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Georgia Aquarium
Home Depot magnate Bernie Marcus wanted to give a gift to his adopted home town of Atlanta and the world in 2001 by conceiving the Georgia Aquarium and funding $250 million dollars of the project. Additional funding for each of the six original exhibits came from SunTrust (Georgia Explorer), Southern Company (River Scout), Georgia Pacific (Coldwater Quest), The Home Depot (Ocean Voyager), AirTran(Tropical Diver), and AT&T (Deepo's Undersea 3D Wondershow). Coca-Cola donated the land for the aquarium, part of Pemberton Place, and UPS donated animal-related shipping charges.

The physical creation of aquarium was handled by Jeff Swanagan, former CEO of the Florida Aquarium. The aquarium opened in 2005 with more than 100,000 aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates and some mammals (otters, for example). Additions have raised the number of creatures to 120,000 today.

The aquarium's innovative 4R program (Rehabilitation, Responsibility, Rescue, Research )is designed to give back to the community that created it. By becoming a positive force in the health and well-being of the aquatic community world-wide, Georgia Aquarium experts are already playing important roles in medical treatment, conservation, saving animals in wild and captive areas, and making contributions to the areas of ecology, marine studies and scientific knowledge of aquatic life.


At a news conference on November 19, 2001, Bernie Marcus announced his plans to "thank the people of Georgia" for 20 years of support for Home Depot. Through his philanthropic arm, The Marcus Foundation, he would give $200 million to build the Georgia Aquarium. The amount was later raised to $250 million to offset funding shortfalls.

When originally planned in 2002 the facility was to be 430,000 square feet with some 50,000 species. By the time the aquarium opened in 2005 it was nearly 500,000 square feet with 100,000 species. Since then 50,000 square feet have been added and the number of species has increased to 120,000.

Deepo, a garibaldi damselfish (sometimes simply called garibaldi fish), hosts the Undersea 3D Wondershow has been the mascot for the aquarium since August 8, 2005. Living examples of the damselfish are easily spotted in Coldwater Quest.

World's Largest Aquarium

When the Georgia Aquarium opened on November 21, 2005 to annual pass patrons it immediately claimed the title "The World's Largest Aquarium." Inside the facility were nearly 8 million gallons of water in over 100 tanks. The largest by far is the 6.3 million gallon salt water tank in the Ocean Voyager exhibit. To originally create the habitat, Aquarium experts mixed 1.8 million pounds of "Instant Ocean"

On October 3, 2009 Planet Shark opened. A $100 million dolphin exhibit is scheduled to open in Fall, 2010.

Notable deaths

In June, 2005, Marcos and Swanagan "shocked" the aquatic community with the announcement that they had purchased a whale shark, the largest known fish, to swim in the Ocean Voyager tank. Eventually, four whale sharks (Ralph, Alice, Norton, and Trixie) would inhabit the tank. However, whale sharks do not fare well in captivity and both Ralph (January 12, 2007) and Norton (June 13, 2008) died. Taroko and Yushan were flown in from Taiwan and arrived on June 1, 2007.

Two beluga whales (Nico and Gasper) arrived at the Georgia Aquarium on October 17, 2005. Gasper was euthanized following a long illness, predating his arrival in Atlanta on January 2, 2007. Nico died unexpectedly on October 31, 2009. Some marine biologists and the ASPCA point to these deaths and consider the aquarium's whale shark and beluga whale programs ill-advised.


A central hall joins the five distinct exhibition areas within the aquarium. Each of the five exhibitions, (beginning from your left as you enter the Aquarium) Georgia Explorer, River Scout, Coldwater Quest, Ocean Voyager and Topical Diver features the aquatic life of a specific aquatic region of the world. The central hall also has a "food court" and two gift shops. The Beyond the Reef Gift Shop, next to Tropical Diver and Deepo's Undersea 3D Wondershow also serves as the building exit.

