Unknown species turn up on TV footage

A collaboration between a television show and marine scientists has led to the discovery of three species of fish at the Kermadec Islands not thought to live there, Newsroom reports.

The species were spotted after scientists spent hours reviewing raw footage a television crew filmed at the islands, 750 km northeast of New Zealand. The unusual collaboration between a film company and the now under threat Auckland science department at Massey University is the subject of a recently published scientific paper.

The species captured on film were thought to live 700 to 1300km away and include the atoll butterfly fish, the bluestreak cleaner wrasse and the halfmoon grouper.

The footage came from Our Big Blue Backyard made by the Natural History New Zealand whose executive producer, Judith Curran, said the film crew had pooled funds with scientists to hire the large boat needed for the expedition. While at the islands, the scientists conducted scientific surveys while the film crew were getting footage of key species for the show.

Curran said they put the unused footage on a hard drive for the scientists – “hundreds and hundreds of hours”.

Massey University senior lecturer Dr Libby Liggins, the lead author on the new report, was part of the expedition said, “The video footage our masters student Jenny Ann Sweatman found shows the cleaner wrasse approaching a Galapagos shark and cleaning the parasites off it. It’s pretty cool.” She spent eight weeks reviewing the footage.

Liggins thinks there could be a goldmine of discoveries in nature television out-takes and with old footage being used by scientists to establish if an ecosystem has changed over time.

“Tropical species have been recorded more frequently in recent times. We can’t say whether that’s to do with the sampling efforts, or that is because they have recently arrived.”

She hopes the discovery and report inspires other similar projects, and other film-makers are as enthusiastic to share their raw footage with scientists as Curran has been.

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