More than 60 species are on display in the Shedd Aquarium's new exhibit, A Home on the Great Lakes, but arguably the most exciting are the prehistoric sturgeon fish.
One hand washing and two fingers separate families from experiencing the Sturgeon Touch pool and feeling the skin of the prehistoric fish. As the three sturgeons slowly swim by for attention, families gently reach into the pool with bright smiles and curious laughs.
Danielle Brown, a Shedd Aquarium member and former Chicago resident, brought her family from Michigan to see the new exhibit. While she describes the exhibit as a nice addition to the aquarium, her daughter Enola couldn't stop talking about the sturgeons.
"The sturgeons were hard and slimy," Enola says. "I really liked touching them because they were so big and old. My grandma thought they felt like velvet."
Shedd executives called for the renovations to the Local Waters gallery with the idea of having an immersive experience to better connect families with the lakes. The exhibit now includes the touch pool, digital information screens and a lighthouse-shaped story booth that allows guests to share their favorite memories of the lakes.
"The purpose of the Great Lakes exhibit is to connect visitors to the animals in the lakes and with each other," says Roger Germann, Shedd's executive vice president. "Research shows that kids are becoming more disconnected to nature, so we focused on making this an interactive learning experience for all families."
While visitors experience the fascinating freshwater habitat, they also come face-to-face with the wildlife endangering the Great Lakes. The Asian carp are not very colorful but are massive in size, which is almost enough to distract you from the fact that they are harmful to the stability of both the Illinois River system and the Great Lakes' ecosystems.
Despite the lack of colorful or flashy wildlife, knowing that these animals live in our backyard is what makes them cool. Eve Barrs, an aquarist at Shedd, says she hopes kids leave the exhibit inspired to do something to protect local waters.
This exhibit and the sturgeon touch are included in admission. For information on the exhibit and the aquarium, visit the Shedd's website at sheddaquarium.org.
Lindsey is Chicago Parent's summer 2013 intern. She is a senior at Ball State University.
See more of Lindsey's stories here.