Lonely fish at a Queensland aquarium are being cuddled to help them get through their coronavirus lockdown-induced gloom.
In pre-pandemic times, seas of people would walk through the Cairns Aquarium doors each day to peer into the tanks.
That interaction amuses the aquatic creatures inside, including the sharks, groupers, stingrays and the Humphead Maori wrasse.
But since being forced to close amid the pandemic, aquarium staff have noticed the fish are looking for people and has had to take on an extra diver to keep them company.
"We've got these leopard sharks, and they almost like being held or cuddled like puppy dogs," Cairns Aquarium chief executive Daniel Leipnik told AAP.
"We normally have two divers, we now have three. So there's a bit more human contact going on, just to create that extra stimulation."
Some of the fish stopped eating and began hiding in the dark corners of their tanks when the aquarium closed.
One 'people-watcher' in particular, a Queensland Grouper named Chang, was particularly hard hit.
"He's a very inquisitive fish with quite a strong personality, and he does love to stare at people," marine biologist and aquarium curator Paul Barnes told AAP.
"It's even the same for the divers in the tanks - he wants to come right up and have a good look and follow people around sometimes.
"He sulked a little bit for one to two weeks, and during that period of time he stopped eating."
Chang is "not skinny by any means" so aquarium staff weren't too concerned about his temporary lack of appetite.
Staff will start to eat their lunch near the tanks in the weeks before the doors open again to get them used to people once again.
"We'll go sit there and have a chat with them from the outside," Mr Barnes said.
When the aquarium does reopen, staff hope visitors might join the fish for lunch themselves after coming to better understand their intelligence and sensitive nature.
"They really have got brain power, they seem to have emotions, and they connect with people," Mr Leipnik said.
Australian Associated Press