MV Blog


The eels are back

by Patrick
Publish date
28 May 2013
Comments (2)

Last week the Live Exhibits team went into the field in search of eels and other fish to restock the pond in Milarri Garden.

catching fish at night Live Exhibits keeper Adam Elliott demonstrates the best technique for transferring freshwater animals from nets.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

Last year the iconic Short-finned Eels (Anguilla australis) living in Milarri pond were moved to the Forest Gallery water system while we repaired and resealed the pond. Now Milarri pond is back in operation and ready for new inhabitants.

Short-finned Eel Short-finned Eel
Image: Rudie Kuiter
Source: Aquatic Photographics

Prior to the Milarri pond works, regular eel feeding sessions were very popular with museum visitors, giving our staff the opportunity to highlight the importance of eels as a traditional food source for local Aboriginal people. In western Victoria, kooyang (eel) were trapped using woven nets in sophisticated aquaculture systems by the Gunditjmara people for thousands of years – one of the featured installations of the upcoming First Peoples exhibition at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum.

staff catching fish for Milarri pond Left: Maik Fiedel in deep water, checking his nets. Right: Melvin Nathan ensures the eels are well looked after in holding tubs.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

We collected the new eels west of Melbourne under permit, and we also caught other fish such as Tupong (Pseudaphritis urvilli), Flathead Gudgeon (Philypnodon grandiceps) and Common Jollytails (Galaxias maculatus) boost stocks in the Forest Gallery creek and pond system. These are just a few of the 50 or so species of freshwater fish found in Victorian waters.

Native Victorian fish Clockwise from left: Common Jollytail, Flathead Gudgeon, Tupong.
Image: Rudie Kuiter
Source: Aquatic Photographics

Freshwater invertebrates, particularly Glass Shrimp (Paratya australis) were also collected to kick start the food chain in Milarri pond. Yabbies (Cherax destructor) will soon walk across land from nearby ponds, and many other invertebrate species will fly in or colonise via new plantings or by adhering to waterbirds. Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa), Little Pied Cormorants (Microcarbo melanoleucos) and other birds will soon arrive under their own power.

fish in a bucket Young Jollytails and Glass Shrimp swim around under a Water Spider (Megadolomedes species).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Musuem Victoria

At the end of the collection trip, animal keepers Chloe and Dave released the eels into their new home, where they will live under the care of Live Exhibit staff for many years.

Man releasing bucket of fish Dave Paddock releases the last of the eels into Milarri pond.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

Fish destined for the Forest Gallery must be quarantined for three weeks in tanks set up behind the scenes to ensure no parasites or pathogens are introduced to our resident fish population.

Live Exhibits lab at night Dave sets up Tupong in quarantine some time after midnight in the Live Exhibits Lab.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

A range of fish species as well as Macquarie Turtles (Emydura macquarii) can be seen daily in the Forest Gallery at Melbourne Museum. Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus) and eel feeding presentations will recommence at Milarri pond in September when the water starts to warm and the eels’ appetites return.

Milarri Garden and Milarri Walk are open every day of the year except Christmas Day and Good Friday. 

Redmap Australia launched

by Di Bray
Publish date
13 December 2012
Comments (0)

Di is Senior Collections Manager in our Sciences Department and is absolutely passionate about the amazing and unique fishes found in our waters.

Museum Victoria staff are involved in a fantastic citizen science project that's taking a giant nationwide leap from its starting point in Tasmania. With today's launch of the Redmap Australia website, the community is being asked to look out for unusual occurrences of species in the seas around Australia. These community sightings will help reveal if fishes and other marine species are shifting their ranges with the changing climate.

Man holding a fish A Yellowtail Kingfish (Seriola lalandi) caught away from its usual range along Tasmania's east coast and logged on Redmap.
Image: Scott Johnston
Source: Redmap

The website, also known as the Range Extension Database and Mapping Project, began in Tasmania in 2009. Already Tasmanian fishers and divers have logged hundreds of unusual sightings including Eastern Rock Lobster, Southern Maori Wrasse and King George Whiting, all spotted further south than usual.

