published Friday, April 27th, 2012

Aquarium hosts party Saturday to shine a light on new exhibit

IF YOU GO

What: Party at the Peaks and River Giants exhibit opening.

When: Exhibit opening, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday; Party at the Peaks, 7-9 p.m.; after-party, 9-11 p.m.

Where: Tennessee Aquarium, 1 Broad St.

Admission: Exhibit viewable with standard ticket ($25 adults, $15 children 3-12); free for Party at the Peaks activities; $20 for after-party.

Phone: 800-262-0695.

Website: www.tnaqua.org.

Anglers are notorious for embellishing tales of "the one that got away," but in the case of the Goliath species on display in a new Tennessee Aquarium exhibit, no exaggeration would be necessary.

River Giants, a new, $800,000 exhibit of freshwater whoppers from around the world, opens Saturday.

The display was designed in collaboration with National Geographic conservationist and explorer Zeb Hogan as part of the organization's global freshwater initiatives.

In addition to showcasing the tremendous size of "mega fish" -- whether Amazonian arapaima or lake sturgeon living in waterways near Chattanooga -- the exhibit also will emphasize the crisis many large marine species face, said communications manager Thom Benson.

"Large fish are an indicator of environmental health; they're important animals," Benson said. "Here's an opportunity for people to see these interesting species from around the world and learn about their plight in the wild and, by extension, realize that we have some of them in our backyard and that we need to make sure that we preserve their environment."

Of course, they weren't always so big. When they arrived at the aquarium two years ago, Benson said, many of the residents of River Giants were inches long and would have fit in the palm of a hand with room to spare.

Now, most average greater than 3 feet and eventually will attain lengths of 6 feet or more. The giant pangassius catfish -- one of many species of catfish the exhibit will house -- could grow to as long as 9 feet, he said.

"There's something in the back of everyone's mind as you're standing out there on the edge of a riverbank or a lake wondering what's lurking beneath the surface," Benson said. "Turns out, there are some pretty big things down there."

Unlike most of the Aquarium's exhibits, which focus on species native to a single habitat, River Giants showcases fish from waterways around the globe.

After nearly two years in the making and months of active construction, Benson said, the exhibit should be a worthy addition to the Aquarium, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

"We opened as the world's largest freshwater aquarium in 1992," he said. "This is a great opportunity to go back to those freshwater roots and do something very dynamic and interesting and something that, for the Aquarium, is pretty out of the box."

PARTY AT THE PEAKS

In addition to ogling Australian barramundi, South American red-tailed catfish and marbled freshwater eels in the new River Giants exhibit, Aquarium guests will be able to take part Saturday evening in satellite events as part of Party at the Peaks.

Local percussionist Kofi Mawuko's band Ogya will provide music in the plaza fronting the aquarium, which also will host the Night Market, a special after-hours version of the weekly River Market.

For an additional price, guests also can attend a special after-party at the River Giants exhibit with National Geographic's Zeb Hogan. The $20 ticket will include two drink tickets, music and a behind-the-scenes look at the 80,000-gallon exhibit.

WORKING ON THE EXHIBIT

Watch a time-lapse video documenting weeks of construction to convert the Tennessee Aquarium's Gulf of Mexico display into the new River Giants exhibit.

Aquarium makeover
about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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