of her favorite foods as a reward. Read our blog post for more details—including ideas about what could have caused Mishka’s asthma.

Aquarium veterinarian shares expertise during NOAA research trip

Steller sea lion pup

In a prime example of the value of collaboration with partner institutions, Aquarium staff veterinarian Dr. Lesanna Lahner recently traveled to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to participate in NOAA research on Steller sea lion pups. With the western population stock listed under the Endangered Species Act, Steller sea lions are the largest members of the “eared seal” family. They’re found all along the west coast of the United States, from Alaska to California. They’re also regularly sighted in the waters of Puget Sound.

Dr. Lahner served as a veterinarian for the project and anesthetized Steller sea lion pups for the collection of samples including blood, fur and whiskers. The samples will be used to investigate the health of the endangered sea lion rookeries. Over several days the team anesthetized and collected samples from over 100 pups.

Explaining how the process works, Dr. Lahner says, “First, we herd all the adults into the water. The females generally bob nearby to watch. We have to be careful about the males, because they may charge if they feel threatened.”

With the adults at a safe distance, team members turn their attention to the pups. Although they’re quite cute, handling them is no easy matter—they’re bulky and not necessarily happy about being picked up. “We make the process as efficient as possible for the health of the animals,” notes Dr. Lahner. “It takes less than 10–15 minutes to weigh, measure and take samples from each pup and they are anesthetized for sampling so it’s not stressful for them.”

“This study is an important contribution toward the conservation effort for this species,” she adds. “It’s great to work with such an outstanding group of biologists, and I was happy to be asked to provide veterinary assistance while learning things I can bring back to the Aquarium.”

Community ticket spotlight: YouthCare


With generous donor support, the Seattle Aquarium distributed nearly 35,000 free tickets to partner agencies through our community ticket program in 2014. One such agency is YouthCare, an organization that provides programs and services for homeless, runaway and at-risk youth. In addition to providing tickets, the Aquarium has also done outreach events with YouthCare clients. Below, Communications Manager Liz Trautman answers some questions about YouthCare’s partnership with the Aquarium.

Q: What does YouthCare do and who does it serve?
Since 1974 YouthCare has provided essential services to Seattle’s homeless youth and young adults. We help build confidence and self-sufficiency for homeless youth with a continuum of care that includes homelessness prevention services, street outreach, basic services, emergency shelter, housing, counseling, education, and employment training. Last year, we helped over 1,300 homeless young people ages 12–25.

Q: What has YouthCare’s partnership with the Seattle Aquarium been like?
The Aquarium has generously provided tickets for youth in our programs since 2010. Last year, they also invited our youth to participate in the annual Aquarium Open House event, and we look forward to participating again this year! Even more exciting was a visit by the Aquarium Community Engagement team, who visited one of our under-18 housing programs to teach a Healthy Watershed workshop—the youth were so excited to learn about watersheds and paint pictures of orcas! They couldn’t wait to show off their new knowledge and explained everything they knew about watersheds to the youth counselor on staff that day. And they hung their paintings up in the house to decorate the walls!

Q: How does access to the Aquarium and its programming benefit young people served by YouthCare?
The homeless youth and young adults we serve have often had traumatic experiences that made them take on adult responsibilities very early in life. Many have not had the opportunity to have the same childhood and teenage experiences as their housed peers. For those still on the streets or in unstable housing situations, much of their energy is focused on finding a safe place to sleep, and they don’t have the time to think about enrichment activities. Visiting the Aquarium, or learning about aquatic life through the community outreach program, is an opportunity to take a break from being a “homeless youth” and to instead focus on doing the same thing many other young people their age get to do. And it’s a great hands-on learning environment! For our youth who struggle to be successful in school, it’s a fantastic way to learn in an active and engaging way.

Your donations to the Seattle Aquarium provide vital funding for programs like those that are benefiting the clients of YouthCare. Says Liz, “Our staff and youth are so grateful for the ongoing support of the Seattle Aquarium and the generous community of donors that make their outreach programs possible. Thank you!”

Q&A with Andrew Bleiman, auxiliary board chair

Andrew Bleiman

As you may have heard, the Seattle Aquarium now has an auxiliary board. The group formed last December with the goal of actively involving our city’s young professionals—and their communities—in the Aquarium’s mission through innovative and engaging programs, events and activities. In fact, the group’s first event, the Adult Swim gala, will be taking place next month; click here for details and to see the full auxiliary board roster.

Auxiliary board chair Andrew Bleiman recently agreed to answer some questions about this new and vibrant group, and his involvement with it.

Q: How do you connect personally to the Seattle Aquarium and its mission?
As a child I was inspired by monthly visits to the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo and it made me a passionate believer in the role zoos and aquariums can play in building awareness and support for conservation. Here in Seattle, the Aquarium is uniquely positioned to inspire stewardship of Puget Sound among both locals and visitors. I feel honored to contribute to that effort.

Before moving to Seattle, I served in leadership roles on the auxiliary boards of both the Lincoln Park Zoo and Shedd Aquarium. After I relocated here, I proposed the idea of forming an auxiliary board for the Seattle Aquarium to Bob Davidson and he welcomed the idea, as did the board of directors.

Q: What is the mission of the auxiliary board, and how will it be achieved?
The auxiliary board builds awareness and support for the Aquarium among young professionals. To this end, we develop and manage new social events and conservation activities that resonate with this group. To ensure a diversity of perspectives and networks, our board includes both native Seattleites and recent transplants.

Q: What would you say to other young professionals who are potentially interested in becoming involved with the Aquarium?
The auxiliary board is always looking for dedicated, talented new members who are ready to commit their time and resources to supporting the Aquarium's mission. Joining the group is typically a six- to 12-month process, where prospective members demonstrate their interest by attending events and helping to plan activities alongside the auxiliary board. Alternatively, I would also encourage young professionals to consider getting involved with the Aquarium's world-class volunteer program if they are looking for more hands-on, visitor- and animal-related opportunities.

Q: Can you share a few details about the auxiliary board’s upcoming Adult Swim gala?
The inaugural Adult Swim gala will be a unique opportunity to enjoy the Aquarium after dark, including cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, dancing and private access to exhibits. The Aquarium is a magical venue for this type of event and guests should know that their attendance helps support the Aquarium's mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment. Not to mention, the party goes late!

A message from our President & CEO

Bob Davidson

Next month, Washington State voters will have the opportunity to approve Initiative 1401, which will increase penalties for trafficking in products derived from marine animals including sea turtles, sharks and manta rays—as well as elephants, lions, tigers, rhinos, leopards, cheetahs and pangolins on land. These species are currently being exploited to the point that their very survival is at risk. If approved by voters, I-1401 will reduce our state’s contribution to the illegal poaching and animal trafficking that are dramatically reducing these animals’ populations in the wild.

Wildlife experts report that within the next decade or sooner, some of the planet’s most precious and endangered species may face a critical tipping point toward extinction. The Aquarium’s mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment compels us to strongly support Initiative 1401. By strengthening protections against trafficking in products from these increasingly endangered animals, we can help save sharks, manta rays and sea turtles—and protect our ocean life. Please support this important measure when you cast your ballot!