On Saturday 2 March, the Robinson Dry Dock in the V&A Waterfront was drained and by late afternoon the Transnet team noticed a large ocean sunfish trapped in the now shallow water. The Cape Town Port Authority contacted the Two Oceans Aquarium immediately to arrange a rescue, but at the time the water level was still too high to allow access to the sunfish. Transnet were gracious, draining the water enough for the rescuers, and then suspending drydock operations until the next morning when the rescue would take place.
The next day, on the morning on World Wildlife Day, 3 March, our small rescue team assembled and found the sunfish at the end of the drydock furthest from the caisson (the gate of the drydock), where the water is a bit deeper. We were able to wade out to the sunfish and secure it to a large stretcher for rescue.
For a sunfish this large we knew that there would be no way to rescue it without the use of a large crane. Fortunately, the dry dock team were able to organise a crane operator for the rescue, and we were able to lift the sunfish out of the dry dock and into the harbour basin in the V&A Waterfront.
Before release, Two Oceans Aquarium Technical Specialist Vince Calder and Curator of Exhibits Claire Taylor took DNA samples, a small fin clipping, size measurements and also cleared and sampled the skin parasites living on the ocean sunfish - all of which will contribute to global research about these long-distance ocean wanderers.
Claire Taylor then swam along with the sunfish out beyond the swinging bridge at Clocktower, to give it the best chance of finding its way out into the open ocean again. As she swam along with it she was able to note that it regained much of its strength and appeared to be in near-perfect condition, despite being trapped in shallow waters for some time.
We are very happy with the condition that the sunfish was in, and must commend the quick action of the Transnet and Cape Town Port Authority team in acting swiftly to save this ocean sunfish, particularly Johan and Cyril who manage the dry dock and Andrew the crane operator. Large working ports like Cape Town are a major interface between the natural and man-made world, and it is a pleasure to be able to work in collaboration with organisations that see the value in conserving our ocean treasures.
Our team will continue monitoring the area to ensure that the sunfish does not become trapped elsewhere in the harbour. Members of the public are encouraged to contact the Aquarium on +27 (0)21 418 3823 or on any of our social media channels to report sightings of distressed animals in the V&A Waterfront area - or just to ask for more information.