Sunday, December 26, 2010

Xmas around the world!

Hi Sea Fans!

Wow, it's amazing how much is going on in the aquariums world wide.  I asked around for a few pics of the Santa surprises around the world and these are some of the best photos I got, enjoy!:

Newport Aquarium, Kentucky USA.
 Santa arrived with seahorses at Newport Aquarium - I guess the reindeer don't like water! : )

Sea Life Aquarium, Carlsbad.
Sea Life did a LEGO tree decorating and some of the animals got holiday cut-out pieces of gel to snack on.

Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo.
 No matter the weather in Dubai, the penguins still get a Santa snowman.

Rainforest Cafe, Westfarms.
 Frogs at the Rainforest Cafe also do Christmas it seems...

North Carolina Aquarium, Pine Knoll Shores.
 Santa and his helpers had funny looking candy canes in North Carolina.

uShaka Marine World, South Africa.
Santa braved the sharks in Durban...

Two Oceans Aquarium, South Africa.
 ...and presented a Christmas card in Cape Town.

Aquarium de Paris Cinéaqua.
Santa also made it to France, red fins and all!

Thanks to all the aquariums who sent pics in, it's been a real treat to see what Santa gets up to in the holidays.
South Carolina Aquarium.
I hope you all had a merry Christmas and have a great New Year!

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Jelly belly

Hi Sea Fans!

It's been such a long time since I wrote last, apologies for that.  My last 2 weeks have been rather hectic.  Christmas time is always like that though isn't it?  November in the aquarium trade is the busiest time for aquarists, not only is it the longest school holidays in the year, but it's the time when EVERYONE is taking their holiday so it's the best time for new exhibits and exhibit changes.  A lot of people don't realise that exhibits change actually, it's such a pity because they think that once they've seen it, they've seen it all...but that's not true!  You can often get a really nice surprise like I recently did at Two Oceans Aquarium, they've got some new jellyfish!!

Talking about jellyfish/jellies makes me think of the Blue Bottles that have been washing up on the beaches.

Copyright H de Maine

Did you know that there are true jellies and then other jellies called hydroids that aren't actually jellyfish?  Well, believe it or not, but the Blue Bottle is actually not a true jelly, it's a hydroid.  Examples of true jellies are the Moon Jelly and the Lion's Mane Jelly.

Moon Jellies.
Anemones, corals, jellyfishes and hydroids are all a part of an ancient group with a history that reaches back more than 650 million years, and with over 10,000 known species. Many of these animals look very different from each other, but most go through two stages in their life cycle - a free-swimming jellyfish (medusa) stage and an anemone (polyp) stage.

Jellyfish have drifted in the ocean currents for millions of years, even before dinosaurs lived on earth. They are found in cold and warm water, deep and shallow. Jellyfish have bell-shaped bodies with tentacles that hang down from it. These tentacles have stinging cells in them that stun or paralyze their prey before they eat them. Inside the bell-shaped body is the mouth where food goes in and waste comes out.

Blue bottles & Hydroids
Bluebottles differ from true jellyfishes in a few ways. The gas-filled float has a number of specialised tentacles, which are actually members of a colony. Some members of the colony are specialised for stinging and capturing fishes and other marine animals, some are specialised for eating prey, and some are for reproduction. Even the gas float itself is a modified colony member.

So now you know, not all the jelly-like animals are true jellies!

Have a great week Sea Fans.

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PS. Researchers recently found plastic inside a jelly's belly!!!  Who would have imagined...check out the next blog for more plastic pollution info and see the pic of the jelly below:


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sunfish ooh ooh ooh sunfish!

Hi Sea Fans!

A recent sighting of an Ocean Sunfish in the harbour got me thinking.  There are so many weird and wonderful creatures in the sea and I've only talked about the more common ones most people see.  A friend of mine loves the Sunfish, it's his favourite animal so I think I need to tell you more about it. 

Sunfish have been kept in aquariums, but the way mice flock to cheese, parasites flock to sunfish!!  They are a parasitologist's (a person who studies parasites) dream and can be an aquarist's nightmare because new species of parasites can be found at any time and we don't like parasites!!!  Some parasites don't do any harm to the animal that they are on (their HOST), but some can do a lot of damage and even kill an animal so we need to be very careful.