Georgia Explorer

Discover Our Coast
Georgia Explorer
The entrance to Georgia Explorer is at the stylized lighthouse, a hard left when entering the aquarium. Probably the most interesting creature in Georgia Explorer is a small hammerhead shark known as a bonnethead. Found from North Carolina to Brazil, the bonnethead, relatively harmless to humans. The bonnethead is in a touch pool (sometimes called a "petting tank") with cownose rays under the lighthouse. Another interesting display in the Georgia Explorer covers the invasive red lionfish, a native to the coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. While it is right at home in the Tropical Reef, the lionfish has begun to replace native fish and changing the makeup of our coastal waters.

Past the touch pool a coastal trawler occupies much of the floor, with exhibits to the sides of the boat. Georgia Explorer is also home to Loggerhead sea turtle exhibit, one of the animals the aquarium is actively involved in helping in its 4R program. Another exhibit focuses on Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, a near shore live-bottom reef 17 miles off Sapelo Island. The Aquarium works with Sanctuary supervisor NOAA to provide educational programs about research and exploration of the Sanctuary.

A short film about Northern right whale is shown in the Georgia Explorer Theater. Exit the theater to the rear for a second touch pool (also accessible from the main exhibit) and stairs to the whale slide. Unlike the other aquarium exhibits, the Georgia Explorer is a free-form exhibit without a defined path.

Other fish in Georgia Explorer

Brown shrimp | Flathead mullet | Florida pompano | Forbes’ sea star | Goliath grouper | Hermit and Horseshoe crabs | Lookdown | Robust redhorse sucker | Vermilion snapper | Yellowmouth grouper

River Scout

Freshwater Mysteries
After the Georgia Explorer, a large "rock" formation attracts visitors to River Scout. Here a series of tanks, some of which are connected by an overhead river, explore exotic species of animals from around the world. Most visitors to the Georgia Aquarium will be familiar with steely-eyed stare of the American alligator, in one of the tanks kept separate from the Overhead River, but how many are familiar with the red piranha and electric eel from the Amazon River in Brazil or the nocturnal electric catfish from the Nile River in Egypt?

While rivers can have dangerous species throughout the world, they also house some of the most beautiful, like the colorful cichlids, Altum angelfish and splash tetra from South America and Africa. Watch for yellowbelly sliders (common Georgia turtles), brim (bluegill) and crappie known by every Georgia fisherman. At the end of River Scout is an exhibit of Asian small-clawed otters, one of the few mammals in the Georgia Aquarium.

Leaving the River Scout, Coldwater Quest is to the left (clockwise) after the planned entrance to the Dolphin exhibit coming in Fall, 2010.

Other fish in River Scout

Amazon milk frog | Arapaima | Arawana | Bigmouth buffalo | Black | Bowfin | Channel catfish | Discus | Elephantnose fish | Emerald tree boa | Longnose gar | Pacu (or Tambaqui) | Poison dart frogs | Red-eared slider | Shovelnose sturgeon | Smallmouth buffalo

Coldwater Quest

The Chilly Unknown
Ice-covered rocks and a "stone arch" mark the entrance to Coldwater Quest, where an 800,000 gallon tank, the aquarium's second largest held Beluga whales named Gaspar and Nico. This loop is also home to the Garabaldi damselfish, which became the stylized mascot of the aquarium, Deepo.

Coldwater Quest opens to a large room with one large viewing portal for the lower portion of the beluga whale tank and four smaller tanks. Watch for sea otters, sea stars (commonly called starfish), spider crabs, the Pacific octopus and a photographer's favorite, the Leafy sea dragon. Follow around to the back of the tank (on the ramp to the upper view of the Beluga whale tank) for a second view of this tank.

As the ramp makes its first 180 degree turn there is an outside viewing area with sea lions which the aquarium rescued and penguins (recently returned to exhibition in the "Penguin Plunge"). Continue on to the upper viewing area for the aquarium's 800,000 gallon tank. The exit for Coldwater Quest is on the second floor. Use the ramp, stairs or elevator to return to the first floor.

