Georgia Aquarium’s Manta Rays Test New Technology to Help Their Oceanic Counterparts

Tech nerds always want in on beta testing of the hottest new advances. They’d be envious of the manta rays at Georgia Aquarium, who recently got to try out new IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) tags designed to track the migration patterns and seasonality of giant oceanic manta rays that live in the waters near Canaveral Shoals, Florida.

Jake Levenson, a marine biologist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)  said, “tapping the unique skills and resources of the experts at Georgia Aquarium was crucial to the development, design and testing of the IMU tags in a controlled environment before BOEM uses them in the wild.” One of BOEM’s functions is to oversee dredging ocean sand for beach nourishment, shore protection and wetland restoration. The tagging giant ocean mantas will help BOEM understand their habits to avoid disturbing these endangered fish during dredging operations.

with the collaboration between BOEM and Georgia Aquarium focused  on innovative techniques to track manta rays. After a series of obstacles to gathering migratory information due to inclement weather, the COVID-19 pandemic, and difficulty both applying IMU tags and getting them to adhere to the manta rays, the team focused their attention fully to inventing open-access techniques and technologies to study manta rays. Georgia Aquarium is the only aquarium in the United States that provides care for manta rays, and the mantas living at the aquarium helped test their prototypes.

“Testing the IMU tags at Georgia Aquarium provided a controlled environment that allowed the engineers to improve on the tag and attachment design with each deployment to hopefully one day result in success in the field,” said Katelyn Herman, manager of conservation programs at Georgia Aquarium and a researcher on the project .  In-house trials with the Aquarium’s manta rays led to a series of improvements to address floatation, orientation and improved hydrodynamic flow.

When suction using compressed air failed to adhere the tags, the team turned to Vaseline, Manuka honey and finally peanut butter(!) to improve retention times. “Peanut butter gave us the best results by far, enabling retention for up to four hours,” Herman said.

The open-source IMU tag design will provide a resource for future research to understand this elusive and important endangered species, Herman said. “Georgia Aquarium’s manta rays played a big part in assisting the ongoing conservation efforts of their species.”

To learn more about Georgia Aquarium’s conservation work, click here.

Georgia Aquarium Receives First Gold Certification from WheelChariot

WheelChariot is a platform focused on improving accessibility for people with disabilities.

Georgia Aquarium has achieved a remarkable milestone by becoming the first Gold Certified organization recognized by WheelChariot, a pioneering platform dedicated to promoting accessibility for people with disabilities. This distinctive certification underscores the Aquarium’s unwavering commitment to inclusivity, making it a leading accessible destination in the Atlanta metro area.

 

WheelChariot is a local Georgia-based organization, founded by graduates from the Georgia Institute of Technology, whose focus is forming a more inclusive society where everyone has equal access to goods and services. WheelChariot’s platform provides businesses with the tools and insights needed to enhance accessibility and foster an environment of inclusion. By providing a unique opportunity for businesses to receive first-hand feedback, engage with and learn from a vibrant community dedicated to improving accessibility; WheelChariot helps businesses, like Georgia Aquarium, improve their accommodations based on real user experiences.

 

“We at WheelChariot are deeply grateful and immensely proud of Georgia Aquarium’s commitment to accessibility and inclusivity,” said Gabriel Jones, CEO of WheelChariot. “Their decision to trust in a homegrown initiative spearheaded by Georgia entrepreneurs speaks volumes of their dedication not only to superior guest experiences but also to fostering a supportive local community. As passionate advocates for Atlanta, we dream of seeing our beloved city become a leading hub for accessible tourism. Georgia Aquarium’s trailblazing achievement in receiving the first WheelChariot Gold Certification not only marks a significant milestone in their journey towards inclusivity but also sets an exemplary model for others. We fervently hope that their leadership and commitment inspire many more establishments to join us in this vital endeavor. Together, we can make Atlanta a beacon for accessibility and inclusivity, ensuring that every visitor, regardless of ability, enjoys the rich, diverse experiences our city has to offer.”

 

Through the WheelChariot for Business initiative, establishments like Georgia Aquarium not only have the opportunity to highlight their commendable efforts, but also gain public-facing certification. This certification allows businesses to proudly promote their commitment to inclusivity, assuring visitors of their dedication to providing accessible experiences for all.

 

In 2018, Georgia Aquarium became the first aquarium designated as a Certified Autism Center.

