Lindsey Ronis, a trainer at the Georgia Aquarium with a harbor seal.
Photo: Addison Hill
Photo: Addison Hill

Animal Planet’s ‘The Aquarium’ dives deep into the Georgia Aquarium, debuting May 19

Originally posted Thursday, May 16, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

The Georgia Aquarium is now part of the Animal Planet family courtesy of a new docuseries called “The Aquarium” debuting Sunday at 8 p.m.

The ten-episode series showcases interesting animal stories through the eyes of dedicated aquarium trainers, revealing how complex and challenging it can be to run an operation of this scope and size.

In the debut episode, “The Aquarium” features Tank, a 30-year-old green sea turtle who gets new space to wander at the aquarium’s installation  Ocean Voyager, a blue-spotted ribbontail stingray who has babies and rehabilitated African penguins released into the wild in South Africa.

The show will also chronicle the aquarium’s efforts to grow new coral to replace dying coral reefs off the coast of Florida. 

Erin Wanner, senior vice president for production for Animal Planet, said “The Aquarium” is a spin-off of its successful show “The Zoo” focused on the Bronx Zoo in New York and in its fourth season. 

“Sometimes zoos get a bad rap,” Wanner said. “We wanted to open the curtain at the Bronx Zoo. They were brave enough to let us in. The backstage pass element for our viewers is what is making them so passionately attached to these types of shows.” 

So it became an easy decision for Animal Planet to do the same with an aquarium. And the first one it targeted was the Georgia Aquarium since it’s the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere.

Aquarium spokeswomaman Jessica Fontana said familiarity with “The Zoo” made it easier for them to embrace Animal Planet on this project. Shooting began last November and continues through June.

She hopes the show not only inspires viewers to get more involved with conservation efforts but also inspires young people to become trainers and keepers at aquariums and zoos. “I wish I had a show like this when I was a kid,” Fontana said. 

The aquarium is doing well, she said, drawing 2.5 million visitors a year and she is well aware of the marketing value of such a show on future attendance. “The story lines focus so heavily on individual animals, I expect people will come to the aquarium to connect and check on them.”

While dolphins and penguins often get the most attention at aquariums, “The Aquarium” also highlights animals that don’t get as much love like the stingray babies in the first episode. “The keeper talks about how cute they are,” Wanner said. “I wouldn’t necessarily have thought that of baby rays. I now love them. You see them in a different light.”

The Georgia Aquarium is not without its critics. In Defense of Animals, a non-profit animal rights group, released a report in 2016 criticizing its specific treatment of whales and dolphins and is not a fan of aquariums in general.

A spokeswoman for the group provided this statement: “The Georgia Aquarium is a dying pool that plumbs the depths in exploitation of intelligent and sensitive animals. Dolphins, whales and other wild animals suffer and die in captivity and it is never ethical to keep them in aquariums. We are shocked that Animal Planet has partnered with the Georgia Aquarium since it has a particularly high death toll.” 

In 2016, the aquarium downplayed the group’s credibility, noting that “this organization and its list are by no means credible or scientific, no empirical data is mentioned and scientific experts provided no justification for their reasoning.”

Animal Planet’s Wanner said many animal species are being threatened by extinction and the best zoos and aquariums provide plenty of support to help return species to the wild. A new upcoming series about the San Diego Zoo, she said, highlights the zoo’s efforts to repopulate the endangered California condor. 

While the ramifications of climate change can be quite depressing, Wanner said Animal Planet wants to show “zoos and aquariums are places of hope for the future. They are making positive change.”

ON TV

“The Aquarium” 8 p.m. Sundays, Animal Planet, starting May 19, 2019

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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