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Shedd Aquarium Explores the Microscopic Aquatic World in New Plankton Revealed Exhibit

New Experience Zooms into the Unique and Important Role of Plankton

July 06, 2023

12 jars of different colored liquid displayed with florescent lights behind them

Shedd Aquarium’s newest display Plankton Revealed highlights the importance of tiny organisms that could be overlooked like zooplankton (animals) and phytoplankton (plants) but have a significant impact on aquatic ecosystems. Developed and designed exclusively by Shedd Aquarium, Plankton Revealed explores the culturing of plankton that are microscopic nutrient-rich food sources for many species like jellies, seahorses, cuttlefish and other animals throughout the aquarium. Though Shedd has been culturing plankton for years, guests have never had the opportunity to see this work up close or understand its impacts. Now, guests will discover how zooplankton respond to light to find their food sources, explore nursery habitats with juvenile animals to learn about their growth and development and uncover how this endeavor to grow plankton in-house is benefiting our blue planet.

Plankton Revealed will feature new interactive elements, including an experience allowing guests to peer through the lens of a magnifying glass to get an up-close view of zooplankton features, difficult to spot with the naked eye. Plankton Revealed is also Shedd’s first fully bilingual display, with Spanish translations for all copy. This will provide guests with a glimpse of what’s to come with the aquarium’s upcoming Centennial Commitment renovations.

“Guests tend to marvel at sea horses, stingrays and sturgeons, but their success is directly related to the base of the food web, which is plankton,” said Holly Akkerman, associate art director at Shedd Aquarium. “We hope this display serves as a reminder next time you are admiring amazing animals, grateful for the food we eat, or thankful for fresh, clean air we breathe, that plankton helps sustain all life on Earth.”

As visitors explore from the bottom of the food chain, they will unpack the importance of plankton. By peering at jars and tubes of colorful bubbling liquids with floating algae, guests learn firsthand how plankton exist as drifters that are carried by water movements like tides and currents. Discovering aquatic food webs, uncover how phytoplankton floats at the surface of the water to photosynthesize generating oxygen and absorbing carbon emissions, zooplankton the consume them to acquire energy and grow, and larval fishes, jellies and sea horses rely on these plankton for a well-balanced diet.

Guests then have a chance to connect with the nursery, where they might have a chance to see animals like green chromis (Chromis viridis), white-spotted jellyfish (Phyllorhiza punctata), flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) and more. In the nursery, the animal care team will occasionally rotate in new animals, species and update the dates on when they were born or hatched.

“People often wonder how the aquarium feeds 32,000 animals, and the first thought might not be these microscopic plants and animals,” said Rachel Zak, manager of aquarium sustainability at Shedd Aquarium. “But hopefully by bringing the bottom of the food chain to the forefront, we can showcase the importance of plankton to the care of our animals at Shedd and beyond.”

At Shedd, this endeavor to grow these living organisms that are at the bottom of the food chain, or what is called live foods, supports many sustainable breeding programs. This helps advance the aquarium’s understanding of species in our care and how to aid in their conservation in the wild. By growing a variety of plankton here, it allows the animal care team to know exactly what they are supplying to the animals to provide the best possible nutrition. Further, live foods can reduce the need to source food from the ocean, as well as reduce the packing waste and carbon footprint generated from shipping food. Plankton Revealed brings this behind-the-scenes story forward.

Access to Plankton Revealed is included in admission and available now. Guests can find the display between Oceans and At Home on the Great Lakes galleries. Admission at the aquarium includes access to all aquarium exhibits and touch experiences, as well as the opportunity to attend Animal Spotlights throughout the day in the Abbott Oceanarium.

VISUALS: High resolution photos and video are available for download:
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez
Video credits: ©Shedd Aquarium/Sam Cejtin & ©Shedd Aquarium/Gavin Wright

Press Release in Spanish
Nota de prensa en español