Smiles greet families at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium

Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2013, 3:20 pm
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By Mary Lu Laffey
A Facebook message I received brightened an otherwise gray winter day.

My grandniece Erin and her husband, Steve, were going to be in Chicago and invited me to spend a day with them and my great-grandnieces, Vivian, 11, and Sophie, 4. I answered an enthusiastic "Yes!" then inserted a question that has never failed me when entertaining out of town guests, especially younger generations: Please let me know what the girls want to do.

Asking the kids gets them involved and gives them ownership of the day. Cross-generational travel doesn't often land in my lap. So I was thrilled to be experiencing one of the lasting trends in travel, family travel.

If Erin's mom had been along, it would have been a four-generation day.To my delight, neither of the girls said tea at the American Girl shop. Nothing against American Girl dolls, but there are American Girl stores in a lot of American cities. I hoped they would decide on a place that was singular to Chicago.

Vivian said she wanted to visit the Shedd Aquarium. Sophie was OK with anything big sis wanted.
Like most travelers, Viv turned to the Internet to check out Chicago and uncovered information about the Jellies exhibit. A day among the waters of the world was a perfect escape.

We met at the Shedd's side entrance near the turnaround — check the Shedd's website as valet parking often is available on weekends. It now wasSophie's turn to tell me what she wanted to see inside this enormous structure where 32,500 animals make their home.

So we talked and discovered that both of us knew of the same fish—a clownfish named Nemo.

Armed with that knowledge, we stepped inside, picked up a floor map and marked our route to see the Jellies, stop by the Belugas, catch the aquatic show and find Nemo.

What's not to like about Beluga whales? All 18-feet, 3,300 pounds. Found in Arctic waters, these gentle giants always look like they are smiling, but scientists say it's the natural shape of their mouths. Belugas also have a neck so they can look around them — to spot visitors like us or, more importantly, food. Belugas can eat up to 80 pounds of seafood per day.

Mauyak, a new mother, used to eat 32 pounds of seafood per day. Now, while nursing her 200-pound calf, she is up to 88 pounds per day. This baby Beluga is Mauyak's third calf born at the Shedd. Mother and baby can be found with the other Belugas in Secluded Bay, a 400,000-gallon habitat that is visible on two levels.

When we arrived at the Jellies exhibit, the dim lighting helped make the colors and transparency of this species more visible. It also hushed the crowds. The soaring dolphins in the aquatic show brought their share of well-deserved applause and laughter. But here, the ambience is fittingly calm. Jellyfish really are mesmerizing.

Like Vivian, I found myself lingering at one tank. Armed with a camera, she photographed the entire visit. I now use one of her photos of a Japanese sea nettle as my screensaver. It's a beauty.

I picked up information about the anemone clownfish on the Shedd's website. Curious little creatures, they live among a host anemone and rarely leave it. Snuggling, the literature said, within the deadly stinging tentacles. The anemone protects the clownfish from predators and, in return, it cleans, feeds and chases away predators of the anemone host.

It was Vivian who first spotted the wall tank with a clownfish idly swimming in a corner low enough for a 4-year-old's line of sight. And promptly captured the image on camera.

Sophie pointed as she whispered, "There he is."

Since Disney's movie "Finding Nemo," this tank has had its share of "oh's" and "ah's" when clownfish swim by.

When another clownfish came into view, a chill down my spine threatened the moment. For me, it was an "uh-oh," but not for Sophie.

"Look," she said pointing at the other clownfish, "There's Nemo's daddy."

Which left each of us with a smile on our faces.

Shedd Aquarium: Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Museum Campus, Chicago. Last year 1.1 million visitors to the Shedd Aquarium toured "Jellies," a special exhibit about a species that has been around for more than 500 million years. Jellyfish have no brains, bones or sight. Beauty, however, is another matter. Take a look:
The Shedd offers Illinois resident discount days, meaning free general admission and reduced ticket prices to other exhibits. Visit for a 2013 schedule.
For other discount days and discounted ticket availability, check online:
Getting there from the Quad Cities: Make a morning at the Shedd part of a family spring break weekend in Chicago. Driving? Leave the car at the hotel and take a taxi or public transportation to the Museum Campus. The front desk will have information about Chicago Transit Authority weekend passes for the entire family. Get a heads up at

In 2004, the Shedd Aquarium used the liquefied equivalent of 36 acres of soybeans to re-cover its 144,703-square-foot roof to conserve energy, avoid polluting and save money. The decreased demand on Shedd's air-conditioning system should save 95,000 kilowatt hours annually and $210,000 over the life of the roof. The roof coating is flame-resistant and waterproof. Shedd is the first public institution in Chicago with a soybean roof.
Source: Shedd Aquarium


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