Life through a fish-eye lens

A Pinstripe damba fish flashing a toothy grin at the camera and a posing La Palma Pupfish are just two of the unexpected shots captured by award-winning wildlife photographer and BBC Countryfile expert Jack Perks, ahead of the opening of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's brand new Aquarium which opens today (Friday 26 July).

A Critically Endangered Pinstripe damba shows its toothy grin

The newest exhibit at the UK’s largest Zoo, the Aquarium is the first of its kind to be dedicated to conserving threatened and extinct-in-the-wild freshwater fish, including dusky narrow hatchetfish, which jump out of the water in the flooded forests of Brazil to pluck low-hanging fruit and seeds from trees and Caribbean mangrove killifish which can survive out of water for as long as 66 days.

Showing off the personalities of the Zoo's newest residents, Perks worked closely with the Aquarium team leader and expert aquarists to capture the fascinating behaviours and evolutionary adaptations of the remarkable species at Whipsnade, such as a Spotted hillstream loach using its suckers to grip onto rocks in the Zoo’s fast-flowing Vietnamese stream, or a male Madagascan Kotsovato fish changing colour to attract females.

The renowned underwater photographer, who has worked on programmes including Springwatch, Countryfile and The One Show, as well as writing two books about freshwater fish, jumped at the chance to snap images of some of the rarest and most unusually adapted fish in the world.

A lemon cichlid from Lake Tanganyika in Africa

Jack Perks said: “Freshwater fish are a real passion of mine - not least because freshwater habitats are the most threatened and biodiverse ecosystem on earth. Photographing the species at Whipsnade was an opportunity to capture fish that I will likely never see in the wild – either because they are in remote locations or because they are sadly extinct-in-the-wild.

“Being able to capture, up-close, the secret life of some of the world’s most fascinating and endangered underwater creatures was an experience I couldn’t turn down – I’ve read about many of these fish, but nothing compares to seeing them first-hand. 

“Seeing the critically endangered Pinstripe damba using their teeth to crunch through shells (as well as my underwater cameras) was wonderful, as was watching a male Forktail blue-eye put on a dazzling display by turning its fins bright yellow to impress the females.

“As early as I can remember I was out with a net and an ice cream tub, looking for creatures in local rivers and streams. I’m sure the amazing animals and exhibits at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s new Aquarium will inspire a new wave of wildlife enthusiasts.”

A red-cheeked goby at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Curator of the Aquarium, Alex Cliffe said: “Incredibly, 50% of the world’s fish species live in just 1% of the worlds water – freshwater habitats like lakes and rivers.

“The new Aquarium at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is not only conserving species that are at the brink of extinction, but will give our visitors an amazing glimpse into the huge range of life living in freshwater habitats, from flooded forests to African puddles, and Caribbean mangroves to Middle-Eastern caves.”

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s Aquarium opens to the public on Friday 26 July and is included with Zoo entry.

Visitors can get a 10% discount to see the underwater world for themselves, alongside the UK’s largest Zoo’s other 3500 animals, by booking online

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