Michael McMaster works at the Aquarium and last Tuesday he was out in Merimbula Lake when something strange caught his well-trained eye.
Armed with a snorkel and butterfly nets, Michael was collecting small tropical fish for the aquarium. The fish, just a centimetre or two long, are born on the Barrier Reef and are picked up by the eastern currents turning up in Merimbula about two months later at the end of January, depending on how warm the water is at the time.
The small tropical fish do not survive the winter here and so Michael rescues a few to put into the aquarium for visitors where hopefully, in the warmer water provided, they will grow into adult fish.
“I was just out collecting those on Tuesday when I saw this little fella sitting on the bottom.”
The little fella he was referring to was a female Sculptured Sea Moth and was not supposed to be found north of Wilsons Promontory.
“I’d never seen one alive before and recognised it from pictures. I got very excited as did Libby Hepburn who was with me,” Michael said.
The Sculptured Sea Moth changes colour to match its environment and is allied to sea horses, Michael explained. “It’s half way between a fish and a sea horse with a hard outside shell but breathing more fish-like,” he said.
They live on sandy patches near seagrass beds but can be found down to 50 metres. They grow to 12cm, although the specimen that Michael caught was just 4cm.
Photos have been emailed to the department of ichthyology (the study of fish) at both Sydney and Melbourne Museums and in the meantime Michael waits to hear whether he has the first recorded sighting of the Sculptured Sea Moth at Merimbula.