CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago opened back up to the public Friday after being closed for nearly four months, and a special guest stopped by to welcome the visitors who lined up to visit the aquatic animals in person again.
There was a line of people, standing apart, getting their bags checked before entering the aquarium. And saying hello was Wellington, the Shedd's popular penguin that was seen making his rounds meeting other animals in the aquarium online during the pandemic. On reopening day, he was there with a handler to welcome people.
The Shedd is only allowing a few hundred people in at a time and tickets must be purchased online ahead of visiting.
The aquarium’s president and CEO Dr. Bridget Coughlin said it’s been 111 days since the attraction has been closed, though it has kept the aquarium virtually open online, offering online tours with the animals, programs and educational tools to keep people engaged while at home.
“While today we reopened out literal doors to the public, our virtual doors never closed," Couglin said. "Perhaps you have met Wellington, our Rockhopper Penguin that served as your tour guide as you strolled through the aquarium while we were closed.”
She said 43 million people engaged virtually with Wellington, so it was quite fitting that he be present for the reopening remarks. Also present were some green-winged macaws that welcomed guests as they stood in line.
Chief Animal Operations Officer Peggy Sloan said the aquarium was a little melancholy while it was closed and devoid of people.
“The sound of laughter and the squeals of delight when children see animals is really what gives us energy," Sloan said.
To make sure visitors adhere to the new social distancing guidelines, staff printed more than 700 signs about new procedures. There’s one-way flow, masks and sanitizer, temperature checks and reduced capacity.
Luitenant Governor Julianna Stratton was present at the reopening with her family and said seeing the institution reopen is a good sign.
"It is a safe and healthy sign of our state's recovery," Stratton said.
The Shedd joins other museums and cultural institutions in reopening under the state's Phase 4 reopening plan.
Find tickets and health info here: https://t.co/xtQoxtXA1E