Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Invitation to Join the Aquarium Team as a Docent

Many visitors may not know the difference between a gentoo or macaroni penguin when they arrive at the Tennessee Aquarium, but by the time they leave most are able to recite bird facts, turtle trivia and maybe even a tadpole tidbit or two. But that wouldn’t happen as often without the help of friendly volunteers who are waiting around virtually every corner to greet Aquarium guests. “Our volunteer docents receive extensive training on the plants and animals in every gallery,” said Julie Piper, the aquarium’s volunteer manager. “Their day varies from talking about conservation or education, but a lot of the time their job is simply customer service - providing good old fashioned southern hospitality.”

The word docent means sharer of knowledge, and for the past eight years Bill and Jola Burch, shown above in the Delta Swamp Exhibit, have been sharing their love and knowledge of the natural world with Aquarium visitors. Bill and Jola drive from Cleveland, Tennessee to Chattanooga once a week to volunteer. Jola is a retired teacher who enjoys her role as informal environmental educator. “We feel like we’re doing something for somebody else. We’re helping the Aquarium, but we’re also helping other people enjoy what’s happening at the Aquarium. It makes you feel good,” says Jola.

Bill enjoys interacting with the public as a docent, but he also enjoys getting face to mask with many of the aquatic creatures in his dual role as a volunteer diver. “Docents and divers are both specialists in their roles. Docents offer good customer service and knowledge about the Aquarium with them, and divers bring a physical skill-set to the Aquarium,” says Bill.

Piper is quick to point out that the Aquarium’s two buildings require an ample supply of docents to greet guests and share knowledge. “That’s our primary concern right now, recruiting more docent volunteers. Our next training session begins September 15 from 6:00 pm to 8:15 pm,” said Piper. Classes continue for the next seven Tuesday evenings until graduation.

Candidates who are willing to invest some of their time with this non-profit organization enjoy the following perks:

- Family membership (after three months of service)
- Free parking during each volunteer shift
- A limited number of IMAX passes
- A limited number of Aquarium guest passes (after one year of service)
- 20% discount in the Tennessee Aquarium or IMAX 3D Theater gift shops
- Volunteer recognition
- Pass exchanges to other attractions

With over 600 volunteers at the Aquarium, many people might be surprised by how many new friends they’ll make, or old friends they’ll meet under the glass peaks in downtown Chattanooga. “We have a whole new group of friends that are like an extended family. And when a new volunteer comes in, we make them feel right at home and we pull them into the group,” said Jola Burch. “You may already have friends that volunteer here and you didn’t even realize it,” said Piper.
To volunteer at the Aquarium, sign-up online at:
Or call the volunteer office today at: 1-800-262-0695 ext. 3057.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Star Trek: The IMAX Experience Held Over

The following communication was intercepted today on a sub-space frequency:

Spock: “Captain, I am detecting readings that Star Trek: The IMAX Experience was scheduled to end its run at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX Theater on July 30th. That would be ill-logical.”

Kirk: “Scottie – Check the projector’s dilithium crystals. How are they holding up?”

Scottie: “Aye Captain. They seem to be holdin’ up just fine. I’d say the film could run at warp speed on the giant, six-story screen through at least August 9th.”

Kirk: “Well then. Spock, I think you’ll find it most reassuring that Star Trek: The IMAX Experience WILL continue showing at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX Theater through August 9th.”

Dr. McCoy: “You see Spock, anytime you’re worried about film listings you can log onto the Aquarium’s website: . You could even tap into your human side and become an Aquarium Facebook Fan. That would be the logical move for anyone who wants to stay up to date on Aquarium events and IMAX movies.”

Spock: “You didn’t have to resort to insults Doctor McCoy. I will update our records to show Star Trek: The IMAX Experience playing through August 9th.”

Kirk: “And…let’s….not…forget. ‘Under the Sea 3D’ and ‘African Adventure 3D’ are also showing. Kirk out.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Update from Penguins' Rock

Gentoo chick being cared for in backup area of "Penguins' Rock."

Macaroni parents Paulie and Chaos set the gold standard for penguin baby care and the macaroni baby isn't so little any more. In fact, visitors almost do a double take when they realize that the bird inside the acrylic playpen is in fact the baby.

But gentoo parents Bug and Big T were not as diligent as Paulie and Chaos. Penguin keepers began noticing that the parents did not appear to be feeding the chick as often as they should have been. This past weekend the chick was pulled from the exhibit to be fed and hydrated by Aquarium staff. Amy Graves reports that the chick was returned to its parents yesterday afternoon. Apparently they are feeding the baby a little better now, but Graves said they will continue to monitor the situation very closely.

