Dear friend of the Seattle Aquarium,

Little did we know what was ahead of us as we set forth into 2020: 22 weeks of closure to the public in total, starting with nearly 16 weeks in the spring and early summer. Reopening in late June with timed ticketing and radically reduced capacity. A five-day closure due to poor air quality in September. The collapse of Pier 58, our nearest pier to the south and home to Waterfront Park. Another closure in the late fall that extended into the new year, and more.

All told, the Seattle Aquarium was closed for 197 days in 2020. In a typical year, that number is two. In 2020, we welcomed 209,452 community members through our doors. In recent years, we’ve averaged well over 800,000.

Clearly, it was an extraordinarily challenging year—for the Seattle Aquarium, for our community, and for the world. It was also a year of perseverance, versatility and humble gratitude for the tremendous outpouring of community support for the Aquarium and its mission.

Above all, 2020 was a year of resilience: the theme of this report.

And although 2021 is well underway, many of last year’s challenges are still with us. We remain steadfast in our commitment to fulfill our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment, and it’s because of you that we’re able to continue that important work.

Thank you for being a vital part of our community. Your support is always valued—and in these difficult times, it means the world.

Robert W. Davidson, President & CEO, Seattle Aquarium
Melissa Mager, Chair, board of directors, Seattle Aquarium


January 1–March 11: "New Seattle Aquarium will inspire next generation of conservationists"

2020 began auspiciously for the Seattle Aquarium, with a forward-looking op-ed piece in The Seattle Times in January, co-authored by One Ocean, One Future Campaign Chair Martha Kongsgaard and Seattle Aquarium Board Chair Melissa Mager in support of our new Ocean Pavilion. Schoolchildren and families continued to fill our classrooms and exhibit halls. Aquarium staff testified in support of numerous bills during the state legislative session. Planning for a busy year of programs, marine summer camps, outreach and third-party events was in full swing.

And, across the ocean, the COVID-19 virus was beginning its rapid spread.

Seattle sits at the cutting edge of global health, innovation and social change. The expanded Aquarium will provoke a deep examination of those things that we value and illuminate the connection between ocean health and human health. It’s time to embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The clock is ticking. —Martha Kongsgaard and Melissa Mager, special to The Seattle Times, January 23, 2020

March 12–June 28: “Emergency and painful actions resulting in startling disruption”

After weeks of carefully monitoring the developing COVID-19 situation, on March 12 the Seattle Aquarium’s Executive Team met with the full staff of the Aquarium in “what was one of the most difficult days of my life and, likewise, for everyone in the room,” said President & CEO Bob Davidson.

He and the team announced that the Aquarium would close to the public, effective the next day. As he wrote in that month’s CEO report, “On the first day of the Aquarium’s closure for an indefinite period of time, we shared emergency and painful actions…resulting in startling disruption for the lives of many employees and their families.”

A nonprofit institution, the Seattle Aquarium’s programs are funded through philanthropy (15–20%) with the balance through admission tickets and other earned revenue. With the Aquarium’s closure, in the blink of an eye, the bulk of the Aquarium’s income was gone. As a direct result, we were forced to eliminate numerous staff positions while also enacting substantial furloughs and reductions in pay for remaining staff.

Even in the midst of these heartbreaking decisions, we had faith that the Seattle Aquarium would persevere. Although we were closed to the public, our commitment to our animals and the health of our shared marine environment remained unwavering. We continued to provide excellent care to every animal at the Aquarium with staff on site 24 hours a day to ensure their needs were met. We continued to monitor microplastic levels and conduct sea otter fieldwork while pivoting quickly to develop “experience the Aquarium from anywhere” virtual programming for the community to engage in from the comfort and safety of their own homes. And we continued planning and working toward our new Ocean Pavilion, while launching our Resilience Fund to ensure that we had a strong and vibrant organization on the other side of the pandemic.

Filming for virtual programming while we were closed to the public.

The Seattle Aquarium Resilience Fund

“A thriving, vibrant Seattle Aquarium is a key part of our city’s identity and we are committed to stewarding a strong organization as we move through this unprecedented time in our history. The Seattle Aquarium, like zoos and aquariums across the globe, has been greatly impacted by the pandemic and our temporary closure to the public resulted in millions in lost revenue for our nonprofit organization.

