Seattle Aquarium protects and preserves sea life | Hoff

Allison Hoff and Marine Veterinarian, Dr. Lesanna Lahner at the Seattle Aquarium.  - Contributed photo
Allison Hoff and Marine Veterinarian, Dr. Lesanna Lahner at the Seattle Aquarium.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Recently, I went to the Seattle Aquarium to learn more about how the organization preserves and protects marine life. I got the chance to talk to Dr. Lesanna Lahner, the Marine Life Veterinarian at the aquarium. Lahner told me about how the aquarium provides everything its sea life needs to stay healthy. She also spoke about how the Seattle Aquarium is involved in helping wild fish in the Puget Sound area.

“I enjoy working here because the animals are always the number one priority,” explained Lahner.

After almost 40 years on the Seattle waterfront, the aquarium is planning to expand its size by forty percent. By 2018, the Aquarium will be directly connected with Pike Place Market so that more people can conveniently enjoy the wonderful exhibits they have to offer.

The Seattle Aquarium collaborates with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Together, they gather fish and monitor wild sea life. The Seattle Aquarium has been studying a disease of the sunflower sea star in Puget Sound. The disease causes the sea star to appear as if it is melting.

Recently, a large proportion of the sea star population on the Seattle Waterfront is either diseased or dead. The Seattle Aquarium is collaborating with several other institutions including the Vancouver Aquarium and the USGS National Wildlife Health Center to discover the problem, as well as find a cure.

The Seattle Aquarium plays an active role in providing education to the community about sea life in the Puget Sound. Both children and adults should be aware of the impact they have on marine life. Because sea life plays such an important role in our ecosystem, it is important that we are careful about what we eat. If an endangered species is eaten by humans, it will never regain its population. The aquarium also educates people about topics like over harvesting and waste damage.

“We want to make people aware and informed about conservation issues,” said Lahner.

As a marine life veterinarian, she focuses on healing and treating injured fish. Currently,  Lahner is working on how to help fish with damaged eyes. The solution is to replace the injured eyes with prosthetic eyes and Lahner is trying to figure out how to perform the surgery in a simple and repeatable manner that is also minimally painful to the fish. A prosthetic eye would be helpful to a fish because when other fish see their injured eye, they take advantage of its vulnerability and pick on it. She runs water over their gills while she replaces the eye and completes the surgery. Although the fish can’t actually see through the prosthetic eye, other fish think the eye is real and don’t pester the fish.

Lahner explained that it seems like the fish who have had medical treatments recognize her as the doctor, so when she walks up to the medical tank where the sick fish are held, they often try to swim away much like a dog or cat may recognize their veterinarian.

“Fish are smarter than they are given credit for,” Lahner said. “They can feel pain too.”

It is important that the Seattle Aquarium does surgeries like the eye replacement because some fish, such as the rock fish, can live longer than 150 years.

The Seattle Aquarium offers great exhibits with a wide variety of fish and sea life. They recently added a new exhibit which houses two playful sea otters. The Life on the Edge exhibit allows visitors to touch and feel the different textures of starfish and sea anemones and urchins. Visiting the Seattle Aquarium is not only an educational experience, but also a fun and enjoyable way to spend time with friends and family.

See you there!

Allison Hoff is an 11-year-old Kirkland resident.

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