Nature lovers can rejoice. Shedd Aquarium (1200 S. DuSable Lake Shore Dr.; www.sheddaquarium.org/&, in accordance with State of Illinois and City of Chicago guidelines, has fully reopened.
(Guests are still required to purchase tickets in advance. Also, face coverings or masks continue to be strongly recommended for anyone 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or individuals who are at risk for severe COVID-19 infection.)
However, with all the activities to enjoy at the Shedd, there is one decidedly non-aquatic distraction: red-winged blackbirds. Signs warn visitors that the territorial birds are around, and that they may defend their nests. (In fact, this writer was attackedtwice. At least the exchanges were minimal, consisting of a tweet each time and a slight peck on the head.)
After having to potentially dodge the birds, there are numerous awe-inspiring opportunities for kids and adults at the Shedd, which spans almost a half-million square feet.
Some of the incredible exhibits/experiences at the Shedd include:
Stingray Touch: One of the extra experiences consists of touching and feeding cownose rays. (By the way, here they are all female, as males can be aggressive from time to time.) These fish are gentle, although it's kind of a surreal feeling having one of them grab the bait fish out of your hand.
4-D Experience ($4.95/$2.95 for members): This experience definitely stimulates the senses. While watching a 3-D movie about undersea adventures, viewers may become inundated with bubbles or surprised by spray (air and water).
Underwater Beauty: This exhibit is one many may find the most captivating. From animals like ribbon eels and anthias that have changed shape and even sex since the exhibit opened, to the recent introduction of new, fascinating and never-before-seen-at-Shedd species. There are also the flamboyant cuttlefish (its actual name), various jellyfish and even a mantis shrimpa predatory crustacean that can reach a foot in length and which possesses one of the fiercest punches in the animal kingdom. (In fact, the glass that contains the shrimp is specially constructed.) This special exhibit consists of five themed rooms, including Shimmer, Colors, Patterns, Rhythms and Moves You.
Caribbean Reef: Visitors can take a 360-degree tour of an underwater city. Although a coral reef is at the heart of the exhibit, there are many other species that make up the ecosystem, ranging from sharks to turtles. People can also have a diver deliver special messages to their loved ones (for $125 each); dive messages are currently available on Saturdays and Sundays, at the end of the 2 p.m. presentation. (Visit www.sheddaquarium.org/exhibits/caribbean-reef for more information.)
Ongoing exhibits: In addition to the Caribbean Reef, other exhibits show fauna and flora in displays such as "Islands and Lakes," "Amazon Rising" and "Oceans," among others. It's guaranteed that first-time visitors will see animals they probably haven't seen before, including sawfish, lungfish, hellbenders, arapaima, moray eels and leopard sharks.
Penguin and Beluga encounters: Visitors can get up close and personal with penguins; among other things, they will be able to touch the flightless bird's dense, waterproof feathers. Regarding the beluga whales, guests can watch Annik, Kimalu, Naya and the other mammals as trainers feed and play with them.
(Admission to the Penguin Encounter is $50-$94.95 each; the fee includes admission to the aquarium and Chicago residents get up to a $20 discount.)
Note: This visit was arranged.