The Tennessee Aquarium is a non-profit public aquarium located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, United States. It opened in 1992 on the banks of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, with a major expansion added in 2005.
The Tennessee Aquarium’s exhibits are housed in two structures, the original River Journey building which opened in 1992 and the neighboring Ocean Journey expansion, which opened in 2005.
The River Journey facility is a 130,000 square foot structure equivalent in height to a twelve-story building. It contains a total of 400,000 US gallons (1,500,000 L), and was the largest freshwater aquarium in the world when it opened. It is organized around the theme of the Story of the River, following the path of a raindrop from high in the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately two-thirds of the facility’s display follows this theme, with the rest devoted to smaller aquatic exhibits hosting organisms from around the world.
Major exhibits in River Journey include:
- The Appalachian Cove Forest featuring River Otter Falls, which opened in 2014 and replaced a smaller exhibit of North American river otters. It also displays free-flying North American song birds, native fish species including shiners, daces, darters, redhorse, hog suckers and trout, and an artificial waterfall falling into a 30,000-US-gallon (110,000 L) mountain sink.
- Delta Country, which exhibits species from the Mississippi River delta. Its centerpiece is Alligator Bayou, which opened in 2015 and features a group of young American alligators and a pair of alligator snapping turtles.
- Rivers of the World, which includes several small to medium-large aquaria that represent the Amazon River, Congo (Zaire) River, Fly River and others. This gallery is also home to the aquarium’s electric eel, which “communicates” with the public through a Twitter account linked to the current it generates.
- The Tennessee River gallery, which exhibits species found in the Tennessee River valley. Its centerpiece is the 145,000-US-gallon (550,000 L) Nickajack Lake tank featuring species which live in the intensively managed Tennessee River itself, including the American paddlefish and channel catfish.
- River Giants, which contains giant freshwater fish from around the world, such as alligator gar, arapaima, giant pangasius, redtail catfish and giant freshwater stingray.
Ocean Journey, a 60,000 square foot structure equivalent in height to a ten-story building, opened in 2005 and contains a total of 700,000 US gallons (2,600,000 L). It ostensibly follows the theme of the River Journey by following the river into the Gulf of Mexico, although it is thematically less consistent than the original structure. This facility includes hyacinth macaws, a touch tank of small sharks and rays, and a butterfly garden with free-flying South American species. Major exhibits in Ocean Journey include:
- The Secret Reef, the largest tank in Ocean Journey (and the Tennessee Aquarium), containing 618,000 US gallons (2,340,000 L). It depicts the environment of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico and can be viewed from three levels including the Undersea Cavern, an underwater walk-through feature. The species exhibited in the Secret Reef include sand tiger and bonnethead sharks and green sea turtles, one of which, “Oscar,” is a rescue animal missing much of its rear flippers due to injuries from a boat and a predator.
- The Boneless Beauties and Jellies: Living Art galleries, which exhibit invertebrates including corals, jellyfish, cuttlefish, giant Pacific octopuses, and Japanese spider crabs. Jellies: Living Art is a collaboration with the nearby Hunter Museum of American Art and includes rotating exhibits of art glass alongside the jellyfish.
- Penguins’ Rock, which displays macaroni penguins and gentoo penguins onshore and swimming in a 16,000-US-gallon (61,000 L) tank.
In addition to its exhibit halls, the Tennessee Aquarium includes two public offsite facilities. The River Gorge Explorer, a 65-foot catamaran tour boat, offers daily tours of the nearby Tennessee River Gorge and other sites along the Tennessee River, boarding from the public pier in Ross’s Landing Park adjacent to the aquarium. The aquarium also operates an IMAX 3D theater.