World Numbat Day

World Numbat Day is on the first Saturday of November. It is a day to appreciate this amazing yet threatened mammal and encourage the action to conserve the species.

Numbat ©Perth Zoo

The Numbat is Western Australia’s mammal emblem. They are a small endangered native marsupial. They have a long sticky tongue that allows them pick up there favourite food; termites. Scientific name: Myrmecobius fasciatus

Help the Numbat find it’s lunch!

Numbats have a very specialised diet almost exclusively of termites. They are diurnal, which means they feed during the day. During the day the sun heats up the upper layers soil, increases the temperature. The termites move in to a network of shallow tunnels and chambers just below the ground surface, making it easier to get a meal.

Under threat

Numbats are under threat from habitat loss and introduced predators including foxes and feral cats. Their population is estimated at fewer than 1000 individuals and help is needed to protect the future of this unique marsupial.

Find out about conservation with Project Numbat

Ages of Fishes Museum

I finally made it to the Age of Fishes Museum at Canowindra to see the 360 million year old Devonian Fish fossils. Visiting this site has been on my bucket list for years and I was very excited to explore the museum and visit the fossil site.

Site of the fossil discovery

The story of the discovery of the 360 million year old Canowindra fish fossils has been with me since my first day as an Australian Museum volunteer over 20 years ago. I remember seeing this slab of rock mounted on the wall and being told an amazing story of how it was found. I have been fascinated ever since and used to touch the slab every time I walked pass and tell the story to visitors. 20 years on I still tell the story to students during my fossil programs.

Original 1956 Slab with colour coding indicating the fish species

It all began with the chance discovery in 1955 when a Fred Fewings a bulldozer driver turns over a rock. Fred thought it looked interesting and instead of letting it be ground up into road base, he pushed it to the side of the road. This is lucky for us because local Bill Simpson recognised the slabs significance and informs the Australian Museum.

360 million years ago in the Devonian fish fossil deposit contains thousands of freshwater fish

Step back in time and imagine what it was like 360 million years ago. In the Devonian the inland rivers and lakes of Australia were full of fish, but they were not like fish of today.

Life in the Devonian 360 million years ago Image © Aunt Spray

The fossils at Canowindra were formed when a pond on the supercontinent of Gondwana dried up and thousands of fish died in a single place. They were covered with silt and buried for millions of years, waiting to be discovered by Fred the bulldozer driver.

In 1993 Dr Alex Ritchie from the Australian Museum organised a rediscovery of this incredible the site and found 4,000 fish specimens across eight fish species.

Watch the video below of Sir David Attenborough’s visit to the Museum.

NSW State fossil

Mandageria fairfaxi was a large, air-breathing lobe-finned fish that grew up to 1.7 metres long. It had powerful jaws lined with many large fangs, making it the top predator among the eight genera of fish known from the Devonian fauna at the Canowindra site. In 2015 Mandageria fairfaxi became the NSW state fossil.

Find out more at the Ages of Fish Museum, the Australian Museum and Paleo Zoo.

Journey beneath the Waves: The Haven

Best laid plans and all that. My sister and I have been planning this dive for weeks at the Haven in the Central Coast of NSW, Australia. The weather leading up to our dive has been stunning; sunny and warm. Unfortunately the predicted rain arrived and it was cold and drizzly. We don’t give up easily and thankfully it was well worth the effort.

My sister Michelle is in the front and I’m in the back.

We started the dive with really poor visibility, I could barely see my sisters blue fins 1 metre in front of me. Luckily visibility improved as we descended beneath the waves. One of the first things we saw were lots of lobster skins, it was a strange sight. I then wondered if they were shed skins of growing lobsters. Have a look at this amazing video of a captive lobster shedding it’s skin (not my video).

Thankfully as we continued the visibility also improved. I found the first of many Port Jackson shark eggs, then realised I was close to an amazingly well camouflaged stonefish. As I was focused on that, I almost missed the Morey Eel hiding in the rocks.

After finding more Port Jackson shark eggs wedged in rock crevices, we saw finally saw our first Port Jackson shark. I hadn’t seen a PJ in ages and it was wonderful to see one again. It was the first of many, we ended up seeing over 10 varying in colours and sizes. This video (not my own) shows Port Jackson sharks in Sydney.

