Marine Invertebrates

Latest news

A new database describing marine species has been released to assist conservation.
Researchers have discovered 26 species of roundworms that are completely new to science.
A fossilised sponge from New Zealand has been named as one of the top 10 new marine species of 2022.
Researchers have developed New Zealand’s most comprehensive online atlas, providing an overview of nearly 600 marine species, to guide management and conservation of the country’s unique seafloor communities.

Latest videos

Powering diversity in the Ross Sea

Fisheries scientist Dr Pablo Escobar-Flores delves into Antarctic mesopelagic science with a look at the small animals and organisms that help power the amazing diversity of life in the Ross Sea.

Critter of the deep: Gorgon's head

The Gorgon’s Head - Gorgonocephalus

When you think brittle star, you probably imagine a small disc from which five slender simple arms radiate. Compare that to the amazing basket stars, which are brittle stars in the order Euryalida. Their five arms are divided many times resulting in as many as 5000 arm tips. They are also the largest brittle stars measuring up to 70 cm across. Basket stars generally live in the deep sea where they perch on top of rocky outcrops and expand their basket-shaped arms into the current to filter out the goodies it brings. When disturbed the arms curl up and the appearance changes from a bush to tight ball.

The largest group of basket stars are the Gorgon’s heads, Gorgonocephalus brittle stars which refers to the Greek "Gorgos" (Gorgon’s) and "-cephalus" (head) named for fearsome monsters such as Medusa, with snakes for hair whose gaze could turn people to stone.

A first glimpse of life forms from the deep sea...

Basket stars are intricately linked to the discovery of life in the deep oceans. In the mid-1800s, it was still believed that there was no life below around 600m depth (it was called the ‘azoic zone’). Scientists at that time had failed to register that British explorer Sir John Ross in 1818 had already (accidentally) hauled up a basket star (Gorgonocephalus caputmedusae) on a sounding line from more than 1600m depth while sounding the bottom of Baffin Bay in his attempt to find the North West passage.

This and a few other reports prompted the historic round-the-world trip of the HMS Challenger from 1872 to 1876 (which of course also visited New Zealand).

The authors Thurber et al. in a recent paper mention this species as the first species ever sampled from the deep sea while discussing the ecosystem function and services provided by the deep sea.

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Tour of the NIWA Invertebrate Collection with Sadie Mills

The NIWA Invertebrate Collection (NIC) holds specimens from almost all invertebrate phyla. This is a result of about half a century of marine taxonomic and biodiversity research in the New Zealand region, the South West Pacific and the Ross Sea, Antarctica. 

To learn more about it, visit

Critter of the deep - episode 2: Antarctic Octopus

This is a really cute little octopus (Pareledone genus) from cold Antarctic waters, and we have records of them living from 62-2804 m deep.

Octopods have three hearts and contractile veins that pump hemolymph (like blood), which is highly enriched with the blue oxygen transport protein hemocyanin (so they are blue-blooded).

One Pareledone species, P. charcoti, has the highest concentration of hemocyanin in its blood – at least 40 percent more compared to the other species, and ranks amongst the highest levels reported for any octopod.

There are five described species in the genus Pareledone and several undescribed species in this group. It is the most commonly found octopus genus in Antarctica.

NIWA Blake Ambassadors Vlog 3: Fishing for water!

7 November 2018. In this Vlog 2 update live from Tangaroa, NIWA Blake Ambassador Siobhan O’Connor shares a typical shift, starting at 2.30am, collecting water samples from different ocean depths which are carefully analysed in the lab. 

Timelapse from RV Tangaroa cutaway 12 hours

27 October 2018. A 12 hour time lapse from the cutaway deck on the RV Tangaroa.

To make sure that we are using our time on the ship as efficiently as possible, we have two shifts of scientists and crew working around the clock, either midnight-midday or midday-midnight. This often means that there are some members of the team who you barely cross paths with!

We are currently sampling a water mass where salps are present, which means that we are using a variety of nets to sample at different depths, and for different sized organisms. We are also collecting other environmental parameters with a CTD, which measures the salinity, temperature and depth of the water, and also allows us to collect small pockets of water from a range of depths.

NIWA Blake Ambassadors vlog1

26 October 2018. NIWA Blake Ambassadors, Lana Young and Siobhan O'Connor and SalpPOOP voyage leader Dr Moira Decima check out sampled salps from different depths.

Students at Leigh School have been working with marine scientists and the 'Year of the Salps' project partners to learn how to count sea salps, understand salp life cycle phases and the importance of salps in marine ecosystems and their carbon-cycling effects on climate change.
Who is involved in the TAN1810 SalPOOP voyage?
The RV Tangaroa is working across the Chatham Rise and the east coast of the South Island Oct/Nov 2018. The TAN1810 voyage will focus on the special role salps play in carbon cycling, and where they fit in marine food webs off the New Zealand coast.

Think about a futuristic world where at night time, people use different kind of self-propelled vehicles to hover across cities, illuminating the skies with different colours and shapes, while transiting around them.

Breakfast with Ebony - Episode 3

Marine Biologist Diana Macpherson spends a good part of her time investigating various critters that live on the sea floor...check out this enormous specimen!

NIWA’s Marine Invertebrate Collection has welcomed two extremely rare octopus that have only just been provisionally identified.

Washed up like a jellyfish on the sand this summer? New Zealand has the moon jelly, spotted jellyfish, and lion's mane, and all three jellyfish are prevalent in our coastal waters all around the country, and the ocean, at this time of year. Jellyfish have weak powers of direction, they drift into bays, and tides and currents wash them up.

Ocean acidification is the name given to the lowering of pH of the oceans as a result of increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.
Useful information and resources on New Zealand's marine flora and invertebrate fauna.
In this blog series, we feature a new critter from our expansive invertebrate collection including pictures of specimens in their unique habitat. The blogs also feature news, links and fun facts that showcase New Zealand’s fascinating marine fauna.
An interactive guide to the sponges of New Zealand.

Alien predator: freshwater jellyfish in New Zealand

PDF of this article (1 MB)

Ian Boothroyd
Kay Etheredge
John Green
Jellyfish are familiar marine animals, but they are also found in freshwater. One species is quite common in New Zealand.
Many people will have seen jellyfish washed up on the beaches around the New Zealand coastline following storms at sea. Some will be aware of the notorious “stingers” (box jellyfish – Chironex sp.) that make Northern Queensland beaches potentially lethal for swimming during December and January.

An interactive guide to the intertidal sponges of New Zealand.

Pollen from New Zealand pine forests has been shown to travel more than 1500km through wind and ocean currents, and sink thousands of metres into the ocean to reach some of the world’s deepest ecosystems.

This week we feature a community of critters living on the Chatham Rise sea floor.

In this critter "quill" is not part of a feather but rather a unique tube built by a polychaete worm that lives in it.


All staff working on this subject

Coastal Marine Ecologist
Principal Scientist - Marine Ecology
Strategy Manager - Coasts & Estuaries
Principal Scientist - Marine Ecology
Senior Regional Manager - Wellington
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Marine Invertebrate Systematist
Principal Scientist - Marine Ecology
Regional Manager - Wellington
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Marine Biosecurity Scientist
Fisheries Scientist
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Marine Biology Technician
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Marine Ecology Technician
Marine Ecology Technician
Principal Technician - Marine Biology
Marine Biologist
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