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Shedd Aquarium tops in attendance among big-city aquariums

116. The Shedd Aquarium 1200 S. Lake Shore where something fishy is always going on.

116. The Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore,, where something fishy is always going on.

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Updated: February 1, 2013 12:14AM

A wave of more than 2 million visitors to see the boneless, bloodless and brainless sea “Jellies” special exhibit along with the newborns — a Beluga whale and a Pacific white-sided dolphin — pushed the Shedd Aquarium to the number one spot in attendance among big-city aquariums last year, officials there announced Thursday.

The Shedd had been sitting in second place nationally, according to attendance figures compiled by 20 of the largest aquariums Chief Financial Officers, but the popular jellies exhibit — and two new arrivals boosted it to the top spot with 2.17 million visitors. They beat out the Georgia Aquarium and three coastal California aquariums for the lead spot, a top Shedd official said on Wednesday.

“We have more than 1,500 species — the most diverse of any aquarium in the world,” Roger Germann, Shedd’s executive vice president. “We have 83 years of history — we’re an inland aquarium that provides unique challenges to care for animals in many ways, but we have an amazing animal care staff.”

Shedd’s visitor numbers added up to a 2 percent increase in attendance over the 2011, according to statistics also released Thursday by a consortium of Chicago-area zoos and museums.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said in a statement: “The growing popularity of the Shedd Aquarium, the country’s most visited aquarium in 2012, is one more sign of Chicago’s growing strength as a cultural capital and tourist destination.”

The mayor’s office also stated the “Shedd’s most essential role” is educationg Chicago’s adults and children and praised the aquarium for providing free admission to 53,000 Chicago Public Schools students last year.

The 15 zoos and museums — part of a public relations campaign called “Museums Work For Chicago” — had a total of 15.1 million visitors, which represents a modest increase of 4 percent over the previous year.

The Chicago Children’s Museum had a 10 percent increase, while the Chicago History Museum was up 9 percent, according to a news release for the Muesums. The Brookfield Zoo attendance was up 8 percent while the Adler Planetarium and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum each saw small gains over and John G. Shedd Aquarium.

The organization’s public relations team didn’t immediately provide statistics showing whether attendance had fallen at any of zoos or museums.

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