Shedd Aquarium’s Aquatic Show Gets A Makeover

The centerpiece to Shedd Aquarium‘s impressive animal exhibits is the Abbott Oceanarium.  Initially constructed in 1991, the enormous three million gallon complex is home to beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, penguins, sea otters, and California sea lions.


Anthony Souffle for Chicago Tribune

The method in which these animals are presented to the public has gone largely unchanged until now.  A theatrical show featuring Abbott Oceanarium’s residents and trainers titled Fantasea ran from 2009 to 2010.  In 2013, the aquarium debuted One World, a theatrical show with updated elements in 2013.

Now running alongside One World, Shedd’s all-new Aquatic Show is an educational presentation with conversational narration directly from the training and animal care staff.  Also changed are the video presentations displayed between animal segments of the show.  The updated video presentations now feature educational content about conservation initiatives as well as animal rescue efforts.


Anthony Souffle for Chicago Tribune

Andy Park, Shedd Aquarium’s artistic director has been working side by side with trainers through rehearsals since they are now heavily involved in the narration and direction of the presentation.  “This show does a much better job at framing what our priorities are, especially animal care, our rescue and rehabilitation initiatives, and our emphasis on conservation“, said Park.

Shedd is part of a growing trend across zoos and aquariums who have begun changing their narrative by evolving their animal presentations.  People love animals and zoos and aquariums have always been wonderful places for family friendly experiences and have remained a constant throughout our history.  Today, these facilities are opening more doors to guests, providing new educational opportunities, interaction experiences, and telling their behind-the-scenes stories of animal rescue and rehabilitation, wildlife conservation efforts, and research projects that are conducted by scientists at zoological facilities.

These new show formats will help answer common questions.  If you’ve ever watched a theatrical animal presentation and wondered what the whistle means, how animals learn, or what motivates an animal to participate, trainers will answer those questions as they narrate through training sessions, describing their relationships with the animals in their care and explaining techniques like operant learning and positive reinforcement.


Anthony Souffle for Chicago Tribune

The desire to conserve comes from inspiration and connection.  Zoological facilities foster the human-animal connection through education.  When a zoo or aquarium visitor is connected to an animal, a desire to help conserve them is created.  This desire leads to conservation awareness, environmental concern, and a new focus on everyday actions that make positive impacts on our planet.

Shedd’s former head of training Ken Ramirez stepped up as a consultant for the new show, guiding trainers on mic narration, something not many were very used to doing.  Ramirez is a renowned expert in positive reinforcement training methods with both terrestrial and aquatic animals.  Along with being a consultant to many facilities, Ken is also executive VP and chief training officer of Karen Pryor Clicker Training, a household name in the domestic animal training community.

The updated Aquatic Show offers flexibility in its delivery and while it still delivers animal training in action to the audience, there is now an element of training education.  We’ll be given a larger glimpse at the science behind the behavior.


Anthony Souffle for Chicago Tribune

h/t: Chicago Tribune



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