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Scorpionfish - A Most Unexpected Fish Tale

By: Mark McGrouther, Category: Science, Date: 03 Jul 2014

The discovery of a new fish from Sydney harbour is pretty exciting. After waiting a decade, we can now report on its live colouration.

Come behind the scenes into our research collection to hear the story of the discovery of the rare Sydney Scorpionfish, Scorpaenopsis insperatus.

There are many remarkable facets to this story, not the least of which was that two specimens of the new species were collected during a harbour survey by Australian Museum divers, who didn’t realise that they had collected a new species. It wasn’t ‘discovered’ until three years later when visiting researcher and scorpionfish expert, Dr Hiroyuki Motomura was examining specimens of scorpionfishes in the ichthyology collection.

He was so surprised to find a new species from Sydney Harbour, especially one that is classified in a genus of tropical fishes, he named the fish insperatus, which is derived from Latin and means ‘unexpected. Hiroyuki’s discovery shows the extraordinary value of museum collections for documenting our fauna.

Ten years later, in February 2014, Rebecca Ramaley and Dorothy Lee were diving under the jetty at Chowder Bay in Sydney Harbour when a small fish captured their attention. They took video and still images of it, then set about trying to identify the fish. They contacted Hiroyuki who confirmed that the fish was a Sydney Scorpionfish. He brought the exciting news to my attention, and Rebecca and Dorothy kindly gave permission for their video and images to appear on the Australian Museum website.

With about one fish species being added to the Australian ichthofauna every week, the species count is steadily moving towards 5000. Nearly 600 of them have been recorded from Sydney Harbour; the Sydney Scorpionfish however, is the only species that, so far, is only known from the harbour.