Thursday, January 21, 2010

Question #3: What's it like having two oceans?

Sunnye Dreyfus, South Africa Expedition

Last week I visited the Two Oceans Aquarium. It is centrally located on the waterfront, with a sweet little cafe and gift shop, sand tiger (ragged-tooth) sharks, African penguins, and fantastic staff, just like us!

Because of the location of Cape Town (the southern tip of Africa), the 2OA's collection hails from both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. According to Head of Education, Russell Stevens, there is little need to look any further than their own "backyard" for their exhibits. They have just a handful of species that don't call the Indian or Atlantic Oceans home. Some of the highlights of my visit included:

  • Plankton exhibit: the lifeblood of the ocean should have spotlight, right?
  • Soles and puffer fish exhibits: it was great fun trying to find them hiding in the sand.
  • Shy sharks: endemic to the south and west coast of South Africa; mostly cold water species. I believe there are 5 species ... abundant and beautiful. They are called shy sharks because they use their tail to cover their eyes and snout when they feel threatened. Shark yoga, if you will. Puff adder shy sharks, leopard shy sharks, pajama shy sharks. Great names, huh? They come complete with fantastic specimens, big screen monitor, and an enthusiastic interpreter.

  • Kelp Forest: they play soothing music and some people swear that the fish and kelp choreograph accordingly. I found myself wanting to curl up at the holdfasts and take a nap.

  • Upper, middle and lower river region exhibit: I loved how the exhibit started high and ended low. Clanwilliam yellowfish, sawfin, sandfish—the level of endemism (species found in a specific area) decreases as you get to the lower regions because they are more susceptible to invasive species of bass, trout, and catfish as well as runoff from agriculture.

  • Fynbos exhibit: Plants native to the Western cape of South Africa! Pronounced "fane-bohs" meaning "fine bush" in Afrikaans, there are about NINE THOUSAND species and 6,200 of them are endemic to the Cape. They account for the highest density of plant species in the world (over 1,300 species per 10,000 square km)! Fynbos are packed like the Green Line on game day in just 6 percent of the country, but they account for over half of all plant species in South Africa and 20 percent of all species found on the entire continent! Yeah! How cool is that? I love (sniff, sniff), love (cough, cough) love (ah-choooo!!!) fynbos. I have never experienced so many plants, colors, flowers, fruits, seeds, and sinus congestion!
  • Wild cape fur seals (30 of them!): lounging on the docks just outside the cafe.

  • Learning labs: they have two and I voiced my loving envy. The first classroom (formerly a computer lab) had enough lab tables and chairs for 60 students and enough permanent tabletop tidepools to allow 1 per every 2 students! The second classroom had a border of marine animal tanks to choose from depending on the program.
  • Rethink the Shark: this was a corridor next to the predator exhibit in which they had large photos of sharks, information and statistics, and the Rethink the Shark video looping on a large screen.
  • Last, but not least is the hagfish exhibit. I love hagfish and it is about time these beauties have their own spotlight.
Conservation considerations
Something that really stood out to me after visiting the 2OA was their inclusion of Homo sapiens into their exhibits. There were three creative and simple ways I observed this being done.

Lining the base of the predator tank are species ID placards and I just happened to notice that one of them was for the human. It read: "Human, Homo sapien, A fierce predator found in both warm and cold waters. Preys on sharks, finning them alive and leaving them to drown in open seas. Offspring, if uneducated, may imitate behavior of adult species."

There was a sign posted from the INSIDE of the predator tank that read: "Warning: Predators beyond this point."

As I was leaving the main exhibits, there were giant images of a shark and a lion and in between was a giant mirror with text reading: "Planet Earth's most dangerous predator." It made me think and shook up my perspective a bit. And I'm sure that is what we who work at zoos and aquariums want to encourage our guests to do, right? Because perspective-shaking thought leads to learning, learning leads to knowledge, knowledge gives way to awareness and awareness has great potential to evolve into action. All of this can happen from a simple mirror installation. I love education.

Wildlife List:
Cape wagtail (Motacilla capensis)
Red-winged starling (Onychoganthus morio)
Rock pigeon (Columba guinea)
Sugar bird (long tails, very cool flight pattern)
Heron (hanging out with the thousands of penguins at Betty's Bay)
Hyrax, "dassie" (their closest relative is the elephant)
Blue crane with chicks! (national bird of South Africa)
Grey-winged francolin
White stork
Grey mongoose
African millipede
Bomslang (venomous back-fanged arboreal snake that likes bird eggs)
Baboon spider (thankfully, it did not know how to open car doors)
Weaver birds
Goats, duck, geese, rabbits, Bantams and Rhode Island reds (chickens)
African grey parrot named Rastus, and a Jack Russell named Bob


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