Have you ever seen a Japanese spider crab? How about a California sheephead? Ever watched a hammerhead shark swimming just above your head? You can experience all three of things, plus a lot more, at the new Pacific Seas Aquarium at the Point Defiance Zoo.

The 35,000-square-foot aquarium will open to the public on September 7.

The Tidal Touch Zone houses starfish and other creatures you can reach in and touch. Photo by Joanna Kresge.

The space, which was designed by EHDD — the same architects behind the Monterey Bay Aquarium —  includes two massive tank exhibits. Baja Bay, a 280,000-gallon warm-water exhibit, houses scalloped hammerhead sharks, green sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, and fish. Northwest Waters, a 100,000-gallon exhibit, is now home to local marine species. Also featured in the new aquarium is a Tidal Touch Zone, an up-close experience with marine creatures, and a Tidal Surge, a 4,500-gallon outdoor exhibit near the aquarium’s entrance that’s full of sea stars, anemones, and urchins.

Additional animals in the Pacific Seas Aquarium will include jellyfish, Japanese spider crabs, schooling fish, and a giant Pacific octopus.

Pacific Seas

The jellyfish exhibit features a few different sizes and species. There’s even a “jelly globe,” a mesmerizing sphere filled with moon jellyfish. Photo by Kirsten Abel.

Another focus of the new aquarium, aside from the sea creatures, is education. An exhibit near the building’s exit displays a timeline of important conservation-related events, like the Clean Water Act becoming law in 1972 or the Puget Sound being listed as an “Estuary of National Significance” in 1988. The exhibit also teaches guests how the zoo is doing its part to help protect the environment, including using rain water to flush the aquarium’s toilets.

An exhibit near the end of the aquarium experience educates guests about the history of local environmental conservation. Photo by Kirsten Abel.

At a cost of approximately $51.6 million, the new aquarium is the largest capital project in the zoo’s history. It was largely financed by a $198 million Metro Parks Tacoma bond issue that voters approved in 2014.

Even after the opening weekend, the zoo will continue to add finishing touches and introduce new animals to the aquarium through the end of the year. The zoo’s old aquarium, called the North Pacific Aquarium, will serve as a temporary home for animals until they can be moved. According to a statement, the zoo is still considering potential short- and long-term options for the iconic round building.