Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the towers
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse… Apart from the Sharks that is!
Driving through the deserted grounds of Alton towers, we pulled onto the entrance to Sharkbait Reef, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Mrs Claus (Lucy Handel). Lucy popped her head around the corner and an instant ‘kid at Christmas’ smile appeared on mine and Zoe’s face. We were taken on a very exclusive guided tour of the Sea Life aquarium. To see the various fish and creatures the aquarium had on show. This privacy gave the chance to see the displays in all their glory without the usual hustle and bustle, much akin to the shopping this time of year.
After the disappointment of not being able to make the tour earlier in the year it really did seem like Christmas had come early.
After pressing my nose against the glass of every tank I could find, we were beckoned up to the feeding platform of the ocean tank. The rays and sharks had already begun to circle knowing that feeding time was fast approaching. We were given a brief on feeding techniques and dietary requirements, donned a pair of gloves and dived in (not literally, although very tempting).
The rays were up first, once they sensed the food enter the water they circled the feeding area over and over. Slapping their fins on the side of the tank as they swam past, as if to say ‘more please’. Not deterred by the bullish presence of Xena, the rays led by Larry’s effervescent grin, soon gobbled up all we had to offer.
We then had the pleasure of feeding Xena the warrior Leopard shark (personal favourite). She has been trained to feed at a feeding board. The board is held in the water and the food is presented just in front of it ready for her to engulf it with a huge slurp. Although controlled and relaxed, you could feel the raw power as her eager nose bumped into the board.
Finally it was the turn of the Blacktip and Bonnethead sharks. Their extremely hesitant and cautious nature was evident throughout the entire time while we were viewing the Ocean tank from above, but none more so than when we attempted to feed them. The rays had made their way across to the feeding area and were keen to indulge further. The sharks only managed to feed on a small number of passes as the attention from the rays seemed to really dissuade them, almost to the point they seemed fearful. Another example of how media hype and tall stories has vastly exaggerated the reputation of these truly superlative creatures, and their apparent thirst for blood.
A truly unforgettable experience, for Zoe and I. Thank you to Lucy Handel at Sea Life and Katy Bloor at Sub-mission for making is possible.
The day’s events struck a nerve as any encounter of this kind should. It reaffirmed the need to care for and support these delicate creatures and our fragile ocean to ensure aquariums are not the only place to gaze in wonderment at the beauty the oceans have to offer.
And so, training for my next fundraising event is imminent (providing the doctor allows it). I hope to complete an Olympic Triathlon late 2012. That’s a 1.5k swim, 38k bike, followed by a 10k run. Anyone wishing to join me or sponsor me call in the Sub-mission shop for details.