Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the planet and freshwater systems support a huge array of animals.
We went on a journey of an amazing discovery through Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium’s unique freshwater and marine aquatic environments and discovered an incredible 13,000 animals from 700 different species – including the world’s largest variety of sharks and rays.
(Pretty lady’s not included!)
We’re making our way there, today!
Here are some pictures we took along the way.
…and playing around like a fool, too – on the way!
At Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium, we got to venture through 14 themed zones including a Shark Walk (something which was recently added to the list of attractions), a Tropical Bay of Rays, an interactive Discovery Rock pool, Mangrove Swamps and even a Shipwreck exhibition!
Not to mention, the newly redesigned ocean tunnel walk through – Shark Valley!
Along the way we encountered some of the world’s most incredible animals, including the bizarre but beautiful Dugongs – 2 of the only 5 Dugongs on display, anywhere in the world!
Here in the aquarium:
SYDNEY SEA LIFE AQUARIUM
You’ll definitely see – huge sharks, massive stingrays, majestic turtles, jellyfish, platypuses, penguins, sea dragons, thousands of tropical fish, enormous crabs and much more.
Streams and Billabongs Exhibit
Between Queensland and South Australia there are 23 major rivers and the water in there is enough to fill up the Mississippi!
Upon flooding, these rivers can leave thousands of isolated waterholes. Each waterhole, stream and river becomes a unique and rich aquatic habitat, filled with crustaceans, fish, turtles and hundreds of bird species.
Within Australian rivers and lakes, there are approximately 250 species of freshwater fish found nowhere else in the world. Freshwater fish are the most endangered group of animals on the whole planet, with a third of the species facing extinction.
Over a third of the world’s river habitats are under moderate to high threat.
Habitat destruction is the biggest threat to freshwater systems however, pollution and introduced species also play a role in the recent decline of the freshwater fish.
The Platypus, belongs to the smallest mammal order in the world, the ‘egg-laying mammals’. The only other member of this exclusive club is another Australian, the Echidna.
Found only in eastern Australia, the Platypus makes burrows in the steep banks of creeks and rivers and hunts for small prey such as shellfish, fish, tadpoles and insect larvae in deep pools.
Though the Platypus can cope with conditions ranging from the humid heat of north-east Queensland to the snowy winters of Tasmania, this shy, protected animal is at risk from many predators.
The male Platypus is a territorial animal, which may use poison spurs on the heels of its hind legs to fight with other males over females and territory. There’s enough venom in a spur to kill a small dog and, while females are also born with the spurs, they lose them at around one year of age.
The Platypus hunts by means of a unique receptor that enables it to detect small electrical fields generated by the muscle activity of small prey moving in the water.
It’s the only mammal capable of doing this.
The largest of the long-necked turtles, the Broad-shelled Turtle’s combined shell and extended neck lengths may exceed more than 80cm!
Here, you’ll be able to see the Broad-shelled Turtle and his other turtley-fascinating friends playing with and chasing each-other and their fishy neighbors.
Deep within Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium’s Streams and Billabongs area, you’ll discover a variety of turtles unique to Australia’s freshwater habitats, including the Long-necked Turtle, the Macquarie River Turtle and the impressive Broad-shelled Turtle.
The Broad-shelled Turtle inhabits large slow-moving or still bodies of water in south-eastern Australia, from southern Queensland to eastern South Australia.
They have an extraordinary ability to extract oxygen from fresh water by pumping it through veined cavities in the throat and vents enabling them to remain submerged for extended periods of time.
The shell is usually dark grey-brown in color, as is the upper part of the head and neck, while the throat is pale grey or creamy in color.
Amazingly, these animals hibernate in water by burrowing into the mud on the river bottom!
Sydney Harbour Exhibit
Here at Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium’s – Sydney Harbour exhibit, you’ll discover Sydney Harbour really is as beautiful below the surface as it is above.
One of the most iconic harbours in the world – Sydney Harbour, although situated in the middle of Australia’s most populated city, Sydney Harbour is a truly remarkable haven for wildlife and is home to many different species.
Also known as Port Jackson, Sydney Harbour contains over 500 gigalitres of water within its coastline!
This provides for protected rocky reefs, sea-grass beds and large inter tidal areas that are an important breeding ground for fish, invertebrates and plankton.
With over 600 species of fish inhabiting its depths, the harbour is a vital link in the ecology of the coastline.
Here, among the stilted piers and platform decks of Sydney Sea Life Aquarium’s – Sydney Harbour habitat, you’ll discover many many of the fishes and invertebrates and you might even get the chance to see them, while snorkeling or diving in this beautiful harbour.
Many of the fishes are so spectacularly colored, they can easily be mistaken for tropical reef species and in-fact, because of the strong east Australian current which runs down along the coast from the north.
Sydney Harbour is also home to many stray visitors that get swept down, usually as eggs or tiny babies, from the tropics.
These eggs and young fish arrive in early summer and settle here while the water is still warm.
By autumn a variety of tropical fish normally associated with the Great Barrier Reef can be seen in Sydney Harbour.
Rocky Shores Exhibit
The area around a large body of water, such as a lake, sea or ocean is described as the shoreline, hence – the Rocky Shores exhibit.
The animals that live here have to be adaptable to their surroundings as they often have to deal with wide ranges of physical and environmental factors. These include wave action, tides, temperature changes and salinity changes in the water.
Where the surging waves meet unyielding rock you will find a unique group of animals and plants able to withstand this harsh environment.
With the rise of the tide comes a flood of nutrients and oxygenated water. It also brings with it predators, hungry for the opportunity to pick off the herbivores and filter feeders that have come to life.
