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A Profile in Commitment: Lise Watson

By Kayley Ciocci
min read

While Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Ill., remains closed due to COVID-19, like so many other Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facilities, essential team members remain onsite.

The dedicated caretakers and veterinarians at the Aquarium continue to provide the highest standards of professional care and welfare for the animals, while the facilities team operates the building, security staff ensure safety of the workers, and many others continue their everyday functions.

One of these is Lise Watson, senior curator at the Aquarium, who oversees the Wild Reef exhibit. As the senior curator, she cares for animals ranging from tiny mandarin dragonets to big sharks. 

“The biggest challenge has been trying to do more with less,” she said.

The team is getting creative with staffing to help the animal care staff stay safe by splitting into two groups that don’t overlap. This means only half of their team is there at any given time.

“Before our closure, we had a large team of wonderful volunteers who assisted us. For their protection and ours, we are not having them come in, so all their efforts are now carried out by the onsite staff. These duties include food preparation, extra dives for cleaning and feeding the animals, and much more.”

Watson went above and beyond when managing a crisis within a crisis when the Aquarium experienced a power outage in the middle of the night, the result of an external power malfunction. Responding at 1 am, and working well into the afternoon, the team handled the issue, assessed any damage, and repaired the systems. Not one animal was lost due to the effective and quick response of Watson and the Aquarium team.

“Having the collective expertise of all the operations and fishes staff who were addressing the issues was critical to our successful handling of this situation,” said Watson.

Throughout the year, there are scheduled power shutdowns for various needs at the Aquarium.

Having the collective expertise of all the operations and fishes staff who were addressing the issues was critical to our successful handling of this situation.

“We prepare for these by having ‘emergency kits’ on hand with essentials to deal with a power outage. All this preparation comes in handy when you are dealing with an unexpected emergency like this.” 

Watson and the other essential team members onsite continue to work tirelessly to provide top-quality care through this crisis, demonstrating a real commitment to the animals in their care.

Photo Credit: ©John G. Shedd Aquarium

Kayley Ciocci is a coordinator for Public Relations at the John G. Shedd Aquarium.

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