Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dolphin Marine Magic


That means “hello” or “welcome” in the language of the local Gumbaynggirr Aboriginal people on the Coffs Coast.

I have had a blast with the animals and trainers here at Dolphin Marine Magic! I got to see everything that they do in their job taking care of the animals, including all the fun jobs … and some of the less fun jobs!

At Dolphin Marine Magic, they want guests to experience, discover and then act to help save our planet! So one of the first things on my To Do List was getting kissed by the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins and Australian Sea Lions!

Zippy the dolphin giving me a big smooch!
Throughout the day, the marine mammal trainers will do training sessions with the animals. The training sessions are really fun and positive for the animals, so they get really excited for training time! The trainers use different tools, including something called a target (which looks like a big matchstick). The animals are taught to touch different body parts to the target. By training this way, they can show the animals what they would like them to do. I helped them do some target training with Ozzie, their biggest male Australian Sea Lion at the park! (and boy was he big!  I could have been his snack...luckily he prefers fish :))

One of the main jobs of the marine mammal trainers is to monitor (keep an eye on/check) the health of the animals that they take care of. This is done by doing a daily health examination on all the animals. This includes checking all over the body for any cuts, scratches or injuries, checking eyes, teeth, gums, body condition and behaviour.

"Say Aah!" (Elle getting her teeth checked by me.)
Elle and I became great buddies.
The animals are also given lots of toys throughout the day as part of their environmental enrichment program (in other words, they are kept from getting bored). Some of the toys are things such as balls, chew ropes, food puzzles, buoys, ice blocks and even unique objects that their trainers have dreamt up! I got to help prepare some ice blocks for the animals.
My timing was perfect because I got to join in with Zippy’s 29th birthday celebrations! We celebrated this in style: a big birthday party where all the park visitors were invited, with a big fish cake and Zippy’s favourite toy, his football!
Dolphin Marine Magic is also a temporary home for many rescued animals. Throughout the year, the staff and vets help to rescue, rehabilitate (fix them up) and release around 100 animals each year. This includes whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, turtles, fish, sharks, penguins and seabirds. One of the Animal Care Staff, Isaiah, asked me to help him attach a temporary tag to one of the rescue turtles so that they can identify and monitor its health while it is in their care. 

During a presentation by one of the guides, I learnt two things:
1- Visitors to the centre are encouraged to keep their pet dogs and cats inside at night time to protect native wildlife such as the Little Blue Penguins. 
2 - It was penguin breeding season! I got to help prepare some nesting materials for the penguins to build a nest to lay their eggs and help check inside their burrows each day to look for eggs and newly hatched chicks.
Along with all the really unusual stuff, I also got to do some of the day-to-day stuff like cleaning the reef aquarium and feeding the fish sharks and rays. The aquarium displays the animals which can be found in the Solitary Islands Marine Park just off the Coffs Coast. It extends for 75km (46 and a half miles) and is unique as it is the meeting place for temperate waters from the south and warm tropical waters from the north (A meeting place for two different temperatures of water - very much like Cape Town, where I'm from). This results in a high diversity of habitats and animals (lots of different animal homes and animals) in the Marine Park. While fishing is allowed in the Marine Park, it is important to make sure that you don't catch fish that are too small and that you don't catch too many (there are limits for each species) to make sure there are plenty of fish and animals left for future generations to enjoy.
Cleaner Abby :)
So, like I said before, there's normal stuff to do each day too. Being a marine mammal trainer isn’t a completely glamorous job. I woke up at 6 AM to help prepare all the animals’ food for the day!

I had to sort through almost 100 kilograms of fish to select the best ones for the animals to eat. Each of the animals has a diet tailored for their specific needs. Afterwards, I scrubbed down the entire fish kitchen till it sparkled! 

There is also a lot of work that goes into making sure the water in the animals’ pools is nice and clean. The water is tested up to four times a day to make sure it is clean. The tests include monitoring important chemical levels such as pH, temperature, chlorine, salinity and dissolved oxygen. I helped out in the lab ... no white lab coat needed :)

Dolphin Marine Magic and Zoos Victoria not only look after the animals in their care, but also the wildlife outside their walls!  They started a program called “Seal the Loop”. This program encourages members of the community to throw used and discarded (left around because it can't be used anymore) fishing line into the Seal the Loop bins to ensure animals do not swallow or become entangled in it. 
A Seal the Loop bin.
Apparently, Calamity, one of Dolphin Marine Magic's rescued dolphins, came to them because of being entangled in a fishing line.  The staff are super keen to make sure that doesn't happen to any other animals! They've set up 27 bins in the Coffs Harbour region. Along with volunteers, staff regularly collect the fishing line in these bins. It's quite amazing, they've collected over 60 km (37 miles) of fishing line since the project started in Coffs Harbour! (That's about 600 soccer fields long - Shew!!)

