published Friday, April 13th, 2012

Video: Megafish to be featured at Tennessee Aquarium's newest exhibit

  • Tennessee Aquarium prepares for "River Giants"
    The Tennessee Aquarium will soon open a new exhibit called "River Giants," which will be housed in the former "Gulf of Mexico" tank and will feature several large sturgeon fish.

It took a room full of men and women to move the 212-pound, slimy mammoth into its new exhibit in the Tennessee Aquarium on Thursday morning.

But he didn’t put up much of a fight, not even a wiggle.

“I think he is happy,” one aquarium worker said, watching the 7-foot-long beluga sturgeon named Boris swim near the surface of the remodeled, two-story tank in the River Journey building.

“He should be. Everyone else is so far,” said Thom Demas, curator of fish at the aquarium.

Boris was fattened up for the display in an off-site location on Amnicola Highway, along with other freshwater Goliaths moved Thursday to their new home. In seven years, while on display in other exhibits and in holding, he has gained 60 pounds, officials said.

He’ll now swim among 17 species of the world’s largest freshwater fish in the aquarium’s new River Giants exhibit set to open April 28.

The exhibit is a key part of the aquarium’s 20th anniversary celebration to commemorate the opening of the aquarium in May 1992.

“For the first time anywhere, people will have an opportunity to see a global collection of these giants in a single display,” Demas said.

FAST FACTS


• 40 fish will swim in the two-story tank.

• 17 species from four continents

• The cost of the exhibit was $800,000.

• Collecting the fish and shifting the tank from saltwater to freshwater took 2 1/2 years to complete.

• 87 tons of rock work and decor was replaced in the tank for the new fish.

• Boris, a 212 pound beluga sturgeon, will be one of the largest fish on display.

Source: Tennessee Aquarium

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The exhibit, presented in collaboration with National Geographic and inspired by the television show “Monster Fish,” is an $800,000 endeavor that took more than 2 1/2 years to complete. Forty fish will be on display.

National Geographic Explorer and host of “Monster Fish” Zeb Hogan will be in Chattanooga April 25-28 to help launch the exhibit and conduct education programs.

“Normally we focus on one habitat and try to give people a better understanding of that environment,” said Thom Benson, a spokesman for the aquarium. “These large species are disappearing and may face extinction. It’s not just taking fish randomly and throwing them into one container because they are big.

“We want people to think about their plight.”

The exhibit will be the first of its kind at the aquarium, putting a lot of fish that wouldn’t naturally be found together into the same tank. And it signifies a shift for the aquarium, Benson said.

Over the next few years aquarium officials said they will be moving all saltwater fish exhibits into Ocean Journey and devoting all of River Journey to freshwater displays in the hopes of showcasing the aquarium staff’s freshwater expertise.

After all, megafish are just tall tales in this area. Some anglers have reported seeing lake sturgeon as long as 7 feet in the Tennessee River.

“I think this new collection of fish is a great way to celebrate the aquarium's freshwater roots on the Tennessee River,” Demas said.

The fish in River Giants come from waters all over the world. Arapaima came from South America. Freshwater whiprays and marble eels came from Australia. Blue catfish, lake sturgeon and alligator gar came from North America. A tangassius catfish came from Southeast Asia. Beluga sturgeon, including Boris, came from the Vulga River in Russia.

And many of them have stories to tell, said Benson.

Boris and his brother Horis were traded for research materials by the Russian government in 1975 and brought over in a hand-held cooler. In 1992, the Steinhart Aquarium in California gave Horis to the Tennessee Aquarium and in 2005 the aquarium got custody of Boris as well.

Demas said he has no idea how large the brothers will grow to be in years to come. Beluga sturgeon can live to be 100 years old, and the largest on record was 26 feet long.

One prehistoric-looking arapaima in the River Giants exhibit was confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in a smuggling bust in 2002. When he came to the aquarium, he was no bigger than a foot-long hot dog bun.

Now he’s 6 feet long and 116 pounds.

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about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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