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Aotearoa’s latest sea pig. (Photo: NIWA/Rebekah Parsons-King with additional treatment by The Spinoff)
Aotearoa’s latest sea pig. (Photo: NIWA/Rebekah Parsons-King with additional treatment by The Spinoff)

ScienceApril 17, 2024

Introducing some of our 100 new sea friends

Aotearoa’s latest sea pig. (Photo: NIWA/Rebekah Parsons-King with additional treatment by The Spinoff)
Aotearoa’s latest sea pig. (Photo: NIWA/Rebekah Parsons-King with additional treatment by The Spinoff)

A scientific expedition has found 100 previously unknown New Zealand marine species. Who are these creatures from the depths of the Bounty Trough?

A big lipped, dark eyed, slimy limp fish. A juicy, elongated orb with 16 little legs, four bouncing from its topside and a mouth pouting with stubby tentacles. A chiton who appears to be wearing a fluffy skirt. A pale, ghost-like squid with maroon markings. A crusty, flower-shaped something, with an oval orifice on its smoother underside. Heaps of wormy things in various, changeable postures. Oh, and nematodes which live in between grains of sand, visible only by microscope. Meet the latest drop of marine species, found in the Bounty Trough off the east coast of the South Island

A small haul from the bottom of the sea. (Photo: NIWA/Rebekah Parsons-King).

In February, scientists from Ocean Census, NIWA and Te Papa spent three weeks investigating the unexplored Bounty Trough. Voyages to collect specimens are not relegated to John Steinbeck books from last century, it turns out. They went in a big ship, dropped a sort of cage 4,800 metres into the sea, and pulled it back up again, quite a few times. While they say they barely scraped the surface, almost 1,800 creatures were pulled up, 100 of them new to science.

Here, I bring you just a handful, in an effort to broaden your understanding of beauty, and life itself. It will take a while for the scientists to determine what things are and give them names, so I bring you my reckons instead. Please welcome to the surface our new friends.

Lil miss piggy

Quite unlike a telegraph cucumber, and yet a cucumber all the same. (Photo: NIWA/Rebekah Parsons-King)

It’s only a matter of time before lil miss piggy adorns the back of our best coin, the chunky $2. She’ll be the perfect companion to Prince Charles. While she may look like a Pokemon or a demented steamed bun, she is in fact a type of sea cucumber, known as a sea pig, because of their leg-like appendages. Coming to the surface has done wonders for this little creature’s wrinkles and fine lines, for deep in the sea, pressure means she is not usually so plump and bouncy looking. Skincare brands will come knocking at her specimen jar to ask the secrets of her youthful plump, so be sure to save plenty of those $2 coins to spend on the upcoming miss piggy plumping serums. 

Pretty coral

Coral is more than just a pretty face, it’s also reef forming. (Photo: NIWA)

Like Zendaya, this coral has a face card that will never decline. It’s a type of stylasterid, or lace, coral. They’re different from other reef-forming corals in that they don’t host symbiotic algae, so all that delicate peach colouring is all her, the ultimate nude dress. By not having algae she’s more likely to stay pretty, as she’s less susceptible to coral bleaching. 

Sexy chiton

All chitons are molluscs, and this one is carnivorus. (Photo: NIWA).

This chiton likes clinging onto rocks, yes, but also wearing flounced fuzzy skirts. It’s got that hard and soft appeal by combining the delicate frock with its body armour. It may or may not be in a codependent relationship with a rock who finds it sexy, but is unable to show emotion or communicate its needs. Still, the chiton continues to keep the romance alive, giving physical affection and putting care into its personal appearance almost all of the time.

Scary orange cumacea

A little something to add to your repertoire of nightmares. (Photo: NIWA).

I know I am not the only one with the facehugging alien still scuttling in the shadows of my mind. Up till now, I have used science, reality and logic to convince myself there isn’t one in my belly waiting to tear its way out – it’s just bloated because I probably shouldn’t be eating so much pizza. Thanks to this specimen, those days are over. It’s a type of cumacea – small marine crustaceans sometimes called hooded shrimp. It seems plausible that it could make its way from the depths of the Bounty Trough to swimming locations such as Tāwharanui and then into the unsuspecting mouth of someone not that good at swimming. I will now have to eat twice as much pizza to keep the alien inside appeased so that it doesn’t rip me open from the inside.

Crust punk sweetie pie

Who is she? Experts don’t even know the genus. (Photo: NIWA)

“Punks are people who look scary but are sweet and kind, and hippies are people who look sweet and kind but are usually evil.” So goes a truism I recently heard at a barbeque. Here is an excellent example, for this crusty flower-shaped thing has misled scientists with its appearance. First, they thought it was a seastar – it was not. Then they thought it was a sea-anemone or zoanthid-like creature – it was not. Now they think it might be an octocoral, or maybe something else altogether. The experts simply do not know, and neither do I. But I have a proposition – it’s simply a crust punk sweetie pie, scruffy on the outside and soft and heartfelt on the inside.

Barely there squid

Not much beyond the surface of this brachioteuthis. (Photo: NIWA)

Like a wisp of smoke or a jellyfish, this squid is translucent and seems to have no insides (other than large eyeballs). My one true hope for this guy is that he be kept within eye distance of Te Papa’s Colossal squid, who is rather decrepit now but still deserving of some company.

Limp fish

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to have your gut partially showing through your skin.(Photo: NIWA/Rebekah Parsons-King).

Black beady eyes, slime on translucent skin, a pretty big oval flipper, and a ratty tail – what could be more beautiful? This fish is possibly not limp when alive in its deep sea home, but I’m not sure it could ever survive the journey up to the surface, and so this is all it will ever be to me and you. 

Squashed mushroom biscuit

I have received no clues or brainwaves as to what these could be. Poetry escapes me. I’m about as clueless as a scientist looking at a punk crust sweetie pie, these creatures perplex me. I do not think they would taste good deep fried, nor be translatable into skincare, or look good on currency. The taxonomists will have to think of a really cute name to get them some love.

Various slimy things

Reminiscent of mugs available at your local gift shop. (Photo: Ocean Census)

Because they look like tiny breasts suctioned onto a rock, the stars of this particular photograph are probably wishing for less attention. Let’s move along.

Scary orange strikes again

Creepy crawley in orange. (Photo: Ocean Census).

When my brother was little he had an orange polar fleece vest which he refused to take off. Because no one likes to hear a toddler cry, we decided to accept this and let him be a smelly gremlin. I hope that he never comes across this photograph, or creature, IRL, so that orange can continue to be a source of joy and comfort. (This is a sea spider, and yes they are real.)

Understandably, the scientists are very excited by these new discoveries. After being assigned their place in the taxonomic tables and assigned names, they’ll be kept in the NIWA invertebrate collection and the Te Papa mollusca and fish collections, preserved as mostly tiny mascots of our deep ocean. But more importantly, which one are you? I’m lil miss piggy.

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