Monday, September 27, 2010

Sean Casey's Tornado Intercept Vehicle Vists IMAX

Sean Casey had a lot of fun meeting fans at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater yesterday.

The Discovery Channel star of "Storm Chasers" brought his Tornado Intercept Vehicle, TIV, to Chattanooga for the Giant Screen Cinema Association's annual conference. Sean was promoting his new film, "Tornado Alley."
Casey joined researchers from the VORTEX 2 project, the most ambitious effort ever made to understand the origins and evolution of tornadoes, during the filming of "Tornado Alley." Casey spent eight years chasing storms to capture what may be some of the most stunning tornado footage ever seen.

One future tornado researcher (Seen above.) traveled a LONG WAY to meet Sean and see the TIV. Jack Jester celebrated his ninth birthday by going for a ride around downtown Chattanooga in the TIV. His mother drove from Peoria, Illinois to make sure he had an unforgettable birthday.

The TIV sure looked strange travelling the streets near the Tennessee Aquarium. Casey says what was once a Dodge truck was stripped down to the chassis and engine to create a nearly tornado proof SUV. "Obviously there are limits," said Casey. "An F-5 tornado can sweep a building off it's foundation. But the TIV has several layers of Kevlar, aluminum and steel to protect us while we are filming inside a tornado. The body rests on air bags which deflate to lower the body near the ground. And the vehicle also has skirts with poles that we can drive into the ground with hydraulics to keep wind from getting under the vehicle."

Many fans were captivated by his storm chasing stories and are already excited about the release of Tornado Alley in the Spring of 2011.

Thanks Sean and the Tornado Alley production team from Giant Screen Films for bringing this exciting whirlwind tour to the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Baby Turtle at the Tennessee Aquarium

One spiny hill turtle, Heosemys spinosa, hatched at the Tennessee Aquarium Monday, September 20th from a clutch of three eggs that were laid on June 18th. The eggs were incubated at 82 degrees. The hatchling weighs 26 grams and is roughly 2.25 inches across.

This is only the eighth successful hatchling of this species at the Aquarium. According to senior herpetologist Bill Hughes, each successful hatchling improves the odds of this species' survival. “We now have seventeen spiny hill turtles in our collection,” Hughes said. “There are eight adults and nine juveniles. The adults are part of the Tennessee Aquarium’s Asian Turtle Breeding Program.”

Spiny hill turtles, also known as spiny terrapins, spiny turtles or sunburst turtles, are endangered in their native range which includes Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

While this new baby turtle will remain in a backup area until the sex can be determined, visitors can see two spiny hill turtle hatchlings from last season in the Aquarium’s Turtle Gallery on Level 2 of the River Journey building.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I've Always Wanted One - Tornado Proof SUV

I watched too many episodes of the "Wacky Races" when I was growing up and loved seeing Rufus Ruffcut and Sawtooth in the Buzz Wagon, Dick Dastardly and Muttley and all of the other characters and their contraptions on Saturday mornings. Maybe that's why I'm looking forward to seeing Sean Casey's Tornado Intercept Vehicle while it's in Chattanooga.
Known as the TIV, this behemoth could have been another entry in the Wacky Races. This "tornado tank" is 27 feet long, 108" wide, 8' Tall and weighs 14,000 lbs!
IMAX film-maker Sean Casey and the custom-built TIV will be making a special stop to meet fans and visitors at the Tennessee Aquarium on Sunday, September 26, at Noon.

Casey, star of the Discovery Channel’s wildly popular Storm Chasers series, will be at the Aquarium to give industry insiders an advance screening of some of the dramatic footage from his upcoming film, Tornado Alley. For the past seven years, Casey has traveled Tornado Alley, the “severe weather capitol of the world,” on a personal quest to capture the birth of a tornado on film—at point-blank range.

While the film will not be released until the spring of 2011, Casey will be taking a break from the activities of the Giant Screen Cinema Association’s annual conference to spend some quality time with fans of the TIV and Tornado Alley. The armored vehicle was built to carry Casey's IMAX camera into gale force winds, torrential rains, and unrelenting hail. During the event, Aquarium visitors will be able to get a close-up view of the vehicle and can pose for pictures with Casey and the TIV.

