Shedd Aquarium Animal Training and Enrichment

By: Shedd Aquarium Last Updated: January 29, 2019

Shedd-Aquarium-Animal-Training-and-Enrichment-2019The science of training and behavior is an essential part of excellent animal care. Training and enrichment provide the animals with mental stimulation and physical exercise as well as help Shedd’s highly trained staff deliver exceptional care by making the animals active participants in the process.

Animal Training
Shedd is a recognized leader in using the science of animal behavior and training to improve the quality of life for its animals.

  • The aquarium has an internal accreditation program to help staff become skilled behaviorists and trainers.
  • Shedd’s animal training manual is used by zoos and aquariums worldwide.

Training directly benefits animal health:

  • Like their wild counterparts, Shedd’s animals often conceal pain or illness. Regular sessions make it easier for trainers to notice subtle changes in behavior and health, such as a slight discoloration on a turtle’s tongue. Noticing these tiny signs early can mean the difference between treating a minor scratch and a serious infection.
  • Teaching animals to cooperate in their own healthcare is one of the most important reasons for training.
    • At Shedd, the animals are often more cooperative with medical exams than most people at their doctors’ offices!
  • By teaching an animal to move from one habitat to another, give the trainer its tail for a blood sample, or stretch out for an ultrasound exam, Shedd’s animal experts ensure that each patient is comfortable and calm while receiving the best possible veterinary care.

Animal Enrichment
Enrichment activities are a critical component in any animal program, allowing the aquarium’s animal care experts to build strong bonds with each animal while administering world-class care.

  • In the wild, animals stay alert – and alive – searching for food and avoiding predators. At Shedd, trainers work one-on-one with the animals to engage senses during sessions.

Animal Connections
The leaping, spyhopping, vocalizations and tail lobbing of Shedd’s Pacific white-sided dolphins are behaviors that marine mammals also do in the wild. At Shedd, they have been encouraged to demonstrate these natural behaviors while working with a trainer.

  • These moves aren’t part of a grand show to entertain guests. Rather, they are part of a complex training process that builds relationships between dolphins and their trainers while providing the animals with extra mental stimulation and physical exercise.
  • Each presentation is different, as Shedd’s staff constantly works to deepen the trust between trainers and animals and further develop skills.

Shedd’s giant Pacific octopus recognizes a yellow five-pointed star and a clicker on the top of the water as a sort of dinner bell.

  • The octopus has learned to wrap a long, sinuous arm over and around the star when cued. She’s also learned to move from point A to point B with food as an incentive for the action.
  • Octopus training connects back to veterinary care:
    • Shedd’s trainers record the octopus’ feeding behavior and note its body condition, grip strength and other behaviors in order to keep detailed health records.
    • These notes and feeding charts are kept in the octopus training manual and contribute to its future care.

Many shark species in Shedd’s Wild Reef exhibit learn to recognize distinct shapes and sounds as “their own” through target training.

  • Sharks respond to their specific sound and shape by swimming directly in front of it.
  • Why does Shedd want its zebra sharks to come swimming at one sound, while its blacktip reef sharks respond to another? These cues help our aquarists feed the sharks in groups to track eating habits and even acclimate the sharks to vet visits so they can participate in their own health care.
  • With so many shark species, Shedd’s animal care teams have to get creative. After running out of unique sounds, one aquarist purchased a noisemaker kit from a toy store to use instead.