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Hammerheads, rays and turtles ... Pacific Seas Aquarium is open!

September 13, 2018

A message from Park Board Commissioner Erik Hanberg

Last week, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium opened a wonderful new community asset that the public will be able to enjoy for generations to come.

The new Pacific Seas Aquarium is home to the species from the former North Pacific Aquarium, as well as many new species from around the Pacific Ocean. You’ll be grateful for the thick acrylic window between you and the giant Japanese spider crabs—I wouldn’t want to encounter one while diving!

And the green sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, and scalloped hammerhead sharks in the 280,000-gallon Baja Bay exhibit will inspire wonder. The floor-to-ceiling Baja Bay window arches over your head, giving you the feeling that you’re right there underwater with them. It is jaw-dropping to stand under a shark as it cruises by or a sea turtle swimming along, using its powerful, paddle-like flippers.

The massive new Northwest Waters exhibit is home to animals found in our backyard. The 100,000-gallon habitat features dozens of species native to Puget Sound. Check out the more than 400 colorful anemones clinging to rocks and pilings here. It’s a true window into the life that is right outside in the Salish Sea. I’m particularly excited that it is large enough to allow aquarium staff divers to enter the exhibit, maintain the habitat and eventually answer questions through the glass about the marine life.


Speaking of Puget Sound, look for a giant Pacific octopus undulating through his large exhibit just across the way from Northwest Waters. When he spreads his sucker-filled arms, he takes up nearly the entire space and is quite the sight to see.

The nearby Under the Narrows habitat comes complete with a replica of a girder from Galloping Gertie, the original Narrows Bridge that fell into the Sound in 1940. Look for lingcod, rockfish and wolf eels here.

And don’t miss the Coastal Kelp Forest featuring the very colorful Buddy, a California sheephead as well as other sea life native to the ocean along the Central California coast.

Shortly after you enter the Pacific Seas Aquarium, you’ll be mesmerized by five exhibits filled with jellyfish. They’re colorful and interesting, moving gracefully through the waters as their pulsating bells propel them. The free-standing globe with water flowing over its surface is one of only two such jelly exhibits in the United States. At the moment, dome-shaped jellies swim inside.

The zoo has always been a special place for me. I remember going to Zoolights when I was young, and my first job in high school was selling memberships outside the zoo. I have fond memories of taking my lunch break and watching the sharks or the walrus.


It is so exciting to see new exhibits and to know that my kids (and their kids!) will be able to learn and understand their environment better thanks to the species in this aquarium.

Zoos and aquariums play an important role in conservation, and the new aquarium emphasizes things we each can do to help protect these species. Whether it’s skipping plastic straws when you order your drink at a restaurant or not washing your car in your driveway, we can all take action to protect species and their habitats.

Finally, it’s important when we open a community asset like the Pacific Seas Aquarium to reflect on what made it possible. Without the support and trust of voters who passed a capital bond in 2014, this aquarium would not have been built. Nor would have neighborhood projects – large and small – all across Tacoma. Your trust in Metro Parks and support is truly appreciated. Thank you.

Erik Hanberg has served on the Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners since January 2010 and was re-elected in November 2017. He is one of five commissioners and has served in the roles of clerk and president. He and his wife have two children and can regularly be found playing with them at one of Tacoma’s great parks.