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Blue Planet Aquarium’s Freshwater Oddballs

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In the last few Blogs I’ve covered our Main Tank here at Blue Planet quite extensively, but I haven’t really managed to show you some of our other inhabitants. In this blog I want to show you some of the animals we have in our freshwater tanks and seen as half of the Aquarium is freshwater its pretty fair to say that we have quite a few of them.

When Blue Planet Aquarium was built back in 1998 it was built to loosely replicate the water cycle, so our first area is an area that mimics highland streams and rivers, before it moves down through the Jungles and Rainforests, then into the world’s great Lakes and finally the mangrove swamps and brackish swamps… before finally ending up in the ocean.

The first area we’re going to talk about is the first zone at the aquarium and that’s Northern Streams. This area is themed around highland rivers and streams and is mainly British Freshwater species including Carp, Sticklebacks, Sturgeon and Silver Orfe. The exhibit is split into three sections with different species in each section. Each section is split by a wall with a small gap over the top with fast flowing water. This is to imitate the natural currents that the animals would get in the wild and they do have the option to swim over them if they want too.

In this exhibit we have around 250 Silver Orfe and a handful of Golden Orfe or as they’re otherwise globally known as “Ide”. They’re a species that need fast flowing water with lots of oxygen and swim between the three sections all the time. We also have Common and Silver Carp, which are a large relative of the Goldfish. Carp are famous through Course Fishing and are immensely powerful; they’re among peoples favourites due to their quite comical expressions and being one of the largest fish in Northern Streams.

My personal favourites in this area are the two species of Sturgeon: we have both Russian or “Diamond” Sturgeon and Siberian Sturgeon. You may be familiar with these guys as they’re a fish that look incredibly similar to a Shark and have been around for millions of years. We know this as they lack a first Dorsal fin in the same way that Six-gill and Seven-Gill Sharks do; these fish are also one of a few species from which we get Caviar. They are a bottom dwelling fish and feed by using their sensitive noses to forage through the mud for worms and small Crustaceans.

The next area is Lake Malawi (not the real one) but an area of the aquarium that’s themed around the great lake in Africa. Lake Malawi has a surface area of 29,600 km² and is 580km Long with its max depth being 700m. This makes Lake Malawi the ninth largest lake in the world and is the third largest and second deepest in Africa. Lake Malawi houses more fish species than any other lake in the world with the number of Cichlids alone sitting at around 1500sp although at Blue Planet we only a house a mere handful of these.

Cichlids are famous for the way in which they breed, Cichlids are known as mouth brooders as the females store/incubate and rear their young in their mouths. The females do this until the young start to become too large for all the Fry to be stored in the mouth and at this point she will start to kick them out so they can stretch their fins and build up their strength, but if they’re not quick enough to get back in when a predator comes then they are at risk of being eaten. Our Cichlids are housed alongside other animals such as a Giraffe Catfish who naturally would be found in the Nile River but were released into Lake Malawi. Ours is incredibly friendly and will come to the surface and wait, mouth agape, for his food.

The next and final area is of course the Amazon Area. Now if you were to walk through the aquarium you would go through this area first before Lake Malawi, but I wanted to leave the largest of our freshwater fish until last.

In this area we have some of our most charismatic Freshwater species such as our Red-Bellied Piranhas. These fish are surrounded by quite negative media attention which is something that isn’t deserved. The rumours surround that these fish eat people and can strip a human in 10 seconds but that is greatly exaggerated.

Piranhas are more scavengers and due to this are nicknamed the “Hyenas of the Amazon”. They prefer to eat the dead, dying or severely injured, this is due to their small size and the fact that they are not very high up the food chain, meaning that they’re targeted by many predators that live in the Amazon. They usually send up a scout to check the prey or food and once the scout has taken the first bite to show its clear, the rest of the pack follow. A Piranhas’ bite is incredibly powerful and so powerful that in comparison to body size, Red-Bellied Piranhas have a stronger bite than that of T-Rex and Megalodon. The myth that they can strip a human in seconds is mainly science fiction, but they can still strip a small carcass in just a few minutes.

The final Exhibit I’m going to mention is the Flooded Forest tank. This is the one that houses the aquarium’s largest freshwater fish. In this tank we have some of the most charismatic and popular fish in the aquarium,  such as the Black Pacu, which is the world’s largest species of Piranha. When these fish are young they have bright red bellies to mimic the Red-Bellied Piranha and as they get bigger they lose this colour and turn a dark colour.

People buy these fish thinking that they’re getting Piranhas, but owners soon realise there’s something amiss when they swap some meat for some carrots and cabbage. They can also grow up to be around 3 ½ Feet in length and weigh in at a hefty 60 pounds, we have one in the exhibit around this size that has come to be called “Moby”. The tank is home to a number of fish that have been rescued over the years and a lot of the fish in the tank were all either mis-sold or sold under a false name, leading to the tank being nicknamed ‘Tank Busters’. Sharing the tank with the Pacu’s we also have Tiger Shovelnose Catfish who were very intent on looking at their reflection in the dome port of my camera when I got in to take some of the photos used in this blog. Once again these fish are also rescues from owners who could no longer care for them.

We also have a handful of Silver Arowana and of course the Freshwater Stingrays. We have two species at Blue Planet: the Amazonian Stingray which is Brown with orange spots and the Xingu River Ray which is black with white spots. These Stingrays have the slightly annoying habit of trying to sleep under your feet when you’re trying to clean the windows and sand, so we must be extra careful not to step on them.

