E-Newsletter Articles

March 2013

A new fish—and a milestone for the Aquarium

juvenile ratfish at the Seattle Aquarium

A seven-month-old spotted ratfish recently became the latest addition to our Puget Sound Fish exhibit. Says Aquarium Biologist Katie Metz, “As far as we know; this spotted ratfish is one of the select few that have hatched and survived longer than a month in a captive setting. This may be a significant milestone in the captive rearing community. Little is known about the early years of this species because they hatch 200 to 300 feet down. We see them in more shallow waters when diving locally, but the eggs are typically already opened and non-viable.”

Spotted ratfish, Hydrolagus colliei, are cartilaginous fishes (meaning their skeletons are composed of cartilage) related to sharks, rays, and skates. On average, females produce 20 to 29 tough egg cases over the course of a year, each containing a single embryo. These long cylindrical egg cases may take several hours to emerge, and will then stay connected to the female’s body by long filaments for 4–6 days. Occasionally these cases can be seen attached to female ratfish in the Aquarium’s Underwater Dome exhibit. After being deposited on the substrate, the embryo in each egg case develops for the next 9-12 months.

Katie continues, “We are excited to learn more about this animal’s developmental stages so we can accurately replicate and interpret its natural history in captivity. Many skates and rays are reared in captivity and serve as educational ambassadors at institutions across the county with little to no impact on the environment. This study will help the Aquarium move closer to being able to display our local ratfish in a similar way.”

Ben Horne, a young donor making a difference

Ben Horne

Ben Horne knows that feeding sea otters is important. "People who visit the Aquarium love the otters and it is really important to me to help feed them," he says. Last month Ben brought the money he saved from his allowance and gave it to the Aquarium so he could help feed Adaa, Lootas, Aniak and Sekiu.

Nine-year-old Ben and his brother Andrew are frequent visitors to the Aquarium. They were here on a wintry day shortly after Sekiu was born, which is when Ben chose to give for the first time. "I think it costs more to feed them in them winter and I wanted to help," he says—and he’s correct: sea otters do eat a bit more in the winter than they do at other times of year. Ben and Andrew frequently check the otter cam to see how Sekiu is doing.

Ben’s parents, Bridget and Bruce, are instilling the value of philanthropy in their sons. Every week Ben puts two dollars of his allowance into his charity savings. He then chooses a nonprofit to receive his donation. Aside from the Seattle Aquarium, he’s also given to the Union Gospel Mission.

And even at age 9, Ben knows that many donors make a bigger difference—or, as he says, "It takes more than just my donation to feed them." Join Ben in giving to the Seattle Aquarium.

Seattle Aquarium helps sponsor
2013 Orca Bowl

Orca Bowl - Picture taken by Washington Sea Grant

Do you know the approximate age of the oldest oceanic crust? Or the three main factors that influence the height of a wind-generated ocean wave? On February 23, high school students from all over Washington State gathered to answer questions like these during the 16th annual Orca Bowl.

In this tournament-style event, hosted by Washington Sea Grant, teams of four players test their knowledge of oceans, estuaries, the Great Lakes and the many life forms found in those waters—using skills in biology, chemistry, geography, geology, math, physics, marine policy, social sciences, technology and current events. Held at the University of Washington, the Orca Bowl also offers students a chance to meet scientists and graduate students, see science facilities in a university setting—and get to know students from other parts of the state who share their interest in ocean and marine science.

The opportunities to learn and socialize continue at the awards banquet following the event. Sponsored by the Aquarium and COSEE-OLC (Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence-Ocean Learning Communities), this year’s event attracted 230 attendees and included students, their families and Orca Bowl staff and volunteers. Guests were invited to witness the Aquarium’s working scientific facilities during behind-the-scenes tours, and also had a chance to hear about marine science careers from Curator of Fish and Invertebrates Tim Carpenter and Biologist Julie Carpenter.

“The entire event—from preparation to the awards banquet—lets students delve deeper into ocean and marine science in their high school programs,” says COSEE-OLC Operations Manager Susan Bullerdick. “Plus, it engages students from all across the state—including those who don’t have access to Puget Sound or the Aquarium and its educational programming.”

This year’s winning team, from Seattle’s Garfield High School, will travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in April to compete in the National Ocean Science Bowl.

New ways to engage with our community

Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalist program

In July of last year, as part of our efforts to reach audiences beyond our walls, the Aquarium launched a new Community Engagement section within its Conservation & Education department. The section is charged not only with enhancing and developing methods to reach the Puget Sound community in general—but also other key communities within our larger Aquarium audience.

Staffing for this new section includes a Broadening Participation Coordinator position that was taken on by veteran Aquarium interpreter/diver Giovannina Souers. Since September, she’s been busy laying the groundwork for new programming focusing on underserved and underrepresented audiences, as well as audiences with special needs. This work strives to address several community goals in the Aquarium’s Strategic Plan, particularly to “Ensure that we are inclusive and welcoming to all segments of the community.”

