Seattle Aquarium - Chief Operating Officer

Seattle, Washington, United States | Full-time


Comphrehensive Position Profile 

About the Seattle Aquarium


Our lives depend on the ocean, the life support system for our blue planet. Industrial pollution, destructive overfishing, oil spills, noise, nearshore habitat loss, and warming and acidifying waters caused by climate change are choking the ocean and endangering all life on Earth—including ours. The ocean’s future is in our hands. At the Seattle Aquarium, our mission is Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment. At this defining moment for our ocean and our planet, this mission matters more than ever. The Seattle Aquarium has a vision to make ocean conservation and restoration a global imperative, a community value, and a deeply personal priority for all—starting here on Seattle's waterfront.


The Seattle Aquarium is a leading marine conservation organization with a global reputation and is the ninth-largest aquarium, by attendance, in the United States. We work among global leaders to advance animal well-being, marine and ecosystem science, public policy, field conservation and restoration, and education that benefits our one ocean. We are windows to the life of the ocean, intentionally inspiring awe, empathy, and conservation action. We present extraordinary habitats, marine life, and educational programs that engage and delight all members of our local and global communities. Our work is integral to a healthy future for marine life, people, and the planet. Annual attendance currently averages around 800,000 guests per year, and with the Aquarium’s $160 million expansion at the center of Seattle’s revitalized waterfront, attendance should grow by as much as 50% when the expanded Aquarium opens in the summer of 2024. The Aquarium employs more than 250 full- and part-time employees and supports over 700 volunteers.


The Aquarium is driven by the SALISH Values:


SustainableAdopting and promoting, internally and externally, practices that improve ocean health Awe-inspiringCreating captivating experiences for all audiences Learning & ImprovingFostering, evaluating, and applying knowledge and discovery Inclusive CommunityRecognizing that diversity is critical to achieve our mission Scientific IntegrityEnsuring our credibility with evidence-based practices Honoring PlaceUsing our location and history as a lens for larger understanding


As a part of our values, the Aquarium is committed to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization that reflects our community. We recently adopted a new DEI strategic plan and Regenerative Plan to guide these efforts.



The COO Position


Working alongside the President & CEO and CCO (Chief Conservation Officer), the COO will oversee all operational aspects of the Aquarium, including facilities, finance, marketing, and technology, in addition to participating in overall strategy setting for the organization.


This work is in service of our mission and with a strong foundation in our SALISH values and a commitment to the inclusive operation of the Seattle Aquarium. The COO will mentor a team of four, including the Vice President of Finance, the Vice President of Marketing and Communications, the Vice President of Facilities, and the Senior Director of Technology. The COO works closely with the Board of Directors and executive team to help achieve the Seattle Aquarium’s strategic initiatives and further our urgent mission.


The Seattle Aquarium is well positioned to develop and expand successful restorative conservation programs with a variety of partners locally and across the nation. We are evolving the conservation role of a modern aquarium as we host and interact with more than one million people every year around ocean conservation and have a dedicated team of engagement professionals. The strategic vision and leadership of the COO will be required to bring this model of an integrated conservation organization to fruition, and while no two days will look alike, we anticipate the COO will devote their time and attention to the following key priorities:


Strategic Planning 

o   Develop and implement strategic plans in collaboration with the executive team while modeling and advancing cross-functional integration and collaborative ways of working.

o   Provide leadership and input to implement strategic plans, utilizing a system for tracking and reporting on the progress of the plan aligned with the diverse needs of the aquarium staff and programs.  

o   Lead ongoing business review and communication of initiatives, report status on implementation progress, and reduce barriers for operational success and accountability.

o   Model through daily work how to strategize and lead in the advancement and integration of diversity, equity, inclusion, and regenerative practices in alignment with our S.A.L.I.S.H. Values.


Operational Management 

o   Oversee day-to-day operations of the aquarium with the COO Team, ensuring a world-class guest experience and staff wellbeing.  

o   Implement and advance sustainable/regenerative and equity centered practices within the Aquarium and advocate for regenerative and equity centered marine conservation practices beyond our walls. 

o   Prioritize and integrate collaborative relationships and initiatives with Tribes, Indigenous peoples, and marginalized communities with Aquarium operations and programs.

Financial Management 

o   Develop, help grow, and manage the overall budget as well as the budgets of the departments the COO oversees. Helps ensure the Seattle Aquarium values are represented in the various budgets such as the regenerative plan and DEI strategic plan.   

o   Identify revenue-generating opportunities and manage expenses in close collaboration with the VP of Finance to ensure the Aquarium meets or exceeds its financial objectives.

Team Leadership

o   Build and lead a high-performing team, fostering a culture of collaboration and communication, staff wellbeing, and accountable management in the team environment.

o   Must be an emotionally intelligent leader and manager with proven successful experience supervising and mentoring senior staff with an investment in their professional development. 

o   Represent the organization at local, regional, Tribal, and international conferences and events, with the press and media, and serve on various boards, coalitions, and committees.

o   Foster opportunities for learning mindsets and community engagements.

o   Foster openness to new, creative, intercultural, and collaborative ideas.

o   Ensure direct reports, operations, and budgets reflect our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and are based on the Aquarium’s SALISH values.

o   Build connections among staff and actively seek to understand the varied lived experiences of members of the Seattle Aquarium community.



What you bring

The Seattle Aquarium is committed to expanding a diverse, equitable, and inclusive conservation movement. We are invested in building an Aquarium with a wide variety of backgrounds, identities, languages, cultural ways of knowing, and life experiences. We know research shows that society has conditioned communities of color, trans, and gender non-conforming people, immigrants, people with disabilities, and other marginalized candidates to more frequently not apply to a job because they don’t feel that they meet all the qualifications listed even if they are qualified. If you meet some of the key requirements below, and you are passionate about our mission and our ocean, we encourage you to apply and look forward to learning more about you soon. 

Candidates will be evaluated on the full range of their lived and learned experience and core competencies, including:

    • Passion for the Aquarium’s mission.
    • Proven experience in a leadership role within a similar organization, ideally in a nonprofit, aquarium, or zoo, with a successful track record of strategic planning and implementation centered in generational and multicultural perspectives.
    • Demonstrated ability to work effectively in a fast-paced environment, have excellent judgement and decision-making skills, and produce desired results.
    • Strong internal and external communication and interpersonal skills, including with C-level teams and board members.
    • Strong financial management skills, including budgeting and revenue generation.
    • Demonstrated ability to identify and capitalize on business opportunities.
    • Exceptional leadership, team building, and motivation skills with an ability to build and maintain strong, positive, respectful relationships across a diverse and interdisciplinary team.
    • Excellent verbal, writing, and editing skills. Preference for Multilingual or English speakers with comfort and practice communicating across cultural and language barriers.
    • Proven ability to think creatively and implement innovative solutions.
    • A passion for finding new ways to engage guests and promote conservation awareness.
    • Understanding of marine conservation issues, sustainability, and regenerative practices and experience working with conservation organizations or initiatives a plus.

How to apply:

This role will remain open until filled. Candidate materials are reviewed on an on-going basis and initial interviews will begin by early February. The salary range is set at $175,000 - $205,000 per year plus a comprehensive benefits package, including medical, vision, dental, an employer-funded health reimbursement account, medical and dependent care flexible spending accounts, life insurance, long-term disability, 403b retirement fund with employer match, access to a subsidized ORCA pass, a Seattle Aquarium Family Plus membership, and generous paid time off. To be considered, please submit a resume and cover letter addressed to Robert Davidson, President & CEO, as soon as possible  at: You may direct questions or make referrals to Chris Cannon at the Valtas Group.