Baby news splash in NZ underwater attraction
12 Nov 2009
Spring is in the air and underwater tourist attraction Kelly Tarlton’s, in Auckland, New Zealand, has made a news splash with a baby boom that’s keeping marine midwives swum off their feet.
In just a few weeks, the flurry of new arrivals includes penguin chicks, ray pups and baby sharks.
The baby school sharks hit the headlines when they made a spectacular entry with a DIY caesarean section.
Aquarium visitors alerted Kelly Tarlton’s staff when baby sharks began spilling from a gaping wound in a large female school shark.
Kelly Tarlton’s team, who hadn't realised the shark was pregnant, were amazed to see four tiny sharks - premature but healthy - emerge from a gouge their mother had sustained when an out-of-sorts broadnose sevegill shark took its aggression out on her.
Even more surprising, there were another four pups found alive inside the shark when she was treated.
Kelly Tarlton's aquarist Fiona Davies said it was common for sharks to take chunks out of each other, even in the wild, but she had never heard of anything like this.
"It had to bite a certain part to let them out and do it without killing the babies or the mother."
The unusual delivery had probably saved the baby sharks' lives, she said, as a natural birth could have seen the babies eaten by adult sharks and stingrays before staff could rescue them.
The young sharks will stay in the "nursery" until they are ready to be released into the wild. The mother shark is being monitored in the oceanarium and is doing "surprising well".
Visitors have the rare opportunity of seeing the baby sharks up close during their three-times-daily feeds.
Eagle ray pups
Two eagle ray pups - born recently after a gestation of almost 12 months - are sharing the "nursery tank" with the baby sharks.
The pups were born while the eagle ray mum swam around the tank, and they emerged tail-first with wings curled up - looking like "little sausage rolls", according to marine staff. Once free of their mother, they unfurled their wings and began swimming.
The eagle ray pups measure only about 25cm from wing tip to wing tip, but are totally self-sufficient. They will eventually grow up to 1.5m.
Eagle rays swim using their 'wings' like a bird. They are usually seen swimming solo over reefs, but during summer they may congregate in large numbers in shallow bays. In New Zealand they are found only around the North Island.
Meanwhile, in Kelly Tarlton’s penguin enclosure, eggs are hatching, fluffy chicks are feeding and soon the first-born of the season will be old enough to venture out on the ice into the penguin crèche.
Kelly Tarlton’s is the only place in New Zealand with a gentoo penguin breeding programme. About 10 to 15 chicks will hatch this year but, as gentoo are notoriously secretive, it’s impossible to know how many eggs have hatched across the colony until the chicks emerge for food.
The gentoo crèche replicates the way the penguins are raised in the wild. It keeps them out of harm’s way and teaches them important socialisation skills - while also giving parents the opportunity to gain weight.
Visitors can see the new chicks from viewing windows, a Snowcat ride and via a live web feed from inside the penguin enclosure.
Gentoo - the third largest penguin species - are listed as "near threatened" on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List, with an estimated 300,000 breeding pairs remaining in the wild in sub-Antarctic islands such as the Falklands, South Georgia and Kerguelens, as well as on the Antarctic peninsula.
Other cute offspring due at Kelly Tarlton’s during the next few weeks include carpet sharks, hapuka and seahorses.
Visitors can currently watch a carpet shark moving around its semi-transparent egg case.
Adult carpet sharks lay their eggs inside tough leathery cases, sometimes known as 'Mermaids purses'. The baby shark will hatch during November, but it’s already visible moving about inside its semi-transparent home.
Baby hapuka - some of the first to be bred in captivity anywhere in the world - are exploring the Reef Tank.
Upstairs in Fish Alley, the seahorses are preparing to have their babies but there are no expectant mums to be seen since it’s the seahorse dad that births and raises the babies.
From 13 November to 13 December, Kelly Tarlton’s is running a ‘Meet the babies’ exhibition with special areas set up so visitors can get as close as possible to the new babies as soon as they are old enough.
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