Let him eat cake! 'Granddad' the fish celebrates 80 years at aquarium

Image: Granddad the Australian lungfish
Granddad the Australian lungfish has been living at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago for 80 years. He was already fully grown when he moved in, so his actual age could be 82 to 85 years. Shedd Aquarium / Brenna Hernandez

Oh, Granddad. If your gills could talk.

You traveled all the way from Sydney, Australia to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago back in 1933 so you could dazzle visitors to the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. Most of the little boys who gawked at you then wore suspenders; the little girls wore dresses with wide collars.

Your wise demeanor and prehistoric appearance have cheered people up through the Great Depression, World War II, the race riots of the 1960s, the Vietnam War and beyond — and on Tuesday, you got a rare tribute: A celebration honoring you as the oldest fish in any zoo or aquarium on the planet.

Yes, Granddad the Australian lungfish has been swimming his way into visitors’ hearts at the Shedd Aquarium for 80 years now. Officials in Chicago and around the world are so excited about his happy, healthy tenure that they issued a formal proclamation about Granddad on Tuesday and surprised him with a visit from the Consul General of Australia, The Honorable Roger Price.

Image: Australian Consul-General The Honorable Roger Price
Roger Price, Australia's Consul-General, visited Granddad in Chicago on Tuesday and praised his longevity. Shedd Aquarium / Brenna Hernandez

“Granddad makes people happy,” said Ken Ramirez, Shedd’s executive vice president of animal care. “Everybody knows him and can pick him out. ... The Australian government has certified him as the oldest lungfish ever.”

Ramirez credited top-notch water quality, nutrition and health care for Granddad’s epic longevity. He noted that on Tuesday the fish was quite eager to receive the special “ice cake” made in his honor with smelt, shrimp, herbivore gel squares, yellow squash, green peas, grated carrot and sweet potato frozen inside. That healthy mix was covered with seaweed frosting and garnished with shredded escarole greens, carrots and raspberries. (Ummm ... yum?)

Image: Granddad's anniversary cake
This very healthy anniversary cake was made from ice and fish treats in Granddad's honor. Shedd Aquarium / Brenna Hernandez

And lest anyone thinks Granddad is slowing down any time soon, a Shedd press release took pains to explain the following: “One may mistake the dull, blotchy marks all over Granddad for liver spots associated with old age in humans, but they are actually coloration from overlapping scales typically found on male lungfish.”

Image: Proclamation for Granddad the fish
The Australian Consulate honored the old timer fish for his many years in Chicago with an official proclamation on Tuesday. Shedd Aquarium / Brenna Hernandez

Granddad is nearly 4 feet long, weighs about 20 pounds and lives with four other lungfish pals at Shedd. And guess why he’s called a lungfish? Because he has a lung.

“He has the ability to oxygenate through his gills like most fish, but he also has what is very much like a mammalian lung,” Ramirez said. “Every once in a while, you’ll see him come to the surface and gasp for air.”

Need a Coffey break? Connect with writer Laura T. Coffey on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or read more of her stories at