Sparking compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world

Shedd Aquarium is home to several Beluga Whales. In July, Shedd staff traveled to Canada to help return a stranded Beluga Whale to the rest of its pod in the St. Lawrence Seaway. Photo courtesy of Brenna Hernandez/Shedd Aquarium.

By Emily Stearney

Year in School: Senior

Major: Public Relations

Internship: Public Relations and Communications Intern, John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

“So, from what I understand, researchers observed a lemon shark periodically over 435 days as it expelled a fishing hook through its stomach, coelom and body wall. Rather than vomiting it up or letting it pass or just dying, the shark appeared to push the object out of its right side.”

This is a real quote from an email I sent my supervisor during shark week. As a public relations intern for the Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, you never know what to expect when you walk into the office each day. From newborn Bonnethead Sharks (Sphyrna tiburo), to a successful rescue of a stranded Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas) in Canada, to a walking appetizer tour of Shedd’s outdoor sustainable gardens, the public relations team is never short of stories to pitch to media.

A Day at Shedd

As a PR intern, I assist one of the PR coordinators with publicizing Shedd’s sustainability efforts and conservation research. Shedd Aquarium has researchers in the Great Lakes, The Bahamas, just off shoreline of Chicago at Morgan Shoal and more. Our sustainability work includes growing some of our own food (which feeds our guests and some of our animal residents), cutting our water consumption in half by 2020 and reducing plastic pollution by refusing to offer single-use plastic straws through a campaign called #SheddTheStraw. Any given day at my internship, you’ll probably find me drafting a pitch or news release about any one of these stories, compiling media lists of local and national reporters, brainstorming ways to engage influencers, drafting a blog for our National Geographic channel or working with reporters to secure media coverage.

My day isn’t just typing away behind a computer though. In addition to attending meetings, I’ve gone on behind-the-scenes tours of the fishes department, the marine mammals department (otters are as cute up close as they are in photos) and the Field Museum of Natural History right next door! It’s also the PR department’s job to be present during any and all media coverage that involves Shedd. That means that a PR coordinator and I are almost always around the aquarium helping out camera crews and reporters with b roll, visuals and interviews.

Science Communication Hard at Work

Sometimes science is intrinsically cool. Other times, it can be difficult to make a research paper something that reporters want to write about and something that their audience will want to read. The solution is employing some science communication tools. Taking JL MC 347 (science communication) last spring let me walk in the shoes of a science reporter, so at Shedd, I’ve been able to employ some of those strategies into my pitches. Finding oddity, focusing on impact and avoiding sensationalism helped me share Shedd’s amazing work without “dumbing down” the science or misleading reporters. By employing science communication strategies, I’ve established positive working relationships with local reporters and even given Shedd a few new points of contact for future stories!

Working at Shedd Aquarium has been amazing; I’ve learned so much, not just about PR, but about conservation and the aquatic animal world around me as well. Saying goodbye to my summer internship at Shedd Aquarium will be difficult—not being able to say good morning to Belugas or petting stingrays whenever I want will be an unfortunate adjustment! I’m ecstatic that I got to contribute to an organization that actively seeks to make the world a better place, and because of this internship, I’m already looking for ways to do the same.

Vote for this entry in Round 2 of the 2017 Greenlee School Summer Intern Blogging Contest.

Voting begins at noon on Aug. 10 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 17. The winner will be announced Aug. 18 by noon.