Pacific Seas Aquarium Blog

Imagine standing in a tunnel of water with hammerhead sharks swimming above your head and sea turtles gliding in front of you.

That's just part of the plan for the new Pacific Seas Aquarium at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, opening Sept. 7, 2018. 

 

Get the latest news here.


soldierfish closeFlashes of color: Soldierfish move into Baja Bay

It was almost as if they knew it was moving day. Nearly 100 bright red, bigscale soldierfish splashed in their behind-the-scenes pool in the old North Pacific Aquarium, so energetic they threw water up and out of the net that covered their temporary home.

Read more

sea-turtle-exam
Our turtles pass their first physical

Sunny and Azul, the green sea turtles waiting patiently for their new home in the aquarium's Baja Bay exhibit, passed their first wellness exam this month with flying colors - and got a treat as a reward for being good patients. Watch the video below.

Read more...

baja-bay The aquarium grows...and grows...

It's beginning to look a lot like an aquarium now. Visitors to the zoo see a high roofline; people passing by on Five Mile Drive see fish scale facades, window insets and the space for our glass artwork.

The crane is gone, and the tanks have come, including the enormous Baja Bay where our sea turtles, rays and sharks will live. But before they move in there's still a lot to be done. Catch up with where our aquarium is now.

 Read more...

sea turtle sunny
We've got sea turtles! 
Sept. 22, 2017 - Azul is a diva, but curious. Sunny's more a chill kinda guy. But aquarist Melissa Bishop loves both of the green sea turtles that just arrived at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium - and she has plenty of time to get to know them before they move into their big Baja Bay exhibit in the new Pacific Seas Aquarium.  
       
ray transfer
Sharks and rays arrive at point defiance

Aug. 16, 2017 - In a transfer operation as intensely choreographed as a ballet, four hammerhead shark pups and two eagle rays traveled last Friday from Hawaii to their new home at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, where they'll live until the Baja Bay exhibit is built at the new aquarium.
And they're all doing fine, says staff biologist Melissa Bishop.                                                    
Aquarium-Plan-with-Pictures_web
WHAT'S THAT WALL? EXPLORE THE NEW AQUARIUM
Stand on the edge of our construction site, on the path to Rocky Shores, and you can look straight down into the Baja Bay tank. It's all still concrete and rebar - the new Pacific Seas Aquarium doesn't open until summer 2018. But right now is a fantastic time to watch an aquarium being built before your eyes. 
Here's your walk-through guide to our new aquarium.          
                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Read more...
 
new aquarium 1
PACIFIC SEAS AQUARIUM opening SUMMER 2018
It'll feature a walk-through shark-and-ray tunnel, a kelp 
forest, jellyfish, interactive art and more. The new Pacific Seas Aquarium, slated to open 2018 at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, will be a 35,000-square-foot state-of-the-art aquarium unlike any in the Northwest.  

Flashes of color: Soldierfish move into Baja Bay

by Kris Sherman

July 16, 2018 - It was almost as if they knew it was moving day. Nearly 100 bright red, bigscale soldierfish splashed in their behind-the-scenes pool in the old North Pacific Aquarium, so energetic they threw water up and out of the net that covered their temporary home.
“They know our blue shirts,” said Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium aquarist John Foster. “When they see us, it’s usually because it’s feeding time.”
But this day, was much more than that. It was moving day.

