sea otter eatingAs a 7-year old, my food selections were predictably unadventurous. I would not eat a baked potato if it touched broccoli. Purple vegetables were inconceivable. If it was sweet, however, it had my name written all over it. Can you imagine anyone pickier than a second-grader?

At Shedd Aquarium, we have five friends who take first place in the finicky eater division: our beloved sea otters. Their palates can detect the faintest whiff of a new flavor or smell. The otters’ trainers are not even allowed to use perfumes, lotions, or strong shampoos. When it comes to dinner, if the sea otters don’t like the shellfish, pollock, crab, or squid they are fed, they let their caretakers know!

At Shedd, shrimp is an important component of the sea otters’ diet. Our otters have to like the shrimp we buy, but it’s also critical that the 12,000 pounds of shrimp we purchase annually come from a sustainable source.

The majority of imported shrimp from fisheries and farms poses significant environmental concerns.  Bottom trawling is the primary method for catching shrimp in the wild. Bottom trawls are heavy nets that are pulled along the bottom of the ocean floor. As they trawl, they scrape up everything: shrimp, but also fishes, sea turtles, ancient corals and other aquatic life. In addition to the destruction of critical marine habitats, the extra animals caught become bycatch: unintentional marine life caught and discarded during commercial fishing. It is estimated that every pound of imported shrimp netted in the wild is accompanied by 10 to 20 pounds of bycatch.

That’s why our animal care staff teamed up with Shedd’s Right Bite program to search for a source of affordable, sustainable—and, of course, tasty—shrimp. The Right Bite team searched high and low, making phone calls to shrimp farmers from Maryland to Alabama. You can bet they were surprised to hear whose dinner plate their shrimp could end up on!

After the sea otters had a taste test and gave their paws-up, we found a delectable match with Wood’s Fisheries. Wood’s Fisheries produces farm-raised shrimp in a closed-system inland location in northwest Florida. In this farming system, water from shrimp ponds does not pollute the surrounding environment. Instead, Wood’s Fisheries cleans and treats the water before it re-enters the water supply. To top it off, the company does not add any chemicals, preservatives, or antibiotics to their shrimp ponds, which makes the sea otters and Shedd staff extra happy. Of course, sustainable seafood can make you happy, too. If you are a seafood lover, check out Right Bite’s sustainable seafood wallet guide and join the sea otters in supporting healthy, abundant oceans.

—Posted by Brooke Havlik