MV Blog


New sea cucumber species discovered

by Blair
Publish date
6 December 2011
Comments (5)

I just found out what you get when you combine a talented underwater photographer, the keen interest of a year 10 student volunteer, and a museum expert: five species new to science!

Cartoon of student, diver, scientist My schematic of this discovery, which also explains why I'm a scientist not a cartoonist.
Image: Blair Patullo
Source: Museum Victoria

In the latest Museum Victoria Memoirs there is a report that describes five new marine species, two of them from Victoria. Perhaps not that amazing considering that's partly what museums do – we discover and describe new species – but this report needed the help from two members of the community.

Firstly, a student volunteer spent over 30 hours looking down a microscope studying the species. And by chance, we also received an image from a recreational diver, participating in Reefwatch Victoria, that showed one of the species spawning in the wild. The result is a perfect combination of scientific detail and real life underwater action.

sea cucumber spawning The sea cucumber Paracaudina bacillis spawning at Rye Pier in Port Phillip Bay.
Image: D. McKenzie
Source: D. McKenzie

The new species are all sea cucumbers from the genus group Paracaudina. They were previously thought to be the same as the tropical species Paracaudina australis, which this report now confirms is unlikely to live in Victorian waters. These Paracaudina are some of the largest sea cucumber species in Australia.


P. Mark O'Loughlin, Shari Barmos and Didier VandenSpiegel. The paracaudinid sea cucumbers of Australia and New Zealand (Echinodermata: Holothuroidea: Molpadida: Caudinidae). Memoirs of Museum Victoria 68 :37-65 (2011) (PDF, 2.86MB)

Reefwatch Victoria

MV Blog: Skeletons of sea cucumbers

MV Blog: Trepang today

Trepang today

by Blair
Publish date
12 October 2011
Comments (6)

When you see sausages at a butcher, or purchase a barbecued fundraising snag, spare a thought for the sausage-shaped marine animals that formed one of Australia's first export industries. The trade in trepang between Chinese, Macassan and northern Australian Aboriginal people is the focus of the Trepang exhibition at Melbourne Museum which closes on 16 October.

The trade of trepang or sea cucumbers dates back before 1700. The product is known by several names: trepang (Indonesian), bêche-de-mer (French), hai-sum (Chinese) and namako (Japanese). While the live animals are shaped like a sausage, the product that is eaten is usually the dried skin (body wall) or pickled intestines. In Japan they are generally eaten fresh.

sea cucumber packaged for sale Namako (sea cucumber) for sale in a Japanese supermarket.
Image: Hector Garcia
Source: Used under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) from kirainet

Today, trepang fisheries exist throughout the Indo-Pacific area, including Madagascar, Ecuador, Canada, New Zealand and northern parts of Australia. The products are most often consumed in China, Korea, Japan, and some smaller Indo-Pacific islands such as Samoa and Indonesia.

The Australian trade began with 600 tonnes in the early years – about six million live animals – to 11,000 tonnes in the 1990s. This high demand resulted in over-exploitation in some areas because the animals were easy to collect, slow growing and had low reproductive rates. As a result, today's fisheries target deeper water species and are carefully managed, but some species are still over-fished.

sea cucumber A sea cucumber (Stichopus mollis) in its natural habitat.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria

So they look like sausages but do they taste like sausages? I asked around. The closest response was from Mel, one of the museum's marine collection managers who has lived in Japan.

"I've only eaten sea urchin [a related echinoderm group] which tasted like mushed-up prawns, but I've heard sea cucumbers taste rubbery."

Nonetheless they are a delicacy for some. Sea cucumbers are rumoured to have anti-inflammatory and aphrodisiac properties, although the latter may be based more on the shape and behaviour of the live animal rather than any scientific proof.

About this blog

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