We remain steadfast in our commitment to our conservation mission and are working to ensure a resilient Seattle Aquarium and healthier ocean for generations to come.

Your gift to the Resilience Fund directly supports providing the best care for the animals we all love; supporting our dedicated staff; advancing science-based policies to better protect marine wildlife, Puget Sound and the greater world ocean; and educating the next generation of ocean conservationists.”

—Seattle Aquarium website at the launch of the Resilience Fund in May 2020. Keep reading to learn about the outpouring of support the fund received thanks to generous donors like you.

Looking beyond today and into the future there will still be a Seattle. There will still be an ocean. And there will still be the Seattle Aquarium—engaging, educating, inspiring and mobilizing in support of our shared marine environment. Seattle is resilient. We will get through this together. —Bob Davidson, Seattle Aquarium blog, March 26, 2020

June 29–August 26: “The Seattle Aquarium is reopening to the public on June 29—reserve your tickets today!”

After weeks of work with the Governor’s office, in June we received the happy news that the Aquarium could reopen to the public—with capacity limited to 15%, strict health and safety measures, and a new timed ticketing system in place.

It was wonderful to hear the voices of masked children and families throughout the Aquarium after nearly 16 weeks of closure to the public. Beyond our walls, we also continued to engage with the community digitally; in person with a masked and modified version of our usual summer Beach Naturalist program; and even by mail, with the care packages we sent to campers who had registered for our canceled marine summer camps. Field research, long-term ecosystem monitoring projects, collaborations on scientific publications and policy advocacy work also continued moving forward.

Our 2½-year-old son was so excited to visit the Aquarium! It felt like a safe place for him to go and learn after all these months at home. Staff were great and our son wore his favorite shark mask the whole time. The Aquarium limited guests, controlled flow, provided physical distancing markers, and had plenty of hand-sanitizing stations. —Seattle Aquarium visitor, summer 2020

August 27: “We are so sad to hear this news…know that you gave Leu a fantastic life.”

On August 27, we announced the unexpected death of Leu, a rescued northern fur seal. Leu was being treated for a lifelong seizure disorder diagnosed when he was being rehabilitated after his rescue nine years prior as a pup. Senior Veterinarian Dr. Caitlin Hadfield concluded that Leu had a seizure in the water, lost consciousness and drowned.

Leu was beloved by our staff, volunteers, members and supporters like you—as well as the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoyed seeing him in his habitat and watching him on our live webcams. He will always be remembered.

Northern fur seal Leu.
Came with my oldest who just turned 18. We’ve been coming since they were a tiny kiddo and they asked if we could visit for their birthday. I was excited because it’s been hard this year; they’ve been nervous about going anywhere and this was our first big outing. Thank you for a fun visit with tons of nostalgia and great safety precautions! —Seattle Aquarium visitor, summer 2020

September 12–16: “Due to the persistent poor air quality conditions, we have decided to close the Aquarium.”

The rhythm of the Aquarium’s “new normal” was disrupted in September when smoke from wildfires in Oregon and California swept into the Puget Sound region. After monitoring the rapidly decreasing air quality, and in the interest of the health and safety of our staff, we made the decision to close early on September 11 and remained closed for five days, until conditions had significantly improved.

Thick smoke haze above the Space Needle, September 12, 2020.

September 13: “As part of the planned demolition of Pier 58 (Waterfront Park), a portion of the pier structure collapsed this afternoon.”

The collapse of Pier 58.

In another surreal development during a challenging year, a large section of Pier 58—our nearest neighbor to the south and home of Waterfront Park—collapsed during demolition on September 13. Fortunately, the structural integrity of the Aquarium remained intact and on-site staff, who were evacuated for a short period of time following the collapse, were able to quickly return to their duties.

The Seattle Aquarium’s commitment to anti-racism

As part of our important and ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion work—and in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that took place throughout the late spring/summer of 2020—the Seattle Aquarium articulated our anti-racism stance in a statement, excerpted here:

The Seattle Aquarium respects and celebrates the vitality and strength of the ethnic and cultural diversity that thrives in our neighborhood and surrounding communities. We recognize that we can only achieve our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment by including the skills and varied perspectives of our entire community. To include the entire community, we must be a welcoming and inclusive organization making the conscious decision to identify and challenge racism daily. This requires ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through our daily operations and plan for the future.

