Patrick Robinson
The new $6.5 million harbor seal exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium is home to three seals and will serve as a viewing spot and educational resource. It's situated at the end of a pier where its glass walls afford a view of the surrounding buildings and the horizon across Puget Sound.

SLIDESHOW: Harbor seals get a new waterfront home at Seattle Aquarium

The new $6.5 million harbor seal exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium means some seals have a fancy new home on the waterfront. The exhibit features doubled-tank depths over previous accomodations, a 180-degree visitor viewing area outdoors and surround seating for 100 people. While the exhibit can hold up to five seals right now the three harbor seals Barney, Q and Siku are getting used to their new surroundings after spending the past few months at Tacoma's Point Defiance Zoo. The City of Seattle contributed $3.5 million for the project. Private donors will cover the remaining $3 million.

“We are so thrilled to deliver this exciting new habitat for our seals and viewing accommodations for our visitors of seals and Elliott Bay,” said Aquarium President and CEO Bob Davidson. “Barney, Q and Siku are ambassadors to the wild harbor seals who inhabit our beautiful Pacific Northwest marine environments. Visitors can now enjoy both the spectacular view of our seals and Puget Sound.” More than 830,000 visit the Aquarium each year.

The stars of the exhibit include Barney, a silver-grey 28-year-old male; Q, a dark-colored, 14-year-old male; and Siku, a dark-colored, eight-year-old, female. Siku is part of an important breeding exchange program with Pt. Defiance Zoo.

The Aquarium spent the past nine months replacing the original exhibit on Pier 60 with a new Pier 60 boardwalk, steel-crafted pilings, acrylic panels spanning three sides of the exhibit, naturalistic exhibit rock upgrades and comfortable seating to enjoy the seals for hours. The ample seating will accommodate three entire classrooms of school children. The seals will have more room to dive and play underwater, as well as above-ground areas to play and sunbathe.

“Harbor seals are the only seals that breed off the shores of Washington and one of Puget Sound’s most thriving marine mammals,” said Traci Belting, Aquarium curator for marine mammals and birds. “Harbor seals are an important barometer to the health of Puget Sound and the marine mammal most Washington families will encounter on our local beaches and shores.”

Seals feed on sole, flounder, sculpin, cod, herring, octopus and squid—all links in a food chain that is increasingly vulnerable to pollution, development and other human activities. They can be found in coastal and inland marine waters and estuaries. Seals routinely rest and sunbathe on sandbars, beaches or rocks that are uncovered at low tide. They do not migrate and instead tend to stay in one locale most of their lives.

The Aquarium works with local volunteers to educate the public about harbor seals and marine life found on local beaches through its Beach Naturalist program. It also works closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network. The Seal Sitters program works to protect marine mammals in the urban habitat of Puget Sound and Washington. Volunteers are trained to help educate Washington citizens on seal behaviors and how to interact with wild seals they encounter on our local shores.

“Barney, Q and Siku offer an up-close chance for visitors to study seal behavior and become their ambassadors for smarter marine conservation,” said James C. Gurke, chair of the Aquarium board. “Our mission is to educate the public on how to protect these magnificent mammals and their habitat. We can do that by engaging the public with an exhibit that is now better geared for seals and visitors.”

The new harbor seal exhibit is part of the Aquarium’s continued strategic plan to ensure the Aquarium’s mission of inspiring conservation of Puget Sound’s marine environment. The Aquarium completed a $22 million renovation of its building and launch of its Window of Washington Waters exhibit in 2007. The Aquarium successfully transitioned into a nonprofit in 2010.

Hours/prices at the Aquarium:
The Aquarium is open daily from 9:30am to 5pm daily, with the exhibits closing at 6pm.
Admission fees: Adults $21.95; Youth (4-12) $14.95; Children 3 and younger are admitted FREE.

On the web: www.seattleaquarium.org
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/Aquarium.Seattle
On Twitter: twitter.com/SeattleAquarium

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