But enough about the yucky stuff, let me tell you a bit more about the interesting things.  The Ocean Sunfish (also known by its scientific name, Mola Mola) can grow to be a massive fish, the maximum length is over 3 metres and the maximum published weight is 2 300 kg!  That's like 2 300 bags of the 1kg bags of sugar that your mom buys at the shops!  Look at the photo below and you can see how big these amazing fish get in comparison to us.

A Sunfish caught in 1910 that weighed about 1 591kg.
This fish is registered as the heaviest bony fish and as the one with the most eggs in the Guinness Book of World Records!

These fish don't have scales, they have extremely thick, elastic skin and they swim using their strange dorsal (top) and anal fins (the one at the bottom near the back).  These fins are flapped in time to push the fish forward at a surprising speed.  For such a big animal, their mouths are very small and they have a parrot-like beak (remember the Parrotfish also have this) which helps them eat crustaceans (eg. crabs) and molluscs (eg. squid) but they love their jellyfish.  We used to have sunfish at the aquarium that we were nursing back to health and we fed them specially-made jelly with mushed up bits and pieces inside... and added vitamins.  They love the jelly!

Ocean Sunfish are found at depths of up to 480 m, but they like to come to the surface to sun themselves where they lay on their sides and look like huge saucers.  Have a look at the photo below at the sunfish coming up to the surface, you'd think a shark was following you wouldn't you?!

So that's my little bit about the Ocean Sunfish.  Amazing animals, don't you think?  Now that I've started, I can't wait to tell you more about the other weird animals in the sea, but I'll have to leave it for another time.

Have a great week Sea Fans.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Night Duty

Hi Sea Fans!

I hope you all had a great weekend.  I had a really relaxing weekend after having worked last weekend.  Yes, aquarists have to work on weekends sometimes, it's not a 9 to 5 weekday job.  Our animals are watched 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so that means that there is always someone at the aquarium! 

Once, when I was on the night shift from early evening (around 5) till early morning (6am), I got to many people are awake at this time?  How many people are trying to keep their eyes open at 2 in the morning so that nothing goes wrong?  It's funny, whenever I see a security guard, I really feel for them.  It's not a nice job having to stay awake when everyone else is in bed at night AND when you're just walking around checking on things and sitting still for most of the time, it can't be that nice.  Ever since I did night shift at the aquarium, I've had a renewed respect for all the people doing the "graveyard shift".  As aquarists, we're lucky because we have amazing animals to watch all night, but factory workers, security guards, airport staff and anyone else who has to work in the wee hours of the morning...they don't have such beauty to look at.  So next time you see a security guard, give them a smile and know that they're looking out for you whilst you're tucked away in bed dreaming.

Speaking of night shift, I must tell you, the animals are quite amazing at night.  If you have an aquarium nearby where you can go for a sleepover, do it!  It's well worth it and you'll see a different side to the aquarium.  One of the things I really enjoy during night shift is watching the nocturnal predators become more active.  Yes, the sharks liven up at night! 

(Photo: M de Maine)

It's also really special watching the reef fish, like parrotfish, getting ready for "bed".  As you saw in a previous blog, parrotfish make a mucous bubble around their bodies, like a sleeping bag.  The mucous bubble prevents predators from picking up on their scent whilst they sleep.

The seals are quite funny when they sleep, some of them make funny grunting and snoring noises...a little bit like my dad! : )  Whenever I do my rounds and I have to check on the dolphins, I don't need to switch the lights on (I also don't want to disturb them), I can listen out for their breathing and watch for their blowholes in the dim light.  Did you know that dolphins sleep by "switching off" half of their brain at a time?  So half of their brain gets to rest while the other half stays alert...they need to constantly keep a check on their breathing. 
(Photo: Kyrion)
I've even been lucky enough to watch our resident loggerhead turtle pull herself up onto the beach at night to lay her eggs and one of the other aquarists was very lucky, he got to watch an anemone spawn - now wouldn't that be an event to witness!!

Anemone spawning (Photo: M Henley)

So if you get the chance to dive at night or be in an aquarium, go for it, you'll be surprised at how much goes on in the sea when it gets dark!

Have a great week Sea Fans!
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Plastics in the Oceans

Hi Sea Fans!

Did you know that dolphins can be trained to do litter duty? Well, our trainers (called Animal Behaviourists) have trained the dolphins to fetch litter that falls into their pool. If any litter falls in accidentally, like when the wind blows, they bring it to the trainers. Amazing animals don't you think?!

Just to keep you up to date with the whole plastics thing, I thought I'd give you a summary of a Marine Plastic Litter debate held on 13 Oct between an environmental campaigner, an oceanographer and a senior plastics industry representative.  (The debate was hosted by the Royal Geographical Society at the London Headquarters).