Available only for giant screens like the Tennessee Aquarium’s IMAX Theater, Tornado Alley takes audiences on a heart-pounding mission to experience a tornado’s destructive power. The film follows Sean Casey and the scientists of the VORTEX 2 project, the most ambitious effort ever made to understand the origins, structure, and evolution of tornadoes as they traversing Tornado Alley in their DOWs (Doppler on Wheels) and the TIV. Casey and the VORTEX team experience the relentless strength of nature’s elemental forces while gathering the most comprehensive extreme weather data ever collected. Audiences will be swept away by the adrenaline and the science as the giant screen reveals the beauty and untamed power of these breathtaking weather events.

Event Details:

Time: Noon -1 pm, Sunday, September 26
Location: Tennessee Aquarium - One Broad Street

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gibson Goes Home to Nashville

We say a fond farewell to Gibson, the giant guitarfish, who came to Chattanooga after the devastating floods in Nashville, Tennessee. (Read about how he got here: ) The star of the Nashville Aquarium Restaurant at the Opry Mills Mall headed home after more than three months away from the Music City.
Gibson received the royal treatment while Tennessee Aquarium staff cared for him. Apparently the accommodations and buffet were quite suitable at the Aquarium's Animal Care Facility. Senior aquarist Rob Mottice said Gibson grew a surprising amount while in Chattanooga. "When we transported Gibson from Nashville to here, he fit inside our transport box just fine," said Mottice. "But when we loaded him to go back home, it was like 'Whoa!,' he had to curl his tail a bit to fit in the same container. It was amazing!" Mottice estimates Gibson grew six to ten inches while in Chattanooga.

So how do you move a giant guitarfish? First you slowly drop the water level in the holding tank.

Then you get a couple of strong aquarists like Pete Larson and Ben Stenger to join Gibson in the big holding tank.

Next, a transport stretcher is laid out on the bottom of the tank. The material is soft enough for large animals like sharks, rays and guitarfish. One end is elevated so the stretcher becomes a ramp. The animal swims in, the sides fold over the animal, then up and out he goes.

Gibson seemed to know he was heading home. The process couldn't have gone more smoothly. The drive up I-24 was also uneventful and today Gibson is happy at home.

In fact, this magnificent guitarfish realized he was home almost immediately. "As soon as we put him in the tank, he went down to the bottom to relax for about five minutes," said Mottice. "Shortly after that, he started swimming around perfectly, navigating around all of the coral formations. And he quickly found his two favorite spots, where I've been told he likes to sit during the course of the day. We were real pleased to see that."
Our hearts go out to those still working to make things better than ever in Nashville. We think Gibson's return is one more sign that life is almost back to normal there.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gentoo Chick, "Allow me to introduce myself."

Aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich gently lifted the Tennessee Aquarium's gentoo chick out of its acrylic "playpen" and placed him on the exhibit floor. Almost immediately, the chick began calling, it's squeaky voice instantly joined by a rather loud chorus of adult gentoo calls. The sound was nearly deafening for a few moments and then, abruptly stopped. "That's the way gentoos greet each other," said Aldrich. Introductions were made amongst the birds because this was the first time this "baby penguin" was free to roam about the colony with the other birds. At 72 days old, this chick is in the middle of what would normally be fledging time for gentoos in the wild.
Right now the macaronis are a surly group. Their in the middle of their molt which naturally causes them to be grumpy. Unfortunately, a youthful gentoo found out the hard way that you don't go barging into a molting macaroni's nest uninvited. Aldrich had to intervene when Hercules, seen above, tried to give the wandering chick a piece of his mind with the business end of his beak.

Back among friends with the other gentoos, this clumsy little penguin explored the exhibit introducing himself (or herself) to the other birds.
Even though this toddler weighs around 13 pounds, he or she appears to be wearing baggy pants. According to Aldrich, the "pants" will fit better as soon as the chick starts swimming. As the breast muscles develop, this loose appearing skin will "fill in."

Here Aldrich appears to be saying, "That's not your mother." The chick wasn't afraid to go "door to door" stopping at different nests to beg for a feeding.

