While most of the visitors at the Underwater Observatory Park observe the magnificent animals and their unique world, a small group of people on the side watch the work of animal caregivers, responsible for taking care of the animals at the site.

The group will begin its tour in the kitchen area, although from the smell, it’s obvious where they’re headed before they arrive. Gal and Shiri are preparing food, the likes of gourmet cuisine, for the hungry animals. Octopuses, squid, shrimps, sardines, tuna, oysters…. are all part of the daily diet. Special emphasis is placed on cutting the food: strips of squid and octopus for the eels (except for the Moray eel, Ezmeralda, who was hit in the jaw during a courtship battle and can only eat food cut into small pieces), small squares for the trigger fish, diced tuna for the lobsters, minced shrimp for the sea goldie, whole fish for the sharks, clams for the spotted eagleray, small sardines for the stonefish … We monitor the feeding of all the different animals to make sure they all eat and to identify problems early on. We have three feedings a day. The emphasis is on preparing food according to their natural dietary needs and, so we match the size of the food to mouth size. “This is a squid’s head,” explains Gal, “considered a delicacy among eels. Feeding at the aquarium begins at 11:30,” he says, inviting us to join him. Next stop: the treatment station. Here we see Idan and Eric get ready for diving. “We’re going to treat the observatories,” says Idan. “Every day we clean the windows, dust and treat the corals, check the pumps, and so forth. Today the emphasis is on searching for predators. Animals, such as snails and slugs feed on the corals, so we spot the damaged coral and then look for the predators which in most case we find, and then we remove them from the coral with special tweezers.” Shay also prepares to dive. “I’m going into the shark pool,” says Shay. “We go into the shark pool every day to feed the sharks, monitor their feeding, and to clean and treat the pool. I wear a special mask that that allows me to speak and hear underwater, so that I can explain to the public about the sharks and answer questions as I dive and feed.” While diving, Shay wears no protective clothing. His protection is his experience and his understanding of the world of sharks. We wish Shay good luck and make our way to the turtle hatchlings pool, where Shiri begins the daily checks and treatments. “The turtles are five months old and I have been with them since they hatched here at the observatory. First, I look for any inflammation on the skin, nose and eyes. I then check the turtles’ shells and remove any algae that have grown. After that, I weigh and measure all the turtles to make sure they have gained weight and are growing well. ‘They’ve all gained weight nicely’,” declares Shiri. “Turtle seven red has a slight eye inflammation,” continues Shiri while she cleans pus from the eye and smears some anti-inflammatory cream on it. “Some of these turtles will be released into the sea in the future to try to help the existing wild turtles who are in danger of extinction. The big turtles were born here thirteen years ago!” It’s now 11:30 and we join Ron for feeding at the aquarium. Here there is the stonefish, the most poisonous fish living on land and looks like a stone. “Stonefish eat whole fish which I put on the end of this stick, says Ron. He places his stick with a sardine on the end of it into the aquarium and gently moves the stick from side to side so that the sardine looks like it is swimming. Then, without warning the stonefish leaps and swallows the whole sardine. “The octopus lives here,” says Ron, pointing to an aquarium fully covered with mesh. “The octopuses can climb out of the tank, and there have been cases where they got into the neighboring aquarium and ate the fish.” The octopus is not a fish; it belongs to the family of shellfish and is a shellfish that learned to swim. The octopus is very intelligent and needs to be stimulated with games and challenges. Every morning while cleaning the tank, the caregiver dedicates some time to morning games. The octopus receives its food in a corked bottle, and it must open the cork and remove the food from the bottle. Ron opened a bottle, put in a large shrimp, closed it and put it in the aquarium. The octopus stretched out two arms, took the bottle, opened it, pulled out the shrimp and put it in its mouth. We continue our tour and come to a room with many aquariums of different sizes. It is actually a lab that contains an isolation room, a delivery room, a marine animal hospital, a nursery, a habitat for the young, a sanatorium, and more. “Here we have young seahorses that were born last night,” Ron points out proudly. The male seahorse gets pregnant and is the only male animal in nature that can be certain he is the real father. In the spring, the mating and spawning season is at its peak and many fish get injured fighting for their breeding rights. We also have a lionfish on a diet. It was living in an aquarium with other lion fish and it ate all the food! Here in isolation, we can control the amount of food it eats. Even for fish, overeating is unhealthy and can lead to complications and in extreme cases, death!

Author: Aviv Levy – Scientific Director of the Underwater Observatory Marine Park

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