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Lord Howe Island and the Australian Museum

By: Madelaine Love, Category: AMRI, Date: 28 Feb 2017

AM scientists have embarked on an expedition to benchmark native and introduced animal populations on the island that's 'frozen in time'. 

Lord Howe Island

Lord Howe Island
Photographer: Frank Köhler  © Australian Museum

Expeditions are in the DNA of the AM – after all, as the continent’s first museum, it was intrepid exploration by our founding scientists that saw the fledgling organisation acquire its earliest specimens and artefacts.

One of the earliest and longstanding expedition sites for the AM has been the incredible Lord Howe Island.

AM scientists have been surveying Lord Howe and the water around it since as early as 1851 – 165 years ago.

In fact, findings from an AM led expedition in 1973 helped the Australian Government to secure the UNESCO World Heritage listing of the island.

Now, in the museum’s milestone 190th year, the AM is returning with more than 20 scientists from the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI), in order to benchmark Lord Howe’s native and introduced animal populations.

Over the past 190 years, the AM has undertaken more than 100 expeditions – but Lord Howe has always been a place of ongoing interest. Visiting Lord Howe is like stepping back in time.

Nestled on the Tasman seas between Australia and New Zealand, this volcanic remnant has a unique ecosystem that’s been largely preserved, rivalling that of the world-famous Galapagos archipelago.

Over the course of the next two months, AMRI scientists aim to document introduced invertebrates, discover new species (introduced or native) and get a clearer picture of the fauna that lives there.

One of the key activities undertaken will also include the excavation of three complete whale skeletons. These rare Blainville beaked whales have been buried in the sands of Lord Howe Island lagoon since 2011, and now they have decomposed to the point that AM scientists can acquire their complete skeletons for the collection.

At the same time, the AM’s ornithologist Dr Richard Major will be tissue sampling Lord Howe wood hens and native currawongs, as well as working into the night to survey the island’s population of bats and owls.

Finally, at the tail end of this period (weather dependent), the AM will conduct a daring survey of the sheer cliff faces of Balls Pyramid, in search of further specimens of the rare LHI Phasmid. As Balls is almost entirely inaccessible and rarely climbed, it will require the expertise of specialist climbers to conduct this survey.

During the expedition, check in regularly as our intrepid researchers report back on their findings on the island that’s been frozen in time…