The tuna swim at Victor Harbor is one of the best wildlife experiences in South Australia. Sure, cuddling a koala or hand feeding a kangaroo is fun. But, when an 80kg Bluefin tuna rockets past you and snatches a pilchard from your hand, you really know you’re alive!
Oceanic Victor is an in-sea aquarium off Granite Island near Victor Harbor. Victor Harbor is about 70 minutes from Adelaide. You can walk to Granite Island along a 650 metre causeway or ride on the horse drawn tram. The tram takes you to the café which is also where you find the Oceanic Victor office.
But first some dolphins
After checking in we walked a short distance to Screwpile Jetty to meet our ride out to the aquarium. We didn’t even have to get out to the aquarium before we spotted some marine life.
As we waited to board the catamaran, a pod of bottlenose dolphins appeared in the bay. There would have been ten of them leaping out of the water and swimming close to the surface. It was all happening no more than 50 metres away.
I felt bad for Chris, our head guide for the afternoon. His first job was to give a safety talk but I’m not sure he had anyone’s full attention. I know he said something about life jackets but hey, there were dolphins to watch!
With the safety instructions pretty much ignored, we made our way on board. As soon as we left the jetty, the dolphins came over and swam at the bow of the boat. They stayed there for a couple of minutes before moving out sea. What a way to start the tour!
So much to do
It only takes a couple of minutes to get from the jetty to the aquarium. As we make the short trip we meet the crew. It is soon clear they have some serious marine biology cred’.
The boat’s skipper, Fernando, has a doctorate in dolphins. Chris is a marine biologist. Will specialises in jellyfish. Over the course of the tour they were friendly, enthusiastic and, obviously, full of information.
It wasn’t long before we were tying up at the aquarium. As we walked down the ramp to the platform, we could see the tuna swimming near the surface. They are massive!
More than just Tuna
On the main platform we get a quick tour of the other displays. There is an inner aquarium that is home to a variety of fish including snapper. It is also home to a couple of Port Jackson sharks that we’ll meet later.
There is a below water viewing area where you can see the marine life without getting wet. On the main deck is large touch pool. These would wait for later. It was time to kit up and get in the water with the tuna.
Get ready to feed
People getting in the water are fitted out in a full length wetsuit. They are quickly distributed and easy to put on. A face mask and snorkel are next. If you want to hand feed the tuna you also get a glove for holding onto the pilchard the tuna eat.
If you get out to the aquarium and decide that swimming with the tuna isn’t for you, don’t worry. You will still get a great view of them from above. In fact, watching them feed from out of the water is a spectacular sight. You will still be closer to these amazing fish than you have ever likely been.
Chris tells us about the tuna and tosses food to them, we watch as they attack the snack with unbelievable speed. Nat and I look at our glove and wonder how much protection the glove provides. For sure, if you get hit by one these things, you’d be a goner. We’re assured that the tuna are no more interested in a collision than we are and that we had nothing to worry about. Phew.
We make our way into the water. From above, Chris throws food to the tuna. Despite their size, they propel themselves at the snacks without laying as much as a fin on us. With food dropping into the water all around us, all we can see are the tuna racing from all directions to get it.
To feed the tuna from the water, you raise your hand and a pilchard gets thrown out to you. A pilchard gets lobbed in our direction. With an outstretched arm, you wave it around in the water with your gloved hand.
As you wait for the tuna to notice it, you can’t help wondering if what you’re trying to do is a little bit crazy. Then, in the moment it takes for you notice the large shape loom up from beneath you, it becomes too late to worry about.
The sausage length fish gets snapped from your hand. The tuna is so big all you see is an enormously fast, large shape move past you. The only thing you feel is the tug of the fish out of your hand in the moment the tuna races past.
An awesome experience
We have fed lions and giraffes at Monarto Safari Park. That was great, but you are on land. It also all happens at a gentle pace and, in the case of the lions, from behind bars. Here, you are in the tuna’s world and they take that fish from you like it might be their last. It’s an exhilarating experience.
There were a couple of occasions when a pilchard appeared between Nat and me. We would have been no more than two metres apart but it’s enough room for the blue fin tuna to race between us. The spinning head of a bait fish is all that remains in its wake.
Next stop – sharks
We could have stayed in the tuna pen for hours. Being able to get so close to such big fish is a brilliant experience. But, with more things to see, we left the tuna area and went over to the inner aquarium.
As we approach, Will is sitting on the step. In his lap is a Port Jackson shark. It’s upside down having its tummy scratched. Don’t get put off by the word ‘shark’ in its name. If you encounter a shark you want it to be one of these. They are about the most docile shark going around.
There are two Port Jackson sharks in the aquarium along with dozens of other fish. As Will holds one of them – named Charlotte – the other one – Lily – is starting to take an interest in the toes of a couple of snorkelers.
It’s feeding time and Lily is getting restless. I happen to be sitting next to Will and he hands me the shark while he gets Lily. Charlotte seems un-phased as she moves from one set of hands to another.
The friendliest sharks you will meet
Unlike other sharks, the Port Jackson sharks don’t need to move to breath. So, with one hand on top and one below, I sit on a step in the tank holding a very relaxed Charlotte the shark. I have to say, it was very cool! Their skin is like course sandpaper and they have a hard bony head.
Will returns with Lily. Everyone has an opportunity to hand feed the sharks. There are no gloves needed for this. The sharks hoover up any food waved in front of them. With shark pats and feeding done it was time to let them go. Charlotte and Lily drift down to the bottom of the tank.
Besides the Port Jackson sharks, the inner aquarium is a great place explore. There is a huge variety of fish in there. They are all found in the local waters – many exclusively so. The cool waters around southern Australia are not that easy to explore so it was great being able to see the region’s marine life so easily.
It’s a quick 2 hours
After you have been in with the tuna and the sharks, it’s time to change out of your wetsuit. Next stop is the underwater viewing area. There are big windows below the surface of the inner aquarium where you get a great view of the wide variety of fish. The Snapper appear to follow you from window to window.
As was the case with the other activities, you could spend hours watching the fish. Back on deck, other people were relaxing in the sun with a drink, still talking about their tuna encounter.
This is an action packed experience and the two hours goes in the blink of an eye. Regardless of your swimming ability, the unique in-water setup and all the marine life makes this a great activity.
Granite Island, Victor Harbour, South Australia
Located right on the beachfront, overlooking Encounter Bay this Victor Harbor Beachfront Holiday Park is the perfect base for your Victor Harbor holiday. With bouncy pillows, water parks, pool, recreation room, kids holiday activities there is plenty to keep the kids occupied.
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In-sea Aquarium Platform
Snorkelling at Granite Island
Swim with Bluefin Tuna
View many species of local fish
Includes all snorkelling equipment
Safe and exciting marine environment
Can grow up to 2.45 metres in length and 260 kg.
Southern Bluefin Tuna occur throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Can dive to depths of 500 meters.
Can have a life span of 40 years.
Southern Bluefin Tuna are a ‘critically endangered’ species.