Thursday, January 2, 2014
Whale sharks the size of a school bus.
Manta rays the size of your bed. Belugas the size of your car.
So many marine creatures at Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta are big, beautiful and enticing.
At the world’s largest aquarium habitat, you’ll wander around amazed, saying “Wow.”
On my first aquarium visit a few years ago, I fell so in love with their mammoth whale sharks, I signed up for the “Journey with Gentle Giants Immersion Program.”
After an orientation session, I wriggled into a wetsuit and under the watchful eye of aquarium divers, I slid into the Ocean Voyager tank. Looking down through my snorkel mask, I was awed to see four whale sharks cruising under my belly, absolutely beautiful, their gray skin polka dotted with pale yellow spots and stripes.
The aquarium staff taught us many interesting whale shark facts: some grow to lengths of 40 feet, weighing more than 10 tons.
They are the world’s largest fish, travelling thousands of miles around our planet and diving down to depths of one mile.
Although they look ferocious, they are really gentle, opening their four-foot mouths to inhale tiny plants and shrimp-like animals called plankton.
And a whale shark’s markings are unique to each individual, just like our fingerprints.
I encourage everyone to try the aquarium’s “Gentle Giants Immersion Program.” But if sliding into a 6.3 million gallon coral reef tank teeming with whale sharks, hammerheads and giant manta rays is a bit too much adventure, then try close encounters with beluga whales, dolphins, sea otters and penguins.
The aquarium’s Animal Encounter programs are easy, fun, educational and reasonably priced for families.
Don a wetsuit and wade into the water with the aquarium staff to meet friendly white belugas.
Go backstage at the exciting Dolphin Tales show to meet and feed the dolphin stars.
At the Georgia Pacific Cold Water Quest Gallery, tour the sea otter facility and help prepare their dinner.
Or get eye-to-eye with penguins and learn about global conservation to preserve these adorable birds.
The aquarium has more than 60 educational entertaining exhibits, so plan the whole day there, plus enjoy lunch, and shop at the gift store.
Don’t want to leave? You don’t have to.
Then stay for an aquarium sleep-over.
As the aquarium quiets down for the night, you and your family will embark on an evening of exploration and sleeping alongside your favorite sea creatures.
After all, why count sheep, when you can count dolphins, whales and sea otters?
Your enticing encounter is waiting, at Georgia Aquarium.
c Sharon Spence Lieb