Way down south (in Melbourne) in the ice and snow

January 18, 2017

Penguins just ooze appeal. It doesn’t matter which variety, or which size. But of course there are more things hidden beneath the surface of the oceans – and they aren’t necessarily things you want to play with.

THEY’RE just like everyone else’s other favourite, the platypus. They just shouldn’t exist, but they do.

Birds somewhere back in the evolutionary process but now in a class all of their own. Birds that fly underwater.

And who can resist them – these little characters in their tuxedos.

Let’s see a clod-hopping emu (also of the flightless bird category) try that and look anywhere near as cute. Or graceful.

Just ain’t going to happen, when it comes to the aquatic world of cute (and exceptional athleticism) the little guys in the black tie outfits are in a league of their own.

When they are out of the water they look all at sea, with their funny little waddles, sometimes sliding along on their stomachs, but there is one little problem with the little guys.

By and large (except for the Fairy Penguins at Phillip Island) they live in Antarctica, or other not so easily accessible places such as the Falklands.

But the good news is a thriving little colony of King and Gentoo penguins can be found right in the heart of Melbourne, alongside the Yarra and walking distance from everywhere.

You couldn’t ask for a more adorable arrangement if you tried. Downtown Melbourne and you can drop in to see the penguins at the Sea Life Aquarium on the corner of King and Flinders streets.

But wait, there’s more.

The aquarium is chockers with fish and assorted creatures of the underworld on a grand scale, more than you could shake a rod and reel at.

And if you want you can slip into a wetsuit, don the old aqualung and get right in the water with them.

Or coast above on the glass-bottomed boat.

But if you like the thought of staying high and dry you can simply wander through the galleries checking out the sea life as you go – from the rarely seen, such as the sea dragon to the never want to see on the occasions you go for a dip in the ocean, such as some seriously large sharks.

What you will never realise is that behind the scenes there is a hi-tech, around-the-clock operation to make sure everything you see is in tip top condition – all of the time.

Our guide Jason took us behind the closed doors where the serious business of running a full-scale aquarium takes place.

That, Jason told us, started with the most basic routines, such as testing water temperature, oxygen levels, ammonia and then working closely with the fish vets – they drop in two or three days a week depending on needs.

Parasites are, of course, also a major problem, just as they are everywhere else in the animal (and business) world.

“We also do a lot of shark research here, with a lot of emphasis on reproductive studies, especially the use of AI (artificial insemination) for some of the more critically endangered species, which now includes the Grey Nurse,” Jason said.

“It is a species which doesn’t breed well in aquarium environments but one we must do something to help save – and a lot of that something is taking place here and in other aquariums around the world,” he said.

“Even your penguins are under incredibly strict quarantine, everything outside their enclosure is alien to their environment so we have to be so thorough in how we manage it.”

Jason is explaining this as we wander past what seems to be a tank of black water, but is darkened only by the light – or lack thereof – and from the surface of which suddenly rises an enormous ray.

So domesticated it is literally looking for a feed – we have approached the regular feed station and even though the bell had not been rung it probably figured ‘what the hell, you never know if you never ask’.

You could ask all day and you wouldn’t have time to cover the behind-the-scenes business of Sea Life and really, why would you?

It’s much more fun, and just as fascinating, when you’re on the other side and checking out everything there is to see – in the sea.

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