The Oceans of Contrast: Atlantic Ocean Gallery introduces visitors to a kaleidoscope of marine life. It's here that they can discover cryptic fishes playing hide and seek; translucent jellies and the shy master of camouflage, the common octopus. This gallery also features the endangered Knysna seahorse and overseas visitor, the alien-like giant spider crab.

A kaleidoscope of marine life

Play hide and seek at the Cryptic Fish and Shyshark exhibits. These Atlantic Ocean inhabitants have mastered the art of camouflage and we challenge you to tell us how many of these elusive creatures you can count. Silver-grey fish drift above a sandy bottom among waving kelp fronds in the Cold Water Reef Fringe exhibit. Snake-like hagfish, which have no jaws, eyes, fins or scales, lie entangled with one another in an ooze of slime. Juvenile ragged-tooth sharks hover in the dim light of a rocky cave exhibit. 

Knysna seahorse
Red anemone. Photo by Michael Farquhar
Fransmadam. Photo by Dagny Warmerdam

The icy Benguela Current

Off the west coast of South Africa, the cold Benguela Current flows sluggishly northwards. Along the west coast biological production is high and species diversity is low. The prolific growth of phytoplankton and seaweeds stimulates productive foodchains. Planktonic animals (zooplanktons) feed on the phytoplankton, and are in turn eaten by filter-feeding fish such as pilchards, Sardinops sagax, and anchovies, Engraulis japonicus. The west coast is one of the richest fishing grounds in the world and not only supports huge commercial fisheries, but also large colonies of Cape fur seals, Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus, and seabirds such as African penguins, Spheniscus demersus.

During summer, strong south-easterly winds blow across the surface of the Atlantic hugging the coastline, resulting in upwellings of icy cold water.  This water, originating from the ocean, carries a rich supply of nutrients, which fertilise the phytoplankton (microscopic plant life forms) and seaweeds. The phytoplankton flourish and form dense blooms so that water is often murky and discoloured. Prolific forests of giant kelp plants dominate the shoreline. Kelp is one of the fastest-growing seaweeds in the world and supplies food for a great numbers of invertebrates, such as abalone (perlemoen), crayfish, giant periwinkle, urchins, starfish and anemones that find shelter within the forests.

Popular exhibit species