Do you go diving every single day?
Until the storm arrived we were making two dives every day, one early in the morning and one either late morning or early afternoon. We have to spend a couple of hours back on the boat in between each dive to make sure we have breathed out all the nitrogen that builds up when you are breathing compressed air in deep water. We never dive deeper than 30 metres, and we are being very conservative in how we dive as we are very conscious of safety.
Is the sea still calm down under when you dive?
Now that the low pressure system is leaving us we hope that the wind and swell will drop enough to allow us to go safely diving tomorrow. Once you get down to about 5 metres below the surface it’s much calmer in the water than it is at the surface, so the problem in this kind of weather is not being in the water, but in getting all the divers and dive equipment off the big boat Braveheart into inflatable boats that we dive from, and then in getting everyone in and out of the dive boats safely.
Can fish communicate with each other?
Yes, just like us! Although they don’t talk as much as us some kinds of fish can make sounds for example gurnard ‘grunt’. A lot of fish communication is visual – they can see each other’s colour, so sometimes they change colour when they change mood, for example. They can also change the position of their fins to indicate mood. When a pufferfish feels threatened it fills itself with air to make itself appear bigger – which is really it sending a visual signal that says ‘look how big I am – don’t mess with me’. Schools of fish create vibrations as they swim and they can detect the vibrations using their lateral line, which is a line of sensory cells running along the side of the fish’s body that can respond to pressure waves in the water.
Do schools of fish ever collide with other schools?
Malcolm says two schools of fish would just merge together rather than collide – their lateral lines help them sense where other fish are so they wouldn’t swim into each other.
What other kinds of fish did you see? What type of fish is the biggest you have seen so far?
We’ve seen 69 different species of fish so far – they range in size from little triplefins that are only 3 centimetres long up to the biggest fish we’ve seen which would be a school shark or a kingfish. Malcolm saw a shark underwater that was about 1.2 metres long, and also a short-tailed stingray that was about the same length.
How do flying fish manage to fly?
They don’t really fly – they glide. They kick out of the water with rapid beats of their tail which has a long lower lobe that is designed to give them maximum lift. As they come out of the water they spread their pectoral fins which are very long and wide and act like a bird’s wings, allowing them to glide for many metres.
What is the biggest new species that you have found?
We haven’t discovered any species that are new to science, but what we have discovered is four different kinds of fish that have never been seen at the Three Kings before. Of those four new records the biggest would be the pufferfish – especially if it decided to inflate itself up like a balloon, which they do when they are alarmed!
Which species are big so far?
We haven’t found any really big fish. The biggest things we’ve seen up here are the dolphins that we see almost every day, and today we have some big albatrosses hanging around the boat. One of them is a wandering albatross which has the widest wingspan of any bird in the world.
What species are you looking for now?
We are trying to find out how many species are here so we will keep diving and looking out for any fish that we haven’t seen before. The seaweed team are looking for some particular kinds of seaweed that they know occur here but which they haven’t seen yet, and they’re also hoping to find new things that they didn’t know were found here. If we get a chance to go out into deep water then Clinton Duffy, a shark scientist at the Department of Conservation, is hoping we might find some deepwater sharks that aren’t very well known.
Why do sharks eat humans? Why don’t orca hurt us?
Malcolm says to remember that it is very rare for a person to be attacked by a shark, so really sharks are actually very smart at knowing that we humans aren’t a good food for them. Scientists think that often a shark attack is a case of mistaken identity, so the shark gets confused about what it’s attacking. If someone has been fishing and there is fish blood in the water then this can confuse the shark who can tell that there is fish blood but perhaps can’t work out where it comes from. Another theory is that if sharks can’t quite tell what something is then they will test it first – and they test it by biting. As to why orca don’t attack people – orca are mammals, and perhaps they are just smarter than sharks!
We just watched the video of the boat in the storm and we are all feeling a little sea sick we hope that you are all feeling ok and the boat stops rocking soon.
