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Coastal Kelp Forest

Did you know?

Girl or boy? For a California sheephead fish, it depends when you ask. They start out female, then turn male around age 10. Come to the Kelp Forest and meet our sheephead, Buddy!

Explore the Kelp

An underwater forest
right here in the Zoo.
Tall strands of kelp wave gently in the current. Vermillion, pink and gold fish dart between the “leaves”, a leopard shark moseys along and a moray eel peers out. A replica of the enormous giant kelp forests of the Pacific coast, this habitat highlights a delicate ecosystem.
Waving strands
give food, shelter, life.
Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is a plant, not an animal, but it’s crucial to the ecosystem of a kelp forest. A towering seaweed, it provides food and shelter for otters, invertebrates and over 100 fish species. It can live for many years, growing up to 18 inches in a day and forming forests over 150 feet tall.

Meet Our Animals

California sheephead
Garibaldi
California moray eel
Leopard shark
Bat star
Not just an underbite
Sheephead like to crunch
California sheephead have strong teeth to crunch the lobster, crab, sea urchin and mussels they love to eat, and special bones in their throats to finish the job.
To avoid predators, they wrap themselves in a mucus cocoon to rest at night. Predators can’t smell them through the mucus.
Fade to black (and white)
Rockfish go deep
Flag rockfish hide while young under protective kelp leaves. As they grow, they move to deeper water – often 200-700 feet, and sometimes over 1,300 feet deep.
Down this far, red colors fade and darken, and this red striped fish turns almost to black and white, like a zebra.
Hot lips
for flagfish
Treefish are also known as “lipstick fish” because of the bright red coloring that warns other fish out of their territory.
They also raise their dorsal fins, facing off with open mouths and sometimes locking jaws with intruders to scare them off.

Help the kelp

by helping otters.

THE THREAT: Kelp forests such as those in California and southern Australia have in the past been decimated by sea urchins, who eat through the kelp without enough sea otters to keep them in check.

TAKE ACTION: For 15 years our Zoo has taken part in the Washington Sea Otter Survey. Help protect otters – and other marine mammals – by reducing your plastic use and keeping trash out of the ocean.

Aquarium Stories

Ocean Explorer Virtual Reality

The white sand glows as you curve with a hammerhead shark through azure waters. Later, you tilt and dive down deep to rescue a green sea turtle from a plastic net – and are repaid with a magical tour through a coral wonderland. Four captivating ocean adventures await you with Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s … Continued

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Dear Santa: An Animal Wish List

What would you ask Santa for these holidays if you were a walrus? Or a tiger? Of course we can’t know what our animals are thinking, but we can definitely make some fun guesses based on what they enjoy doing or eating! Here’s a Zoo wish-list for Santa from some of our animals. Let’s hope … Continued

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Chiquita explores the aquarium

If the sharks and fish noticed an unusual animal in the South Pacific Aquarium, they didn’t let on. In the steamy aquarium, on a December Tuesday when Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium was closed, two tamanduas were wandering past the Outer Reef, along the lagoon and over to stingray beach. It was Terra and her … Continued

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Who's Nearby?
Like the Kelp Forest? Then keep going to Northwest Waters, a massive exhibit full of more animals that live in the cold Pacific.