Shedd aquarists provide enrichment, training to improve animal quality of life

ByZach Ben-Amots WLS logo
Monday, July 12, 2021
An Ocean on the Lake: Enrichment & Training at Shedd Aquarium
An Ocean on the Lake: Enrichment & Training at Shedd Aquarium

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Training and enrichment are the tools that Shedd Aquarium staff use to build relationships with aquatic animals, while helping them maintain natural species behavior in order to improve their overall quality of life. In order to make enrichment activities effective, Shedd staff use positive reinforcement, which can be anything from a belly rub to a new toy to a favorite snack.

"Positive reinforcement (means) adding a positive consequence to the environment when the animals do something we want them to do," said Steve Aibel, Senior Director of Animal Behavior and Training.

Every animal has some form of enrichment at Shedd, but some have a special need for mental and physical stimulation. The penguins gained some internet fame over the pandemic after people around the world saw their field trips around Chicago. But that's only one example.

Shedd's boa constrictor also goes on field trips around the museum, meeting and observing other animals from outside their glass enclosures. Zebra sharks use their unique ability to continue breathing without swimming (which other sharks cannot do) to interact directly with aquarists during their feeding sessions.

Freshwater stingrays get sinking toys filled with fish, which allows them to mimic natural behaviors of scouring for food on the river beds where they live. The giant pacific octopus and the much small red octopus both have one-on-one sessions with aquarists to play with toys and stimulate their brains.

"Enrichment & Training" is episode nine of 'An Ocean On The Lake,' the multi-part behind-the-scenes series from ABC 7 Chicago and Shedd Aquarium. This segment showcases what trainers and aquarists do to enrich the lives of the animals they work with, while developing the relationships to improve overall animal welfare. Find every episode on our homepage for "An Ocean On The Lake," or watch on our ABC 7 Chicago connected TV App.