Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Critters Galore

Naturalist John Dever reports the following animal sightings aboard the River Gorge Explorer this past Saturday: "3 Bald Eagles (two Juveniles), my first Coyote (from the RGE), Green Herons, Kingfishers, Red Tail Hawk."

The Early Bird Special- $20 per person- Save when you book the 10 a.m. cruise on Sat. or Sun. in advance. Call 1-800-262-0695 for your reservation and mention the "Early Bird Special".

Excursions last 2 hours. Please allow 10 minutes for loading and disembarking. The boat boards at the Chattanooga Pier - two blocks from the Tennessee Aquarium. Refreshments & restrooms are available on the boat.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Penguin Keepers Watching Paulie and Chaos

Some "egg-citing" news to report from Penguins' Rock. Paulie and Chaos have laid two eggs.
The first egg was broken by the parents almost immediately, a process that is perfectly normal for this species. "Macaroni penguins on exhibit or in the wild lay two eggs," said Amy Graves, the Aquarium's senior aviculturist. "The first egg is 50 to 60 percent smaller than the second egg and is usually kicked out of the nest or crushed by the parents. The female will lay a second egg anywhere from four to six days after the first egg is kicked out."

The first egg was laid by this couple one week ago. The second egg was discovered by keepers this past Thursday, five days after the first. "They are very protective of that egg and each other right now," said Loribeth Aldrich, a Tennessee Aquarium aviculturist. "Even while one bird is lying on the nest, they are preening each other and supporting each other. The way they are acting is very sweet."

Paulie and Chaos may be first-time parents if the egg they are protecting is fertile, but right now that cannot be determined. So penguin keepers are observing the egg and the behavior of this pair closely. Both parents take turns incubating the egg with Paulie appearing to rule the roost. Over the weekend, Paulie was clocked spending over six hours on the egg at a time with Chaos nearby. From time to time the parent lying on the nest will raise up to carefully rotate the egg using its feet and beak. The only other movement is to change shifts to eat or defend the nest. "Both birds will chase other birds off," said Aldrich. "They are protecting that egg and keeping the other birds very far away."

It will be some time before anyone knows whether or not this egg is viable. The incubation time for macaroni eggs is anywhere from 33 to 39 days. "Today marks day number five since the day the second egg was laid, so we have a long way to go," said Graves.

If the egg is fertile, the chick will have to hatch without any parental help. This process, called pipping, can take 24 to 48 hours to complete. After that, the chick's struggles continue explained Dave Collins, the Aquarium's curator of forests. "Newborn chicks must overcome high infant mortality rates and have diligent parents. Paulie and Chaos would be first-time parents, so hopefully their instincts will be strong enough to raise a chick successfully," said Collins.

A penguin chick is dependent upon the parents for warmth during the first two weeks of life. "After about 14 or 15 days, a chick will be able to maintain its own body temperature," said Aldrich. "Then a chick can be left alone in the nest and both parents can go off to feed and bring back food to the chick."

Penguin chicks go through three different types of plumage before they are able to take their first swim. They hatch with a very soft, downy set of feathers which are replaced by juvenile feathers. It takes 60 to 75 days for a baby penguin to grow their adult feathers depending upon the species. "Those are the waterproof ones, the nice black and white feathers you see on the adult penguins," said Graves.

Right now there are three other penguin pairs that seem to have very strong bonds and are being watched closely. One other pair of macaronis, "Hercules" and "Sweet Pea", have been diligently building their nest and have been observed laying on that nest for long periods of time. And gentoo pairs, "Biscuit" and "Blue" and "Poncho" and "Peep" have shown strong bonding and nesting behaviors.

For now Paulie and Chaos are the only ones with an egg. But according to the penguin keepers, that's enough to raise the excitement level at the Tennessee Aquarium this summer. "If all goes well, Paulie could be a dad around Father's Day," said Aldrich.
See video of Paulie and Chaos during a "shift change." Paulie leaves the nest after a six-hour shift as Chaos takes over incubating duties. Then watch the hungry father gobbling down some fish during his "dinner break." The final clip shows Paulie carefully using his feet and beak to rotate the egg. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FzRy_isS20

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jellyfest Continues Sunday

Enjoy music outside both the Tennessee Aquarium and Hunter Museum of American Art again on from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm Sunday to celebrate the Grand Opening of Jellies: Living Art. The weather co-operated nicely on Saturday for the performers and visitors. Here's a sample of the JellyFest activities today:

Members of the Monday Night Big Band jam with the jellies on the Aquarium Plaza.

Ed Huey belts out the blues at the Hunter Museum.

Mime Jerry Bowman uses a hula-hoop to frame his living art performance.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Jellies: Living Art Now Open!

Welcome to the Tennessee Aquarium's newest gallery - "Jellies: Living Art." When visitors come down the ramp from the Secret Reef, they are drawn into the space by the brightly colored macchias by glass artist Dale Chihuly. These works were inspired by sea forms such as jellyfish, but look carefully and you'll also envision sponges and giant clams. Macchia is an Italian word meaning spotted and these works are wonderfully spotted with very lively colors.

Another visual treat is the display of upside-down jellyfish. In this video clip you'll see one that's "right-side up." Normally this species of jellyfish lounge in the sun on their backs. They have algae in their tissues that need sunlight to produce food.
Speaking of food, an interactive display helps people understand the way jellies eat and function. There are also numerous fact-filled interpretive panels and videos.
Senior aquarist Sharyl Crossley says the blubber jellies might be everyone's favorites. They are brightly colored, very active and somewhat comical.

