The John G. Shedd Aquarium announced on Friday, June 5, A.D. 2020 that in the spring a number of animal babies had been born or hatched at the facility located on the Museum Campus along Chicago’s lakeshore in the Chicago Park District’s Burnham Park east of Grant Park. The baby animals that had hatched or been born included four Magellanic penguin chicks, four species of seahorse babies, over thirty endangered Barrens topminnows, two caiman lizard hatchlings, six bonnethead shark pups, and six cownose ray pups. In addition, the Shedd Aquarium was able to announce two whales and one dolphin on site were pregnant: beluga whales Naya and Bella and Pacific white-sided dolphin Katrl.
“New life gives us hope and informs our growing understanding of aquatic animals and how we can successfully safeguard their future,” stated Peggy Sloan, Chief Animal Operations Officer at the Shedd Aquarium and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (A.Z.A.). “Every birth is significant and represents Shedd Aquarium’s leadership in aquatic science and our impact on sustaining aquatic biodiversity.”
The penguin colony at the Shedd Aquarium is in nesting and breeding season. Four Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) chicks have hatched. [In addition to Magellanic penguins, the Shedd Aquarium is also home to rockhopper penguins.] The chicks are being raised by their parents in their nests. The animal care team is monitoring them to confirm the parents are giving appropriate care.
Between March and May, four different seahorse species were born at the Shedd Aquarium. The four species of seahorse in question were longsnout seahorse, yellow seahorse, Barbour’s seahorse, and White’s seahorse. Male seahorses are called boars. After a courtship ritual that may go on for hours or even days, female seahorses transfer their eggs to the brood pouch of seahorse boars, which self-fertilize the eggs. Seahorses and their close relatives, sea dragons, are unique in the animal kingdom in that the male of the species get pregnant and give birth. The gestation period takes two to four weeks. The fathers carry fertilized embryos until the babies are ready to be born. Neither the fathers nor the mothers provide parental care after birth. Fully-formed seahorse babies, called fry, are on their own after they are born. Fourteen of the forty-seven known seahorse species were identified in the 21st Century.
Thirty topminnows hatched at the Shedd Aquarium. The introduction of invasive species has had a devastating impact on topminnows in the wild. In support of the Tennessee Aquarium, the Shedd Aquarium is spawning and raising topminnows and sending them to Tennessee once they reach maturity a year after they hatch.
In April, two caiman lizards, which are semi-aquatic animals native to South America, hatched. In 2005, the Shedd Aquarium became the first North American aquarium to successfully breed the species. The Shedd Aquarium is breeding caiman lizards under the A.Z.A.’s Caiman Lizards Species Survival Plan (S.S.P.). Their survival in the wild is threatened due to illegal trade in their skins.
Around the time the Shedd aquarium closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown, six bonnethead sharks were born in a nursery at the Shedd Aquarium. When the Shedd Aquarium re-opens, the public can see the Shedd Aquarium’s bonnethead shark population in the popular exhibit Caribbean Reef.
Since February, Shedd Aquarium animal caretakers have welcome six cownose ray (Rhinoptera bonasus) pups. The stingrays are born full formed. The cownose ray is one of many types of stingrays at the Shedd Aquarium, which houses both freshwater and marine species of stingrays.
Bella, a thirteen-year-old beluga whale, and Naya, a thirty-one-year-old beluga whale, are pregnant and should give birth a month apart over the summer. [A male beluga whale calf was born to Mauyuk (pronounced My-yack), which means “soft snow,” at the Shedd Aquarium on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The Shedd Aquarium invited the public to vote on his name and after almost 20,000 votes had been cast by the evening of Thursday, November 21, 2019, the Shedd Aquarium announced he was named Annik (pronounced AH-nik), which means “blizzard.”] The Shedd Aquarium stated, “As with any cetacean birth, the aquarium remains cautiously optimistic and laser focused on the health of both mothers and their developing calves. Caring for beluga mothers and calves has provided Shedd with the skills to lead and participate in several wild beluga rescue operations and gives the aquarium the expertise to advise on conservation management policies that safeguard wile beluga populations.”
Katrl, a thirty-three-year-old Pacific white-wide dolphin, is also expecting to give birth to a calf later this year, in the autumn. This will be the first dolphin birth at the Shedd aquarium since 2016. The Shedd Aquarium stated, “Animal caretakers and Shedd’s veterinary team are checking in on Katrl regularly and performing sonograms to watch the calf’s development. Shedd is one of the few places where a Pacific white-sided dolphin birth has been observed, providing scientists and the public with an opportunity to connect with and understand this rarely-studied species of dolphin.”
“We look forward to welcoming guests back to the aquarium soon, to provide them with the opportunity to look nature in the eye and to experience the spark of hope brought by our newest arrivals.,” stated Ms. Sloan. The Shedd Aquarium closed to the public on Friday, March 13, A.D. 2020. Since then, the “essential” staff members have continued to work on site to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals, maintenance of water systems, and continue research. A re-opening date has not yet been set.
Help Keep the Lights On
If you like this content, you can help keep more of it coming with a one-time donation of as little as $1.