“Shedd Aquarium’s Second COVID-19 Re-Opening”

Shedd Aquarium Re-Opens (Again), Announces Dr. Karisa Tang Joining Staff, and Celebrates Wellington the Rockhopper Penguin Turning 33

The John G. Shedd Aquarium re-opened to the public on Saturday, January 30, A.D. 2021 after being open exclusively for Shedd Aquarium Members for three days from Wednesday 27, A.D. 2021 to Friday, 29, A.D. 2021.  To enter, it is necessary to purchase tickets online in advance.

In a press release dated January 19, A.D. 2021, the Shedd Aquarium announced it would re-open seventy days after it had re-closed because Governor J.B. Pritzker had announced the previous “evening that Chicago has now moved back into Tier 2 mitigation standards.”  The Shedd Aquarium closed in mid-March of last year during the first COVID-19 lockdown. 

It re-opened to Shedd Aquarium Members on Wednesday, July 1, A.D. 2020 and to the public on Friday, July 3, A.D. 2020. The Shedd Aquarium announced on Linked-In that it would close on Wednesday, November 18, A.D. 2020 and remain closed until Saturday, January 2, A.D. 2021. 

The Shedd Aquarium stated, “This reopening comes after Shedd voluntarily closed in November of last year to help flatten the curve of COVID-19.  During the closure, animal care teams have continued to provide excellent care to the thousands of animals at the aquarium, including updating and developing new habitats for guests to explore during their next visit.  Shedd is committed to providing Chicagoans with access to the aquatic animal world during a time when there are few options available to connect with nature.” 

Visitors can expect the Shedd Aquarium to implement the same COVID-19 protocols it adopted when it re-opened last summer.  This includes limited building capacity, requiring visitors to purchase timed-entry tickets online in advance, requiring visitors to wear masks, installing hand sanitizer stations, one-directional pathways, and enforcing any active travel advisories from the City of Chicago and State of Illinois.

Figure 1 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium Caption: This is the main entrance of the Shedd aquarium with the “It’s Time to Explore” banners on Sunday, June 28, A.D. 2020.

Figure 2 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium Caption: The man from Man with Fish is wearing a Chicago flag face mask.  The German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol produced Man with Fish, which is a painted bronze sculpture.[1]

On Thursday, December 3, A.D. 2020, the Shedd Aquarium announced that Karisa Tang, D.V.M., M.S., D.A.C.Z.M., had joined the “decorated team of animal care professionals” at the A. Watson Armour III Center for Animal Health and Welfare.  “As a staff veterinarian at the aquarium, Dr. Tang will be responsible for providing a complete suite of preventative medicine and veterinary care to the 32,000 individual animals at Shedd.  Whether it’s a six-inch American bullfrog over a 700-pound sea lion, the animal health team ensures the highest standards of professional care and welfare.”

Dr. Tang initially came to the Shedd Aquarium under the auspices of the Illinois Zoological and Aquatic Animal Residency (I.Z.A.A.R.) Program.  The Shedd Aquarium is one of three partners in the I.Z.A.A.R. Program.  According to the Shedd Aquarium, the I.Z.A.A.R. Program “provides advanced training to veterinarians who aspire to careers as specialists in zoo and aquarium clinical medicine.  Once completing the three-year IZAAR program, these residents are routinely accepted to their dream jobs at zoos and aquariums across the country, and for Dr. Tang it led her back to Shedd.”

During her residency, Dr. Tang worked with the Shedd Aquarium’s staff veterinarians and participated routine preventative examinations; saw animal patients at the onsite veterinary hospital or via house calls at their habitats; and performed medical and surgical procedures.  Additionally, Dr. Tang also conducted original research and published scientific papers to disseminate the knowledge she thereby gained.

“While no two days are the same when caring for 1,500 species of animals, it is a privilege and honor to apply my knowledge and skillset to care for the residents at a world-renowned aquarium like Shedd alongside my trusted colleagues,” stated Dr. Tang.

