Travel

Aquarium gives whale of a show

The Georgia Aquarium, in the heart of downtown Atlanta, is one of the newest aquariums around – and the largest such facility in the world. The Ocean Voyager exhibit alone holds 6.3 million gallons of water and 85,000 fish. It is complemented by several smaller, yet equally enjoyable, exhibits. The facility promises visitors things they've never seen before. Behind-the-scenes tours (requiring advance reservations) provide the chance to actually swim the surface of the Ocean Voyager tank alongside whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. (Don't worry; they're harmless to humans.) The 3-D Undersea Wondershow runs throughout the day and requires separate admission.

Distance

Atlanta is 240 miles from Charlotte. Plan a 41/2-hour drive, one way.

Getting there

It's Interstate 85 South all the way to Atlanta. Take Exit 249C (Williams Street). Turn right onto Baker Street and right onto Luckie Street. A parking deck is adjacent to the aquarium.

To see and do

From the moment you enter the Georgia Aquarium, you're impressed with the size and scope of the facility. All five major exhibit areas, plus a restaurant, theater and gift shop, are accessed from a cavernous central concourse. Everything about the place suggests “big.” The Ocean Voyager exhibit is 30 feet deep, 284 feet long, and contains 23.8million liters of water maintained at 76 degrees. The acrylic window of the main viewing area is 61 feet long and 23 feet high, and a 100-foot tunnel under the tank offers a dramatic view of the fish from underneath. Among the gentle giants of this massive tank are great hammerhead sharks, large-tooth sawfish, stingrays, giant guitarfish, zebra sharks and several whale sharks – which are not really whales. So named because of their size, whale sharks reach lengths of up to 40 feet, are harmless to humans, and feed primarily on plankton. The Georgia Aquarium is the first in the U.S. to display these large fish.

The Coldwater Quest exhibit spotlights sea otters, African penguins, sea lions and beluga whales. The latter grow to about 16 feet in length, weigh in at 3,500 pounds, and have an 880,000-gallon tank all to themselves for a very good reason: They would eat any other fish put in the tank! Other fascinating creatures in this exhibit are Japanese spider crabs, seadragons (relatives of sea horses) and a giant Pacific octopus.

The Tropical Diver exhibit features some of nature's most colorful and exotic fish, with names that are both descriptive and evocative: blackstriped angelfish, golden damselfish, yellow-banded sweetlips and dozens more. Also at home here are jellyfish, sea nettles and transparent sand dollars.

The Georgia Explorer section is centered on a 52-foot “tug boat” and exhibits fish common to the Southeastern seaboard; touch pools include cow-nose rays, starfish and horseshoe crabs.

The River Scout exhibit highlights fish from North and South America, Africa and Asia. Gary McCullough

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