Last fall, it was named KultureCity’s Sensory Inclusive Venue of the Year for training more than 80% of staff and volunteers on compassionately and effectively working with guests on the autism spectrum and providing sensory features for those who need or want them. Georgia Aquarium is also honored to have hosted more than 2,900 military personnel and guests who have been physically, emotionally, or mentally wounded through their Veterans Immersion Program, offering swims or dives 365 days a year. Now, being recognized as the first WheelChariot Gold Certified organization the Aquarium’s hopes to continue expanding efforts to make their facility accessible to all by setting the example of best practices. This Gold Certification recognizes Georgia Aquarium’s exceptional efforts to make their facility accessible to all through the wide range of accessibility measures, including but not limited to: providing wheelchairs, golf carts, tactile and specialized exhibit information, and a sensory room. The Aquarium’s encounter programs are also all designed with accessibility in mind, ensuring every guest the opportunity to participate in these experiences.

 

“We are honored to be the first organization to receive Gold Certification from WheelChariot,” said Sam Herman, director of guest programs at Georgia Aquarium. “Every year, we see millions of guests come through our doors. Our commitment to accessibility extends beyond the basics, demonstrating our passion for providing a memorable and enriching experience for every visitor. Georgia Aquarium’s mission is to inspire awareness and preservation of our aquatic world, and we believe that every individual, regardless of their abilities, should have the opportunity to be a part of this mission.”

 

Georgia Aquarium’s journey toward achieving WheelChariot Gold Certification reflects on their incredible dedication to creating a more accessible and inclusive environment for guests with disabilities. With this new achievement, Georgia Aquarium aims to set a new standard for accessibility in the metro Atlanta community.

 

Together, WheelChariot and Georgia Aquarium are taking a significant step forward in setting a higher standard for accessibility in Atlanta, and hope this certification serves as an inspiration for other businesses looking to promote accessibility and inclusivity.

 

To learn more about Georgia Aquarium’s accessibility offerings, please visit georgiaaquarium.org.

 

For more information about WheelChariot, please visit wheelchariot.io.

 

For photos and videos, please see below:

Photos

Video


For further information or media inquiries, please contact:

Gabriel Jones

CEO, WheelChariot

(678) 730-4778

gabriel@wheelchariot.io

 

Hannah Hardwick

Public Relations Specialist, Georgia Aquarium

hhardwick@georgiaaquarium.org

Marine Mammal Longevity Study Reveals Remarkable Advances in Animal Welfare

Marine mammals in modern zoos and aquariums are living two to three times longer than wild counterparts, according to a new study.

A new study provides compelling evidence that animal care and management practices at zoos and aquariums have significantly improved over time. The study, led by Species360 and University of Southern Denmark Research Scientist Dr. Morgane Tidière in collaboration with 41 co-authors from academic, governmental, and zoological institutions around the world, including Georgia Aquarium, is the first to examine life expectancy and lifespan equality together as a proxy of population welfare in marine mammal species.

 

The study also found that marine mammal species live longer in zoological institutions than in the wild as a result of advances in animal care practices centred on animal welfare. The results have been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

 

Study authors used the same statistical methods used to assess improvements in human population welfare to analyse data from the world’s largest database of information on wildlife in human care – the Species360 Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS).

 

The study examined 200 years worth of data from ZIMS, dating as far back as the early 1800s up until 2020, to look at whether four marine mammal species – the harbour seal, California sea lion, polar bear, and common bottlenose dolphin – have seen improved conditions of life in human care, and whether that can be observed through a progressive concentration of individuals reaching old age.

 

Applying the same methodology using additional data sources for wild populations, the authors examine whether these four marine mammal species are living longer lives in zoos and aquariums, compared to their counterparts in the wild.

 

The study authors found that the life expectancy of the four marine mammal species has increased by over three times, and that the rate of deaths in the first year of life has declined by up to 31% over the last century in zoos and aquariums included in the study. Additionally, the life expectancy of these species in zoos and aquariums is currently two to three times longer than their counterparts in the wild.

 

“The advances in care provided to marine mammals is remarkable, and it’s gratifying to look data from numerous institutions over many years and validate that marine mammals living in aquariums and zoos are living long, healthy lives,” said Eric Gaglione, Vice President of Zoological Operations at Georgia Aquarium and a co-author on the study.

In addition to looking at how long these four species are living, researchers looked at how many of them are living well by examining lifespan equality which can show if a population is consistently living longer lives and avoiding less predictable, earlier causes of death. Researchers found conclusively that the four species have a progressively increasing lifespan equality across time in zoological institutions. They also highlight that current populations of the four species living in zoological institutions included in the study have a higher lifespan equality than their counterparts in the wild.

