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Mashburn students adopt whale shark
Fundraiser benefits aquarium research
Mashburn whale shark
Al Dove, senior scientist at the Georgia Aquarium, talks to students at Mashburn Elementary. The children raised $75 to adopt a whale shark off the coast of Mexico. - photo by Jennifer Sami


While some classrooms have pet gerbils, hamsters or even snakes, Mashburn Elementary School fourth- and fifth-graders set their sights on something larger.

On Monday, the students became the proud adopters of a whale shark they named Bubbles.

“It makes you feel good ... knowing that you adopted a whale shark and you helped the Georgia Aquarium,” said Mark Heard, student council co-president.

For $75, the aquarium allows people to adopt a whale shark, in Mashburn’s case Bubbles, who lives somewhere along Mexico’s Atlantic Coast.

The adoption fee goes toward a research project in which scientists track various whale sharks for about three months.

Al Dove, aquarium senior scientist, visited the school Monday to talk with students about their contribution.

“I’m looking forward to meeting Bubbles this coming summertime,” he told the children. “You guys have helped that happen.”

Dove, who has been been with the aquarium for four years, had never had a class adopt a whale shark.

“I just think it’s terrific that these kids can be sufficiently motivated to go out there and get the money to adopt their own whale shark,” he said.

While he knew all the answers, Dove hadn’t anticipated the students’ in-depth questions about whale sharks.

“I was really impressed with the level of questions the kids were asking,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect in terms of what they would know.

“But clearly they’ve been watching a little bit of Discovery Channel and some ‘Animal Planet’ and they know a thing or two about sharks.”

The idea to adopt a whale shark began with fourth-grade teacher Heidi Morea, whose sister works at the aquarium.

“The kids usually pick some kind of service project to do, and my sister was like, ‘You know, you can adopt a whale shark,’” said Morea, whose students liked the idea.

She said Bubbles works well with the school’s “fish philosophy,” which reminds students and staff to be there, play, make someone’s day and to choose their attitude.

To raise the money, the fourth- and fifth-grade student council had to come up with a plan.

McKenna Galioto, council co-president, said one member suggested a Swedish Fish drawing because the chewy candies “represent a kind of fish.”

For 25 cents each, about 300 students guessed how many red gummy fish were in the bowl.

Fifth-grader Anna Strobel came the closest to the total of 1,666.

“She got the bowl of Swedish Fish and we raised the money to earn Bubbles,” Galioto said. “Now we can, whenever us and our friends go to the Georgia Aquarium, we can say, ‘Oh, we have a whale shark.’”