Shark Tank: Does Seattle Really Need One?


Image by Jordy Meow from Pixabay

Chris Rogers, a leading project manager in Seattle (Town Hall, Bullitt Center, SAM Sculpture Park), is raising an alarm about the expansion plans for the Seattle Aquarium, which wants to build a big shark tank in its new $100 million Ocean Pavilion on the waterfront. Rogers, who worked as a consultant in the early phases of the aquarium expansion project, questions the need for captive sharks, and the high energy consumption of the proposed new wing. His op-ed in the Seattle Times lays out his concerns.

Sharks, of course, may have little to do with Puget Sound marine life, but they are huge draws for aquariums. Meanwhile the aquarium expansion is a keystone for the new central waterfront park. It’s tucked under the stair-stepped pathway down from the Pike Place Market to the shoreline park. On the roof is a splendid overlook of the Sound. Original plans to expand the Seattle Aquarium onto adjacent piers were nixed by laws that forbid shadowing fishruns underneath any over-water expansion, so the Ocean Pavilion is inshore from the existing aquarium.

One way out of this problem could be virtual reality. That’s what is proposed in Sarasota, where the sharks and whales will be virtual, not captive. As reported by Orlando Weekly: “One of the first aquariums to bring in the new experiences is Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, where eight of Immotion’s [AR] experiences are offered. The Gulf Coast aquarium is in the midst of a multi-year plan to build one of Florida’s largest aquariums, and is committed to using ‘interactive, advanced, digital, and augmented reality technology’ throughout the $130 million new Mote Science Education Aquarium.” 

Seattle, of course, is a leading city in VR and AR technology. It’s also a leading city in animal activism. Could our sharks be headed for the same bum’s rush as the elephants?

David Brewster
David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.


  1. I read Chris Roger’s op-ed in the Seattle Times, was persuaded that he was spot on, wondered how the project had progressed so far, and hoped (and continue to hope) that his bugle cry will gain traction. It is odd and regrettable that for such a water dependent and tourist/convention attractive city, the Aquarium is not an important piece of our story – and if built as presently planned, it may become such for all the wrong reasons.

  2. The Seattle Aquarium is an important educational facility, not the sort of circus-like attraction that exhibits captive Orcas. It also engages in scientific research, most recently to discover what was causing starfish die-off. Sharks, by the way, are very much a part of our eco-system and present in Elliott Bay waters. The Great Whites off Jack Block park are amazing and hardly replicated thru virtual reality. The problems that Chris Rogers rightfully cited could be mitigated with some expert revision — maybe hiring Chris as did another attraction, the Olympic Sculpture Garden which also celebrates environmental features such as the nurse tree exhibit.

    • Research and education are vital to protecting animals, but we can do this without imprisoning animals in captivity. They are sentient beings with their own right to live in peace, we have no right to incarcerate them.

  3. Well, Puget Sound is actually full of sharks. Mud Sharks, otherwise known as Dogfish. In fact, the local Mud Shark has been immortalized in song by the late Frank Zappa, in a song that was inspired by the old fishing tradition from guest rooms at the nearby Edgewater Inn. The song is called, not surprisingly, “Mud Shark”. Supposedly, Zappa did not personally catch the shark, but recounted how a member of the band Vanilla Fudge did hook one, reeled it in, and left it swimming in the bathtub of his room when he checked out.

    So immortalizing sharks at the aquarium may not be such a bad idea. Giant bathtub. Holograms of Zappa and the Mothers of Invention doing the soundtrack. Plenty of dogfish swimming around. They’re sharks. They just don’t get much respect.

  4. Jean Godden comment regarding the comparison of the Olympic Sculpture Park nursing log in a vitrine. The artwork requires intensive human care and at this moment its western exposure looks rather dry. A closer example to Chris Roberts comments to the aquarium could be Host Analog, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland which allows for a self determining, dynamic resilience, with acknowledge to a John Cage sense of chance.

  5. Chris Rogers gets it right. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. The Climate Crisis requires that we invent new ways of doing things. If the Aquarium is about preservation of the species and connecting humans to the issues, it needs to do it in such a way that it walks its talk. Creating an attraction on the waterfront is not incompatible with a climate message but this attraction is. How can the Aquarium contribute to the preservation of Puget Sound and our sensitive waterways and create ways for the public to play an active role? That is its challenge.