The panel concluded that the best way to tackle the problem of marine littering would be to: (taken from an article written by Barry Copping):

• Improve education and enforcement against
                                   - illegal dumping at sea
                                   - poor port management
                                   - littering by beach visitors

Beach litter (Photo: © MEDASSET Marine Photobank)
• Start refundable deposits on plastic drinks bottles

• Have stronger measures against fishermen losing or dumping tackle at sea

Dumped gill nets (Photo: Ted Rayner/Marine Photobank)
• Divert and compost biodegradables which currently go to landfill

• Ensure more consistent recycling by local authorities

• Encourage coastal clean-up initiatives.

Coastal cleanup in Alaska (Photo: Ted Rayner/Marine Photobank)
I hope this makes everyone aware of how important it is for each of us to do our bit.  Help save our Sea Friends, Sea Fans!

Well, that's it from me Sea Fans.  Have a great week and remember to recycle.
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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sea Safety

Hi Sea Fans!

Reading the paper today made me realize that it can't be said enough: YOU NEED TO BE CAREFUL WHEN IN AND AROUND THE SEA.  More and more people are being swept out to sea by currents and being taken by surprise by the strength of the sea.  With the holiday season coming up...and many school kids on study breaks, there will be an increased number of people on the beaches and in the sea so I thought I'd write a little note on sea safety.


Durban, South Africa on New Year's Day. (Photo: H de Maine)
Before entering the sea, take time to watch the waves and avoid areas of strong backwash, obvious rip currents and other dangers such as the possibility of being washed up onto the rocks.  Remember that rocks can also be very slippery with algae growth so be careful when entering rock pools.  Only enter the sea where the waves are gentle and straight and stay in a comfortable depth for your ability.  Remember to keep a look out for lifeguard flags and to stay within the red and yellow flags that they put on the beach for your safety.

If you get carried out to sea by a rip current, don't fight it, swim parallel to the shore and then surf in with the waves once you're out of the current.  Backwash and rip currents aren't as strong when the tide is rising, so if you want to play it safe, rather swim at this time.

Lastly, don't dive into shallow water and play safely!


Surfer (Photo: Stan Shebs)
Go out with a buddy, you never know when you might need a little help.  Keep away from swimming areas and know your own strength and ability.


Snorkeller (Photo: Masato Ikeda)
Go out with a buddy.  The most dangerous part of snorkelling is often the entry and exit, choose a safe entry and exit point where you won't get bashed about by the waves or slip on the rocks when entering.  Remember to wear something bright like a brightly coloured rash vest or carry a buoy (best option).  Without realising it, you can get really badly sunburnt whilst snorkelling, so protect yourself with sun cream and a rash vest or wetsuit.


Dive boat (Photo: H de Maine)
Remember to take a wind-proof jacket with, especially for sunset cruises, as temperatures can drop out at sea quite quickly and with the increased wind, your core body temperature can drop and this can lead to more severe problems like hypothermia.  Always check to ensure that you have your safety equipment on board (life jackets, distress flares, anchors and ropes, first aid kit, tool kit, oar/paddle etc) and if you are diving, the skipper must ensure that the diving flag is visible to other sea goers.  Listen to your skipper and be alert when launching and beaching.

This is the one that most people are wary of.  There is no need to be completely terrified, just be aware. 

Jellyfish (especially box jellyfish season in Australia): rather don't swim when they are in their masses.

Box Jellyfish (Photo by GG).
 Sharks: they don't want to eat you but be alert to warnings from lifeguards as to the presence of sharks (Cape Town, South Africa has flags that are raised at the beaches more prone to shark visits and depending on the colour of the flag, you'll know if the sharks are there, if you should stay out of the water or if no sharks have been spotted that day).

Ragged Tooth Shark (Photo: H de Maine)

Lionfish/Devil Firefish: the general rule applies, if you don't disturb them, they won't disturb you.

Lionfish (Photo: H de Maine)

Other: try not to step on any unsuspecting creatures, they may not hurt you (some may) but you'll hurt them.  Shuffling your feet through the sand will disturb any bottom-dwelling creatures and ensure that you don't stand on them.  Don't pick sea creatures up and take them home, they are home already.  Have fun checking out the rock pools, but don't shove shells into anemones to see the tentacle retract and don't remove an octopus out of his hole to show friends.  You wouldn't want intruders in your home poking and prodding you, so observe them and show others, but don't disturb them.

