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Lesson One: Shedd Habitat Designer

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A photo of Shedd's original four female sea otters, received after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Shedd's first four female otters were Chenik, Kenai, Nikishka, and Nuka.

A rescue sea otter feeding from bottle.

Orphaned sea otter pup Luna arrived at Shedd Aquarium on October 28, 2015.

In 1989, when the Abbott Oceanarium was still under construction, no one could have planned that Shedd would become a leader in rehabilitating and raising sea otter infants and in training these frisky, feisty cousins of weasels. No inland aquarium or zoo even had sea otters then.

But Shedd was building a massive, immersive re-creation of the rugged coast of the Pacific Northwest, and it wouldn’t be authentic without sea otters. Instead of adult otters, however, Shedd received four orphaned pups from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, beginning a permanent commitment to rescuing, rehabilitating and providing forever homes to the most vulnerable members of this species.

Since then, Shedd has provided a home to many sea otter pups, including one of the most recent rescues, Luna. Luna’s odyssey began on Sept. 30, 2015, when her insistent high-pitched cries caught the attention of someone taking an evening walk along central California’s Coastways Beach. Awareness about stranding networks runs high on the coasts, and it only took two phone calls to arrange to get rescuers from Monterey Bay Aquarium to the remote site early the next morning.

The 2-pound pup, estimated to be 5 days old, was admitted to the aquarium’s sea otter rehabilitation program, where she received intensive care for the next four weeks. Monterey Bay Aquarium contacted Shedd, one of the few other U.S. zoological facilities with the appropriate space and expert staff to care for infant sea otters. Members of our sea otter and animal health teams joined their Monterey Bay colleagues to care for the pup. On Oct. 28, they arrived back in Chicago with the now 5-week-old, 5½-pound otter.

Lesson Two: Otter Enrichment Design

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Rescued sea otter pup Ellie chews on sustainably sourced clams, one of otters' favorite treats.

All animals have certain behaviors that help them to survive in the wild. For example, sea otters forage for food on the ocean floor and use rocks to crack open hard shells to eat the animals inside. When Shedd Aquarium recues an animal that can no longer survive in the wild, like sea otter Luna, we need to know everything about how it behaves. 

How does this animal find its food? When and where does it rest? How does it interact with its environment, and what senses does it use the most? When we know these things, we can provide a forever home for a rescued animal that fulfills all of its needs.

Animal care experts at Shedd Aquarium spend time observing animals’ behaviors to learn more about them and then create habitats that allow those animals to be themselves. This lesson will give you the chance to take on the role of animal care expert by observing animal behaviors and designing enrichment items to give them the mental and physical exercise that they would get in the ocean.

Lesson Three: Penguin Rescue and Rehabilitation

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Staff member Kurt Heizmann works with SANCCOB Seabird Centre experts in Cape Town, Africa, caring for fluffy Magellanic penguin chicks.

Every year, Shedd animal care specialists travel to South Africa to assist with the rehabilitation and release of abandoned African penguin chicks. Shedd has partnered with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, or SANCCOB, to give these endangered chicks a chance to survive.

Animal care specialists Michael Pratt, Valyn Dall and Maura Redding were among those who did rotations, assisting with handling, feeding and caring for birds that needed help.

 With the wild African penguin population estimated at less than 2 percent of historic numbers, every chick counts. In this lesson, you will learn why it is so important to protect animals like penguins—not just for their sake, but for the sake of all of the other animals in their ecosystem as well.

Lesson Four: Coral Rescue and Rehabilitation

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Shedd experts snorkle in the warm waters of the Caribbean as they wait and prepare for the annual elkhorn and staghorn coral spawning.

Shedd Aquarium rescues animals big and small – sometimes very small! Even corals need rescuing from time to time, and Shedd Aquarium has animal experts who can help. In November 2011, Shedd experts were called upon by the Navy to help rescue 1,500 federally protected coral colonies that were living on a sea wall that had to be rebuilt – which meant that the corals needed to be moved. 

Shedd experts assisted with the rescue by giving a home to coral specimens that were too small to be relocated to marine sanctuaries. Those corals now live in the Wild Reef exhibit alongside tropical fishes and invertebrates that depend on coral to survive.

According to collections manager Mark Schick, “This team effort with the Navy and our conservation partners allowed us to save coral that might have been lost, aid our ongoing research to understand how to protect coral all over the world, and give Shedd guests the opportunity to see corals that are rarely exhibited in public aquariums.”

Mark Schick has also used his expertise to help with the SECORE International project, which improves coral colonies’ rates of reproduction to ensure that reefs can survive long into the future. In this lesson, you will learn about why rescuing corals is so important for the health of the oceans. Every colony counts!

Lesson Five: Citizen Science

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Two young participants in Shedd's Summer Road Trip look through binoculars at something in the woods.
A Shedd animal expert holds a salamander, about the size of her thumb, found in the wild in Illinois.

Shedd Aquarium works every day to protect wildlife, and you can too! You might choose a career path that allows you to help with animal welfare, rescue and rehabilitation at a place like Shedd Aquarium. You might be a scientist who studies animals to learn what they need to survive in the wild. You might be someone who teaches or shares what you know about protecting the planet with others.

The possibilities for protecting wildlife are endless, and you don’t have to wait until you’ve graduated from college to make a difference.

Citizen science projects give people who are not researchers an opportunity to help scientists with their work. For example, Shedd Aquarium created iSeahorse, a citizen science project that allows people who visit the coral reefs of the Philippines to report sightings of endangered seahorses, providing scientists with much more data than they could collect on their own. They can then use this data to protect the reefs where these seahorses live. The following activities will give you examples and ideas of ways to help protect wildlife all over the world.