Category Archives: Marine Education

Shoreline Show Stoppers

Every winter, anyone along the East Coast of Australia gets a front row seat for one of nature’s most spectacular shows.

The stars are humpback whales – massive marine mammals that like to steal the limelight.  These traveller performers drop by on their 25,000 kilometre round trip between Antarctica and their breeding grounds in the tropics.

These acrobatic animals are definite crowd pleasers – playing to an appreciative audience….

Just the sight of a spout is enough to cause a commotion…and little wonder.  After holding their breath for twenty minutes, humpbacks can exhale several metres into the air…..

But it’s really just the warm up – the opening act can be pectoral fin slaps…. When their five metre long appendages slam onto the ocean surface – a wakeup call for anyone close by.

Tail slaps are another great way to grab attention. One is never enough.  It’s an opportunity to show off their personal fluke pattern – the best way to identify a humpback….

If they sense they’re losing their audience, the whales can opt for a spy hop – raising their head out of the water to assess the world around them….

But the absolute shop stopper is the full body breach – when up to 30 tonnes of mammal is launched into the air and slams back down.  The impact is phenomenal – seen and heard from kilometres away.

There’s lots of different theories as to why whales perform this manoeuvre – some feel it’s a way to communicate with other humpbacks close by; others believe it’s like a giant stretch after a long rest – a signal they’re about to get active again.

Either way its unforgettable – and can only be topped if there’s an understudy in tow.  Young calves accompany their mothers on the trip back south, eager to try out their performance skills as well.

At just five metres long, they’re only a fraction of their Mum’s size but still capable of making their presence felt.  Drinking 400 litres of milk a day, these youngsters grow quickly and by this time next year will be ready to go solo.

In a final bow to the crowd, the whales lift their tails and disappear from stage – diving deep and leaving the audience wanting more, with no indication where and when their next performance will be.

Even if you miss the show, you can learn more about these magnificent animals in one of Ocean Life Education’s Marine Mammal presentations.  Click here for more details.

A Shout out to Sharks

They are the most feared, yet the most misunderstood, of all marine animals – apex predators that pre-date the dinosaurs by an estimated 200 million years.

Of the almost 500 species of sharks swimming in our oceans, only a handful are the complex killers we hear about on the news – the majority have a far more sensitive side.

The reality is sharks don’t have a mean bone in their body… in fact they have no bones at all! Their skeletons are comprised of cartilage which is flexible and lightweight – allowing some to reach speeds of close to 100 kilometres an hour.

But while their sleek, race car bodies have helped them to survive for so long, ironically, it is also contributing to their downfall. Shark cartilage is used in beauty treatments and alternate medicines – a part of the reason 100 million of them are killed every year by humans.

It seems we have a love/hate relationship with these fish – while movies like Jaws are enough to keep some of us high and dry on the sand during a trip to the beach, others go to great lengths to absorb nutrients from sharks, adopting an eat or be eaten approach.

Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asia and demand for the prestige product has led to the decimation of some species including the scalloped hammerhead. The process of removing the dorsal fin from a live animal is illegal in Australian waters, but the practise is difficult to police.

But what many of us miss in our obsession with sharks, is some of their truly extraordinary abilities. Unlike humans, they breathe through gills, so their nostrils are purely dedicated to smelling. Their sense is so refined, they can detect one drop of blood in 100 litres of water. Even more astounding is they can identify which of their two nostrils picked up the scent to determine the direction to swim to track their prey.

But it’s not just smell they’re tuned into – their ability to pick up on electrical impulse and vibrations is so acute, they can sense a Double A battery from 3 kilometres away. And while these skills are designed to help them locate food, some species can survive for up to 3 months between meals – the ultimate fasting regime!

Apart from their unparalleled skill in sensing their next feast, sharks are also well equipped to chow down their catch. They are known for their multiple rows of razor sharp teeth – and it appears they have an endless supply. While humans have one set of large teeth to last a lifetime, many species of sharks can grow tens of thousands, quickly replacing any that have gone blunt and fallen out.

