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Top 6 Oddest Sightings

Yvette Barry, 02 Apr 2014.

A yellow sea slug, warty prowfish and roundbelly cowfish all made it onto Redmap’s Top 6 Oddest Sightings.  Check out this completely subjective list – and what the scientists have to say about them.

  • A gloomy octopus clutches his free Redmap drink bottle! This strange ‘sighting’ wasn’t actually logged on Redmap: it was emailed to us for a laugh by the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre, NSW. Now we’d like our bottle back, please.

Redmap has received more than 560 marine sightings around the country since launching in December 2012.  

While we wait for the scientist to analyse the citizen science data, we thought we’d present the Top 6 Oddest Redmap Sightings.

This list is completely subjective.  And mainly based on strange-looking species. But we did ask Redmap scientists if our Top 6 species have any scientific significance.

Number 1: Warty prowfish (Aetapcus maculatus)

The warty prowfish tops the Redmap list for its distinct warty skin.  And what it lacks in looks it also fails to make up in character.  It spends most of its time sloth-like and camouflaged among sponges, seaweeds or seagrasses - where it lies in wait to ambush prey. 

And here's a habit you won't easily forget: a warty prowfish sheds its skin like a snake every few weeks. According to Dianne Bray, the Senior Collections Manager at Museum Victoria and Redmap Victoria’s coordinator, this prevents the build-up of fouling organisms like algae and invertebrates.

"The prowfish blows up its old skin with water and looks a bit like a warty balloon – until the old skin bursts and the fish wriggles out," Mrs Bray said.

But we still love the 'warty' and all your sightings of them! The one pictured above was spotted by Anthony Pearson in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria (see the sighting here). This sighting was within its usual range: warty prowfish occur from northern Tasmania to central Western Australia. 

The species is not well studied and so Redmap asks Australians to log it anywhere west of Wilsons Promontory, Victoria, to find out more about its distribution. 

Number 2: The sea slug, Thecacera pacifica (aka ‘Pikachu’)

A sighting of the sea slug Thecacera pacifica makes our list for two reasons. This species of nudibranch (sea slug) is often referred to as the ‘Pikachu Nudibranch’.  Its yellow body and black-tipped tentacles bear a striking resemblance to the Japanese cartoon character Pikachu from the Pokemon series (see a photo of the cartoon here).  

The one pictured here was spotted by diver Sarah Williamson off the coast of Kingscliff in northern NSW (see the full sighting here).

According to marine biologist David Harasti, from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, this sighting is also noteworthy because Thecacera pacifica is not often spotted in Australia. 

“Having one turn up in NSW is very unusual,” David said.

He said the species, which grows to just 2 cm in length, is more at home in warm waters in places like Indonesia.


Number 3: Roundbelly cowfish (Lactoria diaphana)

We included this species just to make you say the words “Roundbelly cowfish”.  Go on, say it out loud and watch people’s heads snap towards you.  But seriously, this species - found washed up on Maria Island in Tasmania - is quite special for many reasons. 

According to Dr Simon Grove, the Senior Curator at the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery (TMAG), cowfish are found in tropical Australian waters and can turn up as far south as southern NSW.   But to find a skeleton beached in Tasmania, several hundred kilometres further south, is notable.

“I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this roundbelly,” Dr Grove said. “The only other records for roundbelly cowfish in Tasmania that I am aware of are one from Bicheno in 1955, and one from Port Arthur in 2010.”

He suggested the fish hitched a ride down south with a particularly potent East Australian Current this summer. 

But how could its skeleton survive so far from home? Cowfish are toxic to most animals and tend to be avoided by predators.  Their skeleton also floats and the bony plates protect them from breaking up on rocks. See the full sighting here.

Number 4: Blue Marlin (Makaira nigricans)

It’s not often you have to bring a tow truck to go fishing. This sighting of a 470 kg blue marlin was logged by Alison Scott in Augusta, Western Australia.  The magnificent animal was washed up on the beach (see the full sighting here).

Dr Gary Jackson, a Principal Research Scientist with WA’s Department of Fisheries, said there have been a few reported marlin beachings in Western Australia during 2013/14.  

The Department takes relevant samples to determine the cause of death. At the moment, it appears the deaths were caused by natural processes.

Dr Jackson urged people to log any marlin strandings on Redmap. “Redmap may help scientists better understand changes occurring in our oceans including deaths of marlin in the future.”

Abnormally warm ocean temperatures off WA in recent years have allowed tropical species to extend their distribution into southern waters.

Dr. Julian Pepperrell, from Pepperrell Research and Consulting in Queensland, suggested marlin could be travelling in large eddies of warm water that are flowing further down the coast. These eddies are often surrounded by colder water. When the eddies break up, the marlin could be exposed suddenly to cold water.

“When this happens, we don’t really know if many would simply die or attempt to head north to try and find warmer climes,” Dr Peppernell said. “They very likely become disoriented.” That's when the marlin could become stranded on the shore.

Number 5:  Magpie Fiddler Ray (Trygonorrhina melaleuca)

This magpie fiddler ray’s claim to fame is being one of only two individuals ever recorded in Australian waters.  It was caught by John Marsh near Adelaide in South Australia (see the full sighting here).

“Well spotted, John,” said Dr Gretta Pecl, founder and principal scientist at Redmap. “And fantastic that he recognised how incredible this sighting was!”

Not much is known about the habitat, behaviour or distribution of this extremely rare ray.

Dr Pecl said the magpie fiddler ray was collected in a tank by scientists at SARDI (South Australian Research and Development Institute) to help research the species more. It was then safely released at the spot it was found.

Number 6: Painted Anglerfish (Antennarius pictus)

This painted anglerfish looks so cute. Until, that is, it wriggles a filamentous lure, resembling a fish or shrimp, in front of its mouth to nab unsuspecting prey.  These ambush predators, that can grow to 24 cm, lie motionless in estuaries and bays and are often associated with sponges.  In Australia painted anglerfish are known from the central Western Australia, around the tropical north of the country and south to the central coast of New South Wales, according to Fishes of Australia.

This one was spotted south of Brisbane, within its usual range, by Redmap member and diver Loren Mariani at 5 metres depth.  See the full sighting here.

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