  Southern Maori Wrasse Southern Maori Wrasse (Ophthalmolepis lineolatus) are uncommon in Tasmanian waters but more and more are being reported to Redmap along the north and north-east coasts of Tasmania. This one was snapped by diver Emma Flukes off the coast of St Helens.
Image: Emma Flukes
Source: Redmap

Yellowtail Kingfish Large schools of Yellowtail Kingfish (Seriola lalandi) are being spotted in south-east Tasmanian seas, further south of their usual marine postcode.
Image: Mick Baron
Source: Redmap

Redmap founder, Dr Gretta Pecl, is a senior marine scientist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) at the University of Tasmania. She says Redmap "taps into the knowledge - and eyes - of thousands of fishers, divers and swimmers to track changes in fish distributions in Australia's vast coastal waters." Some three or four million Australians go fishing or diving at least once a year.

The Redmap website encourages members to share photos and anecdotes about turtles, octopus, lobsters, corals, seaweeds, urchins, prawns and marine mammals. A network of marine scientists around the country will review each photo to verify the species' identity and ensure high-quality data. Redmap aims to become not only a continental-scale range-shift monitoring program along Australia's vast coastline, but also engages Australians with marine issues using their own data.

Some seas along the Australian coast are warming at three to four times the global average. We're not sure how species will react to warmer waters - some may adapt, others may search for new habitats, while others may disappear. New arrivals of some species, especially recreational fishes, may actually benefit some communities. Understanding the movement of other species of marine pests may help minimise the risks to ecosystems or fisheries. In Victoria, fishers and divers have already been telling us about rare or uncommon fishes they've seen - including Blue Groper, Cobia, Rock Blackfish and Spotted Grubfish. Gathering sightings over time will show if these species are simply seasonal migrants, one-off visitors, or are here to stay.

Blue Groper Victorian diver and Redmap member Mary Malloy has been seeing more Western Blue Groper (Achoerodus gouldii) over the past decade around Queenscliff and Barwon Heads.
Image: Mary Malloy
Source: Mary Malloy

I'm the coordinator of Redmap VIC and the MV team includes Martin Gomon, Julian Finn, Erich Fitzgerald and Kate Charlton-Robb. Although we'll officially be tracking some 35 species in Victoria through the Redmap project - such as octopus, Greynurse Sharks, Harlequin Fish, Striped Marlin, whales and dolphins - we're very keen to hear of sightings of other rare or uncommon species seen along our coast. You can get involved by becoming a Redmap member, signing up for the quarterly newsletter, liking Redmap on Facebook, and logging unusual marine life at

Fishes of Australia website

by Di Bray
Publish date
8 August 2012
Comments (5)

Di is Senior Collections Manager in our Sciences Department and is absolutely passionate about all things sciency. She loves telling people about the amazing and unique fishes found in our waters.

After a prolonged gestation, we recently launched the beautiful Fishes of Australia website in Adelaide at the Annual Conference of the Australian Society for Fish Biology

Fishes of Australia website banner showing title and fish Fishes of Australia website banner.
Source: Museum Victoria

The website, funded by the Australian Biological Resources Study, is hosted by Museum Victoria on behalf of OzFishNet, a group of fish experts who work at, or are associated with, museums in Australia and the CSIRO. Senior curator Martin Gomon and I worked with the museum's in-house design and development team to build the site, which will appeal to everyone with an interest in Australian fishes, whether they be divers, anglers, aquarists, students, teachers, or researchers. 

Leafy Seadragon fish Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques
Image: Graham Short
Source: Fishes of Australia

Australia's amazingly rich and diverse fish fauna comprises about 5000 species. With so many fishes, the website is a work in progress, but photographs of over 800 species are already in the website's gallery. Eventually, we'll include detailed images and information on all Australian fishes – including tiny desert gobies from hot artesian springs in central Australia, weird and wonderful deep-sea critters found offshore, and all species on the Great Barrier Reef.

Green Moray Eel Green Moray Eel
Image: Steve Dreezer
Source: Steve Dreezer

We're also including fishes found in our territorial waters – those from our Antarctic and Subantarctic waters, plus the fishes of Ashmore, Cartier, Lord Howe, Norfolk, Christmas and Cocos Keeling islands.

Alison's Blue Devil fish Alison's Blue Devil, Paraplesiops alisonae
Image: Rudie Kuiter
Source: Aquatic Photographics

We've included a couple of user-friendly interactive keys – one to fish families, and the other to freshwater fishes (including the nasty introduced ones). Try them out on that weird fish you caught last summer, or put a name on your favourite aquarium species. We thank the many fantastic photographers who have allowed us to use their gorgeous images that illustrate the site.

Kiwi Hatchetfish Kiwi Hatchetfish, Polyipnus kiwiensis
Image: Robin McPhee & Mark McGrouther
Source: NORFANZ Founding parties

Threadfin Dragonfish Threadfin Dragonfish
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria

And finally, please 'Like' us on Facebook and tell us what you think.