To read the full statement, visit our blog.

September 17–November 16: “Seattle Aquarium wins the award for not only the best preparation but the best follow-through with safety measures!”

With the air quality improving, the Aquarium was able to reopen to the public on September 17 and enjoyed several months of “regular” operations, still at 15% capacity and with a one-way path through the exhibit halls. Feedback from our visitors, with the comment above being just one example, was overwhelmingly positive.

With our doors open to the public, we also continued to engage virtually with the community—including hosting Splash!, our annual fundraising gala, online; offering a virtual edition of our popular Lightning Talks series; and shifting our annual Cedar River Salmon Journey program to a self-guided, educational experience.

But, as we worked to fulfill our mission in new and innovative ways throughout the fall, COVID-19 cases began to spike alarmingly across the state and country.

A member family enjoying Lightning Talks.
We loved Lightning Talks! I watched it with my 5-year-old nephew who is very active and expected him to pay attention to maybe half of it, but he was enthralled by the whole thing, as was I! He even wanted to watch the entire Q&A. A great combo of kiddo and adult content, and all family-friendly. —Seattle Aquarium member, November 2020

November 17–December 31: “Today is not an easy one for the Seattle Aquarium.”

On November 16, the Seattle Aquarium shared two very difficult updates: in accordance with new restrictions set forth by Governor Inslee reflecting the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Washington state, we would again be closing to the public—effective the next day. We also bid farewell to Lootas, our beloved sea otter matriarch.

It was a somber moment for the Aquarium and the beginning of a closure that would extend well into February 2021. And still, we persevered: continuing with digital engagement and virtual events, including a lively sendoff to 2020 during our first Rockin’ Rockfish Noon Year’s Eve; continuing to develop tools for remote learning; furthering our research, field conservation and policy advocacy efforts; planning for our expansion; and preparing for the joyful day we’d again be able to welcome the community through our doors.

Lootas, 1997–2020.
Oh, my heart. Sending love to everyone and every creature at the Aquarium. —Seattle Aquarium member, November 18, 2020
Lootas was affectionately known as "Grandma" by our staff and volunteers.

Saying farewell to Lootas the sea otter

Lootas, which means “Wave Eater” in the Haida language, was orphaned in Alaska after her mother was killed in a boating accident in 1997. She was hand-raised at the Aquarium, went on to become an integral part of our sea otter breeding program and successfully raised three pups.

Early on the morning of November 15, 2020, Lootas let her caregivers know that she had reached the end of her time and was provided with a humane passing. At over 23 years old, she lived well beyond the life expectancy for her species and was the eldest living sea otter in the North American studbook—a testament to the exceptional care she received throughout her lifetime. Her remains reside at the Burke Museum, where they can contribute to education and conservation.

Even as she grew older, Lootas never ceased to impress and delight staff, volunteers, members, visitors and supporters like you with her energy and tenacity. She is deeply missed.


With humble gratitude for your support, we’re honored to share a few of the ways you helped us continue to fulfill our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment during a year like no other. Thank you again and always.


400 organizations in the Seattle Aquarium Connections program; 29,216 free Aquarium admissions distributed via individual tickets and group registrations; 5,725 admissions redeemed.


163 $25 Connections memberships sold and redeemed; 74 of those purchased by Connections partner organizations for their constituents; 140 of these for first-time Aquarium members.


A moment of wonder at the Closer Look table.

4,382 free admissions for residents of Seattle and King County through the Seattle and King County museum pass programs.


First virtual diversity, equity and inclusion workshop offered to volunteers by trained Aquarium staff facilitators.


At the outset of the pandemic, Aquarium volunteers made reusable masks for essential on-site Aquarium staff; when the staff need was met, volunteers continued making them for distribution through our Connections community partners in support of our environmental justice goals.

111,572 people reached with 4,551 engagements on the Aquarium’s social media channels in support of our Beach Naturalist program.


Even masked and distanced, Aquarium naturalists inspired beachgoers.

We made significant modifications to the Beach Naturalist program in summer 2020. Despite pandemic-related challenges, 71 masked beach naturalists engaged in 12,030 physically distanced interactions with members of the public at 10 local beaches over 15 low tide days. The Beach Naturalist program continued, with similar precautions in place, in summer 2021.