"Paulie and Chaos were an example of the best-case scenario," explained Graves. "They were able to care for their chick while on exhibit with the rest of the colony." That not only helps the pair become better parents in the future, but also helps give the chick a "road map" for the future.

In some ways, the behavior of Bug and Big T has been expected. Both are young, first-time parents. Graves says that Bug was hand-raised which could explain why her parental instincts are not fully developed. "Something may click with these two and they might start taking better care of their chick now," said Graves.

The window for Poncho and Peep's two eggs to hatch opens this Friday. We still do not know if either of their eggs or the two eggs in Zeus and Pebbles nest are viable or not.

Finally, Nipper and Flower continue to work in and around their nest. Nipper was seen laying in their nest and scooping out a depression several times late last week. He spends plenty of time laying in the nest and defending the spot while Flower lays in the nest occasionally.

It's all really fun behavior to see in person.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Another Penguin Baby at the Tennessee Aquarium

Macaroni baby at one day.

Gentoo baby at one day.

The Tennessee Aquarium has another new addition to "Penguins' Rock." A baby gentoo was born yesterday and so far parents Bug and Big T have been doing a pretty good job with their chick. There has been some concern because these new parents were pretty rough while they were turning and incubating their eggs. In fact, one of the eggs was crushed in the nest and the remaining egg had a small chip out of it. Senior aviculturist Amy Graves showed me the second eggshell and it's amazing that the chip didn't go through to the interior of the shell. But penguin eggs are much thicker than chicken eggs, and therefore durable enough to take some scrapes and bumps in a nest built out of stone. However, one misstep by the parents now could cause injury to this tiny newborn.

One month ago, we watched Paulie and Chaos caring for their tiny baby. There are some differences between the two in the "Day one" photos above. For example, the mac chick is darker and doesn't resemble the parents at this early stage. However, the lighter colored gentoo chick already sports an orange beak and white circle around the eyes like its parents. But the baby doesn't have the signature gentoo white head stripe yet.

The baby macaroni penguin started off with light gray feet, but now they are turning pink like the adult macaronis. Notice that it still lacks the signature "macaroni" crest feathers in this more recent image.
You'll also notice how quickly this youngster has grown. The baby macaroni can be heard in the gallery while visiting the Tennessee Aquarium now. His loud calls are keeping Paulie and Chaos on a busy feeding schedule. This growing penguin seems to be famished all the time.
By the way, the weather is supposed to be spectacular this weekend. Have you seen the forecast?
Perfect for a visit to Chattanooga, the Tennessee Aquarium and a cruise aboard the River Gorge Explorer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Great Way to Recycle and Save $$$.

Above - MaryStewart Lewis, AT&T Regional Director and Charlie Arant, Tennessee Aquarium President & CEO unveil the new AT&T Real Yellow Pages covers.

Two new phone book covers were unveiled at the Tennessee Aquarium today.

The Tennessee Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer is featured on the cover of the 2009 AT&T Real Yellow Pages directories. A companion directory, the smaller and more portable version of the traditional print directory designed for on-the-go consumers, features "Bug", one of the Tennessee Aquarium's gentoo penguins, on its cover.

More the 304,000 copies of the directory featuring the Explorer, and 197,000 featuring "Bug" have been produced for distribution in the area this year.

“We are proud to feature the Tennessee Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer on the cover of our new AT&T Real Yellow Pages directory for the Chattanooga area,” said Mike Snow, area marketing manager, AT&T Advertising Solutions. “We continually work to make our directory covers special on the outside, and tailor the community information inside our directories to best meet the needs of local residents and businesses.

“We’re delighted that the Tennessee Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer is on the new directory covers,” said Charles Arant, president and CEO, Tennessee Aquarium. “As people reach for the AT&T Real Yellow Pages they’ll be reminded of how this state-of-the-art vessel provides both enjoyment and educational opportunities to our community and to visitors who are drawn to Chattanooga.”

“The Tennessee Aquarium, and particularly the River Gorge Explorer, is a tremendous asset to Chattanooga.” said MaryStewart Lewis, AT&T regional director. “AT&T has a long, proud tradition of supporting the communities in which we – and our customers – live and work. This wonderful facility is an economic boom providing entertainment and educational opportunities for those living in Chattanooga, and the thousands who visit us each year.”

AT&T Real Yellow Pages is also working with several Chattanooga businesses to encourage people to recycle outdated directories.

For each old directory turned in from July 18 through August 15, the following participating businesses will offer a discounted admission coupon good through September 30th:
· The Tennessee Aquarium
· The IMAX 3D Theatre
· The River Gorge Explorer
· The Creative Discovery Museum
· The Chattanooga Zoo
· The Chattanooga Lookouts

For more information, go to:

As new books are delivered, Chattanooga-area businesses and residents are encouraged to recycle their outdated directories. AT&T Real Yellow Pages directories are recyclable, and the paper used to print the directories contains recycled materials.

