River Otter Falls Opens At The Tennessee Aquarium

Tuesday, May 06, 2014 - by Thom Benson

A romp of feisty otters is making a big splash in their new home at the Tennessee Aquarium.  River Otter Falls features five waterfalls, multiple pools, a rocky, tiered landscape and sand pits for digging. Groups of two to five otters take turns exploring this habitat surrounded by a beautiful cove forest with free flying birds and a rushing trout stream.

More than two years of planning and construction resulted in a habitat that draws guests into the somewhat hidden world of North American River Otters. “They are animals that use the edge effect, where two very different ecosystems are next to each other like forest and meadow,” said Dave Collins, the Tennessee Aquarium’s curator of forests. “Except in this case, it’s providing a lot of edges between water and land. Otters search for food, travel and watch for predators along the water’s edge. By providing a lot of edges, we’ve created a rich environment for the otters. They have a lot of choices to stimulate them and provide opportunities for guests to observe their natural behaviors.”

Among the first to see River Otter Falls was Bruce Anderson, a retired endangered species biologist. One of the first conservation efforts Mr. Anderson worked on, after landing a job with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, was restoring River Otters.

North American River Otters had always flourished in the United States until the rise in fur trading during the 1700s. According to Mr. Anderson, otters were still being pursued for their pelts into the 20th Century. “During the Great Depression, one otter hide was worth a week’s wages,” said Mr. Anderson. “So they were hunted and trapped pretty relentlessly in Tennessee.” As a result, otters disappeard from Middle and East Tennessee by 1958. For nearly 30 years, only a few sightings were reported in West Tennessee and otters were listed as an endangered species.

1984 marked the comeback for River Otters in Tennessee. That’s the year TWRA began the first of a series of endangered species restoration programs. “The first otters were obtained in Louisiana and were released into the Obed Wild and Scenic River,” said Mr. Anderson. “Radio transmitters were implanted to track the animals to make sure they were going to survive in our area.” Mr. Anderson’s team tracked the otters for 18 months, gathering data on their movements and behavior.

Shortly after that first reintroduction, Mr. Anderson feared the program could end abruptly. “The winter after they were released, the temperature at Crossville, Tn. dropped to 24 degrees below zero and the Obed River froze over completely,” said Mr. Anderson. “But they were just fine and never missed a beat. We knew this program would be successful when the life of the transmitters ran out and we hadn’t lost any otters.”

TWRA reintroduced otters in every major river system in the state until 1993. The animals flourished and were taken off of Tennessee’s endangered species list in 1999.

The return of River Otters also helped rebalance natural systems in other ways. “The river habitat was different before we began bringing otters back,” said Mr. Anderson. “We had a lot of rough fish like carp that were competing with native fish. The rough fish, and slow swimming fish, are what the otters target first. So the otters greatly reduced the populations of carp and rough fish, allowing native fish populations to improve greatly.”

Mr. Anderson helped bring back many species throughout his career with TWRA. He also restored Ospreys, Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles. But he’s always had a soft spot for River Otters, the furry faces of conservation. “It’s a thrill to see them play, roll around and swim at the Aquarium,” said Mr. Anderson. “Even though I was involved with a lot of releases, I only saw one or two others in the wild. Seeing otters up close here brings back a sense of accomplishment to realize that I was part of a program that helped restore these animals.”


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)

Bradley, 24, Charged In Death Of Boy, 3; Child Had Numerous Injuries After Left With Boyfriend; Mother Was In Workhouse

Justin Dale Bradley has been charged with criminal homicide in the death of a three-year-old child, who was rushed to the hospital on Wednesday and later died. Police said Dakota James Arndt had numerous injuries over his body. Authorities said Bradley, 24, is the boyfriend of the child's mother, Brianna Kwekel, who was in the Workhouse at the time. Ms. Kwekel was serving 48 ... (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)