CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – “Island Life,” a diverse new exhibit that challenges how “islands” are defined while taking guests on a globe-trotting exploration of isolated ecosystems above and below the water, opens March 15 at the Tennessee Aquarium.
Visitors will be led on their exploration of this densely packed space by a scaly guide, Leon the Chameleon. Throughout the gallery, Leon will appear on graphics and interactive elements sponsored by Unum to pose questions that make guests question their understanding of islands and the special adaptations of the animals on display.
A journey through “Island Life” will whisk guests around the world, from the frigid waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical seas off Southeast Asia to the teeming wilds of Madagascar. Some of the stops along the way include:
• Vancouver Island. Recreating the waters off the rocky shores of Canada’s West Coast, Vancouver Island features a wide variety of colorful anemones, urchins and sea stars as well as several species of shimmering, silver-sided Perch. This tank is Island Life’s piece de resistance, a massive, dynamic habitat with artificially generated waves that rush along 20 feet of sinuously curved acrylic before crashing against an upright viewing window.
• Indo-Pacific Reef. In the mostly barren expanse of the ocean floor, reefs are like underwater islands, oases of life and refuge to a stunning variety of animals. In Island Life, the Indo-Pacific Reef tank highlights a huge variety of aquatic life found off the coast of Southeast Asia in a region known as the Coral Triangle. This expanse of ocean is home to nearly 600 species of reef-building corals and more than 2,000 kinds of fish. This towering, eight-foot-tall tank is the second-largest exhibit in the Ocean Journey building. Here, guests will see a bustling community comprising more than 30 species of vibrant reef-dwellers, including Polleni Groupers, Kole Tangs, Picasso Triggers and Guinea Fowl Pufferfish.
• Cave of the Flashlight Fish. Inside this dim, mirror-filled room, the darkness will glow with flashes of light courtesy of hundreds of Split Fin Flashlight Fish. This deep-dwelling fish generates light through pockets of glowing bacteria housed in a pouch under its eyes. During the day, this fish resides in the darker depths of the ocean before migrating upwards at night along a kind of vertical island to feed in shallower water. This habitat features one of the largest schools ever exhibited of this bioluminescent species.
• Clownfish and Anemones. Thanks to the Pixar classic “Finding Nemo,” most people are familiar with the symbiotic relationship of this oceanic couple. In “Island Life,” this exhibit will show off how colorful Pink Skunk and False Percula Clownfish have adapted to seek shelter within the venomous, stinging tentacles of Bubbletip Anemones, which act as a kind of living “island.”
• Marvelous Madagascar. At more than 225,000 square miles, Madagascar is 40 percent larger than California and ranks as the world’s fourth largest island. Because its species evolved in isolation, scientists estimate that about 75 percent of this African island’s plants and animals can be found nowhere else on Earth. In a pair of “Island Life” exhibits sponsored by Unum, guests will become familiar with a wide variety of Malagasy reptiles and amphibians, including riotously colorful Panther Chameleons, plump Tomato Frogs, poisonous Mantellas and critically endangered Radiated Tortoises.
Throughout “Island Life,” guests can deepen their experience through fun activities that bring to life many of the species’ unique adaptations via multimedia and physical engagement.
Visitors can speed up or slow down video footage of a Chameleon’s tongue in mid-flight, do their best Clownfish impression by weaving through oversized anemone tentacles, light up touch-sensitive Flashlight Fish and snap selfies atop an enormous bronze sculpture of a Galapagos Tortoise sponsored by Tennessee American Water.
After visiting “Island Life,” the fun continues with two films at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater: “Oceans: Our Blue Planet” shows through May 24 and features footage displaying the diversity and beauty of the planet’s largest ecosystem; all summer long, guests can join narrator Kristen Bell (“Frozen,” “The Good Place”) to catch up on cute Giant Panda cubs being trained for reintroduction to the wild in “Pandas 3D.”
For tickets, show times and additional information, visit www.tnaqua.org/imax.
For more information, visit tnaqua.org.
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