May 24, 2022

Another one!

In March we posted a journal entry (view it) about observations of the rarely encountered Benham's Streamerfish, Agrostichthys parkeri. Since uploading that story another specimen has been observed.
The observation was uploaded by Jaco Grundling (@jacog) who stated, "One of the locals (Samantha Bell) at Mākara Beach spotted the fish when out walking with her dog at Fisherman's Bay. She posted in our local community Facebook page looking for an ID. I thought our best bet finding out what she found was adding it to iNaturalist and linking it to the Australasian Fishes Project. From what she said the fish was about 2m long and still alive when she observed it. It went on land by itself where she observed its tail detach which suggested that it might have been attacked. It eventually writhed back towards the water and entered the shallows."
If this was a contest, New Zealand would be leading 2 to 1. Benham's Streamerfish is a cool water species that is found right around the New Zealand coastline, but in Australian waters is only known from Tasmania and southern Victoria. It would be interesting to see more observations of Benham's Streamerfish. Come on you Cabbage Patchers and Taswegians, you can't let the kiwis outdo you. :)
Posted on May 24, 2022 05:19 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 12, 2022

World Ocean Day iNaturalists wanted to share knowledge

This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes project member Dr Adam Smith, (@adam_smith3) who is an Adjunct Associate Professor at James Cook University and founder of Reef Ecologic.
To celebrate World Oceans Day 2022 we are asking the iNaturalist community to connect with the ocean and people between 1 and 8 June, 2022 and share photographs of marine life.
If you are an existing member of iNaturalist please introduce a new person such as a beach walker, citizen scientist, snorkelers, SCUBA diver, fisher, tourist, Master Reef Guide, reef ranger, students or photographer to the iNaturalist community. Scanning the QR code, above, will direct you to the iNaturalist sign-up page.
We would love to see your photographs of marine life and we are particularly interested in observations of fish, sharks, corals, shells, turtles and threatened species. Please also let us know if there are any reefs, islands or areas or species you think we should focus on for this event.
We will provide a pre-event online briefing and training for people interested in joining iNaturalist and this World Ocean Day ReefBlitz and FishBlitz on the 31 May. Join here.
We will provide daily updates through social media.
Learn more here, or contact Dr Adam Smith on Adam.smith@reefecologic.org or call 0418726584.
Below are three relevant links.
2. World Ocean Day ReefBlitz information and training event
https://www.facebook.com/events/490688616140592
3. World Ocean Day Marine Life Surveys
https://www.facebook.com/events/1143305346244649
Posted on May 12, 2022 03:12 by markmcg markmcg | 2 comments | Leave a comment

May 08, 2022

Scientific paper discusses the Australasian Fishes Project

In March 2022, colleagues at the University of New South Wales published a paper in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation (View the paper). The paper is titled "Many cameras make light work: opportunistic photographs of rare species in iNaturalist complement structured surveys of reef fish to better understand species richness."
In the abstract of the paper, the senior author, Dr Christopher Roberts @cj_roberts (see photo above) and his co-authors state that "Citizen science is on the rise, with growing numbers of initiatives, participants and increasing interest from the broader scientific community. iNaturalist is an example of a successful citizen science platform that enables users to opportunistically capture and share biodiversity observations." I don't think any of us would disagree with that statement.
They "compared the opportunistic fish photographs from iNaturalist to those obtained from structured surveys [conducted by] Reef Life Survey at eight study reefs in Sydney, Australia over twelve years.", and found that "iNaturalist recorded 1.2 to 5.5 times more fish species than structured surveys resulting in significantly greater annual species richness at half of the reefs, with the remainder showing no significant difference."
In terms of ease of use, they stated that "iNaturalist likely recorded more species due to having simple methods, which allowed for broad participation with substantially more iNaturalist observation events (e.g., dives) than structured surveys over the same period."
Opportunistic observations such as those uploaded into iNaturalist have limitations but the authors state that "These results demonstrate the value of opportunistic citizen science platforms for documenting fish species richness, particularly where access and use of the marine environment is common and communities have the time and resources for expensive recreational activities (i.e., underwater photography)."
Interestingly, "The datasets also recorded different species composition with iNaturalist recording many rare, less abundant, or cryptic species while the structured surveys captured many common and abundant species."
The authors end the abstract by saying, "These results suggest that integrating data from both opportunistic and structured data sources is likely to have the best outcome for future biodiversity monitoring and conservation activities."
So what's the take-home-message? For me, it's that iNaturalist is an incredibly powerful citizen science platform and the efforts of Australasian Fishes Project users are contributing to a better understanding of the natural world. Pat yourselves on the back and please continuing to upload your observations - not just those of strange or rare fishes, but also of common species.
Posted on May 08, 2022 10:47 by markmcg markmcg | 2 comments | Leave a comment

