Romp of otters coming to downtown's Tennessee Aquarium

Romp of otters coming to downtown's Tennessee Aquarium

March 28th, 2014 by Louie Brogdon in Fyi2014

Did you know?

* The exhibit is set to open May 2.

* The estimated cost to build is $1.5 million.

* Habitat managers will be able to adjust water flow and deposit food through five hidden tubes to keep the otters active.

* Otter exhibit space will increase from 481 square feet to 1,456 square feet.

* Guests will have 420 square feet in which to view the otters. By comparison, the penguin guest area is 405 square feet.

* Acrylic viewing space will more than double in size from 13 linear feet to 32 linear feet.

* Space for otter care will increase from 10 square feet to 406 square feet.

Source: Tennessee Aquarium

This will be the year of the otter at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Dave Collins, curator of forests at the Tennessee Aquarium, says the new space will be a boon for otters and guests.

"It's really going to be very significantly different. It's going to be much larger," Collins said.

The new exhibit will include two waterfalls, a large shoreline area -- where otters like to spend most of their time -- and a deep-water pool for underwater viewing.

More space means more otters. The aquarium's old two-otter area is tripling in size to accomodate a seven-member romp -- the collective name for a group of otters.

"Having more otters ... will let us get more out at one time. But it should also let us pull some management tricks that will let them be more active for guests," Collins said.

In the wild, otters are most active during dawn and dusk. In the middle of the day, when most aquarium visitors are active, otters usually lounge around being, well, lounging otters.

To give the otters all the lounging time they desire, and still offer most visitors a show, Collins said the romp will be split into two to three smaller romps, each keeping a different schedule in the exhibit.

Because otters are curious creatures, and because they have keen noses, the incoming otters will spend most of their time trying to sniff out the outgoing otters in a never-ending game of hide and smell.

And visitors will be able to watch this scent-chasing game through underwater and above-water viewing areas, Collins said.

To keep the little guys guessing, the staff will hide food in different areas of the exhibit each day, Collins said.

Each morning will be like an Easter Egg hunt for the otters. That will help them stay active and alert, Collins said.

Thom Benson, spokesman for the aquarium, said he hopes the new and improved otter exhibit boosts the facility's entire "Mountain to Sea" gallery.

"To me, this is a good time for people to get excited about that entire gallery. It's really about the mountains of East Tennessee and how important they are to fresh drinking water in our area," Benson said.