On a rainy day a few weeks ago, Tom and I spent a day at the Tennessee Aquarium. We had heard from lots of people about how wonderful the Tennessee Aquarium was, so we decided to check it out for ourselves. I must begin by saying that Tom and I are not huge fans of aquariums or zoos. Staring at something in a cage is not our idea of enjoying nature. So our experience of aquariums and zoos is limited.
But we enjoyed our time at the Tennessee Aquarium. We started with the River side – a large building devoted to river ecosystems. In an odd juxtaposition, the first display was a whole floor of seahorses, which are not really river creatures, although they are occasionally found in estuaries. The seahorses and pipefish were really interesting because Tom and I had never seen many of them close-up. They are certainly odd-looking. Some of them looked more like the coral they lived in than actual fish. And they move with tiny, invisible fins that help them go any direction. Fascinating.
We also enjoyed a large display of turtles. The endless variety in nature is just fascinating and you probably appreciate it more in an aquarium where so many different kinds can be next to each other.
The River building follows a river from its beginning at the top of the building in an Appalachian Cove Forest to where it meets the ocean at the bottom of the building (those seahorses). Along the way we saw a group of river otters swimming and playing. There were also a group of alligators who were being trained to come for their food when the bell rang and hold still in order to get food. It was fascinating to watch them crawl all over each other to get to the food staging area and then hold perfectly still with their mouths open to get some food. I didn’t know you could train alligators!
The last big exhibit in the River building was the River Giants exhibit, produced in collaboration with National Geographic. This exhibit contains huge fish, some as big as a small car, from all over the world. There are powerful Arapaima, bizarre-looking Wallago Catfish and giant freshwater stingrays, which can only exist in healthy ecosystems around the world. Consequently they are endangered in many areas. Aquariums are doing important work to preserve and restore these species to the wild.
The Ocean building was more like the other aquariums Tom and I have seen. It had lots of colorful coral reef fishes and an interesting display of jellyfish. There was a butterfly room with lots of colorful butterflies fluttering by. If you stood still for a while they would land on you.
Tom and I enjoyed our visit to the Tennessee Aquarium, especially the River building. It is obvious the Aquarium is well-loved and used by the people in Chattanooga. It is consistently rated the #1 Tourist attraction so it is definitely worth a visit if you are in town.