A Deep Dive into the Portrait of Ocean Conservationist Julie Packard

Learn about a leading scientist who works to save the oceans and discover some of the marine life she helps protect.

Julie Packard (2019) by Hope GangloffSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Julie Packard has dedicated her career as a marine biologist to conserving the oceans. She helped found the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1978 and currently serves as its executive director. Packard also chairs the Board of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, an organization that partners with scientists and engineers to create new tools for conducting deep-ocean research.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a regional focus. Its exhibits showcase the diverse organisms and habitats of the Monterey Bay on California’s central coast and draw nearly two million visitors each year.

Hovden Cannery, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, Monterey County, CA by Historic American Engineering RecordSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

It is located on Cannery Row, a part of the city of Monterey where the fish-packing industry thrived during the early twentieth century. After World War II, many of these businesses closed. The Packard family renovated Hovden Cannery, built in 1916, in order to house the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which opened to the public in 1984.

Julie Packard (2019) by Hope GangloffSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Under Packard’s leadership, the aquarium sponsors several public outreach initiatives, including its popular Seafood Watch guide to help consumers make sustainable seafood choices at stores and restaurants, and live web cams that allow viewers to visit exhibits virtually.  

In this video, Packard speaks about the importance of oceans to the earth’s climate.

Julie Packard (2019) by Hope GangloffSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

In 2019, the National Portrait Gallery commissioned artist Hope Gangloff to paint this striking portrait of Packard, which shows her posed in front of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s impressive Pacific kelp forest exhibit. 

The artist, who is known for creating large, brightly colored portraits, spent a week making sketches and photographs of Packard and the underwater exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in preparation for the painting.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s kelp forest is housed in a massive open-air tank with windows measuring nearly 28 feet (8.5 meters) high, making it one of the tallest aquarium displays in the world. The tank offers visitors a diver’s view of a vibrant kelp forest, abundant with fish, invertebrates, and algae.

Julie Packard (2019) by Hope GangloffSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

PORTRAITS: Underwater with Julie Packard and Hope Gangloff

On an episode of the National Portrait Gallery’s PORTRAITS podcast, Packard talks with the museum’s director, Kim Sajet, about the painting. It was important to Packard that the artist represent the various species accurately.

Gangloff’s portrait celebrates the important contributions that Packard has made through her work at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and elsewhere while highlighting the marine life that she seeks to protect. Let’s take a closer look at some of the animals and plants found in the portrait.

California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher)

The sheephead is known for its large teeth. When Packard visited Gangloff’s New York City studio to see the portrait in progress, she recommended the artist enlarge the sheephead’s teeth for greater accuracy. These teeth help the fish crush its hard-shelled prey, including sea urchins, lobsters, and crabs.

California sheephead are sequential hermaphrodites, which means that they change sex during their lifetimes. The fish are born female and change sex to male once they grow large enough. Male sheephead, such as the one pictured here, are distinguished from the females by their large, bulging foreheads. 

Garibaldi Fish (Hypsypops rubicundus)

These fish stand out for their bright orange color. During the reproduction process, male garibaldi build nesting sites and guard the fertilized eggs until they hatch. The garibaldi, a protected species, is the official state marine fish of California.


Several kinds of rockfish live in the kelp forest exhibit. Although rockfish species vary by size, shape, and color, they all have distinctive, venomous spines along their dorsal fins. Rockfish have long lifespans and can live to be more than 150 years old.

Leopard Sharks (Triakis semifasciata)

These sharks are common along California’s coast. Their mouths are found on the flat undersides of their heads, making it easy for them to feed on small animals, such as clams and crabs, that hide in the sandy ocean floor. 

Giant Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas)

The sea bass, like the one pictured in the upper-left corner of the painting, is known as the “gentle giant” of the kelp forest habitat. When not sprinting after prey, giant sea bass typically swim very slowly. They can grow to be more than seven feet long and weigh over 500 pounds. Since they are critically endangered, California passed a series of laws to protect them from overfishing.

Giant and Bull Kelp

The animals in the kelp forest exhibit swim among towering fronds of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) and blades of bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) that form canopies near the water’s surface. Both species of algae cling to the rocky surface of the seafloor and grow toward the water’s surface. 

In the Monterey Bay, giant kelp grows approximately twelve inches each day. The kelp provides food and shelter for the many animals that inhabit the kelp forest. It also attracts the sea otters that help keep kelp forests healthy by feeding on sea urchins, whose presence, if left unchecked, would decimate the kelp beds.

Gangloff’s vivid color palette and depiction of sunlight filtering down through the aquarium’s open-air tank create a sense of visual unity, aligning Packard with the various plants and animals that populate the kelp forest exhibit. Even the colors and textures of the marine biologist’s scarf and jacket resemble elements of the aquatic habitat behind her.

PORTRAITS: Underwater with Julie Packard and Hope Gangloff

The portrait emphasizes the interconnections and interdependencies of this important marine ecosystem as well as Packard’s important role in advocating for its conservation. In this podcast clip, Packard explains why the oceans are so important to global health.

Credits: Story

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; funded by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Board of Trustees
© Hope Gangloff

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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