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Shark Soup

They are possibly the most misunderstood of all the sea creatures – apex predators capable of inspiring both fear and fascination in equal measure.  But far from being the killing machines portrayed in the movies, most sharks are more at risk from us than we are from them.

Of the almost 400 species identified, only a dozen or so are considered dangerous to humans. We’re certainly not their preferred diet, but we can easily be mistaken for more tasty morsels such as seals.   Statistically, we’re more likely to be killed by a rogue champagne cork than a shark.   On average only 5 people are taken every year, whereas humans slaughter 100 million sharks annually, causing all sorts of problems.

Sharks are a natural part of the marine ecosystem.  From their perch on top of the food chain, they help to maintain a balance in our oceans, preventing smaller species from overpopulating, which can then cause a ripple effect, threatening our delicate coral reefs.

And most of the time we don’t even know they are there.  More often than not, sharks will actively try to avoid us when we venture into their territory.  And while they populate the shoreline all around the Australian coast, Queensland numbers tend to increase in the winter months when their food sources move into the warmer waters.

They may not be as extrovert as the humpback whales, but grey nurse sharks cause just as much excitement amongst scientists. It’s estimated only 1500 of these animals still live off the East Coast of Australia giving them the unenviable status of critically endangered.

Part of the problem with the grey nurse sharks is they look fairly fearsome while remaining relatively sedate underwater – they’re often referred to as the Labradors of the sea due to their docile nature. But this has also made them easy targets for fishermen, with the grey nurse often snagged on hooks as they take up the offer of an easy feed.  Added to which they are slow to mature and reproduce few young.  While they are protected, it doesn’t stop accidental death at the hands of humans.

But marine biologists are studying the grey nurse and trying to figure out ways to help them to repopulate including banning fishing in areas they are known to congregate.  Ocean Life Education’s Shark Discovery program looks at the issues facing endangered species like the grey nurse and tries to separate fact from fiction to make us finally appreciate that the greatest threat in the ocean is not from sharks but humans.

Humpback Heaven

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Most marine creatures that pass our coast prefer to go un-noticed – but not the humpbacks.  These massive mammals like to announce their presence with spectacular displays that still leave scientists guessing as to why.

Certainly whales need to surface to breathe – their huge exhalations rising metres into the air after 20 minutes of down time underwater.  But the humpbacks have turned airtime into an artform.  Giant pectoral fin slaps, tail splashes and spy hops (poking their head out to look for an appreciative crowd) are just the precursor to the main event.

Full body breaches are the show stopper for any whale watcher.  And the degree of difficulty needs to be fully appreciated.  An adult can easily measure 16 metres and weigh up to 30 tonnes and to launch something of that size out of the water (often time and time again) is nothing short of astounding.

But to what end?  It’s not a way to flee predators or to capture food – humpbacks are on an enforced diet during their time away from Antarctica – their preferred menu of krill remains in the icy waters while the whales make their annual pilgrimage to mate and calve in the warmer region of the Pacific.

The most plausible theories to explain the unusual antics are guesses at best.  One thought is the breaches and slaps are a form of communication – a way to let other humpbacks in the vicinity know where they’re at.  Another is it signifies a change in behaviour – when a whale is going for rest mode to more active travelling – like a giant stretch as they wake themselves up.

But many believe they just do it because they can.  Humpbacks are known to be curious, intelligent animals and like most mammals they are capable of having fun. They leap for joy simply because it feels good.

In the past, this playfulness has contributed to their demise, with the species almost hunted to extinction in the early part of the 20th century as they were easy prey to spy.  Today the biggest threats are net entanglements and strikes from over zealous boaties wanting to get as close as possible to these magnificent creatures.

But we all play our part – with Plastic Free July upon us, it is the perfect opportunity to consider our impact on the ocean and the quality of the water the humpbacks and so many other marine creatures swim through.  Don’t be fooled by their size and energy, these really are our most vulnerable visitors and the southerners we want to keep returning for many years to come.

Saving Our Seas

save our seasAs World Ocean Day approaches, it’s timely do a health check on the biggest part of our planet – and the prognosis isn’t promising. It’s estimated there are 5 and a quarter TRILLION pieces of plastic in our waterways – or put simply 15 grocery bags of garbage for every metre of coastline in the world! Take a moment to consider that – enough rubbish to completely cover the shoreline of our planet, several times over.

Even more frightening is the prediction that the volume of plastic will out-weigh fish in our seas in the next 30 years – is this the legacy we want to leave our children? It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the problem, but it is possible to turn the tide on plastic waste, one piece at a time.

Education is a big part of the solution – making the connection between rubbish on the ground and the state of our oceans. Wind and rain carry plastic bags, lids, straws and packaging into rivers and our drainage system, sending them on a one way journey to the sea. We don’t have to live within coo-ee of the coast to be making the situation worse.

Removing rubbish from public areas is certainly a step in the right direction but long term, we need to change our disposable lifestyle. Convenience has cost our planet dearly and while re-usable requires more planning, effort, and often expense, can we really afford not to?

The ocean produces more than 70% of the oxygen we breath and absorbs carbon dioxide to help keep the planet healthy. At Ocean Life Education we make it our mission to help the youngest members of community understand and respect our oceans by connecting with our ocean ambassadors. Older children have the opportunity to study the ocean environment in more depth in our Marine Biologist for a Day programs.

We are always blown away by the passion and dedication of many of our younger generation towards marine conservation – but to really make a difference, we all have to get on board with the need to save our seas.

 

Our Watery World

20180308_073734 (2)When your world is the water, keeping you healthy and out of harm’s way has a few added challenges – especially if you are constantly on the go.

Our animal ambassadors cover thousands of kilometres every year to help share the need for ocean conservation and highlight the problems caused by the modern disposable lifestyle.

And while many of you may have met them in their display tubs, between engagements their time is spent luxuriating in a first-class facility designed to ensure their comfort and well-being.

Every week, salt water is shipped into storage containers in our home-based aquarium, guaranteeing a fresh supply for our animals.  Water quality is vital when you eat, breathe and sleep in it.

Food is also of an extremely high standard and varies according to individual dietary needs.  The turtles like pellets, our recently hatched baby banded bamboo sharks prefer prawns and our sea cucumbers happily vacuum up any discarded snacks that fall to the bottom.

We have 15 large tanks (or suites!) spread across two locations.  While a lot of our spare time is spent maintaining all the pumps, lights and filtration systems, our sea stars very kindly assist in keeping the glass pristine by devouring any algae build-up.

And while we don’t have any favourites amongst our animal ambassadors, it’s fair to say some are a little more high maintenance than others.

When they’re not travelling to schools, early learning centres or events, our fresh water turtles Rainbow, Chip and Dale have non-stop hydrotherapy in their purpose-built homes.

Every so often, though, there is a need for spa treatments – in particular, a regular manicure to keep their claws trim and not quite so terrifying!

Our menagerie of marine animals is like an extended family to us and we do everything we can to ensure they stay healthy and happy so they can continue their vital role of education through interaction.