Posts written by Alan Tennyson

Elephant bird DNA reveals that the Kiwi is not an Aussie

Alan Cooper holds a giant elephant bird leg bone in front of a kiwi skeleton for media as Alan Tennyson looks on. Photo: Jean-Claude Stahl © Te Papa

A study published in the journal Science today reveals a new and unexpected origin for New Zealand’s iconic kiwi and overturns the previous idea that the ancestors of kiwi flew directly over from Australia (see Miocene fossils show that Kiwi are probably not phyletic dwarves, Paleornithological Research 2013, and St Bathan’s kiwi – NZ Birds Online). … Read more »

Were broad-billed prions from The Snares part of the massive die-off of this species in 2011?

  • South Bay Snares
  • Dead skua prey remains
  • Skuas feeding
  • Broad-billed prion chick, Snares Island. Te Papa

This was one of the key questions that we were trying to answer when four Te Papa scientists – Colin Miskelly, Antony Kusabs, Jean-Claude Stahl and I – set off for the subantarctic Snares Islands in November-December 2013.  The Snares are one of the world’s great seabird islands and broad-billed prions – a small blue-and-white… Read more »

Science Live: Whalebirds – the mystery of the storm riders. Part 8. Prion evolution

  • Fossil bones of fairy prions are abundant in some South Island West Coast caves showing that the species nested there in huge numbers before humans brought rats to New Zealand.  Photo: Te Papa collections, Alan Tennyson
  • Alan Tennyson with a South Island Giant Moa leg bone. Photo © JC Stahl
  • The evolutionary history of prions is poorly understood but prions have been riding the winds of the southern oceans for at least the last 4 million years.  Photo: Fairy Prion, Philip Griffin, NZ Birds Online
  • The blue petrel is a close relative of prions but unlike prions it has a long narrow beak and a white, rather than black tip to its tail.  Photo: South Atlantic, David Boyle, NZ Birds Online

Here is the final instalment in our series of blogs all about prion biology! This is in preparation for our upcoming Science Live event on Oct 22nd (today!) at 1:50 pm NZ time when you can accompany us into the lab via live streaming (a permanent link to the YouTube video can be found below).  For… Read more »

Burgess Island – a recovering seabird island

  • Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) accompanied us as we approached the Mokohinau Islands. Photo Alan Tennyson, Te Papa
  • Fig. 1. Team members Jo Peace, Megan Friesen and Derek Bettesworth head towards the Burgess Island lighthouse. Little Barrier Island Hauturu can be seen in the background. Photo Alan Tennyson, Te Papa
  • Fig. 2. Old lighthouse accommodation provided a comfortable base with spectacular views. Photo Alan Tennyson, Te Papa
  • Fig. 5. Black-winged petrels displaying over Burgess Island at night. . Photo Alan Tennyson, Te Papa

By Alan Tennyson, Curator of Vertebrates I was invited by Chris Gaskin (Forest & Bird) and Matt Rayner (Auckland University) to join a party in February 2013 on the Mokohinau Islands to hunt for the nesting grounds of the recently rediscovered New Zealand storm petrel (Fregetta maoriana). This island group lies more than 50 km… Read more »

Night Life on the Poor Knights Islands

  • Poor Knights Dec 2011 463
  • Poor Knights Dec 2011 396
  • Poor Knights Dec 2011 326
  • Poor Knights Dec 2011 289

The Poor Knights Islands, northeast of Whangarei, are perhaps best known as a world-class diving location, but the life on land is no less astonishing and it really comes alive at night.  In December 2011, I assisted seabird expert Graeme Taylor with his work on the migration of Buller’s Shearwaters.  This species of petrel breeds… Read more »

Fossils uncovered!

Normally fossils are found in the field but in this case Te Papa technicians and I have been rediscovering an early accumulation of fossil reptiles and fish held in Te Papa’s collections that have not been examined for decades. When the Colonial Museum opened in 1865, the Director James Hector, wanted to show New Zealanders… Read more »

The deluge and the ark

Curator of Fossil Vertebrates, Alan Tennyson, excavating the St Bathans site in Otago. Image copyright Te Papa

Recently, a group of researchers in New Zealand suggested that the absence of fossils between 25 and 22 million years ago indicated that the islands completely disappeared under water, and then later re-emerged. But a newly discovered fossil reptile suggests this theory does not hold water. Alan Tennyson, Curator of Fossil Vertebrates at Te Papa,… Read more »