Have you ever, on a visit to the Aquarium, wondered where the animals and plants that you are admiring, came from? M-Net's The Wild Ones has taken viewers on a wonderful journey of discovery, not only inside of the Two Oceans Aquarium, but the series has also given viewers a glimpse into aspects of the Aquarium that don’t necessarily happen within its walls.

“All our collections are weather dependent. We do an algae dive twice a month in False bay. In winter it can be pretty cold, but it is worth it. ” – Simon Brill

Unlike many other aquariums, the Two Oceans Aquarium doesn’t buy the animals and plants on display. We collect what we need. This way, we know where, when and what was collected and we can keep track of the animals as they settle into the Aquarium and, in some cases, are later released again. The Aquarium’s collections team spends most of their time outside of the building, collecting the animals and plants that we house. 

The team consists of four salty seadogs. These guys tend to work strange hours, under circumstances that can go from mild to extreme within a couple of hours, and often, far from home. It took some doing, but I eventually managed to check in with the bearded and ready-for-anything-but-an-interview, Simon Brill, Collections Officer at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Collections can mean anything - from diving to fishing from the shore, or using a bucket and net while walking along a jetty. Photo: Simon Brill

Simon tells me that there are a couple of things that the team collects on a regular basis. Algae for the Touch Pool, and mysids and sea lettuce for the aquarists are top of the list.  The extended collection trips, like when the team heads out to Struisbaai, where they collect fish for the various exhibits in the Aquarium, are some of Simon’s favourite trips.  But then there are special collections trips like last year when the team spent months in East London, collecting sharks for the refurbished Predator Exhibit.  Simon rates this collection trip as his most memorable one.

"When we collect sharks, we can spend anything from a couple of hours, to days on the beach…sleeping in the truck, living on the beach." Photo: Simon Brill

Simon has also had the opportunity to be part of some amazing rescue stories. In September 2016, he was part of the team that rescued a very large sunfish from the dry dock across the road from the Aquarium (he ended up on Discovery Channel for this). But this is not the first time that he had been part of a rescue team. In 2015, two sunfish were trapped in the Sturrock Dry Dock in the Waterfront. Simon was also part of that rescue team.

"You often find, like with the sunfish rescue, it is by chance that you are there when it happens. It is an awesome feeling to release an animal like that. To know that you helped an animal that would have suffered and probably have died, had we not stepped in."

And the rescues continue… In 2015 we were alerted to a “gully” shark in a tidal swimming pool in Gordon’s Bay. The team soon realised that the “gully” shark was in fact a sevengill cow shark. Even better, it was a male. The Two Oceans Aquarium Collections Team has been, and continues to, help Dr Alison Kock with her research on sevengill cow sharks. They have helped her tag many female sharks in False Bay. This incident gave them the opportunity to, for the first time, tag a male cowshark. Simon, and the collection team, were literally making history, by doing their jobs!

"We get wet – all the time. We’ve nicknamed the boat 'Yellow Submarine' because you get so wet on it." Photo: Simon Brill

Working with animals on a daily basis, one would think that Simon has a couple of favourites, but he has to think long and hard about this question. “I think my favourite is probably the ragged-tooth sharks. We work with them so often and I do enjoy working with them.” His second favourite is “fish in general”. Third spot is a tie between Deen and Paul, the other two members of the regular collections team.

“There is something different every day and these two make my job fun, but also challenging at times. We do spend extended periods of time together. Paul is at his best at 6am. Don’t ask me why. He just is.”

"Two of my favourite animals - Deen and Paul." Photo: Simon Brill

But collections aren’t all fun and games. Equipment has to be maintained and boats and engines need to be serviced. When Simon isn’t out collecting, he is making sure that the team and their equipment are ready to roll at the drop of a hat.  “Depending on what we are collecting, and for how long we are going to be away, we can really have a lot of equipment. Everything from nets and bags, to pumps and fishing rods.”

"We travel up the coast to release the sharks according to the migration. Well, we think the sharks are in those areas. It isn’t as if we can phone them and ask them where they are." Photo: Simon Brill

“The kids love it when we release the sharks. We always let them clim up on the truck and look at the sharks. ” – Simon Brill

When asked what would be Simon’s worst holiday spot –“Anywhere far from the ocean. And Johannesburg.” Simon’s favourite past time is to fish for galjoen and to tag and release the animals as part of the ORI tagging programme. It is clear that the saying “If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life” is definitely true for Simon.

Collection trip cuisine can be interesting. Photo: Simon Brill
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