Anyone who has visited the London Aquarium recently will undoubtedly remember Phoenix and Boris - Sea Life's two green sea turtles - as a star attraction.
At home in the aquarium's tropical ocean tank (the first floor-to-ceiling tank you come to, with a glass tunnel so you can walk beneath the water for a full view of its inhabitants), the turtles can often be seen sculling lazily with their fishy friends or napping between the rocks and the glass walls of the tank. Around 90cm long and weighing over 100kg each, the ten-year-old turtles tend to take it easy during the day. The only exception is dinner time.
Every day at 12:30pm the London Aquarium offers a VIP turtle feeding experience for up to two visitors at a time. The experience lasts for around 20 minutes, during which time you can feed the turtles their cucumber and lettuce while a trained Aquarist explains about their lifestyle, diet, habits and habitat, answering any question you care to throw at them with friendly enthusiasm.
Feed the turtles from a VIP platform above the tank
Out of public view in the sweltering heat above the giant tropical tank is a small platform where VIPs can stand one at a time – lifejackets securely fastened – and see the turtles up close as they nudge each other out of the way to get at the grub. Phoenix, the female green sea turtle, is a bit of a bully and Boris has to stay out of her way to avoid getting bitten.
While introducing me to the turtles the Aquarist fed the turtles pieces of squid, stuffed with important vitamins, to stop them getting soft spots on their shells. Then, with a litter picker, I was able to feed them alternately by waving the food in front of their faces and letting them jab at it.
Green sea turtles are one of the largest species of sea turtle in the world . They can grow to up to two metres in length and some can live up to 50 years or more. They are capable of bursts of speed when necessary but can't sustain extended swims at a fast pace. Like other sea turtles, they migrate long distances to lay their eggs and find food. Sea turtles have an amazing navigational system that allows them to find their way back to their migration path over thousands of miles.
Boris and Phoenix are incredibly elegant and undeniably cute examples of their species. Their heads and flippers are made of the same tough stuff as their shells, which is a bit of a shock to discover when they ram themselves into the litter picker, or the metal platform, as they desperately lunge for their food. While they're keen for attention during the feeding, they instinctively know when the greens have run out and don't hang around to chat when the experience is over.
Fortunately, the £55 entry fee for the experience also covers unlimited access to the rest of the aquarium for the entire day of your visit so there are plenty more opportunities to see Boris and Phoenix, both active and snoozing, as well as all the other rare marine life that the aquarium staff look after. Exhibits include the ecosystem of the river Thames, an arctic exhibition where the penguins have recently been joined by a fluffy new arrival, and a shark tank that also offers private feeding experiences on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 14:00.