McCormick students develop toy for Shedd Aquarium sea otters

Amy Whyte, Assistant Campus Editor

McCormick students developed a puzzle to keep Shedd Aquarium’s sea otters mentally stimulated as part of a longstanding partnership between the school and aquarium.

The puzzle, a 44 x 32 x 6-inch block of thick Plexiglas, fits into the window opening between the otters’ pool and the trainers’ area. Each year, engineering students work to solve a problem for the aquarium.

“Sometimes the projects are very specific, such as an anesthesia machine for fish,” said Lisa Takaki, the Shedd’s senior director of marine mammals, in a news release. “This year we simply asked for enrichment for the sea otters. The only specifications we gave (the students) were that it had to be otter-proof and rust-proof, and they came back with about six concepts.”

The winning concept was a maze-like puzzle designed by McCormick seniors Matthew Crocker and Samantha Hatfield, Communication senior Sofia Maspons and McCormick junior Chloe Frizelle. They worked on the project for two quarters with John Anderson, a lecturer in the Writing Program, and John Lake, a lecturer in the Segal Design Institute.

Trainers are able to engage the otters by tossing a special hollow ball stuffed with shrimp into the maze. The otters then learn to slide the ball down the various levels to an opening at the bottom.

In addition to the fish anesthesia system, McCormick students have designed protective booties for penguin feet and a decompression machine for sea horses in partnership with the aquarium.

— Amy Whyte