1. Of all the extra benefits my company gives its employees (extra, by my definition, being the things that go beyond your basic health/dental/401k benefits), I’d have to say my favorite one is that you can take your birthday off without it counting against your annual PTO allotment. (If your birthday falls on a weekend, you can take the day before or after your birthday off instead.) I like not working on my birthday just in general, but with the way marathon training timing has worked out for the past two years, I’ve especially liked not having to go to work the day after a marathon (last year) or the day after the most miserable 20 miler ever (this year).
For the second year in a row, the Shedd Aquarium was free for Illinois residents on my birthday day off (last year it was free on Sept. 19, the day after my birthday, but since my birthday was on Sunday last year, I took Monday off.), so I went to visit the penguins to kick off 27.
The Shedd’s penguins are all molting (I expected that would be the case, since they were all molting when I went this time last year), which means they’re grumpy and fairly uninterested in anything other than their own discomfort, so they mostly just stood around and picked at their itchy feathers. But they were still super adorable! I officially turned 27 while watching them, and I have to say that that beat officially turning 26 while I was on mile 21 or so of the Fox Valley Marathon last year. Though, considering my affinity for penguins and my affinity for torturing myself by running long distances, I guess both ways were appropriate.
I happened to time my visit to the belugas and otters perfectly, and got to see their trainers working with them.
I love the belugas so much. Two of my friends recently got engaged via the Shedd’s Beluga Encounter, which I thought was the coolest thing EVER. Anyone can do a Beluga Encounter at the Shedd (if you’re willing to drop some $$$. They’re not cheap.), but if you schedule a proposal Beluga Encounter, not only do you get to meet the belugas and have them do some tricks for you, but their final trick is to bring you a waterproof box that contains an engagement ring. *dies* You can also propose during a Penguin Encounter at the Shedd, though frankly, I’m not sure which one is more adorable, since both animals are unspeakably cute.
I knew belugas could do fun little tricks (I particularly enjoyed their dancing), but I had no idea you could train otters! The trainer could get them all to line up in a little row, but my favorite trick was when they would twirl around in a circle! It was the cutest thing.
I also went to visit the pretty fishies, which I thought I had never done before until I got downstairs to the Wild Reef exhibit and thought it looked familiar, so I guess I have?
While in the Wild Reef, I found Dory:
I didn’t quite find Nemo, because I don’t think there are any Nemos in the Wild Reef exhibit (or if there are, I didn’t see them), but I did find an anemonefish, which is a type of clownfish, so close enough.
I brought my SLR to the Shedd and was super impressed with how well it handled the low light conditions! I didn’t think I’d get any good photos of anything with how much the animals move, but I was quite happy with how most of my pictures turned out.
2. When I went to the Shedd for free last year, it wasn’t totally free. I had to pay extra to see the penguins (a price I was MORE than willing to pay), and I would’ve had to pay extra extra to see an aquatic presentation, if I remember correctly. Not so this year! I only had to pay extra if I wanted to do one of the 4D shows (which I didn’t), and since I arrived about 30 minutes before an aquatic presentation, I got to see one of those!
I expected the presentation to be all dolphin tricks, but it turned out to be more about Shedd’s rescuing, rehabilitation, and training missions. I thought it was really interesting! They had the dolphins do some tricks, then brought out a sea lion who had been shot in the face as a pup and as a result is blind (*sobs forever*). They had trained him to do things like wave hello, which was crushingly adorable. Then the dolphins did some more cool things, and after that they brought out a DOG! I was not aware that the Shedd rescues and rehabilitates dogs, but apparently they have four of them. Peach was a total cutie!
The whole point of bringing out Peach was to show that the same training methods that work on dogs also work on dolphins, so there was a demonstration where Peach’s trainer would have her do a trick (like shaking, as pictured above), and then a dolphin trainer would have a dolphin do a similar trick. The Shedd trains via positive reinforcement (so no “Bad *insert-animal-name-here*!” or saying no), which I thought was really great.
After the show, another trainer brought out a red-tailed hawk! I have to say, I did not at all expect the Shedd Aquarium to be a rescuer to dogs and hawk, but I certainly didn’t mind it!
This red-tailed hawk doesn’t have a left eye, so it can’t survive in the wild, since hawks rely so heavily on their powerful vision to find prey and eat.
So instead, it lives at the Shedd.
I guess I can’t really speak to how the Shedd treats its animals, since obviously a show like this is meant to give you a good impression of the aquarium, but it definitely seemed like they care a lot about the health, well-being, and stimulation of the animals in their care.
3. I know there is no task so fruitless as complaining about the weather, but you guys, WHAT is going on with the weather.
I am beyond not okay with this. It’s September! LATE September! Why are we going to have six consecutive days where it’s pushing 90 in September?!? Granted, I’d be annoyed by six consecutive days where it’s pushing 90 in July or August, but I especially hate it this time of year! I’m going to be running in worse weather during the Chicago Half Marathon on Sunday than I ran in during the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half in July. That’s not how this is supposed to work! The two hottest long runs of marathon season are going to be the 20 miler and the first long run of taper. WHY.
I also know the only thing less useful than complaining about the weather is worrying about the weather, but I’d be lying if I said this unrelenting, unseasonable weather wasn’t making me antsy about the weather on marathon day. Obviously the weather can change dramatically between now and two and a half weeks from now–two weeks ago, the high was 67–but man, I would just feel so much better if it could start being seasonable outside.
Have you ever been to the Shedd Aquarium?
Did you do anything fun for your most recent birthday?