John G. Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is home to sea otters and seahorses, beluga whales and bluegills, reef sharks, stingrays, lake sturgeons, Pacific white-sided dolphins—in fact, more than 1,500 species! The not-for-profit organization, opened in 1930, attracts nearly 2 million guests each year. Through education programs, conservation research, and rescue and rehabilitation efforts around the world, Shedd sparks compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world.

Shedd Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is home to sea otters and seahorses, beluga whales and bluegills, reef sharks, stingrays, lake sturgeons, Pacific white-sided dolphins—in fact, more than 1,500 species! The not-for-profit organization, opened in 1930, attracts nearly 2 million guests each year. Through education programs, conservation research, and rescue and rehabilitation efforts around the world, Shedd sparks compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world.

Saving Endangered Species and Habitats, Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium

Saving endangered species and habitats

Shedd Aquarium is committed to the conservation of Bahamian rock iguanas, which are among the most endangered lizards in the world. Shedd’s research focuses on two subspecies endemic to Andros and the Exumas, outer islands in the Bahamas archipelago. Both were decimated by illegal hunting, predation by introduced domestic and feral animals, habitat degradation and smuggling for the illicit trade in endangered species.

Through the aquarium’s fieldwork, outreach in local schools and an advisory role in the expansion of a national park in Andros to protect critical habitat, iguana populations are recovering slowly. Research in the Exumas has expanded to monitoring the physical and behavioral effects of contact with tourists, who often offer the iguanas unnatural foods.

Data collected by Shedd biologists continue to inform management plans for the iguanas developed by the Bahamas government. This project, begun in 1994, is Shedd’s longest-running conservation research program, and Shedd is recognized internationally as the leading authority on the rock iguanas of Andros and the Exumas.

Rescue and Rehabillitation, Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium

Rescue and rehabilitation

Rescued sea otter Luna benefitted from Shedd’s experience caring for orphaned pups—going back to responders who assisted in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Today Shedd’s Animal Response Team is always ready to pack and be on a plane to assist aquatic wildlife in need.

Collaborating with other aquariums, conservation organizations and rescue facilities, our animal care experts have traveled to South Africa to help rehabilitate endangered African penguin chicks that were abandoned by their parents; assisted in a binational rescue and airlift of a lost young beluga whale in Canada; joined forces with other beluga experts from the zoological community in the first successful rescue and rehabilitation of a calf in Alaska; nursed sea lion pups back to health during a mass stranding in California; and cared for orphaned and stranded sea lion pups on California’s coast.

Most of the animals are rehabilitated for release, but when some, like sea otter pup Luna, cannot be returned to the wild, Shedd has been able to offer them specialized care in a permanent home.

Stewardship (beach clean-up), Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium

Stewardship

Shedd’s Great Lakes Action Days (GLADs) involve Chicago-area residents of all ages in the conservation of wildlife and habitats in their own backyard though cleanups and restoration projects at local beaches and forest preserves.

In 2016, volunteers collected 4,224 pounds of trash during the year-round GLADs. Nearly 2,200 volunteers removed invasive brush and weeds and planted native grasses and forbs to restore 13½ acres of lakeshore and inland habitat, with assistance from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Program. Those working in the forest preserves also assisted Shedd biologists with surveys of native amphibians and fishes.

Great Lakes Conservation Research, Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium

Great Lakes conservation research

Conservation begins at home. Shedd’s Great Lakes conservation research projects include a study of the biology and ecology of the mudpuppy, a large salamander on the Illinois threatened and endangered species list. Researchers are investigating its role in the urban aquatic environment, including in the harbor just outside Shedd and at nearby Wolf Lake.

One discovery is that mudpuppies contribute to the health of Lake Michigan by feeding on round gobies, an invasive fish species that eats the eggs of native fishes.

Accessibility, Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium

Accessibility

Shedd Aquarium is a welcoming and inclusive cultural and educational organization. In 2016, Shedd provided free admission to 600,000 guests, including more than 121,000 Illinois schoolchildren, area educators and low-income families that otherwise could not have visited. (Classes from economically disadvantaged Chicago public schools also received free bus transportation through the aquarium’s partnership with Target.)

Shedd is also making physical accessibility a high priority. New features, including a free Sensory Friendly app, enhance a Shedd visit for guests with autism and sensory-processing disorders and others living with a disability.

Sustainable Operations, Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium

Sustainable operations

In Shedd’s sustainability command center, multiple screens display data from a sub-metering system that monitors and manages the aquarium’s energy consumption in real time. The totally automated system adjusts for temperature, building occupancy and other factors for maximum efficiency. ‘

The aquarium has cut energy use by about 12 percent in the last five years—no small feat for an 89-year-old building that operates 24/7 to maintain 32,000 animals. But Shedd not only saves energy, by installing everything from LED bulbs to a new insulated thermal pane glass dome; it also produces energy with a field of 913 solar panels on its roof and a 1-megawatt battery on the grounds.

Water parameters in the animal habitats, including temperature and salinity, are also tracked and controlled by an automated system. To reduce intake of new water, Shedd safely recycles and redistributes filtered water from specific habitats to other exhibits with less exacting requirements—with just a few clicks of a mouse.

By installing new equipment and instilling new water-use habits, Shedd has cut intake in half since 2009, saving a total of 29 million gallons.

Training and Enrichment, Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium

Training and enrichment

At Shedd, regular enrichment provides a variety of species with the mental and physical stimulation they need to stay healthy and engaged. Positive-reinforcement training isn’t limited to marine mammals, or even to vertebrates.

During regular feeding sessions, Shedd’s giant Pacific octopuses also learn cooperative behaviors that enhance staffers’ ability to give the intelligent, eight-armed animals the best care possible. As curious as they are dexterous, octopuses enjoy manipulating a variety of enrichment objects, including balls and puzzles.

Animal Care, Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium

Animal care

Shedd Aquarium’s veterinarians are specialists in 1,500 species, from salamanders to sea otters, alligators to zebra sharks. Working from Shedd’s on-site, fully equipped animal hospital, they provide 32,000 “patients” with regular wellness exams.

The people who care for the animals daily—the aquarists and trainers—work closely with the animal health team members to alert them to any change in an animal’s condition or behavior before it becomes a health issue.

Through preventive health care, high-quality diets of fresh produce, restaurant-grade seafood, and/or live invertebrate foods raised at the aquarium, training and enrichment, Shedd Aquarium’s animals seldom see the doctor for anything more than a checkup.

Learning (R/V Coral Reef II), Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium

Learning

To encourage empathy, understanding and stewardship, Shedd Aquarium delivers learning programs to audiences that reflect the socioeconomic diversity of the Chicago metropolitan area with the goal of protecting aquatic life today and in the future. In all spheres of learning, Shedd is a resource for immersive science education opportunities, offering progressive, relevant and engaging programs.

Shedd’s programs offer opportunities for learners to develop critical thinking, interpersonal and leadership skills, as well as skills that will support the lifelong exploration of science and the natural world. Learning with Shedd programming ranges widely, including field experiences for high school students, professional development for educators, training for volunteers, underwater robotics for middle and high school students, field trip experiences for K-12 and more. In 2017, Shedd provided in-depth programming both on and off site to more than 175,000 learners.

Learning (Behind the Scenes Tour), Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez, From the collection of: Shedd Aquarium
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