Swimming with Whale Sharks

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ATLANTA (AP) -- It might have been the setting for a "Jaws" movie.

Six snorkelers wading like ducks in a row, cruising just below the surface of the water while watching exotic fish dart beneath them. It was all very peaceful, until the mysterious whale shark appeared out of the deep blue.

The six guests were circling the world's largest fish tank through the Georgia Aquarium's "Swim with Gentle Giants" program, which puts six snorkelers and six divers into the 6.3-million gallon fish tank each day.

The visitors are treated to close-up encounters of roving bands of sting rays, sleek hammerhead sharks, enormous grouper and countless other species.

It's not a cheap trip, costing $190 for snorkelers and $290 for scuba divers. But the aquarium has so far been encouraged by the response. Aquarium spokesman Dave Santucci said some 1,500 have signed up for the program before its June 8 start.

The aquarium is the only outside Asia to house the whale sharks, and the only in the world to offer tourists a chance to dive with the creatures. The Georgia Aquarium is one of the few places that have ever attempted to house the creatures, and the only in the U.S.

So far their record is spotty: Two of the whale sharks have died since the aquarium opened in 2005. But the aquarium has invested in research projects on the whale shark in Mexico, Taiwan and Mexico.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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