Are you interested in learning more about using empathy to motivate guests to take conservation action? The Seattle Aquarium has led workshops around the country to help aquariums and zoos do just that.
AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums use education to connect the public with critical conservation issues. These institutions engage communities through diverse programming that uses research-based strategies to inspire conservation action. Successfully inciting conservation action depends on addressing barriers, incentives and internal motivators. Internal motivators—such as connectedness to nature, environmental identity, emotional affinity with nature, environmental self-efficacy, nature relatedness and empathy—are all associated with conservation action. Of these, empathy toward wildlife is an important factor in predicting an individual’s willingness to take conservation action. To continue improving the quality of our programming, it’s valuable to understand how empathy is developed toward wildlife.
This workshop lasts 1.5 days. The first day is an introduction to the concept of empathy, including exercises and activities focused on building and identifying empathy in programs. This introduction is suitable for all staff across departments. The day will conclude with an optional action-planning session for participants who wish to integrate empathy principles into their work. Day two focuses on operationalizing the concepts learned on day one and includes an overview of the empathy measurement tools and time to practice using these instruments. This day is suitable for staff who will be implementing or evaluating empathy-based practices. It’s also beneficial for anyone who participated in the first day, to allow a deeper understanding of empathy and how it can be operationalized in the work they do.
We also offer an optional, one-hour executive session add-on for staff/volunteers who are interested in the topic of empathy for animals but can’t attend the full workshop.
Throughout this workshop, participants will understand that:
- Empathy is a unique affective capacity.
- Empathy toward animals is a learned mental and emotional process cultivated throughout a person’s life.
- Fostering informed perceptions and understandings of the needs and experiences of animals through best practices supports empathy development.
- Empathy impacts our work and can be an important tool in encouraging compassionate behavior toward animals.
Participants will be able to:
- Recognize empathic responses and behaviors in visitors.
- Identify areas of their work where they can incorporate empathy principles.
- Comfortably use empathy measurement instruments.
The Seattle Aquarium does not limit the size of the workshop—usually it’s up to the institution and its available space. We’ve found that it works best with up to 60 attendees.
The Seattle Aquarium provides:
- Briefing document and supporting materials
- Two workshop leaders
- 10–12 hours of instruction
- Empathy measurement tools and training
- Ongoing support after the training
- One-hour overview/executive session (if desired)
- Travel for two workshop leaders (air, lodging, meal and transit reimbursements) (If your institution is located in the Seattle area, only mileage, parking and lunch are requested)
- Printing of workshop materials
- Lunch for workshop (optional for participants, required for facilitators)
- Workshop space on grounds
- Live animal experience (if feasible)
- Opportunity for local colleagues to join if space is available (with preference for AZA facilities)
Jim Wharton (he/him/his), director of conservation learning and engagement, provides leadership for the Aquarium’s empathy focus and has served as principal investigator on two major empathy grants. He has over 20 years of experience in the ﬁeld of marine conservation education and co-created the empathy workshops. Jim sees empathy as a key driver and strategy in the Aquarium’s conservation mission, connecting people to animals and ecosystems and encouraging them to see the ocean as a source of hope, wonder and belonging…not to mention essential to their survival.
Darcie Larson (she/her/hers), community engagement and inclusion manager, leads a team of amazing staff and volunteers who engage with community at local beaches, rivers and partner sites outside the walls of the Aquarium. With over 20 years of experience in marine conservation, education and outreach centered around the Salish Sea, Darcie approaches her work with a race and social-justice lens and loves having conversations about how we can use empathy to connect with people and animals.
Having worked in the zoo and aquarium world the last 14 years, Sean den Bok (he/him/his), school and public programs manager, has witnessed firsthand the inclusive power empathy has in connecting people from all backgrounds with nature, animals and themselves. He is passionate about supporting families and school groups with access to the Aquarium as well as to our natural environment.
Kathayoon Khalil (she/her/hers), Ph.D., is the conservation impact manager at the Oregon Zoo, where she is responsible for writing, implementing and evaluating the zoo’s conservation strategy. Kathayoon began working on the empathy project at the Seattle Aquarium in 2015 and has taught numerous workshops on the subject. Additionally, Kathayoon has given several talks on empathy at conferences and events, both nationally and abroad. Kathayoon enjoys helping zoo and aquarium professionals to think about their empathy work with intentionality and purpose, creating full programmatic life cycles that include planning, implementation and evaluation.
Danielle Carter (she/her/hers) is the youth engagement coordinator for the volunteer engagement team. As she leads a team of 100+ teen volunteers, Danielle sees the use of empathy as an important tool in inspiring the next generation of ocean stewards. Many of the teens may have first become interested in the ocean because of the “easy to love” cute and cuddly sea otters. But the strength of the Aquarium’s empathy work shows when these same volunteers stand mesmerized watching a feeding barnacle and then pass that enthusiasm on to guests. Danielle believes empathy is also an important conservation tool, especially with the current status of the endangered southern resident orcas.
As the interpretation training coordinator, Cari Garand (she/her/hers) trains, coaches, supervises and supports the seasonal staff in the Aquarium’s visitor engagement department. You may also find her blowing bubbles and high-fiving eager explorers as one of the Aquarium’s scientific divers. “Although I may not have realized it, empathy played a huge role in fostering my own passion for the ocean. In college, I was (and still am) in awe of what many people overlook at a trip to the beach: the amazing barnacle! I was fascinated to learn they live upside down in a home they built, doing headstands while eating with their feet. The complexity of a seemingly simply creature catapulted me into a lifetime of marine education and conservation.”
Caitlin O’Morchoe (she/her/hers) is the public programs coordinator for the school and public programs team at the Seattle Aquarium. She supervises registrable programs for families, adults and youth, such as marine summer camp and Toddler Time. Caitlin and her team have worked to incorporate specific activities in the camp curriculum that strive to increase campers’ empathy toward aquatic animals, and to prepare the camp staff to facilitate empathy-directed conversations throughout the program. Caitlin feels that embracing empathy as an engagement tool brings new hope to the work of conservation educators, and she’s excited to share and grow in this work with her peers.
As empathy grant coordinator, Marta Burnet (she/her/hers), Ph.D., serves as project manager to all things empathy related at the Aquarium. Her initial experiences with fostering empathy were in building cross-cultural understanding, so she was enthralled with the idea of the impact it could have in motivating conservation action. Marta feels very lucky to exercise her empathy muscles regularly on projects such as empathy infusion into exhibits, workshops, fellowships, the Catastrophe by the Sea book release, puppet shows, conferences and online. She also enjoys connecting about empathy with other zoos and aquariums in the Advancing Conservation through Empathy for Wildlife network and beyond.
Interested in working with us? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more!
Over 90% agreed or strongly agreed that they thought the workshop was useful in their work and they felt confident in using the best practices in developing empathy materials. See some quotes from our participants below.