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Stunning deep-sea wilderness comes to Te Papa

NIWA Media Release 30 November 2012

Stunning deep-sea wilderness comes to Te Papa

Deep NZ: Our underwater wilderness – a new exhibition of stunning deep-sea animal specimens and imagery – opens at Te Papa today.

The specimens on display have never been seen by the public before, and many are new to science. The exhibition showcases the diversity of habitats and the spectacular creatures such as crabs, tubeworms, precious corals, fish, molluscs and sponges that live in New Zealand’s deep ocean.

The exhibition was developed by Te Papa in association with NIWA and GNS Science.

New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers more than four million square kilometres, yet less than one per cent has been closely studied. Little is known about what lives in our waters and much remains to be discovered.

“Our New Zealand deep-sea fauna is special,” says NIWA Collection Manager Dr Kareen Schnabel. “This exhibition showcases our deep-sea research in New Zealand. If we don’t know what is down there, then we can’t take care of it.”

“The exhibition highlights exciting aspects of our science, from a range of deep-sea habitats: hot vents and cold seeps, seamounts and rocky slopes, the life found on the vast muddy plains and the creatures that swim in the cold dark waters,” says NIWA scientist Dianne Tracey.

On display are about 60 specimens and two videos that take visitors on a journey from 200 to 10,000 metres under the sea. Journey across an underwater landscape shows the diverse communities of New Zealand’s seamounts. This deep, dark world is teeming with life and animals that have adapted to the challenging conditions in amazing ways. Images of these deep-sea animals have been captured on video by NIWA's Deep Towed Imaging System (DTIS). Living on the ocean floor shows deep-sea animals filmed by Te Papa researchers using a baited lander. This includes rare footage of a shark attacking a hagfish, and the hagfish defending itself by choking the shark with slime.

Te Papa Concept Developer Kristelle Plimmer says, “The exhibition is a snapshot; a tiny glimpse of the life down there. It is really thrilling to see these creatures in the shell or in the flesh. What is really special is the display of specimens in jars. This allows the public to see these fascinating creatures as they are kept in our collections.

One of the deep-sea animals that has been photographed is a ’deep-sea warty octopus‘ (Graneledone taniwha taniwha) collected from around 900 metres deep on the Chatham Rise. This is one of two octopus species endemic to New Zealand that are found between 450 and 1500 metres deep.

Also being exhibited for a month is the University of Aberdeen’s Hadal Lander. This is sent down to the deepest parts of the ocean. Bait is attached to the lander to attract animals that are filmed by a high-resolution video camera. The Hadal Lander will then be deployed in the Kermadec Trench, one of the deepest parts of our EEZ.

A good proportion of New Zealand’s deep-sea biodiversity is represented by specimens held in NIWA’s Invertebrate Collection and in Te Papa’s Natural Environment collections.

“We are the custodians of an important research resource,” says Dr Schnabel. Most of the specimens on show in the Deep NZ exhibition are drawn from these collections. Samples of rocks and valuable minerals from the sea floor have been lent by GNS Science.

NIWA’s Invertebrate Collection holds 50 years’ worth of biological collections from around the South Pacific and New Zealand. Te Papa’s collection was begun by Sir James Hector in 1865, when he was asked by the Government to establish a colonial museum.

The Deep NZ exhibition has been developed to accompany the 13th International Deep-Sea Biology Symposium (DSBS) being hosted by NIWA at Te Papa, Wellington, from 3–7 December. This is the first time in its over 30-year history that this symposium has been held in the Southern Hemisphere, and reflects the growing contribution of New Zealand to deep-sea research.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and NIWA Chief Executive John Morgan will open the symposium.

NIWA Principal Scientist, Dr Ashley Rowden, convenor of the symposium, says, “The symposium will be a fantastic opportunity to showcase the work that New Zealand researchers are doing to find out more about life in the deep sea, and how seabed resources may be exploited in the future while protecting this biodiversity.

“The exhibition, which will run for one year, represents an example of the collaboration that takes place between NIWA, Te Papa and GNS Science to undertake research into New Zealand’s deep sea.”

For more information about the symposium click here

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