"Go away kid! Even if I was your mother, you're getting too big to be pampered anymore."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Footloose in Chattanooga

Labor Day weekend was fun-filled in the Scenic-City. Even in hot weather, Chattanooga’s one cool place to be! Watch this explosion of dance in front of the Tennessee Aquarium to the tune of the Chattanooga Choo Choo!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tennessee Crossroads Aboard the Explorer

The Tennessee Aquarium was honored to have Rob Wilds and the Tennessee Crossroads crew aboard the River Gorge Explorer recently. This Emmy-Award winning program travels the highways and byways of Tennessee,highlighting the personalities, crafts, places, foods and events that make Tennessee special and its character unique.
They picked a great summer day to be out on the water with us in "Tennessee's Grand Canyon."
See what it's like to be in the Captain's chair piloting this high-tech vessel when this episode of Tennessee Crossroads airs in the following cities:
WTCI – Chattanooga
Saturday 9/11 @ 6:30am
Saturday 9/25 @ 6:30am & 4:30pm
Thursday 9/30 @ 11pm

NPT – Nashville
Thursday 9/9 @ 7pm
Sunday 9/12 @ 10am

East Tennessee PBS – Knoxville
Saturday 9/11 @ 6:30pm
Thursday 11/4 @ 8:30pm

WCTE – Cookeville
Saturday 9/11 @ 9am

WLJT – Jackson/Martin
Thursday 9/16 @ 8pm
Saturday 9/18 @ 11am
Sunday 9/19 @ 6:30pm

WKNO -Memphis
Thursday 9/23 @7pm & 12midnight
Saturday 9/25 @2pm
Saturday @ 9pm on WKNO-2

Then come to Chattanooga to experience the River Gorge Explorer yourself. Autumn color cruises are right around the corner!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Five Reasons to Visit Labor Day Weekend

Everyone should be pumped up! Chattanooga's weather is forecast to be absolutely gorgeous for Labor Day weekend and there are soooooooooooo many reasons to visit and hang out. Here are five in and around the Tennessee Aquarium.

#1 - Magic Moments & Family Fun

A family from North Georgia just sent this fantastic shot to us to share with everyone. Little Ella celebrated her first birthday at the Aquarium. Here's what Ella's mom Crystal had to say about their visit: "We (mom and dad) have been to the Tennessee Aquarium many times, but she turned 1 that day, so we decided to take her. We bought the yearly membership, so we will be returning lots in the future. We had stopped for a snack break and were sitting in the floor letting her drink and eat for a second when she walked over to the glass and pressed her nose against the glass. I thought it was too cute how much she loved it! Thanks again!"
What a fun photograph....I'm sure you'll have many more in the future. Bring your digital camera with fresh batteries and a big memory card and you'll be ready to capture those magic moments of family fun too!

#2 Animal Encounters & New Backstage Pass

Educator Thaddeus Taylor introduced me to a diamondback terrapin. This handsome guy in one of dozens of education outreach animals that visit schools, make appearances in distance learning programs and meet Aquarium visitors during Animal Encounter programs. You could get an up close view of a speckled turtle, talkative parrot or furry woodchuck on your next visit.

Check out the New Backstage Passes to go behind the scenes to get access to "keepers only" areas of the Aquarium like the observation catwalk above Penguins' Rock. You might enjoy watching the gentoo penguin baby from this vantage point.


The Aquarium's own Matt Downer and the New Binkley Brothers will be opening Nightfall for the Carolina Chocolate Drops Friday evening. This will be an awesome free concert at Miller Plaza in Downtown Chattanooga.

Saturday's River Market features some great free music on the Aquarium Plaza.
Check out Sweet Georgia Sound from 11 am to 4:30 pm.

Then even more free music for Chattanooga's Riverfront Nights Saturday evening.

#4 Smooth Sailing in the Gorge

We saw two ospreys and more than a dozen turkeys from aboard the River Gorge Explorer the other day. Even without wildlife sightings, just cruising along enjoying the weather and the scenery was very relaxing and enjoyable. With primo weather expected this weekend, being out on the River is hard to beat.

#5 Big Thrills on the Giant Screen at IMAX

INCEPTION: I can't wait to see this one on the giant, six-story screen. It should be awesome!

Hubble 3D: This film may be the best IMAX 3D film I have ever seen. You get to know the astronauts, the film gives you the sensation of liftoff and spacewalking AND the 3D fly-throughs of Hubble Space Telescope imagery is almost beyond description. Don't miss this film while it's at IMAX.

Wild Ocean 3D: Dolphins, whales, diving birds, sharks and penguins all feasting on an amazing, swirling mass of sardines. D.J. Roller, the underwater filmmaker who captured these fantastic images says watching this film is just like being in the middle of this feeding frenzy while filming. Except that, "You don't have to worry about being hit by the diving birds that could pierce you with their beaks as they hit the water at more than 40 miles per hour."