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Marine Life & Conservation

Feeding Time at the Aquarium

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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.

For more information about 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

Boating and conservation worlds unite to save Studland’s seagrass and seahorses

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Charity The Seahorse Trust and national marina group boatfolk have joined forces to deliver a practical solution for saving Studland’s unique marine environment.

The two organisations have collaborated on a not-for-profit scheme to put ten ‘eco-moorings’ into Studland Bay to give boaters an attractive, environmentally friendly alternative to dropping their anchors. The dropping of anchors has damaging consequences for seabed environments including seagrass meadows. This is a significant concern as seagrass provides essential habitat for species including seahorses and also stores up to twice as much carbon per hectare as terrestrial forests, playing a major role in keeping climate change in check.

The scheme was recently approved by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) following its designation in 2019 as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) and installation of the new eco-moorings is now underway. The organisations’ eco-mooring proposal was supported by letters from high-profile conservation advocates including Chris Packham and Steve Backshall. The scheme is also being supported by Mitch Tonks and Rockfish who will provide funding for the installation of one of the eco-moorings.

The MCZ designation was made on the basis of Studland Bay’s seagrass meadows, which are an internationally important breeding ground for the Spiny Seahorse, one of Britain’s native seahorse species. The Spiny Seahorse was protected in 2008 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act following campaigning by the Seahorse Trust. The legal aim of the MCZ designation was to return both seagrass and seahorses to ‘favourable condition’.

Image: Ross Young

Neil Garrick-Maidment, Founder and Executive Director of The Seahorse Trust said: “The designation of Studland Bay as a Marine Conservation Zone was a long-awaited and hugely significant moment in safeguarding UK seahorse populations. It is now vital that the area is effectively protected and that everyone who uses the bay does so responsibly and sustainably. I am delighted to be working with boatfolk to develop a practical solution, which allows boaters to continue enjoying this remarkable site, in a way which also enables the conservation of rare seagrass meadows and crucial seahorse breeding grounds.”

Michael Prideaux, Managing Director of boatfolk said: “In late August, I met Neil on the beach at Studland Bay. We were united by our shared passion for the environment and by a desire to work with, and alongside, the boating community for a solution that everyone can get behind. boatfolk is all about making it easy for people to get out on the water and to enjoy their time afloat. Providing an alternative option at Studland that protects this incredible marine environment is about doing the right thing for boaters and for our planet. Financial return is not an objective here; we are committed to making Studland Bay a sustainable boating destination for generations to come and are proud to be putting our name and resources behind the scheme.”

The scheme forms part of boatfolk’s wider sustainability strategy, Coastline Deadline, a new platform designed to back projects which have a real, positive and measurable impact on the coastline.

Michael Prideaux adds, “We know our industry has an impact on the environment and that not enough is being done to raise awareness and change behaviours. Our goal isn’t to stop people boating. In fact, it’s the opposite. By making changes now we want to ensure that the coastline and oceans remain a place that can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Image: Neil Garrick-Maidment

The benefits of eco-moorings are well-documented. Such moorings involve a helical screw anchor being driven into the seabed. An elastic rode is then attached, connecting the anchor system with the mooring buoy. The elastic rode will stretch at higher tides and contract at lower tides meaning that none of the equipment scours the seagrass around it. The moorings also provide a hassle-free option for boaters, saving them the trouble of having to drop their own anchors (which can often drag before taking a hold and leave the boat owner to clean the equipment afterwards).

Neil Garrick-Maidment and Michael Prideaux commented: “The Seahorse Trust and boatfolk are united in a clear belief that eco-moorings are the way forward for Studland, allowing boaters to continue enjoying the site while seagrass and seahorses thrive alongside. We were thrilled  to secure  MMO approval   for our proposal, which we believe provides a practical and collaborative roadmap to finally giving Studland Bay the effective protection it deserves, and are delighted that installation of the eco-moorings is now underway following successful tests of the helical screw.

The Seahorse Trust and boatfolk are very grateful to award-winning Devon and Dorset restaurant group Rockfish for their generous sponsorship of one of the initial ten eco-moorings.

