NZ scientists return from Antarctic voyage with new knowledge about life in the Ross Sea

A group of scientists have returned to Wellington from an Antarctic voyage with new knowledge about life in the Ross Sea.

NIWA scientist Pablo Escobar-Flores (L) and Tangaroa crewman Phil Bignell (R) carry a large toothfish before releasing it. Source: David Bowden

The 21 scientists, supported by 19 crew, have travelled almost 12,000 kilometres in the past six weeks to gather information to monitor the year-old Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, or MPA.

The New Zealand scientists were joined by marine experts from China, France and Italy.

NIWA's research vessel Tangaroa in sea ice. Source: Diana Macpherson

NIWA’s research vessel Tangaroa docks on Saturday morning after successfully completing research that covered all areas of the ecosystem, from bacteria to whales.

Voyage leader and NIWA scientist Richard O’Driscoll said good weather and a lack of sea ice enabled science work to continue uninterrupted.

The amount of work achieved, he added, will benefit New Zealand and global science communities.

“We are working with other nations within the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to establish a long-term monitoring programme inside the Ross Sea MPA.”

It’s the largest MPA in the world, covering more than over a million square kilometres and represents a major contribution to global marine protection, he said.

Other voyage highlights included:

• Almost 33 hours of video and 8000 still images were collected to look at animals living on the seabed.

• About 4700 samples have been preserved and must now be cleared through biosecurity.

• Thirty-six whale sightings were logged, made up of more than 190 individual animals including humpback, minke, blue fin and killer whales.

• Six moorings were retrieved and then redeployed. These will continue to collect data until they are picked up in 2021.

• A nearly 2000kg trawl catch was made up of 110 species, including 56 types of fish. Rare and unusual fish species included whale-fish, snail-fish, and big-scale fish, which are being brought back for identification at Te Papa. Three large Antarctic toothfish with estimated weights of 30-40 kg were tagged and released.

Humpback whale fluke on Scott Seamount. Source: Alan Hart