Deep-sea fishes expedition: filming and collecting our deepest secrets 

Te Papa fishing expedition map

Scientists from Te Papa and Massey University are making new discoveries on the behaviour and diversity of deep-sea fishes using baited underwater videos and traps. The essential aim of their work is to study and quantify the diversity and distribution of NZ fishes along gradients of latitude and depth.

Vincent Zintzen, Carl Struthers, Jeremy Barker and Thomas Schultz from Te Papa will be joined by Jesse Williams from Massey University to board the MV Tranquil Image. Together, they will sample the deep waters of canyons off the Otago Peninsula and the cold waters of the Auckland Islands.

Working off the Otago Peninsula will be just a warm up before heading south towards the Sub Antarctic islands which are famous for their ferocious weather. We are in the zone of the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties, and that basically means gale force wind for three-quarter of the year. Here, waves average 2-4 m close the coast and 10-12 swells are common. However, the Auckland Islands are of an immense scientific and conservation value globally. Not much is known about the diversity of the oceans down there but what we already know shows that the Auckland Islands are a very special place.

We know so very little about the deep sea. Simply dropping cameras into the water at a range of depths in a systematic design not only gives us good quantitative data to model diversity and behaviour, it also has a high probability of finding something new. Using underwater video cameras, we can actually see fish in their own environment, which is far more informative that what can be learned from the often bedraggled specimens brought to the surface in research trawls.

Since 2009, the scientists have deployed cameras at depths ranging from 50 to 2000 m around New Zealand. So far, over 1,000 hours of footage has been collected off the Kermadec Islands, Three Kings Islands, Great Barrier Island, White Island, and Kaikoura. It is now time to extend our survey southwards to Otago Peninsula and the Auckland Islands.

This research is funded by a Royal Society of NZ Marsden Grant to Dr Clive Roberts, curator of fishes at Te Papa and Professor Marti Anderson of Massey University, as well as a Te Papa Collection Development grant.

Te Papa's fish team
Read the fish team's stories from the trip on our blog