Located on the shore of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago, this excellent aquarium is steps away from several other excellent cultural attractions, including the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum of Natural History. It is one of the oldest aquariums in the U.S., opened in 1930 and named after its original benefactor, who died before the facility was completed. The original building is beautifully restored and very similar to its original design, a grand Neoclassical temple with a formal plan and decorated with lovingly-crafted friezes and moldings and tiles and light fixtures with images of sea creatures; it is a rich composition that endures and celebrates the life highlighted within its walls. The entry is set in the portico, at the top of a grand stair plinth; inside is the Main Lobby, dripping with detail, where tickets are purchased. This leads to the Rotunda, an immense octagonal room dimly lit by an opaque glass ceiling which is in turn lit from skylights above. Six exhibit galleries with barrel-vaulted ceilings radiate from the Rotunda in pairs of two, in the three cardinal directions not occupied by the Main Lobby, while a round exhibit tank occupies the center of the Rotunda itself. This arrangement is the extent of the original facility; a large lower level exhibit complex beneath an expanded terrace on one side of the building is a later addition, as is the Oceanarium, a large simple modern structure on the back of the original building that features an immense curved glass curtain wall with views to the adjoining lake. Both later additions are accessed via hallways from the Rotunda, so that navigating this simple plan is easy. View of the building from the Skydeck atop the tallest building in the U.S.: Caribbean Reef is the round exhibit in the Rotunda and the centerpiece of the facility, although not its greatest feature. Its many segmented viewing windows wrap around about three-fourths of the exhibit, while a much smaller tank on the backside occupies a small alcove and features 28 species of small reef fish that are examples of specimens obtained by the aquarium’s collecting vessel. Therefore, the main tank has a rocky reef backwall rather than a clear view all the way across its circumference. It is a 90,000 gallon exhibit, about 12 feet deep, filled with activity and reef detail, and is certainly a memorable introduction to the collection, but it has been upstaged by some other exhibits since it was built in 1971 as one of the first large multi-species tanks. (Before this tank, the Rotunda had a pit-like swamp exhibit of a similar size below the floor level.) The support systems and surface access for the aquarists are hidden behind suspended drapes that form a sort of roof over the tank; it is slightly ugly but enables the full 100-foot height of the Rotunda above to be enjoyed without obstruction. There are 78 species listed in the backlit signs above the viewing windows, with the largest inhabitants being green sea turtle, bonnethead shark, Southern stingray, cownose ray, tarpon, and green moray eel. Caribbean Reef: Four of the six original galleries that radiate from the Rotunda are still in their original form (although the exhibits have certainly been updated), and together are the weakest part of the aquarium in comparison to the rest, although still very enjoyable. The galleries are individually themed, long and wide dark rooms open on the Rotunda side, lined with small-to-medium sized wall tanks. The pair to the North are called Rivers (19 exhibits) and Islands and Lakes (16 exhibits), with a small section called Frogs in the hall between them (4 exhibits). The pair to the East are called Local Waters (19 exhibits) and Oceans (17 exhibits) with a small section called Seahorses and Seadragons in the hall between them (6 exhibits). All these wall exhibits feature average-to-above-average naturalistic detail contrasted with simple rectangular window frames, topped by a simple continuous band of backlit signage that boldly announces each exhibit theme; species are identified on smaller lit signs to the side of each window. Together, these galleries are known as Waters of the World. I will describe each gallery in a left-to-right circle around its perimeter. Rivers begins with two side-by-side tanks called Southeast Asian Streams that share an above-surface jungle habitat that is viewed through upper windows above the signs and lower aquatic viewing windows; this is the only exhibit in these four older galleries with this arrangement, and it is nice. Next are five tanks: Australia, Africa, two called Central and South America (one of which is for piranha), and Australian River. The far end of the gallery is filled with two slightly larger tanks than those on the sides: one for Australian lungfish (the oldest is named Granddad and came to the aquarium in 1933!) and one for paddlefish as well as some other natives. Next are four tanks called African Rivers, with one representing the Nile, two for the Congo (including a beautiful Congo River puffer), and one for the Zambezi. Finally, Asian and Indian Rivers has six tanks, with one representing the Yangtze, three for the Ganges, and two for the Mekong. Frogs has four very average small wall exhibits but several species I have never seen before. The first has harlequin, green-and-black dart, and orange polka dot strawberry dart frogs. The