Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Light Bulb Moment: Bright Ideas for Going Green

Recently, 42 light fixtures that previously illuminated the 618,000 gallon Secret Reef tank in Ocean Journey were replaced with 28 more energy efficient lamps. Members and frequent visitors may have noticed an improvement in visibility and color inside the exhibit.

New lighting above the Secret Reef tank

But these new fixtures did more than enhance the view – they’re helping to save a lot of energy. The previous lighting system totaled 21,600 watts while the new one provides a much better visitor experience with only 3,300 watts. Not only will the new system save energy, it will also zap an impressive $9,429 a year from the Aquarium’s energy bill – paying for itself in less than two years’ time!

This is a practical solution that you can use in your own home. Did you know that switching to more energy efficient household lighting can save up to 75% of the energy used by incandescent bulbs? Even turning off the light when you leave a room for more than 20 seconds can make a big impact.

These energy savings are great for your wallet, but even better for the wildlife in our area and all over the world. Saving energy leads to saving resources, like water and other valuable habitat space where many Aquarium animals would call home in the wild.

Want to know other ways you can join us in going green today and every day?

Conserve and Reuse Water

Whenever possible, we re-filter and reuse water in our exhibits. In Ocean Journey we reclaim 16,000 gallons of water per week! We have also installed waterless or low-flow urinals in two restrooms. 

Did you know that the River Gorge Explorer also monitors water quality along the Tennessee River? Check it out.

At home: Keep a bucket in the shower and reuse the water collected to water house plants. You can also collect larger amounts of water outside with a rain barrel. (Make your own barrel at our next rain barrel workshop.) Install low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets in your house to reduce the amount of water that you use in the bathroom and kitchen.

Recycle Right

We recycle paper, cardboard, glass, #1-#7 plastics, batteries, aluminum, empty aerosol cans, loose metal jar lids and steel bottle caps, electronics, wood pallets, shredded documents, toner cartridges, old carpeting, old staff uniforms, old brochures and used ticket stubs. We take metal to a salvage yard. We responsibly dispose of lamps with mercury content, light fixture ballasts, used oils, antifreeze and oil and gas filter cartridges.

A tank in the Tennessee River gallery safely showcases the effects of trash in our waterways.

At home: Find out about recycling programs in your area. Make our resources last longer by recycling everything you can: plastic, cardboard, paper, aluminum, batteries, and cell phones. Extra points for composting! Give some nutrition to your soil by composting fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds.

Rethink Transportation

Thousands of our visitors come in groups and arrive by school bus or motor coach. In past years, hundreds of buses would idle for more than 30 minutes while waiting for passengers to re-board. Today, thanks to a partnership with the United Motor Coach Association, signage encourages drivers to limit idling to no more than five minutes, which improves air quality and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A sign outside the Aquarium asks buses and motor coaches to limit idle time.

At home: Can you bike to work? Walk to a popular lunch spot? Challenge yourself to cut your transportation costs in half by carpooling, walking, biking, and using public transportation. Talk to your co-workers and friends from school to find a way to share rides. If you can add your errands to the same trip, you’ll be extra efficient. If you’re driving, check your tire inflation. You can increase your gas mileage by up to 3 percent if you keep your tires properly inflated.

Thanks for doing your part this Earth Day! You can get even more great tips from the Green Practices page on our website!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Keeper Spotlight – Otter Edition: Courtney Lewis and Jennifer Wawra

Keeper spotlight is a monthly series about the staff and volunteers that care for the plants and animals living at the Tennessee Aquarium. You can tweet your questions to us at @TNAquarium using the hashtag #QTheKeeper.

River Otter Falls officially opens inside the Tennessee Aquarium’s Cove Forest on May 2nd. With just two weeks until the grand opening, this month’s special Keeper Spotlight “otter” be a good one! Our two otter keepers, Courtney Lewis and Jennifer Wawra, have learned to move quickly. It’s a big job caring for seven high-energy otters, but Courtney and Jennifer were able to take a little time to answer some questions about what it’s like keeping up with these feisty fur balls.

What is your favorite thing about working with river otters?

CL: Training, especially in that moment when I see the information “click” and know that the otter truly understands the new behavior.

(Courtney Lewis leading training in the backup area of the original exhibit)
JW: I absolutely love to go in to the backup area in the morning and wake them up and bring in breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal and they sure get excited when a keeper first walks into backup each morning! Training the otters is another large part of my day and one of the best parts of my job here at the Aquarium.

What are some of the things you are training the otters to do?

CL: We’re teaching them behaviors that will help us care for them in their habitat. A lot of it has to do with rewarding them for doing things like standing in the same spot – which allows us to examine or weigh them, or running out onto the exhibit which helps us rotate the groups that explore their habitat throughout the day. The training is all done by practice and positive reinforcement.

JW: Specifically, we’re working on stationing, shifting, targeting, teeth/paw presentation, scale training, standing (for visual confirmation that the animal is healthy), and holding (staying still in a particular spot for a second). 

(Jennifer Wawra and Delmar take a quick photo during training inside the original exhibit)

As an otter keeper, what are you most looking forward to about the new exhibit?

