Behind the scenes, more than 100 staff members, interns and volunteers work tirelessly to bring the Two Oceans Aquarium to life every morning. Let's see what mornings at the Aquarium in Cape Town look like for some of our amazing team.


As featured in The Wild Ones, Sundays at 4pm on M-Net.

“To open at 9am, the Aquarium has to be ready, and being ready means cleaning the 50, 60 exhibits and making sure that every day it looks its best for the visitors that come through. A lot of staff start here before 6 o'clock in the morning.

There's not a chance that we would continue doing what we do and inspiring people without the team that we've got. An Aquarium is all about the staff, amazingly. I mean it's obviously all about the animals, but without the team behind it... It's all about the staff. ”
– Michael Farquhar, CEO

Two Oceans Aquarium CEO Michael Farquhar is usually one of the first to arrive in the morning. 

If you thought it's all glamour and strutting around in wetsuits petting turtles and penguins, well ... that's kind of true. But there's also a mind-blowing amount of siphoning (like vacuum-cleaning, but underwater) and preparing food for the more than 8 000 animals in our care. 

3:30AM - Krish Lewis, Aquarist/Jelly Guy

I wake up early to get a train from Paarl to get to the Aquarium before 7am to start work, if all goes well. When I get in, I set up everything first - taking out the ladders and cleaning equipment, like overflow skimming pipes. Then I get all the jellyfish food from the culture lab upstairs and we start making "smoothies".

Then from about 7:30am we clean all the jelly exhibits. We try and start with all the cylinders first, because they are outside where the public can see them and we can't have people tripping over pipes when we are open. And then we do the behind-the-scenes exhibits, where people can see the front of the exhibit but they can't see us working behind the tank, so those exhibits we can do a bit later. Then we make sure the lights are set correctly and we head to the jelly lab.

5:30AM - Bamanye Mpetsheni, Aquarist

In the morning, I first look at the condition of the animals in my care, check the condition of the tanks and all that, then check the behaviour of the animals - specifically the tropical animals like the clownfish, the eels, and some of the smaller animals in the warm and cold mosaics. I then clean the tanks and, thereafter, I feed the animals as soon as the food is ready from Mmameli in the kitchen.

5:45 AM - Mmameli Mpukumpa, Animal Nutrition Coordinator

The first thing I do in the morning is put all the food in the sink, and open the salt water to defrost it - I defrost squid, hake, redbait, white mussels, prawns and black mussels if they're necessary. It depends on what the aquarists need on a particular day. I have a board where the aquarists can write their menu for the next day. After that I go to the Penguin Exhibit to clean the sand on the beach. Then I come back to the kitchen to chop up and dish up the fish food.

5:55 AM - Marco Loubscher, CPUT Intern

My typical morning would be something like cleaning the tanks - from siphoning and cleaning the back windows to actually getting into a tank to siphon the sand at the bottom. Then, of course, feeding the animals! This can all take about three or four hours.

6AM - Mildred Tyali, Aquarist

I'm in charge of the area called "Island 1", which includes the seahorses, intertidal zone, skates and rays, pineapplefish, pufferfish, starfish, tube anemones and feather-duster anemones. I come down to see if my animals are fine, to check the health of all of my exhibits. Then I start to work on the tanks themselves, cleaning and all that. To siphon a big exhibit, like the wave pool, takes about an hour.

6:15 AM - Augusto Cambiji, Functions Coordinator

I come up to the admin office and make sure everything is fine. I bring up my functions spreadsheet and check my emails to see what the day's tasks will be. Then I head downstairs to make sure my function area is fine after the previous night's functions - tables fine, chairs fine - head to the kitchen, make sure everything is fine and the machines are switched off. Then I head upstairs to meet with my team so that by 8am we are ready for the day's tasks.

6:20 AM - Simon Leigh, Presenter & Diver

I arrive at the Aquarium in the morning, and I then spend about an hour filling scuba cylinders, making sure they are all ready for the day. I then get into a Reef wetsuit and, depending on the day, I'm getting into the tropical cylinder, the coral tank, getting upside down in the sandy bottom tank with the mantis shrimps and sometimes into the ray pool for cleaning and other general dive work. I then head upstairs to get into the big I&J Ocean Exhibit where I clean the main window and get to interact with the animals a bit. After that it's out of the tank to get some food to reenergise for the rest of the day - diving can really take a lot of energy out of you.

6:30 AM - Talitha Noble, Conservation Coordinator

I come in and meet my team and we do our clinic rounds - what we do is go through each turtle and give them a body check-up. We have a little look at their skin and shell to see if it's strong, if there's any fungus we give them a wipe down, we examine their eyes to make sure that they're clear and bright and healthy, as well as their nose and inside their mouth. Once we are comfortable that they are generally healthy we give them a body score, which we write down and use to determine the coming week's treatments. We do this very early in the morning, which is fabulous in summertime when the sun's out, but in winter it means we have to wear head torches and thick raincoats.

6:45 AM - Shanet Rutgers, Aquarist/Penguin Keeper

When I walk into the ecosystem, I'll shout "Morning birds!" - they get excited and start braying. I then try to interact with each penguin one-on-one. I go to the African penguins first, interact with them and give them some love and then I do the same with the rockhopper penguins. Once I've greeted the birds, I go to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for the penguins, and they love eating in the morning! After they've all had their breakfast, I waddle the rockhopper penguins through the Aquarium down to the little "Marion Island" outside the Aquarium where the birds can swim and get their morning exercise. When I get the chance, I'll sometimes snorkel with them. Then I clean up the exhibits, making sure the Penguin Exhibit is lovely for the public's arrival. Our penguins love lavender - so sometimes I'll leave a little gift for them on their beaches in the morning.

7AM - Anzio Abels, Smart Living Outreach Educator

My day usually involves going to schools, but they only start at 8am. Before that, I need to actually know where I'm going, so I go through a booking list of schools to check where I am heading to. I usually confirm this the day before, but mornings are a chance for me to confirm which Smart Living lesson they booked and get my resources ready. Once I've got my things ready I plan my route to avoid traffic and make my way to the school.

7:10 AM - Laurence Thorne, Facilities Technician

The first thing I do is check the main supply of water coming in from the harbour and I do a backwash on all the filters, that's just to get the water supply coming into the building all clear for the day. I then rectify any technical issues which may have occurred during the night, which does happen quite frequently. Lastly, I carry out some general inspections on the integrity of our life-support systems.

We asked Laurence if he is ever tempted to flip the mains switch shown in the first episode of An Aquatic life - the one that would shut down the whole Aquarium. His reply: "Every time I walk into that room!"

This is just a tiny look into the lives of the countless passionate people keeping the animals in our care healthy, making sure our facilities are beautiful to receive you every day and taking our environmental education and conservation message further, all working behind the scenes. Scuba divers, veterinarians, accountants, graphic designers, teachers, puppeteers, aquarists, campaigners, drivers and technicians - all play a crucial role in the smooth, ongoing functioning of the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Want to know more? #AskAnAquarist!

blog comments powered by Disqus