By Clive Roberts
The Te Papa fish team currently has two members participating in the Three Kings Islands Marine Expedition. Skilled in fieldwork techniques, collecting, photographing and preserving fishes, Vincent Zintzen and Jeremy Barker are busy underwater surveying and sampling fishes, invertebrates and algae with colleagues during the day, and are up late at night on board MV Braveheart processing the day’s catch.
Carefully preserved and frozen specimens will be brought back to Te Papa, Auckland Museum and NIWA collections, to be documented and made available for 3–4 generations of researchers to study over the next 50 years or more.
An early highlight and new record for the Three Kings fish fauna was the capture of a yellow weever, also known as the yellow cod, Parapercis gilliesi family Pinguipedidae (see photo). Three species of weever are known in New Zealand waters. By far the most common is the ubiquitous blue cod Parapercis colias – the largest species in the weever family, which can weigh 5kg. Closely related are two poorly known, smaller, deeper water cousins – the yellow weever (or yellow cod) and the redbanded weever (or redbanded grubfish).
The yellow weever can be distinguished from its relatives by maximum size, colour and soft fin ray counts. It attains a maximum size of 32cm and has a yellow-tan body with two horizontal rows of dark brown blotches, and bright yellow fins in fresh examples (vs. max size 40cm, whitish with two longitudinal bands along the back in females, or max size 60cm, body blue to blue‑grey in males of blue cod; and a max size of 20cm and a pale pinkish-yellow body with 13-14 dark red-brown vertical bars arranged in pairs in the redbanded weever). The yellow weever has 21 dorsal fin soft rays and 18 anal fin soft rays (vs. 20 and 17 soft rays in blue cod; and 22–23 and 20 in redbanded weever).
Originally described in 1879 by Captain F. W. Hutton of the OtagoMuseum, Dunedin, the yellow weever is endemic (unique) to the New Zealand region, where it is widely distributed on the shelf and upper slope at depths of 60–350m. The present specimen, collected by rod and line from 100 m depth, is the most northerly record for the species.
Update: the team on MV Braveheart are sheltering from 50 knot winds, driving rain and large swells. Soon the storm will pass and they will get back to collecting and survey. Watch this space.