second has three different color morphs of the polka dot strawberry dart frog: orange, yellow, and tan. The third has green mantella, Bernhards mantella, and mottled mantella frogs. The fourth has…bullfrog. Islands and Lakes begins with four small tanks called Madagascar, including one terrarium for Sambava panther chameleon. Then African Lakes has six tanks, with two each for Malawi (including a cichlid display that is very weak compared to those at many other facilities now), Tanganyika, and Victoria. The entire far wall is one long exhibit for Grand Cayman Blue Iguana and is the best in these older galleries. It is mostly above surface with detailed rockwork, but does have some fish in a shallow waterway running the length of the glass viewing area with underwater viewing. Next are three small tanks: Asian Bog, Asian Lakes, and Nicaragua (with Midas cichlid). Then a larger terrarium for chameleons (currently empty but about to receive the one from across the gallery seen earlier) is followed by a similar-sized habitat for several species of map turtle. Islands and Lakes Gallery in Waters of the World: Local Waters starts with four small tanks including one for snapping turtle and one for alligator snapping turtle. The alligator snapping turtle exhibit is the usual tank that is hardly large enough for the huge inhabitant to turn around; I understand that this is acceptable husbandry for this species because they move very little and prefer to stay cozy. By far the largest exhibit for them I have seen is a shallow large pond exhibit at San Antonio Zoo. Speaking of small exhibits, next is one for river otter with a small rocky ledge and waterfall and pond behind glass, probably the weakest otter exhibit I have seen and not at all in keeping with the aquarium’s high standard. This gallery is nearly dominated by fish that are not native to local waters; there are four exhibits called Great Lakes Invasive Species, and four more called Lake Invaders next to them, that are a good educational tool on the local ecology. Six more tanks follow: two representing Great Lakes, two for streams (including sunfish), and two for Game Fish (including perch). In the middle of this gallery are a few play elements called Camp Shedd, including a boat and a tent. I am not sure if these are temporary, but they certainly crowd the room when it is full, as it often is. They seem to be good examples of the ill-planned crud that results when educational departments run amok. We must placate the kiddies! Seahorses and Seadragons has six small tanks, with the one at each end being a larger half-round column type. Several have many small species of fish in addition to the focus species, which include several types of pipefish. Oceans is a sort of random saltwater leftover collection from the species that do not fit into the Caribbean Reef or Wild Reef (which focuses on the Phillipines) exhibits, and it is currently very unimpressive with its several empty spaces. It starts with four tanks entitled Ocean Floor; three of them are single-species exhibits for wolffish, spider crab, and Pacific giant octopus. Two tanks called Rocky Reefs are currently empty and covered. Next is Tidepools, four small tanks with several that have a beautiful colony of jeweled anemone. Kelp Forests is an exhibit (I presume it is one large tank with several windows) at the end of the gallery that is empty and covered; according to a docent, it has been for a long time. Next are six tanks entitled Rocky Shores, including dogfish shark, moray eel, and Australian Southern rock lobster. The pair of original galleries to the South of the Rotunda have been renovated to form the excellent Amazon Rising exhibit complex (28 exhibits). The original barrel-vaulted gallery spaces are still evident, but the far walls of each have been knocked out to access additional exhibit space in an area that was originally behind-the-scenes; this space connects the two galleries to form a continuous looping exhibit path. Tank locations on one side of each original gallery are still the same, but those on the other side and the far ends are gone. The complex is a unique combination of original gallery space and industrial-age skylit former backspace peppered with Amazon themed props and graphics, surrounded by nicely detailed naturalistic exhibits behind glass with jungle scenery above each. The focus of the complex is the rise and fall of the Amazon throughout the seasons, and many of its exhibits illustrate this phenomenon with clarity. The information is extensive, and also includes how native humans interact with the effects. One side of the entry room (one of the original gallery spaces) is the Learning Center, dominated by the façade of a native hut on stilts and containing three-dimensional props and graphics introducing the exhibit. There are also several small exhibits here: giant centipede in a terrarium on a simulated woodpile, giant cockroach in a terrarium, millipede and metallic pinktoe tarantula next to the cockroach, phantasmal poison arrow frog in a simulated tree stump, bullet ant in a simulated fallen branch, and an empty small terrarium. The original four tank locations in this gallery that still exist begin the aquatic story and are called Low Water Season. Each tank is further labeled. The first two are River Beach, and their mostly above-water portions are inhabited by Brazilian teal (its possible they might