Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is located at the Museum Campus, just south of Grant Park. The campus, which also comprises the nearby Field Museum of Natural History and Max Adler Planetarium, is one of Chicago’s major tourist draws.
The aquarium is one of the most popular attractions in the city – it welcomes approximately two million visitors a year – and if you plan a visit during summer time you can expect some long lines.
The history of the aquarium goes back to 1924 when John Graves Shedd, a prominent businessman, donated 2 million dollar for the creation of an aquarium in Chicago – later followed by another one million dollar donation. He formed the Shedd Aquarium Society, which was responsible for the construction and operation of the aquarium.
The society selected a location near the lake for its future aquarium and commissioned the architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White with the design of the building.
The Aquarium opened in December 1929 and Chicagoans visited the new attraction in droves even though there were no fish yet. Saltwater arrived in 1930, and was transported by train from Florida. The exhibits, displayed around a central rotunda, opened not much later.
The original reservoirs contains more than 1.5 million gallons (57,000 hectoliter) of water. The Aquarium continued to regularly transport fresh saltwater from Florida until 1970, when it started creating its own saltwater on site.
The Aquarium first expanded in 1971 when the Caribbean Reef was added. And in 1991 the magnificent oceanarium – the world’s largest marine mammal habitat – opened, doubling the size of the aquarium. Another exhibit, Amazon Rising, opened in 2000 and the Wild Reef opened three years later, in 2003.
Shedd Aquarium houses some 20,000 aquatic animals representing 1,500 different species. The aquarium contains several exhibits, the most notable of which are the Caribbean Reef, the Wild Reef and the Oceanarium.
The Caribbean reef contains about seventy species of animals, including sharks and stingrays. You get a good overview of all the life in the Caribbean reef from behind the glass windows, and several cameras inside the 90,000 gallons (340,000 liter) large aquarium allow you to see the animals up close.
The fish are fed five times daily by divers who give the audience some information about the animals while feeding them.
The highlight of the aquarium is the huge (3 million gallon – 114,000 hectoliter) oceanarium, which gives an overview of the sealife at the pacific northwest coast. The oceanarium contains Beluga whales, sea otters and seals, but the stars here are the Pacific white-sided dolphins. Shows are scheduled during the day. Thanks to the massiveness of the aquarium, the dolphins have quite some room to show off their speed to the spectators.
You can watch them from the underwater viewing gallery or during the shows from the “amphitheater”.
Other exhibits at Shedd Aquarium include the Tropical Water Gallery with fresh water animals of the Americas and Amazon Rising, an exhibit with animals such as piranhas, snakes, iguanas and catfish. More exotic animals are on display in the Asia, Africa and Australia Gallery. Not all animals are exotic though as there’s also an Illinois Lakes and Rivers Gallery with animals found throughout the Great Lakes such as river otters.
The Wild Reef shows the underwater ecosystem of a Philippine coral reef. The twenty-five sharks are some of the most popular fish found in this exhibit which is housed in an underground wing.
The Aquarium was originally built in 1929 by the architects Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. They designed a neo-classical octagonal building constructed of white marble. The modern 1991 glass extension of the building was designed by Lohan Associates.
For more information on the aquarium and info on prices, directions and opening hours, visit the Chicago Shedd Aquarium website.