Postgraduate trifecta

by Kate C
Publish date
14 November 2011
Comments (1)

Congratulations to Katie Smith, Natalie Calder and Skipton Woolley for handing in their postgraduate theses in the last fortnight. All three have done major pieces of research that combined new field studies with Museum Victoria Natural Sciences collections.

For her PhD, Katie Smith assessed the hybrid zone between two closely-related south-eastern Australian tree frogs, Litoria ewingi and Litoria paraewingi. A hybrid zone is an area where the geographic distribution of two species overlap in a narrow contact zone. They subsequently share habitat and sometimes cross-breed.

Two frogs Top: Litoria ewingi calling. Bottom: Litoria paraewingi. Can you spot the difference between these two species?
Image: Katie Smith | Fran Lyndon-Gee
Source: Museum Victoria

In the 1960s, Murray Littlejohn first reported hybridisation in these species in the Kinglake area, collecting specimens and recordings of the male advertisement calls in the 1960s. Katie built upon Murray's work, performing genetic and acoustic analysis on the original specimens and recordings and recent samples to compare the hybrid zone then and now. Says Katie, "it makes you realise what a good job Murray did! It's amazing that he even worked out they are different species because their appearance and calls are so similar."

recording frog calls in the field Main: Murray Littlejohn recording frog calls in the 1960s. Inset: Katie Smith recording frog calls for her PhD.
Source: Murray Littlejohn | Museum Victoria

Katie found that the hybrid zone is quite stable which is particularly interesting because the Kinglake area has changed dramatically over the decades through agricultural and residential development. Her fieldwork, completed before the 2009 bushfires, can't comment on the effect of fire on the hybrid zone but she hopes that ongoing surveys will keep an eye on the situation. When she handed in her thesis, her colleague Susi made a special batch of hybrid frog cupcakes to celebrate!

frog cupcakes Hybrid frog cupcakes for afternoon tea!`
Image: Susi Maldonado
Source: Susi Madonado

Natalie Calder's Masters thesis investigated how larval fishes use tide cycles to disperse in Port Phillip Bay. She worked at Governor Reef, near Indented Head on the Bellarine Peninsula, measuring where these tiny hatchlings place themselves in the water column.

As Nat explains, "Upon hatching larvae are translucent, lack scales and are usually less than 1mm long. Studies throughout the first half of the 20th century assumed that larvae were passive particles, at the mercy of tides and currents, with little or no control over where they dispersed."

Three larval fishes Three larval fishes. Top: Zeidae (dory family) without fins, jaws or pigmented eyes. Middle: Hemiramphidae (garfish or halfbeak family) in relatively late stage of development, with visible muscle bands. Bottom: Triglidae (gunard or sea robin family) with partially-developed fins, well-developed eyes but still-visible egg yolk sac.
Image: Natalie Calder
Source: Museum Victoria

Since then, scientists have observed that fish larvae display more complex behaviour, and Nat's research contributes to this body of knowledge. She found that fish larvae are quite selective and effectively 'surf' the tides in and out of Port Phillip Bay by exploiting properties of the currents. They rise in the water column to catch fast-moving surface waters during incoming tides, ensuring they stay in the bay rather than be swept out to sea. This better understanding of how larval fish disperse could help ensure the network of marine protected areas are sufficiently connected to keep fish populations healthy.

Another major piece of Masters research with implications for marine reserves was completed by Skipton Woolley, who used marine worms called polychaetes to model the biodiversity of large-scale ecological systems. Using data from museum collections and from new fieldwork in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, he tested whether polychaetes are a good group to use when assessing biodiversity. The idea is that it's not often practical to count every species in an ecosystem, but if the diversity of one group correlates with biodiversity overall, they become a handy indicator that can be used to compare between regions.

By examining 342 species from seven families, he found that that polychaetes are indeed a useful group, because where you find numerous species of polychaetes, you find numerous species of other animals, such as echinoderms and crustaceans. Thus, concludes Skip, "worms are amazing!"

scaleworm A scaleworm from Skip's Masters project, Iphione muricata (family Polynoidae). The numerous white hairy structures, or chaetae, are what give this group their name - the polychaetes.
Source: Museum Victoria

Amazing too are our students who contribute so much to the museum's research work. Well done Katie, Nat and Skip!


Information for prospective students

MV News: Victoria frogs and bushfires

WA Museum: Marine Life of the Kimberley Region

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.