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Slimy Fish On Cd-Rom

Why does a fish feel slimy?

New Zealand Coastal Creatures, a CD-Rom developed by a small Palmerston North software company, will have the answer, and in words that a child might understand.

The CD takes computer users into the intertidal zone on New Zealand's beaches where animals vomit their stomach over their victims to dissolve them while they are still alive, where leathery plants can grow more than 50cm a day, and where slimy monsters with long tentacles and a poisonous bite lurk.

"We tried to write it for children in their language," Unlimited Realities director David Brebner says. "It's got plenty of information about marine life found on New Zealand's coast and shore. It has 120 pages on creatures and the shore, and 30 full-screen video clips and animated movies in stereo with a TV-like clarity."

The CD has been "in gestation" for six years, but started to come together only in the past 18 months with the support of Technology New Zealand. Technology New Zealand helps businesses develop new products, processes and services.
Mr Brebner says Unlimited Realities has ensured the software is easy for children to use.

"For example, as well as using the usual ways of searching – key words, family tree, or alphabetical list and so on – they can use the SuperSearch engine. In most search engines you look for a word. In this one we've built up multiple indexes so they can find animals just by describing what they look like – size, colour, texture, or other physical attributes."

The marine biology information was provided by the Island Bay Marine Education Centre, a subsidiary of Victoria University, in Wellington. The centre, which is visited by thousands of people a year, let Unlimited Realities have full use of its facilities so the animals there could be filmed.

Gareth Gibson, a product technology graduate, was lead author and artist for all the CD content. Professional children's writers were also involved.

Mr Brebner says the CD has potential for overseas sales, particularly in the United States, where the California coastline is much like that at Island Bay. Judy Hutt, a marine conservation educator at the Island Bay centre, says San Francisco's rocky shore is similar, and the marine life almost identical.
"Many of the animals are of the same family," she says. "For example, paua and abalone share the same scientific first name, haliotis."

Unlimited Realities hopes to have the CD on the market in time for Christmas and the educational version – including a resource booklet for teachers and students – ready for the 2000 school year.

So why does a fish feel slimy?

"Well," Mr Brebner says, "inside the layer of skin surrounding the scales is a mucous gland that leaves a layer of smelly, slimy goo all over the fish's body. This layer is like a water-tight seal to stop bacteria and fungus in the sea from getting under the scales and feeding on the fish's flesh. And some fish produce extra amounts of very smelly and foul-tasting mucous so other fish don't want to eat them."

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