  6. Having just visited the 2 companion parts of the Marine Science Center in Pt Townsend I would underscore the way this organization connects people so deeply to the life and well-being of the Salish Sea and climate issues. It expands directly into giving people the necessary background and information to understand how and what needs to happen to address the critical issues facing marine life because of human impacts locally and climate based changes globally.

    I concur with Chris Rogers’ critique of the direction this new addition to the Aquarium is taking and would hope that it can be arrested mid-stream, and the Aquarium could step back and take a different approach. One that continues to lead in informing locals and visitors about the complexities of our waters and challenge people to be the best active stewards possible.

  7. Lets learn from Blackfish, etc, and stop taking healthy animals into unnatural tanks/prisons. Rescue/rehab/release sanctuary model is the only wany to teach people about these animals without harming more than helping. Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a good example to look up and consider. Seattle aquarium expansion is a huge waste of money when we can’t fix roads, pay teachers, or help the homeless in this city. And only makes the rural red areas hate liberals more – gives them a tagline to thrash about.

  8. I would caution that the Aquarium project is far down the runway, now in construction documents, so a retooling seems unlikely. It is curious that these objections were not raised earlier, when a shift in direction could have been feasible. The Seattle City Council in December voted 8-0 to approve the project and fund it with $34 million. Nor is the new project just a shark tank, as there will be many more educational features.

  9. David,
    After some checking on the status of the aquarium expansion I found out that the building is currently at 60% design – which means the project is still within a critical window to reconsider the intent, size and other considerations for what is housed in an expansion and the integrity of purpose. There is a very critical design review scheduled before the Seattle Design Commission on March 5th. As a former member of this important civic advisory group, I know it t is never too late to change design direction on projects of this magnitude. Many people have been caught off guard by this project, myself included, as I only learned about it in the Seattle Times article several weeks ago. The public should have a chance to weigh in on what would be the highest benefit to our region from this project. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, it seems most beneficial in these times that this project be about our water and ecosystem. That is in the aquarium’s mission statement.

    • Thank you for that information, Carolyn. David Brewster may be correct that this project has substantial momentum, but if we are going to change the course of these ocean liners of development and industrial design, we are going to have to start here and now. The opportunity for the broad public to provide design input for this project appears to have been limited to commenting on the environmental impact statement which was vague in the priorities and scope. To me, the alarming thing is that our public institutions do not appear to be taking into consideration factors like climate change, species extinction, environmental justice, energy efficiency, sustainable development, etc. There may be some positive elements to the Seattle aquarium’s expansion plans, but if nothing else the messaging is all wrong.

  10. I concur with Carolyn Law that this is a critical and appropriate time to evaluate carefully the proposed Aquarium expansion programmatically, its environmental sustainability and its impact on the public realm. While no longer on the Seattle Design Commission (SDC), I am a former Vice Chair and very aware of the important role the Commission plays in protecting the public realm for the benefit of all. These meetings are open to the public and anyone may sign up to make a comment to the Commission on design-related issues. Of specific concern is that the Aquarium expansion building along Alaskan Way averages 26’6″ h (actually higher in some locations) and even higher (averaging 33’h) along the northwest corner and is nearly 300′ long. This portion of the building is basically blank facade. This means that having gone to all the trouble to remove the Viaduct, we will be replacing 300′ of it with a 30’h wall separating Alaskan Way from the Waterfront Promenade. This length appears to be extended by the width of the overlook walk. In the original designs for the waterfront, there was a large plaza in front of the existing Aquarium. The plaza has been whittled down to the standard sidewalk width of the promenade to accommodate the new building footprint. It also means that this building encroaches on the public right of way. The original design had small spaces tucked under the overlook walk that could serve as “maker spaces”, artist work spaces, retail or educational spaces. There was real concern on the part of the SDC about the facade that faces Alaskan Way under the overlook walk and a desire to activate these spaces so that they would be welcoming and minimize their impact. To my knowledge, these are all replaced by the aquarium expansion. These are some of the issues that the SDC will need to consider in its review.

    While the aquarium faced insurmountable issues that prohibited expansion adjacent to it along the waterfront and needed to find another solution, this one doesn’t seem to be the right fit either from a variety of points of view. As a valued resource in the community, the Aquarium’s mission should be fulfilled in a way that enhances the public realm, not diminish it.


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