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12 Major Moments from 12 Months of Animal Care and Conservation at Shedd Aquarium

December 13, 2022

A sea otter pokes its head out of the water to peer at the camera.

It was a busy year at Shedd, with numerous animal arrivals and multi-team participation in conservation work in the Chicago area and around the globe. Below discover 12 major animal and conservation moments from 2022 to represent Shedd's year-long efforts to provide exceptional care for aquatic animals and protect our blue planet.

1. Granddad is found to be one of the oldest aquarium fish, having lived for 109 years

Scientists received DNA samples from Granddad, a past resident of Shedd’s Rivers gallery – the presumed longest-living lungfish known in human care – and utilized an epigenetic aging clock developed specifically for the species. The research indicates the age of Granddad at his death to be 109 years. Granddad was gifted to Shedd from Australia in 1933 and lived for 84 years until his death in 2017. These findings provide a revised maximum age to aid in the conservation management of this species. Overall, the Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) is now deemed the longest-living freshwater sub-tropical fish species in the world.

2. A green anaconda, named Beatrix by Shedd members, slithers onto the scene

A green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) arrived at Shedd’s Amazon Rising exhibit and is an impressive sight at 10 feet 7 inches in length. The green anaconda is considered one of the largest snakes in the world, and this new female, estimated to be five years old, is anticipated to grow to between 14 and 20 feet. This fascinating animal’s presence at Shedd helps inspire guests to make a difference in supporting the health of critical ecosystems such as the Amazon River basin, where habitat destruction can displace these important apex predators.

3. Lending a hand for zebra shark repopulation in Indonesia

Zebra sharks (Stegostoma fasciatum)are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and certain populations of zebra sharks around the world are nearing extinction. Shedd staff are helping with efforts to increase the species’ population in the wild. The StAR Project, led by ReShark, is taking place near one of the sharks’ native habitats, off the coast of Raja Ampat, Indonesia and involves more than 60 global partners. By leveraging the proven breeding success of accredited aquariums like Shedd, sharks are being purpose-bred for the StAR project, with the long-term intent of releasing the pups hatched from aquarium-bred eggs and reared in human care into a marine protected area off the shores of Raja Ampat. In an exciting step for the project, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium sent the first several eggs to Indonesia this fall, and Shedd assistant director of animal operations and habitats, Lise Watson — who has more than 30 years of shark husbandry experience — journeyed 9,000 miles to the Raja Ampat Research and Conservation Center to help share her skills and support the staff who are raising the pups for future release. The pups are progressing well and will continue to grow and practice their survival skills until their release.

4. 11 Blanding’s turtles released into a protected, native habitat

Shedd and the Forest Preserves of Cook County released 11 one-year-old Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) into a forest preserve in south Cook County, helping to bolster the native population of these state-endangered animals. Through a head-start program used to stabilize or re-establish animal populations that have suffered significant declines, the animals were raised for around a year behind-the-scenes at the aquarium. During the turtles’ year of rearing at Shedd, the animal care team fed them a variety of live food so they could learn to catch prey in preparation for their eventual release. Shedd staff also kept contact to a minimum, so the turtles did not become habituated to humans. Forest Preserves partners will track the turtles in the coming years as part of their continuous active monitoring of turtles living at this location and other preserves across Cook County.

5. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) invests in Shedd’s Great Lakes freshwater research

A new collaboration with the USFWS is expanding Shedd’s capacity to study the movements of migratory suckers in the Great Lakes basin. This new partnership will help researchers understand where suckers live outside of their breeding season and what ecological role they play in those locations throughout the rest of the year. Continued research will add rich information to the scientific understanding of these species – the most abundant group of migratory fishes in the Great Lakes – and may inform future conservation management strategies.

6. Two future otter surrogate moms, Suri and Willow, find a temporary home

Shedd welcomed two female rescued southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) from Aquarium of the Pacific, a partner institution in Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Surrogacy Program. Suri and Willow will be raised at Shedd before returning to a partner institution when they are mature enough to be surrogate mothers to future orphaned sea otter pups. Shedd is the first inland aquarium to provide a temporary home for non-releasable female otters in support of this innovative conservation program for this endangered species. These two newest arrivals are the latest in a continued collaboration among Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) facilities in sea otter rescue, rehabilitation, release and rehoming efforts. All three current otters at Shedd Luna, Cooper and Watson, were rescued and given a second chance at life.

7. Your voices heard: Willow is named by the public

After over 9,000 votes were cast through an online poll, the public chose the name Willow for the otter formally referred to by her intake number as 929, after Willow Creek Picnic Area and Beach in Monterey County, California. The animal care team chose the name Suri for the otter formerly known as 926, which refers to Big Sur, the rugged and mountainous section of the Central Californian coastline. These names help make a connection to the otters’ native habitat and explain why sea otters are a vital part of these marine ecosystems.

8. Animal Response Team rehabilitates and welcomes a third stranded otter pup

Shedd welcomed another sea otter pup in need to its rescued population - Qilak (pronounced Kee-lak), a five-month-old rescued male northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni), the third rescued otter to make his new home at the aquarium this year following Suri and Willow. Members of Shedd’s animal care and response team worked alongside partners to rehabilitate Qilak before bringing him to Shedd. For now, Qilak remains behind the scenes as he reaches milestones and builds bonds with the animal care team and other otters at Shedd. There are now a total of six rescued sea otters that call the aquarium home.

9. An Alaskan voyage to count belugas

In Sept., Shedd staff joined National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fisheries and other partners at the Cook Inlet in Alaska to support efforts to spot and count beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), endangered in the area, as part of the annual Belugas Count event. This community science opportunity brings together members of the public in collaboration with federal and state agencies, as well as local or national conservation organizations, like Shedd, to focus on conserving the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale.

10. Can poop protect penguin populations?

Members of Shedd Aquarium’s animal care team traveled to South America, where they monitored a wild Magellanic penguin colony and collected guano samples for future analysis. The samples will help reveal the diets of these animals, whose population is declining, to help determine their main food sources. This decline is likely linked to distribution changes in where they can find prey. This effort is in collaboration with researchers at UC Davis and the Argentinian National Research Council’s Center for the Study of Marine Systems, who are working with Shedd to establish a new non-invasive methodology to determine what the birds are eating through the study of these samples. The results of this effort will inform future protections for the birds’ food sources.

11. Sea lion colony grows at Shedd

Shedd joyfully welcomed two new sea lions, a father and son, Charger and Kenney. With their arrival, there are now three generations of sea lions (Zalophus californianus) in the colony – with Tanner, longtime resident sea lion at Shedd and rescue, siring Charger during his time at a different Association of Zoos & Aquarium (AZA) zoological facility. These two new members show the broad impacts and legacy that a second chance at life can have for a single rescued animal like Tanner.

12. Creating important habitat in the South Branch of the Chicago River

Shedd and Urban Rivers added new habitat to the South Branch of the Chicago River, which was historically developed to serve the needs of industry and private interests by building and installing a set of wetlands over 3,000 square feet of floating islands. This new habitat is the first floating wetland installation from Shedd and Urban Rivers in this area, building on lessons learned from the Wild Mile on the river’s North Branch and expanding their partnership. The new habitat features a diverse array of native plant species, which will create new habitat above and below the water’s surface, secure nutrients for local wildlife and improve water quality, as well as make this stretch of the river more inviting for local communities to enjoy recreational activities.


High-resolution visuals of these moments are available for download:

Photo Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium (unless otherwise stated)