Passages of the Deep

passagesThe Aquarium’s Passages of the Deep exhibit allows the visitor to literally immerse themselves in the ocean realm that exists right off the Oregon coast. A series of underwater walkways leads the visitor from the dark, quiet canyons of the Orford Reef, through the sparkling and teeming waters of Halibut Flats, and finally into the vast blue expanse of the Open Sea. As you pass through these three ecosystems, you symbolically move further into the Pacific Ocean, encountering vastly different animals along the way.

Orford Reef

Located just offshore near Point Blanco, Orford Reef is a cluster of submerged haystack rock formations, only the tops of which are visible above water. Beneath the waves, the areas between these rocks form a deep reef of narrow crevasses and swaying forests of bull kelp which can reach lengths up to 100 feet (30 meters.) Far below the kelp forest, the reef provides a natural shelter from the weather and wave action, creating a stable refuge for a variety of species. One of the most predominant fish in the Orford Reef is the Rockfish, of which there are sixty different species in the Pacific Ocean. These predatory fish will often hang suspended in the still waters or hide among the drifting kelp as they stalk their unsuspecting prey.

Halibut Flats

The stormy Oregon coast is often known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific” and here is proof. In Halibut Flats, ocean life finds shelter among the sunken skeleton of a long-forgotten ship. There’s more sunlight in Halibut Flats than there was in the narrow canyons or Orford Reef and the animals are more active. In ecosystems like this one, a tremendous number of interconnected species form a vibrant underwater community. Aside from the sturgeon, lingcod, halibut and flounder that constantly patrol the shipwreck, the sandy ocean floor is a resting ground for skates, a disk-shaped species of fish related to sharks and rays. You may have to look carefully, however, as the skates’ mottled coloring is the perfect camouflage for this region of dappled sunlight.

Open Sea

The longest tunnel in Passages of the Deep also represents the world’s largest environment – the Open Sea. There are no towering kelp forests or narrow rocky channels here… just water as far as the eye can see. Most of the species represented in this exhibit live in the upper strata of water, commonly referred to as the Sunlit Zone. This area is alive with five species of shark, huge bat rays and great schools of anchovy and mackerel. The sharks are particularly popular with Aquarium visitors and all our species are native to Oregon coastal waters, including our largest specimen, the Broadnose Sevengill Shark.

Download Animal Identification Guides for these exhibits: Click here.


Other Features in Passages of the Deep

Gift Shop and Events:

As you exit Passages of the Deep, be sure to check out any activities that may be in progress in our Gleason Events Room or browse the merchandise in the Shark Zone Gift Shop.

What lives here?

Bat Ray

Myliobatis californica

Rays are related to sharks and skates. This large ray species is found in the murky intertidal zone off the Oregon coast, often lying still on the bottom where its coloring helps it blend in with the mud.

Big Skate

Raja binoculata

Skates are commonly marine animals all along the Pacific Coast. They are generally found gliding gracefully through the water along the ocean bottom or buried in the sand and mud.

Broadnose Sevengill Shark

Notorynchus cepedianus

These large sharks are common to Oregon coastal waters and are the largest shark species to reside in the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Passages of the Deep exhibit and can be distinguished by their seven gill slits (most sharks only have five) and the single dorsal fin located toward the end of their body near the caudal (tail) fin.

Bull Kelp

Nereocystis luetkeana

Bull Kelp are the dominant species in offshore kelp forests along the Oregon Coast as this species prefers colder water with a temperature range of 39° to 59° F (3.9–15°C).


Scorpaenichthys marmoratus

Spanish-speakers will quickly understand this fish’s unusual name, which translates to “big-headed.” It is a formidable-looking animal, with a large, blunted head and a thick body covered in spines.

China Rockfish

Sebastes nebulosus

One of many varieties of rockfish living off the Oregon coast, the China Rockfish is easily identified by its striking colors and mottling.

Copper Rockfish

Sebastes caurinus

Copper Rockfish have a deep, stout body. They vary in color from dark brown or olive to pink or orange-red above with patches of copper-pink and sometimes yellow.

Kelp Bass

Paralabrax clathratus

You can find this common sportfish hanging lazily among the towering cliffs of Orford Reef in the Passages of the Deep.

Kelp Greenling

Hexagrammos decagrammus

This fish is often referred to by many names, including sea trout, greenling seatrout, rock trout, kelp trout and kelp cod.

Leopard Shark

Triakis semifasciata

Perhaps one of the most strikingly beautiful sharks found along the West Coast of North America, the Leopard Shark is easily identified by the variegated pattern of bars and spots which extend all along its body.

Plumose Anemone

Metridium senile

Also known as the White-plumed Anemone, these beautiful animals have tall, slender columns when extended. They have a broad oral disc covered with short, slender, tapering tentacles.

Quillback Rockfish

Sebastes maliger

A favorite resident of our Passages of the Deep exhibit, this striking fish can be found drifting slowly through the waters of the Orford Reef and Halibut Flats habitats.

Spiny Dogfish Shark

Squalus suckleyi

This shark species is unusual in two major ways. First, it is one of only two species to have a sharp, venomous spine directly in front of its dorsal fins (the other species with this unusual defense mechanism is the Horn Shark, which is not native to Oregon).

Vermilion Rockfish

Sebastes miniatus

When visiting the Passages of the Deep, be careful in identifying these beautiful fish. They are often confused with a close relative – the Canary Rockfish, which are usually more “washed out” looking than the Vermilion Rockfish.

Yellowtail Rockfish

Sebastes flavidus

Yellowtail rockfishes are large fish with heavy bodies and large lips. They tend to be greenish or yellowish on their backs with one row of oval to rectangular pale blotches and pale underneath the lateral line.