- What: Exhibit of fish, other sea creatures; interactive displays in a “survival” exhibit
- Where: Ripleys’ Aqurium of the Smokies, traffic light number five, Gatlinburg
- When: Through 2009
- Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Memorial Day through Labor Day Hours 9 a.m.-11 p.m. daily
- Aquarium admission (includes Lethal Weapons and other aquarium exhibits): $22.29 adults, $12.25 ages 6-11, $5.56 ages 2-5n What: Exhibit of fish, other sea creatures; interactive displays in a “survival” exhibit
GATLINBURG — Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has filled its newest exhibit with often toxic, sometimes scary, definitely different and always intriguing creatures of the sea.
Eels, fish, starfish and even shrimp are part of “Lethal Weapons,” an exhibit that opened this month and will be at the Gatlinburg aquarium throughout 2009.
“Lethal Weapons” is all about animal survival; it highlights how various sea animals exist, hunt or defend themselves. From its opening display of the jaws of various sharks through 16 aquariums holding 25 to 30 different kinds of animals, “Lethal Weapons” shows not everything is as it first appears.
Like two spotted trunkfish swimming calmly in one tank. Gray with white spots, the fish seem harmless. But don’t scare them. When they’re frightened, trunkfish secrete toxins that can paralyze or kill.
Then there are two species of Mantis shrimp, each too aggressive to be displayed with each other or any other species. Slightly smaller than a hot dog wiener, the shrimp use their claws like boxing mitts and are very territorial, said Ripley’s Education Director Courtney Thompson. They’re also so determined and strong that Ripley’s cannot use standard aquarium glass in those cases.
“Lethal Weapons” also displays a number of poisonous animals, including eels, rays, sea urchins and a variety of fish species. Those sharp-teethed Dragon Moray eels in the exhibit don’t seem to like even each other and tend to spar, Thompson said.
Mixed with the aquariums of live animals are interactive displays. Science-fiction inspired “Security Access” panels open visitor presses his hand on the handprint pad. A small door opens with an artifact and animal fact inside.
Other interactive elements allow children to compare their punching-ball skill to the power of a mantis shrimp or stand among the plastic tenticles of a 10-foot pretend Portuguese Man O’ War. A favorite activity involves two water pistols shaped like giant archerfish and mounted in a tank. Visitors can shoot water at a row of enlarged bugs, mimicking the real and smaller archerfish’s ability to zap prey with a shot of water.
And then there’s a loud zapping sound that almost sounds like someone dropping a heavy object, that echoes through the room every so often. The sound comes from an oscilloscope. The instrument measures the voltage of the electrical signal coming from a freshwater electric eel in the accompanying aquarium.
Green, and about three feet long, the eel native to South American river basins seems harmless. He’s even rather cute, in a Shrek-sort of way, with his flat head, resting on the bottom of his aquarium.
But don’t be fooled. The eel can give off up to 600 volts of electricity.