Rare native fish sighted in Wellington Harbour

The rare fish was spotted in Wellington Harbour.
The rare fish was spotted in Wellington Harbour. Photo credit: Victoria University Wellington

A rare native fish has been spotted in Wellington Harbour and researchers claim it is one of the few times it has been photographed in its natural habitat.

Victoria University of Wellington's marine biologist Dr Valerio Micaroni spotted the rare fish with their colleague Francesca Strano, while they were looking at animal communities that live in shallow waters around Wellington. Fish biologist Dr Malcom Francis identified the fish as a scaly gurnard.

In a statement on Tuesday, Dr Micaroni said the scaly gurnard is a reddish-coloured fish that can grow to around 20cm. It is known to live in Wellington waters but sightings of the fish are rare.

"There's very little information about the location and composition of the animal-dominated habitats in Wellington's waters, so the aim of our research is to describe these areas and identify places that need protection or restoration," Dr Micaroni said.

Five sites in the Wellington Harbour have been mapped so far and the rare reddish fish is not the only thing the researchers have found.

"As well as the scaly gurnard, we've found lots of other cool animals. At Shark Bay and Shelly Bay on the Miramar Peninsula, there's a diverse underwater garden of sea sponges. Horse mussels and brachiopods - ancient animals that live on the sea floor - are also abundant," Dr Micaroni said.

Dr Micaroni's colleague Strano said in the statement they had initially explored the areas using a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV). It provided detailed information about the habitats and the animals they support which was then collected by diving at the sites.

"So far, we've sent the ROV on 52 dives. That's given us a lot of valuable data about these ecosystems and the threats they face," she said.

The scaly gurnard sighting is part of research funded by the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the George Mason Charitable Trust. 

The data collected from the research will be used to inform the council on how it should plan its marine policy.