have range over the next two tanks too since there are bird cutouts on the glass to prevent collisions on all four exhibits). Floodplain Lake and Forest – Low Water Season are the two adjoining tanks, the latter having a small terrarium to the side for goliath bird-eating spider. Rainy Season is represented by one tank, including dwarf caiman and mata mata turtle, and it is called Forest – Rainy Season. Its water level is a little higher than the previous four, and is also the first exhibit in the exhibit space created from former backspace. This room is dominated by steel supports for the barrel vaults of the original galleries and building, and the frames of the newer exhibit windows mimic this industrial aesthetic, part of what makes this complex such a unique combination. High Water Season begins with a large long tank with a higher waterline called Forest – High Water Season, one of the feature tanks. Across from it is a two-habitat terrarium for blue poison arrow, broad-headed tree, and giant monkey frogs. Next is a small half-round column tank that includes twist-neck turtle, false black tetra, largescale foureyes, sailfin sturgeon catfish, and caecilian. Two largely aquatic habitats feature large reptiles and are called Floating Meadows: one for caiman lizard, the other for anaconda, as well as some small fish. Next to them are two half-round terrariums, one for South American clown tree frog, the other for emerald tree boa and dyeing poison arrow frog and mimic poison frog. Floodplain House is another large exhibit, this time with a simulated native hut on stilts perched above the open-top tank and an adjoining red-bellied piranha tank. Receding Waters are the next exhibits, illustrating the end of the flood: first is Forest – Receding Waters, which has a netted enclosure above it for containing Goeldis and Bolivian gray titi monkeys; it’s a rather small habitat but not exceedingly so. River Channel is the largest of the tanks in this exhibit complex and wraps around a corner, filled with the large catfish species and arapaima and pacu as well as turtles. This is the last exhibit in the former backspace and the last one in the seasons storyline; the exhibit path then enters the second of the original gallery spaces to an area called River Tales, filled with three-dimensional graphics and props that illustrate the products of the flood. The four tanks that still exist in their original locations in this gallery are wall exhibits that highlight specific topics from the flooded forest: Discovery (with electric eel and a voltage measure), Fish Hobby (connections to home aquariums), New Species, and Hidden Connections (I forgot to note what this final exhibit is all about). Although there are no single tanks that stand out as the best of their kind, the educational quality and fantastic comprehensive collection sprinkled with other types of animals makes this the best Amazon aquatic exhibit I have seen. High Water Season gallery in Amazon Rising: Wild Reef (28 exhibits) is my favorite part of the aquarium. It occupies the lower level on a one-way exhibit path reached from an elevator lobby that occupies the space between the two original galleries that now compose Amazon Rising. At the entrance to the small lobby is a round wall tank for jellies (sea nettle?); once inside the elevator, it descends and opens to a dark modern hallway with small backlit images of fish lining the walls and leading to a sign that proclaims ‘Welcome to the Phillipines’, the focus of the exhibit. The next room begins the immersion, with a beach scene and mural on one side and a rocky open-top pool with surging waves called Shoreline Surf inhabited by small reef fish. The next room illustrates the builders themselves – coral – with a group of giant three-dimensional coral polyps lit from within next to graphics about their nature. A small wall exhibit of live corals is nearby. The next room is a wonderland: It is a round room, with a large curving floor-to-ceiling tank of schooling fish on one side and a similar tank of small-to-medium predatory fish on the other in highly detailed reef environments full of activity. Two round windows overhead reveal other fish above; whether this is a separate tank or one that connects the two sides is unclear, but it gives the illusion of being surrounded, as if immersed in a coral cavern. Adding to the illusion is that the simulated reef elements extend into the interior of the room, protruding from the walls. Slick-looking touchscreens provide species identification. Three small round feature tanks are engaged in the reefwork near the floor of the room and provide intimate looks at crown-of-thorns sea star, slipper lobster, and harlequin shrimp. A nearby smaller tank that appears to be an alcove from the main tank contains honeycomb, dragon, and zebra moray eels as well as candycane squirrelfish. The next room is a hallway that continues the reef simulation, with four small wall tanks that illustrate how animals use every part of the reef, followed by a dark tank for nocturnally active animals including chambered nautilus, candycane and violet and scarlet squirrelfishes, and pearly soldierfish. The next room is the largest and darkest, a simple architectural space whose first obvious feature is a unique open-top half-round tank for rays connected to one wall. The clear railing to look down into the shallow tank is connected to a clear