Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend Travel - Chattanooga

Memorial Day weekend is considered by many people as the unofficial start to summer. So we hope you'll consider Chattanooga as the place to kickoff Summer 2011.
Get your summer season off to a flying start at the Tennessee Aquarium. Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari is NEW this year and so far people have been loving this new experience. In addition to free-flight bird shows several times each day, you'll meet all kinds of awesome animals.....some you can touch and some you may not want to.

The greens of summer have taken over the Tennessee River Gorge. Yesterday passengers aboard the River Gorge Explorer got a good look at several ospreys including one of the parents nesting on a channel marker near Williams Island. These parents have successfully raised chicks for at least the past three seasons. They have eggs in the nest now, so hopefully we'll have a lot more awesome photos from guests like this one to share with you throughout the summer.
 Check the cruise schedule to book your excursion into "Tennessee's Grand Canyon."
 At IMAX, Born to be Wild 3D is the must-see film this summer. Here's a sneak peek:

Thrill seekers might prefer the unbelievable surfing action in Ultimate Wave: Tahiti 3D which is also showing at IMAX.

There's a NEW visitors center in middle of the vibrant downtown Chattanooga district. It's a great place to discover the many "hidden treasures" and learn about what's new at the area's attractions.

Bob the Builder is a fun NEW exhibit at the Creative Discovery Museum. The exhibit invites families to spend time in Sunflower Valley with Bob the Builder, Wendy and the rest of the Can-Do Crew. Children can practice their own fixing with kid-smart activities that build up their can-do attitudes and encourage them to be an active part of Bob the Builder – Project: Build It. More hands-on fun at one of the top children's museums in the nation.

A Chattanooga Getaway wouldn't be complete without checking in at the historic Chattanooga Choo-Choo. This weekend guests will enjoy an extra special treat: The Glenn Miller Orchestra will be performing tonight and Saturday night at 8 pm.

There are some great FREE music events over the weekend in Chattanooga as well. Starting tonight at Miller Plaza - NightFall Concert Series features Elizabeth & The Catapult with The Culprits. Here's a taste:

You could get a double dose of Big Band music Saturday. Sweet Georgia Sound will play the Chattanooga River Market on the Tennessee Aquarium Plaza. Here's some video of their 2007 Riverbend Performance.

All of this activity will stir up your hunger. Treat your taste buds to some BBQ at the Chattanooga Market and enjoy the Dark Hollow Band.

There's more music atop Lookout Mountain. Check out the views and enjoy some tunes by the New Binkley Brothers during Rock City's Summer Music Weekends.

AND the Chattanooga Lookouts have several games scheduled versus the Huntsville Stars.
Whew! We're going to need another three day weekend to recover from all this fun. Hope to see you in Chattanooga this weekend!!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How did you do that? Teaching a Tarantula to Walk Like a Weatherman

How do you pack three birds, a woodchuck, hedgehog, box turtle, millipede and a tarantula into a tent and train them to exit single file? It’s easy if you borrow an old trick from your favorite TV meteorologist and employ lots of expert animal training.
 When the Tennessee Aquarium wanted to create a fun television commercial to advertise Ranger Rick’s Backyard Safari, they turned to some veterans with “out-of-the-box” production experience. Animal Instinct Advertising came up with a backyard camp out storyline. “What if some of the cool animals visitors meet at the Aquarium could come parading out of a tent at night?,” suggested Greg Newberry, president of Animal Instinct Advertising. On paper this concept sounded great, but it would take some talented animals and a lot of production wizardry to pull it off.

Since the animals couldn’t be taken out to someone’s backyard, a television set had to be built at the Aquarium. And this mini studio came complete with a chroma-key wall and matching floor. “We used an old weatherman’s trick and built a blue screen set,” said Newberry. “By filming the animals moving around on the blue screen we can make it appear as though they are coming out of the tent during post production.”
 Actor W.C. Fields once quipped, “Never work with animals or children.” (He actually loved both.) His point was simple, filming can become challenging with talent that has other ideas about what’s fun or interesting. And, it’s a lot easier to encourage a child to deliver a line than to coax a tarantula to tiptoe on cue.

 So the animal experts from the Tennessee Aquarium and Natural Encounters Incorporated took baby steps with the “stars” of this commercial. “We began by just spending some time introducing the animals to the blue background,” said Amy Graves. “At first we just bring the animals in to see the material. Once they learn that the bright color isn’t scary, we let them walk around on it for awhile.” Add in some tasty treats and their favorite items and pretty soon you’re ready to bring in the cameras.
On filming day, each animal was brought in by trainers and each creature hit their marks. “The box turtle loves to follow people’s fingers,” said Susie Grant, senior educator. “And the woodchuck loves yams, so he’s pretty easy to work with.”

Animal experts from Natural Encounters Inc. were able to coach a trumpeter hornbill, red-fronted macaw and toucan to fly on cue with various fruits and nuts. A millipede is a little bit of a challenge to motivate, but once you get the first of one thousand legs headed in the right direction, the rest will follow.

