North Shore Times : January 10th 2014
4 NORTH SHORE TIMES, JANUARY 10, 2014 NEWS www.northshoretimes.co.nz Close quarters: More 500L tanks have been ordered to avoid big fish like these sharks being crammed in too tightly. Gruesome: A mako shark stored at Auckland museum’s fish collection. Freak show: The pale toadfish, Neophrynichthys angustus. Well-preserved: This eyeless, bottom-feeding hagfish, Eptatretus cirrhatus, was picked up by a trawler in the Hauraki Gulf in January 1908. Something fishy about collection Reporter Dubby Henry finds a fishy repository stocked with unusual specimens. She also took the photos. From a 100-year-old hagfish to a great white shark, the Auckland War Memorial Museum owns some freaky sea creatures. But you won’t find them on show. Most of the museum’s 8000 fish specimens are stacked in tanks, jars and barrels in an East Tamaki warehouse. Severine Hannam manages the museum’s natural sciences collection and divides her time between the two sites. She struggles to choose a favour- ite from the collection but manages to narrow it down to ‘‘the perfectlooking shark’’, the mako. ‘‘It gets mistaken for a great white shark but it’s a more slender and sexy-looking fish,’’ she says. The mako is crammed into a 500L tank with other dead sharks that would have been its mortal enemies. They’re stored in a 70 per cent ethanol solution which will preserve the fish ‘‘for a long, long time – hopefully forever’’, she says. More tanks have been ordered to make room as the collection grows. Fewer than 1 per cent of the museum’s fish specimens are on public display because there’s no room to show the others. Even if there were, most just aren’t ‘‘pretty enough’’, Ms Hannam says. Say ‘‘cheese’’: Auckland War Memorial Museum’s natural sciences collection manager Severine Hannam with a mako shark at the warehouse in East Tamaki. Instead they serve another, arguably more important purpose as research specimens for scientists and university students. Museums act like libraries and lend each other specimens as needed, she says. ‘‘It works all over the world. I’ve just sent shark tissue samples to a museum in America.’’ In her year on the job Ms Hannam has been sorting through every specimen in the collection. She’s had some great finds includ- ing a hideous hagfish picked up by a trawler in 1908. It has no eyes and feeds on carcasses that have dropped to the bottom of the sea. Pores along its body secrete thick mucus as a defence mechanism, causing predators to spit it out. Such items are an irreplaceable historical resource, Ms Hannam says. ‘‘The number one rule of thumb for each museum specimen is to handle it like you’re holding on to your life. They’re all unique, especially the date they were collected, because we can’t go back in time.’’ These days when Ms Hannam and colleagues go on dive trips they try to keep the killing to a minimum. Most research today is done with DNA which needs only a tissue sample. ➤ONLINE TOOL Seen any funny-looking creatures while out fishing? Amateur naturalists can download the museum’s free smartphone app to help identify marine life in and around Auckland’s coastal waters. The online tool was created for this year’s marine exhibition Moana: My Ocean. It launched with information on 130 of New Zealand’s coastaldwelling marine mammals, reptiles, fish, shellfish, invertebrates, seaweeds and plants and museum staff will add more over time. Each entry combines photographs with information on the animal or plant’s biology, identifying characteristics, diet, habitat and its native and endangered status. The NZ Marine Life app works on iPhone and iPad. Go to aucklandmuseum.com to download it for free. Researchers take photos and samples and then release the fish, particularly if they’re ‘‘large charismatic animals like sharks’’, she says. ‘‘The goal is to get one of each fish from each area. The goal is not for us to empty the oceans.’’ Doctoral students finished with their research material and people who have stumbled across oddlooking fish are also a good source of new specimens. To be accepted, fish should be in good condition with records of exactly where and when they were collected.
January 9th 2014
January 14th 2014