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Georgia Aquarium Blog

Georgia Aquarium provides an entertaining, engaging and educational experience inspiring stewardship in conservation, research and the appreciation for the animal world. Visit us at

Georgia Aquarium
Atlanta, GA

Marineland Dolphin Adventure
St. Augustine, FL

Conservation Field Station
St. Augustine, FL

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Spectacular St. Helena!

February 23, 2015

Return from Spectacular St. Helena!

Written by: Dr. Al Dove
Director of Research and Conservation at Georgia Aquarium

After back-to-back red eye flights and 5 days steaming aboard the RMS St. Helena, I was still unprepared for the stark, breathtaking cliffs of St. Helena when they came into view. Thrust up from the abyssal seafloor 14 million years ago, the South Atlantic island grew over the next 8 million years of continuous volcanic eruptions like a giant pancake stack, alternating layers of grim grey basalt and rusty red ash. Ceaseless pounding of oceanic swells have since shaped the rocks into dizzying 400ft walls that confront the sea in all directions, with barely a break for the occasional steep-sided valley, and only one short black-sand beach for the whole island. The first visitors must have wondered “where do we land?” and so do I.

We’ve come a long, long way to study the whale sharks of St. Helena, over 6,200 miles as the crow flies but almost double that in flight and ship routes, and I’m nervous. Anyone who relies on whale sharks showing up anywhere is foolish! Could it be that we have come all this way, only to be eluded by the world’s biggest fish? Thankfully any fears are put to rest before we even set foot on the island, when my colleague Rafael shouts excitedly “Whale shark!” as we pull slowly into the anchorage opposite Jamestown. And there it is, a huge spotty behemoth, some 30ft long, turning gently away from the approaching ship. PHEW! They’re here. OK, now we can get to work.

Over the next 14 days Rafael and I work alongside staff from the St. Helena Government Environment and Natural Resources Directorate, as well as local ecotour operators and other interested parties, to document the most newly-discovered whale shark aggregation in the world. We deploy 14 satellite tags, take biopsies for genetics, gather hundreds of photo identification images to add to the global database, and make thousands of laser measurements for a project on body size estimation in free-swimming whale sharks.

Scientifically, it is an outrageous success, and marks a bold new chapter in the whale shark research program at Georgia Aquarium. My St Helenian colleagues, led by the irrepressible Elizabeth Clingham, are delighted at the team’s progress, and so am I. I can’t wait to share the news with the team back in Atlanta, and with our other partners Mote Marine Laboratory and the Marine Megafauna Foundation. The worst part is the interminable waiting to hear back from the satellite tags, which will take 6 to 12 months to pop off the animals and report back, depending on exactly how we programmed them.

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2015 Penguin Chick Announcement

February 13, 2015

2015 Penguin Chicks Are Here!

It’s one of our favorite times of the year again…penguin chick season! We are proud to introduce four new African penguin chicks, which hatched earlier this January, to our penguin colony in our Cold Water Quest Gallery presented by Georgia-Pacific. This is the fourth consecutive year Georgia Aquarium has assisted with successful African penguin hatchings.

Learn more about their nesting season here.

This is an exciting time for our Mammals & Birds Animal Care & Training Specialist team and veterinary staff  for they are able to finally see the offspring of the birds they care for and work with every day. Over the past months, they have provided extraordinary care for the eggs in our Georgia-Pacific Penguin Nursery from tracking their development to observing the chicks’ progress once they hatched. Also, penguin chicks grow rather fast and veterinary exams are held daily in order to monitor this growth and their health.


The care of the animals is Georgia Aquarium’s top priority and we are fortunate to have such a passionate and dedicated team. Each and every day they deliver the highest level of care to ensure the wellbeing of the chicks as well as all animals.

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Important Message from Mike Leven, CEO

February 8, 2015

Important Message from Mike Leven, Aquarium Chairman & CEO

Last week, Georgia Aquarium was made aware of an online video featuring a consultant to our organization, Jose Luis Barbero, allegedly mistreating animals while working at another location in Europe unrelated to our facility. Since then, we have been the recipient of much public concern and outrage on this matter. We want all to know that since opening our doors 10 years ago, Georgia Aquarium’s top priority is the wellbeing of ALL animals everywhere – particularly those entrusted to our care – and we take any allegation of this nature very seriously.

Simply put, we would never, in any away, condone or allow any mistreatment of animals to ever occur at any of our facilities. We have a zero tolerance policy against such treatment and will not tolerate it.

Because of this stance, we are continuing to investigate every aspect of this matter. We have had many conversations about this situation with Mr. Barbero himself, and he has confirmed to us that over the course of a career spanning more than 35 years, he has never participated in the mistreatment of animals - nor would he ever condone it. Still, this is just one part of our thorough investigation.

Georgia Aquarium is an organization that will always make decisions based on factual information and very thorough analysis. Just as we provide the utmost level of care to our animals, we also care deeply about the people who provide that care. According to the law, Mr. Barbero is innocent unless proven guilty, and we have no intention of condemning an individual based on a single piece of unsubstantiated evidence. In any situation of this nature, we will always conduct a fair and just review of all of the information at our disposal. The same applies to any team member of our organization.

Here is what is known today regarding the video:
  • The validity of the video has not been proven and is extremely questionable. Clearly, it is very poor quality and crudely edited.
  • In order to determine its legitimacy, we will retain an independent third party to conduct a forensic analysis of the video.

    If it were ever proven that a member of our team had abused an animal, he or she would be swiftly dismissed. However, this video is as yet unsubstantiated. In spite of this, Mr. Barbero’s family has been targeted, and the fine and dedicated staff of Georgia Aquarium are the focus of great outrage, all based on the unfortunate notion that we would hire someone who abuses animals as a part of our team.

    Georgia Aquarium is a world-renowned organization, and our staff and volunteers have dedicated their lives to providing the highest level of care for our animals every single day. Since opening in 2005, we have welcomed more than 22 million guests from all walks of life to be inspired and educated by these animals. It is our obligation, each and every day, to carry out Bernie and Billi Marcus’ commitment to aquatic life in all its forms.

    Now, more than ever, we need your patience as we sort through this difficult and complex situation, and deeply appreciate your support. More importantly, we appreciate the passion you show - and that we share together - for animals everywhere. Again, we take matters of this nature very seriously. We would never want the public to question the extraordinary quality of care we provide to our animals or our commitment to animals everywhere. We encourage you to show your own commitment and your positive support via our Facebook and Twitter profiles, and welcome any questions or comments you might have.

    - Mike Leven, Chairman & CEO, Georgia Aquarium

    Update on Feb. 13:
    As Georgia Aquarium continues its own investigation, we have learned that during the investigation being conducted by Marineland Mallorca, the European facility at which the reports of abuse were alleged to have occurred, investigators there have found sufficient evidence that the content of the video was manipulated to make the viewer incorrectly assume that alleged abuse had taken place at its park. Officials at the park have concluded that no such abuse as that which is alleged to have occurred ever took place and plans to pursue legal action