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The Tennessee Aquarium:
a journey from the mountains to the sea

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (January 25th, 2008) – More than 1,500 miles separate the streams of the Appalachian Mountains from the Gulf of Mexico, but visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga can make the trip in just a few hours. 

The Aquarium’s awe-inspiring, self-guided tour follows the path of a tiny raindrop from a cove forest high in the Appalachian Mountains to a colorful coral reef in the blue depths of the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, Aquarium visitors see thousands of animals in three living, green forests under glass and exhibits that teem with life above and below the water’s surface.

“From the free-flying song birds in River Journey’s Appalachian Cove Forest to Penguins’ Rock and Butterfly Garden in the new Ocean Journey building, the Tennessee Aquarium combines both freshwater and saltwater habitats to give visitors an experience unlike any other,” said Charlie Arant, Tennessee Aquarium president. “Much like the Tennessee River connects us to the Gulf of Mexico, the Aquarium strives to connect our visitors to the natural world. Our goal is to inspire our guests with wonder and appreciation for the natural world.”

The story begins in the Appalachian Cove, where visitors see whimsical river otters at play and various slithering snake species from the western Appalachian Mountains and hear the chirps of small birds. As tiny raindrops from the cove gather on the flat coastal plains and drain, they become the Tennessee River, Nickajack Lake and Reelfoot Lake, which are exhibited in the Tennessee River gallery. Here, guests trod along to the beat of friendly mountain music and sounds of dripping water to observe darting, longnose gar and huge, blue catfish in the freshwater depths.

Next, the river water runs into the swampy Ohio River, which is captured in the Discovery Hall gallery, where visitors hear the adorable chirping noises of tiny baby alligators and encounter strange-looking paddlefish. One of the most unique features of the gallery is the lake sturgeon touch station - an area where guests actually have a hands-on encounter with these prehistoric-looking fish that once ruled the rivers of Tennessee.

As the Ohio River drains into the vast Mississippi River, which is located throughout the lowlands of the Atlantic Coast, guests come to the Delta Country gallery, where accordions play melodically in the background and prehistoric-looking alligator snapping turtles and swift, hooded merganser ducks are viewed up close in their swampy homes.

As the freshwater Mississippi River meets the vast saltwater sea, visitors go under and beyond the waves at the Gulf of Mexico exhibit to see a snapshot of ocean life with gliding stingrays and fierce barracuda. Traveling 115 miles south of Texas and further into the Gulf, visitors experience more colorful and exciting wonders in the Secret Reef exhibit, which showcases jaw-dropping, 10-foot sand tiger and sandbar sharks. They can be viewed from a spectacular, panoramic view in the next exhibit, the Undersea Cavern, which makes visitors feel as though they are diving into an underwater cave with views of saltwater life at every angle.

“Imagine gazing into a coral reef teeming with 10-foot-long sharks, fierce barracuda and a mosaic of colorful reef fish,” said Jackson Andrews, Aquarium director of husbandry and operations. “The size and design of these exhibits give our visitors the chance to experience an ecosystem in a way that, until now, only divers could.”

In addition to the extraordinary sights seen on the journey from the mountains to the sea, visitors have a unique opportunity to view other amazing animals from around the world.

In the Rivers of the World gallery, featuring rivers in Asia, the Amazon and other parts of the world, piranha, various multi-colored, lizards and long-necked turtles are seen lurking in their habitats as sounds of rushing water soothe the senses and geckos blend with their environment. Next, the Tropical Cove gives visitors a chance to get up-close and personal as they touch smooth and sandpaper-like freshwater stingrays and sharks and gaze at the lovely hyacinth macaw, which inhabits an amazing, lush forest under glass with rare, brightly-colored flowers from around the world.

At Penguins’ Rock, visitors enjoy the playful antics of gentoo and macaroni penguins.  These large, cold-climate birds are comical to watch at times, and simply amazing to see other times.  Whether they are waddling, diving, swimming or gobbling down seemingly endless amounts of fish, these penguins are simply fun to be around.

This gallery also features interactive elements that lead visitors to learn more about all 17 species of penguins and the world they live in. Larger than life penguin models perched on a rocky island also offer families a fun photo opportunity.

Visitors also venture into the dimly-lit, mystical “Boneless Beauties” gallery in the Ocean Journey building, where many invertebrates swim and play, like the intelligent, bulbous octopus, as well as graceful, pulsating jellyfish.

“Although these animals share the common trait of having no internal skeletons, they exhibit a great deal of variety in appearance and behavior,” said Thom Demas, Aquarium curator of fishes. “We have the jellyfish – relatively simple animals with a limited central nervous system – and then we have the giant Pacific octopus, which has a complex brain that can even solve puzzles.”

To complete their enriching experience at the Aquarium, guests can look in awe at the numerous colorful, quirky seahorses in the “Seahorse: Beyond Imagination” gallery and get an insiders view of the mythical underwater world of a school of colorful pipefish in a domed pop-up tank.

They can also tour the tropical paradise of the Butterfly Garden and watch in fascination as thousands of jewel-like butterflies dance in mid-air around them as a beautiful waterfall cascades in a blossoming jungle full of exotic plants and flowers.

“The thrilling journey and the Aquarium’s primary focus on research and conservation efforts become an educationally rewarding experience for all who venture through the Aquarium’s depths,” Arant said.
“Drawing nearly one million visitors each year with its colorful, fascinating sights and enriching, hands-on activities, the Aquarium offers fun for everyone and touches the hearts and minds of many children and adults alike,” he added.


The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $19.95 per adult and $12.95 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 $8.50 per adult and $6.00 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $25.95 for adults and $17.95 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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