Atlanta Urban Snorkeling
by Tim M.
If you find yourself in the Atlanta, Georgia metro area there is a snorkel experience available that is unique: the Ocean Voyager tank at the Atlanta aquarium.
If I remember the orientation speech correctly, it is the largest tank in the world, 55,000 fish inside, and it's a collection of critters that does not normally coexist, so go anywhere you might, you won't swim with these guys anywhere else in the world.
The snorkel experience is done in the late afternoon, costs around $200, includes all equipment, a T-shirt, a DVD of your dive, a tour of the facility, an orientation, and about 40 minutes of water time.
It's a steep price and a tad contrived, but the wildlife is worth it. The tank swarms with schools with fish that number in the hundreds. The Goliath Grouper, Potato Cod, Nassau Grouper, schooling Cow Rays, Manta Rays and Southern Sting Rays are worth the price of admission alone. But the Guitar Fish, Sawfish and shark varieties are the tank's unique occupants. I counted Blacktip, Wobegong, Sandbar, Sand Tiger, Nurse and Hammerheads represented in the lesser shark species, but the real stars are the 4 Whale Sharks.
The Whale Sharks are constantly growing, so they are bigger now, but last year the biggest was 27 feet long. They cruise the top 1/3rd of the tank, so as a snorkeler, you're buzzed by them the whole time.
I will describe one pretty heady moment to give you an idea of why this is a great time. At one point, I was appreciating a swirling mass of jacks that numbered in the hundreds when they began to part like a curtain. About six feet down a 15 foot Manta Ray swam through, followed just below and behind by a 10 foot Hammerhead Shark. Behind them was the 27 foot Whale Shark and behind him was a second slightly smaller Whale Shark.
I tried to think of a place in the world where this could also be possible. Maybe Cocos Island? Maybe, on a REAL GOOD day at Cocos, but here I could be at the movies with the girlfriend a half hour later. Urban snorkeling at it's best.