E-Newsletter Articles

January 2013

Far-flung students take a virtual field trip to the Aquarium

Google+ virtual field trip

In early November, the Seattle Aquarium participated in an exciting pilot program with Google+, using their "Hangout" platform to allow students from three schools across the country to take a virtual field trip to the Seattle Aquarium.

Students from schools in Fayetteville, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; and Austin, Texas joined us for an underwater exploration of food webs in the Window on Washington Waters exhibit with diver Katie Hart and interpreter Heidi Ebel, who stood in front of the audience on the “dry side” of the exhibit. The students were clearly very excited to ask Katie questions about the exhibit and marine ecosystem. They also posed the perennially popular question: “How many fish are in there?”

Off-camera, a dedicated support team worked hard to deliver the broadcast and the experiment was deemed a success by all involved—so much that representatives from Google asked how the group managed to put together such an amazing experience for the students.

You can watch the virtual field trip here. We’re looking forward to future opportunities to share the magic of the Seattle Aquarium with kids and adults from across the country and around the world!

Q & A with incoming board chair Jim Gurke

Jim Gurke

Incoming chairman Jim Gurke joined the Aquarium’s board of directors in 2005 and has been instrumental in the growth and development of our organization. Here, he reflects on the accomplishments of 2012 and shares his goals for the year to come.

Q: What do you think was our greatest mission accomplishment in 2012?
A: We had two great achievements in 2012, both of which related to our position as an anchor institution on the Seattle waterfront and its opportunities for improvement and redevelopment in the years ahead. First we worked in partnership with James Corner Field Operations to help craft the Waterfront Redevelopment Plan, including the incorporation of the Seattle Aquarium’s own conceptual plan for its development and expansion. Second, we successfully partnered with the Seawall Proposition 1 campaign to ensure the passage of this important initiative for preserving and redeveloping our precious waterfront.

Q: What are the top three mission goals for 2013?
A: First is the opening of the exciting new harbor seal exhibit on Pier 60 scheduled for June. This is an important step in continuously updating and upgrading our exhibits and attracting new visitors. Second is the development of the Aquarium’s Master Plan, ensuring that the vision and mission of the Aquarium continues with the successful adoption of our facilities and expansion plans in concert with the Seattle waterfront and Pike Place Market plans. And third is related to the reconstruction of the seawall—ensuring, with the City and the waterfront businesses, that plans are developed and implemented to protect and keep our thriving institution open and attractive to visitors during the challenging but necessary construction period. Together as well as separately, these goals will serve our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment and allow us to share it with more people and a more diverse array of audiences than ever before.

Q: What challenges do you anticipate we will face?
A: The biggest challenge we face in 2013 is continuing to present the Aquarium as an important destination and venue for families and students during a period of construction and disruption in the fourth quarter of the year, and into 2014, due to the seawall project.

Chairman’s Dinner to honor notable marine advocates

Norm Dicks

The Seattle Aquarium will host its annual Chairman’s Dinner on February 7. The event will provide an opportunity for CEO Bob Davidson and the new board chairman, Jim Gurke, to recap 2012’s accomplishments, discuss goals for 2013, and bestow awards to two outstanding advocates for our marine environment.

The Seattle Aquarium Medal is presented annually to an individual whose leadership and lifetime accomplishments reflect the Seattle Aquarium’s mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment. The 2013 Medal will go to Congressman Norm Dicks, a leader who has worked tirelessly on behalf of Washington State’s environment, including spearheading efforts to protect Puget Sound. Among his many accomplishments, he worked with the Clinton-Gore Administration to bring federal assistance to the west coast states to address the listings of threatened salmon runs. He also helped to increase support for the EPA’s research and remedial efforts to restore major estuaries around the United States, including Puget Sound.

As a symbol of the Seattle Aquarium’s commitment to and participation in scientific research, each year the Seattle Aquarium Board of Directors makes a research grant to the Seattle Aquarium Research Center for Conservation and Husbandry (SEARCCH) in honor of an individual who demonstrates leadership in his or her field. This award of $10,000 is given in the recipient’s name. The 2013 Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award will go to Dr. Richard Feely, senior scientist at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle and affiliate full professor at the University of Washington School of Oceanography. Dr. Feely’s major research areas are carbon cycling in the oceans and ocean acidification (OA) processes. In 2012, the Seattle Aquarium and NOAA started a partnership that allows Dr. Feely and his team to test OA instrumentation on Pier 59 and work collaboratively on OA outreach.

Annual giant Pacific octopus census set for next month

giant Pacific octopus

The giant Pacific octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini, has always been one of the Aquarium’s most popular animals. We frequently hear questions about how long they live and what their favorite foods are, and these are easily answered. But other common questions aren’t quite so simple—such as how many giant Pacific octopuses live in Puget Sound, or how the population is doing.

To begin to answer those questions, the Seattle Aquarium launched an annual giant Pacific octopus (GPO) census in February 2000. During each year’s census, volunteer divers are asked to visit specific sites in the Puget Sound area to collect a variety of data points while counting the number of GPOs they see. The data is then compiled and evaluated at the Seattle Aquarium. This year’s census is scheduled for January 19–21.

The goals of the census? To establish a baseline of how many GPOs live in Puget Sound, determine if the population is healthy, and detect fluctuations in the population from year to year—while serving as an effective outreach effort to our local dive community.

While some population trends appear to be forming, it’s still too early in our data collection to draw any true scientific conclusions from the information we’ve gathered. In the meantime, we’re adapting the census each year based on what we’ve learned in previous years; we’re also leveraging our contacts in the diving community to increase awareness of our mission and programs.

For more information about this year’s octopus census, visit our website.

Now at the Aquarium: the cushion star

cushion star

A recent addition to our Pacific Coral Reef exhibit is a cushion star, Culcita noaeguineae, so named for its plump, rounded body and short arms. The star has actually been at the Aquarium for the past several years, but was kept in a holding tank behind the scenes until it was large enough to be displayed. Now partially grown at approximately 4” in diameter, the star may eventually reach 10-12” in diameter and be 4” thick in the center.

In the wild, cushion stars primarily feed on live coral but will consume a wide variety of other things including detritus (here at the Aquarium, we’ve made sure to display the star in an exhibit that doesn’t include any live corals). They’re often found living with the commensal sea star shrimp, Periclimenes soror. The shrimp take refuge below the star and feed on scraps it leaves behind. The relationship is one-sided: the star doesn’t really benefit from having the shrimp living with it. Interestingly, the shrimp will change their color over time to match that of their host star.

Come learn more about the cushion star on your next visit to the Aquarium!

A message from our President & CEO

Bob Davidson

2012 was an exciting year for the Aquarium: we were identified as a key element in the plan for the transformed, post-viaduct waterfront, the framework of which was adopted by the Seattle City Council in August. We campaigned for Proposition 1, the $290 million bond measure to rebuild the City’s deteriorated seawall that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in November. And, within our facility itself, we began work on the evolution of our harbor seal exhibit.

The exhibit will offer enhanced viewing opportunities, seating for up to 100 visitors, increased water depth and dry resting space for our harbor seals, and a compelling new way to deliver our mission, Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment.

The first phase of our 20-year strategic plan, the new exhibit also represents an important step into our future as we work toward our goals of dramatically increasing our impact, doubling our footprint, growing our attendance to 1.5 million visitors per year and meriting global recognition for our leadership in marine education.