Here's a riddle for you: What has scales, fins, gills and turn signals—yes, turn signals—and is capable of highway speeds of 55+ miles per hour? Give up? It's the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's mobile aquarium!
The mobile aquarium features two 300-gallon tanks, each with its own separate aeration, filtration, and cooling systems. These separate life-support systems enable the Commission to display coldwater fish such as trout in one tank and warmwater fish such as bluegill in the other tank. The twin tanks are permanently mounted inside the trailer and four different artificial habitats have been made to provide a variety of natural-looking settings for different fish assemblages.
The settings include a mountain stream, a coastal river, a farm pond and a reservoir. Only two of the habitat settings can be used at any time, to allow ample time for cleaning habitat settings not in use and to give fish "down time" in hatchery tanks where they can rest while other fish are being displayed. When not on display, the mobile aquarium is stored at the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville. Warmwater fish for the aquarium are supplied by the Watha Hatchery and by nearby fish biologists who collect fish during routine electrofishing sampling. Coldwater fish are supplied by state hatcheries in the mountain region.
Each aquarium has removable acrylic lids enabling Commission personnel to access fish and the artificial habitats. The life-support systems are situated in the front section of the trailer and informational literature and supplies for the public can be stored in the rear section of the trailer. Graphics panels are situated above the tanks to assist people in identifying the fish in each tank. The mobile aquarium can be displayed during day or night events. Interior lights illuminate the fish tanks at night and provide back lighting for the graphics panels that complement the fish.
The Commission accepts reservations for the mobile aquarium on a first-come, first-serve basis. Appropriate events for which the aquarium can be requested include large, public events attended by a minimum of 200 people. Some examples are fishing clinics hosted by city or county parks, career days for an entire school, outdoor festivals and fairs, the state fair and expos targeted at outdoor enthusiasts.
Examples of recent events where the mobile aquarium appeared include the Davie County Fair in Mocksville, a Cub Scout event with the Uwharrie Council, an “Adopt-A-Cop” event in Lincolton hosted by Lincoln County sheriffs department, the Grifton Shad Festival, Bass Pro Shops “Spring Fishing Classic” near Charlotte and a “Southeastern Wildlife Conclave” at Lake Junaluska hosted by Haywood Community College. Since the mobile aquarium debuted in September 2000, more than 500,000 people have had the opportunity to see a wide variety of North Carolina’s freshwater fish including brook trout, brown and rainbow trout, as well as bass, redear and bluegill sunfish, longnose gar and flathead catfish.
Total length of the truck and mobile aquarium is almost 42 feet. Each is about 21 feet long. To sustain the twin life-support systems, the mobile aquarium needs two outlets on separate circuit breakers (110 volts and 20 amps each). For outdoor events, shaded areas are strongly recommended so as not to tax the system's chiller units. The mobile aquarium must be situated on a level area when displayed and within 140 feet of the electrical outlets.
Organizations requesting the mobile aquarium for overnight or multi-day events must provide overnight security for the mobile aquarium in outdoor settings. In an indoor setting, you can lock the mobile aquarium inside the facility overnight to provide an acceptable level of security. One-day events that begin in the morning still require overnight security because the mobile aquarium must be brought onsite the previous day.