01 August 2010

Pleased to meet you: Aquarium Curator Michael Farquhar

Two Oceans Aquarium
Aquarium Curator Michael Farquhar with Maxine, a ragged-tooth shark that was returned to the wild in 2004 as part of the Save Our Seas Foundation M-Sea Programme

Michael Farquhar was born in the north of Wales and spent his weekends and holidays camping, sailing and fishing in Holland. He arrived in South Africa from Belgium in 1980. After matriculating from Sandown High School in 1985, he made his way south in 1986 and over the past 13 years has come to call Zeekoevlei his home.
Michael originally planned to study veterinary science, but realised one day as he was fishing off a rocky shore that he wanted to somehow include his hobby in his career. He enrolled for a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology at Rhodes University in 1986 and completed his Masters degree in intertidal ecology in 1994, concentrating on the “inter- and intra-specific interactions of the sea urchin Parachinus angulosus”.

His first job was a two-year contract with Sea Fisheries (now Marine and Coastal Management) through the University of Cape Town. Working under Professor George Branch, his position involved a stock assessment of the white mussel populations along the West Coast. On completion of the contract, he took on a second one looking at the “collapse of linefish stocks between Cape Hangklip and Hermanus”. This involved monitoring fishing efforts in relation to the small marine reserves and relating these to historical records.

Michael didn’t complete this second contract; he was offered a position at the Two Oceans Aquarium in 1997 and has never looked back. “I volunteered at the Aquarium for a while, but certainly had no intention of coming to work here,” he recalls. “But it’s been the best move I could ever have made!”

He was appointed as the aquarist responsible for the Kelp Forest Exhibit and the Sappi River Meander, as well as for water quality in all the exhibits. Michael’s potential was quickly recognised and soon he became the Aquarium’s Operations Manager, responsible for organising collecting trips, among other things.

“The best part of my job is working with fish on a daily basis and going on the occasional fishing trip!” Michael enthuses.

Some of his more memorable experiences include fishing for sharks off beaches in the Eastern Cape, collecting a big musselcracker in Mossel Bay and fishing for “brood stock” kob at Port St Johns. “It’s been fantastic working in such beautiful places in South Africa – just another day in the office!”

Any dangerous moments? “Transporting live sharks over Africa in a charter plane to Kuwait – an interesting experience, to put it mildly.”

For Michael, working in the Aquarium is “a mix of marine biology, science, writing and practical hands-on work”. As curator, he is involved with planning, designing and constructing new exhibits. He also leads a team of dedicated aquarists who are passionate about their work.

With exciting expansions ahead, Michael reckons he could not be in better place. “The setting up of a new aquarium is exciting stuff, but having the opportunity to develop an existing aquarium and take it into a new phase has its own challenges. I am looking forward to meeting them head-on!”

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