Thursday, 19 July 2012

Volunteering with Sharks!

Blog by Kingston University student Chris Elliott.  
“So try to keep away from the sharks...” 
Well duh.
“...because if you corner them they might knock themselves out on the tank while running away.”
Er, what?
“But they aren’t that dangerous. The Southern Rays do have quite a dangerous Neurotoxin though...”
“Mind you they’re pretty relaxed around people. Simon trod on one accidently last week and it didn’t sting him”.
“We’ve got twenty-six Lionfish in the tank too and they’re poisonous, but they just think you’re in there to feed them, so shoo them away with your brush if they get annoying.”
“Watch out for the Puffer Fish too. He’s not aggressive but he does have a strong beak if you get too close. We think he ate the Moray Eels.”
“Any questions?”
So here we are, it’s a Tuesday night at Chessington World of Adventures and students from Kingston University Sub Aqua Sports Club (KUSAC) are ready to help clean the Shark Tank.
Now when people find out that we do this they often ask two very sensible questions;
“They take the sharks out first right?
And when we answer no, it is usually followed by;
“Are you mad?”
Well... probably! I’m a SCUBA diver and a SCUBA instructor and us divers – well we love sharks.

Annual deaths by shark attack: 5-15
Annual deaths by cow attacks: 100+
No Daisy, stop, no no no aaaaagh!!
But that’s the thing isn’t it. When was the last time you saw a show called “When Cows Attack”. Personally, I blame Spielberg.

So here we are looking forward to an hour or so of scrubbing rocks and washing the algae from the inside of the viewing windows. Partly so that we can be privileged enough to get close to these creatures, an experience uncommon for SCUBA divers in these overfished days and partly so we can help ensure that others can as well.

We change into our diving gear at the side of the tank – you must be completely covered for these sessions in case you brush up against a lionfish. On the side, we have first aid and emergency oxygen trained staff in case of problems. Inside the tank we’ll have each other to rely on and a brush to shoo stuff away with. It’s easy to be nervous. I’m pretty sure the US Army shark repellent isn’t a budget toilet brush from Wilkinson.
Cleaning the shark tank at Chessington World of Adventures
Once we’re in, we’ll be walking around the tank, as the tank isn’t very big and the finning makes the sharks nervy. It’s diving the way granddad used to do it. We get a few minutes to take underwater pictures and then it’s time to scrub, siphon and shine. It turns out that it’s pretty much the same as cleaning the fish tank at home - only bigger.

In the meantime we get to watch tropical fish shoal around us, watch Rays glide overhead and shoo away pesky Lionfish. The Horned Shark skulks around trying to get in the way and a Striped Moray Eel pokes its head out of a hole, alive for now and presumably scared that I might be a greedy Pufferfish.

It’s hard work, but someone’s got to be lucky enough to do it.
Kingston University student Matt in the shark tank at Chessington World of Adventures
Shark tank cleaning is open to members of KUSAC who are Sports Diver qualified (or equivalent) and higher.
Since the writing of this article, I can confirm that the Moray Eels are now all gone. May they rest in Pufferfish.

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