Thursday, December 30, 2010

Manatees Struggle with Cold Temps in Florida

The recent cold snap has proven to be a big challenge for Florida's endangered manatees. NBC News recently reported on efforts to help keep these gentle giants warm:

Each year, the Tennessee Aquarium offers a chance to meet some of these incredible animals. This year, the Snorkel with the Manatees Weekend is scheduled for Friday, January 28th to Sunday, January 30th. It is truly an awe-inspiring weekend.

The excursion begins with a Friday night departure, giving everyone a chance to get some shut-eye en-route to Florida. When you wake up, it's time for a hearty breakfast before drift-snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the slow-moving Rainbow River. You'll be amazed at the size and number of gars, turtles and other aquatic animals you'll see on this stretch of water.
Next it's off to visit the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, home to manatees, alligators, birds and other fantastic animals such as "Lu," the park's lovable hippopotamus.

If you're lucky, you'll get to hear Lu "laughing" or see him enjoying the gentle spray from a hose. He'll open wide for this.

Strolling through the park is worth the trip and the staff does a tremendous job during narrated programs several times each day. Make sure you stop by the underwater viewing window to observe the fish and manatees. Learn more about this wonderful park here:

On Sunday, Tennessee Aquarium senior aquarist Rob Mottice leads the group to a special location within the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge to snorkel with the manatees. Rob is an expert on the West Indian manatee and he works diligently to ensure the safety of these protected creatures while everyone is in the water with them.
It's difficult to describe your first encounter with a manatee. These guys are HUGE! Frequently they will slowly ease up to you in the water, looking you directly in the eye. These face to face encounters inspire many people to contribute to the agencies that are working to save these animals from extinction.

Over the years there has been real progress, but manatees still face challenges such as boat strikes. Sadly, many of these animals are scarred from boat propellers that have torn deep gashes in their backs.

Manatees can grow to 13 feet in length, occasionally tipping the scales at more than 3,000 pounds. While you're in the water, make sure you listen carefully. These creatures communicate with squeaks and squeals. Sometimes they vocalize when playing, excited or frightened. Often, the sounds you hear are a mother manatee calling to its calf.

Magical may be the word that best describes being in the water with these remarkable animals. Hopefully conservation efforts will be able to save them from disappearing forever.

To learn more about the Tennessee Aquarium's Travel Adventures like the Snorkel with the Manatees Weekend, go to:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snowy cruises in the Gorge

A snowy 3.5 mile hike to the rim of the Tennessee River Gorge provided a chance to glimpse the River Gorge Explorer from above. Edward's Point had about seven inches of snow and the view was worth braving the cold trek through the woods. Last winter, a January snowstorm gave passengers an opportunity to view the mountains decked in white, but the cloudy skies obscured the tops. Here's a glimpse of that cruise:

The Gorge is spectacular when there is snow on the ground. While the snow will be melting soon, there's time to enjoy a "Critter Cruise" through January 2nd. An Aquarium educator will present a special tale and introduce passengers to a couple of native creatures. Learn more about these special cruises here:

Throughout the winter, there are also great birding opportunities. Last winter, additional bald eagles were seen in the Gorge, perhaps forced further south due to harsh weather further north.

You never know what you'll see when you come out of your shell and enjoy the river this time of year.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cold snap bad for snapping turtle?

The alligator snapping turtles in the Tennessee Aquarium's Delta Swamp exhibit are very popular animals. Especially the male, who is absolutely huge. His giant head and shell make him look positively prehistoric.
The recent cold snap had at least one nature lover questioning the welfare of snapping turtles that live in the area. It's a good question, and fortunately, Karla got a great answer from Tennessee Aquarium senior herpetologist Bill Hughes.
"I have been keeping an eye on a baby alligator snapping turtle all summer that is living in a mud puddle down by the creek at my house. My concerns are probably stupid but I was wondering what will happen to the baby when the puddle dries up or cold weather comes. I know he must be eating bugs because he is about 20 feet from the creek itself but what will he eat when it dries up. Should I help him to the creek or leave him alone. I don’t want anyone to run over him but soon hunters will be coming down this small muddy road and I am afraid they will. I have a log in front of the puddle now but they will move it I know. What would you do in a case like this? The neighborhood kids go with me and also want to know what will happen if we don’t intervene but I want to do only what is allowed or what is best for the turtle. Thank you for any advice you can give in this matter." - Karla, Chatsworth, Ga.
Here's Bill's response: "Karla -The turtle is probably a common snapping turtle as alligator snappers don’t range as far north as Chatsworth. Common snappers occur as far north as Canada and are able to take extreme temperatures. These turtles are commonly found in habitats that can best be described as marginal (that is, ones that seem as though they would only be suitable temporarily – like a mud puddle). I suspect that if the puddle dries out or if it becomes very cold (like today!), the turtle will either move somewhere else or bury down into the bottom and wait for more favorable conditions.
He/she is probably not real active this time of year anyway, so it is probably not eating and may not eat again until it warms up.
These turtles are not protected in Georgia, so if you wanted to move it to a nearby location that might be more sheltered from human traffic, then that would probably be ok."
Next time you're at the Tennessee Aquarium, look for a staff member or volunteer whenever you have a question about the creatures or habitats. If you have an animal question after you get home, feel free to "Ask an Expert" online at:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's a Girl! You can help name her.

The Tennessee Aquarium has learned that the gentoo penguin chick, hatched on June 30th, is a girl. As you can see, this juvenile is one BIG bird.
Remember when the Tennessee Aquarium's newest penguin was reluctant to enter the water with the other gentoos and macaronis? Here's a flashback to that first "walk about" inside the exhibit:

Here's senior aviculturist Amy Graves describing this athletic female gentoo:

Now that you know a little bit about her, you can help the Tennessee Aquarium name this water-loving penguin. Just go to: and submit your suggestion. There's a nice 2011 Chattanooga getaway package for the winning name:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hyacinth Macaws Put On A Show

The Tennessee Aquarium's hyacinth macaws will make you smile no matter how many times you are around them. And chilly days like today are perfect times to come visit them. During the Aquarium's Tropical Holiday Adventure, aviculturists give visitors an opportunity to learn more about these amazing birds every day at 1:00 pm. Senior aviculturist Amy Graves gives you a sample of what to expect in this short video:

To learn more about hyacinth macaws in their native habitat, read the online version Riverwatch, the Tennessee Aquarium's magazine for members:

Check out the Tropical Holiday Adventure daily schedule of events:

Become a member through December 16th and get FREE IMAX tickets: