E.T. the walrus became a prominent character at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, beloved by staff and locals alike, which is why it was such a heartbreaking day when he passed away in 2015 at the age of 33.
In collaboration with the Zoo Society, Metro Parks Tacoma, and artist Matthew Gray Palmer, E.T. has been immortalized as a 2,150-pound sculpture placed at the zoo’s front gate. The unveiling this month was met with applause and emotional comments from those who knew him best.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said Senior Staff Biologist Lisa Triggs, who cared for him for more than 20 years. “Matthew (Palmer) brought the essence of E.T. out in a bronze sculpture. It’s amazing. He was the best walrus ever and our entire staff is grateful that this sculpture of him will welcome visitors to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium for many years to come.”
Though the statue doesn’t weigh as much as E.T., who could bulk up to more than 4,000 pounds, it is about 5 percent larger than he was.
E.T. came to Point Defiance as an orphaned calf, discovered by oil workers in Alaska in 1982. He developed quite the fan base, both in-person and online, with his engaging personality and entertaining vocalization that ranged from
piercing whistles to growls, roars, bellows, clacks, and a bell.
Palmer crafted the statue out of clay in his San Juan Island studio and it was cast in bronze and brought to the zoo.
“It is always a challenge to capture the subtleties of an animal that was known for so long, by so many who had deep personal bonds with him,” Palmer said. “Lisa Triggs was not only a wealth of information about walruses and their features but also specifically E.T.’s features and even more so his personality.”
The zoo society raised $100,000 of the $148,000 total sculpture budget from businesses and community members. The remaining costs were provided by the Metro Parks Tacoma’s public art program, and the zoo’s bond fund budget.
The zoo is currently home to three Pacific walruses, Joan, Basilla, and Kulusiq.