The Georgia Aquarium is a public aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. It houses tens of thousands of animals, representing several hundred species, all of which reside in 10 million US gallons (38,000 m3) of marine and fresh water, and is the largest aquarium in the western hemisphere. It was the largest aquarium in the entire World from its opening in 2005 until 2012, when it was surpassed by Marine Life Park in Singapore.
Businessman Bernard Marcus credits his 60th birthday dinner, held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, with inspiring him to build a great aquarium for Atlanta; his subsequent $250 million donation provided the bulk of the money needed to build and stock the new facility. The Aquarium's notable specimens include whale sharks, beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins, and manta rays.
The Georgia Aquarium contains tens of thousands fish and other sea creatures, representing several hundred species.
The aquarium is the only institution outside of Asia housing whale sharks, which are kept in a 6.3-million-U.S.-gallon (24,000 m3) exhibit—the aquarium as a whole was designed around the whale shark exhibit. Their importation from Taiwan (by air, truck and boat) had never been attempted previously. They were taken from Taiwan's annual fishing kill quota, under which they would have been eaten had they not been purchased by the aquarium. The aquarium's most famous specimens were four young whale sharks from Taiwan named Ralph, Norton, Alice, and Trixie, after the primary characters from The Honeymooners. Ralph and Norton died in 2007 but that same year the aquarium received two more whale sharks ("Taroko", commemorating Taroko Gorge National Park, and "Yushan" after Taiwan's Jade Mountain) just before a ban on capture of that species took effect.
The aquarium has also been home to as many as five 11-foot (3 m) beluga whales at once. Males Nico and Gasper, acquired from an amusement park in Mexico, were joined by three females on breeding loan from the New York Aquarium: Marina, Natasha and Natasha's daughter, Maris. After Gasper and Marina died in 2007, the belugas were transferred to SeaWorld San Antonio, where Nico died in 2009. In 2010, Maris and a new male, Beethoven, were returned to the Georgia Aquarium while Natasha remains with a potential mate in San Antonio. Two young belugas, Grayson (male) and Qinu (female), also from San Antonio, were added in November 2010. Before transferring to the Shedd Aquarium in 2014, Beethoven fathered calves with Maris in 2012 and 2015.
A manta ray, Nandi, that had been accidentally caught in nets protecting the South African coast from sharks, joined the Ocean Voyager exhibit in 2008 as the first manta ray on display in the country; the Aquarium is one of only four sites in the world displaying one. A second manta ray, Tallulah, was added in September 2009, joined in 2010 by female named Billi, and in 2012 by a male. The animals range in size from 10-13 ft wingspans.
The aquarium's animals are displayed in five galleries: Tropical Diver, Ocean Voyager, Cold Water Quest, River Scout, and Dolphin Tales. Each corresponds to a specific environment.
The first exhibit, Southern Company River Scout, reflects regional environments. It features an overhead river where visitors can see North American fish from the bottom up. In addition to local specimens, this exhibit displays piranha, electric fish and other unusual freshwater life.
Next to River Scout is the AT&T Dolphin Tales gallery. This is the aquarium's newest addition (opened in April 2011) and houses the indoor dolphin stadium. The aquarium houses thirteen bottlenose dolphins, though this number fluctuates from time to time. The show lasts about 20 to 30 minutes and includes an informative/educational videos about the dolphins 30 minutes before the show. Admission to the AT&T Dolphin Tales show is included in general admission.
The third section of the aquarium, Georgia Pacific Cold Water Quest, features animals from the polar and temperate regions of the world and contains most of the mammal species in the aquarium's collection. This exhibit includes beluga whales in the aquarium's second largest habitat (after Ocean Voyager), sea otters, Japanese spider crabs, weedy sea dragons, and African penguins.
The largest exhibit, Ocean Voyager built by Home Depot, contains 6.3 million US gallons (24,000 m3) of water and several thousand fish. It measures 284 ft × 126 ft (87 m × 38 m) and the depth ranges between 20 and 30 ft (6.1 and 9.1 m), making it the largest indoor aquatic habitat in the world. This exhibit is designed to feature the life of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System and showcases the aquarium's whale sharks, as well as a 100 ft (30 m) underwater tunnel and one of the world's largest viewing windows.
The sixth exhibit, Tropical Diver presented by Southwest Airlines, features mainly Indo-Pacific tropical fish. The largest habitat in the exhibit is a 164,000-US-gallon (620,000 L) reef featuring many species of fish. The aquarium also cultivates its own live coral, some of which can be seen on this large reef. Other animals in this gallery include sea horses, garden eels, jellyfish, clownfish, shrimp, lobsters, turkeyfish, and many other tropical fishes.
The aquarium also features a "4D" movie "Deepo's Undersea 3D Wondershow", a section with exhibits of frogs and other attractions, including the Ocean Voyager – Journey With Giants exhibit hall, where the Chedd-Angier-Lewis production company, with Electrosonic Inc., has produced the Open Ocean Touchwall, a dynamic, interactive projection for species identification. This is a virtual aquarium where larger than life, fully articulated 3-D renderings of Open Ocean fish swim across six panels assembled to simulate a tank. Guests may reach out and place hands or fingers on the fish. As they do so, fun and informative content bubbles appear to educate the guest about the particular species they have chosen.
Also, in 2009, the "Titanic Aquatic" exhibit opened, which features a walk-through of what it was like on the ship RMS Titanic. The exhibit was at the aquarium until September 7, 2009. The Georgia Aquarium then hosted the world debut of Planet Shark: Predator or Prey: The Exhibition. The exhibit focused on dispelling myths and sharing facts to help create a better understanding of sharks. It was open through April 2011, and featured shark jaws, teeth and fossils, full scale shark models made from real specimens and more.