WA Science Stories from 2019

Article | Updated 1 month ago

Chaeropus yirratji, a newly discovered species of pig-footed bandicoot, illustrated by Peter Schouten.
Chaeropus yirratji, a newly discovered species of pig-footed bandicoot, illustrated by Peter Schouten.
Image copyright WA Museum

The scientists and curators at the Western Australian Museum have had a busy year - from discovering purple-loving barnacles and deep sea glass sponges to winning awards for shipwreck research.

Let’s take a look at some of the Western Australian Museum’s amazing science stories from our 2019 website and media archives:

March - WA and UK researchers discover new species of extinct Australian mammal

‘A team of researchers led by the Western Australian Museum and the Natural History Museum in London has discovered a new species of very small, incredibly fast extinct Australian Pig-footed Bandicoot.

Dr Kenny Travouillon, Curator of Mammalogy at the WA Museum, said the discovery of Chaeropus yirratji is a breakthrough for science as little was known about the mammal previously.

“Pig-footed Bandicoots were extinct by the 1950s, therefore there was very little chance for scientists to study the species. More so, there are only 29 specimens of Pig-footed Bandicoots in existence. In comparison, there are more than 800 specimens of the extinct Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, in museum collections,” Dr Travouillon said.’

Was the Pig-footed bandicoot one of the weirdest creatures to walk the earth? Find out more: https://museum.wa.gov.au/about/latest-news/wa-and-uk-researchers-discover-new-species-extinct-australian-mammal

April - New name for tropical Whip Sponge

Ernstilla lacunosa (Henstchel, 1902) in the murky waters of the Pilbara coast. C

Ernstilla lacunosa (Henstchel, 1902) in the murky waters of the Pilbara coast. Clockwise from top a large individual (image: C. Schönberg); close ups of individuals showing the cavernous structure of the body from which it gets its species name (images: C. schönberg; Evy Büttner)
Image copyright WA Museum


‘The enigmatic body shape of a tropical whip sponge collected in Western Australia has resulted in the creation of a new family and genus of sponges.

The species was first described from Indonesia as Dendrilla lacunosa by Hentschel in 1912 and 100 years later found in abundance in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia during fieldwork funded by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI). This is where the puzzle begins.

Although the Western Australian specimens were identified as Dendrilla lacunosa by Dr Jane Fromont, sponge taxonomist at the Western Australian Museum (WAM), its large, whip-like morphology was extremely unusual for Dendrilla sponges, which are usually small and delicate, so Jane decided to enlist the help of an international team to discover if this really was a Dendrilla or not.’

Was Dr Fromont’s hunch correct? Find out more: https://museum.wa.gov.au/explore/blogs/andrew-hosie/new-name-tropical-wh...

May - Western Australian Museum wins MAGNA Award for shipwreck research

Caption: Group burial Beacon Island (2017).
Image courtesy The University of Western Australia

‘The Western Australian Museum, on behalf of a broad partnership, has won a prestigious Museums and Galleries National Award for international best practice in research for work on some of Australia’s earliest shipwrecks. The research uses new technology and techniques to improve our understanding of the past.’

What were the research outcomes? Find out more: https://museum.wa.gov.au/about/latest-news/western-australian-museum-win...

August - Central Kimberley reef communities survive global coral bleaching

Caption: Healthy corals in the intertidal zone at Montelivet Island
Image copyright Zoe Richards

‘Remote reef communities in the central inshore Kimberley survived the 2016 global bleaching event, giving hope to Western Australian marine scientists looking to find ways to combat the effects of climate change.

A recent publication confirms the breakthrough discovery by a team of Western Australian Museum scientists. The researchers examined the composition and health of marine organisms at 13 coral reef sites in the Bonaparte Archipelago – a largely inaccessible area of the inshore central Kimberley.’

How healthy are our coral reefs? Find out more: https://museum.wa.gov.au/about/latest-news/central-kimberley-reef-commun...

September - The purple-loving barnacle

A 3D model of the purple-loving barnacle Membranobalanus porphyrophilus, reconstructed from micro-CT scans by wamuseum on Sketchfab

‘A new species of barnacle, Membranobalanus porphyrophilus, has now been named and described.

The barnacle was recently discovered living on the reefs around Rottnest Island during local fieldwork by the Aquatic Zoology Department. Searching in the collections of both the Western Austrailan and South Australian Museums revealed that the barnacle had also been collected in the waters around Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

Scientists from the WA Museum and Curtin University utilised a diverse array of tools including light microscopy, DNA sequences, scanning electron microscope images and micro-CT scans to build a comprehensive description of the new species.‘

Why is this barnacle purple? Find out more: https://museum.wa.gov.au/explore/blogs/andrew-hosie/purple-loving-barnacle

October - Exciting marine discovery in deep sea canyon off Perth

Caption: Calyptorete falkorae
Image copyright WA Museum

‘A biodiversity expedition to the Perth Canyon Marine Park – described by international experts as one of Australia’s subsea treasures – has discovered five new species of deep sea glass sponges, exciting scientists about the prospect of further exploration and future discoveries.

The Perth Canyon is roughly the length of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, is twice as deep and lies about 20 kilometres west of Rottnest Island. With depths extending beyond 4000 metres, exploration of the canyon’s floor is impossible without the use of sophisticated deep sea vessels and research equipment.’

What exactly are glass sponges? Find out more: https://museum.wa.gov.au/about/latest-news/exciting-marine-discovery-dee...

December - Encrusting Sponge found in Kimberley coral reefs

Caption: Terpios hoshinota
Image copyright WA Museum

‘The coral-killing sponge Terpios hoshinota has been detected in the Kimberley for the first time by scientists from the Western Australian Museum.

Terpios hoshinota is commonly referred to as ‘black disease’ because of its colour and because it overgrows both live and dead coral. It has been reported in many areas of the Indo-Pacific, including the Great Barrier Reef, but has not previously been found in Western Australian waters.’

How do we tackle ‘black disease’? Find out more: http://museum.wa.gov.au/about/latest-news/encrusting-sponge-found-kimber...