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Nature’s ferocity and rugged beauty are on full display as you make your way through the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Nestled among a crashing ocean, towering conifers and rippling mountains — there is a nature escape for nearly every type of traveler. 

Brisk, fresh air fills your lungs and provides a sense of adventure that makes people want to unplug from technology and get lost among breathtaking natural wonders.


Sea otters in Seward, Alaska float among boats in a harbor, socializing.

As this diverse natural display would suggest, the Pacific Northwest is also exploding with diverse species to encounter and observe. While watching incredible terrestrial animals like wolves and deer, you might see something take flight among the trees — a barred owl, like Rainier, one of the rescued birds of prey at Shedd Aquarium.

Moving toward the coast, you may hear the California sea lions before you see them. Males of this species can grow upwards of 600 pounds. When they aren’t mating, hunting or marking their territory, these marine mammals spend a lot of time basking out in the sun.

A barred owl looks forward with green leaves in background.

Barred owl Rainier, one of the rescued birds of prey at Shedd Aquarium.

Laguna perches on the edge of a habitat behind the scenes at Shedd Aquarium.

Laguna, the California Sea Lion

Sharing the coastline are some of the furriest marine mammals on the planet — southern and northern sea otters. With no blubber to keep them warm, these animals rely on a thick coat of fur to keep them warm. With an estimated one million hairs per square inch, sea otters spend a lot of time grooming to ensure their fur stays in good condition.

When they aren’t grooming, sea otters are constantly on the move. They eat a diverse diet and consume about 25 percent of their body weight per day as another means of keeping themselves insulated from the cold temperature of the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the day, the rescued otters at Shedd can be seen diving and foraging for food or taking a nap in the water or on the embankment in their exhibit.

Two sea otter pups lie side by side with their eyes squinted shut in slumber.

Sea otters rely on a thick coat of fur to keep them warm.

A curious group of beluga whales swims just beneath the surface, peering at an underwater camera.

Beluga whales are also known as the "canaries of the sea".

If you venture out into the water a bit further, you might recognize another familiar aquatic species — beluga whales! These great white whales are found among the chilly waters of the north Pacific and Arctic Ocean. Thick layers of blubber keep them comfortable as they navigate the open ocean, coves and inlets for fish to eat.

During a visit to Shedd Aquarium, keep an eye out for feeding and enrichment sessions that happen throughout the day with the aquarium’s multigenerational beluga pod. You might hear an impressive range of sounds that belugas can make. These clicks, whistles and other vocalizations all come through the belugas’ blowholes and are used to communicate with their pod mates.

Conserving Nature

While you appreciate beauty from afar amidst the Pacific Northwest, it’s important to remember that several of these incredible species were nearly lost in the not-so-distant past, and many still face serious threats to their future. But we can make all the difference.

Decades ago, Americans came together to pass sweeping legislation that fueled the recovery of several species like California sea lions and sea otters. Today, these species are recovering and continue to benefit from those protections.

That same collective action can help us avoid biodiversity loss for generations, as we look to combat the climate crisis. Shedd Aquarium encourages all nature lovers and travelers to reach out to their elected officials to remind them of your support for conservation legislation that expands our ability to safeguard aquatic life.

One specific movement is the 30 by 30 initiative, which seeks to grant full protections to 30 percent of the Earth’s wild spaces by the year 2030. By protecting the places they call home, we can do immense good for all species – from barred owls to beluga whales and everything in between.

For more actionable steps to join us in protecting our shared blue planet, stay connected with Shedd Aquarium via our social media and consider joining our new online community: Surge.

And if you’re looking for a taste of the Pacific Northwest a little closer to Chicago, come check out the aquarium’s Abbott Oceanarium, which was modeled after the region and is home to some truly remarkable animals. Safe travels!

On your next visit to Shedd, consider checking out Hilton whether you are doing a staycation in Chicago or traveling from afar.

—Johnny Ford, Assistant Director of Public Relations