April 24, 2022

Mozambique Scorpionfish way out of range

John Sear (@johnsear) has uploaded a terrific observation of a Mozambique Scorpionfish, Parascorpaena mossambica.
The species normally occurs in tropical waters (south to the Solitary Islands on the NSW coast), but 'John's fish' was photographed in Sydney Harbour, about 500km south of the recognised distribution. It's the first time the species has been recorded in the harbour. This brings the tally of Sydney Harbour species to 641.
John is a big contributor to the Australasian Fishes Project. In April 2020, his Member Profile stated that he had uploaded observations of 501 fish species. This tally has now climbed to an impressive 790 species. Thank you John!
Identifying scorpionfishes can be very difficult so we contacted the world expert, Dr Hiroyuki Motomura for help. He identified the fish for us, stating "It is Parascorpaena mossambica. It's a big range extension." Thank you Hiro-san!
Posted on April 24, 2022 03:04 by markmcg markmcg | 1 comment | Leave a comment

March 31, 2022

Member profile - Luke Colmer

I suspect everyone has their own technique for searching for marine life to photograph. Some divers prefer to cover as much of the underwater area as possible, swimming hard, covering a wide range in the allotted time. I tend to be the opposite, where I select a piece of underwater real estate and slowly lurk around the area, watching the fish life, and waiting for opportunities to photograph. I look for fish-friendly habitat or obvious cleaning stations and wait for the fish to come to me.
This may sound boring, however, sometimes while sitting on the bottom, I find myself thinking of past songs, trying to recall lyrics, without the aid of GOOGLE. Most are songs from the 1960’s (I like a challenge). On occasion, some songs stick with me, impossible to dislodge. One recent earworm to infect my limited underwater attention span, has been The Straight Life, covered by Bobby Goldsboro, released in 1968. WARNING: Whatever you do, don’t listen to it. Bobby was attracted to sickeningly sweet songs about everyday life. While I have nothing against music, Bobby’s songs will raise your blood sugar levels to dizzying heights, possibly inducing nausea. Don’t risk it. Stick with Grand Funk Railroad. Anyway, to spare you the risks listening to the song, it is about a person who daydreams about living alternative lifestyles which included travel, adventure and romance in remote corners of the world. It was a life far different from what we called in the 1960’s, the straight life.
Thinking about this song, I am reminded of the current subject of this bio blurb, Luke Colmer (@lcolmer), ranked 16th in our project with 1,840 observations covering 113 different species. Luke has recorded over 4,000 observations for iNaturalist. He dedicates a great deal of time to community citizen science projects in New Zealand, as an experienced dive instructor, however, all of this is not what makes me think of him when I try to recall the obscure pop lyrics of a 1960’s high school heart throb. It is more the journey which his diving has taken him over the years.
He tells us, “I was born and grew up in an Outback town (Broken Hill) and was 8 years old before I even saw the ocean for the first time. At age 25, I moved to Northern Western Australia and fortunately had some friends who were right into spearfishing. Whilst I wasn’t at all into spearing, I used to go out and just snorkel with them. It was always thrilling because there were always heaps of reef sharks around and that would blow me away. I bought a compact camera and underwater housing and started trying to snap shots of the reef. Eventually some friends and I travelled down to Exmouth and did our SCUBA ticket at the Ningaloo Reef in 2008.”
Luke was infected not only with diving but the travel bug as well, where he travelled frequently between 2003 and 2019. During that time, he always kept a camera with him, photographing nature, following the example of his mother, an equally keen photographer. He tells us, “I dived sporadically over the next few years but I kept snorkeling. It was whilst travelling Central America in 2015 when I started diving much more frequently. I was diving the cenotes in Mexico, and I did my Advanced Open Water there. Then I went down to the Bay Islands of Honduras and did my Rescue and Divemaster courses. It was here, on Utila, that my love of finding critters started. One particular dive site was great for finding seahorses and pygmy pipehorses. This really sparked my curiosity for finding critters. I eventually did my instructor’s course in The Philippines and worked on Malapascua Island for a while. “
Sounds pretty exotic. The story is not over yet. When discussing photography, he tells us about his first serious underwater camera. “It wasn’t until I was working in Timor Leste that I finally invested in a decent camera setup. I got myself a Sony RX-100v in a Nauticam Housing with a Sola focus light and Sea&Sea strobe. It’s a really good compact camera. The focus is good and low light is quite reasonable. With the two strobes, if I get my positioning right – it can take pretty decent pics. Also, I don’t have to choose – wide or macro. I can do a bit of both. I also usually have a wet macro lens that I can add or remove but it has been out of action for a few months. Also, it is still of manageable size that I can do a relatively long walks to a secluded spot to snorkel while carrying the camera. The cons are, I can’t use the zoom because the focus struggles. Meaning that many of my pics need to be cropped and the pixel size is not amazing. Also, obviously I can’t get the crispness across the whole pic that mirrorless and DSLR can get.
