It is a rainy day in Atlanta, and I decide to pay a visit to the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium of the western hemisphere, and up to 2012 the largest of the world, with hundreds of species living in 10 million US gallons of both salt and fresh water. Once inside, the building has a central lobby area, from which the five different sections can be reached. I directly head to the largest one: the Ocean Voyager tank. I first stop at small windows, but soon discover the long tunnel under the basin, which offers the opportunity to spot all the fish swimming overhead from below. A shadow creeps over you: manta ray. Or whale shark, or sawfish, or one of the other big fish swimming in this exhibit. I have seen most of these fish during years of diving, but the experience of walking next to a swimming sandbar shark or kneeling to observe a giant grouper is new to me. There is a small tank where you can actually touch a small ray and a small shark, and a little further, a hall with an enormous viewing window. Here, I sit down for a while, observing the show of small and bigger fish passing by, wondering if they realize that their habitat is pretty small.
My next destination is the Tropical Diver section, where I find coral, tropical fish, and more. Probably the most amazing part of this exhibit for me are the gracious and colourful jellies, making for what seem to be live and moving paintings. Some have long tentacles, others have subtle lines attached to their transparent bodies. There is only a thin layer of glass between them and me, which allows for close-up views that in real life would only be possible with proper protection against their stings. Crossing the lobby from the tropical waters, I reach the Cold Water Quest in half a minute, where I obviously find a completely different scenery. Otters, sea stars, penguins and much more: in real life it would take a long voyage to replicate this. I walk through a low tunnel under the basin where the penguins are kept, and stick my head out at their level for a close view. I see huge crabs, but also the tiny and curious weedy sea dragon. In one tank, you can touch sea stars and anemones. Then, there are the oddly shaped beluga whales, with a box where you can listen to their vocal communication. Going up the stairs, I reach a separate tank where bottlenose dolphins swim around in circles.
The last exhibit is the River Scout tank, and I step into a completely different world. Many different tanks showing fish from around the world, with the plants that go with them. There are alligators (finally, I get to see the part of the alligator that normally is under water), trout, piranha, cichlids, turtles, eel, discus, and many more. Walking through the exhibition, it often feels like you are walking on the bottom of the river, and the fish and plants are at eye level or above. I cannot resist the temptation to go back to the Ocean Voyager exhibition, for another view at the largest fish of the aquarium. I see manta rays looping through the water, in search of food, whale sharks being fed through their big mouths, stingrays, guitarfish, trevallies, sea turtles, wrasse, and many more amazing fish roaming our oceans. Too bad some of them are endangered: all four whale sharks have actually been saved from a certain death in Taiwan and transported all the way to Georgia for the aquarium. No matter how beautiful the exhibition here, we can only hope that all these species will be able to survive also in the wild out there.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Georgia Aquarium (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Georgia Aquarium.
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