Friday, April 19, 2013

First Penguin Egg of 2013 Found at Tennessee Aquarium

The 2013 penguin nesting season is off to a fast start. The first egg was found yesterday in the nest of Little Debbie and Hercules.

This discovery comes two days earlier than last year. Macaroni penguins (like Little Debbie and Hercules) typically lay two eggs, but the first one is almost always smaller and quickly discarded by the parents. One scientific explanation for this behavior is that the first egg may serve to distract predators, giving the second egg a better chance at survival.

The second egg is usually laid within two to four days after the first. That means that we could see a second egg in the nest sometime over the weekend.

Nesting season is a great time for penguin watching as more eggs are laid and parents begin guarding them. We are always careful to remember that  - both in nature and in human care - each egg has a long journey ahead of it. Inexperienced parents can be rough on eggs (and chicks) and sometimes they get damaged or neglected for unknown reasons.

However, we are hopeful that this year’s nesting will bring new penguin chicks and look forward to keeping you updated throughout the season. You can also watch the penguins’ activity in real time with our Penguin Rock Cam.

Update (11:00 a.m.): The egg was found broken earlier this morning. We are keeping a close watch for a second egg.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Williams Island Family Adventure Cruise is Fun for Everyone – Especially Kids!

For a limited time, the Williams Island Family Adventure Cruise is setting off daily at 12:30 and taking families on a journey to the “Gateway to the Gorge”. On this 90 minute cruise, the River Gorge Explorer circumnavigates scenic Williams Island while a naturalist guide helps adventurers spot wildlife and special landmarks.

Kids get a special scavenger hunt sheet on which they can record things they see including turtles, birds, rock formations and various plant life. They can even earn Eagle Eye stickers for spotting things from the boat. Guides create an educational experience that is great for kids by asking questions and encouraging discussion throughout the voyage.


Time is spent on each trip observing an osprey nest and heron rookery. Bald eagles, deer, muskrats, kingfishers, vultures, bobcats, coyotes, turtles and otters are often seen along the way. Guides also point out sites of Native American and Civil War history.

This special cruise runs through April 14. Visit the River Gorge Explorer page to learn more.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Penguin Update: Nesting Season Fully Underway at Tennessee Aquarium

On April 1, rocks were placed in the penguin exhibit, officially kicking off nesting season at the Tennessee Aquarium. A sophisticated lighting system in the exhibit mimics the photoperiod, or length of daylight,  the penguins would experience in their natural habitat. (Interesting note: while we are on a northern light cycle, gentoos and macaronis live on a southern light cycle in the wild.) Daylight changes are dramatic throughout the year.  The longer light cycle has recently begun to trigger their nesting and breeding instincts.  

Eighteen of the 26 birds have paired up and are busy building their nests. This process can take quite a while as penguins are very picky about which rocks they use – and sometimes resort to stealing rocks from other nests. The penguins’ meticulous nature during nest-building makes now a great time for penguin watching

Rocks will continue to be placed in the exhibit over the next couple of weeks as nesting continues. We  hope this will lead to welcoming new chicks later in the fall. The season officially ends when the last chick safely swims in the water.

Check back soon for more updates. Until then, watch this video of Hercules and Shamrock’s happy reaction as they see the rocks in the exhibit:

You can also catch nesting penguins in action at Breakfast with the Penguins this Saturday!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Association of Zoos and Aquariums Reports Collective $160 Million Annual Contribution to Wildlife Conservation

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced today that AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums contribute approximately $160 million per year to wildlife conservation with projects supporting more than 2,650 conservation projects in 130 countries.

“AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are global leaders in wildlife conservation,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “While AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums provide great care to animals in their facilities, they are also working around the world to make a positive impact for many imperiled species.”

Locally, efforts by the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI) are made possible by the Tennessee Aquarium – an AZA-accredited organization.

Tennessee has the richest freshwater fauna of any state in the United States with over 320 fish species living in our waters. Sadly, 87 of these species are considered endangered, threatened or of special management concern. In 2006, Anna George, an ichthyologist whose research focus is in population genetics of freshwater fishes, joined TNACI as the third director. Under her direction, TNACI has developed many research projects investigating population health and evolutionary pathways for southeastern fish. In addition to research, TNACI is also involved in habitat assessments and restoration projects as well as monitoring efforts for imperiled species.

TNACI scientists Kathlina Alford and Anna George
A recent TNACI focus is the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout. Last October, TNACI began a propagation study of the brook trout, funded by a grant from the National Fish & WildlifeFoundation. Adult brood stock were collected from Hampton Cove Creek and brought back to TNACI where gametes were stripped and eggs were fertilized. The baby brook trout that hatched from the eggs are currently growing strong and will be released in August back into the river from which their parents were caught. 

The Southern Appalachian Brook Trout is the only
species of trout native to Tennessee.
Information and updates can be found on TNACI’s website at or Facebook page at

Monday, April 1, 2013

April 1: Photos from Two Sources Show Sasquatch-like Creature in the Cove Forest

This morning, the Tennessee Aquarium received two photographs of what seems to be a Sasquatch-like figure inside the Cove Forest of the River Journey building. The figure in the photos appears to stand over five feet tall, walks upright and is covered in brown fur.

The first photo was taken by a horticulture volunteer at the entrance to the Cove Forest before the aquarium opened for the day.  In this photo, only the lower half of the creature’s body was captured.

Shortly after receiving the first photo, a second one was turned in by an anonymous visitor. In the second shot, the creature can be seen above the waterfall to the right of the otter exhibit. 

Aquarium staff is looking into these strange sightings. “We have never had a Bigfoot sighting in the Aquarium until today,” said Kevin Calhoon, the Aquarium’s assistant curator of forests. “Although it’s hard to believe, I can understand why a Bigfoot might feel right at home in the Cove Forest exhibit.”  A quick check of records determined that Bigfoot sightings in the wild typically occur in early March. Calhoon and others hypothesize that this creature, which appears to have a winter “brown phase” coat, might have stayed in hibernation during the recent cold weather and chose April 1st to emerge from its den.

Look for Twitter updates throughout the day @TNaquarium as more information becomes available. You may also upload your bigfoot images to our Facebook page.