Thanks! The weather forecast says that the storm is passing and that it should be much better weather tomorrow. Everyone is very keen to go diving again after 2 days suck on the boat! Matt the skipper has to keep moving the boat to a new anchorage as the wind direction keeps moving, and what is a calm anchorage can quite quickly become rough. When that happens the boat starts rolling a lot and things start falling off tables, and it gets tricky to walk around! But Matt is very good at working out where to go next, so we keep ducking around the island and finding good new spots to hide in for a while. No one has been sick, although there have been times some of us have felt a bit seedy. The lucky thing was we had a few days at sea when it was calm so we all got our sea legs before this bad weather arrived. If it had been the other way around and we had the bad weather first I suspect more of us would have been sick. Although it has been very windy and rained quite a lot it has been a very warm storm – in fact it’s so warm that we can’t see the islands as they are covered in a fog that is caused by all the warm air reacting with the cold water around here.
How cold is it underwater at the moment?
It is much colder in the water than it is on the boat, as cold water from a deep current is pushed up the flanks of the islands! On our coldest dive it was 15 degrees, and on our warmest maybe 19 degrees in the water.
Do you only study fish that are dead?
Good question Franchesca. Marine biologists spend a lot of time studying live fish and trying to understand how life under the sea works. But on this trip part of our focus is to collect specimens that will become part of the collections at Te Papa and Auckland Museum. These specimens will then be available for anyone anywhere in the world to look at and study.
How do you come up with a name for a fish?
Fish specimens such as the ones we are collecting are especially important when biologists want to describe a new species and give it a scientific name. To do that they get as many specimens as possible, and then take a very close look at them to see what makes them unique. They look at things such as the number of rays in a fin, the number of backbones they have, and the position of their fins in relation to other parts of their body. They will also analyse a small sample to look at the DNA of that fish and see how it is different from other similar fish. Once they are certain that this fish is completely different from any other kind of fish then they choose a name. If it is related to other fish (e.g. has cousins that are already named) they might give it the same last name (genus name) as the cousin. The name usually says something about how the fish looks, what kind of place it lives in, what colour it is or something useful that will help people remember the name. It’s exactly the same process for all the seaweeds and invertebrates that we are collecting as well – they will become important scientific specimens and a good record of what occurs here at the Three Kings.
How many people were on the boat?
There are 14 of us in the scientific team, and 6 crew members, so 20 people in total.
Have you got the name for the marlin yet? How deep did you have to go to find the marlin? Have you figured out a name for the big fish you got that looks like a sword fish?
We weren’t exactly sure which fish you meant – the big trevally that people were looking at on the back deck? Or do you mean the piper, which did indeed look like it had a long nose like a marlin? Tom hasn’t worked out exactly what species the piper is – he’ll do that back at the museum when he has all his reference books and other museum specimens he can compare them to. The piper fish were collected right at the surface of the water, as they had been attracted by lights at night.
How deep did you go to find the fish?
We’ve been finding fish right at the surface of the water, the divers find fish anywhere from just below the surface down to 30 metres, and we’ve also been trying to line fish down to 300 metres (although we haven’t been very successful with that so far!). I do remember that the trevally was caught at about 80 metres.
Did you find any treasure when you went diving next to the wreck?
No we didn’t find any treasure but we weren’t looking! It’s quite hard to find, but Skip has been up here before on treasure hunts when he has managed to find a few coins. But this time we were all too busy taking photos or looking for plants and animals.
You have recently found a new species of fish. Would you want to eat it?
We probably wouldn’t eat the first specimens of a new species as it would important to keep them so we could name and describe it. But maybe later, if they turned out to be quite common – and if they were big enough – then some people might try eating them.
On the new fish you found we could see no fins. How do fish with no fins
swim? Have you chosen a name for it yet?
I think you are talking about the piper, and you are quite right – it does look like it has no fins. However, it only looks that way. Because we had taken the fish out of the water to photograph them their fins got all droopy and stuck to their body. If you saw it in the water you could see that it had fins, even if they weren’t very big. If they didn’t have fins they would swim very slowly! So even long skinny fish like moray eels have fins to help them swim (they also wriggle their bodies to help them move through the water).