The many Port Jackson sharks, multiple moreys, octopus, little cuttlefish and shrimp were amazing, but the highlight was the Havens huge stingray. The Smooth Stingray Bathytoshia brevicaudatais is the largest stingray in the world. Check out the video below (not my video). This was not my first interaction with the Haven’s resident stingray, but that’s another story!

After a rough start it was a great dive with an incredible diversity of marine life. Hopefully my next dive will a be night dive at Shelley Beach. I’ll keep you posted on my next Journey beneath the Waves.

Discover more dive stories

Sydney’s hidden garden

My dive the with Sharks

Isopod Discoveries

I love a good Isopod discovery and thought I would share this new species along with one of my favourite ones. This giant isopod was discovered in the deep ocean. My favourite is found somewhere very different!

A close-up of Bathynomus raksasa, a new species of "supergiant" isopod
A close-up of Bathynomus raksasa, a new species of “supergiant” isopod
©SJADE 2018

The discovery was made during the South Java Deep Sea Biodiversity Expedition 2018. The specimens were discoivered at depths between 950 and 1,260 metres. They found two specimens of this giant isopods; a male measuring 36.3 cm and a female measuring 29.8 cm. These sizes make this discovery one of the largest giant isopods ever found. Scientists have determined that they belong to a new species.

Scientist say that the size of the isopods is an example of deep-sea gigantism. This is an observation that some animals that live in the deep sea are bigger than their relatives in shallower waters or on land. Most isopods measure less than 10 mm, but the 20 species in the Bathynomus genus grow to be more than 30 times larger.

There are over 10,000 species of isopod worldwide, with around 4,500 species found in marine environments, mostly on the seabed, 500 species in fresh water, and another 5,000 species on land. But I am going to share with you my favourite; the tongue-eating isopod Cymothoa exigua.

Fish Tongue parasite
The tongue-eating isopod Cymothoa exigua ©University of Salford

The isopod enters fish through the gills, at this stage they are all males. One changes into a female and attaches to the tongue, sucking the blood until the tongue falls off. Being a good parasite and not wanting to kill it’s host the isopod now becomes the fishes tongue. The male attaches on the gill arches beneath and behind the female.

Find out more about these weird crustaceans in this video. If you dare!

Sydney’s hidden garden

Diving in Sydney is a great experience, there is literally a secret garden hidden beneath the surface. Sandstone rock formations, incredible sponge gardens and a huge diversity of marine life is waiting for you to explore.

Watch this video to get a taste of what is hidden beneath the surface.

I know not everyone is interested in scuba diving so I thought I would share some of the amazing species I saw on my last dive at Long Reef and Old Mans Hat in Sydney with you. You can experience what I saw without leaving your house.

Giant Cuttlefish

The Giant Cuttlefish Sepia apama are one of my favourite animals to find on a dive. They are inquisitive and playful and amazing to see. They can change the colour and texture of their skin so quickly that it almost looks like they are flashing. One of my favourite moments was when I found a Giant Cuttlefish under a ledge, I offered it my occy (secondary air hose) that has a fluro yellow end. The Cuttle was fascinated with the colour and movement, it came in very close, extended a tentacle and tried to take the occy. It was unforgettable to have a personal interaction and be so close to these highly intelligent animals. You can find out more about the Giant Cuttlefish on the Australian Museum website.

Sydney Octopus

My sister spotted a Common Sydney Octopus Octopus tetricus trying to hide in the rock wall. Their camouflage is truly incredible and are very hard to find. One tip is to look for a a pile of discarded shells from their last meal. You can find out more on the Australian Museum website

Blue Groper

The Eastern Blue Groper Achoerodus viridis is a familiar sight for Sydney Divers. The friendly Blue Groper often follows you around while you are on a dive. I have been surprised more than once to turn around and be face to face with one of these guys. You can find out more about the Blue Groper on the Australian Museum website

Weedy Sea Dragon

I was very lucky to see 5 Weedy Seadragon Phyllopteryx taeniolatus at Old Mans Hat yesterday. They camouflage by hiding in the kelp and you need to look carefully to find them. People will often find their dried bodies washed up on the shore after storms. You can find out more about the Weedy Seadragon on the Australian Museum website.