The researchers found a significant improvement in longevity and lifespan equality for the four species from the 1990s onwards, which is believed to be a result of advancements in zoological practices, such as implementing advanced veterinary, environmental, nutritional and enrichment measures, as well as the voluntary cooperation of animals in routine examinations through positive reinforcement training.

 

These improvements in how progressive zoos and aquariums care for animals is a result of the establishment of regional and national zoo associations, accreditation standards, coordinated breeding programs, shared databases and professional networks which foster knowledge sharing – thereby collectively improving animal welfare.

 

Lead study author, Dr. Morgane Tidière, Species360, commented on the significance of the study, saying; “Our findings indicate that significant progress has been made in enhancing the welfare of marine mammals in zoological institutions, as a result of improvements in management practices in progressive zoos and aquariums. Professional zoos and aquariums of today cannot be compared to zoos 30 years ago.” Dr. Tidière continues: “This kind of research is possible as a result of the standardised data collected and shared by Species360 member zoos and aquariums around the world.”

 

The study authors note that these results reflect the average welfare of marine mammals in Species360 member facilities, rather than demonstrating a global minimum standard achieved by all zoos and aquariums worldwide. Nonetheless, these findings serve as evidence of positive progress in the management and care of animals within professional  zoological facilities. The researchers hope the findings inspire other institutions, which are not part of professional zoo and aquarium bodies, to invest time and resources into enhancing their animal management practices.

 

The results of this study contribute to the ongoing dialogue surrounding the wellbeing of animals in zoos and aquariums and may help inform future policy decisions. It demonstrates the importance of scientific research in understanding and improving the lives of animals in zoological institutions. The preliminary results have already informed legislative decisions in France and Spain, guiding evidence-based choices regarding the care of marine mammals in these settings.

The full study can be read here: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2023.1895.

 

Marine Mammal Longevity Study Reveals Remarkable  Advances in Animal Welfare

 

Additional Notes:

  • The four species in the study, harbour seal, California sea lion, polar bear, and common bottlenose dolphin were chosen to study as these species have the largest sample sizes and represent 63.4% of all marine mammals recorded in the global Species360 Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS).
  • The study examined data on 8,864 individuals of four marine mammal species.
  • More than 1,200 zoological institutions in over 100 countries worldwide record animal data in the Species360 Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS).

 


For further information or media inquiries, please contact:

Gavrielle Kirk-Cohen, Species360
communications@species360.org

Paige Hale, Georgia Aquarium
phale@georgiaaquarium.org

A Close Encounter with Georgia Aquarium

Experience some of your favorite aquatic animals up close and personal.

They’re back! Georgia Aquarium is excited to relaunch several animal encounter programs, just in time for the holidays! Guests can once again experience some of their favorite Aquarium animals up close and personal.

During these encounters, guests will go behind the scenes to learn more about their favorite animals from the trainers who care for them every day. In some encounters, they will also get an exclusive opportunity to participate in a training or feeding session while learning more about the Aquarium’s rescue, research, and conservation initiatives. Walk away with an unforgettable experience and a souvenir photo to share with their family and friends.

Visit the links below to learn more about each encounter program and to reserve your spot:

Sea Otter Encounter*

Beluga Encounter*

African Penguin Encounter*

Dolphin Encounter

Harbor Seal Encounter

Sea Lion Encounter

Shark & Ray Interaction

Journey with Gentle Giants — Swim

Journey with Gentle Giants — Dive

*Relaunched program – now available!

 

Please note that our encounter programs have age, weight, and/or height requirements, be sure to review all inclusions and restrictions before booking your encounter.

For guests who may need special accommodations, every effort will be made to assist with participation in our encounter programs. Please call our Call Center at (404) 581-4000 to make your reservation.

To learn more about our programs and to purchase tickets, please visit our website. These encounter spots do go fast, so reserve today! Looking to give the best gift? Get them an animal encounter or gift certificate to use towards the encounter of their choice!

Be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and TikTok.

Caring for the Ocean’s Gentle Giants

Georgia Aquarium is one of the few facilities in the world to house whale sharks. Learn more about what it takes to care for the ocean’s largest fish.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and the largest known to have lived on this planet. They can be found offshore in the tropical Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans – and at Georgia Aquarium.

Caring for the largest fish in the sea is quite a task and requires the involvement of several different teams:

Animal care, dive, life support systems, environmental health lab, commissary research, and veterinary staff all are involved in the daily care of the whale sharks at Georgia Aquarium.

