Under the Sea

It’s a little known fact that every time I get on the moving walkway at the airport I hum the Jetsons theme song quietly as I ride.

I should also mention that I wanted to belt out “Under the Sea” the entire time I spent at the Atlanta Aquarium in Georgia last week.

It all started so innocently, with an event sponsorship in the city that I had just visited last year. While I arrived very late the night before we started, I booked a flight one day after the end of the conference so I’d have time to play. Top of the list? The Botanical Gardens which I missed seeing last year and have heard rave reviews about since.

The Botanical Gardens are closed on Mondays. Womp womp.

So I went to Plan B and started looking at the Aquarium, which was just a short MARTA ride away. Also MARTA? Just like BART but more expensive for a single trip.

Anyway, I bought my ticket online early Monday morning, picked it up at Will-Call after tramping happily through Centennial Park and went right into the Aquarium as it opened.

Did I mention yet how hard it is to narrow down 514 photos to my favorite dozen? No? Well: impossible. I’ve already edited, cropped and sent my favorites for printing so I’ll have another update soon with those on the walls. Until then, here’s a little sample of what you’ll see under the sea at the aquarium:

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This was the first little guy I met. Turns out these jellyfish don’t swim as much as they float with the current which is why the tank is rounded, per the attendant, “or they’d get trapped in the corners.” Adorable.

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See, these two are not so much engaged in a very slow game of chase as they are on an inevitable collision course with the glass. Hilarity.

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While it may be hard to tell, these guys were HUGE. They dwarfed the little baby jellyfish in the first tank and had 8 or 10 in the same space. Which resulted in several tentacle tangles (say that 5 times fast) that I’m sure they’re still sorting out.

Ethereal no? I want this in glow in the dark paint for my bathroom stat.

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The tropical fish were as bright and fun as I remembered from snorkeling, just smaller. The aquarium has these small vignettes, to steal a design term, with specific species and settings. But then they had these giant tanks:

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In the early morning there were actually divers in the tank cleaning, something that happened in a few other tanks as well.

It was much harder to get good pictures in these areas so I mostly stuck to the animals I like most.

Like the belugas.

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This is Maris, an adult female beluga whale. She’s fat because she’s pregnant and in 4 months there will be a baby beluga! The male who knocked her up, Beethoven, was sent away “to do the same thing” in Chicago. There were two adolescent belugas in the tank as well but they were hiding off to the side.

While somewhat hard to photograph, Maris would swim in wide sweeping passes right up to the glass. An adorable little kid asked the attendant, “is it your pet? how did you catch her? do you take her home?” while I stood by snickering.

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This exhibit also had the worst sponsor tie ins I’ve seen. Such as “belugas eat this type of fish, but not on these plastic plates!” Right… so forgettable I don’t remember the sponsor except I think I saw that plastic plate in the “recycle don’t trash our ocean” box across the aquarium.

I suggested a sign “does this glass make me look fat?” with info about the pregnancy because it seemed none of the visitors knew why Maris was rubbing her head on the floor breaking up the rocks in her habitat. I guess it’s the beluga version of nesting.

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Also in this section of the aquarium were the penguins which were alternatively sitting behind water splashed glass, diving too fast for the camera or hiding in a nesting hole. You could crawl through a tunnel that had little “pop up stations” along the habitat but I’m an adult. With bad knees. And dignity.

On to the big tank.

While the aquarium has over 10 million gallons of water, the lion’s share is in this amazing exhibit complete with a walk thru tunnel (no crawling required) and whale sharks.

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Notice how you can’t even see the back of the tank where people were standing? That’s how deep this sucker was. And I loved this manta ray, he would swim lazily and then do flips in the water. Amazing.

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Doesn’t he look so happy to be swimming?

Before I do a quick recap of the exhibits, I want to circle back to my favorites. The jellies.

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On my second pass through, they had just fed these guys, it’s all the specks you see in the water. The jellyfish was capturing the food with all those tentacles as the current carried them here and there.

They really were huge but I love this image even more because you can see the dramatic colors on the crown:

fave 360

Now that’s going on my wall. Somewhere. To be determined.

Okay, recap time. If you’re planning a visit check out the Aquarium website here. It’s… okay but could really stand for a remodel and some editing.

Here are the exhibits they feature:

Cold-Water Quest – amazing. Here you’ll find the belugas, penguins, otters, sea horses, octopus, starfish, crabs and a baby beluga in March.

Tropical Diver – my favorite. Corals, reef fish, JELLYFISH, need I say more?

Ocean Voyager – the giant tank, must see. Get there early so you can get up close. Manta rays, whale sharks, lots of tiny fish, sharks, and a cool moving walkway. Jetsons theme song optional.

River Scout – eh, kinda boring. It was also late in the day with a ton of people so hard to see the exhibit around all the ankle biters children. Very cool small turtle exhibit and an albino alligator (who was camera shy).

Georgia Explorer – was closed. Boo. The giant sea turtles were beautiful on the website though so next time turtles, next time.

Dolphin Tales – this is a free show but you have to get a ticket. As soon as you walk in make a sharp left and pick one up at the help desk. The show was fun, if totally cheesy, and think it of more like a short opera with dolphins than an “about dolphins” exhibit. Seriously, guy with a light up cape singing the whole show. But the dolphins are wonderful, the trainers are in the tank for many of the tricks and they are fun to watch. The first 5-6 rows really do get wet and you might spend more time in line for a good seat than the show will last. Good for kids according to the ones around me who were wide eyed and they play several cute videos before the show to keep the natives from getting restless.

Also, there’s no photography during the show at ALL (ahem, woman in front of me who didn’t care about the rules) so take pictures of the dolphins in the tank before/after the show if you have time.

Upstairs there’s also a 4-D show which I ignored completely and another exhibit (which isn’t even on the website…) which was basically fossils and dead fish. Interesting if you’re a biologist but otherwise completely deserted and totally boring.

So there you have it, my Under the Sea voyage and photographic documentation. I did a lot of research on taking good pictures at the aquarium so if you’re going make sure you have the right equipment and settings to get the pictures you want.

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