What a year it’s been behind the scenes at the Two Oceans Aquarium. From planned conservation work – like releasing a total of 167 turtles – to big surprises – like stumbling upon 5 000 under-sized lobster tails – our team have had their hands full.

1. Turtles

Our turtle rehab-and-release programme operated at more-than-maximum capacity this year. We received 217 stranded loggerhead hatchlings turtles in 2015 alone. These hatchlings were very tiny and some weighed as little as 26g when they arrived here.

Sadly, not all of the hatchlings survived: at least 19 of the 44 fatalities could be linked to the ingestion of small pieces of plastic.


Loggerhead hatchlings drift with the ocean currents. They mistake plastic for food. This one had half a gram of plastic in its body. Unfortunately, it did not survive. Photo by Renée Leeuwner
 

Micro-plastic emerged as one of the biggest threats to our marine life, but it’s not just the small bits that caused big problems.

Bob the Green Turtle, a bit of a celebrity by now, underwent tube feeding, blood biopsies, X-rays, and even a CT scan, before he eventually pooped out balloons and plastic bags.

The balloons and bags that Bob pooped out. Photo by Renée Leeuwner
 

We’re happy to report that Bob is doing just fine now.

The Two Oceans Aquarium rehabilitates turtles until they are strong and healthy enough to be released back into the wild. This rehabilitation involves regular health checks, assisted feeding, blood samples and biopsies – you name it!

Our resident vet Dr Georgina Cole and our dedicated team keep an eye on all the vital statistics and the turtles’ progress. It’s highly specialised work and requires extra dedication and care.

Along with releasing 162 turtles in Durban and at Cape Point this year, we were also very happy (but a little sad) to say farewell to Otto the Hawksbill earlier this month. Otto was fitted with a satellite tag and we are now riveted as the data comes in giving us information about her journey.

Otto goes east. Photo by Jacques Marais

Bob is still with us, as is Frankie, a green turtle that came to us in October.

Watch this space for regular updates on our turtle conservation work.

2. Shark surprise

In September, what started out as a fairly routine call to help release an unidentified shark that was stuck in tidal pools in Strand, turned into an impromptu research exercise.

As it turned out, the shark was a male sevengill shark and since we’re partnering with Dr Alison Kock on research on this species, we immediately called her. Blood samples and measurements were taken, a tag was fitted, and the shark was released – all within the space of a morning.

Photo by Ingrid Sinclair

Our blog post about the event is our top-read news item of the year!

Click here to read more about our shark conservation work, which also involves the tagging of ragged-tooth sharks.

3. Sad day for 5 000+ West Coast rock lobsters

Another routine day for Operations Manager Tinus Beukes and our collections team did not turn out quite so happy, when they discovered a bag full of under-sized West Coast rock lobster tails at Miller’s Point near Simon’s Town.

Photo by Deen Hill

The sheer quantity of tails discovered by Tinus and his team was frightening and poaching of this size and scale is sure to have a devastating impact on already strained lobster populations.

4. Seals and sea birds around the V&A Waterfront

Our seal rescue team is regularly called out to assist injured Cape fur seals in and around the V&A Waterfront, and 2015 was no different. Discarded fishing line and uncut plastic box bands often become deadly nooses when an unsuspecting seal swims through the debris and gets stuck.

The thread of devastating plastic pollution runs right through the web of life, and we also see sea birds, like this cormorant in December, being adversely affected by human negligence.

Hardly a week goes by that we are not called out to assist a seal in one way or another.

5. Ocean sunfish

Few sea animals are perhaps quite as intriguing and mysterious - and cute! - as the ocean sunfish (Mola mola). Every summer, sunfish come into the V&A Waterfront, Table Bay and Simon’s Town harbours, and are often injured and/or disorientated.

As with seals and sea birds, the Aquarium is often the go-to resource when a sunfish becomes disoriented in the V&A Waterfront harbour. They also often get stuck in the dry docks, and we’re ready to take action when they do.

In March this year, we did just that.

 

In addition to helping in the water, we also assist international sunfish researchers with the collection of DNA samples when we come across a sunfish in Cape Town waters. Click here to read more about our conservation work with sunfish.

Photo by Kai Musson

Late in December, we were called out again to assist a sunfish that had become disoriented and weak near the Den Anker pier. We brought it in to help manage the parasites in which it was covered.

As a public-facing facility that prioritises environmental education and conservation, we cherish an opportunity to be able to show members of the public this gentle giant. While water enthusiasts – kayakers, paddlers, SUPpers, surfers, snorkellers and divers – are privileged to see sunfish in the wild, a large proportion of the population will never have that chance.

Photo by Steve Benjamin/Animal Ocean

The ocean sunfish stayed in the I&J Predator Exhibit for about two days, where it was feeding and adapting well. Unfortunately, newcomers are not always welcomed by the other inhabitants in this exhibit and Yoshi the loggerhead turtle showed some attitude and took a bite out of the sunfish’s tail.

Sunfish skin is extremely hard and thick, so there was no internal damage, however we have removed it from the I&J Predator Exhibit. We are now continuing the rehydration and rehabilitation work and will release it within the next couple of days, once we are satisfied that the sunfish is 100% healthy.

We were able to learn more about sunfish in the process, which is always thrilling, even more so when it involves such mysterious, rarely seen animals.

You can help us make the difference

A large portion of the proceeds from our ticket sales goes towards these conservation efforts, as well as our environmental campaigns and environmental education work.

You can help us help the ocean and its animals by making an online donation here.

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