Thursday, June 28, 2012

Don't Sweat The Heat, The Aquarium Is One Cool Place

If penguins perused the paper, they might become perturbed by the piping hot prognostication. Fortunately, our gentoos and macaronis don't get their feathers ruffled by feverish forecasts. They're able to calmly kick back in their cool surroundings at the Tennessee Aquarium
Shivers, seen above, seems to take it all in stride staying comfortable inside the 42 degree air inside Penguins Rock.
 Penguin keepers, like Amy Graves have to bundle up while caring for all of the birds - especially the baby penguins. "I get some strange looks when it's 100 degrees outside and I cross the Aquarium Plaza bundled up in a sweatshirt," said Graves.
 Lengthy periods of time inside the exhibit is one thing. Heading into the deep-freeze to get penguin food is another. It's like being at the South Pole in the Ocean Journey freezer. The food is stored at 0 degrees to ensure it remains restaurant grade for penguins and other creatures. "We try not to stay in there very long," said Graves. "Especially if I have to head upstairs after thawing fish for the penguins."
'Heading upstairs' means going from Antarctica to the Equator. Graves and aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich (seen above) also care for the hyacinth macawsThey enjoy cooling off with a shower.

So it's not unusual for keepers to start in 42 degree "weather," head into the freezer and then up to the Tropical Cove where it's around 82 degrees. "We wear many layers to remain comfortable throughout the day," said Aldrich.

So if you're tormented by tepid temperatures, take time to chill out in Chattanooga. Aquarium guests can stay cool by heading "Pole to Pole" throughout the summer. They can enjoy the sub-Antarctic antics of the penguins at the Aquarium, and then follow a mother polar bear and her cubs at the IMAX 3D Theater. "To The Arctic 3D" shows this family traveling through snowy  and scenic landscapes near the North Pole.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Father's Day - Magnifying Some Magnificent Dads

 There are certainly many great fathers in the animal world. At the Tennessee Aquarium, visitors have witnessed both gentoo and macaroni fathers sharing duties rearing young at Penguins' Rock. Bluebird dads help raise young in the Cove Forest and various fish species are seen voraciously defending nesting sites or their offspring in both freshwater and saltwater displays.

But you really have to tip your hat to seahorse fathers, the only animals in the world that actually get pregnant and give birth. Some seahorse species can give birth to more than 1,000 babies at a time.

In this cell phone video, shot by Carol Haley, the Tennessee Aquarium's assistant curator of fishes, you see a lined seahorse dad giving birth. Amazing!

Aquarists routinely discover babies in the Seahorse Gallery and perform tiny underwater rodeos to round up "the hosses" to be raised off-exhibit until they are large enough to be placed on public view, or shared with other institutions that are also accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Our staff has to develop especially keen eyes when looking for dwarf seahorse babies. Recently there has been a bit of a population boom of these almost impossibly small animals. "Dwarf seahorses, Hippocampus zosterae, are the smallest seahorses found off of the U.S. coast," said Carol Haley. "The name zosterae refers to the species of seagrass that occurs where they are found. They use their camouflage to blend in with the surrounding seagrass beds."
According to Haley, adult dwarf seahorses only reach a maximum size of just two inches! But even though you almost need a magnifying glass to see these magnificent dads (and moms), the babies aren't the tiniest tots in the sea. "Brood sizes are small, often less than 10 babies per clutch," said Haley. "But they are relatively large compared to other species of seahorses."
Newly emerged dwarf babies have working prehensile tails and eat newly hatched brine shrimp. They eat constantly an are usually large enough to go on display within about two months.
These dainty seahorses tend to be short-lived, usually less than two years. Fortunately for the Tennessee Aquarium, our dwarf seahorses reproduce frequently which allows us to have a sustainable population.
In the wild, habitat loss is one of the factors researchers point to as contributing to declines in dwarf seahorse populations. Read this article to learn how this species might soon be listed as an endangered species.
We'd like to say, "Happy Father's Day!" by offering this special coupon to visit the Tennessee Aquarium this weekend. Just print it out and bring it (and Dad) to the Aquarium ticketing center for a nice discount on admission.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Seven Bridges Cruise - Bird Watching, Fascinating History and More

 Wow! We have certainly had some great boating weather lately. And, the extended forecast calls for more great weather ahead for the Chattanooga area. Passengers aboard the Tennessee Aquarium River Gorge Explorer have been enjoying the sunshine on the new Seven Bridges Cruise. The area upstream from downtown Chattanooga isn't known for wildlife sightings, but many people are surprised by the creatures being pointed out by Aquarium naturalists on these new excursions.
 In fact, some of the wildlife sightings occur on the Chattanooga Pier. This great blue heron looked as if he was posing for photos near where guests board the Explorer. Ducks and geese frequently pass by the Pier before or after boarding. Naturalist John Dever says there's plenty to see upstream. "Bird sightings are exceeding expectations on the New Seven Bridges Tour," said Dever. "Cliff swallows, red tail hawks, bald eagles, osprey, green herons, kingfishers and vultures have been conspicuous between the Chattanooga Pier and the Chickamauga Dam." According to Dever, guests are able to get close views of active osprey nests on this cruise as well as the downstream Gorge Cruise.  
 The Chickamauga Lock is also fun to see up close. The captains are able to communicate with the lock master, and occasionally the Explorer is allowed to enter the lower lock doors giving passengers an opportunity to see what it's like inside this massive structure.
 Easing into this area is a fascinating experience for anyone who has never "locked through" before and hopefully gives everyone a greater appreciation for the river and the role it plays in transportation.
 The upper lock appears like a waterfall. On this occasion it was adorned by a hungry heron looking for a fishy treat in the waters within the lock. (Click to see the full-sized image.)
Dever also reports that cruising along the cliffs below the Hunter Museum of American Art has revealed some interesting surprises from time to time. "We've seen climbers, herons, swallows, vultures and even a raccoon inhabiting the cliff," said Dever. "I enjoy pointing out the layers of Mississippian time that's locked within the limestone as we pass the rocky face up close. People spot metal rings and are fascinated by the history of this location."

So we invite you to take advantage of the great summer weather and come cruising with us! View the cruise schedule and book tickets online.