floor above the outer rim of the tank so that visitors stand above part of their habitat. Inside are ribbontail stingray, fiddler ray, blue-spotted stingray, and bluestreak cleaner wrasse. There is a tall narrow wall aquarium on each side of this, one for lionfish, the other for flashlightfish; together these three small exhibits are probably the most abstract habitats in the aquarium. They share the room with the largest fish tank: Shark Reef. It is a great deep tank and rather mysterious too; while it does have a detailed sandy and reef bottom, it is so dimly lit that its back walls disappear effectively. One side of it actually adjoins the small-to-medium predatory tank seen earlier so that the inhabitants can see each other, although it is not much of an impressive feature for visitors. The viewing area is a sort of large bay window, with each of the three sides composed of a curving arch that reveals water slightly overhead of those close to it. Species within include sandbar shark, zebra shark, blacktip reef shark, Japanese wobbegong shark, white-spotted guitarfish, green sawfish, mangrove whiptail ray, Almaco jack, and 13 small fish species (especially various tang and triggerfish). Next is another hallway with five small wall tanks, then a static display about islands and where fish are hatched. Another room brings visitors closer to the surface, with two open-top tanks for mangrove inhabitants, covered with simulated trees. Between them is an odd little tank for upside down jellies, and nearby is another open-top tank, this time a lagoon with a mural of a shoreline behind it. This room opens up to a large educational display in a simulated beach hut location, with graphics and props that illustrate the danger to reefs and one community in the Phillipines called Apo that has had success in reversing the damage through management. The final room of the exhibit path is a glass-walled view into a modern lab where the aquarium propagates live corals, and then the elevators ascend back to the lobby. The specific regional focus of this extensive exhibit paired with its excellent and educational presentation makes it another winner. Schooling Fish exhibit in Wild Reef: Oceanarium is the largest exhibit complex at the aquarium, located in its own modern addition at the back of the original building, and is a nice facility. It is dedicated to the Pacific Northwest (mostly) and highlights marine mammals. It was recently renovated, and marketed as Oceanarium Reimagined, although the changes are mostly cosmetic rather than major. It is located on three levels, with two access points from the Rotunda through hallways to its upper level, which is actually a level down from the original building’s main level. This upper level has an auditorium that shows 3D films with in-theater effects (currently an animated penguin film called Happy Feet), a gift store, a curving hallway with access to the Fantasea Amphitheater, Soundings Café, and the Welcome Center. The Welcome Center is actually a special exhibits gallery, but currently has a rather sparse exhibit about the renovation of the building and one two-sided tank for weedy seadragon which has little connection to the other exhibits. The massive above-water space of the building is glimpsed from a few balconies and the curving hallway; from here, stairs on each end descend to the middle level, which is at the surface of the main tanks. This main space is backed by a long curving glass wall with views to adjacent Lake Michigan just outside, and is topped by a flat curving roof supported by a truss system. In contrast to the simple architecture, the room itself is themed with rockwork topped with a simulated conifer forest; the two stairways down as well as the amphitheater follow the descent of the rockwork until it meets the main tanks. One of the stairways is called Otter Trail, which is surrounded by trees until it reaches the middle level and opens up into a viewing area for the sea otter exhibit. This exhibit is average for the species, composed of a deep rocky pool and small rocky shelf, surrounded by the forest theme. It is viewed through glass from one side of the habitat, with a partial underwater view and above water view. Nearby is the entrance to the Bubble Net Food Court located directly below Soundings Café; they used to be one two-level restaurant but have been separated, probably to maximize capacity. Back near the sea otters is a nice tidepool exhibit set in a rocky trough at waist level. It is not designated as a touch pool, but I think it may have been at one time because there was a chair set up behind it. However, there is no handwashing station evident. It contains 15 species of various small tidepool animals. The largest tank at the aquarium is next, a 2,000,000 gallon behemoth that can be divided in four habitats at the narrowest points where the rugged rockwork forms alcoves. The smallest alcove is usually used as a holding area for Pacific white-sided dolphin. Next to it is the largest alcove, which is usually the main exhibit for Pacific white-sided dolphin but also is their show tank. It is surrounded by the curving large stepped amphitheater on one side and dotted with several rocky islands emerging from its massive depths on the other. The show is a new production called Fantasea; I did not see it so I will not comment on its content, but I was in the massive room seeing the other