The creatures and people who opened the aquarium
been with the Tennessee Aquarium from the very beginning and are
as much a part of the building as the peaks. They're the charter
members, charter volunteers, charter employees - and, yes, even
some charter animals. *
last count, there are 3,635 charter Aquarium members. "These
amazing people believed in the Aquarium's mission before we even
opened our doors," said Mara-Lynne Waite, manager of the
Aquarium's membership department. "And their steadfast devotion
to the Aquarium and its programs enables us to continue to be
a world-class Aquarium."
Aquarium's charter volunteers number 25, and they have
donated a staggering 31,705 hours over the past 10 years as divers,
docents, horticulturists and teaching assistants. "Without
the dedication of loyal volunteers, many tasks just wouldn't get
done," said Julie Piper, volunteer manager. "Despite
their other interests and obligations, our charter volunteers
have helped make the Aquarium the best it can be for the past
the end of 2002, nearly 50 employees will have worked at the
Aquarium for a decade. "That's nearly one-third of our
workforce," said Charlie Arant, Aquarium president. "From
maintenance to marketing to animal husbandry, our staff members
go out of their way to make sure the Aquarium continues to inspire
wonder and appreciation for the natural world."
are more than 9,000 animals that swim, fly and crawl under the
Aquarium's peaks, so we won't name all the creatures who have
been here for 10 years. But here are some of the visitors' favorites:
North American river otters: Found in the Cove Forest on
level 4, these two otters are the only mammals at the Aquarium.
The otter's dense, water-shedding fur, strong swimming skills
and keen underwater eyesight make it a well-adapted aquatic animal.
It can remain submerged up to four minutes before coming up for
snapping turtle: Several alligator snapping turtles, the largest
exceeding 150 pounds, live in the Delta Country gallery on level
3. The largest freshwater turtle in North America, the alligator
snapper gets its name from its strong jaws and shell ridges that
resemble an alligator's back. It lures its prey by lying in wait,
wriggling its pink, worm-like tongue. Alligator snapping turtles
can stay submerged almost an hour before coming up for air.
catfish: The three big blues in the Nickajack Lake exhibit
are among the largest catfish on exhibit in the U.S., with the
largest one weighing more than 100 lbs. This fat cat was caught
in 1992 in a driving rain and snowstorm in the Tennessee Valley
Authority pumped-storage reservoir atop Raccoon Mountain by Aquarium
biologist Rob Mottice. The cats are more than 10 years old, and
although many visitors assume the largest cats are males, they
are really big mamas who can produce up to 100,000 eggs at a time.
(Female catfish are usually much larger than males.)
Beluga sturgeon: A primitive species dating back to the
Jurassic period 150 million years ago, the Beluga sturgeon has
bony plates, not scales, and is made mostly of cartilage. In the
wild, it may live for more than 100 years, reach 20 feet in length
and weigh more than 2,000 pounds. The gigantic specimen in the
Volga River exhibit on level 2 came from the Soviet Union. It
swims almost constantly in a counterclockwise direction, traveling
an average of 10 miles a day - which means he's swum approximately
365,000 miles in the past 10 years. The finest caviar in the world
comes from the Beluga sturgeon.
stingray: Contrary to popular belief, a ray will not sting
unless someone steps directly on it, at which point it will whip
its tail around and protect itself by jabbing with its sharp barbs.
The southern stingray is a ghostly creature, with large pectoral
fins that give the impression it's flying through water. During
feeding times at the Aquarium, you can see the stingray slurping
up squid and smelt directly from the hands of volunteer divers.
The rays have more than doubled in size - from 1 foot to 3 feet
across - since they arrived at the Aquarium.
barracuda: This long, cylinder-shaped fish has been known
to attack men, but usually when provoked by a spear or other weapon,
or when a diver is wearing flashy jewelry that could be mistaken
for a small, shiny fish. The two four-foot specimens in the Gulf
of Mexico exhibit were just 14 inches long when they came from
the Florida Keys just before the Aquarium opened in 1992. They
are high-strung and will dart in panic if about to be caught.
piranha: Sharp teeth and an ability to swim with lightning
speed make these red and gold Amazon River inhabitants well-equipped
for their carnivorous diet. As small as silver dollars when they
first arrived at the Aquarium, they've grown to the size of a
dinner plate. One of the most widely distributed species in the
Amazon Basin, the red piranha can quickly tear one of its own
to pieces if it is injured by a fisherman's hook. Still, according
to the biologists at the Aquarium, the reds are among the calmest
of the piranhas and are only a threat to other fish in the tank,
not their human caretakers. Piranhas lurk in the Amazon River
exhibit on level 2.
tang: These graceful, flat fish are bright yellow when born
but turn blue or purple when fully grown. The blue tangs in the
Gulf of Mexico exhibit swim together in a school as they would
in the wild. The white triangle on the blue tang's tail is more
than just part of its costume; it's actually a dangerous spine
used for protection. The blue tangs at the Aquarium have tripled
in size since they were collected in the Florida Keys.
jacks: The jacks are easy to spot in the Gulf of Mexico exhibit
because of their size and schooling behavior. They seldom linger
in one spot. Most often you will find these silvery fish "running"
at top speed. Although these fierce, stubborn and dynamic gamefish
are three feet long now, they were only six inches when they made
their home at the Aquarium 10 years ago.
media source list for contact information about the people who
can talk about their experiences at the Aquarium over the past
10 years. We're sorry we can't provide an animal source for your
story. Although we imagine the animals could tell some interesting
stories of their own - after looking at millions of visitor antics
over the last 10 years - we've been unsuccessful in obtaining
quotes from them.)