Cork Marcheschi's glass art glow with a "living light" display inside the Aquarium right next to Sea Walnuts that appear to produce a living light show of their own. We encourage everyone to bring their cell phones. Five new stops have been added to the Aquarium's bi-lingual cell phone audio tour. Four stops in Jellies: Living Art allow you to hear from each of the artists as they describe their work and how nature fueled their artistic expression.

The gallery is filled with six different jellyfish species alongside works by four glass artists. The experience continues at the Hunter Museum where more glass installations can be enjoyed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Screamers at the Tennessee Aquarium

One of the featured artists in the new Jellies: Living Art gallery, located inside the Ocean Journey building, is Stephen Rolfe Powell. Visitors will enjoy his brightly-colored and whimsical works he calls, "Screamers." According to Powell, these pieces are the third body of work following the "Teasers" and "Wackos." The Teasers were his first works while the Wackos get their moniker from the wacky process the team goes through to produce these pieces. Powell says the Screamers are more bird-like vessels which to him, seem to be trumpeting or screaming.

Go behind the scenes at the Tennessee Aquarium as glass artist Stephen Rolfe Powell installs his work via this video segment. You will also see his team creating a Screamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vujaFOib9DU

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Pirate Video From Jellies:Living Art

Arrrrrrrghhh! Another pirate video has been seized from someone attempting to gather images to post on the Internet. Fortunately we were able to thwart their plot before they could succeed. Take a look at the bootleg copy of this video showing upside-down jellyfish in the new Jellies: Living Art gallery inside Ocean Journey.

Artful Jellies Invading Chattanooga

Jellies have been top of mind for everyone at the Aquarium as the new Jellies: Living Art gallery is set to open on Friday. So I wasn't too surprised to see these jellies invading my office yesterday. The shadows on the floor jumped out at me, so I snapped a couple of pictures. But it was only when I started posting them here that I realized the collection of sea turtles appears to be chasing after them. There are some beautiful scenes in "Under the Sea 3D" of a green sea turtle munching on a jellyfish. Check it out at the IMAX 3D Theater:http://www.tnaqua.org/IMAX_underthesea.aspx
You might also want to go behind the scenes to see Dale Chihuly's macchias being unpacked at Ocean Journey. Graham Graham, (That is his real name.) is a close friend of Chihuly's and led the installation team for the exhibition here at the Aquarium and at the Hunter. You'll hear his insight about this rare opportunity to view this art collection in Chattanooga. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydo7jZPEJ_A
Jellies: Living Art opens at the Tennessee Aquarium and Hunter Museum of American Art this Friday, May 15th.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Inside the Secret Reef

Divers in the Secret Reef have noticed quite a few active sergeant major nests lately. In some locations, the nests appear like bluegill beds. The fish choose a location on the bottom to deposit their eggs and then aggressively protect their nests. Sometimes they nip at the divers to defend their territory. The egg masses can be stuck to the sides of the reef, looking like tiny patches of light purple bubbles on the rocks. The parents always let you know when you are getting too close. Even if you don't spot the nesting site, a sudden tap on the back of the head or nip on the hands lets you know you're not wanted there.

Before entering the exhibit, divers have to watch their feet. You never know when a stingray will be resting on the platform. Rays blend in a bit with the background making it possible to accidentally step on one. Usually they take off whenever someone approaches, but last night a ray decided to stay put until everyone was in the water. Then as all of the divers began descending into the Secret Reef, the ray began gliding downward with them before "flying" gracefully away.

This video gives you a taste of what it's like to hang out inside the Secret Reef. It's always bustling with activity and fun to observe.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Something to Make You Smile

I wanted to revisit Dr. Eugenie Clark's recent trip to the Tennessee Aquarium, because Bill Burch shared a great story the other day. Bill and Jola, seen here with Dr. Clark, are both volunteers at the Aquarium. Jola is a retired educator with a special connection to the guest speaker.
Bill explains, "Jola was excited about meetng the Shark Lady. She selected her book to use for many years as a Fourth Grade reading assignment. She enjoyed the book and thought it encouraged the children she taught. Most of her students had limited opportunities, so Jola bought over 25 copies to make sure each student could follow along in the reading lesson. Because of this book, we visited the Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota."

It's nice to know that in addition to the people Dr. Clark has directly inspired, like underwater filmmaker Nick Caloyianis, there are countless others like Jola's students whose imaginations were fueled by her story. Dr. Clark's presentation at the Tennessee Aquarium was also inspiring for youngsters like five-year-old Sarah Kenny, seen here with her mother Elizabeth.

By the way, Dr. Clark celebrated a birthday this week by plunging into the depths of Lake Tahoe aboard one of the Navy's newest subs. Happy Birthday Genie!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cool Video of Giant Catfish

Thanks to Richard Simms for sharing this link to a video from "Tennessee's Wild Side." This show spotlights fisherman Eric Maurer and the monster catfish he donated to the Tennessee Aquarium. Go on a fishing adventure with Richard and Eric and behind the scenes with Rob Mottice and other Aquarium biologists.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Spectacular Display of Huge Blooms

Springtime is a great time to check out the Tennessee Aquarium's Cove Forest. The blooming plants are spectacular right now. You don't have to have a green thumb to appreciate the absolutely huge white blooms of the white magnolia. This picture doesn't really do the flower justice, so Brandon from Chickamauga, Georgia volunteered to pose next to the plant for a sense of scale. Notice that the bloom is bigger than Brandon's head!

Ouside of giant Alaskan cabbages, I don't think there are many flowers you'll ever see that get this big. Visit the Aquarium's River Journey building to see them now.