Time for the second half of my virtual tour of the aquarium, covering the Bay of Rays, the Amazon River, and the Coral Seas.
The aquarium has two botanical houses with loads of plants and big open topped tanks. The first one is the Bay of Rays, which contains lots of rays, but only one stingray, Ravioli. He can usually be relied on to show off and swim up the glass, ‘waving’ at people fairly regularly. There are also thornback rays, painted rays, and blonde rays. The fish in this tank are fat-lipped mullet, and these are often what we allow kids to feed on school tours and at birthday parties.
The second botanical house is the Amazon River tank, although before you go down into it there is a tank with another cool Amazonian resident, our electric eel, Bolt. These electric eels aren’t actually eels but rather knife fish, and they have some very cool adaptations to their lifestyle. They live in muddy ponds and mangrove forests in the Amazon, where they are ambush predators, so Bolt has really small eyes and poor eyesight, as she relies on electroreceptors to tell her when prey is nearby. All of her internal organs are in one lump under her chin, while the rest of her body is made up of her electric organ. She can generate around 500V of electricity – enough to kill a horse! She has lungs, not gills, and needs to surface to breathe every ten minutes. Bolt was smuggled into the UK as part of the illegal wildlife trade and found rolled up in a carpet in someone’s suitcase at Heathrow airport.
In this area you can also see archer fish, which can shoot jets of water with amazing precision to knock insects on leaves and branches down to eat, and some of our less aquatic residents, such as tarantula and poison dart frogs. You can also look down into the top of our large coral reef tank before descending back down into the Amazon section.
In the Amazon River botanical house tank, most of the inhabitants are donations to the aquarium from people who bought them as pets and found they outgrew expectations (fish only growing to the size of their tank is a myth). We have a shoal of Pacu, or vegetarian pirañas, various catfish, terrapins, and a silver arawana. The silver arawana is also called a monkey fish, due to its ability to leap up to two metres out of the water and eat small monkeys on low branches in the Amazon. Sadly (although luckily for us), our arawana is not able to jump due to not being properly cared for in his time as a pet. We work with the Big Fish Campaign to help educate visitors about what they should research and buy before starting to keep fish and to promote responsible fish keeping.
After the Amazon River botanical house is the Coral Seas, an area where you can get kids pretty excited Finding Nemo and Dory. Although we try not to ruin too many childhoods, we do tell them that ‘Dory fish’, or regal tangs, are actually quite aggressive and territorial, using the sharp blades in their tails to attack other fish. The tank with Dory in is also the only real coral tank in the aquarium, under UV lights to allow photosynthesis, and I love to point out how the coral moves, looking as though it is being swayed by waves.
Then it’s through the tunnel and on to the final window, both of which look in on the large coral reef tank. The inhabitants of this tank include the leopard shark, Georgie, who is the largest shark in the aquarium at about 1.5m. There are also three pufferfish, all of different species, unicorn tangs (another favourite of many children), two honeycomb moray eels named Crunchie and Funsize, Japanese hound sharks (elusive, but very pretty), and two highly poisonous longhorn cowfish, who despite their slightly silly appearance could kill every other animal in the tank if severely stressed.
The beautiful last window is definitely a high point for visitors to now leave the aquarium, and I can happily sit in front of it for ages when I have the opportunity.