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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