Australia may be the smallest, flattest, driest and lowest continent, but in land area, it is just slightly smaller than the continental United States. Australia is surrounded by the Indian, Southern and Pacific Oceans, and the Timor, Tasman and Coral Seas. The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef which runs some 1,250 miles down the northeastern coast, is made up of 2,500 individual reefs. Thousands of species of marine life are found here. It was little wonder that when the director made his first collecting trip in 1991, it was to Australia. Looking for the elusive Conspicillatus, a rare angelfish, he was informed that if anyone would have this fish, it would be Jane and Mike Lark, owners of Cairns Marine Aquarium Fish. This led to a friendship that has continued through the past twenty years. After receiving word from Cairns Marine that a large Napoleon wrasse was available but would not be shipped unless someone accompanied the wrasse, the Director again headed to Australia. The following description of this educational but non-luxurious expedition is taken from some of the original newsletters.
“Mike invited me to join him and his crew on a collecting expedition the next day. The boat ride out to Flynn Reef (which is part of the Great Barrier Reef) was quite rough. We were aboard a converted 40 ft. shrimper which had little more than the minimum necessities for collecting fish – definitely not a pleasure cruise! On Mike’s dive boat we worked off a 500 ft. air compressor system that pumped air from the boat through the hookah line to the regulator. Being accustomed to breathing compressed air, this was more difficult for me. The first dive lasted approximately three hours.”
“Dinner consisted of canned Spaghettios, followed by a little Australian camaraderie with the “mates”, and then an early bedtime. I slept on a top bunk with less than fifteen inches between my head and the deck.”
“The next day we moved to Arlington Reef. The water was much colder but I was determined to collect some of the plentiful species of wrasses and Harlequin tusks. The Harlequin tusks that are now in the Australian exhibit at The Dallas World Aquarium, were baited with mackerel. I was so absorbed in the beauty of the reef that I completely forgot to watch for some of the “unfriendlies.” A nudge on the shoulder brought me back to reality in time to see Mike pointing to a large sea snake that was inspecting our buckets.”
Giant Napoleon wrasses were once plentiful around the Great Barrier Reef. Weighing as much as 400-500 lbs., they have few natural enemies and tend to be friendly, curious, sociable and will not hesitate to meet your gaze with their big eyes.
The trip back to Dallas was long and laborious, with a stop over in Hawaii to clear US Fish and Wildlife, US Customs, and US Department of Agriculture. A 90% water change was necessary in order to lower the ammonia level. Upon arrival in Dallas, The Dallas World Aquarium staff met the plane and took “Maori Jane” to her new home where, after a few days of sluggish behavior (no doubt due to jet-lag), she was the center of attraction in the Continental Shelf exhibit.
The importance that marine life, as with all life, remain alive and well for all to enjoy at The Dallas World Aquarium has always been our mission. In 1992, we found Cairns Marine Aquarium Fish to be a first-class marine business and over the years, this friendship and business relationship has thrived and grown stronger. In 2012 we are very much involved with their Project Sawfish in addressing the conservation needs of one of the most threatened marine fishes in the world.