A Backstage Pass to the Georgia Aquarium

whale sharkThe Georgia Aquarium has a variety of behind the scenes options for visitors, whether you’re partial to the chill of a beluga whale interaction, or perhaps a casual stroll around the aquarium’s backstage with a tour behind the scenes, or the amazing opportunity to swim with some of the ocean’s most spectacular creatures like whale sharks with Georgia Aquarium’s ‘Journey with Gentle Giants’, they have something for everyone.

Celebrating turning 30 last fall my friend and I decided to take a road trip to the Georgia Aquarium.  Before we left my friend’s mother surprised her with the gift of a lifetime, a chance to swim with whale sharks in Georgia Aquarium’s ‘Journey with Gentle Giants’ experience.  And so we set out on the road to Atlanta, Georgia.  Spending a lot of time in the car, and I stress A LOT, we set out to fill the time with games and endless girl friend chatter and then the conversation shifted to our bucket lists.  Oh it felt like we could find an endless supply of things to do, places to go and experiences we wanted to have.  And it didn’t seem like it was unrealistic, these were all things achievable and goals to set for our lives.  With that being said I was happy that my friend would be crossing one thing off her bucket list on this trip – swim with whale sharks.

After a fun day spent exploring the Georgia Aquarium, it was closing time but time for us to take on a new adventure.  We ventured over to guest services to check in and my friend set out to be briefed and readied for her experience and where I got to hang out with two of the aquarium’s nicest volunteers who took me on a private tour of Georgia Aquarium’s behind the scenes.

We first went through the Ocean Voyager exhibit where later I’d see my friend among the fish. Here the volunteers gave me insider information on some of the creatures, speaking of them fondly by name and it was evident how much they cared for them.  I even spotted a shark that looked to be pregnant.  They left me there for a bit to enjoy alone and made arrangements to meet up at the exit.  Being in the Ocean Voyager exhibit alone, after hours really gives it an even more magical atmosphere, even a tad eerie as I stood beneath the tunnel, being surrounded by that liquid blue and looking up to see massive shadows pass overhead.  It was amazing!

sawfish and whale shark

sawfish and whale shark

Next they took me upstairs for a tour behind the scenes of some of the exhibits and boy was it evident on how meticulous they are on providing safe, healthy and realistic environments for their animals as well as how precise everything is set up.  I’ve been behind the scenes at a few different zoos and this was the cleanest and best set up I’ve seen.

nursery

coral reef nursery

One stop that really stood out to me was the visit to the top of the coral reef exhibit that can be found in the Tropical Diver exhibit.  Here you have a view of the upper portion of the lagoon reef, as well as a living mangrove swamp with a nursery for young and juvenile fish to grow up in before venturing into the large exhibit.  There’s also a skylight allowing the sun’s natural rays to pass through to the exhibit as well as an extensive lighting set up.  What I felt was possibly the most astounding aspect of the exhibit was the wave crash zone that crashes every two minutes to simulate the natural motion of the sea.  It’s all quite the set up and truly impressive to see.

Then we headed to the top of the Ocean Voyager exhibit where the dive team and my friend, along with another participant were.  It was a whole new view of the large tank, I could even look in and see the whale sharks from above; they have such beautiful skin which is easier to see from above.  The moment had arrived.  I stood there and watched from across the tank as my friend, anxious, nervous but excited, gently got in to the water.  I was so happy for her!

Then it was back down below to the Ocean Voyager tunnel where we watched as my friend and the dive team casually swam along while the curious whale sharks narrowly cruised by them and the manta rays gracefully twirled around them.  We walked through the exhibit as they swam above and boy was it interesting and inspiring to look through the various windows and portholes and not only see these magnificent creatures but my friend swimming along with them.

swim with whale sharks

‘Journey with Gentle Giants’

While my friend finished up her swim the volunteers I was with took me on the remainder of the tour where I got to check out the behind the scenes area for the beluga whales and harbour seals.  As we approached we were caught off guard when we saw this strange large cylinder lid moving around, then we noticed it was one of the juvenile beluga’s playing with what I concluded to be an enrichment device.  It was a magical moment as I watched on, with a smile on my face, as the beluga toted the lid around the pool and over to a metal platform where it proceeded to try to nose it up onto.  It also appeared that the other juvenile was watching and cheering on as the other kept trying to get the lid on the platform.  It was so nice and endearing to see these sweet and intelligent animals playing carefree.

I have nothing but good thing to say about the Georgia Aquarium, their facility is top of the line, their staff is friendly and informative and they are involved in numerous conservation projects.  Their conservation efforts span everything from right at home projects with turtle nesting and right whales off the coast of Georgia to Florida with work with spotted eagle rays, dolphins and coral restoration in the Keys as well as work with whale sharks in Mexico to beluga whales in Alaska.  I recommend a visit to the Georgia Aquarium to anyone from nature lovers to animal enthusiasts to anyone looking for a unique and enriching experience.

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