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Neil Allen: Deep Ocean Knowledge

Through four years of dreaming, mentoring staff, caring for animals and watching a building rise, Neil Allen has kept one vision in sight for the Pacific Seas Aquarium, coming late summer to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

“There’s nothing like seeing little kids running up, pressing their noses against the glass and saying, ‘Wow,’ ” says Allen, the zoo’s Curator of Aquatic Animals.

He won’t even care if they leave smudges.

Neil Allen in aquarium
Neil Allen, Curator of Aquatic Animals, behind the scenes at Baja Bay.

That kind of immersive animal connection is exactly the reason the 35,000-square-foot Pacific Seas Aquarium is being built.

Whether it’s green sea turtles gliding through the 280,000-gallon Baja Bay exhibit, a 30-year-old rockfish in the Northwest Waters or undulating jellyfish, Allen knows something in the new aquarium will touch you.

He also hopes it will inspire you to take action – like avoiding single-use plastic bottles and straws – for a healthy ocean.

For the boy who grew up in Oregon and Washington, camping and hiking while other kids were playing baseball, a career with marine animals came naturally.

He landed in Monterey, Calif., while doing graduate work at Stanford University in the 1980s, just in time to help open one of the world’s foremost aquariums – feeding his passion “for the ocean, the smell of saltwater, the animals, all of it.”

“Some things, I think you’re just born to do,” he says.

Now, after a three-decade career of being recruited around the world for his aquatic expertise, Allen wants to deliver that same awe – to spark a new generation of ocean conservationists.

“I once saw a small boy watch a butterfly fish swim back and forth for more than five minutes,” he said. “He was transfixed. That’s the kind of transformative experience we want to deliver.”


-Kris Sherman, PDZA