Caring for the Ocean’s Gentle Giants

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

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and the largest fish 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 the 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. They monitor all levels (from salinity levels to air quality and lighting) to ensure the environment is properly set-up and maintained to accommodate each species housed.

The commissary team is one of the most important teams 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, and their esophagus 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 40lbs 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 salt water that would mimic that of the ocean. Georgia Aquarium recycles 99% of the water throughout all exhibits, over 11-million-gallons in total.

Lastly, since opening in 2005 the Aquarium’s research team has worked with whale sharks across the globe, in places like Mexico, Taiwan and the Galapagos Islands. During this field work, our teams have been able to successful 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.



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


Be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and TikTok.





Georgia Aquarium Aids in the Conservation of Coral

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 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 aquarium trailer system is the first of its kind and was designed to assist with the transport of nursery-raised corals safely to their new homes within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.


Georgia Aquarium has also joined a major undertaking by zoos and aquariums across the nation, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project in 2018. This project comprises select facilities who are working with federal and state agencies to save stony coral tissue loss disease susceptible corals species along the Florida Reef Tract. Since March of 2019, and to date, nearly 2000 corals directly from the ocean have been placed in 19 facilities managed by AZA-accredited institutions in 12 states – including Georgia Aquarium. As a part of this project, Aquarium staff have been involved in rescuing and housing coral with the goal of reintroducing these species back into the ocean to 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 for as long as it takes.


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 fishing industries around the world. Georgia Aquarium is dedicated to the conservation of coral – by caring for them in Atlanta, assisting organizations in Florida, and even propagating existing coral from our exhibits to learn from them and 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.
  • Spread the word!


Remember: coral is an animal, not a plant! They shouldn’t be touched or removed 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.

Sharks in Danger this Shark Week

Who doesn’t enjoy heading to the beach during summertime? But with the increase of visitors to beaches across the globe, the ‘hot’ topic of discussion is shark attacks.

In recent years, the worldwide average of confirmed unprovoked shark attacks has been declining. In 2022, the worldwide total was a record low at 57, compared to previous years where the average was 70. A new study, conducted by Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, also shows that the risk of a shark bite for surfers, swimmers, and divers in California, specifically, has dropped by 91 percent in the last 50 years.

Researchers have uncovered vast amounts of information regarding sharks, their behavior and feeding patterns. This information has created a deeper understanding of sharks and their important role in our ocean’s systemic balance.

With unprovoked shark attacks on the downward trajectory, what about human effects on sharks?

A recent report shows the global shark population has decreased by more than 70% in the last 50 years. This is a startlingly decline and poses a large threat to the recovery rate of these populations. But what is causing such a rapid drop?

For decades, a gruesome practice called shark finning has resulted in the mass killing of sharks worldwide. This process involves cutting off a shark’s fin while discarding the remaining body, often dumping it into the ocean. The shark finning industry is still legal in areas across the globe and has increased in the past decade due to the growing demand for shark fin soup – a popular dish in many countries.

How many sharks are killed every year?

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year. To put this into perspective – that is nearly 2 million times the number of confirmed shark attacks worldwide in 2022 (57).

How does this affect our ocean?

As an apex predator, sharks play an important role in our ocean’s ecosystem. When there is a significant decrease in any population, the results throw off the entire system’s balance. The decline of these predators causes an increased population of their prey. For example, the decline of the endangered great hammerhead has caused the population of stingrays to increase. The growing stingray population now eats more of their prey – scallops, clams, and oysters. This not only impacts these prey populations, and therefore the biodiversity of the ecosystem; but also impacts human fisheries.

It is also difficult for many shark species to reproduce as quickly as they are being diminished, due to their slow growth and reproductive rates. This makes many shark species highly susceptible to extinction. Several species of shark are already endangered, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, including the great hammerhead, zebra shark, whale shark, and over 125 other species. 98 other shark species are listed as critically endangered.

How are we helping sharks?

At Georgia Aquarium, and around the world, our teams are educating the public on the critical role sharks play in our ocean’s ecosystems. Government officials are also implementing protective regulations for endangered shark species, and in recent years, over 30 countries have placed full or partial bans on shark finning.