JW: River Otter Falls is a dynamic new exhibit which appeals to our otters in many ways.There are a total of five waterfalls, three different pools, three digging areas, a den and a slide. There is also a ton of land area to run, logs to shimmy across, stumps and rocks to climb to keep our otters actively engaged in their environment. You name it, we’ve got it. We have put so much thought into designing our otters’ new home. We paid close attention to every detail to provide an enriching environment for our otters. They can play in the water, dig in sand or mulch, climb up and down the rocks….this new home allows a lot of choices of how they want to spend their day. I cannot wait to see guests watching our otters enjoy their new home.

What do you think visitors will enjoy most about River Otter Falls?

CL: River Otter Falls is very dynamic for two reasons: its size and how we will present various combinations of otters at one time. I think guests will have fun seeing that. Some of the most fun I’ve had so far has been seeing how the different groups of otters interact with one another once they’re in the exhibit. 

Do you work with any other Aquarium animals?

CL: I started caring for animals at the Aquarium first as a herpetology volunteer while I was working as a gallery associate. Now, alongside otters, I take care of reptiles and amphibians in the Cove Forest, Discovery Hall, and half of the Rivers of the World gallery. I also occasionally get to do Ranger Rick programs with tarantulas, which I love!

JW: I work with a lot of the snakes here at the Aquarium, most of which are housed in keeper areas. I also work with a variety of our turtles. I am currently working on training our large female alligator in Delta Country, as well as caring for the smaller gator and all three alligator snapping turtles. I also help out at Penguins’ Rock every now and then. Occasionally I get to work in the Ranger Rick Gallery providing guests with up close and personal one-on-one animal encounters. I feel blessed beyond words to work with such incredible animals and an unbelievably educated staff. 

Got a question for Courtney and/or Jennifer? Tweet it to us at @TNAquarium with  hashtag #QTheKeeper. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Amazing Baby Horseshoe Crab Beats the Odds!

Aquarists were shocked to find a young Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus) in the Stingray Bay touch tank this week. It was removed and placed in a small tank in the quarantine room.

Many facilities regularly breed these animals. So, why were aquarists so surprised to discover this quarter-sized crab?

To begin, our male crab (who could often be seen hitching a ride on the back end of the carapace of one of the female crabs, waiting to fertilize eggs) passed away several months ago. Apparently, before we lost him he fertilized some eggs.

The female crab can lay 15,000-65,000 eggs at a time. Horseshoe Crab eggs are extremely small and would be vulnerable to predation by every single animal in the tank. Some would also get pulled into the strong flow of the exhibit’s 420 gallon-per-minute filtration system.

If by chance some eggs did not get eaten or filtered out, they could hatch. At this point the young animals are still in a very tiny larval stage, swimming for five to seven days. Any larval Horseshoe Crabs would remain very vulnerable to being gobbled up by other animals in the touch tank and would still be prone to being caught in the filtration system.  They would also struggle to find food that would be small enough to eat.

And yet, one tiny crab managed to overcome these odds.

After the larval stage, the baby Horseshoe Crab settled to the bottom and began growing and looking like a miniature version of the adults. At this point it was less likely to be eaten by the smaller fish in the tank, but it would appear more and more like a snack for a stingray or shark. Our tiny crab would also have the same issue of finding food small enough to eat.

And yet, this tiny crab avoided predators and a strong filtration system, scrounged up enough food to be nourished and grew.

The fact that this little crab survived long enough to attain the size of a quarter in an exhibit packed with its natural predators is nothing short of mind boggling!

You can watch a quick video of the little horseshoe crab in a Q room tank below:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ChattaNessie? Loch Ness Monster-Like Creature Spotted in the Tennessee River

Today, a passenger aboard the Tennessee Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer captured a shot of a long, dark figure as it breached the water’s surface. The photo was taken during the boat’s Williams Island Family Adventure Cruise. A preliminary examination of the photo led experts to conclude that the creature likely measures close to 20 feet long and five feet wide.

Loch Ness Monster-like creature on the Tennessee River (April 1, 2014)

“There are only so many freshwater creatures that even come close to that size,” said Tennessee Aquarium Naturalist John Dever. No dorsal fins or sting ray barbs were detected (ruling out any wayward bull sharks, giant freshwater rays or even the area’s legendary catfish).

Dever, who was on board during the trip, says current weather conditions are ideal for sighting wildlife in the Gorge, although no one expected to see anything quite like this. “We tend to see Bald Eagles, Osprey, Deer and Turkeys this time of the year,” Dever said. “But April 1st does tend to be a peak date for more unusual sightings on the Tennessee River.”

Loch Ness Monster-like creature under Market Street Bridge (circa 1920)

It is unclear if this creature is related to the infamous “Nessie” from Scotland’s Loch Ness – or perhaps a closely related American species on a spring migration through the Scenic City.

A quick archival investigation, with assistance from Picnooga, brought up an old photo of the Market Street bridge in which a smaller, younger version of the same monster is slightly visible.

The Tennessee Aquarium is inviting the public to share any theories or knowledge about this, or other river monster sightings, across their favorite social networks using the hashtag #ChattaNessie.

The Williams Island Family Adventure Cruise runs daily through April 17. While bird, turtle and other wildlife sightings are common, an appearance by Nessie or any other aquatic monster is not guaranteed.