It has been estimated for each 500 phone books recycled, we save up to 31 trees; 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space; nearly 7,000 gallons of water; and enough power to serve an average home for six months!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Penguins' Rock Update - New barrier up

It may be difficult to see in this image, but a new acrylic barrier has been erected inside "Penguins' Rock." This time the penguin keepers have built the fence for Bug and Big T.
The idea is to help keep any curious penguins away from the nesting pair of birds while allowing visitors to see what' s going on. The barrier that was originally built around Paulie and Chaos worked out pretty well. This is a shot of Big T on the nest behind the barrier. The opening is directly in front of his beak. This new barrier went up because if the egg is viable, it could hatch sometime between now and Saturday. So we're waiting to see what happens.
One other note: Biscuit and Blue's second egg was crushed in the nest. If this egg had been viable, the beginning of the hatching window would have been today. However, Amy Graves said there was no evidence of an embryo.
Here's the penguin tally to date:

Chaos and Paulie – macaroni penguins – one chick
Bug and Big T – gentoo penguins – one egg
Peep and Poncho – gentoo penguins – two eggs
Pebbles and Zeus – gentoo penguins – two eggs

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bouncing Baby Penguin Almost as Big as Parents

L to R Loribeth Aldrich - aviculturist, Kevin Calhoon - assistant curator of forests and Dr. Chris Keller - Tennessee Aquarium veterinarian, examine the baby macaroni penguin today.
The little bird isn't so little anymore. It tipped the scales at 1580 grams or slightly more than 3 lbs, 7 oz. The check-up went well according to Loribeth Aldrich who said, "Inside the exhibit the chick is vocalizing loudly and can be easily heard over the other penguins." Paulie and Chaos continue to be great parents although they can no longer cover the baby. "The chick is growing the second set of feathers, so there's no real need for the parents to cover it up anymore," said Aldrich.

As this baby macaroni penguin continues to grow, the other eggs could hatch soon if they are viable according to Aldrich. "Bug and Big T's egg could hatch as early as Sunday. Biscuit and Blue's could hatch as early as Monday. If fertile, Poncho and Peep's eggs would hatch around the 24th of July and Zeus and Pebble's eggs would have to wait until around August 7th."
Getting in on the action rather late in the game are Nipper and Flower. They continue nest building and sitting in the nest.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wild Time on the Explorer & at the Aquarium

Captain Thomas Offutt was quick with a camera aboard the River Gorge Explorer yesterday. These deer were seen by passengers along the water's edge on Williams Island. At about the same time, two of the young osprey chicks were seen on the shore taking a bath. Apparently wildlife viewing has been abundant this week. Naturalist John Dever reports sighting four egrets and a bald eagle on one excursion earlier this week. Everyone seems to really enjoy the Sunset Special cruises. One guest e-mailed to let everyone know how relaxing and enjoyable the sunset cruise was last Friday evening.

The macaroni baby penguin continues to rapidly grow. At the last weigh-in, it topped the scale at over two pounds. Amy Graves said they will have to use a larger scale for the next weigh-in. We also have two new eggs. Zeus and Pebbles, a gentoo pair, have two eggs in their nest now. Amy Graves also said that Nipper and Flower have suddenly started building a nest together. And apparently Flower has been sitting in that nest quite a bit lately. So the question is.....will there soon be two more eggs in "Penguins' Rock?" If so, there could be a.....little Nipper or two on the way.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Buckle Up for Adventure!

Star Trek: The IMAX Experience beams onto the giant six-story screen at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater tomorrow and runs through July 30th. Several friends who have seen the film already say they can't wait to see this film BIGGER. For those who haven't seen Star Trek yet, here's the trailer:

Another film launching July 3rd is African Adventure 3D. This film takes you to the Okavango Delta in southern Africa for a thrilling photo safari. I have always wanted to go on one of these trips and this 3D adventure took me there. It was fun to take a virtual walk around a safari camp, boat through a maze of reeds and come face to face with lions, hippos and some amazing birds. If you love elephants, this is a must see. The encounters with the HUGE pachyderms will have you reaching out to touch their wrinkled trunks. AWESOME!
Also showing at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater is Under the Sea 3D. Everyone will love this brand new film by the makers of Into the Deep 3D and Deep Sea 3D, two of the most popular IMAX films ever produced. The array of wildlife is spectacular, the colors are dazzling and the crew captured some really cool animal behavior on film.
TWO FINS UP for all three of these giant screen flicks!