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March 20, 2009

A world of wonder at the Two Oceans Aquarium – A Cape Town Tourism photo essay

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I write with passion about this place, the Two Oceans Aquarium, because it is so much a part of me that I struggle to remember what life was like before the aquarium. I remember walking onto the building site, where huge, empty tanks sat like ghostly caverns in unpainted, uncarpeted, cement-strewn galleries.

Within weeks, things changed before my eyes. Water filled the I&J Predator Exhibit. Maxine, the shark, made her grand appearance, as did the snoek, which disappeared just as suddenly – down Maxine’s gullet! Thirteen-and-a-half years later, Maxine has been back in the ocean for almost four years, roaming the waters off Southern Africa.

Various galleries have seen incredible changes and “make-overs”. Yet, with all these changes, the Two Oceans Aquarium remains my place of wonder, like it was the first day I walked through the doors.

I marvel at the dedication of the aquarium staff, the hatching of penguin chicks, and the release of ragged-tooth sharks back into the ocean, and I feel proud watching the aquarium’s education department educate the South African youth about our marine heritage and resources. 

So, please join me on a whirlwind exploration – beyond the African waves.

Our journey begins in the Oceans of Contrast: Indian Ocean Gallery where warm-water inhabitants with their bright colours play among corals and where giant moray eels keep watch as visitors pass by.

Years after the movie splashed onto our screens, Nemo still holds a place of honour in most children’s hearts. The clownfish exhibit at the aquarium greets eager and excited children as they literally crawl into the world of Nemo.

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The cool air of the Oceans of Contrast: Atlantic Ocean Gallery gently touches one’s face, unlike the Cape Doctor that blows so fiercely. In this gallery, starfish, anemones, jellyfish and seahorses float, swim and crawl along their exhibits with contentment and grace. I have a spot in this gallery where I like to stand and listen. Yes, listen. As visitors around the corner at the giant spider crab exhibit, the sharp intake of breath, the “Oh, my goodness…” and sometimes just the stunned silence at the sheer size of these crabs gets filed away in my “Great Day at Work” folder.

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Moving up to the Sappi River Meander you meet some interesting characters. First, there are the frogs with their chorus of calls and the story of their fight against extinction. Then, as you enter the River Meander, there is a sense of something familiar. Penguins! African penguins and rockhopper penguins share the beach area in the Sappi River Meander. They swim and play in the waves and at feeding time (daily at 11h30 and 14h30) they crowd around the silver bucket and eagerly dine on pilchards and squid. The tuxedo-ed waiters get to feast!

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Photo courtesy Dagny Warmerdam

Our journey takes us next to the Kelp Forest Exhibit. One of only three in the world, this impressive exhibit holds 800 000 litres of water, myriad local fish species (including our national fish, the galjoen) and tall, lanky kelp plants. Like elegant ballroom dancers, the kelp plants sway back and forth in the surge. Their movement creates a hypnotic and mesmerising scene that leaves one with a sense of calm and tranquillity. Watch a diver feed the fish on Wednesdays and Sundays at 12h00.

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The last stop on our tour is the I&J Predator Exhibit. With 200 million litres of water, shoals of predatory fish, ragged-tooth sharks and a viewing window measuring 4m x 11m, this exhibit is the largest of the aquarium’s exhibits. And it is impressive. Just ask the gentleman who has been sitting staring at the fish going by for the last two hours, or the mother who can sit down and take a breather because her child is mesmerised by the sharks and the turtles. On Sundays, watch our divers feed the sharks at 15h00. On all other days of the week there is a feed in this exhibit at the same time.

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The Two Oceans Aquarium is a world-class facility that all Capetonians can be proud of. It is a place where people meet to relax, to play and to explore the unknown world of the oceans. The Aquarium is open every day from 9h30 until 18h00. There’s an exciting world on your doorstep. Come and explore!

Images © Renée Leeuwner and Dagny Warmerdam 2009

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