Mitch Tonks, restaurateur, Rockfish and Seahorse restaurants, and co-founder of the Devon Environment Foundation, expressed his support for the scheme: “We believe Rockfish has a purpose beyond our restaurants. This is exactly the sort of project we like to support – practical, visible and useful, as well as changing the way we impact our world. It’s this on-the-ground stuff we love that people like The Seahorse Trust go out there and do.”

For more information on the work of The Seahorse Trust visit their website by clicking here.

Header image: Neil Garrick-Maidment

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Marine Life & Conservation

Huge thresher shark is the latest of six murals to be painted around the Solent this summer

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The murals celebrate the Solent’s extraordinary marine life – marking National Marine Week.

Secrets of the Solent have commissioned street artist ATM to paint a series of marine-themed artworks at various locations around the Solent this summer. The latest mural to be finished shows a thresher shark on the Langstone Harbour Office. Langstone Harbour is an important area for wildlife as well as a bustling seaside destination for sailing and water sports.

Artist ATM, who is painting all six murals, is well-known for his iconic wildlife street art. This, his second artwork of the series, took three days to paint freehand, from a scaffolding platform. The thresher shark was chosen out of six marine species to be the subject of the artwork by the local community, who were asked to vote via an online form or in person on the Hayling Ferry.

Secrets of the Solent hope the mural will become a landmark in Langstone Harbour and inspire visitors to learn more about this enigmatic oceanic shark. The project, which is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, works to celebrate and raise awareness of Solent’s diverse marine environment.

Aiming to highlight the exotic and unusual creatures found close to our coasts, artist ATM says: “I really enjoyed painting the thresher shark because it’s such an amazing looking animal, with a tail as long as its body. I hope when people see the murals, they will become more aware of what lives under the waves and the importance of protecting the vital habitats within the Solent.”

Dr Tim Ferrero, Senior Marine Biologist at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust says: “The thresher shark is a wonderful animal that visits our waters every summer. It comes to an area to the east of the Isle of Wight, and this appears to be where the sharks breed and have their young. Not many people know that we have thresher sharks in our region, and so having our mural here on the side of the Langstone Harbour Office building is a fantastic way of raising awareness of this mysterious ocean wanderer. I really hope that people will come away with the knowledge that the Solent, our harbours and our seas are incredibly important for wildlife.”

Rachel Bryan, Project Manager for Secrets of the Solent at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust comments: “We are really excited to have street artist ATM painting a thresher shark on the side of the Langstone Harbour Office building. We chose this building because of its prominent location right on the entrance to Langstone Harbour so that anyone who’s visiting, whether that’s walkers, cyclists or people coming in and out of the harbour on their jet-skis or sailing boats, will all be able to see our thresher shark. People on the Portsmouth side of the harbour will also be able to see the mural from across the water.”

The thresher shark is a mysterious predator which spends most of its time in oceanic waters. It uses its huge whip-like tail as an incredibly effective tool for hunting its prey. Herding small fish into tight shoals, the shark will lash at them with its tail, stunning several in one hit and making them easier to catch.

Secrets of the Solent hope to work with the species this summer to discover more about its behaviour.

Dr Tim Ferrero explains: “Nobody really knows where thresher sharks go in the ocean. Later this summer we are hoping that we are going to be able to attach a satellite tag to a thresher shark and monitor its progress for an entire year. This will provide really important information that will help us learn so much more about the shark’s annual life cycle.”

The new thresher shark mural is a fantastic start to National Marine Week (24th July – 8th August), which celebrates the unique marine wildlife and habitats we have here in the UK. Over the two weeks, Wildlife Trusts around the country will be running a series of exciting events to celebrate the marine environment. We really hope people will be inspired by our murals and want to learn more about each chosen species.

Events in the Solent include the launch of a new Solent marine film on the 29th July, installation of a new Seabin on the 4th August to reduce marine litter, and citizen science surveys throughout summer.

For more information click here.

Header image: Bret Charman

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