Dory the optimistic, animated Pacific Regal Blue Tang saltwater fish, learned those inspiring words from her parents when young. She sang them in Finding Dory, sequel to hit film Finding Nemo.
Team ECCO Ocean Center and Aquarium is persevering Dory-like after extensive flood damages. The non-profit aquarium at 511 N. Main St. downtown Hendersonville is expanding operations beyond its 22 display fish tanks with 2,700 gallons full of colorful exotic specimens.
The big plan is raising nearly $100,000 to purchase and equip a humungous shark tank as big as 1600 gallons, as a bigger home for a few ever-growing sharks in a 400-gallon tank. Attached to it will be a nursery tank, of up to 250 gallons for baby sharks. The passage linking the tanks will be blocked, until babies are big enough to not get eaten by the parent.
“We’re excited” about the large shark tank, founder and Exec. Dir. Brenda Ramer said Friday. She touted the center’s “vibrant” future. “We can get further to the forefront of marine research on sharks,” after already doing much study for three years.
Team ECCO wants a much larger home for sharks, like Morgan and smaller Eva. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
“We hope to install it in November,” Ramer added about the glass tank. She eyes one 12 feet wide, six feet deep and 3.5 feet tall. It weighs eight tons, so the old structure’s floor will be better fortified by steel supports. To move in the pre-assembled tank to the northwest corner in back, several tanks in its path have to temporarily move. Ramer said the front area likely gets reconfigured.
The tank alone costs about $60,000. The center is seeking grants, but also private donations likely also needed, Ramer said. She is setting up donor sponsorship levels, such as $100 per display fish. Sponsor names will be posted.
The former teacher founded Team ECCO in 2001, housing it downtown for the last eight years. Friends of the Fish are its patron members.
Ramer will help raise money for the shark tank by competing Oct. 9 in Theatre with the Stars in Playhouse Downtown. Six pro-amateur tandems are in a talent show. Ramer teams with Flat Rock Playhouse head Lisa Bryant. The winner gets $1,000 for a specified non-profit. Points are both for judges’ scores, and money raised ahead at $1 per contest vote. That fund drive is ongoing.
Ramer said, “I am up for just about anything that helps get our baby sharks a new home.”
A major setback in finances and the tank fund drive happened last winter. Water pipes burst in the condo overhead, flooding water down into the center after hours, Ramer noted. Debris drifted down into all seven tanks on the southern wall. Fish in them died. The tanks were removed and cleaned. The center shut down, into the new year.
Team ECCO had to divert about $10,000 of savings, to overcome some flooding losses, Ramer said. She said the total cost was $80,000, with nearly one-third to dry and repair. She is grateful that the City of Hendersonville and tourism revenue helped pay for recovery. The museum is a major attraction to downtown.
Donors rallied for $10,000 for ECCO to buy a 100-gallon “touch tank” three years ago. It is custom-made, with a mobile open-top. Children can gently grasp sea stars. Ramer is grateful for the project’s 27 donors and tourism money.
As for Dory, her namesake Dory the Blue Hippo Tang is in an ECCO saltwater tank with Nemo the Clownfish.
The largest Team ECCO fish is Charlotte the wide, flat stingray. A bulky Dog-faced Puffer over a foot long would start at left tackle, if ECCO fish played football. A spindly Lionfish is another larger marvel.
Longest is Morgan the bamboo shark, at 2.5-feet long. She is apt to grow to nearly four feet, thus needing more tank space, Ramer said.
Sharks are the premier attraction. The 400-gallon tank has two female sharks — Morgan often in front, and smaller Eva at times hiding. Three baby sharks are housed separately.
Morgan was ECCO’s darling when born there, over three years ago on May 7, 2014. She got nutrients at first from her still-attached egg sac. Morgan was shielded in a spice jar. Now Asst. Dir. of Education Kortney Clark at times cradles big Morgan in her arms, with the shark still in water.
Morgan has not yet laid eggs detected. In contrast, Eva has instinctively laid eggs despite no male around her. Eva gradually laid 140 eggs in two years — one at a time, Ramer said. Eva recently put one egg than a second one at a fortuitous spot. She wrapped twine out of egg’s end around the eggs, latching them onto a filter intake value. The only other time she did so, both eggs hatched. They did not last long.
Lacking a male shark to fertilize eggs, parthenogenesis cloned egg chromosomes, Ramer explained. Ramer had that done after seeing potential. “I saw (tadpole-shaped) life inside the yolk.”
The sharks have a tasty diet, starting with ghost shrimp when babies. Three shrimp and some squid or oysters are Morgan’s typical meal. Meals of bigger show fish are charted. Feeding is by hand.
Charlotte is in the shark tank. It has been covered, since a man dipped his arm up to the elbow into it. Bacteria infected Charlotte and her back swelled, Ramer said.
Clark first volunteered six years ago, when in Hendersonville High. She aspires to be a veterinary technician, She is fascinated by “operant conditioning” of aquatic species, and each’s personality.
Team ECCO has had as many as 9,000 visits annually in recent years. It had 122 visitors in 3.5 hours Friday afternoon, and 25 more in a morning class. A class fee is $85 for 50 minutes, for as many as 30 students.
Aquarium hours are 1-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., with pre-arranged group visits in mornings. Admission is $5 for ages 5-75, $2 for ages 2-4, and $3 for 76 and elder. A valid, current ID gains free admittance for county classroom teachers, military, police, EMT and firefighters.
For further aquarium details, call 692-8386 or check www.teamecco.org. To donate for Team ECCO in Theatre with the Stars, check for updates on https://www.flatrockplayhouse.org/show/theatre-with-the-stars/.