After nine years cruising the Tennessee River, the River Gorge Explorer is docking for good.
Keith Sanford, aquarium president and CEO, said the move comes amid a new vision for the 25-year-old facility, pointing to low attendance numbers for the cruises.
"After developing a new strategic plan and carefully evaluating the aquarium's resources, we have decided to stop operating the boat," Sanford said in a news release Friday. "We are proud of our captains and crew who have consistently delivered a safe and exceptional passenger experience."
The last cruise will be Jan. 15, then the aquarium will seek a buyer for the vessel.
In February 2016, River Gorge Explorer celebrated its 5,000th voyage.
At the time, Capt. Pete Hosemann, who has been with the boat tours since they began, said: "It's been a fun ride."
When the $2.9 million boat first docked in 2008, no one had seen a high-speed, waterjet-propelled vessel operating on an inland waterway, the release states.
"And while adding the River Gorge Explorer to the Aquarium's operations was an ambitious project, only 4 percent of the aquarium's visitors were reached through this experience," the release added.
"It has been a pleasure to oversee the day-to-day operations of the River Gorge Explorer and to have spent so much time on the water with our guests," Hosemann said in the news release. "While I'll miss piloting this vessel, I do understand the aquarium's desire to change direction."
For the last year or so the leadership team has been looking at its plan for the future, aquarium communications manager Thom Benson said. In making the announcement Friday, the aquarium outlined its new course for the organization that's focused on three core areas:
- Science education programs within the aquarium and IMAX Theater
- Conservation science to better understand and protect freshwater ecosystems and the animals that depend upon them
- Continued investments in the aquarium's overall experience so it remains a top driver for Chattanooga tourism
It was in these discussions leadership decided to stop operating the boat.
"From an operational perspective, if you're wanting to do more with your education and you're wanting to do more with your conservation but have limited resources, something has got to give," Benson said.