The Two Oceans Aquarium has been involved in marine research throughout its 28-year existence. We work with higher education institutes, researchers, and scientists from formal conservation bodies and research institutes, government research departments, and other aquaria. We have supported more than 60 research projects, and staff have co-authored numerous peer-reviewed scientific journal articles.
Our research is guided by an external Research Advisory Board, comprised of experienced academics from around the world, and an internal Research Steering Committee. The Ethics Committee gives final approval for all research projects. With the formation of the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, we are poised to take a leading role in aquarium-based research in Africa. Our bold Strategic Plan sees us focusing our efforts on Marine Social Science and Behaviour Change, as we continue to build our capacity in biological and physical science.
Building the next generation of scientists is essential to us. We supervise MSc and PhD students from universities around South Africa and support international students working towards their higher degrees in universities worldwide.
The Turtle Conservation Centre of the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation actively rescues, rehabilitates, and releases stranded turtles. The rehabilitation team collects crucial data (including size, diagnostics, feeding, treatment, plastic ingestion, and movement following release). These findings have been used and analysed in post-graduate studies and publications.
Tagging plays a significant role in the research generated by the Turtle Conservation Centre: Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT), satellite, acoustic, and flipper tagging methods have been used. In collaboration with the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB)'s Acoustic Tracking Array Platform (ATAP), several turtles have been acoustically tagged for research into the coastal movements of juvenile green and hawksbill turtles.
Our team collaborates with national and international rehabilitation facilities, contributing to the growing global knowledge base for turtle rehabilitation and treatment.
Sharks and rays
The Two Oceans Aquarium displays 12 of the 160 sharks and rays found in southern African waters. The Aquarium regularly collaborates with academic institutes on in-situ elasmobranch biology and ecology projects, especially if they include species exhibited in the Aquarium.
As part of a collaborative research project, the Two Oceans Aquarium Trust and its Foundation, Shark Spotters (SS), and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB)'s Acoustic Tracking Array Platform (ATAP) have engaged in a partnership to address the knowledge gaps for priority species on display in the Aquarium. The results from this study have direct implications for the spatial management of vulnerable chondrichthyans that inhabit False Bay, especially concerning Marine Protected Area (MPA) effectiveness and understanding the level of anthropogenic overlap experienced by each species.
The Two Oceans Aquarium has rescued, exhibited, and released several sunfishes found trapped in the basins of the V&A Waterfront. The Aquarium assisted with capturing, safely handling, and satellite tagging four sunfishes in 2004 with National Geographic researcher Dr Tierney Thys.
We are committed to research on sunfish, generating improved knowledge, and contributing towards their conservation. In collaboration with the University of Cape Town, we have an ongoing research project to determine species diversity and distribution along the southern African coast. This involves biological data collection and building awareness for these iconic animals through citizen science and communication, contributing to improved management of various sunfish species.
Marine animal welfare
The V&A Waterfront is an incredible area where recreational, industrial, and residential use overlap with marine wildlife. The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation team lead wildlife management in the V&A Waterfront precinct, aiming to enhance human-animal co-existence in this Blue Flag Harbour. Wildlife monitors patrolling the area on foot record daily data on the presence and movement of various species of marine wildlife, particularly the Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus), Cape clawless otters (Aonyx capensis), and different species of seabirds.
Projects include an ongoing collaboration on seal disentanglement with the Department of Fisheries Forestry and the Environment (DFFE). We undertake regular rooftop checks of all the buildings within the V&A Waterfront precinct to ensure that no seabirds or chicks are at risk. Research on the local Cape clawless otter community is ongoing. Through their monitoring and rescue efforts, our team records data used for welfare and plastic pollution research.
Water quality and pollution
The Two Oceans Aquarium conducts water quality analysis daily. A large database has been established and is being used to determine seasonal water quality trends, assist with monitoring our intake pump systems, and provide insight into our filtration systems. The Two Oceans Aquarium regularly hosts the Cape Peninsula University of Technology 3rd Year Work Integrated Learning students. Projects have investigated the presence of microplastics within the V&A Marina and in Aquarium exhibits. Using water, selected fish species, and invertebrates, we can assess levels of metals and chemicals within the Aquarium. This is critical research as anthropogenic activities in the Waterfront precinct increase.
