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.