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Animal Care at Shedd

With more than 32,500 animals, representing more than 1,500 species, Shedd’s animal-care staff members have full schedules. Combined, the Fishes and Animal Health Departments provide comprehensive care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. That’s been a Shedd tradition for 76 years and counting. Learn more about these important people:

Animal Care

With mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and even invertebrates under its care, Shedd’s Animal Health Department has more than fish on its mind. To help handle the diversity of patients, the aquarium recently built a full-scale animal hospital. Only a few aquariums in the country have such a facility, and Shedd’s 5,600-square-foot treatment center is one of the largest.

The department is split into three distinct branches, each responsible for a major element of animal care.

The microbiology division monitors the presence of microorganisms in the aquatic habitats.

The water systems and analyses division creates, examines and maintains the water systems of our animals’ habitats. 

The veterinary services division provides round-the-clock medical care in the conventional sense, focusing on preventive treatment.


Shedd’s Fishes Department is chock full of aquarists – people who make their living caring for aquarium residents. Their charges run the gamut, from river otters and iguanas to frogs and anacondas. And, of course, lots of fishes. Locations vary, too. From the waters of Philippines to the waters of the Pacific Northwest to lakes and rivers from around the world. Fresh water, salt water, brackish water, they cover it all. Of the more than 1,500 species we have at Shedd, there are only about 10 species that the Fishes staffers aren’t responsible for. The diversity in the Fishes Department collection is matched by the diversity of knowledge and skills of our aquarists.
Marine Mammals

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 zoos and aquariums 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, penguins and other animals 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 1,700-pound beluga whale positions itself for a mouth exam or to allow a veterinarian to take a blood sample from its 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 its trainer program has produced seven marine mammal curators at zoos and aquariums around the country.


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