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Museum’s marine team called to two rare finds

Museum’s marine team called to two rare finds

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Curators and collections staff from our natural sciences team have been kept busy this week with two very rare finds for New Zealand waters.

On Saturday an oceanic whitetip shark, pregnant with 11 pups, washed up on Muriwai Beach and then on Tuesday a point-tailed sunfish was found on Omaha Beach.

Two rare finds washed up on beaches this week

The Museum’s Head of Natural Sciences Dr Tom Trnski has been called out to both unexpected finds and says both of the animals – and the shark pups – will be added to museum collections in New Zealand to contribute to what we know about these species.

“This sunfish is a rare find for New Zealand and, in fact, the point-tailed sunfish is a rare find even globally so not much is known about this species. The Masturus lanceolatus or sharptail/point-tailed sunfish is typically found in temperate and tropical waters and rarely seen close to the shore.”

We would like to maintain the sunfish as a whole specimen to add a museum collection so we have only carried out an external examination, and from that examination we’ve not been able to identify a cause for the sunfish stranding.”

Sunfish can be damaged in storms leading to injury or death but this one appears to be in excellent condition. Sunfish have also been known to die after eating plastic bags which look not unlike their diet of salps and jellyfish so this is a possible cause. Another possibility is that the sunfish has been overwhelmed by internal parasites."

Also of interest to Dr Trnski and natural history collections manager Severine Hannam, who also examined the sunfish, were the parasites found on the sunfish – a marine leech and a type of copepod.

You can learn more about this type of sunfish and see footage of one swimming in the Galapagos Islands on the Australian Museum website,

The 2.6m oceanic whitetip shark which was found washed up on Muriwai Beach over the weekend is currently in formalin as part of the fixation or embalming process to prepare it for Auckland Museum’s collections

The 100kg deceased shark was found to be pregnant after she washed up at Muriwai Beach.

"By adding her to our collections she will be available for scientists for future research and the fixation or embalming process preserves the specimen so it will be available for years and years to come.

It is the only whole specimen in a museum in New Zealand. She was a mature female and at maximum size – she weighed in at 100kg and is in fact she is the largest recorded for the Southern Hemisphere."

Six of the shark’s 11 pups are also going into the Museum’s collection, the other five pups were washed away.

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