Other fish in The Chilly Unknown

Bat star | Copper rockfish | Fish-eating anemone | Giant | | Longspine snipefish | Painted greenling | Purple sea urchin | Strawberry anemone | Sunflower | Swellshark | Weedy sea dragon | Wolf-eel

Ocean Voyager

Journey with Giants
Hammerhead in Ocean Voyager
Ocean Voyager has the largest tank within the Georgia Aquarium, a 6.3 million gallon behemoth that's 30 feet deep in places. The tank houses the whale sharks (Alice, Trixie, Yushan and Taroko), the largest species of fish in the aquarium. There is a small viewing portal as you enter Coldwater Quest, but the highlight of the aquarium has got to be the 100-foot tunnel through the whale shark tank reminiscent of the 60-foot Shark Encounter at Sea World in Orlando. Among the other sharks visible from the tunnel are reef sharks, Great hammerhead sharks, Sand Tiger Sharks, Sandbar sharks, and Zebra sharks.

Of course, there are many species besides sharks in this tank. Watch for the familiar trapezoid form of the Manta Ray. Nandi and Tallulah are the only manta rays to be housed in the United States and are predominately black on top with gray markings. Underneath they are mostly white to gray. When Nandi and Tallulah feed they execute backward somersaults to catch and eat their food in their wide mouth on the bottom of their body.

From the tunnel, the path follows around to a theater-style portal where aquarium personnel can instruct groups of school children who are normally seated to one side so that others can still enjoy the view. The Ocean Voyager portal is the second largest in the world, 23 feet tall, 61 feet wide and 2 feet thick, with limited seating in the rear of the viewing room.

Other fish in Ocean Voyager

Black blotched fantail ray | Blue tang surgeonfish | Bluestriped grunt | Bowmouth guitarfish | Crevalle jack | Crimson snapper | Giant grouper | Giant guitarfish | Golden trevally| Green sawfish | Grey snapper | Humphead wrasse | Largetooth sawfish | Leopard whipray | Longfin batfish | Porkfish | Potato grouper | Spotted Wobbegong | Tasseled wobbegong

Tropical Diver

The Coral Kingdom
Pacific Sea Nettle
The Pacific Reef exhibit is the centerpiece of this gallery and contains both live (nearly 70 types and more than 750 specimens) and artificial coral, while smaller tanks allow the aquarium staff to manage and display the diverse aquatic population of tropicall waters.

The Pacific Reef, the largest living reef in the United States, is housed vertically in a tank with a unique curved viewing portal, allowing more room for the fish living in the tank. The most important part of this display cannot be seen - it is the micro-flora and fauna that are the foundation of healthy coral.

Communities of more than a hundred garden eels mark the bottom of the Pacific Reef tank, waving in the water as if they were grass to capture small animals and eggs in the current. Watch for the green and orange mandarinfish and the Longsnout seahorse as it propels itself through the tank. The oldest living animal in the aquarium, a sea whip, can be found here. In 2009 the sea whip was at least 21 years old. A separate 3-tank exhibit holds the jellies (jellyfish) where the translucent moon jelly rises and falls as does both the Atlantic and Pacific sea nettle.

Other fish in Tropical Diver

Bartlett’s anthias | Bird wrasse | Common cuttlefish | Forceps butterflyfish | Giant clam | Longnose butterflyfish | Neon goby | Palette surgeonfish | Pharaoh Cuttlefish | Radial firefish | Scalefin anthias | Squarespot anthias

Deepo's Undersea 3D Wondershow

Georgia Aquarium mascot
Deepo is the Georgia Aquarium's garabaldi damselfish mascot, and in this 3D show aimed at teaching kids about the impact man has on the ocean as Deepo explains the problem of pollution to a corporate spokesperson transformed into a fish. A rousing rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Think" sums up one singing sea turtle's (named "Searetha") belief on how to solve the problem.

The film is 12 minutes long, and is worth seeing at least once. The theater holds 250 people and when the show lets out the Beyond the Reef Gift Shop tends to become crowded.


The impact of the Georgia Aquarium's 4R has been felt worldwide from releasing sea turtles on the Florida coast the captive rescue of Nico, a beluga whale. According to the Atlanta CVB during its first 3 years the Georgia Aquarium attracted 11 million people to downtown and allowed more than $4 billion in new construction spending.


The aquarium parking deck 5-story parking deck adjacent to the aquarium with an entrance from northbound Luckie St. The top deck of this garage is in full sun.

Georgia Aquarium
225 Baker street
Atlanta GA 30313
Web site Georgia Aquarium

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