As more and more animal populations are rapidly declining, the urgency to save these species continues to grow. Georgia Aquarium is proud to care for over ten different endangered species, from small poison dart frogs to the largest fish in the sea, whale sharks. Every day, these animals face natural threats as well as human impacts. Learn more about the endangered species we care for, their effect on our planet’s ecosystems, and how you can help!


African Penguins

IUCN Status: Endangered

African penguin population numbers have dropped 60% in the last 30 years, and they are considered “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. Georgia Aquarium aids in their fight for survival through education and partnerships with organizations, such as the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), in their native South Africa. SANCCOB is an internationally recognized leader in rehabilitating sea birds. In their natural habitat, this species faces threats from natural predators, and human impacts, including oil spills and habitat degradation. African penguins play an important role in our ecosystem and their conservation is crucial. Their regression could lead to the decline of other species, ultimately throwing the balance of the entire ecosystem off.

Beluga Whales

IUCN Status: Least Concern; some populations endangered

Although it is estimated that there are more than 150,000 belugas worldwide, some subpopulations are endangered. One example of this is the Cook Inlet stock, currently listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. The beluga whales in Bristol Bay are another example of an endangered subpopulation. Georgia Aquarium is committed to working with beluga whales both in our care and in their natural habitats. Together with members of the zoological community, the Aquarium works to understand factors threatening the sustainability of belugas in the wild so that steps can be taken to protect them. We partner with other facilities to conduct field research in Bristol Bay, Alaska, where the beluga population faces significant threats to their environment. Through the research of beluga whales in both accredited U.S. facilities and in their natural environments, effective conservation, research and education programs have been developed that are essential to the survival and sustainability of beluga whales.

Coral Reefs

IUCN Status: Staghorn coral: Critically Endangered         Elkhorn coral: Critically Endangered

Did you know that coral sustains more than 25% of aquatic species? Corals are an integral part of our ocean’s ecosystem, but about 60% of the world’s coral reefs are at risk. Unfortunately, threats such as rising water temperature, which causes coral bleaching, and pollution are increasingly jeopardizing the survival of our coral reefs. Since 2010, Georgia Aquarium has been working in partnership with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) in the Florida Keys to help restore corals using ocean-based aquaculture nurseries and transplantation methodologies. Coral reefs are vital to the ocean because they provide habitats as well as food for many different marine organisms. Coral reefs are a habitat for more than ¼ of our ocean’s species. Should corals cease to exist, the irreversible damage would be devastating to our ocean’s ecosystems.

Green Sea Turtle

IUCN Status: Endangered

Tank, the green sea turtle, is well-known at Georgia Aquarium as an ambassador for his species. Tank was rescued over 20 years ago after sustaining an injury, due to which the government deemed him non-releasable. Green sea turtles play a vital role in our ocean’s health and ecosystem. As the only herbivorous sea turtle, this species feeds on seagrasses and algae and maintains the health of seagrass beds throughout the ocean. Green sea turtles face major threats in the U.S. including the destruction of their nesting and habitat grounds, boat strikes, accidental capture in fishing gear and entanglement in marine debris. Because many of the threats that have led to these declines are not reversible and have not yet ceased, green sea turtles face a measurable risk of extinction.

Manta Rays 

IUCN Status: Endangered

The only natural enemies of the manta ray are large sharks and humans. Fishing pressure, by-catch in drift and set nets, and harvesting for meat are depleting local manta ray populations. Georgia Aquarium is the only aquarium in the United States to care for manta rays. Our teams conduct field operations to study how populations of manta rays are moving along the Atlantic Coast by attaching satellite tags to individual manta rays to track migration while observing and counting their numbers from the sky in aerial surveys and photographing their distinct skin patterns.

Sand Tiger Sharks

IUCN Status: Critically Endangered

Sand tiger shark populations are declining at a rate of approximately 30 percent, or more, every ten years. The greatest threat this species faces is accidental mortality due to by-catch [the unintentional catching of marine animals while fishing]. Georgia Aquarium is home to several sand tiger sharks. We are able to closely study the behaviors and characteristics of this species in an effort to expand our knowledge and implement practices to help preserve sand tiger sharks in the ocean.

Southern Sea Otters

ICUCN Status: Endangered

Southern sea otters are considered a keystone species because they help maintain the health of kelp forests by preying on sea urchins, which, if allowed to proliferate, can destroy a kelp forest. Once common along most of the coastal North Pacific Ocean, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sea otters were hunted to the verge of extinction. The worldwide population of Sea Otters decreased to approximately 2,000 animals by the end of the commercial fur trade in 1911. Current threats to sea otters include entanglement in fishing nets, oil spills and predation by the great white shark. Within the last two decades, large-scale population declines in sea otters have been recorded. If continued, their decline will have major adverse effects on the animals that rely on kelp forests.

Whale Sharks

IUCN Status: Endangered

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world and play a large part in our ocean’s ecosystems. Threats to whale sharks include entanglement in fishing nets and, in some cases, human interference through unregulated tourism. Georgia Aquarium protects whale sharks through research and conservation efforts in the field, in the laboratory and through our unique position as the only aquarium in the Western hemisphere to care for them. Alongside Emory University, Georgia Aquarium collected the first successful blood draw from a whale shark which was then used to study and decode the DNA. Having whale sharks in an aquarium setting is a fantastic research opportunity. Aquarium veterinary staff and researchers continue to study the whale sharks in our Ocean Voyager exhibit, including their growth, behavior, health and genetics. Since 2008, Georgia State University has collaborated with Aquarium staff and volunteers to observe and record the individual sharks’ behavior. This data will help us understand and better care for sharks on exhibit, as well as improve our interpretation of behaviors seen in this field.

Zebra Sharks

IUCN Status: Endangered

These sharks have had a record of successful reproduction in our Ocean Voyager exhibit since the Aquarium first opened in 2005. Illegal fishing has substantially increased in recent years and remains one of the main threats to this species. Sharks are apex predators that help to regulate the food chain. Without this species, the entire ocean’s ecosystem can go out of balance.

These are just a few of the endangered species in Georgia Aquarium’s care, and there are many more that need our help. Learn more about each one on our website and how you can get involved.

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