03 May 2010

Two Oceans Aquarium: A photo essay

Renée Leeuwner

I write with passion about this place, the Two Oceans Aquarium, because it is so much part of me that I struggle to remember what life was like before the Aquarium. I remember walking onto the building site where huge empty tanks sat like ghostly caverns in unpainted, uncarpeted, cement strewn galleries. Within weeks, things changed before my eyes.

Water filled The I&J Predator Exhibit, Maxine, the shark, made her grand appearance, so did the snoek and then just as suddenly disappeared (mostly down Maxine’s gullet!) Thirteen and a half years later, Maxine has been back in the ocean for almost 4 years, roaming the waters off Southern Africa, the Kelp Forest Exhibit is one of only 3 live kelp forest displays in the world and various galleries have seen incredible changes and “make-overs”. Yet, with all these changes the Two Oceans Aquarium remains my place of wonder, like it was the first day I walked through the doors. Now the wonder about the size and amount of work that went into the Aquarium shares a space with the wonder generated by the dedication of the Aquarium staff, the hatching of penguin chicks, the release of ragged-tooth sharks back into the ocean and the pride of watching the Aquarium’s education department educate the South African youth about our marine heritage and resources.  So, please join me on a whirl-wind exploration – Beyond the African waves.

Our journey begins at the beginning, in the Oceans of Contrast: Indian Ocean Gallery where warm water inhabitants with their bright colours, play among corals and where giant moray eels keep watch as visitors pass by.

Years after the movie splashed onto our screens, Nemo still holds a place of honour in most children’s hearts. The clownfish exhibit at the Aquarium, greets eager and excited children as they literally crawl into the world of Nemo.

A school of clownfish. Photograph by Dagny Warmerdam

The cool air of the Oceans of Contrast: Atlantic Ocean Gallery gently touches one’s face, very much unlike the Cape Doctor that has been blowing so fiercely. In this gallery, starfish; anemones; jellyfish and seahorses float, swim and crawl along their exhibits with contentment and grace. I have a spot in this gallery, where I like to stand and listen. Yes, listen. As visitors round the corner at the giant spider crab exhibit, the sharp intake of breath, the “O, MY GOODNESS….” and sometimes just the stunned silence at the sheer size of these crabs, gets filed away in my “Great Day At Work” folder.

Giant spider crabs. Photograph by Dagny Warmerdam

Moving up to the Sappi River Meander you get to meet some interesting characters. First there are the frogs with their chorus of calls and the story of their fight against extinction. Then, as you enter the River Meander, there is a sense of something familiar. Penguins! African penguins and rockhopper penguins share the beach area in the Sappi River Meander. They swim and play in the waves and at feeding time (daily at 11:30 and 14:30) they crowd around the silver bucket and eagerly dine on pilchards and squid. The tuxedo-ed waiters get to feast!

African penguins. Photograph by Geoff Spiby

Our journey takes us next to the Kelp Forest Exhibit. One of only 3 in the world, this impressive exhibit holds 800 000 litres of water, a myriad of local fish species (including our national fish, the Galjoen) and tall, lanky kelp plants. Like elegant ballroom dancers, the kelp plants sway back and forth in the surge. Their movement creates a hypnotic and mesmerising scene that leaves one with a sense of calm and tranquility. Watch a diver feed the fish on Wednesdays and Sundays at 12:00.

The last stop on our whirl-wind tour is The I&J Predator Exhibit. With 2-million litres of water, shoals of predatory fish, ragged-tooth sharks and a viewing window measuring 4 x 11m, this exhibit is the largest of the Aquarium’s exhibits. And it is impressive. Just ask the gentleman who has been sitting staring at the fish going by, for the last 2 hours. Or the mother who can sit down and take a breather because her child is mesmerised by the sharks and the turtles. They’ll agree, that’s for sure. On a Sunday watch our divers feed the sharks at 15:00 and on all other days of the week, there is a feed in this exhibit at the same time.

The Two Oceans Aquarium is a world-class facility that all Capetonians can be proud of. It is a place where people meet to relax, to play and to explore the unknown world of the oceans. The Aquarium is open every day from 9:30 until 18:00. There’s an exciting world on your doorstep. Come and explore!

Giant short-tail stingray. Photograph by Karin Schwerm
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