Kaikoura deep-sea fieldwork: do you love slime?

Te Papa fish team is off Kaikoura onboard the MV Star Keys to study deep-sea fish fauna.

We have just finished our third day of sampling off Kaikoura. So far, everything goes well, and we are progressing at a good pace with our sampling. It has been difficult to have an internet connection, but now we have one.

We were expecting slime during our Kaikoura fieldwork, and we are not disappointed! Have you ever heart about hagfishes, sometimes better known as snot eels? They are fantastic animals, but most probably, you need to be a scientist (and a somewhat strange one) to state this and love them. Those fishes look very primitive but are extremely successful in their biotope. They have existed in one form or another for more than 300 million years on earth, placing them at the origin of vertebrates.

Vincent cleaning one hagfish specimen from its slime (and, yes, I am Belgian!). Te Papa.

Vincent cleaning one hagfish specimen from its slime (and, yes, I am Belgian!). Te Papa.

Several specimens of hagfish interlaced. The white substance is the mucous they produce. Te Papa, photograph by Vincent Zintzen.

Several specimens of hagfish interlaced. The white substance is the mucous they produce. Te Papa, photograph by Vincent Zintzen.

Hagfish teeth. Not difficult to understand that they are very efficient scavengers of the deep. Te Papa, photograph by Vincent Zintzen.

Hagfish teeth. Not difficult to understand that they are very efficient scavengers of the deep. Te Papa, photograph by Vincent Zintzen.

Their common name comes from the faculty they have to produce mucus which is exuded through the many pores they have on their skin (usually more than 200). This mucus combines with sea water and creates a characteristic slime. Amazingly, a single specimen can produce at least his weight of slime very quickly!

Three days at sea and we have already collected over 100  specimens. Definitely the most common species so far. Our clothing is covered with slime and we are fighting to extract them out the trap they have been caught with. But all those efforts are worth the price: they truly are an interesting group of fish to study.

Carl extracting hagfish specimen out of one fish trap. Te Papa, photograph by Vincent Zintzen.
Carl extracting hagfish specimen out of one fish trap. Te Papa, photograph by Vincent Zintzen.
Speak to you soon and I hope you will not have nightmares because of me…
Vincent

2 Responses

  1. Elizabeth o. Armstrong

    That is a gorey/retching picture I’m vomiting right now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    LITERALLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  2. Alexandra

    I’ve been reading Te Papa’s blog for a couple of years now, actually since the colossal squid story. How surprising to see you, Vincent, a fellow Belgian appear in the picture! :-)
    Anyway, I’m looking forward to read more of your deep-sea discoveries!

    Reply

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