Home remodels are a nightmare — all that racket, mess and general inconvenience.
Brookfield Zoo’s seven bottlenose dolphins wisely got out of dodge while their habitat underwent significant renovations, spending the last 15 months at the Minnesota Zoo. With construction now complete, the dolphins — ranging in age from 50 to 18 — returned to Brookfield on Tuesday, and will take the next six weeks getting acclimated to their new digs.
The $10 million makeover drew on guidelines set out in a 2021 study that evaluated the care of dolphins and whales in 43 zoos and aquariums around the globe. The Chicago Zoological Society and Brookfield Zoo’s Conservation Science and Animal Welfare Research Department spearheaded the report, which identified opportunities for improvement.
“One of our priorities in the (renovation) project was to add a variety of dynamic elements to the dolphins’ habitat to enrich their daily lives,” Michael Adkesson, president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society and director of Brookfield Zoo, said in a statement.
Those elements include:
— rockwork structures with anchors that animal care staff can use to attach items such as kelp strips and floating objects at different levels in the water.
— a shallow sand pit, where staff can hide things for dolphins to find using their echolocating skills.
— built-in bubbler systems. The dolphins can play with the bubbles, roll over them, or even maneuver an object like a ball over the bubbles to propel it. The bubbles also disrupt echolocation signals, allowing the animals to engage in a sort of underwater hide and seek, according to the zoo.
The Seven Seas habitat will look different to visitors, as well.
The exhibit’s Caribbean theme has been swapped out and now takes its cues from the natural environment of Sarasota Bay, Florida, where the zoo’s dolphin research program is based. New artificial plantings mimic species found around Sarasota, including mangrove trees and tall grasses.
“Through scientific monitoring, we know that dolphins in Sarasota Bay spend their lives in the shallow waters of the bay in a relatively small area. We wanted to bring that environment to our guests here in Chicago to help them understand the importance of marine conservation,” Adkesson said.
People will have their first chance to see the dolphins on March 22, when Brookfield’s Dolphins in Action presentations resume. The underwater viewing gallery will reopen March 25.