Kurt Heizmann of Shedd Aquarium: Compassion, research, and conservation

Kurt Heizmann

Kurt Heizmann is a Supervisor of Marine Mammals in the Oceanarium Department, Shedd Aquarium, whose mission entails sparking compassion, curiosity, and conservation for the aquatic animal world. Enjoy this FASCINATING behind-the-scenes look at the people behind the aquarium glass!

Discussion Guide / Notes:

  1. We discuss the Oceanarium Department and its mission and purpose.
  2. Not only focused on rescue, but rehabilitation too…
  3. The focus isn’t just what happens under the water, but the ecosystem CONNECTED to the water!
  4. Two sides of Shedd: The public showcases, but also the behind-the-scenes work of scientists, researchers, and veterinarians doing rehabilitation.
  5. The entertainment aspect of Shedd might just light the spark the makes someone want to learn more about the animals, thus, that’s a big piece of that side of Shedd’s work.
  6. All the research work they do, collecting data, samples, x-rays, and so on enables Shedd to contribute meaningful information to the greater scientific community.
  7. Shedd is just a small part of a deeply connected global community of experts, scientists, and professionals…it’s not a solo institution operating independently.
  8. And as part of that wider community, that’s how the major rescue projects are executed, is in collaboration with others from around the world, whether it is rescuing 10,000 tortoises, or wayward Beluga whales lost up in Canada, hundreds and hundreds of miles from where it should have been.
  9. The people you see working with animals…they don’t just come and spend some time playing with animals, they devote a lifetime to the study, research, and training with these animals. And when they parachute into a crisis situation, they are ready with years of hands on experience to help solve a crisis situation.
  10. We talked about their research vessel, based out of Miami, that does a lot of research, rescue, and conservation work in the Caribbean and the Bahamas.
  11. How can people make a career out of this kind of work?
  12. We talk about their conservation focus, a realm that people don’t necessarily think about when they think of going to Shedd, and here, we talk about Surge Forward, a Shedd-operated hub to get wired into this community and arm yourself with tools…in other words, learn how to “act and agitate!”
  13. How can people support Shedd with resources and time?

About Kurt Heizmann:

In addition to his responsibilities with the California sea lions and birds of prey, Kurt Heizmann assists with the care of the beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, sea otters and penguins. An experienced scuba diver, he also dives in the Wild Reef shark habitat, assisting with maintenance and feeding the wobbegongs. Heizmann is passionate about the animals in his care as well as their wild counterparts.

With his wide expertise, he is a key member of Shedd’s Animal Response Team. He has helped rescue and rehabilitate animals in urgent need from stranded sea lions in California to beluga calves in Canada to endangered penguin chicks in South Africa.

Heizmann is a member of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association. The paper he coauthored on post-operative care for a great horned owl was awarded a second-place prize in husbandry. Kurt earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Augustana College, Rockford, Illinois.

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