With my camera in hand, my partner and I went on a 5-week dive holiday around Indonesia and Philippines and my love of Muck diving started. Then back in Timor, whilst I was working as a dive instructor. Conservation International studied some reefs in Timor and found them to be the most biodiverse reefs on the planet and I was hooked.”
Like many others in our project, his acquaintance with iNat and the Australasian Fishes Project was a matter of word of mouth. He says, “I first heard about iNat in 2019 when I was briefly living in Whanganui. I was volunteering for a community group who maintained a pest-free forest sanctuary. I took my camera one day and took a few photos of the many incredible fungi that thrived in the park. The volunteer coordinator asked me if I would mind uploading them to iNat, so I signed up and loaded the images. It wasn’t until early 2020 that I took a couple of shots of some underwater critters that I knew were not common that I decided to upload them as well. Since then, I have tried to upload every underwater shot I’ve taken. I came across Australasian fishes when I posted an obs of Gymnothorax berndti and @clinton tagged @markmcg who then invited me to the project. Now I always include all my fish obs to the project. I guess on average I would load a group of obs weekly. I am still not super confident of my ids all the time so usually wait until I am quite confident before adding an ID. I am always trying to learn, so try to ask questions where I think I could learn something.”
As Bobby Goldsboro tells us in song, eventually most of us adjust to “The Straight Life” at some point. Luke has settled down to a role at a local council, using his engineering degree. He also supports several community projects aimed at the preservation of nature, using his diving skills to assist others. That does not mean he has left diving behind. He tells us, “Here in New Zealand, it was the middle of winter last year. I had changed careers and was working an office job. It was a Saturday, and I was desperate for a dive. However, the weather wasn’t great, and I couldn’t find a dive buddy. So, I thought, I’ll go and snorkel an estuary. I got out to Pataua estuary, and the coast was quite rough by then. I jumped in the visibility was awful. Barely half a metre. I thought, well this won’t go for long. As I drifted along thinking I’d jump out, having not really seen anything, I looked back and had just drifted over something that looked unusual. Then I saw it was two eyes and a mouth. I have been looking for a stargazer for ages and hadn’t yet seen one – I thought I was finally seeing one. But soon I realised it wasn’t a stargazer at all. I took a set of photos, disturbed it out of its sandy hideaway and took some more pics. I got out soon after that, went home and looked straight in “The Fishes of New Zealand.” The only thing I could find that was similar was Torquigener altipinnis. Turns out – it was, and it was the first time it had been seen around mainland New Zealand (previously only known from the Kermadec Islands). To me it just reinforced that cool findings aren’t limited to offshore islands and coral reefs. Anywhere fish are, there are cool observations waiting to be found.”
Another advantage of knocking about in tropical locations, is that you end up with interesting stories to discuss over “crackers and beer”. NOTE: If you understand that reference, then you’ve disregarded the above warnings, and actually listened to the song. I do apologize. Luke tells us about one memorable experience. “Diving in Timor Leste, I was doing an Advanced Open Water, Deep Adventure dive with a single student on the walls of Atauro Island. We descended down to almost 30m to do the skills. Suddenly my students’ eyes opened super wide, and he just froze. I turned around to see a whale shark swimming straight at us. We followed the shark for as long as we could, during which time I looked up to signal my colleague who was actually trying to signal us to come look at something. My colleague then saw the whale shark and brought his students down to swim with the shark. He then grabbed me and my student and took us up to a gorgonian where he had found a number of pygmy seahorses. One of the largest and smallest incredible creatures in the ocean – all within a few minutes.”
We in the project are grateful for Luke’s support and ongoing contributions. I’m currently over Bobby Goldsboro for the time being and will have to pick a new tune to recall the lyrics, while waiting for interesting fish to swim by. I wonder how many rap lyrics I can recall.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on March 31, 2022 11:13 by markmcg markmcg | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 25, 2022

