You didn't have to slog through heavy traffic to the Shedd Aquarium to view exotic sea creatures this weekend.
Everything from tiny colorful clownfish to enormous sea lions were on exhibit during the fifth annual Aquatic Experience -- Chicago, produced by the World Pet Association and held at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center.
Jessica Guzman, spokeswoman for the World Pet Association, said the show aims to educate experienced fish hobbyists as well as those just getting started.
The convention center swarmed with enthusiasts from the Chicago area and beyond, bending over to peer into tanks displaying a wide variety of aquatic life.
Hobbyists included specialists in African cichlids such as Kevin and Lynnea Koehler from West Chicago. They have a 44-gallon pentagon tank that includes room for six African cichlids.
"I have had aquariums probably since I was about 10 years old. I used to have about six of them set up at one time. I always just loved fish," Kevin said.
Cichlids, however, can be very mean, which is why several of those on display, such as the Red Head cichlid from Mexico/Guatemala, and the Blue Costa Rica Blue Dovii Wolf cichlid, were kept in solitary confinement.
Another tank was teeming with tame African cichlids. Scott McLaughlin of the American Cichlid Association said, "Many times, to stop aggression, we overpopulate them so there is not one dominant one."
The association was among the many exhibitors and retailers at the show.
Local vendors included Fabio De Luca, who runs Seven Seas Aquatic Life in Mount Prospect, which specializes in saltwater fish and corals.
Tom Kucala from Aquarium Overload in Sycamore was selling clownfish measuring only one or two inches and sporting colorful stripes.
There was plenty of entertainment as well. Sunday on the main stage, Jimmy Earhart, the sea lion equivalent of a lion tamer, put his charges through their paces, feeding them fish and balancing a ball on their whiskers.
Among those enjoying the sea lion show was Kiley Humbert of Barrington, who was pushing a stroller with her daughter, Carson, who will be 1 in two weeks.
She and her husband Eric have a coral and saltwater fish tank at home.
"It's a lot of work, but when you have kids, it's a nice thing, because you're not going out on Friday nights for drinks. You're at home watching movies, so you can manage your fish tank then," she said.
It is also educational for the children, Humbert added.
The sixth edition will be held next year in the New Jersey Meadowlands, but Guzman said the show will likely be back in the Chicago area in the years ahead.