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Tennessee Aquarium opens new gallery:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (April 8, 1998) -- More than stinging balls of slime and more fun to watch than a lava lamp, jellyfish are the shimmering and translucent stars of Jellies: Phantoms of the Deep, the new gallery now open at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Jellies: Phantoms of the Deep gives visitors the rare opportunity to see jellyfish as they really are... delicate and mesmerizing creatures who are nettlesome to swimmers only because they're doing what jellyfish do.

The jellies gallery is the first in a series of changing shows designed to make each visit to the Aquarium new and exciting. It will be replaced by another exciting aquatic exhibit in the year 2000.

"The jellies exhibits on the East and West Coasts have drawn millions of visitors from all over the country," said Charlie Arant, Aquarium president. "We want our visitors to have the opportunity to experience the magical and mystical world of the jellies, as well as all the other amazing wonders of the aquatic world."

And amazing it is. You might be a small child who observes the swimming behavior of baby moon jellies in a hand-held jelly-wand. Or an adult who steps up to one of the interactive stations to find out more about the lion's mane jelly that captured his interest with its long tentacles. Visitors of all ages will find the jellies gallery a technical and aesthetic marvel complete with ethereal music, dim lighting and hundreds of pulsating, glowing, shimmering, phantom-like jellies.

The sea nettles, moon jellies, lion’s mane and elegant jellies range in size from contact lenses to dinner plates, and in color from iridescent white to shades of pink and brown. Their bodies, or "bells", trail long, thread-like tentacles and frilly ruffles in an eerie ballet.

Jellyfish-in spite of their name-are not fish, but invertebrate-relatives of sea anemones and corals. Jellies are 97 percent water. With no heart, no brain and no real eyes, jellyfish have three main parts: the round umbrella- like bodies or bells which propel the animals with a pumping or pulsating motion; tentacles that sting and immobilize prey; and oral arms or flaps that are used to eat their prey.

With this basic equipment, jellies manage to defend themselves from danger, make daily and seasonal journeys, stay together and occupy all the oceans of the world. Simple in design, fragile in build, jellies have few of the complex features many animals use to survive. Yet for 650 million years, they've lived and prospered on this watery planet.

Chris Coco, curator of fishes, said that even though jellyfish have prospered all this time, they are challenging to maintain away from their natural environment. Extensive work by Aquarium husbandry staff has made it possible to rear many of the jellies in an artificial setting, and to create exhibits that can accommodate these fragile animals.

"Setting up a display of jellyfish is a real challenge for several reasons," said Coco. "Tanks must have specially designed water circulation to prevent the fragile animals from entering the life support system and to provide for the suspension of food in the water column. The food must be suspended because jellyfish feed on various kinds of plankton, tiny animal organisms in the water, like baby brine shrimp."

He added that hundreds of moon and lion's mane jellies have reproduced asexually, doing so without eggs and sperm. Jellyfish young are called larvae, and they begin life by attaching to a solid surface then grow to resemble a tiny flower-a polyp. In hidden caverns and under rocky ledges, polyps perform their own kind of reproduction-not with eggs and sperm, but by cloning themselves. First they produce identical new polyps. Then they begin to form free-swimming jellies, a process as strange as if a caterpillar could divide itself into dozens of butterflies.

At the Aquarium, aquarists can "trigger" the jellies to reproduce by changing the temperature of the water from cold to warm or by introducing a chemical trigger. Small amounts of iodine solution often stimulate jelly polyps to release many new larvae. A jelly's lifespan ranges from weeks to years, depending on the species. Most jellies at the Tennessee Aquarium are bred here, while other species are acquired from other aquarium institutions.

The jellies gallery consists of tanks that are cylinders and portholes; large and small jellies; warm and cold-water jellies; stinging and mild-mannered jellies; polyps (tiny stalks of jellyfish buds), ephyrae (babies) and medusae (adults) in a total of 3,000 gallons of water. There will also be an interactive area with four touch-screens, and a docent station, where volunteers and educators will highlight jellies with various educational tools, including hand-held jelly-wands. Video portholes will feature footage of sea turtles eating jellies, jellies in the wild, and other amazing jelly behavior.

Jellies: Phantoms of the Deep is sponsored in part by Brach & Brock Confections, Inc.

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is the largest freshwater aquarium in the world. Built with private contributions, this non-profit educational organization is dedicated to the understanding, conservation and enjoyment of the Tennessee River and related ecosystems. Admission is $10.95 per adult and $5.95 per child, ages 3-12. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits.

To join or for program and trip information, call 267-FISH. The Aquarium is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas and is accessible to people with disabilities. The Aquarium’s TDD number is (423) 265-4498, and FM assistive listening devices are available on site. For more information, call 1-800-262-0695.

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