The falcon is the national emblem of the United Arab Emirates and has always been a significant part of Arabian culture. These birds have been prominent hunting companions for over 4000 years for the Bedouin people and are deeply rooted into desert life. Therefore a falcon display provides not only great historical value for our guests, but also inspires an interest into the UAE wildlife. This month we were privileged to have Erin from Royal Shaheen with us, exhibiting a pair of falcons. First to perform was Mara the snowy coloured male Gyr falcon (photographed left), this is the biggest species of falcon and originates from Russia.
Next up was Ray, a female Peregrine falcon (pictured right), these are the fastest animals on the planet, and have been recorded flying 389 km per hour. This speed takes form when hunting, the bird will dive down and swoop to kill their prey. As one of nature’s best hunters, falcons were used to catch food for Bedouin families 2000 years ago. As these animals don’t come from this part of the world, Bedouins would have to catch migrating falcons from the Northern Hemisphere on their way to Africa. This would then enable them to get meat to supplement their simple desert diet of dates and camel milk.
A Glowing Performance
In keeping with the Arabian heritage, students clambered aboard a traditional Arabic wooden Dhow in order to explore the marine life of Oman. Dolphins and dinoflagellates were the literal highlight of Ecoventure’s overnight Dhow trip this month.
As the students began their voyage into the intricate coastline, they were rewarded with the image of the distinctive Humpback dolphins (as photographed left) herding sardines into the bay, forcing the fish into shallow waters to trap their meal. Even more strikingly, as the sun went down both sky and seas sparkled as a result of the natural world. These incredible dolphins were highlighted by dinoflagellate bioluminescence as they playfully swam to their slumber. Bioluminescence is a typical trait seen amongst the dinoflagellates, giving the ethereal glow of sparkling blue-green light to disturbed waters. They create this chemiluminescence internally as a defence mechanism, which if swallowed by a predator, in turn causes said predator to light up. Obviously this illumination is not ideal as the fish turns into a glowing meal. Therefore the fish will usually spit out the dinoflagellates so it can return to its usual camouflaged state.
Finally we have a new addition to the aquarium as Darwin the six legged cushion starfish was discovered earlier this month during a trip to the rocky shore. Pictured here with our sergeant major you can clearly see the abnormal extra limb. This has been created through the totipotent cells which give the starfish their regenerative ability.
Sea stars have thick short calcium carbonate spines covering their bodies to protect from predation and suction like tube feet typical of echinoderms. When eating, Sea stars pry open their bivalve prey and push one of their two stomachs out of their mouth and into the shell, where enzymes dissolve the soft tissue. These unique traits are what makes Darwin an invaluable addition to the Ecoventure aquarium.