It’s amazing how some creatures are taken for granted, a classic case in point is the Passenger Pigeon. Once in flocks that stretched for miles and were so dense they darkened the skies, now a few sad scruffy museum specimens are all that remain.
The New Zealand grayling -Prototroctes oxyrhynchus was nothing spectacular to look at.
It is described as 20 – 4 cm in length, so not a large fish, very similar in shape to the Australian species – P. maraena - but of a more russet colour with reddish orange fins.
The major problem is though this fish was extremely abundant there are no actual preserved specimens that have retained colouring or artwork of these little fish, so we must rely on oral description only.
These small fish made a large part of the favoured Whitebait haul and were very abundant before European settlement. By the time Europeans arrived they were already in decline as they were a popular part of the Maori seasonal food source. However, still abundant enough to be caught in such quantities as along with other Whitebait they were used as fertiliser on pastoral land.
The fish used to be so abundant the Maori name for one of the local rivers literally translates to “River that ripples with Grayling”. Catches dwindled year by year and by 1920 they were a very rare catch in the Whitebait net, though they seemed to hold out longer in the South Island than they did in the North, perhaps as with most Whitebait species they preferred the cooler Alpine fed waters.
It was the same with New Zealand’s only freshwater fish to receive official protection, in this case in typical governmental style, after it had become extinct. The last recorded specimens were handed over to the British Museum in the 1930’s and the grayling was seen no more.
It is funny as the same sort of practise is still happening today, this time not with whitebait but apex predators, yes, sharks.
The demand for Shark fins for soup and the high price paid for the harvest of these items are putting many shark species including top apex predators like Great Whites to the brink of extinction. Once our ocean teemed with various species of sharks are they too going to be reduced to just a specimen in some museum. But unlike the little Graying this will impact right down the food chain.
I guess man doesn’t learn from his mistakes - he just makes bigger ones.