ATLANTA - The new Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta is more than just a big fish tank to Virginia Dunbar.
"I've been to over 100 zoos and aquariums across the country and the world, but this is the most amazing thing I've seen," said Ms. Dunbar, a past president of the Atlanta Audubon Society, who was among a select group who got to preview the aquarium last week.
Ms. Dunbar was close to tears as she described the facility, which opens to the public today.
With 8 million gallons of water and more than 100,000 fish, the Georgia Aquarium is by far the largest in the world.
The size isn't the only thing that sets it apart. It is the only North American aquarium to house whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. Its largest tank also contains the largest viewing window on the continent.
"This is just as close to the ocean as you're ever going to get," said Jeff Swanagan, the aquarium's executive director.
Inside the building are fish from all over, from the beluga whales usually found in arctic conditions to the tropical fish exhibit to one area devoted to fish from Georgia. There's also a "4-D" movie that teaches lessons about conservation while surprising guests with the occasional spray of water or other props to make the three-dimensional movie seem more "real."
The fish could provide land-dwellers with an appreciation for some of the peculiarities of the ocean. For example, among the thousands of golden trevally that share the whale shark tank, many of them follow around predatory fish such as the giant grouper. That's for protection.
But those at the leading edge of Ralph, one of the whale sharks, are just looking for a push. For some reason, his fellow whale shark Norton doesn't get much attention from the trevally. There's a theory that Norton might swim too quickly, but no one knows.
Season pass holders were allowed to get a sneak peek of the aquarium Monday and Tuesday. Those coming out of the building were raving about it.
"I thought it was awesome," said Rosemary Fitzpatrick, a technical operations manager at CNN who stopped by Tuesday.
Ms. Fitzpatrick, who only had an hour or so to visit, said she planned to come back with her nieces and nephews.
Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.