After all the serious stuff, I also got to do some sightseeing around the Coffs Harbour area. One of the “must dos” is to visit the Big Banana! Australia is famous for its many big things, such as the Big Prawn, the Big Pineapple and the Big Merino. The Big Banana is one of Australia’s original and first big things!
Can you see me next to the giant banana?

So that's Australia done.  Follow me and I will take you to more exotic places.  Where will I go next?  Can you guess?

Have a great week Sea Fans!
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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The humble Humbolt

Hi Sea Fans!

I saw coral babies, copepods, fish babies and more at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, but I couldn't leave before saying hi to the Humboldt penguins.  We have the African Penguin in South Africa (seriously endangered!) which makes a honking sound that has earned it the name JACKASS penguin :)

The Humboldts are just as noisy!!


These guys are VULNERABLE because of habitat loss, overfishing, invasive species and indsutrial development.  The CZA has 12 penguins that are all a part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Humboldt penguins.
Since joining the SSP in 1996, the zoo has had a total of 28 chicks and raised 26 of them! (2 eggs were shipped to other zoos - don't want to keep all the eggs in the same basket ;))

I was just about to leave when Dan called me over and asked if I could help him.
The manatee exhibit needs to be cleaned every day (scrub the rockwork, clean the algae off the acrylic window, clear the drains) so I played a bit of "spot the dot on the window" for Dan whilst he cleaned them.

So that was my visit to CZA, thanks so much to all the staff, especially Mallory for showing me around.

Hope you enjoyed that Sea Fans!  There's more to come.
Have a great week.
Chat soon
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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

From coral babies to fish babies

Hi Sea Fans!

Last time I showed you the Discovery Reef at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, today I want to tell you more about Discovery Reef.

 The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium also wants to do their part for wild fish. Along with many other aquariums and research universities, CAZ runs a marine aquaculture project (breeding marine fish, many of which have specialized diets and habitats).  
A tank with fish that have been brought up at the aquarium. These fish can eventually go on display or be shipped to other aquariums. 
This project helps us all (aquarium people) to understand fish growth better as well as different ways of growing live foods 
These are copepods in the tubs, they are live food that is fed to the aquarium fish.

so that we don't have to keep taking from the wild.  This aquaculture project has allowed the zoo to work closely with the Rising Tide Conservation project. 

Rising Tide Conservation is a non-profit dedicated to the protection of coral reefs through sustainable aquaculture. The part of the Rising Tide Conservation mission statement that says it best: “We know that by sharing education, we can increase the amount of captive-bred species of marine ornamental fish available to aquarium hobbyists and reduce our impact on coral reefs.”

Another amazing day!  

Have a great week Sea Fans!
Chat soon
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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Discovery Reef

Hi Sea Fans!

Yup, it's part 2 of my Columbus Zoo and Aquarium adventures :) After spending time with the manatees, I got to discover the aquarium and learn more about coral babies!

Discovery Reef contains the zoo’s 322 000 litre salt water exhibit.
There are 4 species of shark (bonnethead, zebra, epaulette, and bamboo) and many different types of fish in here. Discovery Reef also has plenty of smaller displays with fish and live corals that are grown at the zoo.  Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has been involved in a very important program for Sexual Coral Reproduction, or SECORE for short.

Since 2003, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has partnered with SECORE International to help protect and restore coral reefs throughout the Caribbean and the Pacific. Keepers from the Columbus Zoo and researchers working with SECORE use state of the art husbandry techniques to collect gametes from spawning corals in order to fertilize them and then raise the coral larvae (coral babies!) into juvenile coral colonies which can then be replanted onto degraded reefs. Using a combination of education, outreach, research and restoration SECORE is helping give coral reefs a future. (Now don't you want to be a part of something amazing like this?!  CZA staff are sooooooo lucky!)

These coral grow out tanks are very important for the keepers to understand the best environments (temperature, salinity, lighting) for the coral and this, in turn, helps the aquarists out when they are in the field working with SECORE International.  This coral tank has a surge device that delivers strong intermittent water surges with shorter periods of gentle water flows. The lights above these corals are 400W so they are quite powerful and exactly what the corals need to grow.  After the corals have grown to a size deemed healthy enough, the aquarists will remove fragments (pieces of coral) and transplant them into our exhibits around Discovery Reef as natural habitats for the many marine species. 

This was probably my best day at CZA!  How awesome is it that they are helping to restore our coral reefs?!  Just another day in the life of an aquarist :)

Have a great week Sea Fans!
Chat soon
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Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Hi Sea Fans!

