Thursday, May 24, 2012

Baby bluebirds in the Cove Forest

 The Tennessee Aquarium's North American river otters tend to, "steal the show" when guests enter the Cove Forest exhibit. But we always encourage people to slow down and spend some time in this living forest.
 Hidden amongst the vegetation are numerous native songbirds happily going about their business. Aviculturists discovered two bluebird nests this week.
 Both are rather well-concealed. The Eastern bluebird chicks in these photos are in one of the nests. These babies are from a "proven pair" of birds that have given the Aquarium several offspring each of the past few years.
This particular female usually lays two or three clutches each year. However, once autumn arrives, aviculturists will attempt to catch the juveniles and move them off-exhibit. This must be done before the next spring to ensure genetic diversity is maintained. The youngsters are either placed on exhibit in another location at the Aquarium or are shared with other Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited institutions.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Today is Endangered Species Day

Think about how amazing it is to see an American bald eagle soaring over downtown Chattanooga. Yet almost every day, within eyesight of the Tennessee Aquarium, these majestic birds are seen soaring overhead and even rearing their young. These sightings weren’t always so common.

Bald eagles seen near downtown Chattanooga from aboard the River Gorge Explorer.

Since the Endangered Species Act went into effect in 1973, a lot of progress has been made with respect to conservation of threatened and endangered plants, animals and the habitats in which they are found. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and AtmosphericAdministration continue to lead the implementation of this protection.

In short, the law helps ensure that careful planning is in place so that future actions don’t threaten the existence of any listed species or cause the critical habitat of listed species to be destroyed or significantly modified in ways that would jeopardize listed species. The law also prohibits “taking” of any listed species of endangered fish or wildlife.

American alligator in the Delta Swamp exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service points to the American bald eagle, brown pelican, Lake Erie water snake, American alligator and Maguire daisy as ESA success stories. All were on the brink of extinction at one time, but have successfully rebounded with protected status and conservation efforts.

According to a USF&WS press release, today is the day to remind everyone about these animals and the ones that still need a helping hand. “Endangered Species Day provides an opportunity to celebrate our successes and strengthen our partnership with the American public to conserve our shared natural resources,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “By taking action to help our threatened and endangered plants and animals, we can ensure a healthy future for our country and protect treasured landscapes for future generations.”

Barrens topminnow seen in the River Journey building.

The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, TNACI, works very closely with USF&WS, along with other conservation agencies and organizations on some very successful restoration efforts. Today, TNACI will be on the Conasauga River releasing some beautiful logperch that were reared in captivity. This action will be the first time such an effort has been made to bolster the populations of this species on the brink. Next Thursday, more TNACI biologists will be in Middle Tennessee releasing captive-bred Barrens topminnows. This fish could have been listed as an Endangered Species, but landowners agreed to work with conservationists to save this fish. And this partnership has worked.

Dwarf crocodile seen in the Aquarium's Rivers of the World gallery.

The Aquarium is also a place where people can see endangered species like Conasauga logperch, Barrens topminnows, West African dwarf crocodile and the beautiful Palawan peacock pheasant. Many of the turtles on display at the Aquarium, like the yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle, are also endangered species. Even in the new River Giants exhibit you’ll find giant pangassius catfish that are listed as endangered species.

Sandtiger shark seen in the Aquarium's Secret Reef exhibit.

Many more Aquarium animals are “vulnerable” species like the toothy sandtiger shark, lined seahorse and many of the corals featured in the live coral exhibit within the Boneless Beauties gallery. Look for the status of species on the animal ID graphics near each exhibit on your next visit.

Tennessee Aquarium senior educator Susie Grant teaches summer campers about American alligators.

We hope our guests make a connection to these amazing animals while seeing them up close. Those connections help people better understand each of these wonderful creatures and why we should all be eager to protect them.

Aquarist Matt Hamilton with visitors in the Barrens topminnow lab exhibit.

