Caiti has been working at the Sydney Sea Life as a guest experience facilitator for nearly six months now and she was as eager to show me around the aquarium as I was to visit. So on my first full day in Sydney, that’s where we started.
Sea Life is in Darling Harbour in the heart of Sydney.
It was the last day of the Easter holidays, and it seemed that lots of families were fitting in one final treat before the kids went back to school so it was teeming. However, Caiti tells me it’s busy most of the time. I can see why as it’s a wonderful attraction. It’s packed with fascinating sea creatures, is nicely laid out and has four main features – the penguin ride, the viewing tunnels, the glass bottom boat ride and the touch pool. We couldn’t get a place on the glass bottom boat that day but we got to enjoy everything else.
My only quibble is the electronic identification boards next to each display tank that, like McDo’s menu boards, keep changing so you either have to wait ages for what you want to come up on screen or go with guesswork. But I didn’t need those as I had Caiti to fill me in. She even told me the names of a lot of the exhibits, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten most of them by now! But I do remember the pig-nosed turtle was called Miss Piggy.
This cuttlefish is one of Caiti’s favourites. He is cute so I feel rather guilty about all the cuttlefish bones my budgies and other birds get through.
The penguin ride is a short boat ride through the middle of the penguin enclosure. The little Gentoo penguins were full of energy and fun to watch. There are some King penguins too. There’s also a perspex turret within the enclosure that you crawl into from outside. It gives you a great view in the middle of all the penguin action.
The viewing tunnels of the shark experience area were brilliant. You go down a long zig-zagging, buggy-and-wheelchair-friendly slope and find yourself walking alongside and below sharks, rays, a vast assortment of stunning fish and a dugong. The dugong is called Wuru. She and another dugong, Pig, were found on a beach without their mothers. They were rescued by Seaworld and Sea Life obtained them in 2008 or so. Because Wuru was rescued and brought up in captivity, and as a result will only eat lettuce, she can’t be released back into the sea as she’d soon starve. Two members of staff work full-time at preparing Wuru’s lettuce dinners and feeding her! She and Pig are two of only four dugongs that are on view in the whole world so it was a real honour to see her as well as a delight. Dugongs, by the by, are related to elephants and manatees, and are not cetaceans. Here is Bowie the shark ray. Aquarists (divers) were in the water while we were there, cleaning the glass and checking on the assorted creatures. This fish had bitten one of them the other day and so was in disgrace in this sectioned-off tank. We went back up the ramp to view the fish from the surface. Caiti told me how one day someone had collapsed at the top of the ramp and she’d had to run up and down it several times, getting help and diverting the crowds along an alternate route to avoid disaster. At the touch pool you can, as the name suggests, touch various creatures and shells. There were starfish, urchins, seaweed and a sea cucumber. These exhibits are rotated regularly so that they never become too stressed by being touched. Caiti really loves her stints there. There’s a magnificent coral reef display too. Caiti pointed out a fish called Denis the Menace. Apparently he shouldn’t be in that display but no one can catch him to take him out and he’s not doing any harm. He turns stones over to find his food, hence his name of rockmover wrasse, rather than firkle amongst the coral for it. I don’t have a photo of him but here are some of the official reef residents. Caiti and the other GE staff spend the day enhancing the visitors’ experience by giving talks on the various displays, and manning the glass bottom boat and the touch pool. Caiti must amaze the guests by being able to tell all the rays and sharks apart (they all looked the same to me!) and knowing everything about, well, everything! I have even more admiration for my daughter than ever as she has to cope with the crowds and the noise and the awkward customers all day long while keeping them entertained and informed, and always with a smile on her face. What a girl! In the same building as Sea Life is, bizarrely, a Madame Tussaud’s, which we didn’t bother with, and Wild Life, a small zoo, which we did. I’ll keep that till my next blog and finish with a final fishy photo.
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