DIVING NEWS

Pygmy pipehorse given Maori name

Picture: Richard Smith.

A new genus and species of pygmy pipehorse has been named by leaders of the Ngatiwai people of New Zealand – thought to be the first time in the world an indigenous group has been formally listed as the naming authority of an animal. 

The pipehorse, a fish closely related to the seahorse, was observed almost entirely within Ngatiwai territory, between North Island’s north-east coast and the Poor Knights Islands in the south. Its scientific naming as Cylix tupareomanaia was made in collaboration with scientists from the California Academy of Sciences and Tamaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum.

The Ngatiwai’s co-authors are icthyologist Graham Short from the academy and marine biologist Dr Thomas Trnski from the museum. “Cylix tupareomanaia represents a new lineage of pygmy pipehorse not seen in nearby Australia and underscores the hidden biodiversity of New Zealand,” said Short.

“As far as we know, this is the first animal in the world to have the naming authority include a tribal name,” said Dr Trnski. “It is overdue recognition of traditional knowledge that can contribute to the discovery of new species.”

Cylix is a new genus name, from the Greek and Latin word for a cup or chalice, and reflects the distinctive shape of the pipehorse’s head crest.

Tupareo means “garland” or “plume”, while “manaia” is the Maori word for seahorse as well as ancestor. Tupareo also refers to where the three specimens on which the naming is based were found – Tu Pare o Huia (Home Point) near Whangaruru. Its name means “the plume of the huia”, an extinct bird.

The well-camouflaged pipehorse grows no longer than 6cm and lives in fine seaweed to a depth of 17m. When first reported by divers in the Poor Knights marine reserve in 2011 it was thought to be a rare seahorse but when a photograph taken on the mainland appeared on social media in 2017 Short realised that it could be something new, and worked with Trnski to locate the specimens.

17 October 2021

The common name for Cylix tupareomanaia is the manaia pygmy pipehorse.

The Ngatiwai people regard themselves as guardians of biodiversity within their territory, and the species is referred to in their folklore, although its original name was forgotten “as a result of the negative impacts of colonisation”, according to elder Hori Parata.

The scientific study is published in the journal Ichthyology and Herpetology.