Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chattanooga's Cake Aces - Penguins and More

We've received some e-mails about the fantastic cakes at the 3rd Annual Formal Affair Bridal Show. Chattanooga was the theme and many did wonderful renditions of the Tennessee Aquarium's River Journey building.
It's truly amazing what these creative people are able to do with a relatively simple list of ingredients. If you've ever seen Ace of Cakes on the Food Network, then you have an appreciation of the time and talent it takes to design a "killer cake" like these. The cake below was designed by one of the Aquarium's event caterers, 212 Market.

Duff Goldman must have had a difficult time judging these entries. Many of them lived up to the standards set by Duff's Charm City Cakes.

With butterflies clinging to the "glass" peaks and penguins sneaking out a side door, the Aquarium cake seen above produced a lot of smiles.

Of course, many also included a tip of the hat to Volkswagen Group of America's new Chattanooga Operations. This cake is uber cool. (We love the fact a penguin is hitch-hiking on the roof of this VW Bug.)

A most impressive display of the Chattanooga Choo Choo and their famous courtyard.

This vertical design was amazing. But seriously, how would you cut and serve a cake such as this?

In the end, the above cake was the winning entry. Congrats to all of the competitors. Read some of Duff Goldman's advice to brides-to-be here.
These cakes inspire us to have some fun on that special day. Brides-to-be might not realize the Tennessee Aquarium is an awesome place to hold your wedding, reception or rehearsal dinner. Outdoor on the Aquarium Plaza with the Tennessee River as a backdrop, or within River Journey or Ocean Journey surrounded by animals, wedding ceremonies become fun, unique and memorable for everyone.

Check out the image above. It shows that a tropical destination wedding is possible in Downtown Chattanooga. (One way to have your cake and eat it too!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Alex's Big Day at the Tennessee Aquarium

It was fun giving Alex Schneider and his family a tour of the Tennessee Aquarium recently. The family traveled to Chattanooga from Toronto, Canada so Alex could help another family in need. The seven-year-old has had a challenging life, suffering from a rare blood disorder. But Alex is a tough little guy with a big heart. He's also a huge fan of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The family watches every episode and frequently enjoys watching tapes of the show together. And now, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Schneider family will be part of the show. Alex, his dad Adam, mom Helena and sister Alisha not only got to help build the Sharrock home in Rossville, Georgia - they also got to meet the show's star, Ty Pennington.
But even Ty might have taken a backseat to the Tennessee Aquarium's penguins. When asked if he'd like to meet a penguin, Alex seemed excited and said, "Yes." Several of the birds made a behind-the-scenes appearance to paint for the Schneiders.

Alex's favorite color is red, so the penguins used that and mixed in a little purple to create some new masterpieces for the seven-year-old to enjoy at home.

But penguin painting wasn't the only activity the Schneiders got to observe. They were treated to many of the experiences Keeper Kids will enjoy during Spring Break.

Here animal encounter specialist Lindsay Rogers introduces the Schneiders to Chattanooga Chuck, the Aquarium's groundhog. They also got to meet an opossum, a toucan and a really big snake which Alex really enjoyed.

The whole family enjoyed watching the big, toothy sharks in the Secret Reef exhibit. (We managed to capture one swimming directly overhead in the first shot.) And Alex really had fun meeting volunteer SCUBA divers John Herman and Brian Akins. They are among the nearly 200 volunteer divers who help keep the exhibits looking great, feed some of the animals and talk with visitors during interactive dive shows.

Thom Demas, the Aquarium's curator of fishes, brought out some newborn seahorses to show the Schneiders and other guests in the Seahorse gallery.

These tiny "steeds of the deep" were literally born a few hours earlier. Demas explained how these animals eat and live at the Aquarium. You can see another batch of seahorses being born at the Tennessee Aquarium in this video.

Alex and his sister also got a chance to meet aquarist Jake Steventon and help feed our Arapaima. These guys are among the largest freshwater fish we have on display. You can see these guys in the Flooded Amazon exhibit across the way from our giant blue catfish. We hope Alex and his family had as much fun visiting the Tennessee Aquarium as we had showing them around.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Colt Ford at the Tennessee Aquarium

Thanks to US101 for bringing Colt Ford to Chattanooga to help raise funds for the Sharrock Family. Michael, Cindy and Patrick Sharrock will soon have a new home thanks to ABC's Extreme Makeover Home Edition and the generosity of thousands of people.

Proceeds from Ford's sold-out concert inside the Tennessee Aquarium's River Journey Auditorium will help pave the way for a new life for the Sharrocks.

