Kid’s View: Underwater Journey

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Explore rivers and oceans in a fun learning environment at the Tennessee Aquarium.

By CADEN GRIDER, age 13

The oceans and rivers of our planet are in many ways the world’s greatest mysteries. Humans have explored only about 5 percent of these waters, yet they make up about 70 percent of Earth’s surface.

Still, there’s a lot we do know. How is that so? It’s because we’ve learned a good bit about the organisms that make their homes in rivers and oceans. According to a study by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, there are 700,000 to 1 million marine species, and up to two-thirds have not been named or described. I learned about and saw some of the known saltwater and freshwater animals in action at the Tennessee Aquarium in downtown Chattanooga.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]The outside of the aquarium is the thing that makes it truly unique. It appears that the concrete is ripped out of the ground in some places. It looks like something straight out of an action movie – like the Incredible Hulk went on a rampage. There are also a few bridges shaped like curvy arcs. They are about 20 feet in the air, providing a great view of the whole area. You know a place is good when it interests you before you even get to the main attraction.

The aquarium is split into two massive buildings. One contains the River Journey, and the other houses the Ocean Journey.

River Journey

The lower-lobby exhibit displays different types of sea horses. Dwarf sea horses can probably fit on my fingertip. There also are tanks of very funky looking sea horses that live off the coasts of New Zealand. I’m not sure how to describe them – they’re just weird, and that’s kind of cool.

An escalator takes us to the next exhibit, the Appalachian Cove Forest, at the very top of the building. It is probably my favorite exhibit in this area because it makes me feel like I am actually in an Appalachian forest. All around there are sounds of chirping birds and cascading waterfalls. River otters, my sister’s personal favorite, are the main attraction in this exhibit. Up next are species that inhabit the Southeast region. The baby alligators are my favorite in this exhibit, but there is an even bigger feature: a tank that allows you to touch 2-foot-long lake sturgeons.

We move on to swamp country. It contains bigger alligators and a very large alligator snapping turtle, which looks almost prehistoric. There are other turtles, too, but they are of the smaller variety. The fish in the next exhibit look like they could be on Animal Planet’s “River Monsters.” There are huge catfish, alligator gar, giant stingrays and the Arapaima. These are all deadly fish. I sure wouldn’t want to be the person who has to get in the tank with them!

Rivers of the World is the next exhibit. It explores rivers including the Amazon, the Congo, the Volga, and the Fly. Then we find ourselves exploring an exhibit featuring the local Tennessee River. It also covers a couple of lakes, such as Nickajack Lake and Reelfoot Lake.

Ocean Journey

Now let’s dive into the Ocean Journey, starting with the Tropical Cove. It is much like the Appalachian Cove Forest, but the freshwater stingrays are its primary attraction. There is a touch station for these stingrays, allowing you to really have a hands-on experience. Next is the Butterfly Garden. There are butterflies everywhere, but it is hard to make one land on you. You have to be very, very still, which is why I wasn’t able to do it.

Then you come to the Penguins’ Rock. There are many penguins inside this exhibit, all seemingly ignoring the visitors to the aquarium. They look like they are having fun, sliding and diving around. I know what you’re thinking: “Where are the sharks?” They appear in the next exhibit, which explores the Gulf of Mexico. A couple of 10-foot tiger sharks send chills down my back. On a lighter note, there are sea turtles, one of the most majestic animals in the ocean.

Jellies: Living Art is the next exhibit. Jellyfish are beautiful, but also very strange in my opinion. It’s something about how they are so different from any other animal.

Then the last exhibit is upon us – the Undersea Cavern. We walk through a dark tunnel, lit up through the water above. We see a variety of fish swimming about. It’s very odd to see them from below, though.

This is just a brief rundown – my highlights – of the aquarium. It would be almost impossible to tell you everything you can see and do.

This is definitely a place you should consider visiting. Not only is it fun, it is very relaxing. It provides something for everyone in the family. It offers an opportunity to learn about wildlife and ecosystems you don’t often get to see. It is a wonderful, almost magical place to go.

If You Go

GETTING THERE: The Tennessee Aquarium is at 1 Broad Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402.

HOURS:  Tickets can be purchased daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Buildings close at 7:30 p.m.; Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

PRICES: Adults, $29.95; Children (3-12), $18.95; 3 and under, free.

CONSIDER: Taking in the IMAX 3D movie or going on the River Gorge Explore cruise. See tnaqua.org/tickets for package deals that include one or both.

MORE INFO: 800-262-0695; tnaqua.org[/s2If]