The Aquarium is encouraging its staff members and the public to display keepsakes honoring the legacy of their furry, feathery, and scaly friends at the first Aquarium Animals & Beloved Pets Ofrenda.
An ofrenda (“offering” in Spanish) is an altar on which participants display a colorful array of vibrant symbols, flowers, photos, and meaningful artifacts that remind them of their lost loved ones.
From Sunday, Oct. 29, through Thursday, Nov. 2, the Aquarium’s first publicly accessible ofrenda will be located in the Ocean Journey building lobby. The ofrenda is intended to memorialize pets and other animals that have died.
The ofrenda will remain up through Día de los Muertos, which is celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2. Translated from Spanish as “Day of the Dead,” Día de los Muertos is primarily a Mexican tradition but is widely celebrated among other Hispanic and Latino cultures as a way to remember departed loved ones.
Aquarium staff will be available Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to assist guests who wish to make contributions to the ofrenda. Everyone who feels moved to participate can contribute to the ofrenda by coloring a skull or designing a picture frame for a printed photo or sketch of their beloved pets.
The Aquarium’s Beloved Animal and Pet Ofrenda is being created in partnership with Ensamble de México, a Chattanooga-based Mexican ballet company and folklore preservation organization, and CulturAlly, a local resource for Hispanic community engagement and outreach. A member from Ensamble de México will be performing a celebratory dance in front of the ofrenda on Nov. 1 at 4:30 p.m.
As they tend to and interact with them day to day, the Aquarium’s experts develop close bonds with the animals in their care. To honor these ties, some Aquarium staff may choose to contribute to the ofrenda on the part of past Aquarium animals that hold a special place in their hearts.
Many of the Aquarium’s animals gain prominence within the broader community for the impact they have on the countless guests with whom they interact during their lives in the River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings.
From 2010 until his passing in 2019, the Aquarium’s beloved Groundhog, Chattanooga Chuck, gained national attention for his weather-prognosticating skills. Delmar, the Appalachian Cove Forest’s oldest North American River Otter, was one of the first animals seen by millions of guests at the onset of their Aquarium adventure until his passing this February, just shy of his 18th birthday.
The connections forged between the Aquarium’s animals and the public can’t be overstated, and their memory lives on in those who cared for them, says Senior Animal Care Specialist Maggie Sipe. Sipe felt a particularly deep connection with Josephine, a female Red-ruffed Lemur euthanized in 2021 to spare her from the onset of advanced kidney failure.
“Every now and then in your career, you get an animal who just stands out, and Jo was one of those,” Sipe says. “I say all the time that we are grateful for her service to us. I’m just so thankful to have been a part of her life and that she chose to trust me with her remaining years.”