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In depth

Interview with Ted A. Beattie, CEO, Shedd Aquarium


Ted A. Beattie has been at the helm of the Shedd Aquarium since 1994, during which time the aquarium has experienced record growth and enormous change.  Charles Read caught up with him as part of our series of interviews with key Ted A Beattie Shedd Aquariumexecutives from the public aquarium industry in the run in to September’s International Aquarium Congress in Cape Town.

Related:Interview with Dr Dave Gibson, MD, National Marine Aquarium8th International Aquarium Congress: Internationally Renowned Scientists to Speak / US Survey Shows Zoo and Aquarium Visitors More Concerned About Climate Change

Please tell us about the conservation partnerships the aquarium has and of notable successes.

Shedd Aquarium’s mission is that animals connect you to the living world, inspiring you to make a difference, and conservation partnerships are critical to our mission’s success. Shedd currently supports several collaborative conservation initiatives, including field studies of coral in the Caribbean, fishes in Shedd Aquarium BelugasGuyana, and seahorses in the Philippines. Our partners include government agencies, universities, NGO’s and accredited zoos and aquariums.

The subjects of Shedd’s conservation research come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny juvenile corals to one-ton beluga whales. In Alaska, Shedd’s scientists apply knowledge from our animal care techniques to help to protect the health and safety of wild belugas during collaborative field studies. In the Bahamas, we partner with the Bahamas National Trust, the NGO responsible for overseeing the country’s national park system, to protect one of the world’s most endangered iguanas. Shedd’s extensive work resulted in the expansion of a national park to protect the lizards’ dwindling habitat.

At home, Shedd’s animal care initiatives also contribute to conservation by increasing our understanding of how to support species populations in aquariums in the wild. The knowledge gained through our staff’s everyday care, training, veterinary and husbandry efforts allows us to share vital information about animal biology and behavior with international aquarium and conservation communities.

The Great Lakes

What are the major threats to the Lakes?

The people and communities of our region are inextricably linked to healthy Great Lakes. Our cities, farms, industries, and recreation opportunities thrive because of their presence. However, it can be challenging to look out over this vast blue expanse and “see” the enormous conservation challenges beneath the surface. Crucial local habitats are being degraded and lost. Invasive species endanger native species and the ecosystem’s overall heath. Poor water-use practices and threats to water quality are putting the lakes at risShedd Aquarium Sea Otterk. Shedd Aquarium’s Great Lakes programs support connections between Great Lakes people and wildlife that inspire us to keep the lakes great. After all, the Great Lakes contain 90% of the United States’ surface freshwater, and their significance to people, wildlife and ecosystems extends far beyond our region.

Does the aquarium have any specific partnerships or conservation initiatives specifically in relation to the Lakes?

Located on Lake Michigan’s shoreline, Shedd Aquarium connects people to Great Lakes issues through conservation science, stories about Great Lakes wildlife and ecosystems, and idea-sharing with key stakeholders throughout the region.

Shedd’s Great Lakes science initiatives develop and leverage crucial research partnerships with universities and agencies to advance understanding of Great Lakes waters, wildlife and habitats in order to develop effective management strategies. Examples include:

  • Shedd is partnering with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and David Suzuki Foundation to conduct a peer-reviewed reassessment of the sustainability of closed-system yellow perch aquaculture and five major Great Lakes fisheries. 
  • Shedd Aquarium penguins nestingShedd is also partnering with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to re-evaluate the current state list of threatened and endangered species listings. Shedd will be conducting on-the-ground population assessments to update this important information.
  • Shedd is partnering with the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Limnology to understand and unravel the mysteries of nearshore migratory fish.

The Obama Administration made the Great Lakes a priority. In practice what has this meant?

In recent years, we’ve witnessed more attention given to protecting and preserving the Great Lakes. Because of increased awareness, we are seeing greater bipartisan and international efforts toward one of North America’s greatest natural resources. The federal government continues to invest financial resources to develop best management practices for our country’s greatest freshwater resource. Shedd Aquarium has continued to work with the White House, members of Congress, federal agencies, the Canadian government and national and international partners in furthering awareness about the issues affecting the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes were not included in the Smithsonian’s  Ocean Hall exhibit as they  were not classified as an “ocean”.  Has this position changed and if not why is such a change important?

The Great Lakes are the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem, supporting more than 1, 000 animal species and 42 million people. In recognition of their Shedd Aquarium dolphin calf piquest bornsignificance, Shedd and the Smithsonian have worked closely together to create Great Lakes content for the Ocean Today kiosk at Shedd, an engaging multi-media experience that introduces guests to stories about the oceans, marine life, and scientific exploration. Shedd’s unique content for its Ocean Today kiosk provides more than 2 million guests—many from outside the Great Lakes region—with opportunities to learn about Great Lakes conservation issues.

Shedd Aquarium today

Attendance at  Shedd is over 2 million annual guests a year.  What has been the driving force behind this growth?

At Shedd, we pride ourselves in creating top-tier experiences for our guests that showcase the most diverse collection of species of any aquarium in the world: more than 32, 500 animals representing nearly 1, 500 species. We offer diverse engagements for every guest through our extraordinary animals, educational experiences for all ages, and conservation initiatives at home and across the globe. Shedd is a must-see, world-class institution that offers an engaging, unique experience that cannot be had elsewhere, whether in the form of special exhibits that highlight amazing animals not always found in our permanent animal collection, or in once-in-a-lifetime programs such as beluga and penguin encounters.

Shedd is constantly listening to guests and making adjustments based on their feedback in order to ensure that guest expectations match the experience they receive. After all, when guests come to Shedd Aquarium, they’re not just visiting a cultural attraction: they’re building lifelong connections to animal care and conservation. We are grateful for their presence and feedback, and for ongoing support by our extended family of guests, members and donors that continue to make us “The World’s Aquarium.”

Shedd Aquarium jelly fish sea nettlerWhat can you tell us about new exhibits or developments?

Thanks to visitor feedback, our popular special exhibit, Jellies, sponsored by Walgreens, has been extended through 2013. Since launching the exhibit last spring, more than one million guests have experienced the mysterious world of these unique creatures that survive and thrive without bones, blood, or brains.

Coming up in 2013, Shedd will open an enhanced and expanded Great Lakes exhibit, which transforms the current Local Waters gallery into an interactive stroll through a lakeside ecosystem with abundant wildlife. Featuring stories of life along all five Great Lakes, the exhibit showcases the region’s rich biological diversity through an expanded animal collection, an interactive wetland, and new interpretation and “touch tank” experiences.

Of course caring for one of the world’s most diverse aquatic animal collections means there are always new additions to the Shedd Aquarium family– whether through births, breeding cooperatives with other aquariums, animal rescues and rehabilitations, or sustainable acquisitions. I invite your readers to stop by the next time they’re in Chicago and see what’s new! 

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