Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Photography intern Julia Sumpter spent the summer visiting the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium with camera in hand. See her amazing (and adorable) photo essay below.


  1. Staff biologists have strict dietary regiments not only for the five separate species of sharks in the Outer Reef tank, but also for each individual shark. Biologists make sure the sharks are meeting their vitamin needs by putting their vitamins into the sharks’ fish. Herring is one type of fish the sharks are fed. The sharks receive multivitamin tablets specially formulated for sharks and rays.
  2. Chad Widmer, staff biologist, nets jellies like the lobed comb jelly from the Point Defiance ferry docks. Aside from being a resident staff biologist, Widmer was the force behind creating, envisioning and executing the Jammin’ With Jellies exhibit which opened in the North Pacific Aquarium last summer. The exhibit is open during zoo hours and is free with zoo admission or membership. The zoo recorded its highest attendance ever during 2015, with more than 732,000 visitors.
  3. Widmer transfers moon jellies to the observation tank in the North Pacific Aquarium using a net and cup. Moon jellies are translucent with moonlike, circular bells which can grow up to 20 inches in diameter
  4. Moon jellies are one of the most conspicuous and attractive jellies in Puget Sound, playing important roles as both predators an prey. During the summer, they are often seen in dense patches near the surface where they gather to facilitate successful spawning. And in the winter they spend most of their time near the bottom, avoiding the salt water that’s been diluted by seasonal storms and snow melt.
  5. Widmer shines a flashlight onto a Lion’s mane jelly that resided in his behind-the-scenes jelly “farm” (affectionately called New Jellyland by staff), where he and his team grew the jellies from the tiniest specimens to full grown animalsthat go out on display in an exhibit.
  6. Keeping a 240,000 gallon Outer Reef environment clean is a big undertaking. A staff member dives to clean the Blue Hole, which is a favored hiding spot for many different kinds of fish.
  7. As each shark is “hand” delivered each fish and vitamin (by way of a long spear), biologists tally off who has and who has not been fed on a master list. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s sharks are fed twice a week, at 11 a.m . Tuesdays and Saturdays. The public is invited to watch on days when the zoo is open.
  8. Senior biologist Lisa Triggs explains the Rocky Shores daily planner for feeding schedules. The schedule details everything going on in the exhibit which houses common murres, harbor seals, pacific walruses, sea otters, tufted puffins and magellanic penguins.
  9. Triggs washes off fish for the harbor seals’ lunch. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium feeds its fish-eating animals restaurant-grade food that is purchased using Seafood Watch’s sustainable guidelines.
  10. Triggs hand-feeds one of the four harbor seals in the Rocky Shores exhibit. Triggs has worked in the Rocky Shores exhibit for 19 years, holds a master of science degree and wrote her thesis on walrus reproduction.
  11. Harbor Seal Saya is hand fed their lunch in the Rocky Shores exhibit. Seals are trained to recognize a shape that is unique to them, like a name, and when a staff member waves that shape for the seal, they know to go to that specific person for their meal. Seals also know several commands like lifting their flippers or turning to one side or the other, which help zookeepers and veterinarians closely monitor their health and give them necessary checkups.
  12. Head Veterinarian Dr. Karen Wolf, left, and Intern Veterinarian Dr. Kendra Bauer work to intubate Sheldon the African serval in preparation for his routine annual checkup. Animals get regularly scheduled exams to make sure each animal is thriving in their environments.
  13. Wolf examines Sheldon the serval using an ultrasound to evaluate his abdomen. Wolf and her team’s veterinary knowledge is vast, as they have to look after more than 400
  14. Staff members of the aquarium and zoo operations teams maintain balance on the water filtration systems necessary to the survival of the aquarium. Frequent checks and close eyes are needed to ensure that the tanks’ water is kept clean and safe for each aquatic critters’ specific needs. The teams constantly monitor water flow, temperature and oxygen levels.
  15. Coral is grown and maintained behind the scenes in the aquarium.
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