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Learn about the “killer” reputations of the Tennessee Aquarium’s
deadliest creatures during October “Thrills & Gills”

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (August 3, 2006) – The Tennessee Aquarium is home to some very creepy sea “beasties.” But are these spooky critters as harmful as they look? If you’re lurking for something new this October, creep on over to the Aquarium and IMAX 3D Theater for some Thrills & Gills to discover if these creatures’ frightening reputations hold water, or if they’re just fish tales.

Giant Pacific Octopus
The octopus is one of the most intriguing and intelligent creatures in our “Boneless Beauties” gallery. These mysterious animals of the deep have soft, spongy bodies, with eight snake-like tentacles and a bulbous head. Octopi can reach an astounding length of 30 feet, and create a massive black cloud of ink, which they use not to attack, but as a defense against predators.

But are these eight-legged mysterious monsters as threatening as they look?

Aquarium biologist Danny Alexander claims the octopus is virtually harmless. “Our octopus is strong and quite intelligent. She occasionally tries to take us with her into the tank, but the worst injury I have ever gotten was a ‘hickey’ on my forearm from one of her suction cups,” said Alexander.

Despite the Octopus’ intimidating disposition it is one of the most intelligent invertebrates under the sea. Biologists constantly have the octopus under an enrichment program to feed the brain of the octopus. They hide its food in jars, puzzles, and in Kraken-fashion – even in a toy pirate ship.

Moray Eels
Known for their razor sharp teeth, the moray eels are rumored to have the ability to snap the hand off an unsuspecting diver who ventures too close to an eel’s rocky lair. They constantly open and close their mouths in a menacing manner. In reality the eel is simply breathing. The opening/closing mouth action pulls oxygenated water over its gills.

“Eels are near-sighted, generally shy and avoid contact with humans,” said Thom Demas, Aquarium curator of fishes. “The animals on exhibit are, in essence, wild, so to ensure diver safety during feeding times, they are fed with long tongs.”

Demas makes it clear that eels aren’t “out to get you.” Most negative eel encounters happen when an unlucky diver is poking around in the rocks. In the wild moray eels can be found in just about every reef community of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and range in size from 2 to 10 feet long.

Feared for their rows of razor sharp teeth, and their predator-like behavior, sharks are considered to be one of the scariest creatures of the deep. People believe sharks are always in the mood for a snack, including human ones. But is the shark bite as big as it seems?

Aquarium biologists say shark attacks on humans are very rare and very few are deadly.

“There are lots of myths and misconceptions about sharks and shark bites,” said Rob Mottice, acquisitions manager at the Aquarium. Sharks should be respected, not feared. They do much less harm to people than people do to sharks. Approximately 100,000 sharks are killed each year, whereas approximately 60 people per year world wide are killed by sharks. People are more likely to be killed by lightening than by a shark. Many shark species are threatened with 1 in 4 now considered endangered.

During the dives in the secret reef tank, divers have a special T-shaped “bump stick” which gently keeps sharks at a safe distance from divers.

The Aquarium hosts a variety of species including: sand tiger sharks, bonnethead sharks and sandbar sharks. There is even a variety of sharks that are harmless enough to touch: brown-banded bamboo sharks, white-spotted bamboo sharks, and epaulette sharks.

This little creature has probably never heard the term “haste makes waste.” Piranhas are known and feared for their sharp teeth and astonishing feeding speed.

“Although their sharp teeth and lightning speed during their feeding frenzies make piranha well-equipped for their carnivorous diet, they are relatively timid and rarely bite humans,” said Carol Farmer, assistant curator of fishes. “At the Aquarium, they are well-fed and probably don’t feel the need to feed on us or their tank mates.”

Although they may be tame while under Aquarium supervision, Farmer said piranha behave much differently in the wild.

“While you won’t see saber-toothed piranha mowing down unsuspecting Amazonians year round, during the dry season, piranha may attack a wounded creature and reportedly can strip a 140-pound animal down to bones in just a few minutes,” said Farmer. “Amazon natives are cautious, however, and avoid the water if they have open wounds or when animals are being slaughtered in waterways. Piranha attacks on humans during the rainy season are extremely rare.”

A long torpedo-like fish, the barracuda has probably never won a smiling contest. In fact the barracuda is feared for its grimacing teeth.

“Certainly the great barracuda has a mouthful of menacing-looking teeth with large canines in the front and razor sharp, slicing teeth farther back,” said Rob Mottice, acquisitions manager at the Aquarium. “The eyes are extremely large because they are primarily sight feeders, and when you’re snorkeling or diving, they will sometimes follow you through the water just to see what you’re doing.”

Some believe that this fearsome-looking creature views humans as a three-course meal. But human attacks happen on very rare occasions.

“You really can’t be sure that the aim of the barracuda won’t be off just enough to take your fingertip along with the bait you’re offering,” said Mottice. Divers feed the barracuda from the top of the Gulf exhibit – a good distance away from their tank mates as well as the divers.”

Other creepy critters:

Anacondas are one of the world’s largest snakes. They find their prey in shallow bodies of water, and strike once their victim nears, using their sharp teeth to haul the prey under the water. Although they frequently appear on the big screen squeezing away at some of Hollywood’s top stars, anacondas are not man-eaters. They do, however, have a deadly grip when they wrap themselves around their prey for the kill. The victim usually dies of a heart attack after being squeezed to death.

You can view a spectacular yellow anaconda in River Journey’s “Rivers of the World” gallery.

Alligators and Crocodiles
The alligator and crocodile, two of the fastest meat-eaters in the world, also call the Aquarium home. A dentist’s best friend, these swamp beasts average over 130 teeth. With watchful, beady eyes, these creatures are scaly and often blend in with their surroundings, ready to attack at any moment…but attacks on humans are extremely rare.

Three dwarf crocodiles inhabit River Journey’s Zaire River exhibit, and several baby alligators can be seen in the Discovery Hall swamp gallery, as well as the Mississippi Delta exhibit


ONLINE press kits & downloadable images:

The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $17.95 per adult and $9.50 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are $7.95 per adult and $5.50 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $22.95 for adults and $13.50 for children. Advance tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. Call 267-FISH to join.

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