Amazing Facts About the Dolphins and Whales at Shedd Aquarium

As one of the world’s leading dolphin and beluga whale care facilities, Shedd Aquarium strongly respects, supports and complies with the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and bylaws of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), of which we are accredited and are unwavering in our commitment to providing the highest standards of care and well-being for our animals.

Shedd Aquarium will always remain transparent about our work, which is rooted in a committed focus of conserving, protecting and caring for animals to ensure their survival for generations to come.

1. Critical studies and applied conservation

Shedd Aquarium is collecting critical reproductive information, not possible to gather from studying ocean-dwelling populations, but is invaluable for conserving these species and other similar cetaceans.
• Pacific white-sided dolphins are extremely difficult to study in the wild. Shedd Aquarium provides researchers access to gain critical knowledge about this little-understood species, ranging from deeper insights into their hearing threshold to use of echolocation to reproductive physiology; critical information that can lead to life-saving innovations and environmental policies that protect wild dolphins.
• In addition to better understanding the growth and maturity of beluga whales, the animals in the care of accredited aquariums and marine parks have also contributed to the further understanding of their wild counterparts in the areas of immune function, migration patterns and habits, the effect climate change or industrial activities have on specific populations, reproductive physiology and more.
• Field researchers often partner with Shedd Aquarium and other accredited aquariums and zoos to test and validate research methods and create baseline data on species that can be applied to conservation of wild populations.

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2. Welfare

Shedd Aquarium provides dolphins with optimal welfare through its dynamic habitats and advanced animal care program.

• Shedd Aquarium, accredited by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums, provides many forms of environmental enrichment, creating daily opportunities for mental and physical stimulation as part of a well-rounded, holistic animal care program.

3. Veterinary care and nutrition

Shedd Aquarium’s robust animal care program provides the highest quality veterinary expertise and optimal nutrition to keep the dolphins healthy, active and engaged.
• The dolphins and whales at Shedd Aquarium receive optimal nutrition including a varied diet of fresh, sustainable restaurant-quality seafood daily from expert caregivers.
• Studies on nutritional needs of cetaceans are providing vital information not only for improved care but can also help protect wild cetaceans.
• Through routine health monitoring, regular preventive care checkups and expert veterinarians on staff, Shedd Aquarium provides the highest quality health care.
• Shedd Aquarium has more than 40 animal experts and trainers to monitor all of our animals’ health and well-being each day, as well as maintain their dietary, environmental and medical needs. This high level of attention and care is supported by three full-time veterinarians, several veterinary residents, an on-site animal hospital and diagnostic, environmental-quality and microbiome laboratories.

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4. Husbandry

Shedd Aquarium’s dolphin and whale care program includes dynamic training and enrichment opportunities every day that create a positive environment conducive to providing expert veterinary care and optimal animal welfare.

• Educational programs, like the aquatic presentation at Shedd Aquarium, are an animal care best practice. It is a requirement of AZA accreditation that guest demonstrations featuring animals in human care must contain conservation messaging, as well as feature activities that utilize the natural behaviors of the animals.

• Training allows for advanced veterinary care practices. Not only does it provide the animals with physical and mental stimulation, it also is an important tool in helping to routinely monitor the health of the animals and administer medical treatment when required. The training helps the animals participate in their own health care so that it is an easy, routine experience for them.

• Shedd Aquarium’s animal training program creates an environment conducive to supporting scientific research that is critical for advancing the care and conservation of dolphins and whales.

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5. Breeding

Breeding and reproduction of beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins at Shedd Aquarium is not only a natural part of the animals' life cycle, but it is also vital to advancing the scientific body of knowledge about reproduction, gestation and calf rearing that is infeasible to learn about through observations of ocean-dwelling populations.
• Shedd Aquarium is a vital science research station collecting critical reproductive information that is infeasible to gain from observing ocean-dwelling populations.
• Through around-the-clock observations by trainers and routine veterinary exams, Shedd collects information about fetal heart rates, neonatal health, nursing times, mother-calf bonding, and more—much of which would be difficult or impossible to collect from wild dolphins or belugas.
• Most of what is known about marine mammal reproduction has been learned by studying animals in zoological facilities. These studies, which have provided important scientific advances that have assisted both rescued animals and those in professional care, have the potential to be used in the field to protect marine mammals.

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