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A Tour of Ocean Journey
The galleries and exhibits of the
Tennessee Aquarium’s new expansion

The Tennessee Aquarium takes visitors from the mountains to the sea, and that adventure continues in the new Ocean Journey building. Guests explore a Tropical Cove, glide through a Butterfly Garden and dive into a Secret Reef. They’ll also meet some of the weird and watery wildlife in the “Boneless Beauties” gallery.

The adventure begins as guests take an escalator to Level 4 of the Ocean Journey building. As they ascend, natural light surrounds them as they take in a sweeping view of city parks and the Tennessee River – the water they see flowing by will eventually find its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical Cove
Visitors enter a lush, tropical rainforest under Ocean Journey’s glass peaks. The 30-foot high sunlit space is filled with tall palm trees, flowering plants and the sounds of a tropical forest.

At the Forest Pool, guests are captivated by freshwater stingrays like the black, white-blotched, tiger and vermiculate river rays, as well as young arawana. Both the black and tiger stingrays are considered threatened species and will be the focus of an Aquarium breeding effort. The arawana are South American fish that are easily recognizable by their upturned mouths. They are terrific jumpers and have been known to leap out of the water to capture prey on overhanging tree branches.

As visitors continue their journey, the sounds of birdcalls fill the air and they catch sight of a majestic bird with striking blue feathers in Macaw Glade. Reaching heights of more than 3 feet, and with a wingspan of more than 4 feet, the hyacinth macaw is a member of the parrot family. It also has the strongest beak of any bird in the world. This beautiful bird has deep cobalt blue feathers that are offset by yellow eye rings and face patches.

This intelligent animal has a sensitive tongue that it uses like a hand to grip and explore small objects. The macaw’s pointed beak is used to crush seeds and nuts that make up the majority of its diet.

Shark Island
With more than 100 feet of shoreline, Shark Island is the Aquarium’s largest touch exhibit. Guests can touch nearly 100 harmless sharks and rays while Aquarium education staff members share interesting facts about these animals. The small epaulette and bamboo sharks found in this pool are harmless and have rough skins that are covered with scales. The stingrays of Shark Island are smooth to the touch and do not have stinging barbs. Both sharks and rays have skeletons made of cartilage rather than bone. Cartilage is the same flexible material that is found in the human ear and nose.

Butterfly Garden
After a “touching” experience at Shark Island, visitors continue their Ocean Journey tour by entering a second tropical rainforest housed under the glass peaks. But this time, it’s a garden overflowing with exotic flowers, a waterfall and hundreds of jewel-hued, free flying butterflies. The Butterfly Garden immerses guests in an interactive experience where the butterflies flutter among, and even occasionally land on, the visitors. The butterflies found in the garden include species from Asia, Africa, South and Central America.

Secret Reef
After experiencing the winged wonders of the Butterfly Garden, visitors descend an escalator to the Secret Reef exhibit, a representation of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary located 110 miles off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Secret Reef reveals the magic life below the ocean’s surface. With 618,000 gallons of saltwater, and thousands of fish, the Secret Reef is the Aquarium’s largest exhibit. The exhibit, which is longer than an NBA basketball court, features a total of 33 windows that allow visitors to experience both sweeping views of the entire reef and close up looks at the colorful fish that dart and swim along the surface of the coral.

On the top level of the Secret Reef, guests encounter the stars of the exhibit – the 10-foot-long sand tiger sharks and the sleek and slightly smaller sandbar sharks. These toothy predators are amazing hunters but pose virtually no threat to human beings. At scheduled times, visitors will see divers in the exhibit and learn more about the role they play in keeping the Secret Reef clean and the animals healthy.

As visitors descend, they will discover other residents of this vibrant ocean community. Large schools of silvery jacks and lookdowns race through the exhibit while smaller, brightly colored fish dart in and out of fantastic coral formations.

“Boneless Beauties”
Visitors leave the Secret Reef for a while to explore Ocean Journey’s first special exhibition gallery, “Boneless Beauties.” Despite their drastically different appearances, the creatures in this gallery share one common trait – the lack of a backbone. The “Boneless Beauties” gallery showcases some of the most fascinating and bizarre animals on earth, including the giant Pacific octopus, the giant Japanese spider crab and those spineless, brainless wonders: the jellyfish.

Returning again to the Secret Reef, guests encounter an enormous three-story acrylic panel that gives them the impression that they are peering across the reef and into the open expanse of the sea.

Undersea Cavern
Next, visitors descend and venture into an Undersea Cavern that uncovers life beneath the reef. The Undersea Cavern takes guests inside and through the Secret Reef tank, experiencing sensations and views normally available only to divers. Guests will follow a winding undersea tunnel that leads them through the tank to experience dramatic views hidden in the rock. Light plays through the water and onto the walls of this cavern, and visitors are surrounded not only by the sights, but also by the sounds of the sea.

The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission 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 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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