Du­gong keeper

Sa­man­tha Hill­man, 29 Sea Life Syd­ney Aquar­ium

Time Out (Sydney) - - CITY LIFE - Olivia Gee

Du­gongs aren’t as placid as they seem

“Depend­ing on how you walk they can ac­tu­ally fig­ure out who’s com­ing [to feed them] by our man­ner­isms. We have a new ju­nior keeper and our male, Pig, he’s in­cred­i­bly cheeky. Some­times he’ll take the feed­ing tray and ac­tu­ally hide it from them. So he does play a lot of tricks on new keep­ers.”

They’ve a palate for pro­tected plants

“In the wild they eat sea­grass, but sea­grass is a pro­tected species of plant, so we don’t ac­tu­ally go out and har­vest it be­cause we’d be ru­in­ing other marine habi­tats. So here at Sea Life we feed them lettuce – be­tween 60-80kg daily.”

But they’re picky

“Ev­ery 10-15 min­utes we’re re­plac­ing their trays. Nat­u­rally sea­grass is quite crunchy and ob­vi­ously lettuce will be­come soggy af­ter the 15minute mark, so then they’re not very in­ter­ested in it. Some­times we try and give them a bit of a va­ri­ety. If you can imag­ine try­ing to put a piece of spinach into a bit of lettuce and then rolling it like a spring roll and putting it into the trays, that piece will come back when we pull the tray out. They’re super fussy – they know what we’re try­ing to do.”

The aquar­ium’s sea cows are safest in hu­man care

“Our du­gongs are res­cue du­gongs. Our fe­male sleeps on the sur­face, and nat­u­rally wild du­gongs sleep on the bot­tom. This is one of the rea­sons she wasn’t re­leased, be­cause she could be hit by a boat or be a prime tar­get for a shark be­cause her belly would be so ex­posed and she’s quite vul­ner­a­ble sit­ting at the sur­face.”

You can tell their age like you would a tree

“The old­est one on record is 72 years old, and a way to tell how old they are – you know how a tree [trunk] has the rings?– it’s the same thing; you’d be able to tell how old they are from the rings on their tusks.”

“He’s in­cred­i­bly cheeky. Some­times he’ll hide the feed­ing tray”

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