- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) — The world’s largest aquarium has added two of the world’s largest fish.

Two female whale sharks — Alice and Trixie — arrived late Saturday at the Georgia Aquarium. They joined the aquarium’s two male whale sharks, Ralph and Norton, in their 6-million-gallon tank. The four sharks are the only ones of their kind on display outside Asia.

The two females were flown more than 8,000 miles from Taipei in the Republic of China, or Taiwan, on a specially configured freighter owned by UPS. They received a police escort from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and were hoisted into the giant tank around midnight.

“They’re in great shape,” said Bernie Marcus, the Home Depot co-founder who bankrolled the aquarium almost single-handedly with a gift of more than $200 million. “They’re very healthy, and we don’t foresee any problems.”

Alice and Trixie are 11 feet and 14 feet long, respectively. They could grow to as long as 40 feet.

The aquarium, which opened Nov. 23, is on pace to draw 3 million visitors in its first year, nearly doubling original estimates.

In addition to the massive whale sharks, the aquarium’s 8 million gallons of tanks feature more than 100,000 fish, including beluga whales and other rare animals.

Mr. Marcus, who became fascinated with whale sharks after seeing them at an aquarium in Japan, said having both males and females at the aquarium will give researchers a unique opportunity to study the mysterious fish. The whale shark is a threatened species. No one knows how many exist in the wild, and only one pregnant female ever has been captured, Mr. Marcus said.

“We don’t really know anything about these fish,” he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he was attending an awards banquet.

“Eventually, these fish may become an endangered species; what we want to do now is figure out how to keep them alive.”

He said the tank was designed to hold as many as six whale sharks. The fish would not be expected to breed for several years, because the two males are still juveniles.

In addition to research, Mr. Marcus said the four whale sharks would give visitors another reason to visit the aquarium.

“Jacques Cousteau only saw two of these in his lifetime,” Mr. Marcus said. “Here in Atlanta, we have four.”

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