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Dolphins Return to Renovated Seven Seas at Brookfield Zoo


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On April 14, the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, welcomed home its three dolphins—Tapeko, 28; Noelani, 6; and Allison, 4—to their newly renovated Seven Seas exhibit. 

Joining them aboard a privately chartered airplane by FedEx Custom Critical was Spree, an 8-year-old female dolphin who is on loan from Minnesota Zoo.

For the next month, the female dolphins will not be on exhibit while they acclimate to their renovated facility. The Seven Seas Dolphin Arena will reopen Memorial Day weekend. Zoo guests will be able to enjoy an updated presentation that focuses on dolphin conservation and spotlights the animals and Brookfield Zoo’s 50th year of having this species in its care. In 1960, the zoo became the first inland facility to exhibit dolphins.

Since August 2009, the dolphins have been temporarily relocated at Minnesota Zoo while their 20-year-old Seven Seas home underwent a total makeover. Improvements to the facility included upgrades to the water filtration system; installation of a new HVAC system; roof repairs; an expanded back deck space to allow for animal care needs; and a new liner system on all the pools—the main pool, two holding pools, and a medical pool. Guests will also notice a new Caribbean-themed look to the stadium, featuring a vibrantly painted mural of a sunset on the east wall of the Dolphin Arena, as well as a variety of silk plants throughout.

In the Seven Seas underwater viewing area, new graphics, informative signage, and five flat-screen monitors will illustrate dolphin conservation and education programs, all designed to inspire people to take action to help protect dolphins. For example, guests can learn about the dangers to wild dolphins fed by people. It is not only illegal to feed wild dolphins, but it greatly endangers the lives of these animals, which often suffer injury or death because they get too close to boats, fishing lines, and people. 

While the dolphins were staying at Minnesota Zoo, six marine mammal trainers from Brookfield Zoo provided their care and continuity in their training. On the return flight home, the dolphins were closely monitored by their trainers and veterinarians, and they successfully made the trip in about six hours. The move to and from Minnesota Zoo was carefully planned for more than a year and included training the dolphins for both trips. FedEx, a Chicago Zoological Society partner in this move, worked closely with zoo staff to provide a well-executed air transport.

“We are very pleased with the renovations and the dolphins’ stay at Minnesota Zoo, ” said Rita Stacey, curator of marine mammals for the Chicago Zoological Society. "The cooperative effort between Brookfield Zoo and one of its partner institutions made this entire project go extremely well.”

Like Brookfield Zoo, Minnesota Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and participates with CZS in the Bottlenose Dolphin Breeding Consortium, which consists of seven institutions.

A recommendation was made by the Bottlenose Dolphin Breeding Consortium to introduce Brookfield Zoo’s three female dolphins to Spree while they were at Minnesota. The intent, if all went well, was to have Spree make the return trip to Illinois with the other dolphins once the Seven Seas renovations were complete. Dolphins are social animals, living together in groups throughout their lives. They can consist of individual female dolphins and mother dolphins with their offspring, adult male dolphins, and juvenile male and female dolphins. These juvenile dolphins get together, and it is in these groups that they learn the rules of dolphin society. The introduction of Tapeko, Noelani, and Allison to Spree was very successful and this new group dynamic will provide Spree with a social setting that mimics one in the wild.

“While it is difficult to see Spree go, it is what’s best for her and the dolphins in the Consortium, ” said Diane Fusco, marine mammal supervisor at Minnesota Zoo. “This was an opportunity to integrate Spree into a new, solid group where she could experience positive interactions with different animals and learn from them. She will be a wonderful addition to Brookfield Zoo’s dolphin group.”

The Chicago Zoological Society is a leader in dolphin care and research and manages the Dolphin Conservation and Research Institute. The field research program¬, spearheaded by Dr. Randall Wells, the world’s preeminent authority on bottlenose dolphins¬, includes support of the longest-running wild dolphin study in the world, now 40 years old in 2010.The program’s primary focus involves the five generations of bottlenose dolphins residing year-round in Sarasota Bay, Florida, where the program originated in 1970. The program has gained an international reputation for providing high-quality information of importance to worldwide dolphin conservation.

The Chicago Zoological Society’s long-term focus on animal well-being, education, science, and fieldwork has helped to cement the organization as a world leader in conservation, ensuring that natural resources—including plants, animals, water, and whole ecosystems—will be available for future generations. CZS’s Center for Conservation Leadership expresses this leadership through a wide range of environmentally oriented programs and projects, including the Dolphin Conservation and Research Institute.

While the dolphins stayed in Minnesota, CZS dolphin fans stayed informed about their well-being via frequent online updates and Facebook posts. Fans will continue to be updated on the dolphins’ acclimation and their training to participate in the new dolphin presentation. The zoo keeps the public informed about animal happenings at and its Facebook fan page, which now has nearly 40, 000 fans.

Celebrating its 75th year, the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, inspires conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature. Open every day of the year, Brookfield Zoo is located off First Avenue between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and is also accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, CTA, and PACE bus service.

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