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Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon. Dr David Kemp
20 June 2003
A joint Australian-New Zealand research voyage has discovered more than 100 deep-sea species that are either unrecognised or are new to science, including the fossilised tooth of an extinct "megalodon" - a shark twice the size of the Great White.
"These intriguing findings were made during the recent NORFANZ voyage which has just completed the first detailed survey of deep-sea life around the submerged seamounts in the northern Tasman Sea," Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr Kemp, said.
"For the last month, the voyage explored the seamount systems (underwater mountain ranges and peaks) off Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands, finding over 500 fish species and 1300 invertebrate species over the course of the voyage. Of these, more than 100 species are unrecognised and many represent species new to science."
The voyage - funded by the Howard Government's National Oceans Office and the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries - was conducted on the New Zealand research ship RV Tangaroa, which is equipped with the latest technology in multi-beam scanning to provide the first accurate maps of the seafloor throughout the region. These maps in turn allowed precise deployment of cameras, nets and other sampling devices on to the seafloor, enabling images and samples to be taken at 168 survey stations on 14 different seamount systems.
Researchers on board the voyage included a team of 18 Australian marine scientists from Australia's CSIRO, Museum Victoria, the Australian Museum, Queensland Museum, Northern Territory Museum, NSW Fisheries and University of Tasmania. Scientific support was provided by CSIRO and the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd during the voyage.
"Two thirds of the earth is covered by oceans and most of this is away from the shallow margins of the land masses. We still know very little about our deep-sea environments and their inhabitants," Dr Kemp said.
"A fantastic biodiversity of marine life was encountered during the NORFANZ voyage. The list of species sounds more like science fiction - blobfish, prickly dogfish, viperfish, fangtooths, slickheads, giant sea spiders, goblin shrimp and jewel squids.
"Previously unknown communities were also discovered. Samples from the offshore waters around Lord Howe Island encountered three Ballina Angelfish, a species previously known from just two animals in the world. This region may prove to be the centre of distribution for this fish and other marine species.
"Large numbers of Galapagos Sharks were also encountered in this region, all returned unharmed to the sea. According to CSIRO shark expert, Dr Peter Last, this population may be the healthiest in the world for this shark species.
"One unexpected catch on the voyage was the huge fossilized tooth of a Giant Shark known as "megalodon", an extinct shark up to twice the size of a White Pointer shark. The tooth had been lying on the seafloor for millions of years before being picked up in a deep-sea bottom sled."
Onboard digital imaging and data-basing allowed rapid production of identification guides. Confirmed new species include deep-sea sharks, skates, rattail fishes, other fishes and many invertebrates. The total diversity encountered is likely to rise further as specialists around the world examine the collected material in more detail.
The ensuing analysis of all resulting material, images and data will allow assessments of the composition, unique nature and isolation of deep-sea and seamount communities. This information is crucial for sound management of these little-known habitats and their unique marine life.
Dr Kemp said the information collected will contribute to international collaboration in oceans management while assisting the National Oceans Office in implementing the Howard Government's Oceans Policy to sustainably manage precious marine resources.
Participating scientists stressed that this voyage still skimmed the surface of the rich diversity of deep-sea life found in Australian and New Zealand waters, and that there is still so much to learn about these hidden worlds.
Details of the NORFANZ voyage are posted on the National Oceans Office website: www.oceans.gov.au/norfanz