River Otter Falls Opens At The Tennessee Aquarium

Tuesday, May 6, 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.”


Daytona Beach, Florida, Dazzles For The Holidays

Chattanooga Receives Accreditation Designation With Distinction From Destinations International

Cool Things to Do In Southern California 10: Laguna Beach


When planning a holiday getaway, many happily trade sparkling snow for sparkling sand beaches and warm sea breezes. Visitors have always been fascinated at the ways Floridians combine the best ... (click for more)

At a ceremony Thursday night, Destinations International awarded Chattanooga Tourism Co. with the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program designation. It’s in recognition of the organization's ... (click for more)

Laguna Beach was founded as an art colony and its world-famous art festivals have just been revived after being paused during the pandemic (the summer versions closing in early September and ... (click for more)



Travel

Daytona Beach, Florida, Dazzles For The Holidays

When planning a holiday getaway, many happily trade sparkling snow for sparkling sand beaches and warm sea breezes. Visitors have always been fascinated at the ways Floridians combine the best of the beach with the best of the holidays, including decorations from beach-quirky to elegantly ornate. Often called home of the world’s most famous beaches, Daytona Beach, Florida ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Receives Accreditation Designation With Distinction From Destinations International

At a ceremony Thursday night, Destinations International awarded Chattanooga Tourism Co. with the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program designation. It’s in recognition of the organization's commitment to industry excellence and meeting the industry standard for performance and accountability of destination organizations around the world. “We are pleased to have Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Man Charged In Pikeville Axe Murders Told Police He Can't Remember Grisly Killings, But "It Must Have Been Me"

A man charged with using an axe to hack a mother and her daughter to death told authorities he cannot remember any details of the grisly killings at Pikeville, but Robert Joe Whittenburg said he concluded "it had to be me." Whittenburg, 47, faces two counts of first-degree murder in the killing of 46-year-old Deanna Lawrence and her 24-year-old daughter (and his girlfriend) Dedra ... (click for more)

Red Bank Commissioners Vote On 1st Reading To Raise Taxes 11 Cents

Red Bank Commissioners voted unanimously on first reading on Tuesday night to raise the property tax by 11 cents. The new $1.10 per $100 of assessed valuation was 10 cents below what Interim City Manager John Alexander had recommended and had been supported by Mayor Hollie Berry and Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton. Red Bank's tax rate previously was $1.39. However, under the certified ... (click for more)

Opinion

Meacham Hit On What Has Harmed America The Most

I was recently involuntarily sent a copy of the December 2019 House Intelligence Committee’s report on its investigation into Donald Trump and the Ukraine which I immediately prepared to put in the trash as being outdated in 2021. However, I noticed the six-page foreword had been written by McCallie School and Sewanee graduate Jon Meacham who also happens to be a Pulitzer Prize ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: ‘The Worst Ever’ In Louisiana

Not since the COVID pandemic first began 18 months ago have conditions been as grave as they are right now in Louisiana. Today a sweeping masking mandate will begin statewide for “everybody,” vaccinated or not, after the state’s hospitals on Tuesday set an all-time record for inpatients with 2,112, breaking the previous mark of 2,069 set in January. On Monday there were 11,109 confirmed ... (click for more)