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Ralph Obituary
Another star attraction at the Georgia Aquarium is dead.

Ralph the whale shark stopped swimming early Thursday afternoon. Eight hours later, as veterinarians worked over the 22-foot-long fish, he abruptly died. Aquarium officials said they don't know why.

"Sometimes, nature is that way," said Jeff Swanagan, the aquarium's executive director and chief executive officer. "It can be cruel in terms of back-to-back tragedies."

The death is the second signature attraction the aquarium has experienced this month. Gasper, a beluga whale whose bubble-blowing antics and underwater acrobatics charmed thousands, was euthanized Jan. 2. He suffered from a bone disease contracted before coming to the aquarium in 2005.

Officials know less about what happened to Ralph, one of four whale sharks in the aquarium's Ocean Voyager exhibit.

When he stopped swimming about 1:30 p.m., the aquarium removed the whale shark from view, placing him in a sling that it had used for checkups. A team of husbandry specialists and veterinarians began working with the fish, trying to get him to eat, moving his fins and more, Swanagan said.

"Nothing was working," he said.

Around 9:30 p.m., the whale shark abruptly died, leaving his handlers shocked and puzzled.

Ralph showed no sign that anything was wrong, nor did the other whale sharks, said Dave Santucci, the aquarium's director of public relations." The other three whale sharks are swimming normally in the exhibit," he said Thursday night.

The aquarium planned to perform a necropsy on the animal quickly, he said.
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Jan. 11, 2007
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