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News / Life / Pets & Wildlife

Tacoma zoo to reopen its aquarium

By Simone Carter, The News Tribune
Published: May 11, 2024, 6:05am

TACOMA — Point Defiance Zoo is expected to reopen its Tropical Reef Aquarium next month, the zoo announced this week.

Formerly called the South Pacific Aquarium, the 25,000-square-foot area will boast colorful fish and sharks in a tropical coral-reef environment, according to a news release. The June 14 reopening comes after years of repairs and restorations to habitats, life-support systems and animal-care structures.

The zoo, 5400 N. Pearl St., closed the aquarium in November 2021. Multiple critical repairs since have been made, including to the roof, walkways and areas used to care for sharks and other sea fauna. It also gained a new heat pump, electrical updates and ventilator, among other improvements.

“We are excited to welcome our community back into this awe-inspiring space,” Andrea Smith, president of the Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners, said in the news release. “We are so grateful to Tacoma voters who passed the bond issue that helped make this major restoration possible.”

The renovation cost $7.09 million and was funded through Tacoma voter-approved bonds circa 2014 and by Point Defiance Zoo’s operating budget, according to the release. More than 400 land and marine species call the Tacoma zoo home.

Some 300,000 gallons of warm saltwater had to be emptied from the four aquarium habitats during the closure. More than 700 invertebrates and fish were transported to other permanent residences or to Point Defiance’s behind-the-scenes care center.

Zoo Director Alan Varsik said the new aquarium’s guests will be greeted by a lagoon, a beach and outer-reef habitats, according to the news release. Various shark species — such as nurse, whitetip reef and zebra sharks — can be viewed through the tank glass, as will stingrays and a “very charismatic potato grouper named Tater.”

Guests will get to touch certain invertebrate creatures, including urchins, shrimp, snails, crabs and sea stars, according to the news release. “(F)inishing touches and some ‘moving in’ work” will still need to be done after the aquarium reopens, and zoo-goers can learn about climate change’s effects on the coral reef.

The Zoo Society offered funding for the new live coral habitat with community support, including family and individual donors.

The fan-favorite program Eye-to-Eye Shark Dives, in which people immerse themselves in a dive cage to watch sharks swim by, will also return with improvements this summer.