Connect with us
background

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

New Arrivals at Blue Planet Aquarium

Published

on

There’s been exciting times recently here at Blue Planet Aquarium, as we have had some new arrivals. When we get new arrivals its always an exciting time to be working in the Aquarium, however recently we’ve had some truly unique and unusual animals to join the rest of our collection of animals. So, this blog is going to be covering the newest members of the Blue Planet family, and why their uniqueness is so beneficial to our other animals.

The new animals in question are Sharks with one being from a species we already have at the aquarium and two being completely new to the aquarium. Here at Blue Planet Aquarium we’re constantly trying to educate our visitors and show them new ways to appreciate our underwater world and the animals that we have living on this planet we call home.

So, lets dive straight in (no pun intended).

We’re going to start today with an animal that we already have two of and have had at the aquarium for several years, we have one teenage male named Marty (Named after the zebra from the Madagascar film) and Stripes (Named after Racing Stripes) however this new one is still a very young Shark and is a female who we’ve named Deborah the Zebra.

This species is also a hugely popular species here at Blue Planet and I would probably say are a favourite of mine, I am of course talking about our Zebra Shark. Zebra Sharks are identified by their yellowish- brown colouration with a spotty pattern covering their body, people usually ask at this stage why they’re called Zebra Sharks if they have spots. They’re called Zebra Sharks because when they’re young they’ve got Black & White Stripes all the way down their body, similar to that of a zebra, this species also has the second longest tail in the Shark world after the Thresher Shark.

The long tail combined with their striped pattern makes them look similar to that of the White-banded Sea Snake which has also lead some scientists to believe that this species may mimic the snake to deter predators, if this is the case then this would be the first case of protective mimicry in Sharks. Zebra Sharks are also one of the few Sharks that we know exhibit parthenogenesis which means that this species can lay viable eggs without a male needed, however all the pups born through this process will all be females. Zebra Sharks have also been found to share a very close relation to that of the world’s largest fish, the Whale Shark, we know this as their DNA is very similar and the Zebra Shark shares very similar features.

Our Zebra Sharks are all hand fed and eat a wide variety of foods such as Mackerel, Whiting, Saury, Squid and hard-shelled food such as Razor Clam. They’re incredibly friendly and regularly come in to investigate what’s going on, they’ll often rest against us and seem to show interest in having physical contact with members of the dive team, however we try and limit this as they wouldn’t get it in the wild, although sometimes we have to in order to stop them from trying to steal all the food or keep them at a distance that we can work with.

The next new Shark member is our Zebra Bullhead Shark, this is one of the more unusual Shark species that we have. It’s a member of the of the Horn Shark Family which is the same family of sharks as the Port Jackson Shark, this shark is very striking as it has very obvious Black and White Stripes and even more unusually, a small spike on both the Dorsal fin and Second Dorsal Fin which is where the name “Horn Shark” comes from. In this species early stages of life, they have a very similar striped pattern as their adult stage however their black stripes are more of a reddish-brown.

This species in the wild feeds mainly on hard-shelled foods such as crabs and molluscs however they wouldn’t say no to fish, ours is fed on fish, squid, razor clam and Mussel. Here at Blue Planet Aquarium we have just one Zebra Bullhead and ours is a male, this shark along with the next species I’ll be talking about are not yet named as we are having our guests choose names for us. Zebra Bullheads lay eggs rather than live birth, like mammals, and this group of sharks is a very ancient group with a long fossil record, that date these sharks all the way back to the early Jurassic which was around 201 million years ago.

The last two species are some of my personal favourites, which are known as Wobbegong Sharks. The name Wobbegong comes from the aborigine word for “Shaggy Beard”, this has led to them being lovingly known as “Wobbies” in Australia and among Shark enthusiasts. We have two species of Wobbegong here at Blue Planet Aquarium we have one Western Wobbegong and one Spotted Wobbegong, they both look vastly different in their patterns and markings and are one of the most unique and unusual Shark species.

Wobbegongs are Ambush predators that lie motionless on, or in, the seabed, rocky overhangs, crevices and caves. They wait to allow their camouflage to help them blend in with their surroundings, they do this until fish and other small animals come within striking range for the best chance of a successful hunt. To add success to a hunt it has been observed with the Tasselled Wobbegong, that they take part in active luring behaviour which is something seen in animals such as the Frogfish or Alligator Snapping Turtle. This is done with the Shark wedging itself into a cave or crevice with its head at the entrance and the tail curled over the top of its head, they then wave their tail side to side to mimic another fish, this is done to create the illusion that the cave is safe and free from predators and its then that the Shark strikes, grabbing any fish that comes too close.

Here at Blue Planet we feed ours on Squid, Mackerel, Saury, Sprat, Sand Eel and Prawn and we feed them via long pole. We do this as the strike from a Wobbegong is so quick that the human eye cant register it straight away, this also allows us to mimic hunting behaviour by giving the food a “swimming motion” to it which allows the animals to pick their target and hunt for their food rather than just feeding them.

