The Seattle Aquarium is on the waterfront directly below the Pike Markets. It was opened in 1977 but has been expended since then. We found it to be a fascinating place to visit.
There six major exhibit areas with the aquarium: Window on Washington Waters, Life on the Edge, Pacific Coral Reef, Underwater Dome, Birds & Shores and Marine Mammals.
Just inside the entrance is a large, 120,000 gallon fish tank filled with more than 800 fish and invertebrates local to the north west of Washington State coastal waters. Three times a day, a diver enters the tank to interact with both the fish and the visitors. The reactions of the children was great to watch… a whole new experience for many of them.
Further inside are exhibits of a wide variety of creatures that live below the tide line. I took photos of some of the individual species to share with you all. It wasn’t easy because the water is continually washing over the exhibits just as it is in the real underwater world.
We had seen several of the Lion’s Mane Jelly (Cyanea capillata) one morning on our journey through the Inside Passage of Alaska. It’s a native of God’s Pocket, British Columbia, CAN. It propels itself using special muscles called coronal muscles, embedded on the underside of the bell. These push water out of the hollow bell. As water is pushed in one direction, the jellyfish moves in the counter direction.
The Lion’s Mane does not have a brain or eyes so it relies on nerve cells to sense and react to food or danger. Sensing organs tell them whether they are heading up or down, into the light or away from it. Even with such a basic structure, they are amazing hunters!
The scientific name for this Basket Star is Gorgonocephalus eucnemis which comes from Greek mythology because its arms twist and coil looking like writhing serpents. The Greek gorgós means “dreadful” and cephalus means “head”.
Five pairs of arms branch from the central disc (or head) and divide into smaller and smaller subdivisions. These arms, or branches, are covered in tiny hooks and spines which are used to help it to feed as it extends its arms like a net. Any small crustaceans that come within reach are snared, immobilised and tied in what appears to be a knot of branches. The branches then twist to take the food to the mouth on the underside of the central disc. The disc has what looks like a comb which is used to remove the food and clean the branches ready for more food collection. Fascinating.
Rock pools allowed visitors to see tentacles up close.
Sea anemones, like these, usually stay in the one place. They anchor themselves to surfaces or sand with a sticky foot called a pedal disc. Water flows over them bringing food to them. Any passing small fish or crustacean which touches those anemone tentacles is likely to be shot by the anemone with a nematocyst, a harpoon-like spear. It contains a paralysing neurotoxin which immobilises the prey. The anemone then uses its tentacles to guide the food into their mouths.
If the environment becomes unlivable, anemones can slowly slide along the ocean floor on their foot or float away and “swim” to a new anchoring spot by flexing their bodies.
A beautiful close up.
There are several types of starfish on display at the Seattle Aquarium. Some types have been causing growing concern since 2013 when they were found to be suffering a disease now called Starfish wasting disease, a condition that gives the impression that the starfish is ‘melting’. Seattle researchers are taking part in a joint effort to understand why a growing number of starfish are being affected, not only around Seattle, but along the coast of British Columbia, Washington State and California. The cause is still not fully known.
However, researchers believe now that the disease is associated with certain bacteria and a virus like one that affects cats and dogs… a virus in the same family as the Parvovirus.
It appears that this virus causes the sea star’s reproductive system to swell and that the condition is aggravated by environmental factors like water temperature, acidification or toxins. A recent blog from the Aquarium researchers about the sea stars states that the sea stars have “gone from being one of the most common species in the Puget Sound to 2-3 years later, being incredibly hard to find.”
According to that same 2016 report, “the loss of the sea stars has already started to change the ecosystem, since sea stars are major predators. Their food source, sea urchins, are growing in both number and size. Now, experts are talking about whether sea stars should be listed as endangered.”
There’s a wonderful, never ending variety of species in the underwater world.
One of the exhibits is a glass case devoted to Dale Chihuly’s sea form shells.
Another area is devoted to hands on activities for small children. I watched this little girl for quite some time as she invented and reinvented her own underwater world in felt.
There’s also an intriguing wall of tiles representing the creatures of the deep.
I loved these childlike representations of the real creatures in the watery exhibitions.
Brain coral featured in the tropical underwater exhibition.
A lot goes on behind the exhibits at the aquarium. For example, we, like all other visitors, enjoyed several excellent exhibits of various corals and colourful tropical fish. But none of these corals are taken from the wild. They are propagated and ‘grown’ in tanks until they are large enough to go on display. Excess corals are shared with other aquariums to reduce the need for any exhibitor to harvest corals from the wild.
How’s this for a wonderful colour combination?
After spending some time enjoying this main exhibition hall, it was time to go outside to a very different exhibition area, partly under a dome and partly open to the skies.
More of that anon.
Jennie and David
All photographs copyright © JT and DY of jtdytravels
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