Friday Fish Time

Common name: Mackerel Icefish. Scientific name: Champsocephalus gunnari. Family: Channichthyidae.

Common name: Mackerel Icefish. Scientific name: Champsocephalus gunnari. Family: Channichthyidae.

Mackerel Icefish: Right. It is starting to get a bit cold around the countryside so I thought this may be of interest.

It is a fish found only in the Southern Ocean and are mainly Heard and McDonald Islands, and islands in the south Atlantic such as South Georgia.

They are found in depths up to 700m with older juveniles and adults forming large schools at or near the sea bottom or mid-water range of the water column, feeding on krill and small fish.

They grow quite quickly and mature at a length of  between 22cm to 26cm after about three or four years. They grown to about 35cm.

Apparently the flesh is white and firm like the King George Whiting but with a higher oil content. They are good for grilling, baking or steaming.

Friday Fish Time

Common name: Moon Jellyfish. Scientific name: Aurelia aurita. Family: Ulmaridae.

Common name: Moon Jellyfish. Scientific name: Aurelia aurita. Family: Ulmaridae.

Moon Jellyfish: It is rare for these to live more than six months in the wild but they are really interesting.

All species in the genus are closely related and is hard to pick them apart except by genetic sampling.

They grow to about 25–40cm in diameter and can be recognized by its four horseshoe-shaped gonads, easily seen through the top.

It is not really a strong swimmer and it mainly drifts with the current feeding on plankton, fish eggs, small organisms and molluscs. It captures food with its tentacles and scoops it into its body for digestion.

Moon Jellyfish are found throughout most of the world’s oceans, from the tropics to as far north as latitude 70°N (runs through the middle of the US and Spain) and as far south as 40°S (runs through Tasmania).

It has also been found in waters as cool as 6C to as warm as 31C.

They do not have any respiratory parts such as gills, lungs, or trachea so it respires by diffusing oxygen from water through the thin membrane covering its body.

Friday Fish Time

Shaw's Cowfish

Shaw’s Cowfish

The photo above was sent in by a friend of a friend who came across the dead fish at Goolwa in South Australia this week and was unsure what it was.

I sent it to Alastair Graham who is the Fish Collection Manager at the Australian National Fish Collection in Hobart. As expected Alastair was a font of fishy knowledge.

“The photo does not show all the diagnostic characters, however I would say that it is most probably a Shaw’s Cowfish (Aracana aurita).  They are normally found on coastal rocky reefs and seagrass areas at 10-160 metres.  Not being strong swimmers, they are often found washed-up after storms.”

I had to laugh when Alastair said it was was not a good swimmer – seems pretty important to a fish…

Anyway, they are found around southern coastal waters of Australia from central New South Wales to south west Western Australia.

More than 85 years of growth, change and impact

By Dr Megan Clark, CSIRO Chief Executive

Some of you may have seen a series of articles in the local media covering a range of topics in relation to CSIRO.  I would like to share with you the opinion piece, below, in response.

For 87 years, CSIRO science has been supporting Australia’s national growth. CSIRO has not done that by standing still, and over a decade ago a radical transformation of the way we deliver our science was undertaken.

To remain relevant to the nation and to answer the complex questions for society, we needed the courage to transform. For example it is no longer enough for farmers merely to have the best crop varieties.  For the next level of productivity they need the best farming systems, the best sensors, the best water efficiency and soil knowledge.  They need all of these answers delivered in a connected way.

Dr Megan Clark

Dr Megan Clark

CSIRO provides these answers through its flagship program, multidisciplinary challenge-focussed groups that bring together the best minds and research.  Was this the right decision? Yes it was, and others around the world agree with us: the Grand Challenges program in Canada and the INRA metaprogrammes in France are just two examples of similar responses. But to maintain the solutions focus requires a balance with science excellence.

We hold ourselves accountable to those who are passionately committed to quality science, our former employees, our clients and the Australian public and I agree with those who demand science excellence.  How do we do this? We subject our experiments, our papers, our fields of research, our output and our operations to rigorous scrutiny.

Each flagship and research division brings in a team of international experts every three to four years. The experts examine many dimensions of our work, make recommendations and when we receive criticism we act.

We respond by increasing investment in some areas of science, building on areas and exiting from others, making decisions that balance our budget constraints with our science goals. If a review shows we are not performing in a science area, we build, we exit or we transform that area.  There is no standing still in CSIRO.

For example, in 2009 the Earth Sciences and Resource Engineering review decried the publication rate. In only three years this rate has doubled. CSIRO’s geoscience standing has for the first time entered into the ranks of the top 0.1 per cent of global institutions. And this has been achieved at a time when technology from this division is helping the mining industry in 19 of the 31 Australian long wall mines, for both productivity and safety gains.

As some have feared, the CSIRO transformation has not curtailed our science.  Here are some of the facts: Our ranking is in the top ten of all institutions in the world for three scientific fields: environment/ecology, agricultural science, and plant and animal science.  This is equal with the standing of research heavyweights such as Oxford and Yale Universities, an extraordinary achievement for an Australian institution.

In 2012 we had record engagement with industry, record licenses of our IP and a record publication rate. Our mandate as an applied science organisation goes beyond research. CSIRO is Australia’s largest patent holder with 3582 live patents, 728 inventions, 275 trademarks and 83 plant breeder rights. We have particular strengths in measurement, biotechnology, materials (metallurgy) and computer technology, winning the prestigious European Inventor Award from the European Patent Office last year for the CSIRO team that invented fast wireless LAN.

CSIRO partners with 38 of the 40 universities in Australia and has connections with 72 countries. These relationships help train future researchers and build international scientific connections. We recruit, train and mentor hundreds of young scientists each year in schools, as university students and as doctoral candidates.

