Explore by Animal
Animal Care at Shedd
Animal care is the No. 1 priority at Shedd. It’s also a big job, with more than 32,500 animals that run the gamut from seahorse to sea turtle, rock iguana to rockhopper penguin, and bubble coral to beluga whale. For our experts in the Fishes, Marine Mammals and Animal Health Departments, animal care is a seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year commitment—that they love.
From “ahhs” to X-rays, Shedd’s emphasis on preventive medicine enables the veterinarians to diagnose and treat any problems as early as possible—and, more importantly, identify ways to keep problems from occurring in the first place. Aquatic animal medicine is a rapidly expanding field in which Shedd’s doctors are pioneers, developing health protocols for the aquarium’s 1,500 species—and for their counterparts in the wild.
The animal health team makes house—or habitat—calls for the largest animals but sees most of the others in Shedd’s fully-equipped animal hospital, which includes digital X-ray equipment, ultrasound machines, an endoscopy unit, a surgical suite and a pharmacy. In an emergency, comprehensive medical attention is just minutes away.
Also within Shedd’s animal healthcare center is a microbiology laboratory where a variety of samples are cultured daily to watch for harmful microorganisms and quickly identify the most effective way to treat and beat them. In the state-of-the-art environmental quality lab, technicians perform 300 water-quality tests a day to monitor nearly 5 million gallons of fresh and salt water. The good health of the animals depends on the good health of their environments.
Behind the scenes of the galleries, Amazon Rising, Wild Reef and our special exhibits, you'll meet aquarists—freshwater and marine biologists who are dedicated to caring for, and advancing their profession's knowledge about, the majority of the aquarium's species. Their charges run the gamut, from river otters and iguanas to frogs and anacondas. And, of course, fishes. More than 1,000 species of fishes. Locations vary, too. From the Indo-Pacific to the Pacific Northwest to the lakes and rivers of the world. Fresh water, salt water, brackish water, the aquarists cover it all.
The diversity in the Fishes Department collection is matched by the diversity of knowledge and skills of our aquarists. They are experts in breeding endangered corals, rare frogs, sea jellies, stingrays, sharks, seahorses and scores of freshwater fish species—some for the first time in a public aquarium. They are masters at developing habitats, from reefs to rainforests to riverbanks, that provide a comfortable and natural home for the animals in their care and let guests appreciate the complexity of aquatic ecosystems. And they are always ready to share a fascinating fact about their favorite animals with guests.
Every person who becomes a marine mammal trainer at Shedd Aquarium starts with a degree in biology or marine biology, some knowledge of training theory and an understanding of the role of aquariums and zoos in conservation and education. Then, he or she goes through a rigorous 18-month on-the-job training program to learn how to care for the whales, dolphins, sea otters, sea lions and penguins in the Abbott Oceanarium. Only then is that person eligible to advance to learning how to train, which is an ongoing process.
The emphasis on training goes far beyond putting on presentations several times a day for guests. Training provides the animals with mental stimulation, it gives them physical exercise and, perhaps most importantly, it teaches them to cooperate in their own care. With a simple hand cue from a trainer, a 1,600-pound beluga whale positions herself for a mouth exam or to allow a veterinarian to take a blood sample from her tail. Teaching the animals to participate in their own healthcare makes the regular medical exams easy for staff members. And it’s easy for the animals, too, because all training is conducted like a play session, with food, toys, or verbal praise as frequent rewards.
Shedd’s animal-training program has won awards from the International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) and a number of Shedd trainers have gone on to curatorial positions at aquariums and zoos around the country.
A note from Ken Ramirez
As someone who has devoted more than 30 years to caring for and training animals, Ken knows first-hand the dedication and passion that goes into working with animals. Read his unique insight and perspective on the role organizations like Shedd play in the preservation and survival of species in the wild.