Dragon out the truth

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Front Page - By JON BAS­SETT

A MIS­NAMED seadragon found on Cottes­loe Beach in 1919 is just one of four spec­i­mens of the newly dis­cov­ered ruby seadragon iden­ti­fied by the WA Mu­seum. The dis­cov­ery hinged on a re­searcher’s re­quest for more ex­am­ples of an­other species and the re­sult­ing dis­cov­ery of the new species of the elu­sive sea crea­ture – re­lated to sea­horses – is the first in 150 years. WA Mu­seum se­nior re­search sci­en­tist Nerida Wil­son is now try­ing to or­gan­ise a deep-sea ex­pe­di­tion to find out more about the an­i­mal off WA’s coast.

MARINE sci­en­tists’ imag­i­na­tions have been fired up by their dis­cov­ery of the world’s first new seadragon in 150 years, us­ing the WA Mu­seum col­lec­tion.

“As soon as we saw the DNA re­sults we were ex­cited,” mu­seum se­nior re­search sci­en­tist Nerida Wil­son, of Cottes­loe, said.

A chance 2013 re­quest by USAbased PhD stu­dent Josefin Stiller, who was dou­ble-check­ing for more ex­am­ples of an­other seadragon, led to DNA re­sults in­di­cat­ing a 2007 spec­i­men trawled from 51m deep near Esper­ance was in­cor­rectly named.

“When she DNA-se­quenced it, she saw it was a seadragon, but very un­like a com­mon seadragon,” Dr Wil­son said.

A sub­se­quent year-long in­ves­ti­ga­tion found three more in­cor­rectly named sead­rag­ons in col­lec­tions af­ter they were caught be­tween 51m and 72m deep sev­eral kilo­me­tres off­shore, in­clud­ing one at the WA Mu­seum that washed up on Cottes­loe Beach in 1919.

Sead­rag­ons are re­lated to sea­horses and in the 19th cen­tury sci­en­tists named the en­dan­gered com­mon and leafy sead­rag­ons, both about 20cm to 40cm when adults, that live in shal­low reef and weedy ar­eas such as Dutch Inn, South Cottes­loe.

Dr Wil­son said it ap­peared the new species, named the ruby seadragon, was more closely re­lated to the com­mon va­ri­ety than the leafy.

It was a deep­wa­ter species that grew be­tween 21cm and 24cm at depths greater than can be reached by recre­ational divers.

“What we know at best is that it’s found from Perth to Esper­ance and from three of the records that they are rel­a­tively deep and, who knows, could be found as far as Tas­ma­nia,” she said. More re­search is needed. “There are few records of the ruby seadragon range and the coast off Perth may have been af­fected by sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment in the past cen­tury, in­clud­ing the qual­ity of the wa­ter and sea veg­e­ta­tion,” Dr Wil­son said.

At­tempts will now be made to raise funds for an ex­pe­di­tion to re­search ruby sead­rag­ons, their body shape, in­clud­ing whether there are the ap­pendages of its leafy cousin, food, habi­tat and range.

Pic­ture: An­drew Ritchie www.com­mu­ni­typix.com.au d434241

WA Mu­seum's Dr Nerida Wil­son with the ruby seadragon from 1919.

The ruby seadragon spec­i­men trawled from Esper­ance in 2007.

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