Follow our most important resource - freshwater - from the mountains to the sea.
Imagine a single raindrop that flows from a mountaintop stream to a chattering creek, travels into a lazy river and finally joins a vast ocean. The Tennessee Aquarium offers an up-close look at the habitats found along this amazing journey.
Appalachian Cove Forest
The Appalachian Cove Forest, at the top of the River Journey building, sets the stage for the Aquarium experience by recreating the mountain source of the Tennessee River.
Upon entering, visitors are surrounded by an ancient forest; the sounds of chirping birds, cascading waterfalls and whimsical river otters splashing and foraging. The forest is remarkably realistic; its air is moist and thick; its trees are filled with birds; its streams and pools are inhabited by fish; and amphibians and reptiles find refuge in hollow logs.
As the water from the Tennessee River meets the Ohio River and empties into the mighty Mississippi, a moist, swampy environment is created. In River Journeyís Discovery Hall visitors explore the humid, damp habitats of the Southeast region.
Guests explore an underwater world where vibrantly colored sunfish float like jewels or peak into the swamp nursery where baby alligators bask. They can also reach out and touch an ancient-looking lake sturgeon that is making a comeback in the rivers of Tennessee as part of a long-term restoration effort led by the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.
Visitors can also see the nation's largest salamander, the hellbender, which breathes through its skin, as a variety of tree frogs chirp and call around them.
The Mississippi Delta Country gallery examines the final leg of the water's journey as it slows in the Mississippi River to meet the Gulf of Mexico. Often perceived as a land of stagnation, the cypress swamp ecosystem is actually a labyrinth of trees, water and soft earth that is teeming with life.
Alligator Bayou is home to 13 American Alligators that silently patrol the waters. These intelligent animals are actually great communicators using a number of audible vocalizations, body language and vibrations to communicate. Learn more about these fascinating reptiles during daily programs.
Visitors proceed along the boardwalk in this exhibit to see animals like the extraordinarily large alligator snapping turtle, red-bellied turtles and ducks sloshing through the swampy waters amidst a tangle of tree trunks, vines and hanging moss. Sunfish swim with a variety of turtles and ducks in the shallow pools while birds patrol the canopy overhead.
You’ll encounter other native species during special programs offered each day at the education station that’s located “downstream” from Alligator Bayou. Check the Extraordinary Experiences schedule or download the FREE Tennessee Aquarium app.
There's something primal that leads people to wonder what's lurking below the waters of any large river or lake. Humans seem to be hardwired to be both fascinated by, and fearful of, Volkswagen-sized catfish.
Produced in collaboration with National Geographic, the River Giants exhibit brings together a global collection of these behemoths, such as the powerful Arapaima, bizarre-looking Wallago Catfish and giant freshwater stingrays, to tell an important conservation story. At one time, major river systems throughout the world were inhabited by giant freshwater fish.
When rivers are healthy and ecosystems are in balance, these mighty fish may be present. Some, like the Lake Sturgeon, are recovering thanks to conservation efforts. Others, like the Giant Pangassius Catfish are critically endangered in the wild and may soon become extinct without our help.
Rivers of the World
With exotic and exciting sights from around the world, the Rivers of the World gallery feels like a planet all on its own. When visitors enter, they get a special 'taste' of countries of different continents at every angle of the gallery, while sounds of rapids and dripping water play in the distance, reminding them of the Aquarium story.
With fantastic creatures exhibited, the Rivers of the World gallery showcases sights from the Amazon, Congo, Volga and Fly Rivers as well as from tropical African and Eurasian waters.
Three exhibits are devoted to the Amazon, the world's largest river. One displays smaller, brightly-colored fish, frogs, lizards and turtles from the region; a second contains the feared red-bellied piranha and anaconda. The largest exhibit depicts the beautiful 'flooded forest' created each year during the rainy season when the river rises 30 to 40 feet.
Tennessee River Gallery
As Appalachian raindrops merge and begin to trickle into streams, they eventually reach the Tennessee River. The river has been carefully controlled by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) since the 1930s and is a reservoir system harnessed by 35 dams.
The Tennessee River gallery in River Journey examines the river, comparing the wild Tennessee with these new, man-made environments. There are three major exhibits to explore: Nickajack Lake, Reelfoot Lake and "Turtles: Nature's Living Sculptures."
