News / USA

Zoo's Dolphin Habitat Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Melissa Zabojnik, a senior keeper at the Seven Seas exhibit, works with the Brookfield Zoo's youngest dolphin, March 2011
Melissa Zabojnik, a senior keeper at the Seven Seas exhibit, works with the Brookfield Zoo's youngest dolphin, March 2011


More than two million people each year visit the Brookfield Zoo’s Seven Seas exhibit in suburban Chicago. The exhibit, celebrating its 50th anniversary, is the oldest inland dolphin habitat in the United States. It focuses on the Chicago Zoological Society’s efforts to promote marine conservation.

Fifty years ago, the only way people in the US. Midwest could see dolphins up close was by visiting the coastline. The Chicago Zoological Society wanted to bring that experience closer to home.

"This was a very groundbreaking facility," said Rita Stacey, curator of the Seven Seas exhibit at Brookfield Zoo. She's worked with dolphins at the zoo for twenty years. "It was the first inland Dolphinarium. It was the first one to use artificial saltwater. We now create our own man-made saltwater here."

That technological advance allowed the zoo to create a permanent habitat for marine mammals far from the ocean. The exhibit, which Stacey said is as close to their natural environment as possible, attracts millions of visitors every year, even when temperatures are below freezing outside.

"This is actually our second building," said Stacey. "Our first building was operated for close to about 25 years. And in that 25 years, we had estimated about 11.5 million people had gone into that facility and saw the dolphins there."

Stacey said the Chicago Zoological Society, which runs the Brookfield Zoo, is one of the leading institutions promoting a better understanding of marine life. She said some research, including how dolphins breed and communicate, is a product of studying dolphins at the zoo.

"There is so much that we have learned in the last 50 years about caring for the dolphins, about the inner workings of their society and their relationships with each other, as well as about anatomy and about how dolphins actually work," said Stacey.

Melissa Zabojnik is a senior keeper at the Seven Seas exhibit. She has been working with dolphins for 10 years, and helps show the mammals to the public.

"We can use the dolphins as ambassadors to teach the public," said Zabojnik. "The zoo’s mission is to inspire conservation leadership, so that’s something that we try to portray in our dolphin shows as well."

The Zoo’s conservation efforts were tested during last year’s Gulf Oil spill. The Chicago Zoological Society’s Dolphin Research Center in Sarasota Florida, a sister facility, saw some changes in the dolphin population in the Gulf.  

Zabojnik said their history with the mammals is helping them track the long term environmental effects of the disaster. "Because we’ve gotten to know these animals so well in the past, it helps us in the future by determining if the oil spill has any effect on the future of them….. where the animals spend their time, if they migrate for any reason, if there’s any difference of their health and population year after year because of the oil spill."

The Brookfield Zoo now works with six other U.S. facilities that also are away from coastlines. Together, they promote a better understanding of the world under the sea.

Kane Farabaugh

Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs