Swimming With Whale Sharks In Downtown Atlanta!
UNLIKLEY PLACE FOR WHALE SHARKS
While the sun heats up downtown Atlanta on a summer afternoon, down the street sits one of the coolest spots in all of Georgia. A place that has managed to bring together three different oceans under it's rooftop.
It's an astounding place. Home to some of the most unique, sort of creepy looking and simply amazing creatures you will ever find underwater. All under one rooftop known as the georgia aquarium.
“Six point three million gallons of water. It's like no other place in the world. Usa today just named us one of the top 12 made made attractions on the planet “ says Christopher Duncan senior dive master.
Everything at the Georgia Aquarium is big. Over 300 tons of acrylic windows. Some 60 miles of piping. And over a million pounds of sea salt, to make the waters here, seem like the real thing.
But for visitors, it's what lives in these waters that keeps them coming back for more. Creatures once thought impossible to be kept in captivity, survive and thrive perfectly here at the Georgia Aquarium. Keeping them in captivity is something I will save for another post and discussion.
“They like to hang out on the surface, that is where they are fed."
And it's these gentle giants, better known as whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, that seem to grab the most attention. They can grow up to 40 feet long. And while you can view these sharks through acrylic habitats, what if you could visit these giants face to face? You can!
DIViNG WITH WHALE SHARKS
Anyone can come sign up, pay and dive with whale sharks. There is also a snorkel swim where you don't have to be certified. The group I'm with today prepare for the encounter of a lifetime. They will head into the ocean voyager habitat, and swim side by side with these giants.
"On average, we bring many guests through our program daily. They are able to dive and swim in the worlds most largest exhibits."
After going over the do's and don't about whale sharks, the group heads to the top of the habitat. This is where they will enter the water. It's a first class experience. All the dive gear is prepared and laid out for them .
"We get you in, suit you up, all you have to be is a certified diver. We come and take care of everything. You have your wetsuits, your booties.
It's just a matter of zipping up and the group is ready to dive. There's a quick group photo, and the next thing you know, your feet our dangling just above the whale sharks.
"We have four whale sharks here. They love to say hello. The cool thing about these animals, they are very much used of people. So they are going to come extremely close."
One by one, we enter the worlds largest underwater habitat. We meet down as a group. As I adjust my mask, a giant manta ray swims overhead effortlessly. Something you don't see everyday, even in the wild. I'm amazed at the enormity and shear size of this indoor ocean. It's hold 6 million gallons of water.
"You would forget when your down there that your in Atlanta, Georgia."
You get to explore all corners of the tank. This is that 100 foot tunnel that visitors gaze through along a conveyor belt. It's a neat perspective while underwater.
"Three different oceans for the animals. From the Indian, Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. It's incredible. Some of these animals, divers have never seen in their entire life."
Aside from the animals, the dive includes people encounters. Remember that giant viewing window into the habitat? It's kind of fun to put your hands against the glass, and interact with guests on the outside. All while a whale shark swims slowly over your head. It's easy to get distracted down here. There is much to see. But the main reason for the dive for me, is the whale sharks.
"We have two females and two males. Are largest female ranging from 26, 27 feet. The biggest one on record is right around 41. So ours are still juveniles."
Even though they are juveniles, there size is still amazing. The crystal clear water is also breath taking here. I once dove with whale sharks in the wild, off the coast of Mexico, but the visibility was not like this.
'You can go anywhere in the world. Belize, Honduras, you may see some whale sharks. But your guaranteed to seem them here, Atlanta, Georgia."
Our 30 minute dive has come to an end. We head up to the surface. And for our dive master Christopher, he loves to see peoples reactions to this encounter.
'When they come up, and have that smile on their face. And they are like holy cow, that is like the greatest thing I have ever seen. They tell me always, I have the greatest job in the world. And I have to agree with them."
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT DIVING WITH WHALE SHARKS
As I get out of the water, I have just one thought to share about the dive.
"Everyone in america should do this once in their life. It's amazing."
This really is an amazing place. Everyone should visit the Georgia Aquarium. You can go to their website for pricing. And while you have to be a certified diver to scuba with the whale sharks. The aquarium also has a swim with the whale sharks encounter where no certification is needed.