5000 people!

Hi fish fans,
In case you didn't notice, the project has just passed a significant milestone.
On 24th March 2022 observations from 5000 people had been added to the Australasian Fishes Project.
With your help the project is going from strength to strength. In fact, another excellent paper has just been published that may have used your observations. But more on that later. For now, enjoy the milestone.
Posted on March 25, 2022 04:02 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

March 17, 2022

Rare fish found!

The Wikipedia page for Benham's Streamer fish, Agrostichthys parkeri, states that it is a "species of oarfish found in the southern oceans where it is only known from seven specimens."
I'm delighted to let you know that the Australasian Fishes Project now has two observations of the species. We can thank @mark2-nz and @james_adams for uploading observations of this rarely encountered species from New Zealand and Tasmania respectively.
The first observation (see images above) was uploaded by Mark Anderson (@mark2-nz), a Biology teacher at Marlborough Boys College in Blenheim, New Zealand. The initial sighting of this fish, however, was made by Joseph Wegener (@joseph_wegener) who was a year 11 student in Mark's class at the time. Mark didn't know what the fish was, so with Joseph's permission, he uploaded the photos to iNaturalist. Mark recalled that the observation generated a fair bit of interest from marine biologists. To follow up, Mark asked Joseph if he knew where the fish was located. To his great surprise, Joseph said it was in his freezer! Mark collected the fish from Joseph and on his next trip to Wellington delivered it to the museum, where it is now deposited in the ichthyology collection.
Mark stated that this "... was such a good use of iNaturalist. I use this example when I introduce my Biology students to the site as a great way that this tool can be used."
Carl Struthers (@cdstruthers) works at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. He stated, "It was wonderful to receive the specimen that Joey collected and have it in the Te Papa collection for future research. Specimens of this size are not that common in collections, with most specimens over 1 m, our largest is just under 3.1 m. This will provide important information for the species at this smaller size. This highlights the value of citizen science, and the role that members of the public have in supporting collections and research."
Interestingly, Carl also stated that "Te Papa probably holds one of the largest collections of this species in the world, with 54 specimens collected from throughout our region." The map, below, (from Stewart, 2015*), shows the collection locations for the species in the Te Papa collection. I guess it goes to show that you can't trust everything you read on Wikipedia! The Atlas of Living Australia records 8 observations of the species from Australian waters.
The more recent observation (photos below) was made in December 2021 by James Adams (@james_adams) in Adventure Bay, Bruny Island, Tasmania.
Thank you to everyone who contributed their time and effort to make this journal entry possible. And always wemember - wonderful Wikipedia isn't always corwekt. :)
* Stewart, 2015 in Roberts, C.D., A.L. Stewart & C.D. Struthers, 2015, The Fishes of New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Te Papa Press.
Posted on March 17, 2022 10:23 by markmcg markmcg | 2 comments | Leave a comment

