Dr. Al aka para_sight: “Hey, while you’re visiting Georgia Aquarium for the Deep Sea News retreat, I can offer you the opportunity to dive in the Ocean Voyager exhibit, which is our (and the world’s) biggest tank, featuring 4 whale sharks, 4 manta rays and about 8,000 other sharks and fishes.”
Dr. M & I: “SQUEEEEEE!!!!!!!”*
So what does it feel like to dive in the world’s biggest tank? EPIC. The animals on exhibit inside Ocean Voyager are habituated to divers, so they don’t avoid you at all. In the first five minutes of the dive, three snaggly-toothed sand tiger sharks came right at us, shifting at the last moment to swim over our heads. A giant grouper tried to snuggle with Dr. M, and a guitarfish nibbled lightly on my fins. I have never been so close to so many laid-back fish.
The gentle giants for which the exhibit is named – whale sharks and manta rays – frolicked mostly over our heads. In order to avoid becoming giant-fish-roadkill, the divers stay in the lower third of the tank, but we had plenty of time to admire the manta ray backflipping in our bubbles and the whale sharks gliding above. In the below video, we are the first two divers – Dr. M is the bald one.
I loved the fish-eye view of the people, too. The look of total astonishment and joy when a kid realized that a diver was waving JUST TO THEM was fantastic. Unfortunately Dr. M and I lack all dignity appropriate to our station.
My one suggestion? There was almost no science content given to the divers before our plunge. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that groupers are territorial (and often very overfished & endangered) or that manta rays have warm blood in their brains or that the aquarium’s whale sharks were rescued from the seafood trade? A few factoids can go a long way. I’d also like to see a more explicit conservation message – during the dive I kept thinking that we really must ensure that exhibit dives like this are a fun extra, and not the only way to see the living ocean.
Dr. M and I came up giggling with nerdy glee. Fortunately Al was there to capture the moment:
Special thanks goes to our gracious host the Georgia Aquarium, the Coral Reef Alliance for lodging, and AirTran for covering travel.
*That sound should in no way be interpreted to resemble any noise made by a dolphin. Deep Sea News bloggers make only dignified science-type sounds, not poncy “oh! look how psychic my rainbows are!” sounds.