Empathy Fellowship program launches

After a delay due to COVID-19, we launched the Empathy Fellowship program in July 2020 through a cohort of two paid fellows seeking to explore careers in marine conservation through empathy and equity.

Our fellows learned about empathy, marine conservation, environmental justice and effective practices for virtual community engagement, and also developed community action projects that were personal to them, relevant to community equity needs and used empathy as the frame to support our mission.

One fellow developed a 10-week nudibranch and marine education program called “Aqueerium” for queer and trans youth seeking a safe and encouraging space to learn. The other planned a two-day career workshop for Latinx, immigrant youth interested in finding pathways into marine conservation work while navigating systems that aren’t designed for them.

The Empathy Fellowship program is generously funded by an anonymous foundation.

At left: Empathy Fellow Astrid Moncaleano Rubio.


Free salmon viewing glasses and other tools helped kids and families learn more about the importance of salmon and the watershed.

1,931 pairs of salmon viewing glasses, along with a map to salmon viewing locations, background information about Cedar River salmon and the watershed, and the Living with Salmon in King County brochure, mailed to 571 families.


43,232 students and chaperones served and 340 classroom programs offered during the 2019–2020 school year and prior to the pandemic closure.


20 virtual engagement programs, including Window on Washington Waters diver shows, story times, "Ask the Aquarium—diver edition" and Rockin' Rockfish Noon Year's Eve, offered to the community during our temporary closures to the public.

Over 1,500 people registered to enjoy animal presentations, songs, a dance party and countdown to the "noon" year on December 31, 2020.


Videos from five partner organizations and the Muckleshoot Canoe Family’s virtual welcome video were featured for the virtual version of Salmon Homecoming School Days in September 2020.


1,394 people were noted visiting the Cedar River to watch salmon as one to two Cedar River Salmon Journey field staff in personal protective equipment monitored six viewing stations on October weekends to tally visitors, record salmon observations and answer questions from the public if it was safe to do so.


In 2020, we continued work in fostering empathy for conservation with three hosted workshops for peer institutions prior to the pandemic and three virtual workshops. Six more workshops were postponed because of the pandemic. All in all, the Aquarium has hosted 26 Fostering Empathy for Wildlife workshops for 66 zoos and aquariums in 34 states with a combined annual attendance of over 71 million.


3,157 participants welcomed to our Toddler Time program before it was suspended in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

Community Science program moves forward despite pandemic

This hands-on, inquiry-based marine science education program is designed to stimulate science inquiry in historically underrepresented students in the Puget Sound region. About 375 high school students participate each year. Using local beaches as a classroom, students and their teachers monitor, gather and communicate scientifically significant data and share their results with schools, local governments and environmental agencies.

To reinvent the program while schools were closed, the Community Science team engaged high school teachers who participated in past seasons in monthly roundtable discussions to help shape the program. As a result of these ongoing conversations, Community Science adapted curriculum, created new digital assets and rolled out real-time, online classes. Every aspect—from the core lessons to final presentations—was co-developed with educator input.

At right: The Community Science program in action at Alki Beach.


Led by Director of Conservation Programs & Partnerships (CPP) Dr. Erin Meyer, team members gave 24 presentations to academic and community audiences; hosted one conferencetwo conference sessions and two workshops; and were invited to serve as panelists for six partner events.


CPP staff were quoted in 11 original media articles and interviewed during 12 radio and broadcast slots, covering topics ranging from microplastics to sea otters to policy issues to moving toward an equitable, sustainable future. Team members also gave public testimony during six hearings.

In a pre-pandemic photo, members of the CPP team advocating to reduce plastic pollution in Olympia.


Hosted the 2nd Pycnopodia Sea Star Recovery Workshop, with participants from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California, to formally kick off the range-wide population assessment and IUCN listing process, which was submitted in August 2020.


The CPP team completed seven academic publications and 17 Seattle Aquarium blog posts.


In early March (pre-pandemic), hosted the 4th Northeast Pacific Shark Symposium in La Paz, Mexico, with 77 talks and over 100 people in attendance.

Shark Symposium participants.


