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Georgia Aquarium offers sanctuary from winterís coldcomment (0)

October 12, 2006

By Linda Holloway

The first sighting of ominous clouds sends children outdoors to survey the sky. Hopeful eyes stare until they are almost positive that a snowflake is headed their way. If the stingy Southern atmosphere relinquishes the white wonder, then all is well in the world of a child.

But more often than not, Alabama’s snow hopes are disappointed. A great second plan is to take a short drive to Atlanta for a whale of a time at the Georgia Aquarium.

Designed to look like a giant ship breaking through a wave, the aquarium sits on 9.5 acres of land adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park. It is a $250 million gift to the people of Georgia from Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot. Add another $40 million by sponsors, and you have the world’s largest aquarium, which opened debt-free in November 2005.  

“We are the largest aquarium in the world measured in three ways — volume of water (8 million gallons), square footage (more than 500,000 square feet) and number of animals (120,000),” said Ashley Manning, Georgia Aquarium public relations specialist.

She said the aquarium originally anticipated 2 million visitors the first year but welcomed its three-millionth guest on its nine-month anniversary in August.

A unique aspect of the aquarium is its nonlinear layout, giving visitors the feeling they are visiting five aquariums — each depicting a different habitat — under one roof. Each gallery is entered and exited through the atrium, allowing guests to choose where to go next. The galleries include Georgia Explorer, River Scout, Tropical Diver, Ocean Voyager and Cold Water Quest.

You will probably want to begin your journey with the star attraction in the Ocean Voyager gallery.
This gallery houses four of the world’s largest fish — the whale shark. The Georgia Aquarium is one of only four aquariums in the world to house whale sharks and the only one outside of Asia.

The whale sharks — two males and two females — swim alongside 85,000 other fish, including hammerhead sharks, giant goliath groupers, guitarfish, golden trevally, zebra sharks and many other species, Manning said.

“Ocean Voyager is currently the largest single exhibit in the world, holding 6.2 million gallons of water,” she noted.

Visitors gain a whale’s-eye view of the exhibit as they travel along a 100-foot-long tunnel looking through one of the largest aquarium windows in the world.

Visitors will also want to spend time at the Cold Water Quest gallery. Here the beluga whale exhibit is entertainment central. Holding 800,000 gallons of water, the exhibit showcases the habitat of beluga whales. The five ghostly whales woo audiences with their version of “whale ballet.”

A favorite stop for children is the Georgia Explorer gallery. “This gallery features a playground with tunnels where kids can crawl over parts of the exhibit, including the touch tanks,” Manning said.
There they will find bonnethead sharks, cownose rays and horseshoe crabs.

“Deepo’s Undersea 3-D Wondershow” is featured at the aquarium’s 4-D theater. Adorned with appropriate glasses, you will “swim” along on a conservation adventure.

The aquarium also offers two tours for visitors. The Aquatic Adventures tour offers a view of the aquarium’s veterinary clinic, complete with a surgery room and a top view of the whale sharks’ pool.
The veterinary services and conservation medicine program has the largest facility that integrates a veterinarian teaching hospital into an aquarium. It is a cooperative endeavor between the aquarium and the University of Georgia in Athens.

Along the Coastal Encounters tour, visitors get a behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium and a top view of the beluga whales exhibit.

Visitors can go online, call or visit ticket booths to choose the dates and times of their visit.
Additional admission is charged for the theater and tours. For information call 1-877-434-7442 or visit www.georgiaaquarium.org.

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