February 21, 2022

Member profile - Zachary Robertson

Part of my professional life was spent as an educator, a teacher. While my teaching career was in the tertiary sector, I can still recall being a student, enduring the 700 years I spent in High School. At least it felt like that. The improvement of teaching techniques has always been a source of interest to me, and I often read articles about teaching innovations, techniques for greater classroom engagement or improved learning environments. For example, I am currently enamoured with something called Kahn Academy, an innovative, free online teaching method which turns traditional classroom teaching on its head. I am always looking for ways to create those “incredible teaching moments”, which I hope students will recall, long after the lesson is over.
What was always elusive was a reliable method of measuring the end product. In setting up courses we focused on lesson plans, technical terminology and required concepts for exams. We measured teaching success mainly through test scores, future job or university placements or what percentage of the students ended up in prison. Easy metrics to compile, but not why many professional teachers got into the business in the first place. We wanted to inspire an interest in our topic and foster a passion for learning, as well as have them pick up skills useful for a lifetime. I am not sure how often we accomplished that goal.
The Australasian Fishes project has done bio blurbs of project participants who were/are High School students, such as Georgia Poyner and Yann Kemper. The reason I find these young naturalists so inspiring was they demonstrated a passion for nature, and a thirst for more knowledge. Something I so wanted to inspire in my students. While writing the Bios, I enjoyed their palpable enthusiasm for the project and for science. They appear to find great joy in the natural environment and were self-motivated to constantly learn more about it. In many cases, while their passions are supported by family, they often used a more solitary approach, spending more time exploring the natural environment and less time in front of screens then their typical peers. This month’s bio blurb, is about Zachary Robertson @fiestykakapo, a High School student in Auckland, New Zealand, who is passionate about nature. He has contributed substantially to iNaturalist and Australasian Fishes, submitting over 1,200 observations for iNat and has recorded an impressive 12,824 identifications. He is ranked 15th in Australasian Fishes in identifications, assisting in 5,373 IDs.
Zach outlines his passion for nature by saying, “I have always seemed to have an interest in nature, at a very young age it was marine and as I got older, my interest in NZ birds grew lots. My focus again started to shift when I got involved with Auckland Council about a new population of rare giant kokopu. I found it with my brother in our local stream (sadly the population in the stream no longer exists).”
Fortunately (for us), he was eventually introduced to iNaturalist software by his mother, who recognised his self-motivated passion to learn and thought the program might continue to nurture his interests. It proved to be a further catalyst, fanning his interest in nature. Upon being shown iNat, Zach recalls, “I uploaded my first observations, some marine things. My interest in marine life was revived as I realised how little species I actually knew, so after some research on how to use iNat, I started adding some IDs. I purchased ‘Collins field guide to the New Zealand seashore. After a year or two, I have become addicted to adding ID’s and Observations. Only recently I have started photographing and learning about insects, birds and plants. My main focus is still in marine biology, my time is mainly divided on my mood, but typically will research marine until I get bored, then will switch to something else to entertain me. I work completely alone, beside my parents who take me to beaches etc … but I have met up with a fellow young iNat user from Auckland which has been good fun.”
In order to reach such an impressive number identifications Zach has the discipline to invest significant time for citizen science. He examines fish images 2-3 times a day but sometimes more often. He says, “I love it when users add heaps of images that I can go through and identify. I am kept interested by unusual/rare observations, and what information I can gain out of pictures, then to be able to find the species myself.” This should be rewarding for those in the project who submit images, knowing they are not only advancing the citizen science of the project, but also promoting the passion of some of the younger project participants.
