The Puget Sound Estuarium was founded in 2007 by the South Sound Estuary Association (SSEA) as a nonprofit organization. Their mission is to foster learning opportunities that inspire people of all ages to enjoy the unique estuary* environment of Puget Sound.
* Estuary: where a river meets the sea, mixing fresh water with salt water. The word estuary comes from the Latin word aestuarium meaning tidal inlet of the sea, derived from the word aestus, meaning tide.
The Estuarium is home to live estuary animals, exhibits, specimens and more! The community is invited to explore the animals and plants in our estuaries, where freshwater and saltwater meet, and learn what is unique about this delicate, vibrant ecosystem so vital to our region. Knowledge helps you and me take better care of our shared natural resources and act in ways that protect the ongoing health, conservation, and restoration of south Puget Sound.
The facility features five tanks featuring an amazing diversity of animals from intertidal and subtidal environments in South Puget Sound. Animals include sea stars, anemone, shellfish, crabs, and more. Permanent Exhibits at the Estuarium explore intertidal life in the Puget Sound and the impacts of human life on the ecosystem. Topics include aquaculture, climate change, pollution prevention, and first peoples of the Salish Sea. Rotating Exhibits highlight special topics and often feature special guest speakers, demonstrations, and activities such as dissections led Estuarium interpreters.
In addition, the specimen collection includes preserved creatures from the depths of Puget Sound and an extensive shell collection. Most specimens can be handled and observed. There is also an exciting array of short videos from local organizations and projects. And finally, visitors can explore the microscopic world of Puget Sound native flora and fauna with their collection of slides.
Throughout the year, the Estuarium offers programs and special events to enhance your returning visits.
About Puget Sound & Deschutes Estuary
Estuaries carved by glaciers, such as Puget Sound, are known as fjord estuaries. They are prominent in areas where the glaciers once loomed, including Alaska and Scandanavia in the Northern Hemisphere and Chile and New Zealand in the Southern hemisphere. More common types of estuaries, called coastal plain estuaries, were formed when a rising sea level flooded a major river valley. Coastal plain estuaries, including Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast and Coos Estuary in Oregon, tend to be shallower with less physical diversity than fjord estuaries. More info: 2015 Puget Sound Fact Book v3.1 (eopugetsound.org)
Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, in parts of six states — Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Chesapeake Bay covers about 4,480 square miles—more than four times the area of Puget Sound (not including waters north of Whidbey Island). More than 150 rivers and streams drain into the Bay.
Puget Sound is the largest estuary system in the United States by volume of water (and second largest by shoreline). However, Chesapeake Bay is shallow, averaging just 21 feet deep. In comparison, Puget Sound averages 205 feet deep. Consequently, Puget Sound can hold a more massive volume of water, some 40 cubic miles—well beyond Chesapeake Bay’s volume of 18 cubic miles. An estimated 2,800 streams—from large rivers to small creeks—flow into Puget Sound.
The Deschutes Estuary/Capitol Lake is the southernmost point of Puget Sound. It is part of the Puget Sound estuary system and has local ecological, cultural, and economic significance. While Capitol Lake is a relatively recent alteration, the Deschutes Estuary has existed since the end of the last ice age and is the ancestral land of the Steh-chass people whose relationship with the Deschutes Estuary traces back through time immemorial.
Puget Sound Estuarium programs & tours
Pier Peer: Year-round you can enjoy the Pier Peer program on local docks after dark in Thurston and Mason Counties. Trained Estuarium staff and volunteers provide underwater lights that attract spectacular estuary creatures for you to scoop up and observe. From octopus to anemones, from sea stars to sea slugs, you never know what you’ll encounter!
Meet the Beach: During summer, Meet the Beach connects beach goers with a dedicated team of volunteers, called Beach Naturalists, to learn about our unique estuarine ecosystem by identifying intertidal life during summer low tides.
Educational programming: the Estuarium offers topics for Pre-K through 12th grade students, providing unique hands-on activities linked to the STEM standards, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and Ocean Literacy Frameworks.
Volunteers: The Estuarium is always looking for enthusiastic people to be a part of the Puget Sound Estuarium as a volunteer. Volunteering is a great opportunity to learn more, gain experience, connect with other volunteers and the community, and make a difference in the health of Puget Sound through education. More info: Volunteer – Puget Sound Estuarium
2022 Puget Sound Estuarium Bird Walk & Tour
Bird Walks are a recurring event at selected times throughout the year. Join the Estuarium for a walk around downtown to see various birds that call the Puget Sound home. No birding experience required! The Bird Walk begins and ends at the Estuarium and includes a tour of the facility. Adult Admission (13+) $15; registration required. Children 12 years of age and younger are free, but there must be 1 adult for every 2 children registered. Free registration to individuals or families with an EBT card. More info: Bird Walks Registration, Multiple Dates | Eventbrite
2022 Puget Sound Estuarium Summer Shark Spree
Join the fun throughout summer for JAWSOME shark education and activities including shark dissection, trivia games, arts & crafts, and talks by local shark experts. Bonus: The Estuarium Summer Shark Spree features real shark tails and jaws from the WA Department of Fish & Wildlife on display. Make a shark fin hat. Become a shark: try on hammerhead shark vision goggles! Dig through sand and take home a genuine shark tooth! Color in a shark drawing sheet and have your art join the shiver of sharks on display! Test your knowledge on local shark species! Measure yourself against the lengths of common sharks! You’re sure to have a JAWSOME time at the Estuarium Summer Shark Spree. More info: Summer Shark Spree – Puget Sound Estuarium
- Free Admission Day: Saturday, July 9th, 11:00 – 4:00 PM
- Shark Talk with Lisa Hillier, Fish & Wildlife Biologist at the WA Department of Fish & Wildlife: Sunday, July 17th 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
- Shark Dissection: Saturday, July 23rd, 2:30 PM
- Free Admission Day: Sunday, August 7th, 11:00 – 4:00 PM
- Shark Dissection: Sunday, August 13th, 2:30 PM
- Shark Talk with Dayv Lowry, Protected Resource Division of NOAA: Sunday, August 21st, 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Visiting Puget Sound Estuarium
Stop by during open hours to explore Salish Sea education.
- Location: Puget Sound Estuarium, 309 State Ave. NE Olympia, WA 98501
- Hours: Saturday & Sunday: 11:00 – 4:00 PM.
- Admission: $8/family, $5/adult, $3/youth (18 and under), Free with EBT
- Website: Puget Sound Estuarium (pugetsoundestuarium.org)