Categories
Melbourne Odds and Ends

Trip to the aquarium — again!

We have been on a trip to the Melbourne Aquarium, but now it is time to head for home. We may come back again. But let’s have a quick look at two other  intriguing fish.

Alligator pipe fish -- another member of the Syngnathidae family, and so related to sea horses and seadragons.
Alligator pipe fish — another member of the Syngnathidae family, and so related to sea horses and seadragons. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, March 2013)
Razor fish -- they seem to swim vertically, and there are dozens of them!(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson March 2013)
Razor fish — they seem to swim vertically, and there are dozens of them!
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson March 2013)

And before we leave we have to dash into the gift shop. Which sea horse would you like to take home? A soft toy? A key ring? A snow dome?

A mountain of soft toy sea horses.(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson March 2013)
A mountain of soft toy sea horses. The orange ones are males. They have the cute little ones in their pouches — more like a kangaroo than a sea horse.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson March 2013)
More of the sea horse mountain. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
More of the sea horse mountain.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Sea horses on key chains(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Sea horses on key chains
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Sea horses marching on to World Domination! Imagine if the world was ruled by sea horses.....(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Sea horses marching on to World Domination! Imagine if the world was ruled by sea horses…..
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Sea horses in snow domes. I wonder what they think of the snow?(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Sea horses in snow domes. I wonder what they think of the snow?
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
These are my favourites, because they are so incredibly kitsch!(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
These are my favourites, because they are so incredibly kitsch!
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Categories
Melbourne Uncategorized

Further adventures at the aquarium

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(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)

Most of my time at the Melbourne Aquarium was spent in the section of seahorses, seadragons and pipe fish. I stood and watched for ages. (Apologies in advance about the quality of the photos. They were taken through glass, and while seahorses don’t dart around, they can move more quickly than this photographer would like!)

You can see why the seahorses have caught my fancy. They are delightful little creatures.

A little about seahorses (but please stop me if I go on too long!)

They are fish, and live in three main habitats — seagrasses, corals and mangroves. They belong to the Syngnathidae family, in reference to their fixed jaws (syn — Greek for “with” or “together”; gnathos — “jaw”.) Seadragons and pipefish are in the same family. The genus of seahorses is hippocampus. The big-belly seahorse has the grand name of Hippocampus abdominalis. But my favourite might be Hippocampus guttulatus or the long-snout seahorse.

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Good camouflage! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)

They are only small, ranging from a species that is about 2 cms (fancy that!) to the big-belly seahorse which is around 30 cms. Theirs is a solitary life, except at mating time, and they don’t travel far. When they do move they use their tiny, transparent fins and then attach themselves to seaweed. They could be easy prey, but have two defensive adaptations. Firstly, unlike other fish they don’t have scales. Instead they have bony plates. It gives them their distinctive shape and makes them unappetizing to other fish.

Bony plates make seahorses difficult to swallow
Bony plates and spikes make seahorses difficult to swallow (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)

The other adaptation is their excellent camouflage. To escape the predator they blend into the background, often mimicking the colours around them.

They might be hard to see, but there are at least five seahorses in this photo!
They might be hard to see, but there are at least five seahorses in this photo! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)

They eat zooplankton, which they suck up through their snouts. It seems like a hard way to get a meal, but they can eat really quickly.

Of course, the seahorses’ real claim to fame is that the fathers get pregnant, nurture the young in an adapted pouch and give birth to the live little ones. (Are baby seahorses called ‘foals’?)

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(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)

Like so many species they are under threat in the wild. They are hunted to be used in Chinese medicine — at least 70 tonnes or 25 million seahorses a year, according to one source I read. Trawling for shrimp is another danger. There is so much wastage, as species other than shrimps get caught up too. For every kilo of shrimp an additional 5 to 10 kilos of other species are dragged to the surface. Trawling also does long term damage to the sea bed, especially in the shallower waters which are the seahorses’ habitat. Add warming of the oceans to that list, and you can see that these wondrous little creatures need help to survive.

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(Photo copyright Anne Lawson)

 

(My information has come from a charming book Poseidon’s steed: the story of seahorse, from myth to reality, by Helen Scales. However, any mistakes that I have made in this post are all my own!)

Categories
Birds Melbourne Odds and Ends

The Melbourne Aquarium — penguins

During the January holidays I was lucky to go with my holiday programme job to the Melbourne Aquarium. Even though I had a group of children to keep track of and keep engaged, I loved it. It was my first visit and I was blown away by the shapes and colours that exist under water. So I was determined to come back with my sketchbook.

Unfortunately my first attempt to get there was thwarted. Disappointed, but not defeated, I tried again last week. I have also been reading a book about seahorses, and I really wanted to spend time looking at them. The Aquarium is in an area of Melbourne Town that I don’t walk through very much. So getting there was a delight.

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Highlander Lane

The building itself is not very interesting.

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Taken from the other side of Flinders St, across a tram stop.

However, inside is a world of delights.

An area that draws everyone in is the penguin display. King and gentoo penguins are kept in Antarctic conditions. (Apologies for the quality of the photos. They were taken through a thick glass wall — a smeary, thick glass wall.)

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The stately king penguins
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The smaller gentoo penguins

The gentoos are very engaging, and often come up to the glass — probably because they now associate humans with food. But it is cute.

Engaging gentoos
Engaging gentoos
Off up the hill for a swim
Off up the hill for a swim
Flying through the water
Flying through the water

One of the King penguins had recently hatched a chick and another had an egg on its feet. The chick, looking very fat and happy, was being feed by the parent.

The chick with the parent. The penguin behind has an egg on his feet.
The chick with the parent. The penguin behind has an egg on his feet.
Feeding the chick
Feeding the chick

The penguins are all closely monitored, especially the chick. While I watched the keepers came in and weighed the chick. It was 3.85 kg. Then it was feed extra fish. While this was happening, the parent, naturally, was very defensive of the chick and tried to peck the keepers. The keeper solved the problem by gently holding the adult’s beak.

The chick being hand fed. Look at the gentoo penguins behind the clear fence. They want food too!
The chick being hand fed. Look at the King penguins behind the clear fence. They want food too!
Holding the parent's beak
Holding the parent’s beak

Next time I will take you to see the Syngnathidae family — seahorses, pipefish and the wondrous seadragons. But as you go there you pass by a display that shows live feeds from the research stations in Antarctica. It would be interesting to see the feeds during the cold winter months.

Live feeds from the Antarctic stations
Live feeds from the Antarctic stations