The Georgia Aquarium is the world’s biggest, containing eight million gallons of water and more aquatic life than any other aquarium. Sometimes referred to as the Atlanta Aquarium, this is one of the top Atlanta Attractions drawing millions of tourists and locals each year. It is situated on a 20-acre site adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park in Downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
The aquarium was originally designed around the Whale Shark Exhibit (Four Whale Sharks saved from a shark-burger fate). Other exhibits include Great Hammerhead Sharks, Beluga Whales, and a Manta Ray. In addition, there are almost a dozen Bottlenose Dolphins doing 3 shows a day.
There are six main exhibits at Georgia Aquarium, each representing a particular environment. The largest is called Ocean Voyager and boasts the world’s second-longest viewing window.
The Georgia Aquarium has over 100,000 aquatic animals from all over the globe that are housed in five different galleries. The first is the Georgia Explorer which is geared towards kids (with touch tanks) and shows wildlife-related to Georgia’s coast. The next gallery named Ocean Voyager contains most of the aquariums fish including the whale sharks. It also has an underwater tunnel and one of the world’s largest viewing windows.
Whale Sharks at Georgia Aquarium
Because they are not mammals, whale sharks technically are not whales, though you wouldn’t know it from their size. They average 18 to 32 feet in length, though some have been reported as large as 60 feet. The longest to be measured with any accuracy came in at 40 feet, 7 inches.
Despite their girth, females Alice and Trixie and males Yushan and Taroko find plenty of room to roam in their 6.33-million-gallon tank in Atlanta, the biggest aquarium habitat in the world and the only one outside Asia where whale sharks are displayed. Like all whale sharks, their mouths are huge, up to 4 feet across, and they feed by swimming open-mouthed through swarms of small fish and plankton.
Ocean Voyager Exhibit
Visitors to the Georgia Aquarium’s Ocean Voyager gallery are dwarfed by the giant gray and white speckled creatures as they swim past floor-to-ceiling windows and a 100-foot-long tunnel that wraps around visitors on three sides. Other giants that keep these big guys company include potato grouper, giant grouper, tarpon, sawfish, blacktip reef sharks, batfish, and wobbegong sharks.
Whale sharks, which are the world’s largest fish, can be found in the Ocean Voyager Exhibit. Even though this fish can grow up to 66 feet, the whale shark is considered harmless to humans. The Ocean Voyager exhibit has over 4,500 square feet of viewing windows and offers a perfect spot to observe fish of all sizes. Watching the world’s largest fish, as well as other smaller fish, float right in front of you has to be the next best thing to strapping on a tank and diving into the ocean.
Cold Water Quest
The second-largest exhibit is the Cold Water Quest featuring animals from the polar regions of the world. This area contains beautiful Beluga whales, sea lions, and the curious-looking black-footed penguins. The River Scout is a regional section that features an overhead river. One of the more fascinating fish in this exhibit include the piranha. The fifth gallery is the Tropical Diver and has many weird forms of aquatic life and includes a marvelous living reef with live coral.
Here you can visit penguins, sea otters, sea lions, and beluga whales. Also known as white whales, the beluga whales are very social mammals and often put on quite a show for the visitors. These whales not only have the ability to swim backward, they are also the only known whales with a flexible neck.
Other exhibits include the River Scout gallery, where animals found in rivers from around the world can be studied and admired. The Georgia Explorer gallery highlights animals located in and around Georgia, including Right Whales that are found off the coast. Each exhibit is intended to obviously entertain, but to also teach the public about aquatic life.
Curious Belugas Play with Georgia Aquarium Visitors
Nico and Maris, two of the beluga whales in the Cold Water Quest gallery, seem to enjoy interacting with visitors, staring back at them through the viewing windows and teasing by twisting and diving then popping up again in a game of hide and seek.
These highly social animals live in the Arctic Ocean and subarctic waters where temperatures often hover close to the freezing point. Born gray, they turn white as adults and grow to 10 to 15 feet in length. The “melon” on their bulbous head enables them to produce sounds that they use to locate each other and objects in the water. These chirping sounds earned them the nickname “Canaries of the Sea.”
The belugas share gallery space with other chilly water lovers, such as California sea lions, sea otters, a giant Pacific octopus and penguins that visitors can see close up through a pop-up viewing window.
Aquarium Visitors Touch and See Close Up
In addition to the beluga and whale shark galleries, the Georgia Aquarium contains three more galleries representing a broad range of earth’s aquatic life.
- Tropical Diver: Largest living coral reef exhibit in a U.S. aquarium; thousands of colorful tropical fish, eels, and jellies
- River Scout: Freshwater gallery with animals from rivers of Africa, North and South America, and Asia, including otters and piranhas, whose sharp teeth can be seen through a pop-up window.
- Georgia Explorer: Interactive gallery with children’s play area; loggerhead turtles; touch pools containing bonnethead sharks, cownose rays, horseshoe crafts, sea stars, and shrimp.
The aquarium also houses an interactive 4D theater, Learning Loop educational program for school children, a ballroom for up to 6,000 people, and the Correll Center for Aquatic Animal Health veterinarian teaching hospital.
Behind the Scenes, Tours feature views from the top of the exhibits, the vet clinic and surgical room, the commissary and the filtration system.
Home Depot and Coca-Cola Made it Happen
The Georgia Aquarium opened in 2005 on 9.5 acres of land donated by the Coca-Cola Company, which opened its new World of Coca-Cola museum next door in 2007.
The aquarium cost more than $320 million and was funded through a gift of more than $250 million by Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot, and his wife, Billi. Sixty exhibits are housed in the 580,000-square-foot building with an exterior designed to resemble a ship breaking through a wave.
In 2010, the aquarium plans to open a $110 million dolphin exhibit, adding an additional 84,000 square feet of space. The 1.3-million-gallon exhibit will feature dolphin shows and opportunities for dolphin encounters with visitors.
The Georgia Aquarium honors CityPass tickets and partners in combo tickets with Atlanta area attractions such as World of Coca-Cola, CNN, Stone Mountain, and the Atlanta History Center, which operates the Margaret Mitchell House. Passes help make Atlanta an affordable vacation destination.
Current hours and ticket prices appear on the Georgia Aquarium Web site.
225 Baker St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30313
Hours: Generally Sunday-Friday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Saturday 9:00-6:00 pm (Hours Vary)
Open 365 days