Marine Social Science and Behaviour Change
With the University of Cardiff, we are leading the first Ocean Literacy survey in Africa, the results of which will help us establish a national network and guidelines for Ocean Literacy best practices. Our Behaviour Change research is growing as we tackle critical issues such as plastic pollution and food waste.
Research to provide evidence of our contribution to conservation through raising awareness and supporting behaviour change in visitors has been initiated. Early work in visitor research has assisted us in designing signage and presentations of several animal species, including African penguins and ragged tooth sharks.
- Mashkour, N. et al. Nicolle, N. & Spiby, K. (2020) Disease Risk Analysis in sea turtles: A baseline study to inform conservation efforts. PLoS ONE 15(10): e0230760. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0230760
- Ryan, P. G.,Cole, G., Spiby, K., Nel, R., Osborne, A. & Perold V. (2016). Impacts of plastic ingestion on post-hatchling loggerhead turtles off South Africa. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 107: 1–6.
- Sharks & rays
- Leigh de Necker (2017) The trophic dynamics of the broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) in False Bay, South Africa, using multiple tissue stable isotope analysis. (DNCLEI001) MSc Thesis.
- Smale, M. J., Booth A. J., Farquhar M. R., Meyers M. R. & Rochat L. (2012). Migration and habitat use of formerly captive and wild raggedtooth sharks (Carcharias taurus) on the southeast coast of South Africa. Marine Biology Research, 8: 115-128.
- Hays, G. C., Farquhar, M. R., Luschi P., Teo S. L. H. & Thys, T. M. (2009) Vertical niche overlap by two ocean giants with similar diets: Ocean sunfish and leatherback turtles. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 370: 134–143.
- Water quality and pollution
- Sparks, C., Viljoen, N.,Hill, D., Lassen, J., Awe, A. (2023) Characteristics and Risk Assessment of Microplastics in Water and Mussels Sampled from Cape Town Harbour and Two Oceans Aquarium, South Africa. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 110, 104. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00128.
- Animal care and welfare
- Gardner. B. R., Spolander, B., Seakemela, S. M., McCue, S. A., Kotze, P. G. H. & Musson, M. (2021). Disentanglement of Cape fur seal (Arctocephallus pusillus pusillus) with reversible medetomidine-midazolam-butorphanol. Journal of South African Veterinary Association, 92: a2119.
- Vaughan, D. B. & Chisholm, L. (2010). Heterocotyle tokoloshei sp. nov. (Monogenea, Monocotylidae) from the gills of Dasyatis brevicaudata (Dasyatidae) kept in captivity at Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town, South Africa: Description and notes on treatment. Acta Parasitologica, 55 (2): 108-114.
- Vaughan, D. B. & Christison, K. (2010). A new species of Myxinidocotyle (Monogenea: Acanthocotylidae: Myxinidocotylinae) from captive sixgill hagfish, Eptatretus hexatrema (Chordata: Myxinidae), with amendment of the subfamily diagnosis. Zootaxa, 2650 (1): 47-56.
- Vaughan, D. B., Christison, K. W., Hansen, H., & Shinn, A. P. (2010). Gyrodactylus eyipayipi sp. n. (Monogenea: Gyrodactylidae) from Syngnathus acus (Syngnathidae) from South Africa. Folia Parasitologica, 57 (1): 11-15.
- Mafunda, P. S., Maree, L., Kotze, A. & Van Der Horst, G. (2017) Sperm structure and sperm motility of the African and Rockhopper penguins with special reference to multiple axonemes of the flagellum. Theriogenology 99: 1-9
- Marine social science and behaviour change
- Kasdin, A.E. (2014) Effect of experiences with captive and non-captive African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) on conservation attitudes, learning, and behavior of visitors. Senior thesis Princeton University