I've really been so lucky, what started as a 1 year round-the-world-trip to visit people working with marine life, has ended up being 5 1/2 years so far!  Thank you to everyone who has hosted me and shown me what they do in a day, it's been a blast!

So anyway, my next stop was Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.  Gee, where do I start?  I got to experience so much... let's start with the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP). 

"The highest single cause of mortality to manatees is boat strikes.  Manatees also face being entangled in fishing lines, deal with pollution, entrapment, harassment (calf and mother are separated), habitat loss, cold stress, and red tide. We see animals here that are recovering from injuries, calves that are orphaned, and animals suffering from cold stress. Cold stress happens when the water temperature drops below 68° F and can leads to lethargy, anorexia, hypothermia and even death. This predisposes animals to a variety of infections, causes organ groups to shut down, loss of skin, as well as pneumonia and death." Mallory Seibold

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is the most northern facility in the US to rehabilitate and release Florida manateees. Due to their large appetites (and they can eat LOTS!!!!!!!!!!!), the manatees are some of the most expensive animals to feed here.  They don't just eat lettuces, they also get sweet potatoes and apples for treats :)

The Manatee Coast exhibit has 5 manatees: Stubby (who lives here permanently because she lost most of her tail and can't swim properly); 
June Bug; Jedi; Millenium; and Falcon.  (Except Stubby, they are all juveniles who were orphaned at a young age and couldn't survive on their own. Millenium and Falcon are the smallest and youngest manatees that CZA has ever cared for...and they're twins! Very unusual for manatees.)

Stubby gets to do training sessions where she rolls on her back and presents her flipper for medical exams - I got to help Kevin, the trainer!  

Thanks CZA!!!  Don't stop reading now though Sea Fans, there's more coming in the next few weeks, keep your eyes on my blog :)

Chat soon
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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dolphin Discovery Centre

Hi Sea Fans!

We've had strange storms here in SA and now Winter has officially started so I'm off to visit more friends, keep an eye on my travels, maye I'll be in your hometown next! ;)

In the mean time, let me tell you a bit more about where I've been...Dolphin Discovery Centre.

During the 1960's, a local resident of Koombana Bay in Australia, began feeding dolphins from a small jetty.  After she passed, a dolphin specialist was hired to continue the tradition, feeding and studying the local dolphins. From this work, came the establishment of the Interaction Zone in `990 and the Dolphgin Discovery Centre in 1994.  Tourists and members of the community can interact with the group of 5 or 6 dolphins that regularly visit and learn more about dolphins in general.

"We don't clearly understand why the dolphins continue to visit the Zone today however research does suggest that the small amount of food they receive as a reward for their visit is not the only attraction. There are many dolphins that visit the Zone regularly that do not receive any fish and many of them stay for extended periods of time for interaction with the human visitors. Sick and injured dolphins also treat the beach as a haven, with some repeatedly visiting during periods of illness or injury." from their website. 

Dolphin Eco Cruises and swimming with wild dolphins - you wouldn't want to do that?  Well, Phil offered to take me around the Dolphin Discovery Centre in Australia where he works, to show me what he does in a day.  Here are some pics:

Checking for dolphins.

Chatting to the aquarium's resident shark.

The centre aims to promote research, conservation and education of the Bottlenose Dolphins and other native marine life.  It is home to a discovery pool, aquariums, 360 degree digital dolphinarium, scheduled guided site tour, 3D & 2D movies, cafe and souvenir shop, so there is something for everyone.
  There is also the Interaction Zone where the wild dolphins often come to interact with visitors

It's not all dolphins!  You can learn about sea life in general and what you can do to help protect the oceans and the creatures who live in them.

This occie just cracked me up!

The centre runs thanks to experienced staff and volunteers who are willing to give up their time.

Aussie sunshine!

A beautiful day to meet the dolphins.

Can you believe what Phil did to me?!? 
Thanks Phil and all the staff at DDC for showing me around and letting me experience a day in your life :)

Have a great week Sea Fans!
Chat soon
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Sunday, January 29, 2017

NOAA Gateway

HI Sea Fans!

I had the privilege of visiting the NOAA Gateway, an interactive exhibition about NOAA's science.

"Hand of NOAA" by Ray Kaskey – this sculpture of a giant hand releasing seagulls to the ocean represents the agency’s mission of recording and protecting the environment.
This model ship is the  Oceanographer launched on 18 April 1964. She was 92 m (303 feet) long, the largest vessel constructed for research purposes to date. She had a very distinctive appearance with her stark white paint, large radome aft of the funnels, and heavy crane on the aft deck. She had a number of labs (chemistrywet and dry oceanographic, meteorologicalgravimetric, and photographic) and several winches.

The Survey of the Coast was formed in 1807, renamed a few times and then became a part of NOAA in 1970. 