Spotted Wobbegong

It is not unusual to find a Spotted Wobbegong Orectolobus maculatus hiding under a rock ledge or spotting a tail through a gap in the rocks. My sister pointed the Wobby hiding under a ledge at Long Reef. You can find out more about the Spotted Woobegong on the Australian Museum website.

Grey Nurse Shark

I was excited to see so many Grey Nurse Sharks Carcharias taurus yesterday. At one point I was swimming along the top of the rock wall will a adult swam in time below, it must have been almost 3 metres long. I was mesmerised watching this majestic animal and wondered why these sharks create a panic with so many people.


Nudibranchs are sea slugs, they are small, colourful and slow moving. Approximately 382 species have been found along the NSW coastline. I saw several of the Nudibranch Polycera hedgpethi pictured below on my dive yesterday. I usually see a couple of different species on each Sydney dive. You can find out more about the variety of Sydney Nudibranch on the Sydney Dive website

Polycera hedgpethi ©Sarah Han-de-Beaux

Sponge Gardens

Sponge Gardens are hidden gardens beneath the sea. The Sea Tulips and sponges move in the current to create a surreal environment. It feels like you are in another world.

What can you do to help preserve this amazing environment?

  • Remove any rubbish that you find in the water or on the beach
  • Remove any bits of fishing line and nets that you see
  • Be aware that what you do on land impacts our marine systems downstream
Australian Environmental Education logo with dragonfly

My dive the with Sharks

I just finished an amazing Scuba dive at Long Reef Sydney. The boat dive was booked specifically to see the Grey Nurse Sharks (Carcharias taurus) and we weren’t disappointed. The current was strong and as I peered over the edge of the rock wall into the gutter I saw at least 7 Grey Nurse Sharks.

As my eyes adjusted I began to see more detail as the sharks swam back and forth along the gutter. I was mesmerised watching this critically endangered species and wondered why these sharks create a panic with so many people. Is it their size, teeth or eyes that make people I speak to uneasy? The Grey Nurse Shark may be large and have a lot of sharp pointy teeth, but are not considered harmful to humans. The Grey Nurse Shark actually feeds on range of fish, other sharks, squids, crabs and lobsters which are pierced with these sharp teeth.

Watch this video to experience what it is like to be in the water with these beautiful animals.

I am always surprised when I tell people I dive, that one of the first responses is aren’t you worried about sharks? I find this strange because finding sharks on a dive is a highlight. Some trips are specifically planned to find sharks.

In the 25 years that I have been diving I have never felt afraid in the water. I show respect to all the marine life and dive to the conditions. I feel privileged to be part of this underwater world, especially when I find a shark.

Sharks I have seen in Sydney Waters

Grey Nurse Sharks Carcharias taurusThe east coast population is listed as critically endangered Current threats are believed to include: incidental catch from commercial fisheries, recreational fishing and the bather protection programs
Ornate Wobbegong Orectolobus ornatus VulnerableThe main threat to the wobbegong continues to be overfishing.
Spotted Wobbegong
Orectolobus maculatus
VulnerableThe main threat to the wobbegong continues to be overfishing.
Port Jackson
Heterodontus portusjacksoni
Listed as Least Concern on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List, the egg cases have very high mortality rates (estimated at 89.1%).  Vulnerable to being caught as bycatch.
Dusky Whaler Carcharhinus obscurus Vulnerable Extremely susceptible to overfishing.

Did you know

  • Male Grey Nurse Sharks bite females during the courtship process. In the breeding season it is common to see small scars on the females
  • Sharks are able to swallow air at the surface of the water in order to give them buoyancy control
  • They have large, sharp teeth, but they are not very strong and break easily
  • The Grey Nurse Shark was the first protected shark in the world when it was protected under New South Wales legislation in 1984.

How you can help

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World Jellyfish Day

Jellyfish are in the phylum Cnidarians an ancient group of animals with a history of more than 650 million years. The word Cnidarian comes from the Ancient Greek: knide = nettle, named after a type of plant with stinging hairs. They have soft, hollow bodies, live in water and generally have tentacles.

Fun Fact: Moon Jelly can age backwards! They can revert back into polyp stage and then regrow into an adult again. Moon Jellies can also regenerate lost body parts.

