My husband and I went to Chicago this week to see one of our favorite bands, Modest Mouse, and to visit the Shedd Aquarium. We got a private tour and got to see some really awesome behind the scenes stuff.
The Caribbean Reef exhibit is the first one you see when you walk into the Shedd. It is absolutely enormous. There were a lot of large Caribbean fish in there like tangs, sharks, porkfish, parrotfish, wrasses, turtles, and a big school of Lookdowns.
I think I spent most of my time in the coral quarantine room. They had a fine collection of neon colored Fungiid corals and some of the biggest and brightest LPS I've seen. I was totally blown away by the group of gorgeous Tridacna crocea clams, soon to be on display.
What really amazed me was that the Shedd has been spawn collecting Acropora palmata corals from the Caribbean. Like all Caribbean stony corals, Acropora plamata is illegal to collect, which is why I've never seen one in person. These larger pieces pictured are about two years old.
I mentioned that it's too bad that A. palmata isn't more colorful, but at least some of the smaller pieces had green or purple colored polyps. They said that A. palmata doesn't have colored polyps in the wild, but after DNA analysis of the symbiotic Zooxanthellae algae (what gives coral its color), they found that the sexually reproduced pieces were taking in Zooxanthellae from Pacific speices of coral. That is what is giving them the colored polyps, and also makes them hardier.
Most public aquariums traditionally had fake corals in their displays, mostly because the corals were too difficult to keep, and so they could treat the displays with copper. Sure, they had reef fish and rubber coral replicas, but not much to offer the seasoned reefer. The Shedd has an exhibit called the Wild Reef, a giant room downstairs with wall-to-wall reef tanks, live coral everywhere! I was also really impressed with the Shedd's collection of Anthias.
I am a little sad that I didn't get to see the seahorse and sea dragon exhibit called "Seahorse Symphony" wich has since moved to Duluth and is now called "Seahorse Secrets." The Shedd has a small collection of seahorses, mostly H. reidi, H. kuda, H. erectus, and H. comes. Most of them were in fairly good condition, which is not bad for a public aquarium. They also had a few nice pipefish and trumpetfish mixed in with the reef tanks. It's hard to impress me with seahorses, but I did enjoy the small sea dragon exhibits. They seemed to be in good health, considering their delicate nature.
I was really upset by one of the other guests at the aquarium who was using his camera's flash to photograph these sensitive animals. There is a large sign next to the tank that says, "NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY;" I pointed at the sign and said, literally, "You're not supposed to use your flash on these. It kills them." He glared at me and continued to use his flash. I use my flash on my home aquariums all the time, but I don't do it for 12 hours a day every day. This is why I didn't use my flash at all at the Shedd. It's not good for the fish and animals there to be constantly hit with bright lights. Sea dragons are particularly sensitive to camera flash (or any bright light), it can literally stress them to death. So if you go to the Shedd, don't use your flash, please.
There are a lot of freshwater exhibits, as well. I really enjoyed the Goodeid exhibit and the planted neon tetra tank. I got to meet Steve, one of the aquarists who breeds and cares for the freshwater fish. We thought he was a really cool guy who seemed to be really passionate about his job.
See more photos from my trip on my Flickr Shedd Aquarium set. Also check out the Shedd Aquarium Chicago Flickr Group where you can submit your own Shedd Aquarium photos. THis group is frequented by the Shedd staff and other Shedd Aquarium enthusiasts.