Think Like An Otter To Build Its New Home Construction Time-Lapse Takes Visitors Behind-The-Scenes At The Tennessee Aquarium

Friday, April 18, 2014 - by Thom Benson
American River Otter
American River Otter

Construction workers are adding the finishing touches to River Otter Falls which will officially open on May 2, inside the Tennessee Aquarium’s Cove Forest. This dramatically transformed habitat is the most extensive redesign in the 22-year history of Chattanooga’s top attraction.

So what does it take to build a state-of-the-art home for a romp of seven feisty otters? To begin, you have to think like an otter. “When designing this habitat, we looked at it from the otters’ point of view,” said Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s curator of forests. “North American River Otters are really land animals that are very good at swimming. To fulfill their needs as terrestrial creatures we’ve changed the water to land ratio drastically.”

In doing so, there was more “edge effect” created. Mr. Collins says shorelines are very important to these active animals. “Otters really work those edges looking for food as well as using the shore to enter and exit the water frequently.” So incorporating a lengthy stream with various pools was one goal.

Another goal was providing digging pits. Visitors might be surprised to learn that river otters love to play in the dirt. “They kind of take the equivalent of what we think of as bird dust baths which helps maintain their fur,” said Mr. Collins. “They love to roll around in sand, gravel or mulch. So Aquarium guests will see the otters rooting around and digging in these areas looking like a bunch of kids playing in a sandbox.”

Two years before constructon began, Aquarium staff began examining the existing space in the Cove Forest to determine the best use of the room to accomplish these goals and many others. “We began by creating a 3D computer model of the space, divided into one-foot squares,” said Jeff Worley, the Aquarium’s exhibit & graphic designer. “A clay model was built as a visual tool to use during design workshops with otter experts from across the country.” Several Aquarium team members also travelled to other zoos and aquariums to gather best practices from top otter exhibits in the country.

Following the lengthy design process, the roadmap for demolition and construction was laid out. “Construction planning took more than a year before the work began,” said Rodney Fuller, the Aquarium’s facility and safety manager. “Demolition was the most challenging aspect. We had to remove 300 tons of rockwork one wheel barrow at a time and the jack-hammering was all done outside of normal operating hours.”

Mr. Fuller credits the Counts Company, a local general contractor, for keeping another complicated project on time and on budget. “This was a great opportunity to work with the Aquarium’s excellent team who are committed to providing the best habitat for these fascinating creatures,” said general contractor Stief Counts. “Now that our job is done, it’s thrilling to see the otters twirling underwater and playing like they’re on a playground in their new home.”

Local subcontractors Jake Marshall Mechanical, Lawson Electric and Yerby Construction, along with Cemrock and Hammerhead International, were also instrumental in building the new otter habitat. To appreciate the full scope of their work, the Aquarium produced a construction time-lapse video which is available online:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKwSLce1_WU . Eight months of work is compressed into eight minutes of high-speed action.

Mr. Collins emphasizes how the design of River Otter Falls also improves the guest experience. “Guests have more underwater views that allow them to see the otters diving into the water. In fact, we’ve seen the otters exhibiting some pretty spectacular diving displays that will really “Wow” everyone.”  


TVRM’s Historic Steam Locomotive #4501 Is Ready For Tennessee Valley Railfest

The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM) on Wednesday announced the return of its iconic Steam Locomotive 4501 to operation. TVRM has been restoring Locomotive 4501 over the past three  years and she will make her public debut at Tennessee Valley Railfest on Sept. 6 and 7.  The locomotive last ran in 1998 and has patiently waited for a complete overhaul.  ... (click for more)

Rock Out Labor Day And Beyond In Tennessee

 If there’s one place travelers can get a music smorgasbord, it’s Tennessee. In each corner of the state and areas in between, music rooted in bluegrass, rock, soul, country, and gospel can be heard from porches in small towns to concert stadiums in burgeoning cities. From the nation’s biggest Labor Day celebration in Knoxville to celebrating local and national talent in Nashville ... (click for more)

16-Year-Old Shot Near Emma Wheeler Homes

A 16-year-old was shot near Emma Wheeler Homes on Sunday night. At approximately 7:40 p.m., Chattanooga Police received a call of a person shot from a local hospital. Officers spoke to the victim, a 16-year-old black male, who was transported to a local hospital in a personal vehicle. The victim’s injury is minor and non-life threatening. Investigators spoke to the victim ... (click for more)

Helen Burns Sharp Asks Recovery Of Legal Fees In Successful Black Creek TIF Lawsuit

Helen Burns Sharp, citizen activist who sued to try to stop a $9 million Black Creek Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and won, is seeking to have her legal expenses paid by the city and the developers. Ms. Sharp said in a court filing that her legal bills to attorney John Konvalinka are $74,427 thus far. Chancellor Frank Brown ruled in favor of Ms. Sharp, saying the Sunshine ... (click for more)

Decimating The Chattanooga Public Library

Corinne Hill claims that the library is just undergoing a normal weeding process for eliminating books.  She has bragged that she's responsible for the elimination of over 100,000 books - with more to go. "Normal" weeding is not rampant throwing away.  Yes, books go to the Friends for their sale - where they get $2 for a $75 book and thousands wind up being recycled ... (click for more)

The Many Lessons I Learned From Helen McDonald Exum

Helen McDonald Exum was my friend and mentor. As I think of her passing I can only imagine the celebration that is happening in heaven as the news of her arrival is being told. I am sure that there is a party that not only has she organized but that there is not a detail that has been left to chance. I am sure that it is the grandest of events, for you see, she has been planing ... (click for more)