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Georgia Aquarium now houses only manta ray in US

ATLANTA - The creatures just keep getting larger at the world's biggest fish tank.

The Georgia Aquarium is now home to the only manta ray on exhibit in the United States. The ray, named 'Nandi' after the mother of Shaka Zulu, was rescued from shark nets along the South African coast last year.

Most aquariums can't house a manta ray because of how large the animal gets - up to 26 feet across and weighing about 6,000 pounds. The graceful animal is the largest of the rays.

But the Georgia Aquarium's 6.3 million-gallon salt water exhibit has plenty room for Nandi, who is about 9 feet from the tip of one wing to the other and still growing.

'Having the opportunity to work with this animal and grow our understanding of this strange yet gentle giant will be an opportunity of a lifetime,' said aquarium CEO Mike Leven.

Aquarium officials chartered a jumbo jet to fly Nandi the 9,000 miles from her home at uShaka Marine World in Durban, South Africa, to Atlanta, aquarium spokesman Dave Santucci said. The trip took about 30 hours.

It's the same technique the aquarium used to transport its four whale sharks from Taiwan.

Nandi had outgrown her home in South Africa, and the Georgia Aquarium jumped at the rare chance to exhibit a manta ray, Santucci said.

On Friday, Nandi was released into the aquarium's enormous Ocean Voyager tank to test the waters before her official public debut Monday. She glided around the tank, circling from one corner to another amid the whale sharks and giant groupers.

Manta rays are listed as a threatened species. The mammoth diamond-shaped animal has a black top and white bottom with wings that move gracefully up and down as they swim through the water.

Just three other countries house manta rays at aquariums: Japan, Spain and the Bahamas.

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On the Net:

Georgia Aquarium: http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/

uShaka Marine World: http://www.ushakamarineworld.co.za/