We step into the ring with scientists onboard RV Investigator who are punching out names for new marine species.

This blog contains spoilers for cult classic movie, Fight Club. You have been warned.

People are always asking us if we know of any newly named marine species.

Indeed we do!

Perhaps surprisingly, naming new species shares several similarities with the movie Fight Club: there are important rules to follow, they both involve name tags, and you want to keep an eye out for a twist at the end.

It’s getting exciting now.

We give you front row seats to this theatre of newly named species. Welcome to Biodiversity Club!

A red fish with a large black eye and a spiky fin along its back.
The Long-ridged Scorpionfish, Scorpaena longaecrista, one of two new scorpionfish announced in the past year and collected by our research vessels. Image: Helen O’Neill.

The rules of Biodiversity Club

The first rule of Biodiversity Club is: you do talk about Biodiversity Club.

The second rule of Biodiversity Club is: you DO talk about Biodiversity Club!

Third rule of Biodiversity Club: if someone yells “it’s not a new species”, the fight to name it is over.

Fourth rule: only two parts to a scientific name.

Fifth rule: one species at a time taxonomists!

Sixth rule: the fights are bare science. No guesses, no maybes, no unverified results.

Seventh rule: naming species will go on as long as it has to.

And the eighth and final rule: if this is the first time you’ve been collected, you have to have a name!

Unlike the unnamed Narrator in Fight Club, having a name is very important in Biodiversity Club. A name is the first step in protecting a species.

Without a name, a species doesn’t exist. It’s Tyler Durden.

But, unlike Tyler, if an unnamed species disappears, it leaves a physical hole in the world. Every species has a place, in food webs and in a wider ecosystem, and its loss has ripples.

We need to know what lives in our oceans if we are to protect our oceans. Therefore, scientists conduct biodiversity surveys to uncover what life dwells in the deep.

A long, slender see-through eel on a black background.
We’re recruiting. A potentially new species of blind cusk eel collected from the deep ocean around the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in 2022. Image: Museums Victoria-Ben Healley.

Discovering your power animal

Our research vessel (RV) Investigator has impressive deep-water capabilities and the capacity to work in the remotest parts of our oceans. This has enabled collaborative teams of scientists to conduct important biodiversity surveys across Australia’s vast marine estate.

Our oceans, and the deep ocean in particular, are largely unexplored. As a result, researchers regularly collect new species from these surveys. Incredibly, an estimated 91 per cent of Australia’s marine species remain undescribed.

However, we’re on a recruiting drive!

In just three voyages on RV Investigator in 2015, 2017 and 2018, it was estimated that over 1000 new marine species were collected for Biodiversity Club.

More recently, scientists have been exploring and collecting new species from the Great Barrier Reef, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Marine Parks.

Right now, they’re doing a biodiversity survey in the Gascoyne Marine Park off WA.

Putting a name tag on new species

A red fish with a large black eye and a spiny fin on its back.
Yas Queen! Meet the magnificent Western Queen Scorpionfish, Scorpaena sororreginae, collected in 2017 off Western Australia by RV Investigator. Image: Carlie Devine.

Its name is Scorpaena sororreginae. Also known as the Western Queen Scorpionfish.

Definitely not a fish to pick a fight with.

Researchers on RV Investigator collected this Queen off the coast of Western Australia in 2017.

The species name, sororreginae, is formed from a combination of Latin soror (sister) and regina (queen). It was given its name due to its similarity to the eastern Australian species, Eastern Queen Scorpionfish, Scorpaena regina.

The Western Queen Scorpionfish joins Biodiversity Club with several other new species collected on our voyages and announced recently. These are not copies of copies of copies. These are all unique.

  • A wood boring bivalve, Abditoconus investigatoris, the first member of this family described from Australia in 60 years and named for RV Investigator.
  • Another scorpion fish, the Long-ridged Scorpionfish Scorpaena longaecrista, collected off Shark Bay, WA by our previous research vessel, RV Southern Surveyor in 2005.
  • A new species of reef fish, the Silverspot Weedfish Heteroclinus argyrospilos, also collected by RV Southern Surveyor.
  • A new species of carnivorous sponge, Lycopodina coralseaensis, found in 2019 on the side of a seamount in the Coral Sea at a depth of 2000 m.
  • A small, shrimp-like crustacean from the seafloor, Agathotanais oharai, named for the collecting voyage Chief Scientist, Dr Tim O’Hara.
  • A new deep-water coral, the White Whip Coral Aurogorgia tasmaniensis, found on seamounts off the coast of Tasmania.

These species join a growing catalogue of biodiversity discovered by collaborative teams using RV Investigator and its predecessors.

Two scientists sit at benches in a lab staring down microscopes.
Scientists on board RV Investigator spend long hours at sea studying collected specimens but this is just the beginning of the journey for naming a new species. Image: Asher Flatt.

You are a beautiful and unique snowflake

It’s important that a species has only one name. Unlike the Narrator and Marla in Fight Club, we can’t give one species different name tags.

This would create mayhem.

As a result, scientists must take their time when checking that a species hasn’t been described before. They don’t want a twist in their species naming story!

Once scientists identify that a species hasn’t been described before, they give it a name.

As per the fourth rule of Biodiversity Club, each species name – or, more correctly, ‘scientific name’ – has two parts: a genus name and species name. A scientific name is unique to each unique animal or plant.

Then, as per the first (and second!) rule of Biodiversity Club, the scientists tell everyone about the newly named species. That is, they publish a paper, memoir or note.

Mapping members of Biodiversity Club

The Australian marine environment is epic. It’s home to some of the most diverse marine life in the world. Knowing what lives in the ocean, and where, is vital. It helps us protect the prosperity of our marine environment and everything that lives in it.

Importantly, it helps marine managers like Parks Australia. They manage the Australian Marine Parks network, to help look after all the members of Biodiversity Club.

To date, 33,000 marine species have been recorded in Australia’s oceans. A further 17,000 have been collected but not yet catalogued. As such, many new species are still being discovered.

In fact, it’s estimated there may be as many as 250,000-500,000 Australian marine species. Not including microscopic plants and animals. That’s a lot of new members to recruit into Biodiversity Club!

Without a doubt, there are a lot more voyages of discovery ahead for our collaborative research teams on RV Investigator.

An underwater view of the seafloor.
The newly named White Whip Coral, Aurogorgia tasmaniensis, helps form deep water coral reefs on seamounts south of Tasmania. Image: CSIRO.

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