So, it’s with the enthusiasm of oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle that we celebrate Endangered Species Day. We can admire truly remarkable species with a special realization that it’s our responsibility to make sure they don’t disappear on our watch. “This is the first time in our history that we are capable of understanding our effect on the Earth’s atmosphere, the chemistry of the ocean, and the biodiversity of life. We’re the only species on the planet that can do something about it.” – Dr. Sylvia Earle

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Osprey Sightings in the Tennessee River Gorge

 Tennessee Aquarium naturalist John Dever took these pictures of osprey, Pandion haliaetus, in the Tennessee River Gorge. He says passengers aboard the River Gorge Explorer are getting some great wildlife viewing right now. Several osprey nests are active this year, including one at the downstream end of Williams Island. This pair has successfully raised chicks every year except last year. It appears that their nest was impacted by the April 2011 tornado outbreak. Fortunately they have rebuilt in this location this year and seem to be tending eggs right now. From the topside observation deck, guests not only get great views, they can also hear the birds vocalizing. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a nice recording of ospreys here.
 John captured these scenes of successful fishing expeditions by these awesome birds. His "eagle eyes" spot the birds whether they are rather well-concealed among the treetops or soaring overhead. He and other naturalists help our passengers not only see, but learn about, these beautiful raptors.
 "In addition to the ospreys, green heron have been seen patrolling the river banks while swallows buzz the Explorer's observation deck," said Dever. "The high-flying broad winged hawk is also frequently seen above the river lately."
 Dever adds that the comfortable temperatures combined with spring color and these animal sightings make for very pleasant cruising right now.
Plan to enjoy some time in the Gorge with our crew aboard the River Gorge Explorer during May. View cruise times and reserve seating online here.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lake Sturgeon Release - Inspiring Future Conservationists

Inspiring Future Conservationists - By Ashford Rosenberg, Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, TNACI, Sustainability Coordinator

There have been a lot of things to celebrate in April:  Easter, Earth Day, the coming of spring.  For us at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the Tennessee Aquarium, it was a month to celebrate milestones.  The Tennessee Aquarium celebrated its 20th birthday and the opening of a new River Giants exhibit, and TNACI celebrated the continued success of the Lake Sturgeon Reintroduction program, one of our local river giants.  Each year we release juvenile sturgeon that are about six months old and six inches long.  Occasionally we hold fish a few months longer so that they can be released at larger sizes, which is exactly what we did this year.

Lake Sturgeon are very special fish that live in many rivers across the U.S.  They are a river giant in their own right. The largest on record are 8 ft and 310 pounds, though now sizes of 5 ft and 100 pounds are more common. They can live up to 150 years and they do not reach sexual maturity until they are in their teens. While they are not listed as federally endangered, Lake Sturgeon are considered imperiled in Tennessee.  In the 1960s, a combination of habitat degradation and overfishing caused the Lake Sturgeon to become extirpated from the Tennessee River.  After some improvements in dam discharge practices as well as benefits from the Clean Water Act in 1972, a group of agencies decided to work together to bring the Lake Sturgeon back to the Tennessee River. The Tennessee River Lake Sturgeon Working Group partners include the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, Tennessee Wildlife Resources AgencyWorld Wildlife FundTennessee Tech University, the University of Tennessee at KnoxvilleU.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceTennessee Valley AuthorityUnited States Geological SurveyWisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and Conservation Fisheries, Inc
On April 27th, we drove up to Nashville to meet up with TWRA and a group of students from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.  We met them at Shelby Park near Shelby Bottoms Nature Center in downtown Nashville where the Cumberland River runs through the city.  Dr. Zeb Hogan, National Geographic Explorer and host of Monster Fish on the National Geographic channel was in town to help the Tennessee Aquarium open the new River Giants exhibit, so he decided to come along and help us with the release. 

Dr. Anna George and National Geographic Explorer Dr. Zeb Hogan

TWRA brought thirty fish that were 2-3 years old and ranged in size from 24-30 inches.  They are still very young, and will not be old enough to spawn for at least another ten years if not longer. These fish were born at Warm Springs Hatchery in Georgia and some of them lived with the TNACI for a few months before they were taken to TWRA’s hatchery. 

Each fish has a scute, the bony plate that runs along the side and back of a sturgeon, removed that designates how old it is.  We do this so that when we catch the fish on monitoring trips, we can determine how old it is. To date, 130,000 juvenile Lake Sturgeon have been released across Tennessee.

Anna showing Zeb which scute has been removed on this fish. 

Fish were removed from Springfield Hatchery's truck and carried to the water by pairs of students. 

 Anna helps a student remove the sturgeon from the net that carried it from the truck to the water. 

 A lake sturgeon swims from Zeb Hogan's hands into its new environment. 

We all had a great time!  TNACI got to drive to Nashville in style in a River Giants wrapped Volkswagen Beetle.

The kids had a good time too.  Many took the opportunity to touch these majestic fish before letting them swim away into their new home. We hope that this experience will inspire these students to be conservationists.