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Shedd Aquarium Announces Staff Reduction Measures in Response to Impacts of COVID-19

June 10, 2020

Shedd's Oceanarium sits on the lake next to the Chicago skyline.

Due to significant financial impacts resulting from prolonged closure in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, Shedd Aquarium announced today the difficult decision to implement an organization-wide reduction in workforce following additional substantial cuts to operational expenses.

Since closing its doors to the public on March 13, the aquarium has continued its commitment to pay all employees — regardless of job responsibilities and ability to work remotely — through June 20. A commitment to staff fully endorsed by the Board of Trustees.

Effective immediately, the aquarium will eliminate 36 positions (8.3% of overall workforce) and furlough an additional 171 positions – of which more than half are guest relations ambassadors that will begin to return to welcome guests once the aquarium reopens to the public. Additionally, a compensation reduction will be implemented for all employees. Aquarium leadership began salary adjustments over a month ago, with cuts ranging up to 30 percent, and the president & CEO taking the highest adjustment.

“The decision to terminate employees through no fault of their own was both gut-wrenching and yet necessary to ensure the long-term viability of the aquarium,” said Dr. Bridget Coughlin, president and CEO. “Moving forward, we are laser-focused on ensuring we are ready to safely welcome guests back as well as continuing to launch deeply compelling online programs such as virtual summer camps, educational social media posts, and Stay Home with Shedd Aquarium. Our outdoor summer programs such as Kayak for Conservation on the Chicago River are more needed now than ever before and will help advance our Mission even during diminished attendance onsite.”

As the duration of closure grows longer, the organization is anticipating a minimum revenue shortfall of $23 million through the end of 2020. The significant majority of the aquarium’s operating budget is dependent on admissions as well as food and gift shop sales, program registrations and more. These revenue sources, as well as memberships and donor support, allow the aquarium to welcome one-third, or over 600,000, of its annual 1.9 million guests for free annually.

“If history has shown us anything, it is that Shedd Aquarium is a resilient organization.”

Dr. Bridget Coughlin, president and CEO

Employees with eliminated positions were notified individually on Tuesday. They will receive additional compensation and extended healthcare coverage while also being eligible for unemployment benefits. Furloughed employees were notified Wednesday and will continue to receive employee benefits.

“If history has shown us anything, it is that Shedd Aquarium is a resilient organization. Over the last 90 years we have weathered ups and downs throughout significant moments in time – but that resilience was always made possible through the resolve and generosity of the communities we serve,” added Coughlin. “I want to thank our board of trustees, generous donors, corporate partners, loyal members, volunteers and engaged audiences for their support that has gotten us to this point. And, thank you to our dedicated staff – both those who continue to work and those that are patiently waiting to come back. Together, we are strong, and will continue to drive hard, collectively toward a horizon of full recovery.”

Coinciding with the organization’s 90th anniversary on May 30 and with an eye towards eventual reopening, the public can support Shedd’s essential activities and experiences by contributing at https://www.sheddaquarium.org/it-s-time.

Aquarium leadership will continue to monitor developments and follow guidance from federal, state, and local authorities to determine when the institution will reopen. For continued updates, please follow Shedd’s social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and visit https://www.sheddaquarium.org/.