Friday is World Oceans Day, the largest international celebration of the ocean. Long after the party ends, conservation of our big blue planet continues here at Shedd.
Shedd is “The World’s Aquarium” because of our incredibly diverse animal collection, which also enables us to fill a unique niche in rescuing an array of marine life. Nickel, the green sea turtle that nearly didn’t survive a boat collision, may be our iconic rescue animal—but visit Shedd and you’ll see many animals that the aquarium rehabilitated after they were stranded, confiscated, or displaced from their aquatic homes:
• Shedd has become an expert in rehabilitating sea otter pups since it took in several orphans after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Only a handful of zoological facilities in the United States are able to take in orphaned and injured sea otters, since their care requires significant experience and resources. In the Abbott Oceanarium, nearly all of the sea otters you see were rescued, including our newest addition, Cayucos, who was discovered stranded off the coast of California in December 2011.
• Biff was part of a sea lion group in Oregon that ate endangered Chinook salmon at the Bonneville Dam. Biff and his companions had been relocated but kept coming back to the dam for easy meals. Rather than euthanize them, the federal government and the marine mammal display community collaborated to find them homes at accredited aquariums and zoos. Now Biff gets his meals from our animal husbandry team.
• In November 2011, Shedd and several other U.S. aquariums and zoos participated in a rescue operation to relocate more than 1,500 coral colonies and fragments from a deteriorating pier that the United States Navy needed to replace. Look for some of these rescued corals in Shedd’s seahorse habitat. (The corals were collected under permit in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. National marine sanctuaries protect natural and historical marine resources through education, research and management.)
In addition to the rehabilitated animals on exhibit, Shedd is involved with rescue efforts around the world. In our own backyard, Shedd is the first responder for helping many animals, including corals, octopuses, sea cucumbers, sea turtles and sharks, that have been confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at O’Hare International Airport or other ports of entry. Some of these protected species were being illegally traded; others simply lacked necessary import or export permits.
• Shedd’s elusive hellbender—a salamander that can grow to 2 feet long—was part of a large shipment of amphibians and reptiles passing through O’Hare. While it is not illegal to export hellbenders, this animal was not properly documented, so USFWS inspectors confiscated the animal and brought it to Shedd. Search for it in the Local Waters gallery.
• The Fly River turtle—a fascinating, and threatened, species—in the Rivers gallery might have been bound for the black market when it was intercepted by federal wildlife officials in Florida. The turtle was placed at Shedd by the Turtle Survival Alliance, a global partnership of aquariums, zoos, biologists and researchers.
Farther afield, Shedd has helped rescue penguins in South Africa, sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and beluga whales in Alaska and the St. Lawrence River. Our unique experience with more than 1,500 species makes it possible for us to advise rescue efforts for animals of all shapes and sizes.
World Oceans Day puts the spotlight on ocean conservation issues on June 8; behind the scenes at Shedd, conserving the world’s aquatic life is a year-round operation.
Meg Matthews, conservation communications