Category Archives: Marine knowledge

The Stars of our Programs

Sometimes, it’s the simple things in life that make the most impact.  Take sea stars for example –  these unassuming members of the marine world are more than just pretty decorations on the reef.

These topsy turvy creatures with their mouth underneath and their bottom up top, play a major role in keeping our oceans healthy.

Sea stars are the underwater clean-up crew.  They eat their way through debris discarded by other animals feeding frenzies, as well as targeting organisms that need to be kept in check.  The services they provide in the marine eco system has earnt them the title of keystone species.

And they’re not afraid to take on a big challenge.  These close relatives of sea urchins and sand dollars can consume creatures much larger than their small mouths would suggest, thanks to a stomach-turning technique they’ve perfected.

They can expel one of their two bellies outside their body to wrap around prey – this external digestion is a slow process, taking them up to 10 hours to finish their meal.

But this is only one of the tricks up their five more sleeves….. sea stars can regenerate entire bodies from just one severed limb.  This is because most of their vital organs are in the arms, including eye spots, which help them to sense light from dark as they move about in the ocean.

Not bad for an animal that has neither a heart nor a brain.  Instead, these echinoderms have a basic water vascular system which allows them to pump the surrounding sea through their bodies.  Even their tiny, suction-cupped feet, which they use to move about, are fed from the filtered water they draw in.

There are close to 2,000 species of sea stars in our oceans using these clever adaptations.  These sloths of the sea will never win any medals for speed but many can live up to 35 years – a rarity amongst marine animals of this size, which speaks volumes about their ability to beat the odds.

While, some are protected by a spikey, calcified skin, most just rely on their bright colours to deceive predators into believing they’re toxic to touch.

Ocean Life Education has long been a fan of sea stars – they are an integral part of our team of animal ambassadors that accompany us to all our presentations.

If you would like to gently touch and learn more about these amazing sea creatures and many others like them, contact us at Ocean Life Education on info@oceanlifeeducation.com.au Discover for yourself why this most unassuming of marine animals truly has star qualities.

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.

Celebrate Seaweek with Ocean Life

Seaweek 4-10 Sept

WHEN: 4-10 SEPTEMBER

THEME: THE OCEAN AND LIFE IN THE OCEAN SHAPE THE FEATURES OF EARTH

Seaweek is Australia’s major national public awareness campaign to educate and encourage an appreciation of our oceans. 

At Ocean Life Education, there are a few times each year where we relish in the global appreciation for the marine environment and our wondrous ocean – and Seaweek is one of them.

This year’s Seaweek theme is the second of the Ocean Literacy Principles: The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth.

It focuses on how the ocean shapes our Earth through sedimentary rocks, sea level changes, erosion in coastal areas.

Our sand and beach areas consist of tiny animals and bits of plants, rocks and minerals.

You can find out more about these fundamental concepts on the Ocean Literary Principle 2 website.

At Ocean Life Education, our mission is to inspire as many young Australian’s to appreciate and care for our environment for the preservation and protection of our oceans and marine habitats.

Our seas and oceans are our biggest wonder of the Earth and it’s our obligation to be curious and protective.

Celebrate the Sea with us this Seaweek from 4-10 September.

Book your live marine animal incursion and let’s educate and inspire our next generation of ocean defenders!

Find out about our Programs or Contact Us to book your next program.

More information: www.aaee.org.au/seaweek