exhibits while it was being staged and I was surpised to notice a major element that I do not remember from the old show several years ago: a massive screen descends across the entire curved glass wall of the room, blocking out the natural light and creating a dark environment that is then lit dramatically with greens and blues in the simulated forest and amphitheater area, with projections on it in front of the show tank. I actually enjoyed this temporary mood change courtesy of the nearby show, and when it was over the screen lifted and the natural light returned. I remember seeing the show and feeling that the backlighting was too intense from the glass wall, so this must be a vast improvement. Toward the end of the day, this largest tank was opened up for beluga whale. Adjoining the show tank on the other side is another small rocky alcove, usually a holding area for beluga whale. The last alcove is the second largest and is the main exhibit for beluga whale, another fine large deep section with rocky outcrops. Unfortunately, on the other side of the walkway lining their tank is a very small poor exhibit for California sea lion, crammed against a small rocky ledge and featuring a tiny pool and a viewing area that looks down at them, with another small viewing window to one side from a busy stairway. This is a pit and an embarrassing blunder for Shedd, especially after this was supposedly reimagined. I would like to reimagine these inhabitants at the fine Pinniped Point exhibit at nearby Brookfield Zoo. Nearby is a nice medium-sized open-top tank set in the rocks called River Mouth Estuary that contains sunflower sea star, red Irish lord, red rock crab, C-O sole, starry flounder, painted greenling, shiner surfperch, Cabezon sculpin, and buffalo sculpin. From here, Beluga Trail ascends back to the upper level, with a rocky stream tumbling to one side in the forest. Stairways also descend down to the lower level at each end of the massive room into a smaller exhibit path of dark rooms for underwater views, puntuated by new bright cartoony graphics and attractive play areas collectively known as Polar Play Zone. The beluga exhibit underwater viewing area is called Icy North and features several large windows into the depths of their main tank. Across from it is a play area in an alcove surrounded by icy blue backlit iceberg forms on the walls and low ceiling. One part of this play area is an ice cave, next to five small round wall aquariums with icy blue lighting that contain: California two-spot octopus; painted, giant green, and crimson anemones; sunflower sea star; skeleton shrimp; and moon jelly. Another part of the play area is a simulated submarine with an open side for easy access to play with its controls and look out its windows to the beluga exhibit beyond. Icy South features the Oceanarium exhibit not seen from the middle level: one for Magellanic and rockhopper penguins, which diverts from the main theme of the complex. It is a nice exhibit, just slightly above average for its type, with a rocky wall backdrop and large swimming tank fronted by a long continuous window viewing area with partial underwater viewing. Nearby is another play area, this time with a rocky backdrop that matches the one in the actual exhibit and a digital projection of a coastline behind part of it. Children can dress in penguin costumes here and climb a rocky stairway to descend down an icy slide. There are also good abstract displays on the species of penguins and where they live, as well as their range of sizes. Deep Ocean is the name for the Pacific white-sided dolphin underwater viewing area, and several large windows give great views into their giant main exhibit. Nearby to several of the windows is Deep Ocean Café, a very casual busy-season food stand and tables that has been shoe-horned into this hallway rather than another play area. The last room of the lower level is Shallow Ocean and is surrounded by a bright mural; against one wall is the underwater viewing for the sea otter exhibit, while another wall has a small rocky touch pool that is staffed. The middle of the room is another nice play area, with a series of touch tanks whose rocky rims are decorated with models of shells. I did not investigate the contents of the tanks but I suspect they were just other shells in water due to the easy access that the design of these low shelves allowed. The lower level of the Oceanarium is certainly attractive in its renovation, with child-focused graphics and well-designed activities in contrast to the more serious presentation of the middle level. Sea Otter Exhibit in Oceanarium, seen during Fantasea show lighting in the background: I rank Shedd Aquarium at number 5 of the 43 aquarium facilities I have visited, and if I had a separate ranking of freshwater collections I am sure it would be number 1. Surprisingly, none of its individual fish exhibits make my top list, but Shark Reef and Schooling Fish exhibits in Wild Reef are not far off the list. For individual aquatic mammal exhibits, the main Pacific white-sided dolphin exhibit is number 7 and the main beluga whale exhibit is number 14. General admission is several dollars overpriced at $26.95, with Fantasea an additional $2 and an upcharge for the 3D film as well. Still, it is a delight to visit, especially if timed right to avoid the frequent massive crowds. I have posted additional pictures in the gallery.