Chattanooga’s Atomic Films built the mini-studio at the Aquarium and captured all of the action. At one point, a red-fronted macaw decided to change direction and fly over the camera toward the back of the auditorium. On another occasion, the toucan decided to fly over and perch on the camera as if it was inspecting the focus of the shot. It seemed to be saying, “Make sure you get my good side.”

Hopefully people enjoy this new commercial almost as much as meeting the animals in person at the Aquarium.

Take a look and then come visit these cool critters at Ranger Rick’s Backyard Safari!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The "Fishing Teacher" Lands A Big One

 Here's a fun "Fish Story" for you. It begins at Red Bank Elementary with Sam Simons, teacher and avid angler. Creative educators will use unconventional tools to motivate students. In Simons case, he uses out of the (tackle) box methods to encourage scholastic achievement. Every year he rewards his four best students with a fishing trip. So this past Saturday, Simons and friend Craig Smith took some excited students out on the Tennessee River to see what was biting. Imagine the feeling of being out on a boat, seeing your bobber disappear and then hearing your reel sing as a huge fish takes off like a rocket. Two of the kids landed lunker blue cats. One weighed 40 pounds, another tipped the scales at 48 pounds!
The smiles on these students faces tell the story of a great day on the water. Imagine being in their shoes and catching a fish that probably weighs half as much as yourself. But the real surprise wasn't what the kids caught. It was what their teacher caught on another outing that same weekend. Mr. Simons dropped a line in the river with a live shad on the hook for bait. A few moments later they all had a story to tell.

"I hooked a good fish after awhile and handed it to Dad, then it made a jump," said Sam.  "I'm assuming, oh it's a nice sized smallmouth.  I didn't see the jump, only heard it. Then, it peels a fair amount of drag.  Dad gets tired after awhile and hands the rod to me.  Now, we are below the railroad bridge.  I am totally confused by this point, as it was big and agile, so I didn't think it was a drum or blue.  It would have been a world record smallmouth.  What is this?  Dad gets his energy back and I pass the rod.  We got the big surprise of the year, a sturgeon!  Holy cow, what a fight and I have never held one before, only got to pet them at the Aquarium.  It was really cool."

Simons photographed and released the lake sturgeon in a very healthy condition.  

The Aquarium has been working with several agencies such as Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and World Wildlife Fund to restore these mighty fish to the Tennessee River. In fact, this catch and release helps illustrate the success of the Saving the Sturgeon program. Dr. Anna George, director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, believes this particular fish was not part of a recent release in downtown Chattanooga. "This fish was smaller than those we released earlier this month," said Dr. George. "It's probably one of the fish released previously near Knoxville."

Lake sturgeon have been reported by fishermen as far downstream as Kentucky Lake. Further establishing the success of the Saving the Sturgeon program, but also indicating favorable conditions of the Tennessee River. Lake sturgeon cannot be harvested and must be immediately released. Possession of a lake sturgeon is against the law. But TWRA hopes anyone hooking a sturgeon will document the catch and share that information. "Angler reports of any Lake sturgeon catches are critical for monitoring the continued success of this important restoration program," said Jason Henegar, River and Streams Coordinator for TWRA's Fisheries Management Division.

Please report all lake sturgeon catches to TWRA Fish Management at 615-781-6573 or e-mail Henegar at .

Like any angler who reports a lake sturgeon catch, Mr. Simons will receive a numbered Lake Sturgeon Certificate featuring a color reproduction of a lake sturgeon drawn by renowned wildlife artist Joseph R. Tomelleri. (We're guessing this will hang proudly in his classroom.)

Learn more about Red Bank Elementary's "Fishing Teacher" by reading this article by Richard Simms.

The Tennessee River is our source of drinking water. Hopefully people continue to help keep our waters clean for our use and all aquatic species and the terrestrial animals that depend on healthy habitat.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Earth Day Sturgeon Release

As part of the Aquarium’s Earth Day celebrations, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute released 35 lake sturgeon into the Tennessee River at Coolidge Park with the help of some enthusiastic students from IvyAcademy and UTC.

While most of the sturgeon are released in the fall at only six to eight inches, these larger fish (up to 18 pounds!) were held for a longer time because that increases their chances of survival in the wild. However, it takes more resources to hold them and they don't get as much time to learn how to be a wild fish, so strategies are used for this program. Even though they are six to seven years old, these fish are still juveniles. Lake sturgeon don’t reach reproductive maturity until they are teenagers, just like humans.

How many cameras can you spot in this picture? We're grateful for all the news stories we received.

Thanks to TWRA for their partnership and support! Lyle and Dan drove down from the Normandy hatchery to transport the fish for us, and Bobby Wilson (Chief of Fisheries) and Jason came down from Nashville to join the fun.

It's always nice to see the next generation of conservation biologists join us on the river for Earth Day!

Thanks to Anna George, Ph.D. for this post. Click here for more information about the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.