Articles & Reviews
A rare leopard chimaera has been caught in a canyon on the northeastern coast.
Chimaeras and their relatives (ghost sharks, long-nosed chimaeras and elephant fishes) have been around for some 350 million years. There are at least 46 species known worldwide, which are mostly only taken by deep-water commercial trawlers.
All species share a similar body plan: fused tooth plates like parrotfish, naked skin, first dorsal fin armed with a long venomous spine, and males with three sets of claspers – one on the head, a pair before the pelvic fin, and a greatly enlarged pair behind the pelvic fin.
Fertilisation is internal and, like skates, females lay large leather egg cases two at a time onto the sea bed. Most species are uniform in colour, but the leopard chimaera, Chimaera panthera, is strikingly patterned with rippling lines and dots (see figure). The leopard chimaera is distinguished from the dark ghost shark (Something Fishy, November 2005) by the presence of a small anal fin.
The leopard chimaera was described in 1998 and is a rare species. It is known from only 15 specimens, nine from the New Zealand region. These were captured around New Zealand, the southern Lord Howe Rise and off southern Tasmania at 330 to 1000m depth.
In 2007 Pete Ensor, a commercial fisherman based in Wellsford, caught a specimen of leopard chimaera north-east of the Mokohinau Islands on a drop line. This is the closest to coastal New Zealand the leopard chimaera has been taken. The specimen, a female, is also one of the largest ever caught, measured a whopping 110cm total length (without tail filament).
Very little is known about the biology of chimaeras, probably because they are deep living and lack the notoriety of their sharky cousins. Submersible observations record them living close to the seabed and swimming by flapping their large pectoral fins. The fused tooth plates are ideal for crushing hard-shelled prey such as crabs and molluscs. An elaborate head pore and canal system enables them to detect the slightest disturbances created by prey and predator alike. These senses are augmented by their huge eyes, indicating good vision.
The shelf and slope areas off our coast are home to many strange fishes such as the leopard chimaera. Anglers are encouraged to try fishing these deeper areas – you may catch something completely new! A book on New Zealand fishes will be sent in exchange for specimens registered into the National Fish Collection.
Museum scientists are always looking for specimens of rare or unusual fishes. We shall be happy to provide identifications in exchange for specimens. Seal specimens in a plastic bag with a label inside recording name, address, capture and location details, then wrap in newspaper, box, label ‘keep frozen’, freeze, and send collect via Hall’s Refrigerated Transport Ltd. to: Dr Clive Roberts, Museum of New Zealand, 169 Tory Street, Wellington, phone (04) 381-7311, fax (04) 381-7310 or email: email@example.com.
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