Some items from early Coast Survey ships included china, a hat and epaulets from uniforms.

The Survey's mission was to provide accurate nautical charts (maps of the oceans), but now it includes most of the physical sciences including:

·         hydrography (the science of the measurement and description and mapping of the surface waters of the earth with special reference to navigation),
·         geodesy (the branch of maths dealing with the shape and area of the earth or large portions of it),
·         astronomy (the study of celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole),
·         topography (detailed mapping or charting of the features of a relatively small area),
·         oceanography (the study of the physical and biological properties and phenomena of the sea.),
·         tide and current measurement and prediction,
·         seismology (the study of earthquakes and related phenomena),
·         magnetics,
·         national standards,
·         photogrammetry (the use of photography in surveying and mapping to figure out measurements between objects.),
·         and more.

I loved my visit, but I really enjoyed the videos from Ocean Today (http://oceantoday.noaa.gov/) and the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) which is a specialized device that allows a captured sea turtle to escape when caught in a fisherman's net. 
In particular, sea turtles can be caught when bottom trawling is used by the commercial shrimp fishing industry. In order to catch shrimp, a fine meshed trawl net is needed.

Here are my new friends, Bruce, Molly and Peg in front of the new Science on Sphere (http://sos.noaa.gov/What_is_SOS/index.html)
Thanks so much to Peg Steffen for showing me around!

Have a great week, Sea Fans!
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Friday, January 27, 2017

Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET)

.Hi Sea Fans!

From one interesting place to the next!  I got to visit the Aquaculture Research Centre at IMET.  
Watching the European Sea Bass

The scientists at IMET study the ocean and environment to be able to protect and restore it, as well as make sure that people stay healthy and use the resources (something that is found in nature and can be used by people. Earth's natural resources = light, air, water, plants, animals, soil, stone, minerals, and fossil fuels.) in a way that makes sure that future generations (your children and their children) get to enjoy them too.

The research centre is 1 800 square metres of pumps, filters and tanks!  The scientists can change all of the conditions that the animals live in like: lighting; water temperature; water pH; water flow; etc.  This means that they can change the environment of the animal or plant that they are studying to suit any experiment.  They make their own sea water and use ozone to keep it clean and disease-free for the finfish and shellfish that they study.
I was checking out the Blue Crabs here.
Have a look at these links to see more:

Thanks so much to Steve Rogers for showing me around!!

Have a great weekend Sea Fans!

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Gulf of Maine Research Institute Lab Venture Programme

Hi Sea Fans!

I have som uch of my trip to catch up on in this blog, it's unbelievable how much fun we've been having (and how little time I've had to sit down and write).  Here goes:

My next stop was in Maine at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) LabVenture! program. This program is for Maine's 5th and 6th grade students. Students pretend to be a scientist and do their own hands-on research in the interactive lab.

This week, I helped the educators with the LabVenture! program.
I waited with the staff for the students to arrive to hand out name tags so students could get to work as scientists.
Molly, Becca, and I led the students through the half-day hands-on interactive lab experience. Students were working to answer the question: “How are Cod, Lobsters, Herring, and Humans connected in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem?”

With Molly and Becca.
Students worked at interactive stations to collect data, make observations, use the tools of science, and create videos. I got a chance to try the stations as well. It was really fun to control the underwater cameras using the joystick!

I helped students use a caliper to measure the carapace of a lobster. The length of a lobster's carapace can help scientist understand how quickly lobsters are growing.
I even got to observe GMRI's large blue lobster in their large benthic tank and learned about how cod and lobsters interact. The lobster was bigger than me!

I also helped Molly and Becca listen to the videos students created at the stations and picked which work to share with the whole class.

The day went really quickly and the students were busy at the stations the whole time. It was great to see so many students having fun and doing science!  Thanks Meredyth and friends for showing me around!

So those of you living in Maine, go and join in!!

Have a great week Sea Fans!
Chat soon

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Do you want to be a marine biologist?

Hi Sea Fans!

Those of you living in South Africa have an amazing opportunity...the Two Oceans Aquarium has started offering special courses to those interested in possibly following a career in the marine sciences.

Grade 6 - Junior Biologist - FREE!
Grade 7 - Junior Smart Living - FREE!
Grade 8 - Marine Science Discoverer
Grade 9 - Marine Science Explorer
Grade 10 - High School Volunteer Course
Grade 11 & 12 - Zoology & Oceanography (FET)

Check out all the details here:


Have a great week Sea Fans!
Chat soon

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why are Great White Sharks not on display in an aquarium?

Hi Sea Fans!

I often get asked all sorts of questions, but this one seems to pop up often, especially in the summer season or after Shark Week.  Luckily, I came across a video link today to explain:

Have a great week Sea Fans!

Chat soon
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