(For more stories by Frank, click: https://neptune911.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/rediscovery-of-the-snubfin-dolphin-in-papua-new-guinea/ )
I needed a caffeine charge and thus visited a harbor-side coffee shop before entering the world-class Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa. My cappuccino arrived at my outdoor table just as a group of 4th grade students across the road approached a harbor observation deck within my view.
The children were 20-feet above a floating platform in Cape Town harbor. Five peacefully snoozing South African Fur Seals (a fur seal species restricted to the coasts and waters of southern Africa) occupied the platform. (Editor’s Note: See page bottom for more about South African Fur Seals.)
Despite the noisy chattering from the students, the fur seals slumbered until a loud young male fur seal porpoised its way through the harbor waters and bee-lined toward the haul-out jetty. It gracefully leaped aboard.
I paid my bill and headed for the aquarium entrance. Two Ocean’s aquarium rivals on equal footing the Monterey Aquarium of California in its scope and size, and variety of exhibits.
The large predator tank with ragged-tooth sharks, giant manta rays, and green turtles was awesome. I viewed the tank from a second floor balcony seat and watched how children entered the viewing area and were immediately lost in fantasies of being among the wondrous sea creatures.
A ten-year-old boy’s wide-eyes tracked a huge ray gliding past his face with only the seven inch glass plate to separate them.
In a darkened room, simulating the light of deep waters, group of young school chums pressed fingers and noses against the glass of the giant spider crab exhibit. They silently watched the decapodian ambles of these enormous joint-legged crustaceans.
Nearby, a puppet show held a dozen preschoolers and parents to rapt attention. Here, a puppeteer, as an eight-legged octopus, introduced the show featuring marine conservation themes –especially about not throwing waste into the water.
I wandered through a door with a giant green tree frog declaring, “Save a frog, save yourself.” This was the best display of living frogs that I have ever seen in a zoo or aquarium. Young and old were spellbound by a colorful, eye-level panoply of delicate amphibians. How many times have you been to the reptile/amphibian house of a world class zoo and not found the small frog or lizard the zoo promised was in the terrarium? Here, magnifying glasses were mounted on folding arms to be used to find frogs in predictable hiding places. I used a magnifier to see one frog species that typically rests inside calla lilies. The lily-inhabiting frog was true to form, hunched up against the inside of the flower’s corolla. This entire hall was dedicated to discussing the world-wide die-off of frogs.
There were stunning examples that frogs are indicator species like the canary in the coal mine, and that all is not well with the aquatic environments on our planet. Why had so many frogs worldwide from Coast Rica to California to Australia gone extinct in recent years?
It showcased a host of frogs perched on the brink of extirpation from problems of acid rain, heavy metal pollution, sedimentation of clear waters from erosion, hormones and drugs dumped by humans into waterways, wetland destruction, and invasive alien animals transported by humans to areas they should not inhabit. This hall held a final message from Kermit the Frog beside the exit portal (see slide).
As I left the aquarium, thinking about all the ecological messages along with the wonderful corals, fish, turtles, penguins and jellyfish that had fired my appreciation of oceans and fresh water systems in new ways, I observed another approaching group of young, impressionable, idealistic children that would use the aquarium field trip as a learning tool.
Sauntering through a maze of walking paths in the commercial harbor of Cape Town, I was shocked back to the real world–a hefty hose hung off a dock puking gallons of brown bilge into the harbor. Below this dreadful hose a fur seal swam from the haul-out jetty backwaters into the main harbor. Plastic bags and ugly scum floated upon the waters. One male fur seal rested on a jetty.
Another student group filed past me and toward the aquarium. Then one student noticed that this particular fur seal had a bloody flesh wound ringing its neck and asked her teacher “Why is the seal bleeding?” It probably had been a victim of an abandoned ghost net drifting in the ocean but the seal had somehow freed itself and showed the scars of its struggle, and its bloody message rang home to those that saw it.
It was a bittersweet day: A magnificent public museum showcased the wonders of the seas with the noble attempt to educate the public and especially the young children of Africa about our civilizations’ relentless destruction of marine ecosystems and animals. Unfortunately, the adults in the real world still pollute, over-harvest, and abuse our oceans and its life forms. I am forced to assume that most of Cape Town’s several million people–or any other megalopolis–gives little or no thought to how our oceans suffer.
Our only hope is that the kid’s of the world absorb the lessons, grow up quickly, and take us on a better course.
Click to link to Two Ocean’s Aquarium
A Threat to Seals From:
Undoubtedly the greatest threat to seals is people. The alarming increase in plastic and other forms of pollution in the oceans kills thousands of seals and other marine animals each year when they are trapped or injured by plastic strapping, discarded nets and nylon fishing line.
For the last 370 years seals have been ruthlessly hunted by humans. In southern Africa fur seal harvesting is one of the oldest of all commercial `fisheries’. Uncontrolled exploitation of the South African fur seal continued into the late nineteenth century and resulted in a drastic decline in numbers. In 1893 seals were protected for the first time and this, together with other laws which controlled harvesting, has led to an increase in their numbers. Seals pose a threat to some coastal bird species such as jackass penguin (see Enviro Fact “Jackass penguin”) and bank cormorants which are both Red Data Book threatened species – found only off the southern African coastline – and Cape gannets. At Mercury Island seals and penguins compete with one another for space to live and breed.