Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rain Barrels Offered at Aquarium's Party for the Planet

 While we may feel rather soggy right now due to recent heavy rainfall, the weather pattern could leave us high and dry relatively soon. And we all know the importance of saving every drop during water shortages.

Last September, the United Way, ACE Hardware Stores and Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Company launched a series of rain barrel workshops at the Tennessee Aquarium. Forty rain barrels were produced for Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy.
 The plastic barrels, originally used to hold concentrate for producing drinks like Powerade, Minute-Maid drinks and Vitamin Water, have been finding their way into the community for several years as recycling and trash bins. But recently Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Company has been bringing Coke's national rain barrel program to the Scenic-City helping stretch our water supply.
 So the 5th grade students at CDESA have been busy creating sustainable art by decorating these water saving barrels.
We're told that students and volunteers have put in some long hours to produce these rain barrels and a document explaining how and why everyone should have at least one rain barrel at home.
 The best part??? You could own one! Come to the Tennessee Aquarium's Party for the Planet this Saturday and you could own one of these specially decorated rain barrels for a donation to the Calvin Donaldson Fund. That's a pretty good deal. You'll support a great school and the environment in one gesture.
Just make sure you have room in your vehicle for the barrel. They are light-weight, but are full-sized barrels.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Weekend Bunny Encounters at the Aquarium

Hop on down to the Aquarium Easter weekend for a special opportunity to meet, and touch, an American sable rabbit. Our Animal Encounter specialists will introduce children to this adorable domestic rabbit species. They’ll discover that cute noses, beautiful eyes and soft ears are wonderful adaptations for sensing the natural world.

These sable rabbit animal encounter programs will be delivered Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 22nd – 24th in the River Journey lower lobby near the Seahorse Gallery. Two sable programs will be offered each day at 11:00 am and 3:00 pm.

If you've ever wondered if the Easter Bunny is a rabbit or a hare, then eNature's blog has the answer in a rather entertaining and informative post.
Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Penguin Family Trees - Rooted in Science

One of the first questions Tennessee Aquarium visitors ask at Penguins' Rock is, "What are the penguins wearing?" Our docents usually begin by giving the short answer, "Flipper bands that help our aviculturists quickly identify individual birds." Often they go on to explain that for acute care, like if a penguin was observed favoring a foot, these bands help them locate that individual bird quickly for a closer examination.

For longer term care, flipper bands help keepers track each penguin's health history and family lineage. By recording the "genealogy" of each individual, aviculturists can ensure that related birds don't breed.

Animal husbandry, like any science, continues to grow as knowledge is added through research and experience. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, AZA, has been leading the way in animal management programs for years. This collaboration of scientists has developed Species Survival Plans for all types of animals, including penguins. In some cases, drastic measures are needed. For example, some amphibians are so critically endangered in the wild, the only way to stop extinction is to bring the remaining few into captive breeding programs in hopes of saving the last animals from vanishing forever.

Fortunately that's not the case with most species seen at zoos and aquariums. However, AZA recognizes that for the long-term future of animal care, healthy and genetically diverse populations are needed. This will sustain the number of animal ambassadors and reduce the need for animals to be collected in the wild. And, these breeding programs work. If it weren't for a well-managed penguin program at SeaWorld, we wouldn't have a robust collection of gentoo and macaroni penguins in Chattanooga.

The Tennessee Aquarium is an AZA-accredited institution and we recognize the importance of this long-term sustainability strategy. Many of these new recommendations are being implemented now. Which brings us to this year's breeding plan.

After carefully examining the family trees of our birds and checking with the AZA penguin experts in charge of the gentoo and macaroni management plan, it was discovered there were only a few of our birds that have the genetic diversity best suited for long-term sustainability.

So with a few exceptions, any eggs produced this year will be replaced with artificial eggs much as we have done the past two years when eggs would get cracked in the nest or were infertile. By replacing the penguin eggs with replicas, the pairs still have the opportunity to engage in natural behaviors without interrupting other pairs in the colony. Whether an artificial egg or infertile egg, penguins will only stay on the roost for a certain amount of time and then move on. This behavior is the same on exhibit or within gentoo and macaroni colonies in the sub-Antarctic.

It's important to remember that many of our penguins are still relatively young and have collectively only produced one chick each season out of dozens of infertile eggs laid. "Pepper," a macaroni chick in 2009 and "Shivers," a gentoo chick last year.

At this point "Biscuit" and "Blue," the gentoo parents that successfully raised "Shivers" last year, are the only pair that meet the needs of the this year’s plan. So we'll wait to see if they add to their family tree this year.

We hope everyone understands that truly caring for animals involves much more than providing proper nutrition, suitable habitat and expert veterinary care. These animals also deserve well-planned breeding management that preserves healthy populations for generations.

Senior aviculturist Amy Graves holding one replica egg and one real egg.

Which is which? Both are roughly the same weight and have the same shell texture.
The left egg, marked with a red dot, is an eagle egg replica. "They are the same size and weight as a large macaroni egg or small gentoo egg," Graves said.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rare pelican sightings in the Tennessee River Gorge

We'd like to say a special, "Thank you" to Chattanooga photographer Bret Douglas for sharing these beautiful shots of American white pelicans that were seen recently in the Tennessee River Gorge. These gorgeous birds aren't usually seen near Chattanooga. In fact, their brief appearance here has been turning the heads of quite a few serious bird watchers.
According to Kevin Calhoon, the Aquarium's assistant curator of forests, these animals hardly ever appear in the Gorge. "They are a very rare species in Hamilton and Marion counties," said Calhoon. "They were seen all last week with a maximum number of ten. During that period, they seemed to spend most of their time below the Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage facility near the Tennessee River Gardens."

Perhaps these guys were blown off course by the lines of thunderstorms that have swept through the area recently, or maybe they simply chose a different route.

Tennessee Aquarium River Gorge Explorer naturalist John Dever brought these images to our attention. Unfortunately these particular birds were not sighted during any excursions as they were spotted further downstream from the Explorer's normal route. But they are the kind of sightings Dever and others are constantly pointing out to passengers.

Want to learn more about American white pelicans? You can see their normal migratory patterns and even listen to their vocalizations on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Born to be Wild 3D - Cute Baby Animals, Fun 3D and Inspiring Story

We have been going ape for Born to be Wild 3D which opened today at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater. This beautifully produced film should be on everyone's "don't miss" list. You'll laugh at the playful antics of both baby orangutans and baby elephants, marvel over the wonderful scenery and be inspired by the compelling story of two women who have dedicated their lives to saving these endangered species.

IMAX has been working with National Wildlife Federation to produce a great educational guide. It's perfect for teachers who might wish to include this film in their school visit. But parents might have fun with their kids going through this fun-filled guide before and after seeing Born to be Wild 3D.

Feel like a snack??? Why not go bananas and make an orangutan snack?
                                                     Photo by National Wildlife Federation
The Signal Mountain Cookie Lady helped the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater launch Born to be Wild 3D with these yummy sugar cookies.

These workers were swinging like orangutans while installing an enormous banner on the front of the theater this morning. Hang on guys!
Seems that baby elephants and baby orangutans can be seen everywhere around the theater right now.

There are even a few hanging around outside that are catching some eyes.

Normally we would tell you to run, don't walk to see this film now. But.....it's o.k. if you want to do this on your way to see Born to be Wild 3D.