Extraordinary Experiences and Stingray Touch at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium

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the parenting column ·

Did you know that the Shedd Aquarium is home to 32,500 animals? Visitors can see species from oceans, rivers, islands and lakes such as: a giant pacific octopus and moon jellies in the Waters of the World exhibit; sea turtles, a moray eel, parrot fish and sharks in the 90,000-gallon circular Caribbean Reef; anacondas, a dwarf caiman, piranhas and spiders in Amazon Rising; pacific white-sided dolphins, sea otters, sea lions, sea stars and beluga whales in the Abbott Oceanarium; sharks, a sawfish, and a brilliant display of corals in the Wild Reef; and much more. Beyond what’s on exhibit, guests can participate in additional adventures: Extraordinary Experiences and the Stingray Touch.

Wild Reef Behind-the-Scenes Tour

New to the Shedd’s Extraordinary Experiences, the Wild Reef Behind-the-Scenes-Tour lets adventurers learn about the exhibit from experts, see what sharks and other fish eat firsthand and feed schooling fish.

Registration is required in advance, tours operate on Sundays at 9:45 a.m., the minimum age for participants is 10 years and the price (including admission) is $89.95 per person.

Beluga Encounter

This inimitable experience is one like no other and definitely a bucket list item for many people. Not only will you get to learn about beluga whales, and specifically about the ones that live at the Shedd, but also you will have the opportunity to don waders and get in the tank to meet these fascinating animals. The Grainger Beluga Habitat is where you’ll be involved in a personal meet-and-greet; learn about training and animal care; and feed, touch and interact with one of the Shedd’s beluga whales. Gutsy guests can even get the whole kit and caboodle by signaling the whale to spray water in your face. If you’re looking for a remarkable once-in-a-lifetime encounter, this is it.

“I love the individual connections I make with each animal. They all have their own unique traits,” said Tim Ward, a seasoned animal care specialist. “It’s exciting to build trust with each particular animal. What works for one animal doesn’t necessarily work for another. Working with 34 animals with 34 different temperaments, but having a special bond with each one makes working with the animals that much more fun.”

The price is $250 per person, which includes a framed photograph. Shedd Aquarium members receive a $25 discount. Two 90-minute sessions are available on Fri.-Sun. Participants must be at least 12 years old and 60 inches tall. Children ages 12-15 must be accompanied by a participating adult.

Trainer for a Day

Has your child ever said, “I want to work with dolphins when I grow up”? If so, this is their chance to try everything out and see how the occupation fits. Guests will get to see what it’s like to train and feed animals-belugas, dolphins, sea otters, sea lions and penguins-behind-the-scenes on a marine mammal trainers’ daily routine.

This encounter is for children aged 12 and up. A paying adult must accompany children aged 12-15. The price is $350 per person or $325 for members. The four-hour sessions are available on Fri. and Sat. from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. or 1:30-5:30 p.m.

Penguin Encounter

Do you have young kids? Then this encounter is for them. The Shedd operates a 30-minute session with the penguins. Kids ages 4 and up will meet a penguin, touch its feathers, participate in training and learn incredible tidbits.

The price is $68.95 for adults and $58.95 for children, which includes a photograph, museum admission, aquatic show admission, admission to the Jellies special exhibit, and the Stingray Touch. A paying adult must accompany children aged 4-11 and there must be one adult for every 4-6 year old. Encounters are offered Friday through Sunday.

An outing to the aquarium isn’t complete without a trip to the Shedd’s outdoor Stingray Touch, available from now through Oct. Feel the Cownose stingrays ductile-like upper bodies as they gracefully glide through the water in the 18,000-gallon habitat. These social animals will swim in groups, right by you, flipping up their synchronized wing flaps.

“I’ve found that I love the connection between caring for animals and interacting with our guests, and I’ve recognized how important this is in encouraging people to develop a greater appreciation of animal species and our environment,” said Alice Bereman, senior aquarist, currently supervising the husbandry care of both the Stingray Touch and Rivers exhibits. “It’s fun to see how excited kids and families get when they walk through Stingray Touch. I’ll see someone get splashed by a particularly lively ray, and it’s always the same reaction: they realize what just happened and they barrel over in laughter. I feel that in providing these special experiences we are bringing nature closer to people, especially to those who may not have the means to enjoy these animals in their natural environment. And I hope that any fear, myth, disinterestedness, or misunderstanding of these wonderful animals is forgotten and replaced with knowledge, inspiration and respect.”

Admission to the Stingray Touch is $3 for members and $5 for non-members.

“When I see families at Extraordinary Experiences or Stingray Touch, and I see smiling faces, it makes me feel even better about what we are doing here at the Shedd,” said Ward. “Smiles show me people are connecting with animals and interested in seeing and learning more.”

“We’re also talking to guests who are always curious about what we’re doing. It’s important for aquarists and keepers to come out and interact with guests and pass along their knowledge of these animals, hopefully inspiring someone else,” said Bereman.

For more information about these programs, the animals or the exhibits, visit: www.sheddaquarium.org.