Beluga whale Kayabak and trainer Jessica Whiton. | ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez
CHICAGO (SUN TIMES MEDIA WIRE) - You might or might not have a date, but several trainers at the Shedd Aquarium won’t be lonely as they spoil their animal partners this Valentine’s Day.
Rescued green sea turtle Nickel will receive her favorite treat, bok choy, on Valentine’s Day from trainer Michelle Satler, the Shedd’s collections manager for the Waters of the World galleries and Caribbean Reef, according to a statement from the lakefront aquarium.
Nickel and Satler were “o-fish-ally” brought together in 2003.
Sea otter Mari, who was separated from her mother in the wild, will probably receive a few extra ice enrichment treats to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Mari was brought to the Shedd in 2003 and hand-raised by a team including trainer Lana Vanagasem.
Mari required around-the-clock care, including grooming, bottle-feeding, transitioning to solid food and introductions to the rest of the Shedd’s sea otters.
Vanagasem said her favorite moment was when the pup would crawl into her lap onto a white towel to groom and dry off.
Hopefully Mari won’t get jealous, though—Vanagasem also shares a close relationship with Charlotte, a Magellanic penguin. Charlotte hatched at the Shedd and was hand-raised by Vanagasem and other members of the animal care time.
Penguins are able to physically recognize their trainers, and will exit the water and follow Vanagasem around.
Beluga Kayavak, who was orphaned at 5 months old, shares a special relationship with supervisor of marine mammals Jessica Whiton, according to the Shedd.
Over the past years 17 years, Whiton has taught Kayvak her basic “husband behaviors,” and Whiton describes her relationship with the beluga as spending time with an old friend.
Aquarist Zoe Hagberg, meanwhile, is attached to a decidedly less cuddly animal—a group of Amazon milk frogs born at the Shedd around last Valentine’s Day and raised by Hagberg since they were tadpoles.
Hagberg enjoys watching the frogs to see if they are exhibiting any new behaviors and says the job will never get boring.