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Swimming with Whale Sharks in Atlanta, GA

Updated: Oct 28


Our group in the Water
Our group in the Water

QUICK FACTS

Planning: This is not the type of place you’re in and out of within the hour. It is best to plan your day here and if you get out early, there is plenty to do in the area.

Cost: $280 for members, $334 for non-members. You’ll also need to get a GA ticket which can range from $27 - $37 depending on the time of day.

Hectic Scale: If you plan to spend the day at the aquarium then the day won’t be hectic at all. You know what time you’ll dive with the gentle giants so plan accordingly. 1 - 5, I’d say it was a 1 on the hectic scale.

Link to Their Website: https://www.georgiaaquarium.org/experience/journey-with-gentle-giants-swim/

BEFORE THE TANK

I am a huge fan of stepping out of my box and one of the best ways I find that I can do that is by either going up (in the sky) or down (under water). When I first heard that the Georgia Aquarium had whale sharks swimming in the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere all I could say was, “take my money!”

A few hundred American bucks later, we were locked in. With 2 hours to kill, I checked out the vast facility. It really is an incredible space. From the feature attractions like the Dolphin and Seal encounters to the 4D Theatre and Waddle Walk, the 2 hours I was “killing” weren’t enough … not by a long shot. It would take an entire day to get through all that the Georgia Aquarium has to offer.

While everything I saw was amazing, I was there to swim with whale sharks so I won’t cover the rest of the visit. I know what you’re here for, too!


The main area between the experiences.
The main area between the experiences.

THE WHALE SHARK EXPERIENCE

The staff escorted our group of 8 into the main aquarium area. We were then given instruction, asked to sign our life away on waivers, and were taught some safety protocols. Once in our dive suits, with canisters attached, we went out onto the dock and dove right in.

The education and safety process is a bit dull but the staff do their best to bring some humour to what can only be described as an elementary style learning centre. The person I was with could barely sit still as she anticipated the experience of finally seeing a whale shark up close and personal.

We made sure to check out the aquarium we would be swimming in from the outside perspective before we went in. There were no divers at the time but the grandness of the tank definitely sunk in as we watched these huge animals of the sea swim about without a care in the world.

Here’s some interesting info we learned:

  • The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and the largest fish known to have lived on this planet. Because of its size and cartilaginous skeleton, it does not fossilize well and in life it is very difficult to weigh accurately.

  • The largest accurately measured whale shark was 61.7 feet (18.8 m).

  • The average length is between 18 and 32.8 feet (5.5 – 10 m).

  • Teeth of the whale shark are tiny and pointed backward; they are thought to have no function in feeding.

  • Diet consists of zooplankton, specifically sergestid shrimps and fish eggs as well as krill, jellies, copepods, coral spawn, etc. and small fishes (sardines, anchovies, etc).

  • Whale sharks can only swallow small prey because its throat is very narrow, often compared to the size of a quarter.

  • “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.


My gear waiting for me.
My gear waiting for me.

Whoa! Whale shark alert!
Whoa! Whale shark alert!

Whale sharks are huge! You know that going in but you don’t fully appreciate their size until you’re in the water with them. Their eye balls are the size of my head, and I have a really big head! We swam around for about 30 minutes and a few times the whale sharks came extremely close. Of course, there are other creatures of the sea in the water as well; giant turtles, tons of fish, and stingrays. The entire experience leads to a bit of a sensory overload at first. There’s just so much to see and your field of vision is distorted … well, mine was because I wasn’t all that seasoned at getting in the water at this point.


Extreme close up.
Extreme close up.

They ask that you don’t feed or touch the whale sharks but at one point a whale shark brushed up against me and gave me a bit of a bump. “YOU CRAZY!”

There are a lot of factors that make this a crazy experience. If you’re not a pro at going underwater you definitely feel like a fish out of water (yeah, you read that right). If you’ve never encountered species this large you have a sense of not belonging, which is why one person in our group had to get out early. You’re in a habitat that your body wasn’t designed to interact with so you feel kinda strange. Plus, while whale sharks have no interest in eating us and are quite docile, you never know what curveball nature is going to throw at you.

If you’re debating taking in this experience you can even preview the aquarium live online here.

Swimming with whale sharks was exhilarating and a lot of fun. I highly recommend you take in the experience when you’re in Atlanta.

Here’s some more pictures from the Georgia Aquarium and a video!


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