Dive Deeper Research Bursaries – Report by 2017 awardee Dr Brit Finucci

The Auckland War Memorial Museum holds an extensive natural history collection of New Zealand flora and fauna, including a significant collection of deep-sea chondrichthyans from areas in northern New Zealand and the regional Pacific Ocean. These specimens had not been organized in many years and museum staff were aware that specimens were misidentified, labelling was incomplete, and for some, taxonomic descriptions were in dire need of being updated. Unfortunately, limited resources had prevented a restructuring of this collection.

The Dive Deeper Bursary allowed me to travel to Auckland to work closely with the Natural Sciences department at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. We reviewed some 250 deep-water chondrichthyan (shark, ray, and chimaera) specimens across 20 families, confirming species identification and updating any taxonomic changes. Many specimens had not yet been assigned to the species level; others were collected from areas that have not been sampled since exploratory surveys conducted in the 1980s. This places the Auckland Museum in a unique position, housing an invaluable collection of data deficient taxa. Specimens were also photographed, and these images will be publicly available online from the museum’s website. This up-to-date collection of deep-sea chondrichthyan taxa for the museum is available for use to both national and international researchers.

Photographing a catshark (Apristurus sp.) for the digital collections.
Photographing a catshark (Apristurus sp.) for the digital collections.

There are still a few things to confirm, but so far, we have found a new record of albinism among the lanternsharks (Family Etmopteridae), possible range expansions for multiple species, and a few cryptic specimens for which we just can’t put a species ID on quite yet – watch this space! We expect to produce multiple publications from these findings in the very near future.

Chimaeroid specimens in need of species identification.
Chimaeroid specimens in need of species identification.

Thanks to the Deep Sea Biology Society, I have gained valuable practical experience working on the taxonomy of a group of fishes where there is currently little available information. Spending time in the collection of the Auckland Museum has also allowed me to further develop my skills in the curation and management of museum collections, including cataloguing, database management, and specimen storage. This unique opportunity has also initiated a working relationship with museum staff and I hope to continue these collaborations in the future.

My sincerest appreciation to the Deep Sea Biology Society for awarding me with the Dive Deeper Bursary.

Dr Brit Finucci

Wellington, New Zealand


Twitter: @BritFinucci

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