Even before her residency at the Shedd Aquarium’s teaching hospital, Dr. Tang had experience in the practice of veterinary and aquatic medicine.  Previously, she was a veterinarian at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, Minnesota – a suburb of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul – for a year.  That is no small zoo as it has over 4,500 specimens representing 500 animal species. 

Before she held that position, Dr. Tang had opportunities to train as a medical fellow at the Vancouver Aquarium in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and a rotating medical intern at VCA Emergency Animal Hospital and Referral Center.  She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.), her doctorate at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), and her master’s degree in veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois.  Further, she is a Diplomate of the American College of Zoological Medicine (D.A.C.Z.M.).  This makes her a board-certified specialist and she is one of fewer than thirty in the world focused on aquatic medicine.

“Dr. Tang will be a critical asset in furthering Shedd Aquarium’s first-priority of providing top-quality animal care and welfare,” stated Dr. Bill Van Bonn, the Shedd Aquarium’s Vice President of Animal Health.  “While people who visit the aquarium might be surprised to learn we have an animal hospital, they might be even more surprised to hear that it’s a teaching hospital.  It’s an incredible honor to host residents throughout the year, but this is an extraordinary privilege to now welcome Dr. Tang back to the aquarium to continue her career.”

Figure 3 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium Caption: This is a picture of Dr. Karisa Tang at the Shedd aquarium on Tuesday, November 17, A.D. 2020.

On Wednesday, December 16, A.D. 2020, the Shedd Aquarium announced that the rockhopper penguin Wellington would turn thirty-three years old that week.  In the wild, the life expectancy of a rockhopper penguin would be less than half that span of years. 

The median lifespan of a rockhopper penguin is ten-to-fifteen years in the wild.  The life expectancy of a rockhopper penguin in captivity is ten years longer at twenty-to-twenty-five years.  Thus, Wellington is considered a “geriatric penguin.” 

In a press release, the Shedd Aquarium stated, “The 33-year-old penguin has previously undergone cataract surgery, which immediately improved his eyesight and allowed him to look curiously during his regular field trips.  This is one example of the care that wild birds would not receive that keeps Wellington comfortable and thriving well into his mid-thirties.  As animals like Wellington continue to live longer, the animal care team at Shedd is learning more about geriatric care for several species like penguins.”

“As online fans have made Wellington world-famous, he’s become an ambassador for the rest of the penguin colony at Shedd, and his counterparts in the wild, and continues to draw interest and curiosity,” stated Lana Gonzalez, Manager of Penguins and Sea Otters at the Shedd Aquarium.  “We’re honored to keep sharing his story and dive deeper by highlighting some of the unique attributes about this 33-year-old penguin in hopes to inspire people to learn more and take action to protect penguins.”

Figure 4 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium Caption: This is Wellington the rockhopper penguin on steps outside the Shedd Aquarium on Monday, April 27, A.D. 2020.

Figure 5 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium Caption: This is Wellington outside the bronze doors of the Shedd Aquarium on Monday, April 27, A.D. 2020.

Figure 6 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium Caption: This is Wellington at the bronze doors of the Shedd Aquarium on Monday, April 27, A.D. 2020.

Figure 7 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium Caption: This is Wellington at the Shedd Aquarium on Monday, April 27, A.D. 2020.

Figure 8 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium Caption: This is Wellington at the Shedd Aquarium on Monday, April 27, A.D. 2020.

Figure 9 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, Shedd Aquarium Caption: This is Wellington looking at beluga whales at the Shedd Aquarium on Monday, April 27, A.D. 2020.

      The Shedd Aquarium is located on the Museum Campus in the Chicago Park District’s Burnham Park, across from Grant Park in downtown Chicago. The sponsors of the Shedd aquarium are Citadel, Coca-Cola, ComEd, the Dover Foundation, and United Airlines.  The address is 1200 South lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605.  The phone number is (312) 939-2438.  The Website is https://www.sheddaquarium.org/.


[1] Born in 1957, Mr. Balkenhol studied at the Hamburg School of Fine Arts.  Originally, he produced nudes in the style of ancient Greece and Rome, but in the 1980s he began to produce sculptures, reliefs, and drawings that depicted common people in ordinary activities with a humorous twist.

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