That's my bit for today Sea Fans.  Enjoy the sea, have fun on the beaches and soak up the sun but please be careful and stay safe.

Have a great weekend.
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PS. Capetonians: Kirstenbosch Market this Sunday 9am - 3pm, come and say hi.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Home-schooled 9 year-old knows quite a bit about the sea!

Hi Sea Fans!

Well, I never!  I just got an e-mail from a boy I met at the Yebo Gogga Expo and he has once again amazed me.  Zandor is a 9 year-old boy who is home-schooled by his mom and his knowledge of the marine world will blow you away.  We chatted at the expo, that's when he told me about the mucous bubble that parrotfish blow around themselves to sleep at night in order to mask their scent...this is usually an interesting fact I tell adults and most times, they never knew about it!  So just to show you how a passion for something can make learning a subject really easy, here's part of the e-mail that Zandor sent me:

Parrot fish
 A parrot fish eats coral. It gets its name by its beak. Other fish have a round hole which opens and closes but a parrot fish has a hard beak for eating coral because coral makes lime stone around itself. When it eats the parrot fish sives the coral from the lime stone and the lime stone then comes out of the back of the fish. A parrot fish in the night makes a bag of mucas around itself so that peditors can’t smell through all that mucas.

The dames fish or farmer fish (damsel)
 A farmer fish farms algae. If eny fish try’s to eat the farmer fish’s food it will fight by biting the fish’s fins. This tipe of algae can kill a coral reef so the farmer fish kips it under control by eating it.

 The sponge
 A sponge is an animal that lives on rocks. It is alive. A sponge sucks water throw holes. The water flows throw tunnels and chambers all covered in hairs. The hairs filter the water of eny food. Shrimps live inside the sponge but thies shrimps are tiny. Conalys live inside the chambers because food is there.
 The way the sponges spawn is the female sponge rilises her eggs and the male rilises his sperm and the eggs and the sperm meet mix and the larve hatch they float for a while and then they sink and grow into new sponges.

Sponge spawning (Photo: M Miller/SEFSC)

 The false cleaner fish
There are real cleaner fish and a false cleaner fish. The real cleaner fish cleans other fish even sharks if it eats one cleaner fish other cleaner fish wont clean it so it (the shark) has to behave.

Cleaner wrasse (Photo: JE Randall,
The false cleaner fish on the other hand can pick off a few parsits and then take a bite in the fish’s side. Most of the time the fish can get away from the false cleaner fish but sometimes the fish can’t.

False Cleaner Wrasse (Photo: JE Randall).  The easiest way to tell the difference between the Cleaner Wrasse and False Cleaner Wrasse are by looking at the mouth - the False Cleaner Wrasse has its mouth positioned under the snout and the Cleaner Wrasse has its mouth positioned right in front.  If you look closely you can also see teeth when looking at the False Cleaner Wrasse.

How coral spawn

The coral male can’t go and look for a female because they are connected to the rock so the female coral sends out lots and lots of eggs because many get eaten by fish and soft corals. The male coral olso sends out sperm. When the sperm and eggs meet the sperm fertilizes the eggs the baby coral then hatchs and sink down to start a new reef.

So you see, learning about nature is not hard work. When you get into it, you can find out amazing things and have a lot of fun. Thanks Zandor, it was great to hear from you.

Have a great week Sea Fans!


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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bookchat Review

Another review for my first adventure, this time from Jay Heale (

ABBY’S AQUARIUM ADVENTURES by Heidi de Maine, illustrated by Keli Hazelton (Published privately – info from

A praiseworthy private publication about a happy aquarist with plenty of brightly illustrated information about visiting an aquarium. A local picture-book with reality and facts behind the enjoyment.

Jay's rating = Recommended

Thursday, July 1, 2010

THE Dr Phil Heemstra

Hi Sea Fans!

I just had to share this with you.  I sent a few sample pages of "Abby's Aquarium Adventures" to Dr Phil Heemstra, Curator Emeritus at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and he said:

"Well done! Based on your samples your book should be a best seller."
Thanks Dr Heemstra, this means so much coming from such a well-known scientist!
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Abby in the press

Hi Sea Fans!