soldierfish closeOn Tuesday, July 10, the time had come to transfer them from their temporary “growing up” home to their permanent digs in the 280,000-gallon Baja Bay habitat in the brand new Pacific Seas Aquarium, which opens to the public on Sept. 7.
Foster, who has a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Oregon State University, clearly loves caring for the fish in his charge. No-nonsense, he focused intently on the work, but was also tender while working with the soldierfish.
The move was a carefully choreographed, three-hour blur. Foster quickly filled three large picnic coolers with saltwater from the soldierfish’s temporary quarters and inserted air hoses into them to oxygenate the water.  Aquarist Melissa Bishop and aquarist Martie Johnson pitched in with various tasks.
Then, it was time to begin moving the fish. 
And speed was of the essence.
Foster carefully scooped the fish into a net about 10 at a time – not an easy task for swiftly moving animals with the large, red-edged scales and big dorsal fins.
Each group received a three-minute bath in fresh water, the final treatment of several to ensure they were perfectly clean and free of any parasites or diseases that can bedevil fish populations.
Then Foster scooped them up again and quickly walked out one room and into another, where the saltwater-filled coolers awaited the fish.  Johnson held the cooler tops open as the transfer were made. 
Each time he left and entered the room where the soldierfish temporarily lived, Foster did a bit of a “quarantine two-step,” quickly putting one foot then the other into a disinfectant-filled sponge. This “step” is crucial to not tracking bacteria from outside in – or inside out – during the series of water baths carefully constructed to ensure the health of the fish.
The energetic, splashing, soldierfish – their colors flashing in the light - were the largest complement of fish to be moved yet, as the zoo’s team of aquarists – zookeepers who specialize in the care of aquatic animals – continues the massive job of moving thousands of fish and invertebrates into the Pacific Seas Aquarium.
Once all were safely bathed in fresh water and then returned to saltwater in the coolers, the race was on. Foster grabbed the handles of the cart on which the coolers sat and walked swiftly out of the North Pacific Aquarium, across the zoo, down the path into the Pacific Seas Aquarium and up the elevator to the top of Baja Bay.
There, the three aquarists put air hoses into the coolers to continue oxygen infusion into the water as Foster scooped water out of Baja Bay and carefully poured it into each cooler. The aim: gradually change out the water in the coolers to match the temperature and chemistry of the 77-degree Baja Bay.
As he and Bishop scooped and emptied, scooped and emptied, Johnson constantly checked the temperature of the water in the coolers. They needed to get to 75 or better to release the fish.
soldier fish release“We’re there!” Foster exclaimed. “Let’s release them!” His demeanor: professional with a touch of little-kid excitement.
He grabbed a net and scooped up the gorgeous red fish, walking down short stairs to a dive platform where he knelt and smoothly set the net into the water, urging the fish to swim out and away. They complied. 
After several transfers, the task was complete. Ninety-three bigscale soldier fish were now at home in Baja Bay, where they were joined by 48 blueline snappers the next day. Over the next several weeks, an array of other sub-tropical fish, sea turtles Sunny and Azul, hammerhead sharks and spotted eagle rays will also enter their Baja Bay home.
“It was a good day,” Foster said.  “It’s extremely satisfying to care for these animals, do the preparation for moving them, and finally to see them swimming in our beautiful new Pacific Seas Aquarium.”  

Back to top

__________________________________________________________________________

Our turtles pass their first physical

Sunny and Azul, the green sea turtles waiting patiently for their new home in the aquarium's Baja Bay exhibit, passed their first wellness exam this month with flying colors - and got a treat as a reward for being good patients. Watch the video here.

Back to top


The aquarium grows...

by Rosemary Ponnekanti

Jan. 24, 2018 - It's beginning to look a lot like an aquarium over there now. Visitors to the zoo see a high roofline; people passing by on Five Mile Drive see fish scale facades, window insets and the space for our glass artwork. The crane is gone, and the tanks have come, including the enormous Baja Bay where our sea turtles, rays and sharks will live. But before they move in there's still a lot to be done. Catch up with where our aquarium is now.

baja-bayBrand-new to the zoo is the Baja Bay exhibit, a 250,000-gallon tank that will hold our green sea turtles, spotted eagle rays and scalloped hammerhead sharks. When the aquarium is open, this view will be one that our aquarists will see as they monitor and feed the animals.
Visitors will have two viewpoints: the huge half-tunnel window on the lower level, and a shark's-eye view from the other side, up above.
And inside the black plastic? That's an artificial seamount waiting to be poured with concrete and covered with "coral". 

