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Celebrating 11 Years at Georgia Aquarium 

Celebrating 11 Years

November 23, 2016

Written by Imogen Farris, Public Relations Coordinator 

Since originally opening on November 23, 2005, Georgia Aquarium has had its fair share of house guests. New animals have been added over the years, such as a second manta ray in 2009, bottlenose dolphins in 2011, and the recently rescued California sea lions earlier this year. However, there are multiple species of animals that have called Georgia Aquarium home since the very beginning. We will be highlighting a few of these species, all of whom are growing and thriving. To learn more about each species, please click on the name to view our animal guide.

There are two species of garden eels – the spotted and the splendid. Both species are found in our Tropical Diver gallery. No garden eels have been added to the habitat since we opened, and the colony is thriving! Garden eels are peculiar in that they live in sand burrows, digging in tail first. It is common to see a whole colony facing the same direction, typically into the current, to help eat zooplankton that floats by.

Letting the garden els out safe on the bottom to find their new home.
Garden eels today, situated in their home in our Tropical Diver gallery.

It isn’t uncommon for people to mistake coral for a plant, but in reality, corals are animals! All species of coral, hard and soft, have tentacles that help capture food. A majority of the corals at Georgia Aquarium can be seen in our mesmerizing Pacific Barrier Reef habitat. Corals grow at different rates depending on the species or type of coral. The corals you see at Georgia Aquarium grow at a steady rate since we are able to provide them with ideal conditions to help promote growth, including consistent water quality parameters and an environment that has no predators. (You can see with the example of the coral pictured the growth it has had since it was placed in the main reef habitat back in 2005.) Some of the corals that have been added in over the years have come from confiscations made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife department. These confiscations occur when someone tries to bring exotic animals into the country illegally.

The inner diameter showing its original size, about 6 inches, when it was first placed.
The current size and growth ring of the coral which is now close to 17 inches in diameter

The harlequin sweetlips, another resident of the vibrant Pacific Barrier Reef habitat, was originally part of a rescue by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife department. The juvenile sweetlips survived a shipment from the Philippines, in which it exhibited signs of being collected by cyanide. Thanks to quick action and care from our well-trained staff of veterinarians, the sweetlips found its forever home at Georgia Aquarium and has been flourishing ever since. Additionally, this fish was just a few inches long when it arrived, and today is about two feet long, demonstrating how our habitats are created to support growing residents. 

Harlequin sweetlip as a juvenile Harlequin sweetlip now as an adult

You can find this fish in our kelp forest habitat located in our Cold Water Quest gallery where it has resided over the past decade along with all the other animals in that habitat. One distinguishing characteristic of the sheephead is that this fish has the ability to change sex from female to male, a process known as sequential hermaphroditism. For instance, the most dominant female can change to male and take control of the group, usually happening when there is loss of the former dominant male. The transformation can take months, completely changing the physical appearance and size of the fish.

You can see these striped fish swimming in our Ocean Voyager habitat today but they were originally in our Georgia Explorer gallery at opening. This species has helped to educate millions of our guests through the years about animals that live right off the coast of Georgia. The black drum is silver and grey in color and has barbels on its chin, often resembling a “beard” of sorts.

Black drum

Alligator gars can live for approximately 50 to 60 years, and we are excited for the many years to come with them at the Aquarium! You can see these long and slender fish in our River Scout gallery, swimming above you as you walk through the gallery. This unique species can be recognized by their long snouts and oblong bodies.


The longevity of our animals is a testament to our expert animal care and health efforts. We’re excited to share this with you and see these animals continue to grow.  While just a small amount of the animals who have been with us for the past decade, we hope you will come see them for yourselves!

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