It's so exciting, Cape Town Kids website has reviewed my book and it's looking good!  Here's what they had to say:

"This is the first in a new series of books about Abby, written by marine biologist Heidi de Maine and illustrated by Keli Hazelton. Abby’s story is different from most other children’s books about animals in that it introduces not only exotic sea creatures, but also an insight into the world of people who work inside the aquarium. Although it is aimed at new readers (age 6-10), it captivated my 4-year old and I really enjoyed reading it. Useful facts and fun ‘quirks’ about each fish or animal is presented in a language that is easy to understand but also leaves space for more exploration. We had fun answering the questions at the back of the book and both learned something new, and want to test our knowledge at our next visit to the aquarium. Because the book introduces only a small selection of animals and leaves a strong sense of being part of a bigger series, we are now really looking forward to the next book!"

I guess this means that we'll have to get book 2 out soon! : )  Keep an eye on this space and I'll let you know how it's going.

Have a great week Sea Fans and let me know what you think by leaving comments or taking the survey on the right hand side of the blog - only 6 days left to add your voice to this survey.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Sea Monsters

Hi Sea Fans!

What an amazing week last week was.  I got to attend a talk by Dr Eugenie Clark, the "Shark Lady"!  She's 88 years old and is still diving.  The day of her talk, she had been in 15 degree (celsius) water to check out the seven gill sharks of the Cape waters in South Africa. 

A Sevengill Shark.  (Photo by: G. Zsilavecz)

Wow, I hope I'm like her when I reach the age of 88.  Not only is she a friendly and cheerful person, she has amazing stories to tell about what's she's done in her lifetime.  She has written 3 books, over 160 scientific and popular articles, including 12 National Geographic features AND done 71 submersible dives (this is like a mini submarine that scientists use to dive deeper and longer to do research on the animals of the oceans).  It's amazing what some marine biologists get up to!

Her talk was all about the monsters of the sea, but by monsters, she doesn't mean the Loch Ness type of monster, but rather what people may think look, act or feed like monsters.  Some of the animals she showed us were: the Cookie Cutter Shark that has an amazing set of teeth (it bites into its prey and then twists so that it cuts out a round piece of flesh);

The head of a Cookie Cutter Shark.

The strange rubbery lip and amazing teeth of the Cookie Cutter Shark.

the hooded octopus that looks like it dances when it swims and many people like to call it "Dumbo" because of it's looks;

Deep sea "Dumbo" Octopus.  (Photo: Discovery Channel)

 a huge salp that looks like a long jelly worm but is actually not a jellyfish but rather more closely related to vertebrates (animals with true backbones);

An example of a Salp. (Photo: Dive Matrix)

the megamouth shark with its HUGE jaws;

see the ARKive site for a picture @ megamouth-shark/megachasma-pelagios/image-G5956.html

the basking shark;

A Basking Shark next to a diver showing off it's plankton-feeding mouth.

and the Great White Shark which everyone knows.

So it was a fascinating week and I got to see photos of animals I'd only ever heard about.  Good stuff!
I hope you all have a great week Sea Fans and I'll chat to you soon.
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Monday, June 7, 2010

Praise for Abby's Aquarium Adventures

By: Judy Mann
Director of Sea World at uShaka Marine World
SAAMBR (South African Association of Marine Biological Research)

At last a book that introduces young readers to the exciting world of an aquarium. Abby’s Aquarium Adventures was a real pleasure to read and a welcome change to the common subject matter found in most children’s books. The book traces the adventures of Abby, an aquarist working at a public aquarium and introduces young readers to the fascinating work done in an aquarium. Abby’s Aquarium Adventures also gives readers a chance to learn more about some of the many interesting fish found in our oceans.

The book is clearly written in a language accessible to young readers. Well illustrated, the beautiful, colourful images clearly depict the themes of the different pages. The illustrations complement the text well to produce a book that is clear, interesting and lots of fun.

But, to really test the book I tried it out with a number of little people. After all, the book is aimed at youngsters. Without exception they all loved it! The pictures helped to clarify the new words and the text was easy to read by new readers. They found the subject matter intriguing and they were drawn into the story, asking what will happen next and really engaging with the topics. They loved the fish identification quiz at the end as it gave them a little ‘self test’ to do.

As the Director of uShaka Sea World and with many years of experience in Marine Education, I do not often have a chance to really share my work with little people. This book was a fun way to explain what happens at a place like uShaka Marine World in an entertaining way that really engaged the children. This is the first book of its kind to focus on the marine world, for the younger child, and it is a welcome addition to our resources for marine education. I look forward to reading and sharing more of Abby’s Aquarium Adventures.