pipesThe aquarium's pipe system is incredibly complex. Pipes for electricity and multiple water systems are layered like spaghetti with the precision of a computer motherboard.
Complicated diagrams gave the building crew instructions on which pipe had to go in next. 
Most of the pipes are behind-the-scenes, and won't be visible to visitors.
 
barnacles
Support columns in the Northwest Waters and Tidal Touch Zone areas will be encrusted with sculpted "barnacles" - a nod to the many barnacled pilings just downhill on the Tacoma waterfront.
Northwest Waters will highlight Pacific Northwest marine life, replacing the 55-year-old North Pacific Aquarium community tank.
The Tidal Touch Zone will replace the NPA's Marine Discovery Center as a hands-on area where visitors can touch and explore tidal creatures like sea stars and urchins.
fish
Meanwhile, outside the building, sand-blasted, graphite-rubbed fish seem to swim across the concrete walls on the side of the aquarium close to the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater.
Swimming in one direction, they seem to lead visitors into the aquarium's entrance. Inside, a special exhibit of actual schooling herring will race round and round in a blur of silver.
fish-scales

On another exterior wall, visible from Five  Mile Drive below, facade cladding is designed to look like giant aqua fish scales - a nod both to nearby Puget Sound, and the amazing marine creatures inside the Pacific Seas Aquarium.


 

We've got sea turtles!
by Rosemary Ponnekanti
azul sea turtle and Melissa
Sept. 22, 2017 - Azul is a diva, but curious. Sunny's more a chill kinda guy. But aquarist Melissa Bishop loves both of the green sea turtles that just arrived at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium - and she has plenty of time to get to know them before they move into their big Baja Bay exhibit in the new Pacific Seas Aquarium.
"They're so cool," said Bishop, who spent the night in the turtle's temporary housing when they first arrived, to keep close watch. "They have engaging personalities, they're graceful. And they're very curious."
That much is clear to anyone who steps up to their 5,000-gallon temporary pool, which comes complete with a viewing window and "Sea Turtle Crossing" sign. Both turtles make pass after pass to check out visitors. And when Bishop first arrives at work, they'll swim up for a back scratch.
"Azul is a little high-maintenance, but curious," said Bishop. "Sunny is more like a chill, California-type guy."
Sea turtles Azul (left) and Sunny (right)
The turtles are brothers,14 years old. Hand-raised and not releasable to the wild, they've spent their lives as representatives of their endangered species at SeaWorld and Monterey Bay Aquarium. They could live to be 80 years or more, and will grow to around 300-400 pounds.
And they love to cuddle when they sleep or nap - they can hold their breath for up to five hours underwater.
For Bishop, the turtles' primary caretaker, the next few months give a chance to get to know the turtles and train them to take food and care before they swim into the 250,000-gallon Baja Bay exhibit, which they'll share with the new eagle rays and hammerhead sharks. That will ensure each turtle gets his proper diet: around 1.5% of body weight each day in vegetables, plus a little squid and vitamins.
Sea turtles Azul (left) and Sunny (right)
Bishop and the aquarium staff also carefully monitor water quality and temperature for the turtles' optimum comfort and health.
Meanwhile, Bishop's also getting to know them better - and what treats they like.
"Romaine lettuce is their favorite," said Bishop during the morning feeding. "But it seems like no-one wants this last Brussel sprout."
                                         
                                                                                                                           Back to top 

Sharks and Rays Arrive

ray transfer
by Rosemary Ponnekanti
Aug. 16, 2017 - It had all the complex choreography of a ballet.
Last Friday, four scalloped hammerhead sharks and two spotted eagle rays arrived at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. They'd been flown in specially-built tanks all the way from Hawaii. They'd been carefully trucked down from SeaTac airport.
And then, as dusk settled over the zoo, two dozen zoo staff members took their places for a carefully-rehearsed operation that involved filling the travel tanks with local water, scooping up the baby animals in custom-designed containers and rushing them individually into their new tanks.
"Everyone knew exactly what they had to do," said staff biologist Melissa Bishop, who'll be primarily responsible for the baby sharks and rays while they acclimate to their new home and wait for the new aquarium to be built. 
Melissa and tank window
The rays and sharks will be the stars of the 250,000-gallon Baja Bay exhibit, an enormous display with a curved overhead window that will let visitors walk right up to the swimming animals. 
Meanwhile, they'll get all the constant attention of any other baby. Via side viewing windows, cell phone monitoring and an elaborate touchscreen tank control system, Bishop and her crew will care for the two-foot-long animals, making sure they're happy and healthy.
So far, so good.
"I'm very pleased with their overall condition," says Dr. Karen Wolf, head veterinarian. "They are eating well and showing natural swimming patterns." 
"I'm starting to learn all about their little quirks and personalities," says Bishop. "The female eagle ray is much more cautious and stubborn, while the male was eating from my hand on his first day here."

