Fishy fun with aquarium guests at the '6 star hotel'

2016-12-21 08:13
Feeding time for Rockhopper penguins at the aquarium. A log is kept of how much each one eats.

Feeding time for Rockhopper penguins at the aquarium. A log is kept of how much each one eats.

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Penguins caught in fishing nets, malnourished & thrown overboard find solace in CT

2016-03-09 13:17

We take you inside the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, where rescued northern rockhopper penguins have been given a second chance at life.WATCH

Cape Town – Cuddling a penguin, giving a turtle belly tickles and having constantly smelly hands are just some of the delights that staff and volunteers at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town experience every day.

Hordes of locals and tourists who flock to the aquarium at the V&A Waterfront are mesmerised by the modern displays and hands-on programmes.

But if you step behind the scenes, it soon becomes clear a lot of hard work is needed to maintain the "6-star hotel".

That is certainly how curator Maryke Musson views her workplace.

"We really put in a lot of effort to make sure our animals are super happy," she says as staff members scrub and prepare around her.

"It is a mad rush to get the exhibits ready before we open."

Most of the team arrives around 6am.

When News24 visited, some were busy cleaning the tanks and windows, while others whipped up a marine menu in the back.

Feeding time

"A hotel needs to feed its guests, so we have a big kitchen," Musson says.

Feeding time is special because it allows carers to observe and assess every animal. Strong stomachs are needed for the ripe, fishy smell.

Volunteers chop up different fish and squid ahead of the public feeding sessions.

Gesturing with her bloodied rubber gloves and a knife, one moans: "My mom won’t let me in the house until I have taken everything off."

In the next room, a young woman stands with a pipe and bucket to harvest brine shrimp.

Feeding the African and Rockhopper penguins is a particularly messy, if entertaining, affair. The first step involves coaxing whole fish into their beaks and down their gullets.

Just like toddlers, they shake their heads with beaks tightly shut, soaking up the attention from their feeders and the crowd.

But there are hazards. Think projectile poop. And ankle nibbles.

Happier moments include sociable Rockhopper penguins cosying up for cuddles and a head scratch.

Musson says her job is the best in the world. She loves working with a passionate team.

She was part of the original team of volunteers who helped collect animals for the aquarium’s first exhibits in 1995.

"All the animals here are from our two oceans along our coastline, except our Nemos, or Clownfish. We have also got those Japanese spider-crabs, what I call aliens."

Education and conservation

More than 70 000 children take part in its formal education programme each year. One of the spaces they learn in, is a classroom aptly named "the discovery centre".

Each round table has a tank in the middle filled with all sorts of marine life. Curious fingers can explore smaller containers scattered around.

Musson says they cater to pupils who cannot make it to central Cape Town by going to schools in a van with a mini-aquarium.

The aquarium does a lot of conservation work. Last year, it released more than 160 rehabilitated turtles. This year’s tally is nearly 80.

A popular feature of the new I&J Ocean Exhibit is Yoshi, a loggerhead turtle who was nursed back to health and has been with the aquarium for 20 years.

Another special resident is Bob the green turtle, so named because he would "bob" around the tank in his injured state.

His rehabilitation was filled with dramatic twists and turns. At one point, he pooped out a whole pile of plastic. This included pieces of balloons, some still attached to their string, and several other large bits of plastic.

Today he is fully recovered.

When News24 got geared out in wetsuits and booties, he eagerly swam to the shallow part of the tank to say hi. His tail wagged when he was patted on his hard shell and belly.

"Every animal has got a story to tell, and I love stories. I love that we can share that," Musson gushes.

Every exhibit is an artwork with a very specific message.

"I would like every person to leave feeling great and inspired to make a small behavioural change that will contribute to environmental sustainability of our planet."

Check out the aquarium HERE

Read more on:    cape town  |  marine life  |  conservation  |  animals

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