River Otter Falls

NEW in the Tennessee Aquarium's Cove Forest!

ottersNorth American River Otters are furry, feisty and fun to watch. Even though these charismatic creatures are a native Southeastern species, they aren't easy to spot in the wild. But otter fans can come face-to- furry-face with their favorite mammals at River Otter Falls inside the Tennessee Aquarium’s Cove Forest. 

A romp of agile otters have a spacious new home to enjoy. It’s designed to bring out the best in their natural behaviors. You’ll see them scampering up and down multi-tiered landscape which features a lengthy stream, waterfalls and cascades. You’ll be fascinated by their climbing abilities and athleticism underwater.

The otters will explore their habitat in various groups each day, so you might see two, three or four otters at any one time playfully tussling with one another.

North American River Otters are terrestrial animals which means you’ll see them running along a lengthy stream, popping in and out of the water frequently. At times the otters chase one another like puppy dogs, occasionally wrestling underwater. You’ll enjoy seeing how they use their webbed feet and bushy tails to twist and turn like aquatic acrobats.

Because much of an otter’s life is scent-driven, you will frequently see the Aquarium’s otters playing a game of hide-and-smell. The animals will scent mark their favorite locations and Aquarium experts will occasionally introduce treats and new scents for the otters to discover.

Meet our River Otters:

Delmar
Delmar has lived at the Aquarium for 9 years. He's a relaxed guy and loves to eat and play with his new friends.
Maya
This feisty girl is the first to spring into action. She’s a talented climber and never misses playtime in the water.
Benny
This otter scampers, wrestles and swims but does not climb. Always first in line at feeding time and is very vocal.
Louie
This silver-faced otter is sometimes quiet. While he does not like to eat vegetables, he loves to swim.
       
 
Scout
This playful guy likes to join Maya in her climbing adventures and shares Benny’s distaste for vegetables. 
Hunter
This fun-loving otter is often vocal and eager to explore his new surroundings in River Otter Falls.
Digger
This spirited fellow likes to swim and LOVES to dig. In fact, he digs deeper holes than any other otter.
 


American River Otters at the Tennessee AquariumRiver Otter Conservation

The Aquarium’s dramatic new otter exhibit helps tell an important recovery story. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, TWRA, North American River Otters disappeared from Middle and East Tennessee by 1958. Over-trapping led to their demise. For nearly 30 years, only a few sightings were reported in West Tennessee and otters were listed as an endangered species in the state.

TWRA began an otter restoration project in 1984, releasing the animals in medium-sized rivers for nearly ten years. Thanks to those conservation efforts, North American River Otter populations rebounded and the agency was able to de-list the species in 1999.

The otter’s recovery in Tennessee is just one conservation story to be discovered in the Cove Forest. Take time to enjoy the native plants, songbirds, reptiles and fish while strolling through this living forest.  Then continue on throughout River Journey and Ocean Journey tracing the path of freshwater from the mountains to the sea.


Think Like An Otter To Build Their New Home

Construction Time-Lapse Takes You Behind-The-Scenes At The Tennessee Aquarium

Construction workers have finished River Otter Falls inside the Tennessee Aquarium’s Cove Forest. This dramatically transformed habitat is the most extensive redesign in the 22-year history of Chattanooga’s top attraction.

Following the lengthy design process, the roadmap for demolition and construction was laid out. “Construction planning took more than a year before the work began,” said Rodney Fuller, the Aquarium’s facility and safety manager. “Demolition was the most challenging aspect. We had to remove 300 tons of rockwork one wheel barrow at a time and the jack-hammering was all done outside of normal operating hours.” 

Fuller credits the Counts Company, a local general contractor, for keeping another complicated project on time and on budget. “This was a great opportunity to work with the Aquarium’s excellent team who are committed to providing the best habitat for these fascinating creatures,” said general contractor Stief Counts. “Now that our job is done, it’s thrilling to see the otters twirling underwater and playing like they’re on a playground in their new home.”

Local subcontractors Jake Marshall Mechanical, Lawson Electric and Yerby Construction, along with Cemrock and Hammerhead International, were also instrumental in building the new otter habitat. To appreciate the full scope of their work, the Aquarium produced a construction time-lapse video. Eight months of work is compressed into eight minutes of high-speed action. 


brook trout Another Cove Forest Conservation Success Story - Southern Appalachian Brook Trout

The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, TNACI, has been working with several partners to restore Southern Appalachian Brook Trout, SABT. These colorful trout were once abundant in the mountain headwaters of East Tennessee, but are currently down to just three percent of their historical range. Logging activities in cove forests wiped out large portions of the habitat needed for this fish. Other species, like Rainbow Trout, a non-native species that can withstand warmer water and more direct sunlight, soon began outcompeting SABT, which is Tennessee’s only native trout.

TNACI scientists were able to collect brood stock from a mountain cove stream and reproduce these fish in a closed-circulation system for the first time. More than 250 offspring were later returned to the same stream and are being monitored to measure the success of this initial effort.

Pioneering these techniques is part of a long-term effort to preserve this species as environmental pressures increase. With continued support, TNACI will continue working with partner agencies to expand this program with the goal of establishing robust populations of these gorgeous fish throughout the region.

Donate now to support the Tennessee Aquarium's conservation efforts.