Jellyfish: snack food of the sea

Jellyfish were once thought to be at the end of the food chain because they are have low nutritional content. New research shows that many species rely on Jellyfish as part of their diet including penguins, albatross, tuna, turtles, crabs and benthic microbes. Some animals even time their oceanic migrations to coincide with expansive jellyfish blooms like the Leatherback Turtle.

Concerns have been raised about the explosive growth of Jellyfish populations due to climate change, overfishing, nutrient runoff, and habitat modification. However this could be a positive in areas where fish and krill are in decline, as the importance of Jellyfish as a food source for marine animals will increase.

Find out more about these amazing animals

Did you know: the Bluebottle, Physalia utriculus is not a single animal but a colony? It is a colony of four kinds of zooids that are dependent on one another for survival.

  1. The float pneumatophore is a single individual and supports the rest of the colony.
  2. The tentacles dactylozooids are polyps concerned with the detection and capture of food and convey their prey to the digestive polyps.
  3. The digestive polyps gastrozooids breaks down the food
  4. The reproduction polyps gonozooids

Happy World Jellyfish Day

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Beachcombing – exploring our shores

Beachcombing is a great way to explore our shores and learn more about the animals that live along our rocky shores, sandy beaches and mangroves. There are so many amazing things to look out for including shells, shark eggs, crabs, cuttlefish bone, seaweed, sponges, along with interesting rocks, sea glass and driftwood. You never know what you will find?

Beachcombing survey Bermagui

Here are a few ideas to help get you started.

  • Wear comfortable shoes, hat and sunscreen
  • Check the tides, the best time to explore is when the tide is going out
  • A great time to explore is after a big storm
    • Use caution and common sense as waves can still be big.
  • Bring a camera to record your discoveries
    • Use a scale to help identify the animals later
  • Check local restrictions on collecting shells and driftwood.
    • It is illegal to remove living animals or plants from the foreshore and rocky reefs in Marine Parks and National Parks
    • Remember hermit crabs are always needing to upgrade their shells
  • Bring a bag to collect rubbish to help keep our marine environment clean.

Below are some of the animals I found on a recent walk near Anna Bay in New South Wales, Australia. There were lots of shells, bits of driftwood and I was very lucky to photograph these crabs before they disappeared beneath the sand.

If you find something interesting or that you haven’t seen before, do some research. Using a Google image search is a great place to start. You can also contact the Australian Museum for species identifications. Make sure your image has a scale to help with identification

The Pumice Raft is coming

Keep an eye out along the east coast of Australia for the arrival of the Pumice Raft between March and June 2020. Queensland University of Technology geologist Scott Bryan said pieces of pumice from the eruption of an underwater volcano near Tonga in early August 2019 would wash up on Australian shores in 7- 12 months. “When it gets here, the pumice raft will be covered in a whole range of organisms of algae and barnacles and corals and crabs and snails and worms,” he said. “We’re going to have millions of individual corals and lots of other organisms all coming in together with the potential of finding new homes along our coastline.”

You can record what animals you see along our shores at the Atlas of Living Australia

World Octopus Day

World Octopus Day is on the October 8th, I think these amazing animals should be celebrated everyday along with other Cephalopods: Squids, Cuttlefish and Nautilus. The largest Cephapods are the Giaint and Colossal Squid that are over 10m in length, this makes them the largest invertebrates. The smallest cephalopod is the squid Idiosepius, at only 1cm. The Colossal Squid also has the largest eye in the animal kingdom that is about the size of a soccer ball.

Credit: Bristol ridin/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0

Learn about 10 different species of Octopus with Ocean Scuba Dive

World Octopus Day 8 October Infographic

Christmas Beetles

There are about 35 species of Christmas Beetles and they are in the family Scarabaeidae. Eight Christmas Beetle species are found in Sydney. Christmas Beetles are another sign that summer is coming and that Christmas is just around the corner.

Christmas beetle babies have c-shaped grubs that spend a whole year growing up in small chambers just underneath the surface of the soil. They eat plant roots and decaying organic matter.

Christmas beetles like:

  • Moist, but not too wet, environments.
  • Grassy woodlands.
  • Mature eucalyptus leaves.

Become a Citizen Scientist to discover the amazing diversity of Australia’s most famous beetles with Australian Museum identification guide!

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