Thursday, December 18, 2008

Whale Sharks Just an Arm's Length Away

The first time we went to Atlanta we were woefully unprepared for the onslaught of really great restaurants. We stayed in a hotel downtown and were given a list of recommended restaurants by the front desk. The list was 3 pages long, and was printed on both sides of the paper. This time around we expected that our trip would be punctuated by one terrific meal after another, with a dive with the whale sharks in the Georgia Aquarium for dessert.

On Monday we left Alon’s Bakery (oh, Alon, if I wasn’t already married…) after another wonderful lunch and said to Todd “We should be careful when we go on the dive today, they’re going to mistake us for whale sharks and forget to let us out of the tank.”

We arrived at the aquarium after lunch, already familiar with the exhibits. On Sunday we spent the entire day there exploring every gallery. We stared in awe at the gorgeous whale sharks as they lazily swam through the water. We watched the beluga whales gracefully turn somersaults through the water, with a grin on their faces. Our mouths hung open at the sight of the giant reef whose tank arched over our heads. Words cannot do the aquarium justice. The habitats are beautiful, the animals graceful and plentiful. We also took a behind the scenes tour on Sunday afternoon, and learned a great deal about how the animals live at the aquarium. How their food is prepared, how they are cared for and we watched the caretakers feed the belugas and the whale sharks.

On Monday the anticipation bubbled inside of us. We geared up and sat on a dock on the edge of the Ocean Voyager exhibit and watched the four whale sharks circle below us, the largest one measured 26 feet long. We watched the hammer head shark skulk around near the bottom, and the 9 foot long manta ray flap along around the edges of the tank. The dive masters helped us into our gear, and we dropped into the water.

The 75 degree water gave me a bit of a chill at first as I descended to the bottom. I clenched my teeth just to keep my regulator in my mouth, because I knew that my mouth would hang open and I’d drop it. Five thousand fish swirled around me as I kneeled on the bottom. The whale sharks circled above us.

We were led in a figure 8 pattern through the tank, as groupers and hump head rasses approached to investigate and massage themselves on our bubbles. A whale shark passed to our left, close enough so that Todd could barely extend his arm and touch it, if we were allowed to touch them. The hammer head shark swam directly in front of us, his tail fin a mere centimeter from Todd’s face.

We waved at the visitors who watched us on the other side of the glass. We kneeled at the bottom again and just watched the fish in the habitat in 3D as they approached us, and they swam in their patterns.

The dive master gave the thumbs up sign, and we grudgingly approached the surface, turning circles the whole way so we could just take in a few more minutes of this magical habitat that we were lucky enough to visit for just a half hour.

We surfaced and I wondered if the dive masters would notice if I just grabbed another tank and descended again.



Blogger Unknown said...

It sounds like a fabulous trip. I am so jealous! That is something I would love to do someday.

December 18, 2008 at 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

+1 to Heidi, that sounds ridiculously awesome!!

December 19, 2008 at 11:27 AM  

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