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Photo Ark

Temporary exhibit opening in March 2024

When it comes to their names, some animals could use a better publicist because, to the unfamiliar ear, there’s little about “River Chub” or “Least Rasbora” that spurs the imagination or sparks a desire to protect them.

That’s where award-winning National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore comes in.

The chub and rasbora — both freshwater fish species — are two of the dozens of animals Sartore has visited the Tennessee Aquarium to photograph as part of the Photo Ark, his attempt to document all 25,000 species in human care at zoos, aquariums and wildlife sanctuaries.

Beginning March 1 and continuing through the end of the year, the Aquarium will exhibit two dozen images from the Photo Ark throughout its campus. As they explore the Ocean Journey and River Journey buildings or take in a screening at the IMAX 3D Theater, guests will see Sartore’s incredible photographs on enormous banners, graphics and video projections.

Through this 17-year (and counting) effort, Sartore has archived stunning portraiture of more than 15,000 species across more than 50,000 images. He estimates completing the archive could take another seven to eight years.

Some of the Photo Ark images on display, including the Southern Flying Squirrel and Four-eyed Turtle, were created during Sartore’s eight previous visits to the Aquarium. Others, such as the Red-eyed Tree Frog or African Elephant, highlight interesting and at-risk species that aren’t part of the Aquarium’s living collection.

Regardless of the setting in which the images were made, the Photo Ark aims to level the playing field and inspire an equal sense of wonder and importance for all animals — whether big or small, world-beloved or largely unknown.

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