Hosted the inaugural (and virtual) Developing Empathy for Conservation Outcomes (DECO) conference, with more than 130 participants representing over 60 zoos, aquariums, universities and other conservation organizations from the U.S., U.K., Australia and Denmark.


Hosted our first (and virtual) Ocean Advocacy Workshop, providing an overview on ocean policy, examples of success stories and training on specific advocacy tools.

Patti Dill and Charles Wright, co-chairs of the Seattle Aquarium Conservation Committee.
During a year in which we closed the Aquarium, laid off staff and reduced hours of those remaining, Director of Conservation Programs & Partnerships Dr. Erin Meyer and Ocean Policy Manager Nora Nickum worked tirelessly to help advance important conservation legislation in Olympia. —Patti Dill, Conservation Committee co-chair
I’m proud of the Aquarium’s collaborative work and inaugural (virtual) Developing Empathy for Conservation Outcomes conference. The event sought to set the landscape for research into how empathy might be used strategically to foster conservation action and attracted more than 130 participants from 60 organizations located in 25 states and four countries. —Charles Wright, Conservation Committee co-chair

Shaping and advancing science-based ocean policy

In 2020, our policy team wrote and signed on to 41 federal, 26 state and one local comment letters, including leading 30 letters—more than double 2019. We also gave public testimony during six legislative and regulatory hearings.

We took action for southern resident orcas and salmon recovery through 10 federal and 19 state comment letters and by testifying before the state legislature and Fish and Wildlife Commission. And our Ocean Policy Manager Nora Nickum served on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Advisory Committee for the development of southern resident orca–related rules for a new commercial whale-watching license.

We also took action to reduce plastics pollution by providing input on proposed federal and state legislation, testifying before the state legislature, attending the launch of the federal Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act in Washington, D.C., and hosting a screening of the Story of Plastic film before the pandemic struck.

At left: Ocean Policy Manager Nora Nickum with Senator Patty Murray and Todd Shuster (Gato Verde) in Washington, D.C. ,during a March 2020 trip coordinated by Ocean Conservancy to talk about the importance of robust funding for NOAA.


Completed our 20th year of sea otter (Enhydra lutris) conservation projects, including our 11th year of sea otter foraging research, spending 14 days in the field, during which we documented 647 foraging dives across 12 sites. This was our second-highest data collection year, just 53 dives shy from our previous high year in 2019, even though the COVID-19 pandemic halted fieldwork for three months in the late spring.


Completed our 16th year of rocky reef research in the Salish Sea, conducting 17 dive surveys across six sites, with divers from Conservation Programs & Partnerships, Life Sciences and Visitor Engagement. We documented just over 1,000 fish across seven species, mostly rockfish (Sebastes spp.). Due to COVID-19, the Makah Tribe closed their lands and waters to non-tribal members, so we were unable to survey our sites in Neah Bay.

A copper rockfish documented during one of our dive surveys.


In January 2020 (pre-pandemic), we completed our 12th year of Hawai‘i coral reef research, including conducting 16 dive surveys at eight sites, capturing eight hours of video. We documented thousands of fish across >150 species. Our results show a recovery of both fish and corals following the 2015–2016 bleaching event.

Coral reef research in action.


Hired our first post-doctoral research fellow, Dr. Lyda Harris, who is leading microplastics research and monitoring projects in a donor-funded, full-time, one-year position. We continued monitoring microplastics at seven sites throughout the Salish Sea in conjunction with our rocky reef surveys and are now close to publishing two years of monitoring Elliott Bay, just off the Aquarium’s piers.

Leading research to improve understanding and management of ocean health

While the pandemic shifted how and where we conduct research, we persevered and completed our 11th field season studying sea otter foraging, 16th season of our rocky reef research and 12th year of our Hawai‘i coral reef research.

We also pushed forward on our microplastics research and monitoring program, hiring our first post-doctoral research fellow in a temporary, grant-funded position. We have since been able to expand the scope of the research and prepare our first article for publication on this topic.

At right: Dr. Lyda Harris, our first post-doctoral research fellow.


Sharing cuttlefish hatchlings: After a productive season of egg laying by our resident dwarf cuttlefish (Sepia bandensis), we were able to send hatchlings to Association of Zoos & Aquariums–accredited (AZA-accredited) institutions, including Brookfield Zoo, Mote Aquarium and the Albuquerque BioPark.

