Are you looking to swim with whale sharks? Atlanta is the place to be! We were able to take part in this unique experience at the Georgia Aquarium, and I have one word to describe it: Incredible!
Whether you’re an avid diver or a never-even-gone-snorkeling aquarium enthusiast, this experience is something you’ll remember for a long, long time.
The staff at the Georgia Aquarium are so well-trained in marine biology, ecology, and the encounter experience that they really put you at ease (and get you excited) about getting into the water with some of the world’s largest fish. Once you’re swimming, you may never want to get out. It’s seriously that cool.
Ready to learn more? Here’s everything you need to know about the Journey with the Gentle Giants swim at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia.
SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS ATLANTA: WHAT TO EXPECT
The Journey with the Gentle Giants swim is the only opportunity in the world where you are guaranteed to swim with whale sharks, manta rays and more. You’ll get to swim with a snorkel in the Ocean Voyager exhibit, built by The Home Depot, with thousands of amazing animals for an unforgettable experience.
The swim with whale sharks is a 2.5-hour experience that begins with an education component. The discussion includes details about the swim/dive and the animals you are about to see. (Hint: it’s more than just whale sharks!)
Then, you’re off to the locker rooms to change into a wetsuit. (The Georgia Aquarium swim with whale sharks program includes all of the equipment; all you need to bring is your swimsuit and enthusiasm!)
During this special program, you will get to spend 30 minutes in the water, and you’ll leave with a souvenir photo and a t-shirt.
Participants must be at least 12 years old, and those under 18 must be accompanied by a participating adult. The cost of the experience does not include admission tickets. Journey with the Gentle Giants swim is an add-on experience.
General Admission Ticket: Georgia Aquarium Skip-the-Box-Office Entry Ticket
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Want more fish?! Check out some of these great Georgia Aquarium activities!
- Skip-the-Box-Office Entry Ticket. Enjoy skip-the-purchase-line tickets to the Georgia Aquarium, which has an interactive 4D theater and 7 different areas containing more than 10 million gallons of water and thousands of sea creatures.
- Take a virtual tour of the Ocean Voyager exhibit. Experience the thrill of the Georgia Aquarium from the comfort of your home.
- Get the Atlanta CityPASS® and save 44% at 5 Top Attractions (including the Aquarium!). See Atlanta’s top attractions, handpicked and packaged together at significant savings. Valid for 9 consecutive days from first use, the Atlanta CityPASS® lets you spend less & experience more.
After you’re changed, the swim/dive team outfits you with a snorkel, face mask, gloves and shoes. Surprisingly, my biggest concern about the Journey with the Gentle Giants was not swimming alongside a none-ton sharks; instead, I was preoccupied with fears that my mask wouldn’t fit right or that I would have trouble breathing through my mouth.
Thankfully, the divers assisting me very patiently adjusted and re-adjusted my face mask until I felt comfortable enough to get in the water. (They are really pretty amazing!) Once I was in the water, all my worries were washed away (pun intended) as I looked down and saw a giant manta ray swimming beneath me. Next to the gentle giants, this guy was my favorite. His skin looked like crushed velvet.
If you are an unsure swimmer, or have never been snorkeling, don’t worry — the divers take care of you. We had a woman in our group who had never snorkeled before. The team made sure to stay with her and even held her hand during the dive. She was rewarded when the whale shark swam so close, it touched her. Talk about up close and personal!
Read More: MEETING THE GEORGIA AQUARIUM OTTERS CAN’T BE MISSED (+ OTHER FUN ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS!)
IN THE WATER
While in the water, three aquarium divers accompany you; one to lead, one to film and another to make sure everyone (fish and participants) are safely interacting with each other.
The swim or dive lasts 30 – 40 minutes, during which time you swim in a figure-eight pattern (just like the whale sharks) around the Ocean Voyager tank — which contains a whopping 6.3 million gallons of water. The whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium were very curious and swam right up to us several times.
One tip to remember: By swimming in a tighter pack, you increase the chances of getting an up-close look at the whale sharks because you look like any other school of fish.
For some reason, I tended to be the problem fish, always floating away from the school. But the Georgia Aquarium team made sure to push me back into place, yet were good to wait until the gentle giant swimming near had passed.
Another tip: If you have long hair like I do, make sure to pull it back before getting into the water. I kept trying to move my hair out of the way and that’s when my mask got a little off kilter.
Read More: A GEORGIA AQUARIUM SLEEPOVER: 16 IMPORTANT THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
After you’re done swimming with whale sharks, you’ll shower and change into dry clothes. The water in the tank is pretty cold (it’s temperature controlled at 76°F), so I recommend bringing a sweatshirt to snuggle in afterward.
The group meets again in the education room to talk about the swim/dive and to view the video. (How they get it edited so fast is beyond me.)
