I visited the French National Sealife Centre, Nausicaa, in Boulogne and was introduced on a back stage tour with keeper Simon Becue to a ‘walker’ shark. Actually called epaulette sharks, they get their nickname from the way they ‘walk’ along the sea bed by wriggling their bodies and pushing with their fins rather than swimming.
The centre aims to try and demystify the image of the shark as an aggressive predator – only around 4 or 5 species out of 500 are dangerous – with a Shark Week every October. Sharks, in fact, play an important role in regulating the fish population in open waters. Nausicaa itself has 140 shark in total, spread across 13 species.
A huge amount of coral growing takes place within tanks behind the scenes too – in fact, the centre does most of the coral cultivation in France.
I also met a very interesting brittle star, which felt like rubber to touch!
It was an eye-opener to learn what goes on behind the scenes to keep the centre functioning and, back within the public areas, I was able to learn all about the African penguins that are bred at the centre to help preserve the populations that are endangered in the wild in South Africa and Namibia.
Nausicaa aims to educate visitors about the need to sustainably manage the world’s oceans and its resources in a responsible and rational way. It grew from a collaboration between the Mayor of Boulogne, Guy Lengagne and three oceanographers, Philippe Vallette, Stephane Henard and Christophe Liacopoulos, with the name Nausicaa derived from the young Greek heroine in Homer’s Odyssey who cared for Ulysses after he was shipwrecked.
Groups of between about five and 10 people can go back stage at Nausicaa and the attraction runs a varied education programme for both adult and school groups. For more information, see our entry on Nausciaa here.