Zach reminds me of the importance of developing an engaging and memorable educational highlight as a teaching tool. This is evident from his appreciation of iNaturalist from the perspective of a student and his recognition that it is a living science project. He participates in other nature projects, mostly marine based (marine reserve projects, marine eggs, etc.). He enjoys the fact he can “meet” other interested citizen scientists. He says, “I love iNat for the reason that no matter who you are, or where you are from you can connect with other people with things you are interested in and enjoy. Clinton Duffy (@clinton) has been a huge help for me, in tips on identifying and finding fish, as well as other advice. I would suggest new people on iNat should use the explore page to help them get familiar with particular species, and should ask heaps of questions. (Note: I must be very annoying for Clinton because I always ask him questions, but it helps me learn extremely well)”. Don’t worry, Zach, many of us are indebted to Clinton Duffy for his assistance and support of the project.
Zach is getting more and more interested in photography, and he uses the ever-popular Olympus TG-6. He says, “It works extremely well for rockpools as it is small, light and can fit in small rockpools, plus it is waterproof so no extra accessories needed. I personally struggle taking pictures of moving fish when snorkelling so have asked others for help (which I have gotten). I would totally recommend the TG-6 but after every use of water it should be rinsed and cleaned. I have forgotten a few times which has led to salt build up and can cause the zoom button to be faulty.” It seems he is learning about photography as well as marine fish.
Zach can still recall what it was like to be a beginner in the iNaturalist universe. He encourages others to join the group, but knows it is not easy in early engagements with the project, as you are in a world of experts, which can be intimidating. Zach says, “Advice I would give to novice users would be to ask questions, I personally love it when new users ask me what influenced my ID, so I suggest that new users do it as well. Sometimes IDs can be complicated and articles can be shoved in your direction, and being relatively new/unexperienced it can be hard to understand documents and articles. When I come across an article, I try to break them down and do my own research. For developing ID skills I read lots of books, when I finished a book I would head to the reference section, and get some more books from the library. Once IDing lots, I became familiar with certain species and it became lots easier, but I still struggle with some groups but it is ok to struggle as it is more to learn.”
Students like Zach are very inspirational to those interested in education. We suspect he will continue his education beyond High School, as he is thinking about going to Uni in New Zealand. He notes that is still two or three years away. In the meantime, he continues his formal education by taking extension sciences, maths and geography courses, and his informal education through the iNaturalist community. It is highly likely Zach will be engaged in sciences during his tertiary education. As educators, we strive during our professional careers to create significant, pivotal learning moments for our students. Moments when a special, life-long passion or interest is sparked and which would guide their professional interests for many years. Such moments are rare, however, through projects like Australasian Fishes, and the network of people who support our project, we see an example in Zach, where a student’s natural interest in nature can be fanned and fostered by citizen science. They appear to love learning and develop the skills to find answers to their own questions. They will learn how to access world experts, both professional and citizen scientists. A great skill developed from a simple enquiry, such as “What fish is that?”. Who knows, through projects like Australasian Fishes, students can develop a lifelong pursuit for the preservation and protection of nature. Well done Zach.
For those interested in creating such inspirational moments for education and work, I'd recommend an excellent book on this subject, The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on February 21, 2022 01:38 by markmcg markmcg | 2 comments | Leave a comment