Research is also an important part of protecting and preserving shark species. A few years ago, Georgia Aquarium teams traveled to the Bimini Shark Lab in Bimini, Bahamas to study a variety of shark species and how pollution with microplastics affect them. Georgia Aquarium researchers were also the first to fully sequence the shark genome from blood drawn from its whale sharks, which scientists now use to study health implications with sharks and their unique adaptations.

It is imperative, now more than ever, that we spread the message on the importance of sharks to our ocean. At Georgia Aquarium, our Sharks! Predators of the Deep gallery serves to transform our guests view of sharks from fear to fascination. Many of the shark species you see in this one million gallon exhibit are endangered and serve as important ambassadors. By providing a deeper understanding of sharks, we hope to inspire compassion and create advocates to share our message of shark conservation.


Learn more about the decline of sharks and their importance to our ocean:

Reef Sharks Being Pushed to Brink of Extinction, New Research Shows

New Global Study Finds Unprecedented Shark and Ray Extinction Risk

Sharks & Rays in Rapid Global Decline: IUCN Report


Be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and TikTok.

Georgia Aquarium Provides Safe Home to Rare Bowmouth Guitarfish Pups

Georgia Aquarium is now home to three young critically endangered bowmouth guitarfish, born at a fish farm in Taiwan last summer.

Two male and one female pup came to Atlanta and are thriving in the Aquarium’s off-site aquatic facility while they grow. Each is just over three feet long and weighs about 42 pounds.

“This is an extremely rare species, and thanks to our conservation partners in Taiwan we were able to bring them to Atlanta and contribute not only to their individual protection, but open up future conservation possibilities for reproduction of these endangered animals,” said Chris Coco, senior director of aquatic sustainability at Georgia Aquarium. “These young guitarfish wouldn’t be here without many people working together to protect them.”

The pregnant female guitarfish was inadvertently caught in Taiwan in a fishing set net, which is anchored to the seabed to catch fish.

While listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the trade and consumption of this species are still legal. Online sales of bowmouth guitarfish “thorns,” or bony head growths, for jewelry also is threatening the species. Single thorns are crafted into rings, while strips of the thorns are used for bracelets. Both are readily available on Facebook Marketplace and other online sites, according to a study published recently in Conservation Science and Practice.

Bowmouth guitarfish are visually striking animals and are sought after in the fish market trade. To protect these pups from being caught in the future, it was determined they should go to facilities that have experience caring for them and that could contribute to scientific understanding to help their dwindling population numbers through research.

Georgia Aquarium recently entered a 10-year research partnership with National Taiwan Ocean University and the Taiwan Fisheries Research Institute and offered to take in some of the rescued pups and provide them with safe homes. Three other accredited aquatic facilities in North America also are caring for some of the pups.

Three adult guitarfish currently live in Georgia Aquarium’s massive Ocean Voyager habitat. For now, the pups will remain at the off-site care facility until they are large enough to move into Ocean Voyager. The species is rare in both the ocean and in aquariums, with fewer than 20 living in accredited zoological facilities in the United States.

Bowmouth guitarfish, also known as shark rays or mud skates, are a unique sight. They resemble a ray and a shark, with a flat rounded head and multiple large fins that protrude from their bodies. Spiny ridges along their back and other areas sport sharp thorns. Their mouths are curved like a bow, and their body shape resembles the guitars for which they’re named.

They’re found in Indo-West Pacific (including the Red Sea) and around East Africa, Papua New Guinea, Japan, and Australia. In 2019, the IUCN listed the species as critically endangered, victims of habitat loss, pollution, and accidental bycatch of shrimp fishers. They’re also killed frequently by dynamite fishing aimed at other species.

Reef Sharks Being Pushed to Brink of Extinction, New Research Shows

A major new research study has found that overfishing is driving coral reef sharks rapidly toward extinction, with global declines of 70% and no sharks found at all on many reefs.

Georgia Aquarium was part of the massive Global FinPrint study, published recently in the respected journal Science, which was conducted at nearly 400 reefs in 67 countries using about 23,000 underwater video stations.

Sharks keep the ocean food chain healthy, eating sick, weak animals and keeping individual species from taking over reef ecosystems. When sharks disappear, it sets off a significant chain reaction throughout the ocean.

The new research found that on reefs where sharks were gone, the number of rays had expanded significantly, creating a serious imbalance in the ocean’s food web – which many people rely on, too.

The biggest declines were in five common species: grey reef sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks, and blacktip and whitetip reef sharks.

