Notes from the Glebe

The Age of Aquarium

Nov 15, 05:34 PM

by Katie Fick

I found myself romping around the Shedd Aquarium this fall break with some Augie students who had never been to Chicago. Admission was free that day, and heck, who doesn’t love dolphins? Somehow I didn’t experience the complete carefree wonderment that my ten-year-old self did when I last visited. I was actually a little distressed at the sight of those incredible marine animals in captivity instead of where they naturally belong. I felt a tugging in my conscience. It’s wrong to meddle, to remove animals from their natural habitat, to play God.

The dolphin show, called Fantasea (not a good start), was troublesome for a different reason: it was ridiculous. Granted, it began with a video that gave reasons for our needing to take better care of our own local cultures because it affects the animals’ habitats in the wild. I’m hoping that message sunk in for some of the kids there, but I fear that most of them were picking their noses and waiting to be overly stimulated by the show. If so, they got their wish. The show began with a dramatic closing of the curtain on the window that looks out to Lake Michigan, loud music, and colored lights, as well as the appearance of characters (animal trainers?) in attire that suspiciously resembled the costumes from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. At the risk of sounding like my grandpa, what’s more concerning is that I suspect that show represents a standard for capturing kids-these-days’ attention. Yikes, America. We’re in trouble. Just a decade ago, I was awed by the animals and their trainers, in their plain old boring wet suits. I asked Mom, “What do I have to do to play with dolphins like they do?” She answered that I should study Marine Biology, and after that Bio was my major of choice until Middle School when I realized the closest I’d get to a major in Bio was watching Animal Planet. Can I get an “Amen!” from all the English majors for whom the Sciences are elusive? Anyway, I felt for the trainers. They studied Marine Biology, not Musical Theater, but here they were, dancing and looking like fools. My little brother summed it up nicely when he said, “If I ever have to fanta-see that show again, I’ll poke my eyes out.”

I think what finally relaxed my conscience a bit was the message implied by the signs next to each exhibit, the Aquarium employees, and even the dolphin show: one has to know about these animals in order to want to protect them. What better way to do that than to watch them eat, play (did you know that some scientists think otters are one of the only animals that play for pure enjoyment in the wild?), and communicate? The Shedd’s rather honorable aim seems to be to awe ‘n educate. For example, they get kids hooked by showing them baby sharks growing in their eggs right before their eyes (scroll over the above image), and then let them know what’s happening to that species of shark in the wild because of the lifestyle we choose every day. It’s a rather sneaky and effective way to teach kids at an early age about responsible, sustainable living. So, over the holidays, visit the Shedd with your kids, siblings, or little ones you babysit. But for goodness’ sake, save the $16.95 it costs to watch the Shedd’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and perhaps donate it to WWF.

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