Strange findings at the beach

Tell our scientists which coastal creatures you’d like to know more about in Science Live: Coastal creatures. Email sciencelive@tepapa.govt.nz with your suggestions!

Small ammonite, found in the United Kingdom. Gift of the Mantell Family, 1930. Te Papa

Small ammonite, found in the United Kingdom. Gift of the Mantell Family, 1930. Te Papa

Walking along many of the beaches in my native UK, I had my head down, ignoring the beautiful view and the pounding waves of the slate grey sea.

Instead, I’d be scanning the rocks for fossils, looking for ammonites, bezoars, or scimitar-sharp teeth from long-dead creatures.

In my new home of New Zealand, the scenery is even more beautiful. Still, I glance at it all too rarely. My head is still firmly down, looking at the wildlife in the rock pools, or watching out for coastal creatures from the everyday to the unusual. And some of them are very unusual…

Happy Feet – the global penguin

Wayward boy – the emperor penguin on Peka Peka Beach, 21 June. Photo: Colin Miskelly © Te Papa

Wayward boy – the emperor penguin on Peka Peka Beach, 21 June. Photo: Colin Miskelly © Te Papa

At least that’s what the media called it! Happy Feet was a male penguin, found on a beach near Wellington at least 1500 kilometres from home. Initially healthy, Happy Feet soon began to swallow driftwood and sand, probably mistaking it for snow. Scientists from Te Papa, Department of Conservation, Wellington Zoo and Massey University worked together to rehabilitate Happy Feet and return him to the Southern Ocean.

Visit Te Papa’s global penguin blogs to find out more about this globe trotting emperor – and how we tracked his journey back to the Antarctic.

Sharp-tail sunfish

Te Papa scientists lifting the heavy sunfish. Photographer: Michael Hall © Te Papa

Te Papa scientists lifting the heavy sunfish. Photographer: Michael Hall © Te Papa

What would you do if you found a giant, disc-like fish on the beach? A group of surfers found a sunfish beached at Omaha, Auckland. Although they attempted to save it, at the next low tide the sunfish was sadly found dead on the beach.

Tom Trnski, a scientist from AucklandMuseum, rushed down to pick up the rare specimen. From the size of the fish – it’s 2.1 metres long – Tom knew he’d need a fishy facility with large tanks to deal with a specimen this big. Step up, Te Papa.

Called a sharp-tail sunfish, Masterus lanceolutus, it’s the rarest of the sunfish family species. The specimen is now in our research facility. It’s a great opportunity for scientists to find out more about this seldom seen and unusual species.

Visit Te Papa’s sunfish blogs to find out more about our rare sharp-tail sunfish specimen.

Dinosaur footprints

That’s right – real dinosaur footprints! Dr Greg Browne, from GNS, discovered the footprints near Whanganui inlet, north west Nelson.

These footprints probably belonged to sauropods, large herbivorous dinosaurs with long necks and tails. Scientists can tell which direction the dinosaurs were walking, how fast they were and even how big they were.

Visit GNS for more information on finding fossils on New Zealand beaches.

Science Live: Coastal Creatures – what will you find on the beach?

Although I haven’t found anything as unusual as dinosaur footprints – yet – I keep looking. Even the more common finds are fascinating. Why are some crabs hairy? Is that seaweed a plant, or something else? What does a baby lobster look like?

Te Papa’s scientists will be talking live about some of the wildlife you can find on your summer holidays in New Zealand, in Science Live: Coastal creatures.

Tell our scientists which coastal creatures you’d like to know more about, and ask your questions:

Get your questions in quick to make sure yours get answered during the show!

We’ll be blogging in the run up to the live stream, so stay tuned for more Science Live blogs. You can also follow the action on Facebook and Twitter.

Science Live: Coastal creatures takes place on 11 Dec.

One Response

  1. Rod Ewins

    Anyone who is interested in coastal flotsam and jetsam will love a novel about a boy growing up in Puget Sound, Washington State. He is an inveterate browser of the tidal flats and one day finds a most exceptional creature cast up there. Apparently Puget Sound is a sort of eddy where stuff from all over the Pacific and even beyond, ends up. The book is “The Highest Tide,” by Jim Lynch, and it’s one of my favourites from recent years, a wonderful portrait of a boy growing into manhood as well as an incredible evocation of coastal scenery and ecology.

    Reply

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