Dayne Buddo, Ph.D. and director of Georgia Aquarium’s Global Ocean Policy, has worked extensively in the waters off Jamaica, where the research found low numbers of reef sharks, especially near the shore. In Jamaica, the issue isn’t catching of the sharks themselves, but the fish they love to eat.

Private and commercial fishing for sharks’ prey – like grouper, jacks and snapper are popular there. And when those fish disappear, so do the sharks.

Georgia Aquarium is working with Jamaica to establish large marine protected areas, or MPAs.

“The protected areas are working, but they need to be bigger and cover more areas,” Buddo said.

Where those protections are in place, sharks and the fish they eat are slowly coming back. But it will take a while for these fish species to recover.

It’s also an uphill battle to convince local communities, including fishers who hunt using spears and fish pots, to protect sharks.

“There is a tremendous fear of sharks and the overall ocean,” Buddo said. “When sharks go after the fish caught by spear fishers, it causes serious conflicts. Seeing a brother or cousin hurt by sharks seriously damages conservation efforts.

“So we must not just set aside protected areas for sharks – we have to change people’s minds about why sharks matter, and teach fishers how to avoid and protect themselves against sharks. The key is involving people – the public, schools, entire communities and government policy makers – in the solutions,” he added. “That’s where the answer lies.”

Tourism offerings, such as shark diving, can help save sharks by providing a valuable alternative way for local residents to feed their families.

Georgia Aquarium’s shark residents are helping change fear to fascination, too, by teaching visitors about sharks’ important role in our oceans.

“When we change people’s minds about these species, it’s a powerful tool to help us protect them,” Buddo said. “We’re making a difference.”

Researcher Colin Simpfendorfer of the James Cook University and the University of Tasmania was the lead author on the study, which can be found here.

Celebrate World Ocean Day at Georgia Aquarium

By Harlee Goldermann, Guest Programs Team Specialist

Have you heard June 8th is World Ocean Day? World Ocean Day is a United Nations recognized day to raise awareness, help create policy, overall inform the public of the importance of our ocean and what we can do to help protect it! Did you know that the ocean covers 70% of the planet and contributes 50% of the oxygen we breathe? Our oceans also protect us by absorbing up to 30% of carbon dioxide created by humans, which helps us with the impacts of global climate change. The ocean contains most of the earth’s biodiversity, with many of the species found on our coral reefs! Coral reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean floor but account for 25% of all known ocean life. Unfortunately, many of the species that make the coral reefs and the rest of the ocean so diverse are depleted and our ecosystems around the world are feeling the repercussions. Many of these negative impacts are caused directly by humans. Overfishing, plastic pollution, and chemical runoff are hurting our oceans and puts the need to protect our ocean and all that it does for us into a greater importance. All of this has led many to campaign for a global ocean protection effort and that is one of the many reasons why World Ocean Day came to fruition!

At Georgia Aquarium we are committed to conservation efforts that not only aim to restore coral reefs that contribute so much to the ocean’s biodiversity but also fish populations and other animals to help restore order to our ocean ecosystems! One of the ways we are doing that is by partnering with conservation institutions around the globe. Georgia Aquarium is a founding partner of the StAR Project, a project that brings facilities around the world together to help replenish zebra shark (Stegostoma tigrinum) populations in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. These waters have been protected since 2004 but zebra sharks have been functionally extinct from this area for so long that the young people of that region no longer have a common name for them in their language. Georgia Aquarium is one of 76 partners and 15 countries involved with the project. Read more about this project on

World Ocean Day was first proposed in 1992 by Canada at the Earth summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Through many years and collective efforts, it was not until December of 2008 that the United Nations General Assembly officially recognized and established June 8th as World Ocean Day. Over the years thousands have participated in global World Ocean Day events and thousands have pledged to help with their latest campaign #30×30. This is an effort to protect 30% of our planet by 2030. Currently less than 17% of our lands and only 8% of our oceans worldwide are protected. Protecting our ocean is incredibly vital as we have reached a point where we are taking more than what can be replenished without our help.

You can help our ocean this World Ocean Day, too! Come visit us at Georgia Aquarium on June 8th for World Ocean Day festivities for the whole family to enjoy and learn more! The proceeds from your visit will go towards helping us care for our animals and our conservation efforts protecting animals around the world, including our work with the StAR Project. We cannot wait to see you there! For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Buy Tickets