Living the Dream: Cancer Survivor to Teen Conservation Leader

By Tessa Terrill, Public Relations Intern

How often in life do things come full circle?

Seamus Morrison experienced a full-circle moment this summer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

He first came to the Aquarium in 2010 through the Make-A-Wish Foundation as an 11-year old with a life-threatening brain cancer – and a dream of becoming a marine biologist.  He went behind the scenes to feed the cuttlefishes, spent a morning talking to scientists with our partners at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and an afternoon with dolphins and seals at Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz. He even took two scuba dives in our Great Tide Pool.

“It was really fun at the time, and I loved the experience,” he says.” But now it’s just so much more. I look back on it and I just think it was one of the best experiences of my life.” 

Cancer-free and riding the wave

Four years later, cancer-free and still riding the marine biology wave, he and his parents, James and Riad Morrison, packed their bags and made the trip from Ojai in southern California to spend the summer in Monterey so Seamus could follow his dream – as a Teen Conservation Leader (TCL) at the Aquarium.

George Matsumoto, Senior Research and Education Specialist at MBARI and his MBARI guide four years ago, is overjoyed that Seamus came back as a teen leader, and said Seamus told him how much he was growing through his participation in the program. 

When he was 10, Seamus was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor called medulloblastoma. That didn’t dim his passion for diving headfirst into marine biology, a passion that was present since he was very young.

Ocean-ified Halloween

Seamus’s dad James, who has a successful career as an actor with roles in shows like “24” and “Revenge”, said that Seamus’s Halloween costumes have always been ocean-ified. 

One year, he was a scuba diver and even had a tank made of a cereal box that he would open with the pull of a cord to collect trick-or-treat candy!

For six weeks this summer, now 15-year-old Seamus took his passion and spread it among Aquarium guests as he shared stories about the range of sea life exhibited throughout the aquarium – including as a narrator for Kelp Forest feeding shows. 

When Seamus was getting ready to narrate the feeding one day, he was surprised to learn that the diver was the one who took him into the Great Tide Pool through Underwater Explorers four years ago. 

'An amazing journey'

“That (Make-A-Wish) experience and his continued relationship with the Aquarium have further inspired him toward the dream of one day becoming a real marine biologist,” says his mother, Riad. “It’s been and continues to be an amazing journey.” 

Seamus said he loves the Monterey Bay Aquarium because there’s “more stuff” here than at any other aquarium he’s visited.

He’s already taking action to build on his summer experience and help inspire ocean conservation. He’s emailed his teachers about a plan to create a conservation lab when he returns to school. He said his teachers are on board and he’ll talk to them this fall about how to make it a reality.

Learn more about our conservation leadership programs for teens

Help make our teen programs possible with your donation

(Photos by Randy Tunnell)

Finned and friendly! Despite what you may see on #SharkWeek, not all sharks are scary. Our Underwater Explorers sometimes swim with a swell shark, as you can see in this diver’s-eye video.

Learn more about our surface scuba program for kids eight to 13


Shark supporter? We’re proud to be one of the official sponsors of shark fin legislation—a movement that has spread to 12 states and territories, and around the world. Now THAT’S a reason to celebrate #SharkWeek! Help sharks by using our Seafood Watch guides(Photo: Michael Burns)

Shark supporter? We’re proud to be one of the official sponsors of shark fin legislation—a movement that has spread to 12 states and territories, and around the world. Now THAT’S a reason to celebrate #SharkWeek!

Help sharks by using our Seafood Watch guides

(Photo: Michael Burns)

The ocean sunfish and by-the-wind sailor are so nice, scientists named them twice! Watch as a Mola mola munches a Velella velella! Thanks to staffers Anneliese Kupfrian and Patrick Webster for the great video!

Learn more


It’s hammertime on #SharkWeek tonight—and this hammerhead won’t stop! Scalloped hammerheads, like many sharks, must constantly swim to breathe. Watch these energetic animals—recently classified as endangered—glide by our live Open Sea cam.View now

It’s hammertime on #SharkWeek tonight—and this hammerhead won’t stop! Scalloped hammerheads, like many sharks, must constantly swim to breathe. Watch these energetic animals—recently classified as endangered—glide by our live Open Sea cam.

View now

Monster or metal detector? Learn how the hammerhead shark’s uniquely shaped head helps it navigate and hunt in our latest video podcast, just in time for tonight’s #SharkWeek program!

Nail down your hammerhead facts

Spellbound by sharks? It’s #SharkWeek—and we’ll be sharing stories about these majestic, mysterious animals. We have a dozen species of sharks, rays and skates—important ambassadors for ocean conservation. Which is your favorite? Check out our Animal Guide

Spellbound by sharks? It’s #SharkWeek—and we’ll be sharing stories about these majestic, mysterious animals. We have a dozen species of sharks, rays and skates—important ambassadors for ocean conservation. Which is your favorite?

Check out our Animal Guide

How do you catch dinner if you’re a slow-moving sea slug? You go after something that’s even slower! In this not-so-speedy skirmish, watch as a California sea slug captures a shaggy sea slug. Thanks to staffer Patrick Webster for the great video!

Could this be the best animal name ever? The “sarcastic fringehead” just loves life in a boot—watch it ambush an afternoon meal in this 12-second video. The fringehead is fiercely territorial, remaining close by its chosen rock crevice, empty shell—or whatever! 

Plan your visit


#ThrowbackThursday: A Ferris wheel for jellies? Over the last 30 years we’ve displayed dozens of delicate jelly species. Special tanks—called kreisels—create circular currents to keep jellies afloat and away from walls. Help us innovate and inspire for another 30 years

#ThrowbackThursday: A Ferris wheel for jellies? Over the last 30 years we’ve displayed dozens of delicate jelly species. Special tanks—called kreisels—create circular currents to keep jellies afloat and away from walls.

Help us innovate and inspire for another 30 years

About me

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, perched on the edge of a world-famous coastline, is your window to the wonders of the ocean. It’s located on historic Cannery Row in Monterey and is open daily except Christmas Day.

For more information about our animals and exhibits, and to view our live web cams, please visit www.montereybayaquarium.org.

Hours of operation vary by season. Daily schedules and tickets are available on our website or by calling
(831) 648-4800.