ATLANTA (AP) – The whale sharks are kings of the 6-million-gallon tank, their presence palpable even before they emerge from the murky darkness like massive star cruisers in a science fiction film.

Sarah Royce
A whale shark swims over another fish in the Georgia Aquarium. (AP PHOTO)

Once visitors to the new Georgia Aquarium have seen Ralph and Norton – the only whale sharks on display outside of Asia – they will still have at least 99,998 more fish to go.

When the aquarium opens Nov. 23, it will become the world’s largest by virtually all major standards of the industry. It was bankrolled almost exclusively by a $200-million gift from Home Depot Inc. co-founder Bernie Marcus.

“It’s going to be the most unique aquarium in the world,” said Marcus, 76. “I don’t want to say the best. (Status as) the best will come after people view it and decide.”

The aquarium will also be the centerpiece of a downtown Atlanta revival aimed at drawing millions more visitors to the Southern city each year.

The aquarium neighbors Centennial Olympic Park, and it lies across the street from the CNN Center and the Georgia Dome. In 2007, a new World of Coca-Cola museum is expected to open next door. The city also is a finalist as a location for NASCAR’s hall of fame, which would be built in what is now a parking lot near the other attractions.

Shaped like an abstract cruise ship looming over downtown Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, the aquarium is expected to attract as many as 2 million visitors in its first year.

The aquarium was designed to hold 8 million gallons of water and be home to more than 100,000 fish. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has 5 million gallons and about 20,000 fish.

The Atlanta aquarium’s pair of juvenile whale sharks could grow to more than 40 feet long, giving visitors a rare glimpse at the world’s largest fish. At the time they arrived at the aquarium in June from Taiwan, one was measured at 15 1/2 feet and the other at 13 feet.

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