It's that time of year; Thanksgiving is just around the corner and everyone is beginning to dream about feasting on their favorite dishes! While humans are giving thanks, animals are also needing to feast!
At Shedd Aquarium, food is always on our minds. Just imagine having over 32,000 animals to feed - it's no small task! There is a lot of planning, monitoring and preparing for each meal that keeps our animals thriving each day. We must ensure each animal gets just the right amount of the right kind of food at just the right time. We feed all kinds of animals with all kinds of eating styles; some are hand fed sushi grade sustainable shrimp while others rise to the surface and slurp up flakes of commercial 'fish food' that have been sprinkled on top. Some grab at almost anything that comes within reach and others demand a personal presentation of their food. Some eat in the morning as a group and some only dine at night - menus and preferences change based on each species of animal.
We have a team at Shedd that helps counsel throughout the food creation and implementation process. This team includes veterinarians, aquarists, trainers, research scientists and even some of our sustainability specialists. Every aspect from where the food is purchased to what sorts of vitamins and mineral supplements ought to be included are discussed and evaluated on a regular basis. We even raise a lot of what we feed our animals right here on site. Shedd's sustainable gardens surrounding the building are not only the source of flowers and shrubs but many types of vegetables and plants.
Shedd also has a 'live foods program' where all sorts of things are cultivated and grown to become treats for our animals. Crickets, mealworms, fruit flies, and tiny little aquatic bugs called copepods are grown through this program. We have bubbling vats of algae in various colors specially tended to for feeding to specialized eaters like filter-feeders. Snails are grown for our Caiman Lizards because they are uniquely adapted to dining on snails and relish these as treats. And when it comes to preparing all the individual meals it is a real production line. Each of the primary areas throughout the original aquarium galleries and in the Oceanarium has its own dedicated food preparation area. One team will be whipping up cut smelt and chopped earthworms while downstairs another is hand selecting raw clam and sustainably raised shrimp to feed a raft of hungry sea otters.
Sea otters, it seems, are continuously hungry and they are almost always eating. Part of how sea otters thrive in the cold waters they are found in is by burning a lot of calories. Pound-for-pound these animals eat more than almost any other animal in the aquarium. Each sea otter each eat about 35% of their body weight per day. If one of our whales ate as much as an otter on this per body weight basis, they'd be eating upwards of 450 pounds of fish per day! If a human were to eat like a sea otter on Thanksgiving, it would mean consuming likely between 50-60 pounds of food. That's a whole lot of turkey and stuffing!