Thursday, July 4, 2013

Atlanta Aquarium - Lets You Swim With Whale Sharks

A shark with 15 meters length, and weighs about 12 tons and is swimming directly behind you. Stay calm and try not to look or smell like phytoplankton. These sharks don’t like meat – at least that’s what the guides told you after you paid $225 for 30 minutes of swimming with these giant whale sharks in the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta.

Their mouths – wide enough to swallow a Volkswagen - are lined with 350 teeth, but they’re for sifting rather than chomping. When the shark expels a mouthful of water through its gills, those teeth hold back all the tasty stuff to be swallowed. They are the largest fish in the sea, but they eat only krill, macro-algae, plankton and small squid or vertebrates that get sucked in to their huge mouths while they filter feed.
You’ll learn all this during 90 minutes of preliminary instructions and education before plunging into the 10-metre-deep pool containing 6.3 million gallons of sea water. It’s the only place in the world where you can snorkel or scuba dive with whale sharks, unless you fall overboard far from shore in some tropical sea.

Don’t touch. That’s the first rule when swimming with these gentle giants. Three guides accompany six guest swimmers at a time in the tank and one of the guides is vide taping your experience so you can buy the DVD when you’re back on terra firma.

You’ll also be accompanied by thousands of other exotic sea creatures, such as hammerhead sharks, sting rays, giant groupers, plus brightly-coloured darting fish. And your friends and family can watch you swim with the sharks. Huge viewing windows look into the tank, plus a Plexiglas tube lets pedestrians stroll across the bottom of the tank, surrounded by fish.
More than 100,000 fresh and salt water fish live in the world’s largest aquarium, which opened four years ago in the heart of Atlanta. It was a $290 million gift from Bernard Marcus, co- founder and principal shareholder of Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer. Marcus's original store sits a couple miles from the aquarium. His chain now has 2,200 stores.
"I wanted to do something that had a major impact on downtown. Something that would draw people to the area, not only folks from out o f town, but those living in communities around Atlanta, people who may have never been to downtown or only to a football or basketball game," said Marcus at the opening of his civic gift.
"When you bring people in, they're going to spend money, and spending money is going to create jobs in this state and create an environment where this state can prosper better than it ever did before."
A 16,400-square-foot ballroom in the aquarium has a large picture window looking into a special zone for beluga whales. Another zone for penguins has a glass dome, like a moon roof, where visitors can crawl through a tunnel and pop up amidst the penguins. 
The aquarium depicts five environmental zones on earth, from the Arctic to tropical seas to fresh water mountain streams and each gallery houses indigenous fish life. Belugas don't swim in the same waters as the Napoleon wrasse, also known as the Maori wrasse, a grouper from Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Those fish are 2.13 metres long and weigh 400 pounds. Adults pay $24 for admission, seniors $20 and $18 for children 3-to-12. The $225 fee to snorkel with the gentle giants includes admission and all equipment. Scuba divers pay $325.
Coca-Cola Ltd., headquartered in Atlanta, donated the nine acres for the aquarium and two years ago opened the New World of Coca-Cola right next door. The 62,000-square-foot entertainment centre includes a full-scale bottling plant, 1,500 Coca-Cola artifacts never seen by the public before, a taste-testing kiosk, a theatre showing the 120-year history of Coke in Atlanta, its familiar advertising presentations over the years and the company's projected future. Adult admission is $14, seniors $12, kids are $8 and children under four are free with an adult.
Across Centennial Olympic Park, a green oasis in the heart of downtown Atlanta, from the Georgia Aquarium and Coca-Cola's new splash you can watch the world unfold by touring  CNN’s World Headquarters. That also costs $8 and you may even get Wolf Blitzer's autograph.
These three attractions are located about three blocks off Interstate 75 where it cuts through downtown Atlanta. Many thousands of Canadians drive that highway going to and fro Florida’s beaches further south.

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