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Granddad: the Aquarium's Oldest Fish

Granddad is like the Rolling Stones. Or blue jeans. Or the original Volkswagen Beetle. Timeless.

Our beloved Australian lungfish, Granddad, has lived at Shedd Aquarium since 1933. Full-grown when he arrived for A Century of Progress International Exposition, he is at least 80 and possibly much older. Not only the oldest resident at Shedd, Granddad has survived longer than any fish in all the aquariums of the world.

For all the hoopla surrounding this esteemed senior, Granddad seems unmoved—literally. At 25 pounds and 4 feet long, he lingers near the habitat floor like a fallen log. Except to catch some air. That’s right. In addition to gills, Australian lungfish have a primitive lung that permits them to breathe through their mouths during seasonal declines in water levels and dissolved oxygen content. Granddad surfaces to sip some air about every 25 minutes.

Documents detailing Granddad’s storied oceanic and transcontinental voyage were recently discovered in a long-forgotten storage room. Walter Chute, the aquarium’s director, wanted flashy, rare fishes to tempt the 10 million visitors expected to descend upon Chicago for the exposition. When he learned that the steamship his collecting crew was taking to Hawaii was also headed to Australia, he speedily sent a wish list to the Sydney aquarium’s director. The letter arrived just days before the crew, but Chute’s list was fulfilled—and Granddad among the coveted collection. The Nautilus, Shedd’s railroad car, then transported 30 containers of exotic fishes from the dock in Los Angeles to Chicago. Granddad and his mate, who died in 1980, were the first exhibited in the United States, attracting nearly 4.5 million visitors during the exposition’s two-year run.

His life journey is not over yet. Today, four other lungfish live with Granddad as part of a breeding program to combat the species’ threatened status. So far, despite aquarists’ attempts to reproduce mood-triggering temperatures and pH levels, the lungfish haven’t spawned. These long-lived fish don’t breed prolifically in the wild either. But who knows? We may someday call Granddad Dad instead.

 

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