February 06, 2022

Baby sunfish up the creek

They say you should never mix work with pleasure. That is exactly what I did a few weeks back.
On New Year's Day, Casey Gibson (see photo) uploaded an amazing observation of a tiny Sunfish. Colleagues from the Australian Museum and I were very interested in the observation because it's rare to have the opportunity to study a juvenile sunfish.
Sunfish researcher Marianne Nyegaard stated, "This is a very exciting find as young sunfish below 40 cm are seen so rarely in Australia. Superficially it looks like a Mola alexandrini, but genetics would be the best way to identify it for sure. I only know of one comparable specimen – a 27.5 cm Mola alexandrini at TePapa in Wellington, so I will be so very keen to examine this little beauty!"
The fish was originally seen on New Year's Eve in the Currarong Creek Hole, near Dolphin Reserve. Casey's neighbour, Joy Dowse, heard about it from her son and his friend who saw it floating in the water. It then washed up at high tide on the concrete ramp (in the background of the above photo) the following day.
Joy said "the fish looked freshly dead". She took a photo and uploaded it to Facebook.
On 3 January the fish was sighted again. Casey had previously told Joy and her husband Merv that she was searching for it. Luckily, they spotted their other neighbour scooping it out of the creek to put into the bin. They retrieved it and the fish made its way into Casey's freezer and Casey uploaded the observation to the Australasian Fishes Project.
I saw Casey's observation, which triggered many text messages, emails and phone calls. I had already planned a short trip down the coast, so several weeks later found myself knocking on Casey's front door in Currarong. The cling-wrapped fish (see photo) was retrieved from the freezer and packed in a polystyrene box for the road trip back to Sydney.
A day later I was standing in front of another front door, that of Australian Museum Fish Section Technical Officer Kerryn Parkinson who kindly agreed to take the fish into the museum. The fish has now completed its journey to the museum and is awaiting processing and registration into the research collection where it will be available for examination by experts.
Marianne Nyegaard stated, "I lived in Australia for over 15 years and travelled all over, but never went to Sydney – I always thought I would wait for a really cool reason to go, and now there certainly is one!!". Hopefully, Marianne will get the chance to travel to Sydney sometime soon where she too could combine business with pleasure.
It would be remiss of me to finish this journal entry without sending Casey a big thank you for all her time and effort to make the sunfish available for research. Thank you Casey! And while I am singing her praises, I should direct you to Casey's profile page where you can read about her other non-fishy research pursuits.
Posted on February 06, 2022 09:38 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

January 20, 2022

3000 species! Woohoo!

I have a confession to make. This journal entry was supposed to be ready weeks ago, but what I imagined would be a simple matter turned out to be anything but.
The story began when I noticed that the species count for the Australasian Fishes Project had reached the lofty height of 3000. I wanted to write a simple journal post to let you all know this milestone had been reached and also to state what percentage of the total Australian/New Zealand fish fauna this figure represented. Sounds easy, right? I thought so too.
The first step was to obtain checklists of the fish species that occur in both countries. Thank you to Clinton Duffy (@clinton) and Doug Hoese for providing these data for NZ (as a PDF checklist) and Australia (as an Excel file).
The next step was to manually extract the valid species from the NZ PDF then add the data for both countries to separate columns in a new Excel spreadsheet, the Australia column containing 5183 rows (species) and the NZ column containing 1298 rows (see photo, above). Next came the tricky part. I couldn’t just add the totals, I had to subtract the duplicates.
You probably wouldn’t believe how many videos about Excel are on YouTube! After viewing a few that looked promising, but weren’t, I found one that supplied a delightful little formula that when added to the spreadsheet told me that there were 838 duplicates. I could now say that 65% of NZ species also occur in Australian waters. I know that the geeks among you are just desperate to know which formula I used. For your edification, here it is, =COUNT(MATCH(A1:A5183,B1:B1298,0)).
The combined species list for both countries, minus the duplicates ‘weighs in’ at 5643 species. So, in the 5 years that the Australasian Fishes Project has been running we’ve accumulated observations of just over half (53%) of the total fish fauna of Australia/NZ. I think this is sensational milestone.
Why isn’t this figure higher I hear you ask? There are quite a few reasons for this including that many species are small, cryptic or rarely encountered. Observations in some habitats such as the deepsea are rare. Some places come with their own challenges – I’m thinking of crocodiles. And some locations, such as a huge stretch of the Great Australian Bight are hard to get to and thus seriously under-observed (View map).
Having said that, in the time it took me to prepare this journal entry the number of species has increased to 3074. Much of this impressive leap can be laid at the feet of Ken Graham (@kengraham) who is continuing to upload observations of fishes trawled off NSW (View the journal entry).
Thank you, fish fans, for all of your efforts. At the rate observations are currently being added we’ll crack 4000 species in no time. With this aim in mind, for your next holiday I encourage you to go to the Great Australian Bight or perhaps hire a submersible. 😊
PS The number of recognised species from both Australia and New Zealand is steadily increasing. The numbers go down when species are synonymised (combined) and up as new species are named or already named species are recorded from our counties for the first time. We still have heaps to learn about our fish fauna and I thank you all for playing your parts.
Posted on January 20, 2022 04:44 by markmcg markmcg | 2 comments | Leave a comment