By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Dec 10, 2012 at 3:26 PM

CHICAGO – With over 32,500 animals, representing nearly 1,500 species including fish, marine mammals, birds, snakes, amphibians and insects, Chicago's Shedd Aquarium has the most diverse collection in the world.

During a visit, guests can meet a 3-month-old baby beluga whale, an octopus, tanks of mesmerizing jellyfish and creatures so bizarre looking it's hard to believe they exist beyond science fiction.

"Shedd's animals connect you to the living world and inspire you to make a difference. I can't think of anything more magical than that," says Maggie Hassler, Shedd's coordinator of communications and public affairs.

The Shedd Aquarium opened on May 30, 1930, thanks to the work, vision and donations of John G. Shedd, retired president of Marshall Field & Co.

In the early '20s, Shedd recognized that every cosmopolitan city had an impressive aquarium and wanted to offer the same in Chicago. Although Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo did have a freshwater fish collection, Shedd wanted a stand-alone aquarium, so he made a $3 million gift to make it happen.

Unfortunately, Shedd only lived long enough to see the architect's first drawings for his aquarium and his widow, Mary R. Shedd, cut the ribbon at the official opening ceremony.

Today, the Shedd Aquarium is one of the largest attractions in Chicago and houses five permanent exhibits: Amazon Rising, Caribbean Reef, Waters of the World, the Oceanarium and Wild Reef.

The Amazon Reef contains 250 different species, including anacondas, piranhas, spiders, rays and crocodiles.

The Caribbean Reef is a 90,000-gallon, floor-to-ceiling circular tank that allows for walk-around viewing and often features a microphoned diver who interacts with both the animals and the viewers.

Waters of the World offers frogs, a giant octopus, Nile knifefish, Grand Cayman blue iguanas, sea stars, seahorses, Alligator snapping turtle and River otter.

The Wild Reef offers a divers' underwater view of marine life from intimidating-looking sharks to beautiful corals to garden eels.

"Jellies" is the current special exhibit and is worth a visit on its own. The exhibit opened in summer 2011 and was originally scheduled to run through May 2012. However, on May 7, 2012, due to popular demand, it was extended through 2013.

Numerous different species of jellies are featured and their simple bodies, free of blood, brains and bones have allowed them to survive for millions of years. Among the educational experiences, guests see how a jelly can devour enough food to double its weight each day as well as understand the jelly life cycle.

Most guests will be captivated by the beautiful vision and nature of the jellyfish. They "breathe" and float, closing and reopening. Most agree they could watch them for hours, and some do.

On Aug. 27, 2012, a popular beluga whale at the Shedd, Mauyak, delivered a baby girl beluga who is now over five feet long and weighs well over 200 pounds. Guests can observe the mother and baby who play, nurse and spend time gracefully swimming alone.

The female beluga calf is the sixth successful birth as part of Shedd's collaboration in the beluga whale breeding cooperative.

The Abbott Oceanarium features Sea World-esque shows. The current show is the Christmas-themed "A Holiday Fantasea" and includes Santa, Frosty and a live holiday trio.

There's also a 4-D theater, the only one in Chicago, and a Polar Play Zone, geared at kids ages 2 to 7 that allows them to play in the "snow" and "ice" inside at the North and South Poles of Shedd's first-ever, permanent, kid-friendly exhibit.

"At Shedd, animal care is our top priority. The habitats, food, and exercise regimen for each unique animal specifically reflects that animal's natural environment in the wild," says Hassler.

Shedd Aquarium is about 90 minutes from Milwaukee. It's located on the Museum Campus, along with the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium. There are multiple parking lots on the campus. The cost is around $22 for parking.

There are many different tickets available at the Shedd. Adults range from $8 (for very limited access) to $34.95. Kids, ages 3 to 11, range from $6 to $25.95. A family membership is $175.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.