These sharks are really important to us here at the aquarium as not only are they amazing and beautiful but they’re unusual looks and nature make them a reference point to just how diverse and incredible the Shark family is, sure everyone knows what a Hammerhead and Whale Shark is and as amazing as they are its always humbling to be able to show our guests just how unusual the Shark family can be along with the amazing traits and behaviours that comes along with them.

So, there you have it, some wonderful new arrivals here at Blue Planet Aquarium with each one being as amazing as the last. When you’re next at Blue Planet keep an eye out for these amazing new arrivals and make sure to appreciate just how strange and unique they are. Keep an eye out for future new arrivals and I’ll see you in the next blog.

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 Blogs

Sharks: The Oceans Greatest Mystery – Part 3

Published

on

Sharks are a truly incredible animal that have evolved and shaped themselves to be the perfect predator which, in turn, has shaped our oceans and the animals that live within it. Sharks have existed on our planet for up to 400 million years and throughout that time they have become one of the most numerous top predators on our planet, they have lived through 5 major extinction events when many other species died out. Sharks have been doing something right all this time, but at this very moment sharks are facing a threat that is so powerful that it is literally changing the face of our planet, and that force is Humans, it’s us. Sharks are being killed at an unprecedented rate, a rate of unimaginable scale. Recent studies by scientists have shown that since 1970 we have reduced Shark & Ray populations by a staggering 71%.

What threats do they face?

Sharks worldwide are currently dealing with a huge array of issues which is putting the whole group at risk. Sharks are being killed for their Fins, Oil, Teeth/Jaws and other members of the group, such as Manta Ray’s, are killed for their Gill Rakers and wings.

Firstly, let us talk about what is potentially the most inhumane form of animal harvesting, Shark Finning. This is the practice of removing a Sharks Fins, usually whilst the animal is still alive, and then discarding the rest of the animal back into the Ocean. The Shark is usually still alive throughout the whole process and the animal usually dies from drowning or blood loss on the sea floor. Shark fins only account for around 2% of a Sharks average body weight which means that 98% of the animal is merely tossed back into the ocean, 98% of the animal is just simply wasted. Now this begs the question what are Shark fins used for? Well, they are used in an Asian dish known as Shark Fin Soup, now Shark fin is tasteless, which means that the fin only adds mere texture to a Chicken or Pork flavoured broth which further begs the question, why use Shark Fin and not something else to add texture. Well, the soup serves more as a status symbol and it is known as the food of emperors and kings, those who can afford and serve Shark Fin at a banquet or party are revered as wealthy.

Sharks are also harvested for traditional medicine, where it is believed that by ingesting Shark parts such as their cartilage or liver, it can give you a Sharks “magical” powers and abilities. The most common rumour is that Sharks do not get cancer, and by consuming Sharks you can also become immune to cancer. This is of course false; Sharks do in fact get cancer and with recent additions of pollutants and chemicals into the oceans from human activities, sharks get cancer now more than ever, along with a whole host of other ailments. This means that by eating Sharks you are actually more likely to catch illnesses and ailments such as Mercury poisoning, due to the fact that Sharks hold a large quantity of such toxic substances in their bodies.

Aside from Shark finning, they are also at huge risk of becoming caught in nets and on lines as Bycatch, this means that they get caught despite not being the targeted species. For example, Sharks are commonly caught on Tuna hooks or in Tuna nets. Unfortunately, in these instances they tend to not even have their fins removed and, in this case, the whole animal is wasted. The sharks are usually already dead after being brought up due to the amount of time they have sat on hooks and usually die from exhaustion or drowning. Sometimes Sharks are killed in sport fishing tournaments as game fish, where people will go out on Shark fishing days and many Sharks will be killed for the chance of beating a previous record.

Sharks are also at risk of habitat loss, in the same way as Jaguars and Macaws in the Amazon, and Elephants in Asia. Human activities such as fishing, expansion, pollution, mining and Global Warming are all threatening Sharks Habitats. Flapper Skates, which are also known as Common Skates, are now Critically Endangered around the UK due to trawling damaging the egg laying sites for this species. The Bimini Islands, which are famous for the presence of a Lemon Shark Nursery, were in trouble a few years back with plans for demolishing a section of the Mangrove Forest on the island, to make way for a Golf Course. Thankfully it wasn’t successful, but if it was it could have put the Lemon Sharks at extreme risk as this is an area needed for the beginning of the lemon shark’s life cycle.

Another factor putting sharks at risk, is the amount of plastic pollution and pollutants in the water. Plastics can block the digestive system of plankton feeding Sharks and Ray’s such as Whale Sharks and Manta Ray’s, and discarded fishing gear such as nets can entangle up Sharks and other aquatic animals. The amount of fishing being done in the oceans also puts sharks at risk from their food supply disappearing, as humans fish the oceans, we are inadvertently removing the fish stocks that Sharks rely on for their survival.

Sharks & People

Sharks are an apex predator in the World’s Oceans, and it may seem far-fetched to believe, but we depend on Sharks more than you might think. Let us start with fish, currently 10-12 percent of the world’s population relies on the Ocean’s fish for their diet and survival, and Sharks help to keep fish stocks healthy by eating sick, injured or diseased fish and holding the toxins and diseases in their bodies until they die, this is why Sharks have such a strong immune system. With Sharks hunting these fish, it helps to keep the stocks healthy and means the fish that we catch and eat won’t make us sick.

