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Oh otter, where art thou?
Winner of the Tennessee Aquarium otter naming contest
takes inspiration from Coen brothers’ film


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Dec. 12, 2005) – The Tennessee Aquarium’s three male North American river otters are nameless no longer. The amusing otters will now be known as Everett, Pete and Delmar – in honor of the three hapless heroes of the hit movie, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” The winning names were submitted by Jean Hoffman of Brentwood, Tennessee.

Hoffman, who is originally from Chattanooga and is a charter member of the Aquarium, submitted several entries to the contest, but said the winning entry was her favorite.

“My family and I love the otters and I just couldn’t believe that they didn’t have names,” she said. “I started thinking in threes and suddenly remembered those characters from ‘Oh, Brother.’ I love that movie and the characters seemed to be such a good fit.”

The winning names also met the requirements of the Aquarium otter keeper, Jillian McCarty, who asked that the names each have a distinct sound.

“It’s important that the otters are able to distinguish one name from the other so that they can learn when to respond,” she explained.

Naming the otters will help McCarty work with the animals during training and enrichment activities.

The otter naming contest kicked off on Nov. 15 and members of the public could submit otter name suggestions via the Aquarium’s Web site (www.tnaqua.org) or at the Aquarium gift shop in the River Journey building. More than 1,000 entries were received. The most popular entry was “Larry, Moe and Curly,” with nearly 200 people submitting those names. As the winner of the naming contest, Hoffman will receive an Aquarium gift basket and a behind-the-scenes tour with the Aquarium otter keeper.

The oldest otter, now known as Everett, has been at the Aquarium since its opening in 1992. The two new otters, Delmar and Pete, were recently brought from the Pittsburgh Zoo and added to the exhibit.
“They seem to get along pretty well,” said Rico Walder, assistant curator of forests. “We introduced them to each other very slowly and now they seem pretty happy to share the exhibit.”

Otter training does not mean these animals will be jumping through hoops or balancing beach balls on their noses. The training and enrichment program is designed to provide a daily routine of activities that will encourage the animals to be more active during daylight hours. The training program also helps make routine medical exams and assessments easier and simplifies the process of moving the animals into holding areas during routine exhibit maintenance.

“When their training is complete, the otters will respond to gestures, spoken words and will execute certain behaviors on command,” McCarty said. “They are also taught to touch their noses to the end of a dowel, or target, to receive a reward. By target training them, we will be able to get them to roll over, stand on a scale or display their paws. This helps us get a complete assessment of their general health.”

At the Aquarium, the river otters can be seen swimming in a boulder-filled pool surrounded by rhododendron, mountain laurel and wildflowers.

Superior Swimmers
Otters are well-designed for swimming and living in cold mountain streams. A member of the weasel family, an otter has an elongated body, short legs, webbed feet and a long stout tail. Out of the water it walks with an awkward humpbacked gait, sometimes belly-sliding down muddy or snow-covered hills. On the surface of the water it dog paddles, but underwater the otter swims with its entire body, pushing with its webbed feet and steering with its long tail. Its thick, sleek coat, which keeps it dry and warm, is made up of two types of hair. The longer outer hairs, called guard hairs, are water repellent.

What’s for dinner?
Unlike other species of otter (like well-known sea otter), North American river otters catch prey with their mouths, not their hands. Although otters are quick swimmers, their skill is better shown in their ability to maneuver rapidly, which helps them chase down prey.

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The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission for both Aquarium buildings is $17.95 per adult and $9.50 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 $7.95 per adult and $5.50 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $21.95 for adults and $12.50 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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