The aquarium's large viewing window.

The aquarium's large viewing window.

Last weekend I was in Atlanta to spend time with family. As part of the trip, we decided to go visit the Georgia Aquarium. Ever since the aquarium opened in 2005, I’ve been wanting to go see the “world’s largest aquarium”. It has 8.1 million gallons of water holding more then 100,000 animals of 500 different species. They also have several species rarely seen in captivity, like whale sharks, a manta ray and hammerhead sharks.

The first thing visitors walk into is a large lobby that has a food court and entrances to the five different zones of the aquarium. Each zone features animals in different environments like cold water; the tropics; rivers; oceans and local animals found in Georgia. Each zone features tanks with various critters; plus interactive exhibits like touchscreen displays and touch tanks where people can put their hands into shallow pools and feel various critters.

The highlight of the aquarium is the huge viewing tank in the “Ocean Explorer” section. The tank has the whale sharks and the manta ray. It also has a very large panoramic window that is over two stories tall and two feet thick and an underwater viewing tunnel. With all the Plexiglas around, it was easy to view the magnificent creatures. The aquarium provides a viewing guide that visitors can pick up at the entrance and carry around so they can identify various creatures. It’s a small feature, but it’s more useful then looking at guides on the wall. Besides the large tank, the aquarium includes a display about what it took to transport the whales from Japan to the US. It involved a 747, an 36-hour trip (18 hours by air) and many staff to get them safely over. The Georgia Aquarium is the only place outside of Asia where whale sharks can be seen in captivity.

One of my other favorite exhibits was seeing the beluga whales. The last time I saw beluga whales was in Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC. So it was fun to see the playful creatures again. They were the most active creatures in the aquarium, constantly swimming and playing with each other. Another highlight was the touch tanks. It was wonderful being able to feel the gentle sucking of anemones, the rubbery skin of a shark and the scrabbling legs of shrimps.

The aquarium is not perfect though. At the time I was visiting, the aquarium was filled with lots of people including small children. The large number of people sometimes made it hard to get close to tanks and all the chatter created quite a din at times. I suspect that the aquarium would be less crowded when school is in session.

Even with the crowds, the aquarium is worth a visit. If you do plan to come, you may want to wait until November 2010 as a new dolphin exhibit will be opening at that time.

Whale sharks in the Ocean Explorer exhibit

Whale sharks in the Ocean Explorer exhibit

It’s easy to make a day out of visiting the aquarium and the rest of downtown Atlanta. My aquarium visit lasted about 3 hours, but it would be easy to spend more time there. The World of Coke is right next door and both buildings border Centennial Olympic Park. The CNN Center is also nearby, and the light rail system called MARTA provides access to most of the Atlanta area.

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