Sharks also play a vital role in the Planet’s oxygen cycle, the Ocean essentially acts as a giant blue lung taking in Carbon Dioxide from the air, seagrass beds and plankton then absorb the Carbon Dioxide and release it as Oxygen back into the atmosphere. If Sharks were to disappear then other animal stocks would explode out of proportion and eat all of the sea grass and/or plankton and the oxygen cycle would be hindered. An example is, if Tiger Sharks were to disappear, then the Turtle population would rapidly increase, allowing the Turtles to eat all of the Seagrass, which would mean we lose a key component of the production of our oxygen. Along with plankton, seagrass helps to produce 75% of the Oxygen we breathe daily. Seagrass Meadows also store more Carbon than any Forest on land making them one of the most productive habitats on our Planet.

How can we be better Ambassadors to Sharks?

It may seem like there is not much we can do, but you would be surprised to hear that there is in fact a lot that we can do to help Sharks. Sharks have been tarnished with a hugely negative reputation, a reputation that can make protecting them difficult. The problem is people are told their whole lives that Sharks are mindless killing machines and that if you go in the Ocean, you are likely to meet your timely demise, but we now know that these stories are literally just that, stories. One of the best ways of protecting sharks is to help people better understand them and all it may take is a simple conversation, a conversation where you can debunk myths, a conversation where you can change their perspective. Jacques Cousteau once said, “People protect what they love”, and this saying holds a lot of weight. People will protect sharks if they love them, and the only way to allow people to love them is for them to first understand them, and understanding first comes through education. If people love Sharks, then the whole cycle starts again with them going out and telling people about Sharks. If you are Diver and or, Underwater Photographer, then you can share your experiences and imagery with people, which will allow their perspectives to shift, and you would be surprised to find out how beneficial Social media can be for Sharks, as it’s a place where you can share your images and stories to a very wide audience across the globe.

Another way to help is to not buy Shark Fin Soup or any Shark products, it may be tempting to buy a Shark tooth necklace or Shark in a jar when on holiday, or even to try Shark Fin Soup, but this will only feed the problem, if we can do this then, when the buying stops then the killing can too.

Something that has been realised recently is that Sharks are worth more alive than dead and over a Sharks lifetime, it can bring in many millions of Dollars through Echo-Tourism, compared to the couple of dollars it will bring into a fisherman if the animal is killed. Thankfully, areas that were once Shark fishing hotpots, have turned to becoming areas where Shark populations have exploded, due to an influx of Divers from across the globe going to see Sharks alive and healthy. Places such as Raja Ampat, The Maldives, and The Galapagos Islands have put protections on sharks and in doing so attract divers to these areas where Sharks are protected, with divers going to these areas only further helps and funds the Protected area and allow the work to continue.

A final thing you can do is to write to your Local MP about needing larger and stronger Marine Protected areas, with stronger protections from commercial fishing. As it stands there is less than 0.5% of our World’s Oceans that have complete protection from commercial fishing. Scientists have stated that for our Oceans to be protected, we need at least 30% of our Oceans to have complete protection for Sharks, Fish and other marine mammals, which will, in turn, allow our Oceans to stabilise themselves.

There is still a lot that you can do and if you do just one of these things, you could help change the fate of Sharks and allow them to continue thriving and shaping our oceans for millennia to come.

So that’s it, a deep dive into Sharks, our Oceans Greatest Mystery. A look into their biology, behaviour and secrecy. I hope after this you come away with a better understanding and appreciation for this incredible group of animals, I hope after this you now look at a Shark and see not a monster, but an animal that is incredibly misunderstood and one that not only keeps our Oceans healthy, but also our whole Planet. Sharks are a key component in our survival, and with our help they can continue to be our Oceans Greatest Mystery.


Follow Donovan on Instagram at www.instagram.com/donovans_reefs

Continue Reading

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Take an immersive dive below the waves off the Welsh coast using 360 VR: Common Spider Crab (Watch Video)

Published

on

A week-long series from Jake Davies…

Below the waves off the Welsh coast, there are a range of species and habitats that can be seen. However, you don’t have to venture too far from the shore to see them or don’t have to leave the comfort of your home. Using 360 videos provides an immersive feeling of being below the water and encountering many species and habitats from diving one of the most important habitats and species that aren’t often seen whilst diving. For more of an experience of being below the waves, the VR videos can be viewed using a VR headset.

Take a VR dive just off the shore and explore what can be found within the shallow waters of a sandy beach. Fish can be founding cruising amongst the seaweed and numerous crustacean (Crabs, lobster, prawns, shrimps) species can be found walking around the seafloor. Common Spider Crabs (Maja brachydactyla) are one of the largest crabs species found along the coast and during the early summer, they aggregate in large numbers to moult which allows them to grow.


Follow Jake aka JD Scuba on the YouTube channel @Don’t Think Just Blog.

Continue Reading

E-Newsletter Sign up!

Competitions

Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

More Less

Instagram Feed

Popular