An inside look at Seattle Aquarium’s expansion plans

SEATTLE — The Seattle Aquarium is a place you’ve probably been, a mainstay of the waterfront for more than 40 years.

This summer, Jillian and Justin Grimm brought their 6-month-old daughter, Athena, for the first time.

“We’ve been here a million times ourselves, so to bring her here is pretty magical,” Jillian Grimm said.

Now, not far from the underwater dome, the otters, the octopus, the seals and the Window on Washington Waters, something new is coming.

You can’t miss the construction out front, where the new Ocean Pavilion is taking shape.

It is expected to open in 2024.

“Every day is amazing,” said Bob Davidson, the aquarium’s CEO, who’s overseeing the biggest expansion in its history. “This will be world class, no question about it.”

Newly-released animation shows what it will be like to visit the $160 million Ocean Pavilion.

It will be built into the city’s new overlook walk connecting Pike Place Market with the rebuilt waterfront.

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Before the state replaced the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel, it was hard to make the trip.

“You kind of had to have a secret code to figure out how get from the market to the waterfront or back,” Davidson said.

Traffic will move around the new building, opening the plaza between the existing aquarium and the Ocean Pavilion to pedestrians.

The roof of the new building will be a park featuring Coast Salish art.

A giant window will look out toward the rest of the waterfront and Mount Rainier.

To glimpse the pavilion’s largest exhibit, you’ll just need to walk outside the front doors and look up through a window into the largest exhibit.

Once inside, visitors will get up-close views of a 360,000-gallon exhibit with more than 100 species, including sharks, from what’s called the Coral Triangle in the Indo-Pacific.

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The aquarium plans to tell the story of shared challenges in tropical waters and the Salish Sea.

“They’re the same issues, ocean acidification, ocean warming and depletion of species,” Davidson said.

Even before it opens, some of the inhabitants at the Ocean Pavilion are already arriving at an off-site animal care center.

A young spotted eagle ray from the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is one of the first residents of the new facility.

The ray is now in quarantine and will eventually find a new home in the Ocean Pavilion.

“We are incredibly excited,” said Andy Sim, the aquarium’s curator of tropical fish and invertebrates. “That will be one of the first fish that gets to make that move.”

The aquarium is also growing coral, with plans for as many as 30 species in the new pavilion.

Public money is paying for half the cost of the expansion, with donations covering the rest.

The aquarium plans to soon launch a public fundraising campaign.