Cuttlefish eggs.


Happy 35th birthday to Barney the harbor seal! The oldest marine mammal at the Aquarium, he was born here on September 14, 1985.

Barney celebrates his birthday with a fish-filled ice "cake."


Above: Ink jet, a juvenile giant Pacific octopus (GPO). At left, Kraken, an adult GPO.

Fall 2020: Welcome to Ink Jet and Krakentwo new giant Pacific octopuses (GPOs). Field diving for GPOs couldn’t be undertaken early in the pandemic, and we don’t normally collect during the summer. The six-week search for Ink Jet and Kraken involved 19 dives, 14 siteseight staff and 18 hours underwater.


We’re now working with AZA partners and other international aquariums accredited under regional associations to acquire sharks, rays and other fishes born and/or hatched under human care for our new Ocean Pavilion.


Happy retirements and gratitude always to Curator of Birds & Mammals Traci Belting, Animal Care Specialist Carol Jackson and Dive Safety Officer Jeff Christiansen.

Left to right: Traci Belting, Carol Jackson and Jeff Christiansen.


2020 births at the Aquarium: Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) and lined seahorses (Hippocampus erectus)—two marine fish species for which the AZA has species management plans.

A male Banggai cardinalfish about to release babies from his mouth.


Two relief veterinarians engaged to support the team when additional support is needed for surgeries and when Dr. Hadfield is unavailable: Dr. Brian Joseph and Dr. Alicia McLaughlin.

Using our expertise to restore endangered species

We launched our species recovery program in 2020, advancing two new projects:

Aiming to re-establish a resilient population of Indo-Pacific leopard/zebra sharks in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Archipelago, we launched the Stegostoma tigrinum Augmentation and Recovery (StAR) project with partners from Conservation International, Georgia Aquarium and Misool Foundation. This world-first conservation initiative will leverage captive breeding in several accredited aquariums to support restoration of the wild population and serve as the foundation for similar recovery efforts.

We also joined with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF), WA Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), NOAA and other partners to advance pinto abalone recovery in the Salish Sea, with an aim to restore local populations of this state-listed endangered species. This project is funded, in part, by a grant from PSRF with funds from WDFW and an anonymous donor.

At left: Director of Conservation Programs & Partnerships Dr. Erin Meyer releasing pinto abalone yearlings into our rearing facility.


With help from our community, we made substantial and important progress on the Ocean Pavilion in 2020. We completed construction documents and signed a construction agreement with the City of Seattle in February 2020. We also signed the lease and confirmed the design and construction plan for our new animal care center, which will temporarily house many of the animals that will eventually make their homes at the Ocean Pavilion.

June–December 2020: The Aquarium engaged in a series of virtual briefings with state legislators to discuss the Aquarium and impacts from the pandemic, and to share that the Ocean Pavilion was advancing as planned. Over 20 meetings were conducted with key leaders and budget chairs from around the state. We also briefed staff from Governor Inslee’s office on the Ocean Pavilion project and shared key points about the potential economic benefits it will provide regionally.

This project is a fantastic example of architecture, culture, equity and community all coming together. —Seattle Design Commission comment, summer 2020
The expanded Seattle Aquarium will be the centerpiece of the transformed city waterfront.

August 2020: Received unanimous (7–0) approval by Seattle Design Commission of the 90% design set for the Ocean Pavilion. We also hired Asia Tail, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and member of the Urban Native community, to lead an all-Indigenous committee in the selection of artist Daniel Joseph Friday, a member of the Lummi Nation, to create an installation for the entry of the Ocean Pavilion as part of our public art commitment.

An art piece by Daniel Joseph Friday.
The Seattle Aquarium honors our location in the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people, who have stewarded these lands and waters for generations and continue to do so today.

September 2020: Contracted with Jason F. McLennan of McLennan Design— one of the world’s most influential individuals in the architecture and green building movement—who assessed and reported on the intersection of the project’s sustainability and design.

Jason F. McLennan, CEO of McLennan Design.

November 2020: Aquarium board approves moving forward with Turner Construction on Phase 1a early groundwork on the Ocean Pavilion.

December 2020: Phase 1a construction of the Ocean Pavilion begins.

