Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

Shedd Sea Lion Dies After Complications from Acute Liver Failure

(Courtesy Shedd Aquarium)

Ty, an 18-year-old California sea lion, had been living at the aquarium since 2005. Animal caretakers and veterinarians began monitoring him last week after noticing an uncharacteristic decline in his appetite.

Field Museum, Evanston Brewery Introduce Beer Inspired by 1893 World’s Fair

(Courtesy The Chicago Brewseum)

A new dry-hopped cream ale is made from the same types of barley and corn found in the museum’s original collections from 1893, the same year more than 27 million visitors flocked to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Study: Pollution Linked to Depression, Bipolar Disorder

(SD-Pictures / Pixabay)

Living in areas with poor air quality increases one’s likelihood of suffering from depression, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, according to a new study by University of Chicago researchers.

New Law Allows Illinois to Set Own Restrictions on Greenhouse Gases


The state had been prohibited from settings its own emissions targets for more than 20 years. Lawmakers are now expected to focus on an aspirational clean energy bill with the goal of moving Illinois to 100% clean energy by 2050.

Artificial Light is Changing Animal Behavior in Chicago, Study Finds

(a4gpa / Flickr)

Using satellite images and data on wildlife activity, scientists determined that artificial light levels found in more than a third of the city are altering the circadian rhythm and behaviors of animals throughout the city.

Rescued Sea Otter Pups Make Behind-the-Scenes Debut at Shedd Aquarium

Two southern sea otter pups arrived at Shedd Aquarium in July after being rescued in California. (Brenna Hernandez / Shedd Aquarium)

No makeup was necessary for a pair of fuzzy sea otter pups the aquarium showed off to the media this week. “They get cuter every day,” said Tracy Deakins, a senior trainer of otters and penguins.

Pritzker Signs Bill Redefining ‘Local Foods’ in Illinois

(Marco Verch / Flickr)

The new law is expected to help Illinois-based food producers and manufacturers compete for contracts that prioritize locally sourced foods.

How the Weakened Endangered Species Act Could Impact Illinois

The Blanding’s turtle is classified as endangered in Illinois. (Courtesy Chicago Wilderness)

The Trump administration’s move to effectively weaken protections under the landmark law could have stark consequences for the 480 plant and animal species classified as endangered or threatened within Illinois. 

New Illinois Law Bans Sale of Cosmetics Tested on Animals


More than 30 countries have banned cosmetics testing on animals, and while the practice hasn’t been banned in the U.S., Illinois is now the third state to enact “humane cosmetics” legislation. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Free Soil Tests Offered as U. of I. Studies Lead’s Impact on Urban Farming

(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

As urban agriculture programs expand in Chicago and other cities, a new project aims to unearth data on one of the biggest potential obstacles to city-based farming efforts: soil contamination.

USDA Declares Agriculture Disaster in Illinois Following Floods

(Jonathan Babb / Wikimedia Commons)

The move comes in the wake of near-record levels of flooding this spring that forced farmers to delay planting crops. 

How Clean is the Chicago River? A New Project Wants to Show You in Real Time

(Richard Schneider / Flickr)

What lies below the surface of the Chicago River today is not what it was a century ago, but pollution is still a problem. A Chicago nonprofit aims to offer real-time water quality data to the public later this year.

Illinois Sightings Raise Hope for Endangered Rusty Patched Bumblebee

A rusty-patched bumble bee (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been a rough few decades for the rusty patched bumblebee. Once widespread in Illinois and throughout much of the U.S., the species has lost nearly 90% of its population over the past 20 years.

Children Don’t Like Nature as Much as Adults, UChicago Study Finds

(EME / Pixabay)

As they set out to learn more about kids’ affinity for nature, a group of psychologists had a strong idea about what they would find. As it turned out, their assumptions were wrong. “We were incredibly surprised,” said the lead author of the study.

Illinois Among 12 States Suing Trump Administration Over Fuel Economy Standards


A lawsuit filed Friday aims to stop a plan by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that would lower fines for automakers that fail to meet fuel-economy standards. 

Illinois Becomes Latest State to Crack Down on Coal Ash Pollution

Piles of coal ash after a 2008 spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. (Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons)

A new law in Illinois prohibits discharge of coal ash into the environment and establishes a regulatory framework to ensure that polluting companies finance the cleanup of coal ash waste, according to the Illinois Environmental Council.

A New Way to Measure the Mental Health Benefits of Nature in Cities

(Gotta Be Worth It /

A new study offers a framework cities can use to begin measuring the mental health benefits of nature, while helping municipal planners and policymakers integrate nature into their projects. 

Pritzker, Other Governors Pitch Plan to Protect Great Lakes

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (WTTW News file photo)

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and four of his counterparts in the region are urging candidates in the 2020 presidential election to back a new plan aimed at protecting the Great Lakes.

Duckworth, Durbin Reintroduce Bill to Halt Sewage Dumping Into Great Lakes

(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Tens of billions of gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater runoff end up in the Great Lakes each year, polluting the water and prompting beach closings and swimming advisories. How new legislation aims to help.

Ocean-Themed Art by Students in 45 Countries on Display at Shedd Aquarium

Artwork made by students from across the world is on display at Shedd Aquarium. (Joshua Ford / Bezos Family Foundation)

The massive art project that got the attention of students across the globe is part of an educational initiative aimed at preserving oceans and the people who live closest to them.

Chicago Animal Welfare Group Sponsors ‘Anti-Horse Carriage’ Pedicab

A pedicab operated by Pedicab Ride Guys wrapped with signage from the Chicago Alliance for Animals, which is seeking to ban horse carriages in the city. (Marla Rose / Facebook)

Save a horse, ride a bike. That’s the message some Chicago animal welfare advocates are looking to send by sponsoring one of the pedicabs that shuttles riders along Michigan Avenue.

Study Finds High Levels of Fecal Bacterial at Chicago-Area Beaches

(gezelle rivera / Flickr)

A new report raises some red flags about the potential health risks associated with swimming at local beaches.

Giant Ice Treats Keep Animals Cool at Brookfield Zoo

Axhi, a grizzly bear at Brookfield Zoo, enjoys a 300-pound block of ice. (Kelly Tone / Chicago Zoological Society)

As a heat wave moved across the Chicago area last week, polar and grizzly bears stayed cool at the zoo with fruit-filled blocks of ice weighing 300 pounds.

Mamby on the Beach Festival Canceled Amid Dispute Over Endangered Birds

A piping plover on Waukegan Beach in 2018. (Ethan Ellis / Flickr)

The festival had been scheduled for Aug. 23-24 at Montrose Beach, where a pair of endangered piping plovers established a nest this spring. 

Lincoln Park Zoo to Remain Free Through at Least 2050

Lincoln Park Zoo’s new Searle Visitor Center (Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo)

The 151-year-old zoo will continue to offer free admission for the next 30-plus years after agreeing to an extended contract with the city.