Walk on the wild side at the Waterfront

The seal platform behind the aquarium forms part of the wildlife walk

“There is another world at the V&A Waterfront that people don’t know about.”

These are the words of Brett Glasby, the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation Wildlife Management Programme co-ordinator, of the recently launched Wildlife Walk, during which visitors can experience the Waterfront’s wildlife, sea life and its contribution to biodiversity conservation.

“Even if the area is man-made environment, wildlife finds a way to fit in with us. The Waterfront is not just food and shopping destination, it is home to seals, birds, otters and a lot of sea life who visit around the year.”

The Marine Wildlife Walk was developed over a few years of planning into an educational and interactive activity which visitors can enjoy.

Helen Lockhart, conservation and sustainability manager for the Aquarium, said the diverse wildlife that call the V&A Waterfront home, goes largely unnoticed by the many people who visit the Waterfront area that surrounds the Aquarium. However, she said, the unveiling of the Marine Wildlife Walk, featuring a variety of our wild neighbours at eight look-out points around the Waterfront, brings the urban marine wildlife into view.

There are eight signs around the Waterfront that guides visitors.

The eight signs are easy to identify as they take the form of cut-out animal silhouettes in a bright array of colours. Featuring some of the wild marine animals that frequent the area, such as otters, seals, herons, ocean sunfish, penguins, whales and dolphins, the signs can be found in strategic viewing spots along the route.

Each sign gives some interesting information about the featured animals, while also encouraging those taking part in the walk to look around and see if they can spot other wildlife.

The Wildlife Walk forms part of the Wildlife Management Programme, operated by the Two Oceans Aquarium. The best approach has been to find spaces of intersection where humans and urban wildlife can live in harmony.

The first call to action was to put together a Wildlife Management Team of monitors and specialists who would identify animals in need of assistance or rescue and mitigate human-wildlife interactions. This dynamic team walks the jetties and walkways of the V&A Waterfront on their daily patrols.

The team, headed by Mr Glasby, are dedicated to the protection of marine wildlife and the comfortable cohabitation of humans and animals within the V&A Waterfront.

Brett Glasby, the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation Wildlife Management Programme coordinator explains the seal platform design

During a walk with Mr Glasby, he detailed some of the work being done by the team, which includes disentangling seals who get tied up in litter; monitoring behaviour of “residents”, such as the otters and penguins, and helping dolphins and sunfish which are stuck in the harbour to find their way back to the ocean.

Mr Glasby said there is also a vibrant bird population of around 75 different species, including swift terns, penguins and sea gulls.

The team also employed two otter monitors and two seal monitors, who walk along the canal and the jetties. The seal monitors move the seals along who are found on yacht decks and jetties to prevent them from harming sailing equipment, and the otter monitors watch otter behaviour, and try to deter them causing disturbances.

In the marina, when the tide dies down, said Mr Glasby, crabs, sponges, jellyfish and anemones can be found along the walls of the harbour. This is also where sunfish, the almost daily dolphin visitors, and the occasional whale can be spotted.

The seals have also been provided with alternative platforms which they can rest on. These platforms are have wide spaces between the pallets for easy disentanglement.

Sometimes, strange creatures also visit in once-off sightings. Mr Glasby spoke of a porcupine that may have come through the storm water drains, and a klipdassie that they suspect hopped on a tourist bus and made it’s way from the mountains.

There is also the occasional scorpion in the early hours of the morning, as well as feral cats, which, with the help of animal rescue organisations, are caught, sterilised and put up for adoption.

“The tour and sightings will differ daily, depending on the time of year and what we will be able to spot on the day, but the information, interaction and stories are worth the ride,” said Mr Glasby.

Meanwhile, the Table Bay hotel has partnered with the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation to assist with seal awareness as part of the Wildlife Management Programme.

With Oscar the seal as the Table Bay’s mascott, the partnership was a fitting one, said Table Bay hotel general manager, Joanne Selby.

The “original protector and guardian of the Table Bay”, this seal’s story about his friendship with an eponymous fisherman, and then the builders of the hotel, led to a bronze sculpture being built in his honour.

The Table Bay will give on-going financial support, and has donated its children’ book entitled Oscar! Cape Town’s swimmiest seal of Table Bay to the aquarium foundation to sell and keep the profits.

The Marine Wildlife Walk guided tours can also be booked by hotel guests through the concierge, with revenue going to the foundation. The walk features a guided introduction to a variety of the hotel’s wild neighbours around the Waterfront, and every seafood order will result in a R10 donation to the foundation.

The chairperson of the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, Ann Lamont, said the aquarium creates awareness around the marine environment and its animal inhabitants, and there is a need to expand this message to the greater V&A Waterfront precinct, “so we thank The Table Bay hotel for supporting us with this endeavour”.