And while this may seem terrifying to us, the reality is we are not on their menu. Attacks on humans are generally a case of mistaken identity – surfers are the most common target, mimicking the shape of a seal on the surface. While it may be of little comfort, statistically, you are more likely to be killed by a falling coconut or a flying champagne cork than to be taken by a shark.

Ocean Life Education runs a Shark Discovery program that helps to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the most feared fish in the sea. It is one of our most popular presentations as we explore all the fascinating features that make these apex predators such effective hunters yet strangely vulnerable at the same time.

When all the hype and hysteria is removed, it is easy to see how sharks play a vital role in maintaining balance in the marine eco-system. Deep down, (and also on the surface of their snout!), they really are quite sensitive.

The Cost of Christmas

“Tis the season for excitement and excess… and while our waist lines and bank balances may bear the brunt of our festive good cheer, the oceans suffer too.

Every year Australians spend more than $16 billion celebrating Christmas (which is almost $1,000 per adult!) – half of that goes on gifts.

The vast majority of presents come shrouded in plastic –  the enemy of all things marine.

In Britain alone, 125,000 tonnes of packaging is purchased at Christmas – multiply that by all the other countries who have also bought into the December consumer frenzy and that’s a whole lot of waste that needs to be dealt with.

When it comes to gifts, ideally we should embrace the idea of experiences over physical items – a ticket to a Marine Biologist for a Day Program run by Ocean Life Education will be remembered long after the holidays have passed!

Likewise, donating to your favourite charity – be it humanitarian or conservation will help improve the balance on this planet.

But if products need to be bought, how the packaging is disposed of becomes paramount – artificial floating debris gets ingested by curious marine life making it the scourge of the sea.

Most plastics and cardboard can be recycled – but not the polystyrene foam often used to protect electronic presents.

The paper the gift comes wrapped in also takes a massive toll on nature – it’s estimated 50,000 trees are harvested every year in Australia just to produce the colourful embellishment that is ripped and discarded within seconds of reaching its recipients.

Paper is a preferable choice to foil but a better option is to use homemade wrapping created from recycled material or reusable presentation boxes.

Batteries too have become a major headache for the environment – 8,000 tonnes of them are thrown away in Australia every year.  Switching to rechargeable options has a third less impact on the planet.

Ocean Life Education has a range of programs that help to inform people of all ages about ways to be more mindful of our footprint on earth – our mobile aquarium can come to you for all sorts of occasions, giving the gift of interacting with our beautiful marine animals.

Being conservation minded in the festive season is not about sucking the joy out of Christmas – it’s about finding a way to celebrate that doesn’t cost the earth it’s future.

Ocean to Outback – Sights, Sounds and Smells of the Sea Go Bush

Considering they’re very basic creatures, sea stars have some pretty amazing abilities (like regrowing their own leg if they lose one!) but they don’t normally travel hundreds of kilometres inland… until now.

With a little assistance from Ocean Life Education, our Blue Linckia’s, along with the rest of our marine life menagerie, have temporarily migrated away from the coast to help students who rarely get to see the sea understand more about the challenges these animals face.

In a road trip lasting 3 days and covering close to 500 kilometres, Ocean Life Education is making sure children in Blackbutt, Nanango and Kingaroy don’t miss out on the chance to touch and learn about our wonderful animal ambassadors.

The Ocean to Outback initiative is supported by the State Government through its Advance Queensland Engaging Science Grant.

Why go to such extreme lengths to facilitate these encounters?  Oceans cover almost three quarters of our planet and produce more than half of the oxygen on earth while absorbing harmful carbon dioxide.

Ocean currents also move such a large body water between the equator and poles, they help to regulate the global climate which impacts all of us – even those that live well beyond the shoreline.  Keeping the oceans healthy is in everyone’s best interest.

But travelling with a crew of sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, hermit crabs and a shark is not without its challenges as water quality and oxygen levels are vital to their survival, especially in the hostile bush environment.

One thousand litres of salt water have been transported along with the animals to ensure they are stress free on their little adventure.

But all the planning, all the logistics have been worth it just to see the excitement on the faces of a whole new batch of ocean lovers, who may rarely hear the waves crash or smell the salt in the air but know the importance of caring about the underwater world – even this far from the coast.