Manly Sea Life Sanctuary Farewell

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The Manly Sea Life Sanctuary has been an integral part of life on the Northern Beaches for more than half a century. 

COVERED. celebrates this long-loved attraction and farewells a place that has featured in many peninsula childhoods and is closing this summer.

Stepping into Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, formerly Oceanworld Manly, you take a trip below the surface, where even the sound and lighting is different.

The soft blue lights and bubbling tanks are the first port of call for visitors and they draw you in to gaze at the array of fish and marine animals on display. Deeper into the building, there are the turtles, sharks and rays and above ground the Penguin Cove. 

Rob Townsend, life sciences manager at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, started out as a volunteer more than 13 years ago. It’s clear he loves his job and says the focus on Manly Sea Life

Sanctuary has been rescue and rehabilitation, as well as being a place offering an insight into the world under the waves.

The sanctuary’s slogan ‘Breed, Rescue, Protect,’ is at the forefront of everything it does. Most recently, the staff took part in the rescue and rehabilitation of a young Great White Shark, and Rob says that, over the years, they have treated a number of turtles and stingrays.

His focus is now on the animals in Manly Sea Life Sanctuary and organising their relocation when the aquarium closes on January 28.

“Some of the animals have never left the aquarium. We are trying to get some of them to feed in different places, so we can catch them more easily when the time comes,” he explains.

After the centre closes, the animals will be moved out over a two-month period. “The trickiest thing will be the logistics. Moving the bigger animals is not the problem, it’s more the volume of small fish,” Rob adds.

Details have yet to be finalised, but the staff are working on having the Manly marine animals relocated to other Sea Life aquariums throughout Australia, including Darling Harbour.

Merlin Entertainments, which operates Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, took over the lease of the building in 2010 and relaunched the renovated attraction two years later in 2012, with the addition of the Penguin Cove.

In March this year, Merlin announced its decision to close the facility when the lease expired in the summer of 2018, following a lengthy assessment to determine whether it continued to meet both Merlin and industry standards.

The site is owned by Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) who have yet to reveal what will happen to the building.

There are more than 100 different species at Sea Life Sanctuary with the big sharks and rays and the penguins being the most popular with visitors. The Shark Dive Xtreme, where visitors can dive with the sanctuary’s residents Grey Nurse Sharks and Rays, is a popular attraction that has generated much-needed funds for the centre.

Some of the Grey Nurse Sharks and bigger Stingrays have lived at the aquarium since the 1970s and they have names. The female sharks are called Palace and Striker, and the boys are Murdoch, Trio Patches and Huey. 

The Rays are Big Mouth, Siobhan, Stumpy and Blackie. The aquarium is home to six
Grey Nurse Sharks, four large Rays, eight different shark species, more than 100 species of invertebrates, as well as penguins, reptiles, big sea turtles and fresh water crocodiles.

Rob says they have different personalities and interacting with them almost daily means he, and the other staff at the Sea Life Sanctuary, form bonds with the animals, especially the larger ones.

“Everyone will have their favourite. They have very distinct personalities. They have different feeding patterns and in the breeding season, they have their little hierarchies,” he says.

His children have grown up at the Sea Life Sanctuary and Rob says his time at the centre has included many high points, like the birth of Murdoch, the Grey Nurse Shark, eight years ago. The centre has also bred Little Penguins, Pajama fish and Port Jackson sharks, – a claim that only a handful of institutions can testify to. Manly Sea Life Sanctuary is the only institution to ever have bred Giant Cuttlefish.

Rob says the rescue work has been a high point of his time at Manly too. “A Sunfish, the biggest bony fish in the sea, washed up on the beach here in front of the aquarium. We looked after it but it was too big so we couldn’t put it in the main tank as it would threaten the others in the tank, so we medicated it and put it out to sea.”

He loves the location and the team he works with at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, and will miss the daily contact he has with animals the most. 

Likewise, this opportunity to watch marine life in such close proximity, is what residents and visitors to Manly, will also miss.

Manly Sea Life Sanctuary is open to January 28

All the marine animals will remain at the aquarium until this date and the usual displays, exhibitions and experiences will all operate as normal to the last day. 

For just $5, visitors can upgrade their tickets so they can visit the centre as many times as they like between now and January 28.

The popular Shark Dive Xtreme will also run through until the aquarium closes. This gives visitors a chance to dive in and come face-to-face with the resident Grey Nurse Sharks, turtles and stingrays. Suitable for first time and experienced divers. Bookings are essential.