Once the glasses went on, Colt absolutely rocked the house with his brand of toe-tappin' country. He thrilled the audience with many of his hit songs, stopping along the way to field questions from the audience.
Entertainers get paid to bring audiences to their feet. But when you witness a Colt Ford performance, you can tell he and the other band members are having as much fun as their fans. It takes people with big hearts to take time out of their busy schedules to play a benefit concert such as this.
The official theme for this Extreme Makeover is "Big Hearts Wear Hard Hats," but for at least one night that changed slightly to Big Hearts Wear Cowboy Hats.
Colt didn't leave the Aquarium until he had posed with every fan and signed autographs for every single person in attendance.
Colt mentioned how much he enjoys the Tennessee Aquarium. "I love it," said Ford. "I bring my kids here all the time."
Thanks for coming to Chattanooga and being a celebrity who's willing to lend your special gift of talent to help a worthy cause.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Valentine's Day - An Underwater Love Story

If you think romance is complicated, you'll be comforted by the fact that love in the natural world can be much more challenging than anything humans will ever go through. Such is the case with the octopus. Many people may think these sea creatures have it made. With so many suction cups, Lionel Richey's "Stuck On You" might come to mind. Of course, there's also eight arms that might leave others thinking of Fleetwood Mac and "Hold Me." But it's matters of the heart, not appendages, that make the octopus an unusual Valentine's Day story.

Have you ever heard someone say, "My heart skipped a beat the moment I laid eyes on her." The male octopus can relate. Tennessee Aquarium outreach educator Bethany Lloyd shares this information attributed to: M. J. Wells (1979). The heartbeat of Octopus vulgaris Journal of Experimental Biology (78), 87-104

"The octopus has some amazing hearts," said Lloyd. "There are three of them: two branchial hearts to pump blood through vessels in the gills and one systemic heart that takes blood from the gills to the rest of the body. The two branchial hearts beat simultaneously and the systemic heart contracts after the branchials."

"The systemic heart also does something very strange when an octopus gets excited or startled," said Lloyd. "In Octopus vulgaris, the systemic heart skips beats, pausing long enough to be considered a very temporary cardiac arrest. Luckily, having three hearts is helpful during these arrest episodes, as the two remaining hearts will continue beating and pick up the slack. Fittingly enough for Valentine’s Day, this cardiac arrest happens during mating; in the lab, the hearts of male octopuses have been shown to skip beats when a female octopus enters the tank, when copulation begins, and each time a spermatophore (sperm packet) is passed from the male to the female. However, considering that all cephalopod mating can be fraught with violence (sharp beaks can leave wounds much more serious than “love bites”) and is a fleeting connection between individuals, the heart skipping beats is very likely not a “romantic” gesture. In humans and other mammals, hearts tend to speed up when an individual is excited, not stop."

At the Tennessee Aquarium, our giant Pacific octopuses get a lot of love from our keepers. Not only are their basic requirements taken care of, aquarists like Danny Alexander make sure they get enrichment activities. These animals are very intelligent, so they need toys and puzzles to keep their minds stimulated. So we gave one of our giant Pacific octopus an underwater video camera to play with for awhile. It places the viewer in the embrace of this amazing creature.

With three hearts and eight, sucker-filled arms to wrap around you, what's not to love about an octopus? So it may be fitting to share this musical tribute by Dalmation Rex and the Eigentones.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day Forecast 2011

Either people are going to think, "Oh boy!" or "Uh-oh!" when they see Chattanooga Chuck's prediction. Judging by his expression in this picture, taken shortly after seeing his shadow, it may be more like, "Yikes!"

Chattanooga Chuck’s 2011 Groundhog Day Forecast

Predicting the weather is said to be a groundhog’s calling,
but other animals may know when the barometer’s falling.
Before causing spring fever or winter delirium,
I checked with my pals at the Tennessee Aquarium.
The catfish had unusually thick belly skin,
a sign of cold winter to a woodchuck’s chagrin.
The sharks were all smiles and seemed to behave,
It’s said they go to sea before a cold wave.
Hundreds of butterflies thought my plight was quite funny.
“Silly groundhog,” they said. “Who avoids weather that’s sunny?”
“Today I do,” I began to exclaim.
“If I see my shadow – I’ll get the blame.”
No one wants six more weeks of what we’ve just had.
Except for the penguins who would be perfectly glad.
Just then my heart got a gigantic boost,
my amphibian friends were awake on their roost.
The Aquarium’s tree frogs were loudly calling galore,
old proverbs say that means weather changes in store.
Croak three times and I’ll know winter has broken.
Once, twice and that’s all that was spoken.
Macaws like to talk, but they couldn’t say,
If spring would arrive or winter would stay.
So I climbed on my perch of old hickory log,
and chuckled at the sight of a large prairie dog.
He looked mighty big staring at me from below,
No pup looking up - it must be my shadow!
I’ll stay warm if Old Man Winter won’t give in to defeat,
enjoying six more weeks of shut-eye in my underground retreat.

Chattanooga Chuck
Resident Rodent Forecaster
Tennessee Aquarium