A work space big enough to move a whale--and schools of children, too.
The main tank, Ocean Voyager, is the largest oceanic exhibit anywhere--an indoor ecosystem with 6.2 million gallons of water and 80,000 creatures. Here, about one-quarter of the surface is visible; the yellow gantry, 135 feet long, lets staff hand-feed the four whale sharks at once so they don't nip at one another.
Fifty certified divers on staff take turns swimming with the sharks each week. Here one does the daily work of cleaning the wet-side surface of the glass--using cloth diapers.
The aquarium's 8 million gallons of water all start as Atlanta tap water, which is purified and then mixed with Instant Ocean, a concoction of salt and a range of trace minerals found in ocean water (only 2% of the exhibits are freshwater). Each bag weighs in at a full ton; the Ocean Voyager tank alone required 1,000 of them.
Keeping water flows up to speed in Ocean Voyager requires 70 massive pumps, with 16 more coming online soon. With the new pumps, the entire tank will be recirculated every 58 minutes. In all, the facility has 300 pumps, monitored 24-7.
The aquarium's medical suite includes this operating room, equipped with X-ray, ultrasound, and even anesthesia machines that perfuse water mixed with anesthesia across the gills of fish needing surgery. The staff includes three full-time vets and a full-time nutritionist.
The Georgia sun isn't strong enough to support live coral, so skylights are augmented by two banks of lamps so potent that staffers often wear sunblock. A tipping trough, left, dumps 6,000 gallons of "seawater" every two minutes to simulate waves crashing across the rock and coral below. More than 10% of the reef is already living coral.
Visitors have all but overwhelmed the new facility, with 3 million of them after just nine months. No more than 4,000 people are let in at once, so everybody gets a peek.
The aquarium dive staff conducts 20 hour-long dives every day, both scuba diving and using surface-supply air hoses. Equipment for each tank is kept segregated to avoid cross-contamination. None of the exhibits is deep enough to require decompression. But the sharks are real.