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They “otter” have names
Tennessee Aquarium asks public to help name
new North American river otters

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Nov. 11, 2005) – Aquarium guests call them cute, cuddly and even adorable. Aquarium biologists call them fellas, boys and occasionally, weasels. But Aquarium staff members are now looking for a few good names for the three male North American river otters found in the Appalachian Cove Forest exhibit.

“We recently acquired two new otters and we’ve started training and enrichment activities,” explained Jillian McCarty, Aquarium biologist. “To train the three otters, we really need names for each animal. Because they are so popular with our visitors, we thought it would be fun to let the public suggest otter names.”

The otter naming contest kicks off on Nov. 15 and entries

will be accepted until Dec. 10. The public may submit suggestions for otter names via the Aquarium’s Web site or at the Aquarium gift shop in the River Journey building. The winner of the naming contest will receive an Aquarium gift basket and a chance to go behind-the-scenes with the Aquarium otter keeper.

The oldest otter of the trio has been at the Aquarium since its opening in 1992. The two new otters were recently brought from the Pittsburgh Zoo and added to the exhibit.

“They seem to get along pretty well,” said Rico Walder, assistant curator of forests. “We introduced them to each other very slowly and now they seem pretty happy to share the exhibit.”

Otter training does not mean these animals will be jumping through hoops or balancing beach balls on their noses. The training and enrichment program is designed to provide a daily routine of activities that will encourage the animals to be more active during daylight hours. The training program also helps make routine medical exams and assessments easier and simplifies the process of moving the animals into holding areas during routine exhibit maintenance.

“When their training is complete, the otters will respond to gestures, spoken words and will execute certain behaviors on command,” McCarty said. “They are also taught to touch their noses to the end of a dowel, or target, to receive a reward. By target training them, we will be able to get them to roll over, stand on a scale or display their paws. This helps us get a complete assessment of their general health.”

At the Aquarium, the river otters can be seen swimming in a boulder-filled pool surrounded by rhododendron, mountain laurel and wildflowers.

Superior Swimmers
Otters are well-designed for swimming and living in cold mountain streams. A member of the weasel family, an otter has an elongated body, short legs, webbed feet and a long stout tail. Out of the water it walks with an awkward humpbacked gait, sometimes belly-sliding down muddy or snow-covered hills. On the surface of the water it dog paddles, but underwater the otter swims with its entire body, pushing with its webbed feet and steering with its long tail. Its thick, sleek coat, which keeps it dry and warm, is made up of two types of hair. The longer outer hairs, called guard hairs, are water repellent.The guard hairs protect the short, thick downy fur closest to the otter's body. The downy fur traps air and keeps the otter warm.

What’s for dinner?
Unlike other species of otter (like well-known sea otter), North American river otters catch prey with their mouths, not their hands. Although otters are quick swimmers, their skill is better shown in their ability to maneuver rapidly, which helps them chase down prey.

Otter facts:
• Common name: North American river otter
• Scientific name: Lontra canadensis
• These animals are found in streams, lake borders, swamps and rivers of North, Central and South America.
• In the wild, they eat fish, frogs, crayfish, other aquatic invertebrates, small turtles and turtle eggs, as well as snakes.
• At the Aquarium, they can be found in the Appalachian Cove Forest exhibit on level four of the River Journey building.

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The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission for both Aquarium buildings 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 $21.95 for adults and $12.50 for children. Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.tnaqua.org 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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