E-Newsletter Articles

May 2013

Seawall construction: improving the nearshore habitat

juvenile salmon

Do you know why juvenile salmon have a hard time migrating along Seattle’s central waterfront? Their eyes struggle to adjust to the stark contrasts of light and dark between open areas and piers. Currently, 60 percent of Seattle’s central waterfront is covered by piers and other over-water structures, making migration difficult for tens of thousands of salmon leaving the Green/Duwamish River each year.

This fall, the Seattle Department of Transportation will embark on a multi-year effort to replace the failing seawall along Alaskan Way. The design for the new seawall includes habitat improvements such as intertidal benches to provide a shallower nearshore environment. But getting light to these spaces has been a key concern.

State-of-the-art fish surveys and monitoring by UW are helping the Seawall Project team develop designs to improve lighting conditions for salmon along the central waterfront. The current design includes places for continuous light-penetrating surfaces (kind of like the glass blocks you see when taking the Underground Tour) throughout this key corridor, bringing light to the waters navigated by migrating salmon.

Replacing the seawall will provide a new foundation for the waterfront and help protect it from earthquakes, storms and tidal forces. At the Aquarium, we’re particularly excited about the opportunity it provides to restore fish habitat and reconnect people to the water. We encourage you to watch as this new fish migration corridor takes shape!

BEACON on the beach

Bryan Bartley

Shortly after Bryan Bartley moved to Seattle in 2003, he went on a camping trip to Salt Creek on the Olympic Peninsula. He couldn’t tell a sea cucumber from a sea urchin but one of his companions, a volunteer with the Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist program, could. “Salt Creek has spectacular tide pools,” Bryan says. “I was inspired by her ability to identify and interpret what we were seeing.” The experience stuck with him and he trained to become a Beach Naturalist himself.

Then, in 2010, “I was looking on the Aquarium website, and I saw this program where kids are actually doing science,” Bryan recalls. As a Bioengineering graduate student at UW, he wanted to encourage kids to think scientifically—so he volunteered with the Citizen Science program.

This is where Bryan’s two lives began to intersect. One of Bryan’s professors was affiliated with BEACON, a National Science Foundation Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, which has one of its five sites located at UW. Although he wasn’t directly involved with BEACON, Bryan had been part of many conversations about the Center’s work, and it occurred to him that Citizen Science’s focus on field conservation might dovetail with BEACON’s mission of illuminating the power of evolution in action.

In the summer of 2012, Bryan attended a seminar at BEACON’s headquarters at Michigan State University. Louise Mead, the Center’s education director, heard Bryan talking about Citizen Science and approached him to learn more. Six months later, BEACON funded a joint proposal from UW and the Aquarium.

The project will provide summer internship opportunities for high school students at UW, as well as additional funding for Citizen Science. In return, BEACON graduate students gain experience in curriculum design and support, assist Citizen Science program staff and train teachers at 14 Puget Sound high schools in the classroom and on the beach.

Bryan is happy to have made the connection. “My role is to bring people together. The relationships and opportunities coming out of this experience are paying off in ways I never could have predicted,” he says.

Join us for Splash! on June 7

Splash! 2013

Splash!, our 22nd annual fundraising gala, is just around the corner. This year’s event promises to be better than ever thanks in part to the generous support of our Title Sponsor, The Boeing Company.

We would like to send a big thank you to our honorary chairs, Marco and Molly Abbruzzese, and to our Presenting Conservation Sponsor, Wells Fargo Private Bank, for helping to bring interest and support for the event and our featured animal the harbor seal.

The festivities will begin at 4:30pm with a silent auction and reception at the Aquarium; at 7pm, the Seattle Sea Gals and Blue Thunder will lead a parade to the Seattle Marriott Waterfront for the live auction and dinner.

Both auctions will be filled with enticing items for your bidding pleasure. In the silent auction, you’ll find unique Aquarium experiences such as a chance to do rounds with Dr. Lesanna Lahner, our staff veterinarian—and that’s just the beginning.

The live auction will feature a luxurious Seaborn cruise to the Caribbean for two; the opportunity to travel with the team for a Seahawks away game; VIP treatment for four as boy-band One Direction takes Seattle by storm; a weeklong getaway in an Italian wine country villa to bask under the Tuscan sun; a chance to dine among the stars at the 2014 Grammy Awards…and more!

Invitations are forthcoming—watch your mailbox! For more details, visit SeattleAquarium.org/Splash.

Healthy barnacles, healthy grunt sculpins

grunt sculpin in barnacles

Grunt sculpins are entertaining to watch because of their awkward way of swimming: they “crawl” on the tips of their finger-like pectoral fins in a series of twitchy hops, jerks and jumps. Despite their poor swimming abilities, they’ve successfully adapted to life in high-current areas—thanks in part to some much-needed help from giant barnacles.

“Grunt sculpins frequently live in areas where giant barnacles are found,” says Curator of Fish and Invertebrates Tim Carpenter. “The barnacles need high water flow to get their food—and grunt sculpins use the barnacles’ shells as protection and egg-laying sites.” In a shrewd act of camouflage, a grunt sculpin will sit in a barnacle shell facing outward. In this position, the shape of its head bears a striking resemblance to the former resident of the shell. “It affords an animal that would have a hard time outrunning a predator a leg up in its environment,” notes Tim.

All animals that have adapted to life in a specific niche can be at risk if anything in that environment changes. That’s definitely the case for the grunt sculpin, which relies on strong barnacle shells for protection and reproduction. If a barnacle’s ability to build its shell is hindered due to changing chemistry in the ocean (brought about by ocean acidification, for example) many other species are affected, both directly and indirectly, including the grunt sculpin.

It’s just another example of species interdependence and a reminder to care for and preserve our marine environment. Interested in learning more about grunt sculpins? Visit the Puget Sound Fish exhibit at the Aquarium!

A message from our President & CEO

Bob Davidson

As spring makes its much-anticipated arrival in Seattle, work on our new harbor seal exhibit continues—and I’m happy to let you know that we’re on track to celebrate its grand opening on June 1. Please join us to welcome our harbor seals to their beautiful new home and experience this first step in our vision of an expanded, world-class aquarium.

We anticipate a busy summer, with many visitors who are eager to see the harbor seals in their new exhibit. Beat the crowds during our members-only early openings every Sunday in June: we’ll open the doors at 9am especially for members, so you’ll have half an hour to experience the exhibit and enjoy a harbor seal talk before we open to the general public.

There’s still time to help build our harbor seals’ new home—and your contribution will go even further on GiveBIG day, May 15. For details and to make a donation to our Harbor Seal Capital Project, visit SeattleAquarium.org/seals.