So, there you have it, our Freshwater Oddballs here at Blue Planet Aquarium. It’s amazing to have several different species over many different environments and I’m glad that I have been able to introduce you to some of the aquarium’s different inhabitants. Check out the next blog to meet our Jellyfish Breeder and to see how we breed our Moon Jellyfish.

For more information about the Blue Planet Aquarium please visit their website by clicking here.

Donovan is a Divemaster who currently works as a Shark Diver at Blue Planet Aquarium based in Ellesmere Port. Donovan’s passion lies with Elasmobranch’s (Sharks & Rays) and this passion has led him to work in South Africa with White Sharks for a short period. He also believes that education through exposure is the best way to re-educate people about Sharks. Follow Donovan at www.instagram.com/donovans_reefs

Marine Life & Conservation

Review: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netlix documentary: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

David Attenborough’s latest and arguably most important documentary to date is now showing on Netflix.  It is, in his own words, his “witness statement” of a unique life exploring and documenting the wonders of the natural world.

Attenborough looks back and realizes that the previously gradual changes he witnessed (animal species becoming harder to find and fewer wild spaces) have now become vastly more widespread and noticeable. As the human population increased, so has the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while the amount of wilderness has decreased.  His conclusion: human activity and man-made climate change have accelerated the pace of biodiversity loss.  This not only imperils the majority of natural habitats and creatures on Earth, but also the very future of humankind.

From images of lush green landscapes we journey with him over time to revisit these places, now wastelands. One of the most haunting is the contrast between early footage of orangutans swinging through the rainforest, to recent images of an orangutan clinging onto a lone tree devoid of all but one branch in the wreckage of a deforested site. Attenborough then makes a statement that has stuck with me since watching “A Life On This Planet”: that though we undoubtably have an obligation to care for the natural world, it’s not just about saving other species.  It is about saving ourselves.  His drive and determination to advocate and spread this message as much as possible at the age of 94 is both impressive and humbling, yet Attenborough manages to make this serious subject an unexpectedly positive learning experience.

In the final chapter of the movie Attenborough turns from the bleak reality of the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity, and offers a lifeline of hope and positivity. We can, he tells us, reverse the damage we have caused, we can save our species and the wonders of the natural world, and it can be done with just a few conceptually simple actions.  It’s enough to enthuse even the most jaded and pessimistic of conservationists!  Attenborough has an amazing ability to awaken our love of the natural world and now he shows us our future is in our hands. It’s time to act.  But we must start now and it must be a united effort.

You don’t have to be a scuba diver to be impressed with the eloquence of David Attenborough’s words, or his powerful yet simple message. We are self-confessed Attenborough super fans, but I don’t think anyone could contest that this is a stunning 1 hour and 20 minutes of hard hitting brilliance. The film closes with the comment, “Who else needs to see it?” The answer is all of us.  We highly recommend this documentary to everyone. Put simply if you watch no other documentary this year, watch this one.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Review: My Octopus Teacher

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netflix documentary: My Octopus Teacher

My Octopus Teacher is the story of how filmmaker Craig Foster befriends a common octopus in the kelp forests off of the Cape Town coast.  Mike and I love to watch all things underwater and nature-based and so eagerly sat down to this documentary film, a new September arrival on Netflix.

Watch the trailer here:

After burning out at work Foster finds fascination and a deep connection with nature when spending time freediving at his favourite local spot.  In a sequence familiar to those who watched the “Green Seas” episode of Blue Planet 2, he comes across an octopus camouflaging itself with shells.  With his curiosity piqued, he begins to seek out the octopus on all of his dives, finding delight in its seemingly strange behaviours, learning what he can from the scientific literature and slowing working to gain the mollusc’s trust on his daily visits to her world.

My Octopus Teacher portrays a very anthropomorphised view of our subject and Foster’s relationship with her.  His conclusions tend to be more emotional than scientific and his eagerness to find similarities between himself and the octopus shows a great sentimentality.  However, you cannot help but be captivated by the incredible mutual curiosity and bond developing before you.  This relationship, and the stunning scenes of the kelp forest with its diverse inhabitants make for a deeply absorbing viewing experience.  There is some fantastic cephalopod behaviour, from the octopus adapting her hunting tactics for different prey, to strategies for outwitting predators and incredible colour and shape morphology.  Foster is also keen to point out how little we know about octopuses and that there is a great opportunity to learn something with every dive.

One of my favourite observations made by Foster at the end of the film is that by going into the water for liberation from daily life’s concerns and dramas, he realised how precious these wild places are.  As he starts to care about all the animals there, even the most minuscule, he comes to find that each one is both important and vulnerable.  Foster finds that his relationship with the octopus changes him and he feels a part of the kelp forest rather than just a visitor, an experience he then shares with his son.  To me Foster’s insight that we must connect with an environment in order to be truly motivated to protect it resonated very strongly.  For those fortunate enough to fall in love with our wilder environments and connect with them, seeing it mirrored in this documentary is quite moving.

Overall we very much enjoyed the film, especially the weird and wonderful behaviours caught on screen and the story as it unfolds.  Though our first reaction was one of pure jealousy (that Foster has such a stunning local dive spot and coastal property!) we soon moved past the envy and found My Octopus Teacher to be a very relaxing and enjoyable evening’s entertainment, which we highly recommend.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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