Shedd Aquarium Showcases Otterly Adorable Animal & Trainer Relationships This Valentine's Day

Shedd Aquarium, a leader in animal care, is showing some Valentine’s Day love this year by highlighting animal and trainer relationships that are guaranteed to make you feel warm and fuzzy on February 14! Animal care trainers showcase the most rewarding part of their jobs, favorite memories, and what a typical day is like working with these special animals.


Nickel, a rescued green sea turtle, and Michelle Sattler, collections manager for the Waters of the World galleries and Caribbean Reef, were o-fish-ally brought together in 2003. Accordingly to Sattler, being able to provide Nickel with a home that’s safe and stimulating has been very rewarding. Nickel enjoys being scrubbed on her shell, so much in fact that Shedd installed scrub brushes on the bottom of her platform so she can scrub whenever she wants! Nickel enjoys eating bok choy, which she will receive as a special treat on Valentine’s Day. Nickel is also cared about deeply by Matt Finn, her rescuer in Florida, who was recently reunited with Nickel this past November.

A high resolution photo is available for download:
Photo credit:©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez


Another special story involves Mari, a sea otter, who was brought to Shedd after a well-meaning kayaker took her to wildlife officials, unknowingly separating the pup from her mother. Since U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided she couldn’t return to the wild, Shedd provided her a forever home. Lana Vanagasem and other members of the animal care team hand-raised the otter pup in 2003. This significant otter, Mari, needed around-the-clock care, including grooming, bottle-feeding, transitioning to solid food and introductions to the rest of Shedd’s sea otters. Vanagasem shared her favorite moment with Mari: when the pup would crawl into her lap onto a white towel to groom and dry off. For Valentine’s Day, the otters will probably receive a few extra ice enrichment treats!

A high resolution photo is available for download:
Photo credit:©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez


In addition, Lana Vanagasem shares a close relationship with Charlotte, a Magellanic penguin previously known as penguin chick number 410. Charlotte hatched at Shedd and was hand-raised by Vanagasem and members of the animal care team. According to Vanagasem, penguins are interesting in that their affection with trainers and other penguins sometimes will wax and wane depending on other factors such as finding a mate and that becoming their focus. She also notes that penguins physically recognize the trainers and how rewarding it is to walk out to their habitat and have all the birds exit the water and follow her around!

High resolution photos are available for download:
Photo credit:©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez


Zoë Hagberg, an aquarist who works with animals in Shedd’s special exhibit, Amphibians, has formed an attachment with the aquarium’s Amazon milk frogs. This specific group of Amazon milk frogs was born at Shedd last year around Valentine’s Day and were raised by Hagberg since they were little tadpoles, which was an incredibly special and meaningful experience for her. Hagberg enjoys watching the frogs to see if they are exhibiting any new behaviors or interactions with the other frogs. According to Hagberg, the job never gets boring for her.

High resolution photos are available for download:
Photo credit:©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez


When our beluga whale Kayavak became an orphan at 5 months old, supervisor of marine mammals Jessica Whiton was a member of the team that provided around-the-clock care for the animal. Over the years Whiton has taught Kayavak her basic husbandry behaviors. After working with Kayavak for 17½ years, Whiton describes her relationship with the beluga as spending time with an “old friend”. Whiton is currently teaching Kayavak to select her own reinforcements after completing a behavior, whether it’s a tongue scratch or fish! Whiton especially enjoys that her job is science-based, but that it also depends on relationship building, trust and communication.

High resolution photos are available for download:
Photo credit:©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez 

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