February 2020: Phase 1b construction begins. We were grateful to have had Suquamish Tribe members Robin Little Wing Sigo, Kate Ahvakana and their daughters lead a blessing of the Ocean Pavilion site.

Members of the Suquamish Tribe Robin Little Wing Sigo, Kate Ahvakana and their daughters conducting a land blessing of the Ocean Pavilion site.


The Seattle Aquarium launched its Resilience Fund to allow us to continue to serve the community and deliver our mission while facing the significant financial shortfall resulting from our closure to the public. Here, we express our most sincere gratitude to the many generous people—nearly 700 of whom were first-time donors to the Aquarium—who stepped forward to help ensure a thriving and vibrant Aquarium on the other side of the pandemic.

Total Resilience Fund giving: $5,522,622

We are grateful for the outpouring of support for our conservation mission, our animals and our people. We thank the 1,848 people who contributed to our Resilience Fund in 2020.

May and November 2020, GiveBIG and Giving Tuesday: During the year’s two community giving days, generous donors gave a combined total of over $150,000.

I am so inspired by the amazing work that the Seattle Aquarium does for ocean and environment conservation. Our planet is so precious to us and we need to take good care of it. The Aquarium is leading the effort to educate people on the importance of this and preserving our ocean and planet for all generations to come! —Mandy Tsui, donor

September 2020: virtual Splash! Taking our largest fundraising event virtual opened up new opportunities to engage with the community and raise support. On September 25, over 560 generous supporters gave more than $866,000 for the Resilience Fund and our mission.

Navigating this change, co-chairs Michael Guidon and Michael Trzupek led the committee of Eddie Chang, Terren Drake, Janet Haberbush, Nathan Rauschenberg and Carla Wigen. We thank Ellen and Tom Gonser for their outstanding leadership as honorary chairs, and for their heartfelt and inspiring entreaty to give support now and for the future.

Thank you also to the many virtual attendees who were not only new to the Aquarium, but were also making their first philanthropic gifts.

Donors like you responded with tremendous generosity to our virtual Splash! fundraising event.

November and December: year-end giving. Generous donors like you came forward yet again, raising $670,015—and surpassing the $500,000 year-end challenge made possible through longtime supporters Stuart and Lee Rolfe.

We want our grandkids to grow up loving and protecting the ocean and all of the animals that live there. —Nora and Walt Tabler, donors


The statements shown above are condensed versions of our audited financial statements and do not include footnote disclosures. Complete audited financial statements are available on the Seattle Aquarium website.

To our donors, members, community, volunteers and staff: Thank you again, and always.

It’s because of you that the Aquarium continues to inspire, engage and serve the community each and every day. With your support, we navigated the most difficult year in our history—and while many challenges remain ahead, we will get through them, together. Thank you.

2020 donor recognition: We are grateful to each of our generous 2020 donors. For a donor list by name, please see the digital version of this report on our website.

Carol Ann O’Mack, 1947–2021

Carol Ann O'Mack.

The Seattle Aquarium lost a staunch advocate with the passing of longtime supporter Carol Ann O’Mack. It is with sorrow and celebration that we pay tribute to Carol Ann for her tremendous support, counsel and engagement in our conservation work.

Carol Ann’s involvement with the Seattle Aquarium began in 2008. Passionate about the issue of plastic pollution, she generously helped launch much of our current microplastics research—funding paid, part-time microplastics research assistant interns and, most recently, our first-ever full-time post-doctoral microplastics research fellow.

Carol Ann’s tremendous contributions to the Aquarium and commitment to our mission will always be remembered with gratitude.

A special thank you to our volunteers

Although our doors were closed to the public for a substantial portion of 2020, our amazing and dedicated team of volunteers remained as active and engaged with the Aquarium as circumstances would allow. Despite severe, pandemic-related restrictions on volunteer involvement at the Aquarium itself, this incredible group donated over 27,000 hours of service—the equivalent of 13 full-time paid staff and representing a value of over $750,000. To view a list of our 2020 volunteers, please visit our website.

At left: Our dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers share their knowledge with visitors at the different habitats around the Aquarium.

The Seattle Aquarium Annual Fund

A vibrant and thriving Seattle Aquarium is a critical element of our city’s identity. As we emerge from the pandemic, your support matters more than ever and a gift of any size makes a difference.

Learn more and donate on our website.