Everyone receives a group photo (taken in full dive gear BEFORE getting in the water) and a t-shirt. The video can be purchased for $50. It’s worth every penny.
IS SWIMMING WITH THE SHARKS SAFE?
My father was concerned when I told him my son and I were going to swim with whale sharks. He cautioned that he didn’t think that was such a hot idea. Those things were big. What if they got hungry?
I assured him that the whale sharks only eat krill, and even if they did get a taste for humans, their golf ball sized esophagus wouldn’t allow it. The Georgia Aquarium swim with whale sharks is perfectly safe. All the fish in the tank are well fed, and aquarium divers are there to make sure everyone behaves.
It’s also safe for the sharks! The aquarium pool is filtered very well, so there’s no risk of contaminates. It would be no different than you swimming at the beach – easy enough without harming the sharks there.
WHY THE AQUARIUM IS THE BEST PLACE TO SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS
The Georgia Aquarium is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where you can go swimming with whale sharks; and probably the only place in the world where you can swim with such a diverse variety of fish.
Our experience was pretty amazing, but not just because of the whale sharks. In addition to those gentle giants, I was most impressed with the black velvet-like manta rays, one had to be at least five feet from tip-to-tip. The Georgia Aquarium remains the only aquarium in North America to exhibit manta rays, so this was truly an experience in itself.
We saw schools of giant grouper, and sharks too. I thought of my dad as I watched the sawtooth shark glide along the bottom. The spotted rays were the most prevalent, and their strange head reminded me of Sam the Eagle from the Muppets. I guess that is why they are called spotted eagle rays.
Are you ready to do this? It makes an incredible gift for someone who loves the ocean or ocean creatures! Birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries…sign up now! You won’t regret it.
General Admission Ticket: Georgia Aquarium Skip-the-Box-Office Entry Ticket
MORE GEORGIA AQUARIUM WATER EXPERIENCES
Looking for more experiences at the Georgia Aquarium? In addition to swimming the the whale sharks, there are a few more adventures you can add-on to your aquarium visit.
- Shark Cage Dive. See the sharks up close with a cage dive at the Predators of the Deep gallery. You do not have to be dive certified to participate, but you must be at least 12 years old.
- Journey with Gentle Giants – Dive. This experience in the Ocean Voyager exhibit is similar to the swim, but this is a dive that requires participants to be Open Water SCUBA certified.
- Behind the Seas Tour. This $15.99 tour doesn’t get you *in* the water — but it does get you above it! This is a backstage tour of the most popular exhibits at the Georgia Aquarium. You’ll be able to see the animals when you visit the topside of the galleries. A fun and easy add-on the whole family will love.
- Dolphin Encounter. Meet the dolphins face-to-face at the dolphin theater during this fun encounter. You can touch and feed the dolphins, and participate in a training session to learn how the aquarium cares for the dolphins here.
- Penguin Encounter. Visit the Cold Water Quest gallery and visit with the penguins on this behind the scenes tour. You’ll learn how they care for these fun animals and about their conservation initiatives.
- Sea Lion Encounter. Have you ever wanted to train a sea lion? Well now you can! Go behind the scenes and interact with the sea lions, then enjoy a tour of the California sea lion facility, learn more about the animals, and participate in a training session.
- Shark & Ray Interaction. Get on a wetsuit and get up close and personal with sharks and rays at the Predators of the Deep Gallery. This fun animal interaction is for ages 7 and up.
- Harbor Seal Encounter. Go behind the scenes of the Cold Water Quest gallery and visit with the seals. You’ll enjoy a tour of the facility, learn more about the animals, take part in a training session, and take home a photo.
SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS ATLANTA FAQ
Can you swim with whale sharks in Atlanta?
Yes! You can swim with whale sharks in Atlanta at Georgia Aquarium. Journey with Gentle Giants is the only opportunity in the world where you are guaranteed to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. You will swim at the surface of the Ocean Voyager exhibit with a snorkel and flotation device.
How much does it cost to swim with whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium?
As of 2023, the Journey with Gentle Giants swim experience is $245.99 for members and $259.99 for non-members. The price does not include aquarium admission.
Do whale sharks get aggressive?
Whale sharks are called gentle giants for a reason u002du002d they are not aggressive and don’t threaten humans. Even though their size may be intimidating, they are not bothered by humans.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO GEORGIA
- YOUR GEORGIA VACATION
- ATLANTA CITYPASS: NOW BETTER THAN EVER
- ATLANTA: 53+ THINGS TO DO IN ATLANTA YOU SHOULD NOT MISS (FROM A LOCAL)
- DOWNTOWN ATLANTA: 29 REASONS THIS WILL BE YOUR FAMILY’S NEXT FAVORITE VACATION
- FREE ATL: 50+ FREE THINGS TO DO IN ATLANTA (THAT DON’T SUCK)
WHERE TO STAY IN ATLANTA
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