The Georgia Aquarium: Whale sharks in Atlanta

Have you ever seen a whale shark? The Georgia Aquarium is the only place to see one in the U.S., along with manta rays, jelly fish and sea dragons. Photo: James Picht

NATCHITOCHES, La., September 23, 2012 — The biggest aquarium in the United States is located right next to the World of Coke (the Coke museum) across from Centenial Olympic Park, on 225 Baker Street NW in Atlanta. The Georgia Aquarium is home to hundreds of thousands (well, a lot) of fish, amphibians, marine mammals, and other creatures. There might be a long line to get in when you get there, but it is totally worth it.

You walk into the aquarium through a passage that runs through a large aquarium tank. You enter a huge central area where there are places to eat, a gift store (which is also the exit), and entries to all the different exhibits.

Lets start with the odder species. One exhibit was dedicated to jellyfish. They of course looked like they had dropped to earth from space and adapted here. There were tanks with moon jellies and comb jellies (they look like their edges are glowing, but they aren’t) and sea anemones. (This exhibit focuses on coelenterates, which are soft, hollow-bodied sea creatures with stinging tentacles. Ed.)

Jellyfish (Photo: James Picht)

Jellyfish (Photo: James Picht)

Some other strange animals were the seahorses and sea dragons. The seahorses’ skin looked like someone had rubbed really rough sandpaper on it until it stuck. The sea dragons were covered with weird streamers and knobs to make them look like seaweed. In spite of their name, they’re small. Seahorses, sea dragons, and pipe fish (which they also had) are all related.

Then there was this huge tub full of cow-nose rays, which people always mistake for stingrays. That’s entirely wrong. Cow-nose rays have spines, but they’re nothing like the stingray that killed the Crocodile Hunter (Steve Irwin). They don’t stay in the sand and sting you when you step on them like stingrays do, but swim around. They’re smaller than stingrays, they have spots, and they’re sort of cute. You can pet them at the aquarium. They are actually really nice, and when you touch and feel them they feel slimy but good. They clip the spines off, so they DO NOT sting. If they nibble your fingers, it feels like stiff gums, but you can’t feed them here like you can at SeaWorld, so they probably won’t nibble your fingers.

We went into a glass tunnel through an enormous aquarium that had dozens of species swimming all around it. If you’ve been to the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, this is bigger. Since it’s a tunnel, when you look up you see more creatures above the plexiglas. There are some whale sharks (this is the only aquarium in the U.S. that has them), manta rays, swordfish, sharks, hammerheads, gangsta-fish (I call them that because they look like thugs; they were sawfish), and, of course, tons of multi-colored fish and just plain fish.

Manta ray (Photo: James Picht)

Manta ray (Photo: James Picht)

Speaking of multi-colored fish, the aquarium has a tropical reef exhibit. You look in through the glass at a wall of coral, with thousands of small, colorful fish swimming around it, and up above, waves keep crashing and sending bubbles down through the water. It’s like swimming by a coral reef ten feet below the waves.

There is a southern river habitat with fish from the southern United States. It was okay. There was a dolphin show that we didn’t have time to go to. There was a tank with piranhas, and you could see them having lunch in a video by their tank.

Another exhibit had penguins waddling around the penguin pen, where there were glass observation bubbles poking up through the floor so that people could get a closer look.

In another room there were tons of crabs. They were called “spider crabs.” They can live to be 100 years old, and their leg span can reach 12 feet! They live in the dark depths of the ocean, and they can weigh up to 41 pounds! The ones in the aquarium were medium size. They didn’t move very much, either.

Sea dragon (Photo: James Picht)

Sea dragon (Photo: James Picht)

One of the gigantic tanks was a beluga aquarium where there were, of course, belugas. Belugas are a type of porpoise that live in the far north. Beluga comes from “white” in Russian (byeliy), and they are sometimes called white whales.

Narwhals also live in the far north. They are small grey whales with a really pointy “horn,” kind of like a unicorn horn. They use this horn (actually a modified tooth – ed.) to punch through ice when they need air. Unfortunately, there were no narwhals at the aquarium, but they did have a narwhal skull and horn.

In addition to all of this, there is an amphibian section. This was extremely awesome. One tank had frogs of all different colors. There were green, orange, black, blue, red, yellow, and even pinkish frogs. I got a feeling that they were all poisonous. (These brightly colored frogs were all “poison arrow” frogs. Ed.)

One particularly amazing toad was a HUGE toad from South Africa. I’m serious - this thing was bigger than my hand. It was called the “king toad” or something. Another tank held the weirdest frogs I have ever seen. They were like statues, frozen in mid-movement. It was really odd. There was another tank with a miniature waterfall and stream with a few toads wallowing in the stream. There was nothing special about them.

There were several tanks full of frogs and toads. There were so many different colors and so many different habitats it felt like I was in a miniature jungle.  

Whale shark (Photo: James Picht)

Whale shark (Photo: James Picht)

The food court was boring, and none of us wanted to eat there. The gift store had some cool stuff, but my parents didn’t let us stop to shop there.

To sum it all up, the aquarium was a great place to go. It was fun, interesting, and informative. Without the dolphin show, it will take about three or four hours to see everything. The shows are at particular times and your time is reserved when you buy your tickets, and you might have to wait three hours to see it. If you see the aquarium and the Coke museum on the same day, it will be a really fun and educational day. I recommend it.

Note: An Atlanta CityPASS includes admission to the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coka Cola, the Atlanta Zoo, a tour of the CNN studio, and the Fernbank Science Center for $69 (adult) and $49 (child), which is a considerable saving over individual tickets. You should plant to spend two days to see it all, but the pass is good for nine days.






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Harlan Picht

Harlan is a student at the NSU Middle Lab school in Natchitoches. He enjoys travel, plays the cello, and plans to start raising rats.

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