The dive team

Oversees the daily maintenance of the 6.3-million-gallon Ocean Voyager Exhibit the Aquarium’s whale shark’s call home. The dive team is in charge of cleaning this exhibit in its entirety; from the rocks on the exhibit floor to the nearly 20-foot-tall viewing window. All this cleaning ensures our animals have a healthy habitat to call home. This team also oversees our Swim with Gentle Giants and Dive with Gentle Giants programs. Along with our Veterans Immersion Program, helping guests and veterans get up close and personal with these incredible animals. With all these responsibilities, our dive team spends the most time in the water with our whale sharks.

The Environmental Health Lab team

Monitors the water quality in all the Aquarium’s exhibits, including Ocean Voyager. Monitoring all levels (from salinity levels to air quality and lighting) to ensure the environment is properly set up and maintained to accommodate each species.

The commissary team

Is vital because they prepare and organize all food for the Aquarium’s thousands of animals. Although their mouths can be nearly four feet in length, whale sharks are filter feeders. Their esophagi are only about the size of a quarter. They are fed an assortment of shrimp, krill, and small fish several times each day, totaling nearly 40 lbs of food a day per whale shark.

The Life Support Systems (LSS) team

Is responsible for the operation, care, and upkeep of Georgia Aquarium’s aquatic exhibits. Alongside the Environmental Health Lab team, our LSS team ensures all exhibits receive the proper salinity levels. Since Georgia Aquarium is land-locked without direct access to the ocean, our LSS teams create saltwater that would mimic that of the ocean. Georgia Aquarium recycles 99% of the water throughout all exhibits, over 11 million gallons in total.

To learn more about whale sharks and Georgia Aquarium’s research and conservation efforts, please visit our website.

Since opening in 2005, the Aquarium’s research team has studied whale sharks across the globe in places like Mexico, Taiwan, and the Galapagos Islands. During this field work, our teams have been able to successfully tag whale sharks to track migratory patterns and take blood draws to analyze their current health status.  This endangered species faces numerous threats. Our teams are working both at home and in the field to help conserve these gentle giants for generations to come.

 

Be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and TikTok.

Georgia Aquarium Aids in the Conservation of Coral

Corals Need Our Help

This summer has seen rising temperatures, both on land and in the water. The rising temperature of the ocean’s waters can be damaging to many species, including coral reefs. Rising water temperatures can also lead to coral bleaching (the process where corals are stressed by changes in their environment and expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white). Corals rely on these symbiotic algae for nutrition, without them they are exposed to disease and death.

 

Georgia Aquarium has been actively involved in coral restoration and conservation since 2010.

Partnering with organizations like the Coral Restoration Foundation to aid in their efforts to effectively grow coral fragments in an underwater nursery near Molasses Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The Aquarium recently partnered with the Coral Restoration Foundation on the creation of a “Coral Bus”. This cutting-edge system is the first of its kind and was designed to assist with the transport of nursery-raised corals to their new homes within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

 

Georgia Aquarium also joined the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project in 2018.

This project is a major undertaking by zoos and aquariums across the nation. Select facilities are working with federal and state agencies to save susceptible coral species along the Florida Reef Tract. Since March 2019, nearly 2000 corals have been placed in 19 facilities managed by AZA-accredited institutions across 12 states – including Georgia Aquarium. As a part of this project, Aquarium staff have been involved in rescuing and housing coral to reintroduce back into the ocean and repopulate the reefs that have been devastated by disease and coral bleaching. It may be quite some time until the ocean is healthy enough to support these corals, but the Aquarium is dedicated to their care until that time.

 

Coral reefs play a huge role in our ocean’s ecosystem, supporting nearly 25% of all marine life. Coral reefs also protect our coastlines from storms and erosion, provide jobs for local communities, and support global fishing industries. Georgia Aquarium is undoubtedly dedicated to the conservation of coral. By caring for them in Atlanta, assisting organizations in Florida, and propagating existing coral from our exhibits to learn from them we continue to understand ways to protect these incredible animals.

 

Want to get involved? There are a few things you can do to help save our ocean’s coral:

  • Be sure to use reef-friendly sunscreen.
  • Recycle and dispose of trash properly.
  • Use less impactful modes of transportation.
  • Practice safe and responsible diving and snorkeling.
  • Save energy at home and at work; reduce your carbon emissions wherever and whenever you can.
  • Lastly – spread the word!

 

Remember: coral is an animal, not a plant! do not touch or remove corals if you see them in the ocean!

 

To learn more about Georgia Aquarium’s efforts to save coral, please visit our website.

 

Be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and TikTok.

Buy Tickets