Atlanta: Journey with Gentle Giants

October 18, 2011

This past weekend Wayne and I headed to Atlanta to relax a bit.  My father turned a big number (I will not share here out of respect) and decided that the only thing he wanted for his birthday was to swim with sharks.  As it turns out, that’s not too hard to do in Georgia.

Ocean Voyager

The Georgia Aquarium is the world’s largest and boasts a tank of 6.3 million gallons.  They offer a program called Journey with Gentle Giants.  Basically, you are given the opportunity to dive with a small group through the tank that holds many species including the amazing Whale Sharks and Manta Rays.  Of course, my dad jumped at the opportunity which is how we came to find ourselves at the Aquarium early Saturday afternoon to witness the fun.

The huge tank mentioned above has an acrylic tunnel that runs literally right through the middle.  It is a main feature of the Ocean Voyager exhibit and as you walk through, you are surrounded on all sides and above by fish, sharks, and manta rays.

After the participants were whisked away for their tour and to get suited up, our amazing guide (and volunteer) Karl took us into the tunnel to wait for our first view of the divers.   We could see bubbles coming from the far side of the tank, then slowly but surely the divers made their way over the top of the tunnel.

Divers Arriving

Although we had seen them earlier, it was fascinating to watch the Manta Rays in proximity to the divers.  It really puts their size in perspective.  They average 13 feet across.  The aquarium’s site says one of their females originally arrived at 8 feet across and weighed approximately 425 pounds!  So large, yet amazingly graceful – they appear to be flying underwater.

Manta RayThe second species of particular interest is the Whale Sharks.   They are totally shark – not whale at all – but get their name from their sheer size.  They are the largest living fish species and have been known in the wild to get as large as 41 feet and 47,000 pounds!  The sharks living at the Georgia Aquarium still boast 24 feet each – and there are four in total (two pairs).  The exist in captivity only in this aquarium and in Asia.

Whale Shark

(I was dying to tell the divers to look up….could you imagine seeing that directly above you?!?)

After the divers swam over the tunnel,  we headed to the viewing area to watch and participate in their experience in the main part of the tank.  The divers each approached the window and many interacted with the friends, family, and children hanging out by the side.  Here’s mom and dad:

Mom and Dad at the Atlanta Aquarium

And dad hanging out with the other divers:

Dad at the Georgia Aquarium

After playing around a bit, the divers headed away from the window….

Divers Departing

…and sat on the bottom of the tank in a group.

Divers on the tank floor

This is when the Manta Rays decide to have some fun.   There are no words that can accurately describe watching this, so I shot a quick video.  Keep your eye toward the top of the video.

It almost makes you giddy.  They just look like they are having a blast!  A couple of times I watched them swoop down right over the diver’s heads.

Karl took us on a  fantastic tour while waiting for Dad to finish up and we even got to watch the Beluga whale feeding (any Raffi fans out there?).  The aquarium offers a surface swim program as well as the dive program which Wayne and I may brave at some point.

I’m pretty sure it was a successful birthday and we will all be talking about it for many years to come.

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2 Responses to “Atlanta: Journey with Gentle Giants”


  1. […] few weeks ago we visited Atlanta with my parents so my dad could dive with the sharks at the aquarium.  It was his birthday wish and we were more than happy to […]


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