Gatlinburg, Tennessee Attraction has a Surprising New Exhibit
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee has built an entire habitat to house 20 African penguins.
Of all the diverse wildlife visitors plan to see in the Great Smoky Mountains, few people think of seeing penguins. Few plan on seeing sharks or stingrays either, yet hundreds of thousands of visitors see sharks, stingrays, and other tropical marine life every year thanks to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. To celebrate their ten years in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Ripley’s Aquarium has built a permanent penguin habitat that will showcase African penguins in a way visitors have never experienced.
African Penguins at Ripley’s Aquarium
The new penguin habitat at Ripley’s Aquarium, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, is 4,000 square feet and cost more than $5 million to build. The exhibit will allow visitors to crawl through acrylic tunnels built into a 30,000-gallon saltwater tank to see the penguins swimming all around them. Penguins can venture indoors and outdoors in favorable weather, and visitors are encouraged to feed the penguins. A lucky few will be allowed to touch a penguin.
Instead of using cold-weather Antarctic penguins, like those seen in movies like Happy Feet and March of the Penguins, Ripley’s has chosen to use African penguins, which are accustomed to a more temperate climate. In the wild, African penguins live on the continent’s southwest coast, where the climate is not icy. They should feel comfortable in East Tennessee, where the summers are warm, and the winter temperatures rarely dip below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies’ Most Popular Exhibits
Besides the penguins, visitors can expect to see a myriad of ocean wildlife. The most popular exhibit is the Shark Lagoon, where guests glide along a moving path that snakes 340 feet beneath a saltwater aquarium filled with several breeds of sharks, turtles, fish, and stingrays. Signs along the path describe the numerous creatures within the lagoon.
Interactive exhibits are positioned throughout the aquarium. Guests can touch a stingray, pick up a horseshoe crab or pose for pictures in front of a towering ancient shark jaw. Ripley’s explains the complicated control systems that keep the aquarium running smoothly, and allow guests to experiment with mock filtration systems. Special classes on marine topics are offered throughout the day.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is located at Gatlinburg traffic light #5. The size of the building makes it impossible to miss. The aquarium is open 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with extended hours on weekends and in the summer months. Admission is $19.99 for adults, $10.99 for children 6-11 and $4.99 for children 2-5. Combination tickets are available to view several Ripley’s attractions for a discounted rate.