First captive whale sharks in US

Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot and benefactor of the $200 million Georgia Aquarium, announced the arrival of the first whale sharks in a North American aquarium. The only other whale fish in captivity in the world are in Japan, according to Marcus.

Nicknamed, Ralph and Norton, the fish arrived in Atlanta in the early morning hours Friday, June 3. Atlanta-based United Parcel Service transported the two males on a 747 during a 36 hour long flight from Taiwan. Two tanks and life support systems were provided for the fish for the duration of the journey.

After arriving between 3 and 4 a.m., it took experts several hours to release the sharks into a giant tank so they could get acclimated to their new home.

“This is like opening the first Home Depot store,” said a smiling Marcus.

One fish is 15 feet long, while the second is 13 and half feet long. They could grow as large as 60 feet long. In order to accommodate their size, the aquarium built one of the largest tanks in the world. Experts had to calculate the space the fish would require to make a turn at full speed when fully grown.

“We built this aquarium for these whale sharks,” said Marcus. “We literally designed this tank before we had the building or anything else.”

Following extensive study that took place over a number of years, the Georgia Aquarium searched in the waters off Taiwan to obtain the two adolescent filter feeding whale sharks.

“We’re going to study the behaviour, how they feed all the things that are necessary for the whale sharks to survive,” said Marcus.

This whale shark, its behaviour and basic biology, is not well known by science. The Georgia Aquarium is partnering with Mote Marine Aquarium in Florida in a long term study of whale sharks.

“Our studies will not only make a difference for the wildlife in our care, but also others in the wild,” said Jeff Swanagan, Executive Director of the Georgia Aquarium.

Bernie Marcus, benefactor of the $200 million Georgia Aquarium, scheduled to open November 23, 2005 said that research and conservation endeavours, such as this for the whale shark, “is exactly in keeping with the mission” his aquarium team considered “when they envisioned the conservation and research programs the aquarium would provide.”