One of the most important, fun and talked about tasks here at Blue Planet Aquarium is feeding our animals. It’s potentially the task we spend the second most amount of time on after cleaning, this comes as no surprise due to the sheer amount of animals that we have to feed and the ways that they need to be fed. When you have a large diversity of animals to maintain, you also must have a diversity of ways to feed them and so we’ve basically divided our feeding methods into four main categories to help make it easier. These methods are in water hand feeding, in water target feeding, surface target feeding and Scatter Feeds.
In theory all our animals are target fed as we must go around the tank and target individual animals but the term target feed at Blue Planet basically translates to the fact we use a long pole or Target to feed them, this is done so that the animals in question learn to associate the target or pole with food rather than our hands.
So firstly lets talk about Target feeding with a pole or Target from the surface, this is how the large Sand Tiger Sharks are fed and we feed them with a 9ft pole from the surface, we have a much better field of vision when feeding them this way and it makes it easier to see who’s coming in for food, who may be hungry and to also monitor their behaviour during the breeding season as we have to monitor their changes in behaviour for our records. We feed our Sand Tiger Sharks on a fish-based diet and they get fed fish such as Trevally, Whiting, Mackerel and Saury.
We also feed our Blacktip Reef Sharks from the surface but with a slightly different method and reasons, Blacktip Reef Sharks are renowned for being a little skittish and although ours are more used to divers than those in the wild, they are still scared of the way we look, the noise we create and of course the bubbles so its always easier to feed them from the surface as there’s nothing to scare them off. For our Blacktips we use a Blue circle attached to the end of the pole with the food clip attached to the centre of the circle, we do this as its been shown that although Sharks are colour-blind they tend to respond to Red/Blue colours. This method has proven to be incredibly successful for our Blacktips and they tend to react within seconds of the target entering the water.
We also use shorter poles at around 3ft, underwater for our Goliath Grouper, Wobbegong Sharks and our Zebra Shark Pup Deborah. As mentioned earlier we do this to stop them from associating our hands with food.
The next method is in water Handfeeding and this is how we feed our Stingrays, Nurse Sharks, adult Zebra Sharks, Bamboo Sharks, Guitarfish, Moray Eels and Zebra Bullhead Shark. All food being fed either by a target or by hand, and is all kept in a yellow bucket until its time to be dished out, this makes it easier to control the food, so it doesn’t all just float away. Our Zebra Sharks and Nurse Sharks are fed underwater by hand and this means that we get very close to them which makes these feeds heavily sought after as we get some of our closest encounters, during these feeds we have to handle our animals in some way, whether that be to move them away to give us room in the case of the Zebra Sharks or to keep them calm and under control in the case of the Nurse Sharks.
Our Nurse Sharks tend to get a little over excited and try and get their head in the food bucket. Nurse Sharks have the suction power of seven Dyson hoovers so if they got their head in the food bucket they would inevitably suck all of the food out of the bucket so we have to push their heads down and even give them a little head scratch to keep them calm and controlled. It’s also an amazing chance to see these amazing animals up close and personal and really take in how amazing they are, we also use this opportunity to health-check them and to also show our guests how Sharks really are. Our Nurse and Zebra Sharks are fed on Mackerel, Whiting with Razor Clams.
We also use the method of handfeeding to further train our Stingrays which we feed against the main Aquatheatre or tunnel to show our guests how a stingray feeds, due to the fact that their mouths are underneath it would otherwise be difficult to demonstrate this, so by doing it against the viewing windows it gives the guests an amazing view of stingrays feeding. Using this method also makes it a lot easier to monitor who’s eating and how much each one’s eating.
The last method is possibly the most simple: it’s called a scatter feed and this is where we simply either throw a mixture of food into the water off one of the platforms that run over the main tank or we have a food mixture which we squeeze from a bottle for the many fish that live in the tank at the end of the shows. We can also use this method to throw large chunks of fish at our larger fish such as our Tarpon and Jackfish, and this helps mimic a hunting behaviour so also serves as a type of enrichment. The food mixtures for a scatter feed usually include Chunks of fish like Mackerel and Whiting along with Squid, Sprat, Sand Eel and Krill.
So as you can see there’s a lot of feeding that must be done to keep all of our animals fit and healthy but this is probably the most fun part of the job and whenever we get new members of staff it’s the part of the job that they can’t wait to get started on and it is definitely worth the wait.
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