Jo Seton, Contributing Editor
This ZIMS at Work feature on Two Oceans Aquarium is one of a series of stories about Species360 member institutions that record and share data to help improve animal welfare and inform species conservation.
Situated at the southernmost tip of Africa, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa, showcases the prodigious diversity of life found in that marine environment. Around 100 of the approximately 400 known shark species, and no less than 2,200 fish species (around 15% of marine fish species worldwide), are found in South African waters. Up to 13% of those fish species are endemic, one of the highest percentages globally.
“We aren’t the biggest aquarium, but we are unique, I think, in that we only display animals that are found on our coast,” says Kevin Spiby, Senior Aquarist at Two Oceans Aquarium since 2009. “Because of the Atlantic side, we display cold water animals. Because of the Indian Ocean side, warm water animals.”
Among its many activities, the Aquarium rehabilitates turtles that wash up, weak, dehydrated, or injured on Western Cape beaches. A mere one-to-two of every thousand Loggerhead and Leatherback sea turtle hatchlings in the region survive to maturity. Hatching on beaches, they run the gauntlet of crabs, birds, and terrestrial animals, and once in the sea, face predators like fish, sharks, and seabirds. “Never mind the human side of things,” adds Spiby. “Plastic, harvesting of eggs, catching of adult turtles, “ghost” (broken off or abandoned) fishing gear, climate change. The odds really are against them.”
Using ZIMS for Husbandry, Aquatics, and Medical Needs
Since 2016, the Two Oceans Aquarium has been a Species360 member and uses the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), both in its turtle rehabilitation work and beyond. Two Oceans staff use ZIMS in managing and monitoring animal stocks in multi-species exhibits; tracking mortalities; signage; and monitoring water quality trends, like temperature change, in some exhibits.
The ZIMS for Medical module helps the Aquarium team manage the turtles’ various medical prescriptions. And those of the Aquarium’s penguins, several of whom are elderly. “Having a full medical history makes life easier, especially for our vets,” notes Spiby. Staff also appreciate the capability within ZIMS Medical to view medication usage and dosage at other facilities around the world.
The Aquarium also stores considerable species biometric data on ZIMS, such as animal weight. Says Spiby, “Our aquatic animals – penguins, turtles, sharks – we try and weigh as often as feasibly possible. Our fish less often, just because of the sheer numbers.” Retrieving that data from ZIMS is fast and easy. Transferring animals is also simplified: “We can transfer an animal’s whole medical history, all its measurements and tags. It’s great having all that data correlated into one simple platform.”
The Two Oceans Aquarium tags a significant number of animals to monitor long-term movement, and also stores that data in ZIMS. Released turtles, for example, receive satellite tags lasting 18-24 months. A well-known example is that of Yoshi, a loggerhead turtle released by the Aquarium in 2017, which swam over 40,000km to Australia and contributed invaluable information to science. Some released sharks receive surgically implanted acoustic tags, which can last for as long as ten years.
Investing in the Future, With ZIMS and More
Spiby is pleased with the dedicated Species360 member support the Two Oceans Aquarium receives. “Obviously each country is going to have its own endemic species and ZIMS can’t have every single species in the world on it. Our Species360 support representative, has been very good at adding species that aren’t on the ZIMS database.” For aquariums new to, or considering, ZIMS, he points out while it may seem tedious at first to enter as much data as possible, it is truly worth the effort: “The info you get out is only as good as what you put in.”
That “investing in the future” approach is also evident in the Two Oceans Aquarium’s education work. Through its non-profit public benefit partner the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, it works hard to get as many school groups and children as possible through its doors. To creatively engage them. To inspire them to do their part to save the ocean, save wildlife. “Our main purpose is to encourage people to do their little bit. We may be relatively small, but we do big things,” Spiby says, “as big as we can possibly do with the resources we have.” Resources which include Species360’s ZIMS.
To learn more about the Two Oceans Aquarium, visit the website here.
Tell us how you use ZIMS to improve animal care and welfare! Email ideas and suggestions for other ZIMS at Work stories to Support@Species360.org
Contributing Editor Jo Seton hails from Australia and loves exploring new places around the globe. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Victoria University, NZ); a Master of Arts (Exeter University, U.K.); a Ph. D. (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee); and TESOL and Librarianship diplomas.