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Blackfish in Crisis: Advocating for an Endangered Population Using Data Visualization and Social Media

Project by Erin Cote (2019) 

Zoos and aquariums have a history of promoting conservation within their walls using donations and through preserving genetic diversity in animal populations. More recently they have begun using their influence and platforms to engage the public in conservation advocacy. As the global biodiversity crisis intensifies, this advocacy role for zoos and aquariums becomes even more important. A local aspect of this biodiversity crisis are the challenges being faced by the Southern Resident Orcas, an endangered population of orcas living in the Pacific Northwest. The Southern Resident Orcas (Orcinus orca) experienced the loss of two young orcas in the last year, including a conspicuous display of grief by Talequah, the mother of the deceased newborn calf. These events sparked renewed interest and awareness of the challenges this population faces but news coverage often did not fully explain the complexities of the conservation challenges. This project aims to bridge the gap between scientific and public understanding of how to ensure the health and future of this population. Digital advocacy materials for a campaign by the Seattle Aquarium were created in pursuit of this goal. This project used best practices of data visualization, encouraging conservation action, empathy building, and storytelling in the creation of these materials. This project advances the advocacy and conservation goals of the Seattle Aquarium and can serve as a model for other zoos and aquariums to look beyond their walls and have a greater impact on conservation issues.

Keywords: zoo, aquarium, conservation advocacy, data visualization, storytelling, empathy building


Cote, E. (2019). Blackfish in Crisis: Advocating for an Endangered Population Using Data Visualization and Social Media. Unpublished master’s project, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.