“New Sea Otter Extraordinary Experience at the Shedd Aquarium,” by S.M. O’Connor

 

The John G. Shedd Aquarium has introduced the first sea otter encounter program in Chicago.  It rolled out incrementally to give the sea otters time to become accustomed to new activities and interactions and allow the staff to adapt to a new schedule.  Initially, sea otter encounters were held only on weekends, starting on March 3rd and became more frequent in April.

The Extraordinary Experience last about one hour.  Tickets are $109.95 for adults and children twelve-and-over, and $94.95 for children (ages six-to-eleven), or $64.95 for members.  Sea otter encounters and other Extraordinary Experiences can be booked at www.sheddaquarium.org/extraordinary. This price point covers the sea otter encounter, express entry, admission to the full aquarium, and a ticket to the next available aquatic presentation.  Please note that due to proximity to the sea otter’s food, the Shedd Aquarium recommends that guests with shellfish and seafood allergies not participate in the sea otter encounters.

Children must be six or over to participate.  Children ages six-to-eleven must be accompanied by a paying adult and parents or guardians must sign waivers for participants who are seventeen or younger.

The New Sea Otter Extraordinary Experience brings participants behind-the-scenes to interact with the playful otters through an acrylic, clear partition and includes food preparation and feeding, opportunities to touch an otter, and play activities before snapping a digital photo to wrap things up. The encounter supports Shedd’s ongoing animal care, as well as the aquarium’s conservation and Animal Response Team rescue efforts.

Beyond capitalizing on the warm feelings the public has for sea otters, the experience is designed to bring guests eye-to-eye with nature on an individual animal level. Engaging activities help participants learn about sea otter biology and behavior, diet, and more. Guests also hear about threats facing the endangered animals in the wild and efforts from the Shedd’s Animal Response Team to safeguard wild otters in need.

BRH_2157Figure 1 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: A Shedd Aquarium staff member is showing a sea otter in a habitat to a family on February 18, 2019.

BRH_2444Figure 2 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: A Shedd Aquarium staff member allows a gust to touch the paw of a sea otter on February 18, 2019.

BRH_2437Figure 3 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: This is another view of a Shedd Aquarium staff member allowing an adult guest to touch the paw of a sea otter.

BRH_2298Figure 4 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: A guest views a sea otter up close at the Shedd Aquarium on February 18, 2019.

BRH_2294Figure 5 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: A guest holds the paw of a sea otter at the Shedd Aquarium on February 18, 2019.

BRH_2456Figure 6 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: A Shedd Aquarium employee holds a sea otter’s paw in her hand, enabling a child to touch that same paw with his fingertip on February 18, 2019.

BRH_2279Figure 7 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: The boy looks closely at the sea otter through a partition at the Shedd Aquarium.  Judging by my eight-year-old niece’s reaction to these photos, this New Sea Otter Extraordinary Experience should be very popular with children.

BRH_2246Figure 8 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: Here, we see the same boy touching the sea otter’s paw with food.

BRH_2233Figure 9 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: Here, we see the boy offering food to the sea otter.

BRH_2226Figure 10 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: Here, we see the boy watching the sea otter eat up close at the Shedd Aquarium.

BRH_2181Figure 11 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: Here, we see Shedd Aquarium employee showing the boy on February 18, 2019 how she prepares meals for the sea otter.

BRH_2182Figure 12 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: A Shedd Aquarium appears to be showing a boy how she inserts food in a toy for the sea otter.

BRH_2177Figure 13 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: This is how a tray of food for the seat otter appears at the Shedd Aquarium on February 18, 2019.   A seat otter eats a quarter of his or her weight on a daily basis.

BRH_2192Figure 14 Credit: Brenna Hernandez, © Shedd Aquarium Caption: Here, a Shedd Aquarium employee allows adult guests to help her prepare a meal for the sea otter on February 18, 2019.

 

“Guests have never been able to come face to face with the otters like this before at Shedd, and we cannot wait for them to see what we see everyday,” stated Steve Aibel, Senior Director of Marine Mammals at the Shedd Aquarium. “While they may come in because of the gregarious and engaging nature of the animals, we hope that connecting our otters up close and seeing them look back at you will have a real impact on folks. We want guests to walk away with a greater love for aquatic animals and a real understanding on why they need our help.”[1]

Chances are that participants in each encounter will interact with an otter that was rescued from the wild, as three of the four otters at the Shedd Aquarium were found stranded as young pups. While handing over a treat or touching an otter’s fur, guests hear from animal care staff about the animal’s story, why pups end up abandoned and how often it happens. They also get to see how caring for these animals daily has led to the Shedd Aquarium answering the call for decades when otters are found and need recovery across the country.

[1] I corrected a misspelling in Mr. Aibel’s statement in the press release.

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