Among the 22,000 marine animals that call the Shedd Aquarium home is an Australian lungfish that arrived in 1933 for the World’s Fair that year.
“Granddad” – believed to be in his 80s now and the oldest fish in a public aquarium in the world – also marked a milestone this year: the aquarium’s 75th anniversary.
“It’s kind of cool that it bridges the generational gaps,” Shedd spokesman Roger Germann said. “Visitors can say I’ve seen that fish, the same fish my parents and grandparents saw.”
The Shedd’s official opening day was May 30, 1930. The following year, more than 4 million people visited what has become a popular landmark on Lake Michigan.
Over the years, cutting-edge innovations introduced at the Shedd and one-of-a-kind exhibits have helped change the experience for aquarium visitors around the country. Some favourites include the floor-to ceiling acrylic window of a shark tank and a floor that allows crowds to see rays swimming beneath their feet.
About two million people visit the Shedd Aquarium every year and on a recent afternoon it seemed like every one of them was standing in front of Dan Gazanfari.
But the Purdue University student said seeing the aquarium’s Pacific white-sided dolphins were worth the wait.
“It’s at the top of our list,” said Kathy Young, of Grand Rapids, Mich., who waded through a crush of people with her two young daughters.
Staffers say Shedd has become a major cultural attraction in Chicago and the top drawing aquarium in the United States two of the last three years.
“Most (aquariums) had the same postcard tanks, but the Shedd started to exhibit them in a way that had never been done,” Germann said. “From there it has evolved.”
In 1971, the Caribbean Reef was built, a 90,000 gallon round tank that was one of the first multi-species exhibits in the world. The aquarium also has been credited for its conservation and educational efforts.
When the Shedd Aquarium opened its Seahorse Symphony exhibit, experts warned it was doomed to fail. But for 5 1/2 years, the exhibit – which featured some 20 species of seahorses and other closely related marine life – had a history-making run that was supposed to last only 18 months.
Other firsts include medical treatment for a grouper left in a bucket at the aquarium’s door in 1987. “Bubba” was found to have a cancerous tumor a few years ago.
“As far as we know it was the first fish at an aquarium to undergo chemotherapy for cancer,” said Germann. “He’s been cancer free for two years.”
The Shedd and its neighbor, the Adler Planetarium, were both built with money donated by civic and business leaders. John G. Shedd, a self-made millionaire, provided $2 million for the aquarium’s construction.