At Sydney Sea Life Aquarium’s Rocky Shores exhibit, surrounded by sea views and blue sky, you’ll discover some of the amazing animals that call this habitat home, including the fascinating Flashlight Fish, Wobbegongs, Moon Jellyfish and the unusual-looking Estuarine Stonefish.
These fascinating creatures have translucent bodies and can be recognized by their four horseshoe-shaped organs, easily seen through the top of their bodies via the ‘bell’.
The Moon Jellyfish is capable of only limited motion, and drifts with the current.
They grow 25-40cm in diameter and for feeding, they have a mucous coating on their bell which traps plankton, then they use their tentacles to “sweep” the food from the bell into the mouth.
Amazingly, Moon Jellyfishes are primitive animals with no brain and have just one opening where food goes in …and comes out.
Tropical Bay of Rays Exhibit
The Tropical Bay of Rays area of Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium, houses the most colorful combination of Australian rays – many threatened or endangered – ever displayed together.
There are more than 600 species of rays worldwide. Rays have adapted to survive in open oceans, shallow reefs, deep continental shelves, estuaries and freshwater environments.
Similar to sharks, rays have skeletons made out of cartilage; they are identified by a flattened body with gills found on the underside of their body and vary significantly in size – some rays, like the Manta Ray, can grow to 7m and weigh over 1300kg!
It will be difficult to miss the electric blue spots of the Fantail Rays and the Blue-spotted Masked Ray.
Other species including the spectacular White-spotted Guitarfish too, this tropical oasis is a wonderful exhibition – a sight not to be missed.
Whited Spotted Guitarfish
Also known as the White Spotted Wedgefish because of its distinctive shape, the White Spotted Guitarfish can grow 3 metres long and to a weight of up to 300 kilos.
Despite its size this harmless animal can be safely and closely approached by divers and snorkelers.
The White Spotted Guitarfish inhabits open and shallow seas in subtropical climates starting from in the Gulf of Thailand and the Philippines to Queensland, Australia and can often be found resting on the seabed during the day, propped up on its pectoral fins as it slowly pumps water over its gills.
Mangrove Swamps Exhibit
This area of Sydney Sea Life Aquarium, replicates the dark, atmospheric feel of the of the mangrove swamps of Australia’s tropical north, home to frogs, lizards, crustaceans and a vast variety of fish.
This environment is subject to tropical wet and dry seasons, providing a regularly changing habitat for a unique and diverse group of animals.
From November to April, the flat coastal plains are flooded by monsoon rains, but for the rest of the year very little rain falls, and the upper reaches of some rivers run completely dry.
During the wet season the swollen rivers are almost entirely fresh water, but as flood waters recede in the dry season, salt water travels upstream as far as 100 kilometers from the coast.
Most fish and other animals living in this environment are well adapted to the fluctuating salinity. A particularly good example of such a salt adapted animal on display in the aquarium is the Barramundi, a large fish highly prized for both food and sport.
Some northern species are less salt water tolerant and so take sanctuary in fresh water found in the far upper reaches of larger, permanent rivers. The Lungfish and Saratoga on display at the aquarium are two such species.
This species is well adapted to the changing conditions in the northern rivers habitat. It’s found in clear or murky water in mangrove estuaries, creeks and rivers and can tolerate high levels of saltwater as well as freshwater.
Barramundi can grow very large and have a varied diet of shellfish, insects and other fish. An ancient species, the Barramundi moves downstream to spawn in coastal shallows or estuaries, before returning to its home river system. Spawning happens during the full moon, when the tide begins to move in: each female lays several million eggs, which are then swept into mangrove swamps and estuaries where they hatch within the next 24 hours.
An interesting fact is that Barramundi start life as males, reaching maturity at about three or four years old. Then when they are five years old, they start changing into females. Small fish are almost always male, with the percentage of females increasing as the fish get larger.
South Coast Shipwreck Exhibit
Venture into Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium’s new South Coast Shipwreck area, and discover the inhabitants of the deep and shallows, including Pineapple Fish, Octopus and Little Penguins!
Australia’s oceans are rich with marine wildlife, and here, set among this beached shipwreck environment you can discover a vast array of animals including those found in Australia’s coastal waters like the elegant Weedy Sea Dragons and the odd-looking Pineapple Fish.
Not only do Pineapple Fish look vaguely like a heavily armored pineapple, they also have a small light on their lower jaw for communicating with other Pineapple Fish and for finding prey in the dark.
Pillage the depths of the sea to discover the ferocious-looking, but shy Green Moray eels – which despite their snake-like appearance, are indeed fish – peering out from inside their crevices.
I finally managed to coax him out of hiding!! =X
Discover the Common Octopus too – which with its distinctive bulbous head, huge eyes and incredible ability to hide in plain sight, is considered the most intelligent of all invertebrates.
Or you can also peep at tropical fish and amazing coral through slatted timber portholes, whilst looking out to shore and watching the playful behavior of Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium’s colony of Little Penguins.
Unlike many other penguin species, Little Penguins come ashore to roost in burrows on the beach or rock crevices and can be seen along the southern coast of Australia for much of the year. They can also sleep out at sea and sometimes spend weeks away from land.
The Shipwrecked themed area is set amidst the Southern Oceans of Australia, which are subject to an unusual combination of warm and cold sea currents, making them a unique habitat for some of the world’s most amazing and diverse marine species.
One of the most famous inhabitants is the beautiful Little Penguin, also commonly known as the Fairy Penguin. It’s name derived because it’s the smallest penguin in the world, the little penguin is also the only Penguin species to breed on mainland Australia.
Little penguins aren’t just inhabitants of the far south, however, as they’ve also been found in Sydney Harbour.
When little penguins leave a beach for the first time as chicks, they somehow take a visual imprint of it – a kind of photo in their head. As the years go by, they always return to the exact same beach to breed, even though they might not have been back for a long time.
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To be continued in Part 2!