Building science capability for Australia is an important part of CSIRO’s culture.  We know our people like the work and find it meaningful.  Exit interviews invariably tell the same story “I loved my work here because I knew it was making a difference”. Our externally conducted staff survey tells us our people are more engaged than ever before.  Our absentee rate is less than half that of the Australian Public Service and our turnover is low.

This contemporary view of CSIRO as evidenced in our staff measures, has also been validated by our external clients. In a recent pilot client survey, the average willingness-to-recommend score was 8.6 out of 10. Our long term research alliances with Boeing, GE, Orica and many others are a further validation of our contribution to industry.

We do have areas to improve.  We have had claims of unacceptable behaviour made by former employees and I have addressed those directly. A number of internal actions are in place as well as an independent external review which is underway.  CSIRO has been criticised by some for being silent on this issue but we must respect the privacy of all involved and it is not appropriate to discuss or defend details of alleged cases in public.

The men and women who work at CSIRO are among the most passionate, committed and hard working in Australia. It is a privilege to lead CSIRO and I am proud of the evidence I get every day of the difference we make to the lives of Australians.

Peak Helium? – don’t worry

I read the other day about a theme park in Japan which had suspend sales of helium-filled balloons because of a temporary global shortage in the gas. Like a lot of things which flit across the internet powered computer screens of today, it pays to have a bit deeper dig before taking some of the claims to the street.

It turns out the estimated worldwide helium reserves are forecast to last for about the next 300 years at today’s usage rates – hardly a reason to stockpile.

Anyway, putting that aside, I started to read up on helium and it is a very interesting gas. Read on.


Colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, AND monatomic (one atom), helium’s boiling and melting points are the lowest among the elements and it exists only as a gas except in under extreme conditions.

While it is the second lightest element, it is also the second most abundant element in the observable universe. That means that at about 24 per cent of the total mass, it is more than 12 times the mass of all the heavier elements combined.

On Earth it is rare. Most helium is created by the natural decay of heavy radioactive elements (thorium and uranium) and is trapped with natural gas in concentrations up to 7 per cent by volume. The greatest natural concentrations of helium are found in natural gas, from which most commercial helium is extracted.

About a quarter of the helium we use is for keeping stuff cool, particularly superconducting magnets, such as those used in MRI scanners. (Apparently, the second largest use is at parties for blowing up balloons and for inhaling to make your voice squeaky.)

The US is the largest supplier of helium. The bulk extraction of helium in the US began after an oil drilling operation in 1903 Kansas produced a gas geyser that would not burn. It was analysed and found that 1.84 per cent of the gas sample was helium and there were great wads of it under the American Great Plains.

Friday Fish Time


The anatomy of Lampanyctodes hectoris
(1) – operculum (gill cover), (2) – lateral line, (3) – dorsal fin, (4) – fat fin, (5) – caudal peduncle, (6) – caudal fin, (7) – anal fin, (8) – photophores, (9) – pelvic fins (paired), (10) – pectoral fins (paired)

As it is Good Friday I thought I would look into the association of fish with Christianity and religion in general. However, that turned out to be way too hard and full of potholes I just could not be bothered navigating around – and I’m trying to pack the swag for camping.

So, rather that concentrate on one fish I have “researched” Wikipedia for a description of all fish.

Here you go:

A fish is any member of a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups. Most fish are ectothermic (“cold-blooded”), allowing their body temperatures to vary as ambient temperatures change, though some of the large active swimmers like white shark and tuna can hold a higher core temperature.

Fish are abundant in most bodies of water. They can be found in nearly all aquatic environments, from high mountain streams (e.g., char and gudgeon) to the abyssal and even hadal depths of the deepest oceans (e.g., gulpers and anglerfish). At 32,000 species, fish exhibit greater species diversity than any other group of vertebrates.

The earliest organisms that can be classified as fish were soft-bodied chordates that first appeared during the Cambrian period. Although they lacked a true spine, they possessed notochords which allowed them to be more agile than their invertebrate counterparts. Fish would continue to evolve through the Paleozoic era, diversifying into a wide variety of forms. Many fish of the Paleozoic developed external armor that protected them from predators. The first fish with jaws appeared in the Silurian period, after which many (such as sharks) became formidable marine predators rather than just the prey of arthropods.

Friday Fish Time

By Sarah Wilson

Today is World Water Day. In the spirit of this day I would like to pay homage to all things freshwater. In particular I would like to draw your attention to a peculiar fish found in the depths of the largest freshwater lake in the world : behold the Golomyanka.


OK, I admit it is a rather unassuming looking fish, but looks can be deceiving. Golomyankas, also known as Baikal oilfish, are only found in one place in the world – Lake Baikal . This UNESCO World Heritage Listed Lake is located in nippy Siberia. It is 25 million years old, contains one fifth of the world’s unfrozen freshwater, and is home to a staggering number of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. Earning it the nickname of ‘the Galapagos of Russia’.

As for the fish, it’s pretty amazing too:

Nerpa seal

The nerpa seal – yes, the Golomyanka does seem to contain a lot of fat….

Amazing fact No. 1: They are the world’s most abyssal fish. This means they live in the entire range of depths found in Lake Baikal. That’s a span of up to 1700m below the surface of the water. The pressure of going to these depths would easily crush a human.

No. 2: They rapidly melt in sunlight leaving only oil, fat and bones. (Imagine that!)

No. 3: It is one of only a few viviparous fish in the world. Viviparous means that it doesn’t lay eggs, but gives birth to live young . It gives birth to up to 3000 larvae at a time.

No. 4: They are a primary food source for the Lake Baikal’s nerpa seal. One of the few exclusively freshwater seal species found in the world.

No 5: They have a high fat content (over a third of their body weight is made up of fat). Native Siberians have been known to use them as fuel for their lamps.


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