The Tropical Cove in Ocean Journey beckons visitors into a misty, tropical rainforest paradise filled with vibrant blossoms, lush greenery, the echoing cries of lemurs and a unique touch station. The space’s open-concept design allows guests to wander through a diverse collection of exhibits representing exotic tropical and island ecosystems.
As they enter Tropical Cove, visitors may be lucky enough to spot one of this exhibit’s namesakes — endangered Ring-tailed and critically endangered Red-ruffed Lemurs — ambling along a raised path arcing over the entrance. Once inside, they’ll see a towering recreation of the rainforests and spiny forests the lemurs call home in their native Madagascar. After watching the lemurs clamber to perches dozens of feet overhead or sunning themselves on a miniature island, visitors can learn more about these imperiled mammals through twice daily special programs lead by the Aquarium’s lemur experts.
Stingray Bay is the Aquarium's largest touch station, with more than 100 feet of shoreline. Guests can touch several different shark and stingray species while Aquarium staff members share interesting facts about these animals from a tropical-themed tiki hut. The smooth, narrow walls of the tank and easy step-up along the base of the walls make it easy for guests, young and old alike, to lay fingers on these gentle swimmers as they glide through the warm waters.
Visitors can venture into the beautiful Butterfly Garden next, where the sounds of birds and splashing water fill the air. Itís a garden overflowing with exotic flowers, a sparkling, cascading waterfall and hundreds of jewel-hued, free-flying butterflies. The sunny 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.
Venture into the world of cold-climate penguins at Penguins' Rock. Gentoo and macaroni penguins are constantly diving into and rocketing out of the water in this gallery. Many visitors are surprised by the size of these sub-Antarctic birds. Gentoos are the third largest penguin species in the world, while macaronis are the largest of the crested penguin species.
A bit further into the blue depths of the Gulf of Mexico, about 115 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, an exotic, multi-colored coral environment exists in harmony. This reef system, the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, is the northernmost reef in North America and is inspiration for the Secret Reef exhibit.
Perfectly depicted in a dimly-lit gallery with mystical, underwater music, this exhibit features the Aquariumís most jaw-dropping animals: toothy, 10-foot, sand tiger sharks and sleek, sandbar sharks. In addition, guests can watch in amazement as thousands of colorful reef fish swim about while the larger Crevalle Jacks swim above. Two impressive Green Sea Turtles can also be seen gliding through the crystal clear waters.
Guests enter the weird and whimsical world of invertebrates in the Boneless Beauties gallery. These mysterious creatures pulsate, dance and draw visitors into their spell. Despite their drastically different appearances, the animals in this dimly lit gallery share one common trait - the lack of a backbone. The Aquarium showcases some of the most fascinating and bizarre animals on earth, including the wondrous, Giant Pacific Octopus, the hovering, squid-like Cuttlefish and those spineless, brainless wonders: the electrifying jellyfish.
In addition, the gallery features a unique, domed pop-up tank, where guests can observe the intriguing lifestyles of several giant Japanese spider crabs as if they were floating in a bubble in the middle of the tank.
Jellies: Living Art
The Tennessee Aquarium and Hunter Museum of American Art have collaborated to bring Jellies: Living Art to Chattanooga. This special exhibition showcases six species of jellyfish, each distinct in appearance and among the most mysterious creatures on Earth, alongside breathtaking glass sculptures. Jellies: Living Art was inspired by the award-winning, highly rated gallery at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A variety of jellyfish species intrigue guests as they discover how the rhythm, motion, color and patterns of nature have fueled artistic expression. Visitors will also be captivated by the delicate beauty of glass installations by renowned artists Lanny Bergner, Stephen Rolfe Powell, Cork Marcheschi and Thomas Spake.
The adventure continues as visitors make their way further into the depths of the Secret Reef in Ocean Journey. A wonder in itself, the Undersea Cavern provides breathtaking, panoramic views of the Secret Reef.
Visitors feel as if they are floating in a bubble deep in the ocean while surrounded by thousands of curious saltwater creatures, like colorful fish and enormous sharks, in a fantastic, brightly-colored coral setting. As they make their way though the cavern, they can view bottom feeders and observe the behaviors of mysterious saltwater life as if they were actually deep-sea divers. Visitors are amazed when 10-foot sharks swim slowly above their heads and schools of darting fish move to and fro in every direction around them.