River Giants

There's something primal that leads people to wonder what's lurking below the surface of any large river.

Humans seem to be hardwired to be both fascinated by, and somewhat fearful of, Volkswagen-sized catfish. Soon a remarkable collection of freshwater fish that can reach such legendary sizes will be on display at the Tennessee Aquarium. The River Giants exhibit in River Journey features amazing species that grow to enormous proportions in the wild.

The Legends:

There’s something in the back of everyone’s mind when overlooking a large river, lake or bay. “What’s lurking below the surface?” Grainy images of the Loch Ness Monster feed those thoughts. 

The Facts:

There are fish today that grow to enormous proportions. These River Giants not only reach spectacular sizes, they have fascinating life cycles and, in some cases, weird appearances.

The Exhibit:

The Tennessee Aquarium’s new River Giants exhibit brings together, for the first time anywhere, a collection of freshwater megafish in one tank. In the wild, these amazing animals live in remote locations from Australia’s Outback to the steamy jungles of southeast Asia. Aquarium guests will be thrilled by the prehistoric-looking arapaima, weird-looking wallago, giant freshwater whiprays and other BIG fish. Come explore what’s lurking within River Giants!

Spotlighting the plight of Monster Fish

National Geographic explorer Dr. Zeb Hogan has worked with some of the world’s largest freshwater fish. He’s had face-to-face encounters with these enormous species including what he calls, “The Sumo wrestlers of freshwater,” giant catfish. His team documented a 650 pound Mekong catfish for his television series, “Monster Fish.” They were also able to tag and release giant freshwater stingrays with bodies more than 12-feet in diameter.

The Tennessee Aquarium is proud to work in collaboration with National Geographic on this unique exhibit that focuses on the plight of these megafish. “It’s pretty easy to love, and to be curious about, these fish,” said Hogan. “The River Giants exhibit is great because, while most of us are not going to have a chance to  come face-to-face with a giant catfish or freshwater rays in the wild, we’re afforded that opportunity by going to the Tennessee Aquarium.”

Restoring a River Giant

For more than a decade, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, TNACI, has been working with a group of partners to re-populate the Tennessee River with lake sturgeon. These ancient-looking fish were once common, but vanished from our region due to several factors. The Aquarium’s “Saving the Sturgeon” program has successfully reintroduced more than 115,000 these freshwater titans to Tennessee. Learn more about TNACI and conservation efforts in the Southeast.

How You Can Help

Everyone can take small, money-saving steps to help river giants like lake sturgeon.

Click here for more information about National Geographic's Freshwater initiative.

Extreme Makeover of an Aquarium Exhibit

The Tennessee Aquarium's new exhibit, "River Giants," is an extreme makeover of a major exhibit. This video time lapse captures one month's worth of construction work in 2.5 minutes. Converting a saltwater tank to freshwater has been a big project. It has taken more than two years to go from drawing board to opening. This tank holds nearly 90,000 gallons of water and takes almost five hours to fill completely. In this video, you see the tank filling with freshwater for the first time since the Aquarium opened in 1992. This first fill was performed to test for leaks. It takes another two hours to drain this tank. The exhibit was filled and drained three times before the final fill before the fish were brought in for display. Funding for this project was provided, in part, by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


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