‘Raggies’ add to aquarium’s splendour

The sharks are measured and examined by veterinarians before being put in their tank.

The first three “raggies” joined the Two Oceans family on the morning of Tuesday June 27, the following three on the morning of Friday June 30 and the last three sharks will be added to the exhibit this week.

“The difference between the predator exhibit as it stands now and as it was is this is going to be a main focus of sharks,” said Renee Leeuwner, media and communications executive at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

A combination of two male and four female ragged-tooth sharks make up the first bunch. Samtu was the last and largest shark added to the exhibit at the end of June.

According to the Two Oceans Aquarium website, ragged-tooth sharks can reach about 3.2 metres in length by adulthood and live for about 30 years. The smallest shark on display at the predator exhibit is a male named Bernie. At just 1.82 metres long and weighing only 34 kilograms, he has a lot of growing to do.

“The smaller ones are obviously younger,” Ms Leeuwner said.“They have a long time to grow still.”

After 21 years, the I&J Predator Exhibit at Two Oceans Aquarium
shut down on June 15 last year to begin a year-long construction process of the new and improved predator exhibit. I&J used to be the sponsor of the predator exhibit in its old form but now sponsors the Two Oceans Aquarium’s new I&J Ocean Exhibit.

The predator exhibit has been completely remodelled. Before renovation, it held many other animals from turtles to several different types of fish. All of the internal structures are removed and replaced to allow experts to easily access the sharks. The animals that inhabited the exhibit beforehand have since been relocated to the I&J Ocean Exhibit for better viewing.

The only remaining part of the original predator exhibit are the outside supporting structure and its windows.

“The exhibit had been in the aquarium since we opened. So that’s 22 years ago and it has had some problems we had to fix. The only way that we could fix that was by closing it,” Ms Leeuwner said. “And when we opened the ocean exhibit it gave us a perfect opportunity to do just that.”

The aquarium has a collections team that gathers most of the plants and animals showcased there. The team fished for the nine new ragged-tooth sharks in East London and kept them in a holding facility there for over two months before they were transported by truck to Two Oceans.

“Once the sharks arrive they are hoisted up onto the roof of the aquarium one by one and placed into a medical tank to begin routine procedures – weighing, measuring, taking blood, removing parasites, sealing wounds and making sure the microchip inserted for tracking works correctly.

“Basically what you need is a shark, a dedicated team, lots of water and passion,” Ms Leeuwner said. “Our guys are very good at what they do. They’ve been doing it for many, many years.”

All of the sharks are under an anaesthetic while undergoing medical procedures in the medical pool.

“They sedate them with an oily substance that they put on their gills that can be rinsed off by the water when they enter the tank naturally,” said Natasha Townsend, operations co-ordinator at Two Oceans Aquarium. “Once they breathe it off their gills then it’s fine.”

Once they enter their new home at the predator exhibit, the raggies are accompanied by a diver to help guide them until they are fully awake.

On June 30, CEO of Two Oceans Aquarium, Michael Farquh, swam alongside Samtu, the last shark to enter the tank that morning and largest shark in the exhibit so far.

These ragged-tooth sharks will not spend the rest of their lives in captivity. According to its website, Two Oceans Aquarium keeps a shark for a period of time and returns it into the wild at Buffels Bay in the Knysna/Plettenberg Bay area. All sharks are tagged before release for tracking to contribute to a greater study of sharks around South Africa’s coast.

“We opened in 1995 and we released our first shark in 2004. So it was less than 10 years and we started releasing our sharks already,” Ms Leeuwner said.

Two Oceans Aquarium keeps the ragged-tooth shark because of the facility’s extensive knowledge on the species and its docile nature, which allows it do well in aquariums, she said.

Raggies are generally calm creatures but have rows of protruding, sharp-pointed teeth which is what, she says, people want to see when they come to the aquarium looking for sharks.