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New Discovery Hall is a "touching experience"
Tennessee Aquarium gallery will feature lake sturgeon touch station

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Jan. 2, 2002) - There's nothing like watching all the beautiful animals at the Aquarium - the colorful marine fish in the "Gulf of Mexico" exhibit, the fast-moving trout in the "Cove Forest" or the enormous catfish of "Nickajack Lake." But in March 2002, visitors will be able to touch and even feed prehistoric lake sturgeon in the Aquarium's new "Discovery Hall."

The interactive touch station will also feature video that helps explain how the well being of these and other native animals depends on the stewardship of their human neighbors. Guests will also learn about the Aquarium's efforts to reintroduce these animals to lakes in the region.

Lake sturgeon have a prehistoric pedigree and once flourished in the region. However, due to habitat destruction, over-fishing and water pollution, they are almost gone from rivers in Tennessee. These ancient fish possess unusual features such as a cartilaginous skeleton and a shark-like tail fin. While they may resemble sharks, present day sturgeon are part of a unique group that has been around for more than 200 million years.

Lake sturgeon are prized as a sport fish in other areas of the country where they are making a comeback. They can grow to almost eight feet in length and weigh about 300 pounds.

Sturgeon released in Tennessee are part of a major, multi-agency effort to reintroduce these fish to Tennessee. The project brings together the Tennessee Valley Authority, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Aquarium and the World Wildlife Fund. The plan is to release thousands of young sturgeon in the French Broad River each summer for at least a decade. Since 2000, nearly 6,000 fish have been released.

The sturgeon are raised by Tennessee Aquarium staff in our off-site hatchery and come from eggs brought from Wisconsin. Aquarium staff members raise the sturgeon until they are large enough to survive in the wild. Sturgeon are currently raised by both the Aquarium and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The re-introduction program has been successful, but it is a long-term project. Sturgeon can live to be more than 150 years old and don't reach maturity until they are around 15. Only after these animals begin to reproduce will officials know if the re-introduction is successful.

Although there is no way to know how many of the fish will survive, a release of radio-monitored fish in 2000 suggest that the fish can thrive in the river. Part of this is due to a TVA initiative to improve water quality in the river.

George Benz, director of the Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute, said, "Working to re-establish a large native fish like the lake sturgeon is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the thought of someday seeing large sturgeon swimming in the Tennessee River system leaves me speechless."

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The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $14 per adult and $7.50 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are $7.75 per adult and $5.25 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $18 for adults and $10.50 for children. Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.tnaqua.org or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. Call 267-FISH to join.

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