Just as important, however, is the role that these swiftly-swimming creatures will play for the humans that come to see them. 

hammerhead shark

Although they were taken under strict permit from a sustainable pupping ground in Oahu, scalloped hammerheads are endangered elsewhere - including in the Gulf of California which their exhibit will depict. The zoo's sharks - plus the rays and turtles - will be ambassadors for their species, inspiring people to take action for their conservation in the wild.

"The more I learn about hammerhead sharks, the more fascinated I am by them," Bishop says. "Seeing them in person makes me even more excited to share them with everyone in the new aquarium."

                                                                                      Back to top


Walk through the new aquarium plan

by Rosemary Ponnekanti
Wondering what all those concrete walls are going to become in the new aquarium? Here's our walk-through guide.
1. You'll enter just downhill from the path to Rocky Shores.
2. First, you'll walk by a tidal surge tank, with Northwest animals like sea urchins.
3. In the top gallery you'll catch an eye-level glimpse of our hammerhead sharks.
 (This is the open space near to the construction fence on the Rocky Shores path.)
4. Double back along the upper gallery to pass giant Japanese spider crabs and schooling herring.
5.Go down a ramp past light-based water artwork to the jellyfish.
Pacific-Seas-Aquarium-Plan-with-Pictures_86. Another ramp takes you down to our "Under the Narrows" exhibit of Puget Sound marine life, including giant Pacific octopus and a kelp forest.
 From the path fence, this is the space furthest away on the right.)
7. A third ramp leads down past a metal fish art installation to the tidal touch zone.
(It's the space furthest away on the left.) 
8. Go down the fourth ramp into our Baja Bay exhibit, with giant overhead window that lets you walk underneath sharks, eagle rays and sea turtles.
9. This leads to the Waves of Change conservation room, with jellyfish glass art.
10. The exit ramp leads past the gift shop and out to Rocky Shores.
(That's on your left as you look from the path.)
                                                                                                                   Back to top


The Pacific Seas Aquarium: Baja Bay tunnel, kelp forest and more

PDZA_Puget Sound_151223

The new state-of-the-art aquarium will host many of the same exhibits from the North Pacific Aquarium, including the Puget Sound native species and Jammin' with Jellies.

New exhibits will include:
  • Baja Bay:  A 250,000-gallon warm-water exhibit, which will be home to scalloped hammerhead sharks, green sea turtles and spotted eagle rays
  • Northwest Waters:  A 75,000-gallon exhibit highlighting Pacific Northwest marine life 
  • Coastal Kelp Forest: A tank featuring giant strands of kelp similar to the kelp forests found off the coast of Southern California
  • Tidal Touch Zone:  An engaging space offering hands-on and up-close experiences for people of all ages

PDZA_Baja Bay update_160512The new aquarium will continue a long-standing tradition of highlighting Puget Sound marine life while showcasing some exciting new species.

The 35,000 square-foot building will be built between Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater and the Rocky Shores exhibit area.

This project, along with other Zoo Capital Projects, is made possible by voters’ approval in 2014 of a $198 million Metro Parks Tacoma bond issue, with more than $65 million earmarked for capital improvements at the Zoo.

The South Pacific Aquarium, home to 16 sharks and Stingray Cove, will remain in its current location.

Learn about other exciting Point Defiance Park projects.