Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tennessee Aquarium To Release Southern Appalachian Brook Trout from Ongoing Restoration Project on Thursday, Aug. 29th

The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI) will release more than 200 Southern Appalachian Brook Trout in Hampton Creek as part of a new long-term effort to restore these beautiful fish to their native waters. TNACI is working with National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the Tennessee Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Forest Service on this restoration project.

The colorful Southern Appalachian Brook Trout (SABT) is the only species of trout that is native to Tennessee. Once abundant in the clear, cool mountain streams of east Tennessee, the SABT is found in only three percent of its historical range today.

Brook trout fry with yolk sack

Last October, TNACI scientists, working with biologists from TWRA, removed 50 adult SABT from Hampton Creek to begin propagating the fish at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. For the first time, more than 200 SABT offspring were successfully reared in a closed-circulation system. These juveniles have been tagged and will be reintroduced to Hampton Creek at noon on Thursday, August 29.

The Southern Appalachian Brook Trout is one of the most beautiful aquatic treasures that the Appalachian Mountains have to offer, with bright golden spots and vivid red bellies. Being one of the smallest members of the Salmon family and one of the more challenging to locate, this unique fish is a prize among trout fishermen.

Adult Southern Appalachian Brook Trout

Logging activities wiped out large portions of the habitat for this fish. When SABT numbers dwindled, many sites were overtaken by Rainbow Trout, a non-native species that can withstand warmer water and more direct sunlight. In many areas, forests have been repaired along streams creating more favorable conditions for SABT restoration work.

The National Fish & Wildlife Federation awarded a grant to TNACI to participate in a study to perfect captive breeding techniques for this species. There is a significant need to progress captive propagation efforts for this species before the remaining distinct populations decline further in the wild.

Before this success at TNACI, Southern Appalachian Brook Trout had only been successfully raised at the Tellico Fish Hatchery in the Cherokee National Forest a few times. Their success, using water from the source stream, inspired the idea that TNACI scientists could do the same thing at the Aquarium using chilled and dechlorinated tap water sourced from the City of Chattanooga. Because most hatcheries operate using flow-through water systems, concern exists about the transmission of disease and escaped fish to nearby wild populations.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Baby Penguin Alert!

Our penguin keepers have been busy caring for several gentoo chicks. Two chicks (seen here), the offspring of Nipper and Flower, are being hand-raised in a backup area. Another chick is in Bug and Big T’s nest. Look for this little bird on the far right side in an acrylic playpen.

Check out the Penguins' Rock cam here. (IE only)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Keeper Spotlight: Kyle McPheeters

A new monthly series of blog posts about the staff and volunteers that care for all of the animals living at the Tennessee Aquarium. You can tweet your questions to us at @TNAquarium using the hashtag #QTheKeeper.

Name: Kyle McPheeters

Title: Aquarist

In charge of: Stingray Bay touch tank, shark eggs and stingrays in the “Q” room (an off-exhibit area where animals are quarantined before being introduced or moved to a new tank)

Kyle McPheeters began working at the Tennessee Aquarium nearly two years ago at Halloween. Since the tanks he works on must be maintained each day before guests arrive, a typical day for Kyle begins early in the morning. After an initial check on the touch tank in Stingray Bay in Ocean Journey, he heads to the basement to prep food for the animals in his care. The food mix includes several pounds of squid, clam shrimp, smelt and krill.

Introducing a new bonnethead shark to the Stingray Bay touch tank

When the food is prepared, Kyle removes netting from the touch tank and feeds the stingrays and sharks. He also target feeds the bonnethead shark, epaulette sharks and cownose ray with food that’s fortified with vitamins. Once all the creatures are fed, he scrubs the walls of the tank before visitors arrive at 10 a.m. (Catch a peek of Kyle removing the netting from the touch tank in this video about mornings at the aquarium here.)

Once the aquarium is open for the day, Kyle is ready to move to the River Journey building where he maintains several tanks with young sharks and rays, Besides feeding these fish, he also changes the water and performs any filter maintenance.

Trimming sting ray barbs

In the afternoon, Kyle spends his time diving, working on special projects or serving as a “swing guy” - helping out with other exhibits and keeper areas when he is needed. He also travels occasionally to other facilities to learn about new procedures or to pick up new animals. In his time at the aquarium, Kyle has also built a 700 gallon system known as the shark holding and rearing tanks where shark juveniles and babies are raised. Click here to watch a video of him showing off some recently hatched epaulette sharks.

His biggest passion is breeding sharks and rays. Since Kyle has been at the Aquarium, 22 baby epaulette sharks have hatched along with a few Atlantic sting ray pups. This same breeding program is home to the only mixed sex group of speckled carpetsharks at a public facility in North America. Kyle says, “They’re all young for now, but I hope that we can be the first to breed them in the US.”

If you attended SharkFest, you might also remember him from Cowboy Kyle’s Shark Roundup!

Got a question for Kyle? Tweet it to us at @TNAquarium with the hashtag #QTheKeeper. We’ll be tweeting the answers next Thursday, August 29 from 3-4:00 p.m.