Our popular Beach Naturalist program, led by Community Outreach Coordinator Janice Mathisen, is now a part of this section. The program recently enjoyed great success with its new night-time beach walks. Held during two low tides on South Alki Beach, the events offered the public a chance to see the beach in a whole new way. Attendees were treated to sightings of squid, shrimp, gunnels, sea stars, sea anemones and more, while trained Beach Naturalists offered additional information to enhance the experience. Attendance doubled between the first and second event, and plans are under way to offer night-time beach walks again next winter.

Science engagement is another facet of the section’s work. “We’re currently looking at how we can partner with Dr. Richard Feely to communicate what he’s learning about ocean acidification to our visitors,” says Community Engagement Manager Darcie Larson. “We’re also working on how we can share own research most effectively,” she continues.

Technology plays an important role in the section’s efforts as well. Reaching audiences digitally opens exciting new doors in education. Last November, the Aquarium participated in a 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. Based on that success, more of these virtual field trips are being planned for 2013.

Donor support has been critical to providing this new and important programming—thank you! And stay tuned for updates on the exciting work of this new group.

Join us for Sound Conversations

Sound Conversations at the Seattle Aquarium with Jeff Renner

Our unique, talk-show-style series returns this spring for three evenings of insights into the health of the world’s ocean and marine life. Take part in the dialog as dynamic experts converse with KING 5 Chief Meteorologist Jeff Renner about the challenges faced by marine creatures, and the opportunities to heal and conserve Puget Sound.

March 7
Assembling a Portfolio of Places to Save Marine Life
Dr. Elliott Norse, Founder and Chief Scientist of the Marine Conservation Institute
A global thinker and author who’s devoted his career to conserving life in our seas and forests, Dr. Norse was the recipient of the 2012 Seattle Aquarium Medal.

April 11
Marine Plankton: Tiny Creatures with a Powerful Impact
Dr. Ginger Armbrust, Director of the University of Washington School of Oceanography and Principal Investigator of the Armbrust Lab
A leading expert in her field and a prominent researcher, Dr. Armbrust’s research focuses on phytoplankton, organisms that are responsible for about 50% of the total amount of photosynthesis that occurs on our planet.

May 2
World-Renowned Urban Orca Expert
Ken Balcomb, Executive Director of Center for Whale Research and Principal Investigator for Orca Survey
An expert on Salish Sea orcas and pioneer in photo-identification techniques, Ken was the recipient of the 2006 Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award. This will be the second time he’s participated in our Sound Conversations series.

All events take place at 7pm. A reception with light refreshments will precede the program. Tickets are $10 per person, per evening. For more information and to register, visit us online.

Members-Only Movie Night and Puget Sound Sleepover

Members-Only movie night at the Seattle Aquarium

March 8: Enjoy a night out at the movies, Aquarium-style! You can explore the tide pools, watch Finding Nemo and even stay the night at the Aquarium. Space is limited and available only for members. For more information or to register, log in to our website.

Receive our annual report via email!

Seattle Aquarium entrance

Go green—opt in to receive our 2012 annual report digitally instead of getting a paper copy. To sign up, log in to the Aquarium website, select “email options” (located in the footer) and check “Seattle Aquarium annual report.”

A message from our President & CEO

Bob Davidson

At its annual Chairman’s Dinner on February 7, the Seattle Aquarium conferred its top awards to Congressman Norm Dicks and oceanographer Richard Feely, Ph.D, who have worked the front lines of politics and research to preserve Washington State’s shorelines.

Congressman Dicks, recipient of the 2013 Seattle Aquarium Medal, represented Washington’s 6th District, including the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas, from 1977 to January of 2013. He has been a leader in restoring salmon habitat and fought to secure tens of millions of dollars for the cleanup of Puget Sound and Hood Canal. He increased support for research and remediation work on estuaries by the Environmental Protection Agency, and over the course of three decades wrote legislation to support research on the health of the oceans through NOAA and other federal agencies.

Dr. Feely received the Aquarium’s 2013 Conservation Research Award. As a chemical oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he’s done substantial research on the effects of carbon dioxide on marine ecosystems. In the summer of 2012, he began testing equipment to measure ocean acidification in the waters outside the Seattle Aquarium. That equipment will eventually be taken thousands of miles into the Pacific to gauge acidification in the open ocean. His work in this arena has garnered international attention and recognition.

Aquarium board member Mary L. Bass was also honored with a surprise presentation of the Scott S. Patrick Inspirational Award, named for the late Aquarium board member and Seattle Seahawks executive who served with extraordinary passion. Bass, a vice president with Wells Fargo whose Aquarium leadership helped build its board of directors and sharply expand its fundraising programs, spent her childhood summers on the waters and beaches of Camano Island. She has been a tireless and inspirational proponent of the Aquarium for the past decade as well as a leader for volunteerism in the broader community.