Visit the Tennessee Aquarium’s River Journey

Visitors get an up-close look at over 12,000 species including fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and butterflies at Chattanooga’s Tennessee Aquarium.

The Tennessee Aquarium is an impressive menagerie of aquatic animal life from the fresh-water rivers of the world to the salty oceans and seas, Two four-story buildings showcase the display. The first building, River Journey, houses primarily freshwater species.

Tennessee Aquarium’s Appalachian Cove Exhibit

Visitors follow the path of a single raindrop as it falls into a clean mountain stream, trickles down to the Tennessee River, flows through the Delta Swamps, into the Gulf of Mexico, and on to the oceans and rivers of the world.

After guests ascend a four-story escalator to begin their journey at the Aquarium’s Appalachian Cove exhibit, they are quickly immersed in dense woodland. Visitors are viewing a recreation of the mountain source of the Tennessee River. This walk-through habitat is a living forest complete with moss-covered rocks, rhododendrons, azaleas, and deciduous trees dropping leaves in the fall and sprouting new growth in the spring.

Guests cross a bridge over a running stream, and 24 species of songbirds flit overhead. Terrariums hid in hollow tree trunks house a timber rattler, copperhead, black rat snake, corn snake, a king snake, and northern pine snake.

In a pool beneath a roaring waterfall, two otters play in the chilly spray. Brook and rainbow trout dart amidst the cascade’s current.

Pet Lake Sturgeon at the Tennessee Aquarium

Exiting the cave, visitors find themselves at the top of a series of ramps steadily descending into the bottom of the aquarium. A gentle stream burbles four stories below while overhead, fiber optic cables simulate sunlight dancing on rippling water. The effect is that of becoming part of an underwater world.

To their right, visitors first glimpse the enormous Gulf tank, and to their left, they view a two-story tank revealing the hollowed-out mountain sink beneath the Cove’s waterfall. Over 150 trout fight the churning current in this exhibit.

The Tennessee River joins Ohio in the humid region of the Southeast depicted in the Aquarium’s interactive Discovery Hall. Here visitors have the chance to reach into a chilly pool and touch a leathery lake sturgeon. They encounter exhibits of baby alligators, frogs, and the bazaar salamander known as the hellbender.

Tennessee Aquarium’s Delta Country Exhibit

Delta Country—the aquarium’s second glass-roofed exhibit–vividly depicts the fertile cypress swamps of the Mississippi River. Visitors take a boardwalk past a 150-pound alligator snapping turtle, Florida softshells, red-bellied sliders, river cooters, and an American alligator over 6 feet long.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and moccasins slither through brushy Burroughs among bright sunfish and turtles. Long-nosed alligator gar, green-headed mallards, a little blue heron, a variety of turtles, and bullfrogs glide, paddle, flutter, creep or leap amidst a tangle of tree-trunks and dangling moss. To the lazy drone of a bass bullfrog, life amidst the species of the sultry Bayou’s bogs slows to a crawl unless survival dictates a dash for food or hasty escape.

Rivers of the World and Other Aquarium Exhibits

On leaving the Delta, guests are treated to their best view of the enormous Gulf of Mexico tank. The salty waters team with green moray eels, silver permits, blue angelfish, menacing barracuda, bonnethead sharks, crevalle jacks, grunts, porcupine fish, a sea turtle, and hog-nosed rays to name a very few.

Guests follow the water’s path down the Tennessee River where three gigantic blue catfish are hand-fed by divers daily at the bottom of the 145,000-gallon Nickajack Lake Tank. Other species vying for handouts in this exhibit are sunfish, bluegill, striped bass, diving ducks, and 30 species of fresh-water fish. In the Reelfoot Lake Exhibit, frogs and turtles laze among the lily pads while golden shiners, blue suckers, bowfin, bass, and comical paddlefish swim below.

Guests who think the Tennessee Aquarium is all about fish are in for a surprise. On their journey through the building, they will encounter over 70 species and over 500 individual turtles. A 2007 news release claims the Tennessee Aquarium actually displays more turtles than any public facility in the world. A few of the stranger reptilian varieties featured in the Turtles: Nature’s Living Sculptures exhibits are snake-neck and pancake tortoises.

Visitors view aquatic life from every part of the globe in the Tennessee Aquarium’s Rivers of the World gallery. Tanks feature the Amazon, St. Lawrence, Volga, Fly, Congo, Zaire, Yellow, and Yangtze Rivers. Guests are engulfed by a world of color among exotic species including coy, rainbow fish, pig-nosed turtles, four-eyed turtles, red-bellied piranha, a coiled anaconda, and enormous beluga sturgeon.

In the lowest level of the Aquarium, visitors enter the world of the seahorse to meet the fascinating creatures found in the Florida Keys, Tasmanian kelp beds, the Galapagos Islands, and the Chesapeake Bay. Guests glimpse bazaar leafy and weedy seadragons, tiny coral shrimpfish, intriguing long snout, potbelly, tiger snout, and short head seahorses, and yellow-banded and blue striped pipefish.

The River Journey concludes with an exhibit featuring art and artifacts from the Appalachian region. From here, visitors will proceed to Ocean Journey, the Tennessee Aquarium’s second building showcasing mainly saltwater exhibits. Guests to Chattanooga may also like to check out other popular tourist destinations including Rock City, Waterfront cruises, Children’s Discovery Museum, the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and the Chickamauga Battlefield.

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