The Tennessee Aquarium may not have a partridge in a pear tree — or even a miniature sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer — but this holiday season, the Rivers of the World gallery is twinkling especially merrily thanks to a bit of Christmas magic.
During the Holidays Under the Peaks celebration (Now-Dec. 24), visitors exploring the gallery can watch as Miguel Wattson, the Tennessee Aquarium’s tweeting Electric Eel (@EelectricMiguel), does his yuletide best to make spirits — and an extra-special Christmas tree — merry and bright.
The especially clever elves in the Aquarium’s audio video department are the key to this illuminating new program, “Shocking around the Christmas Tree.” Thanks to a special system connected to his tank, Miguel’s shocks cause strands of lights on a nearby tree to glow bright enough to make Rudolph’s nose seem dim by comparison.
“Whenever Miguel discharges electricity, sensors in the water deliver the charge to a set of speakers,” explains Joey Turnipseed, the Aquarium’s audio visual production specialist. Turnipseed is responsible for tackling the unique engineering challenge of translating Miguel’s electric pulses into a glimmering yuletide display. “The speakers convert the discharge into the sound you hear and the festively flashing lights.”
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow — as well as older guests who are still young-at-heart — will get big smiles whenever the eel is feeding or feeling particularly jolly.
“The rapid, dim blinking of the lights is caused by the constant, low-voltage blips of electricity he releases when he’s trying to find food,” explains Aquarist Kimberly Hurt. “The bigger flashes are caused by the higher voltage shocks he emits when he’s eating or excited.”
While the seasonal fun is something to see, Aquarists hope it also sparks a new love and appreciation for this unusual freshwater fish (and not a true eel, as guests will quickly learn during the program). The best way to see an Electric Eel lighting up a Christmas Tree is at the Tennessee Aquarium, but just as a gentle reminder, even though they would fit in one nicely, electric eels do not make good stocking stuffers.