Tom Trnski is Auckland Museum’s head of natural sciences and the resident fish expert. Photo: RICKY WILSON/STUFF/22080114
Records dating back almost 100 years could hold dialectical differences or lost words in Cook Islands Māori – and they have been sitting in a box at the Auckland Museum for all those years.
Auckland Museum’s head of natural sciences, Tom Trnski, spends plenty of quiet hours working through thousands of jars of preserved fish stored at the museum.
specimens are all labelled but some have been separated from their full
paperwork. It means it is not always clear what each fish is, where it came
from, when it was collected and when it arrived in Auckland.
one day, Trnski stumbled on an old filing box with handwriting that looked
familiar to some he had seen on some of those undocumented fish jars.
the box was a record book titled Foreign Fishes: Rarotonga. It held carefully
written out entries, the earliest of which dates back to 1926 (multiple fish of
multiple species are referred to as fishes).
was sure these records belonged to those orphan fishes he had found. He already
knew they were tropical but now he knew for sure they were from Rarotonga in
the Cook Islands.
record book contains details of 120 fishes from the Cook Islands collected
between 1926 and 1934 by Captain Vellenoweth, who at some stage was the
resident government agent at Aitutaki.
includes where the fish were collected from, their Latin names and their local
So the museum organised a hui with members of the Cook Island community both here and in the Cook Islands, to see whether those names were right.
recognised a lot of the names and matched them to the species but with some
they recognised the fish but not the name,” he said.
they have lost the name for the fish in the last 90 years or the name is from a
different island group. It is actually really neat that we could use that to
recover names that used to exist.”
said some Cook Island Māori names were also similar to New Zealand Māori names
of fish, although not of the same species.
local fish in particular, kokopu, has the same name as a Cook Island fish –
they look very similar, which may be why they have the same name.
is quite neat to see that link between the languages, that when Polynesians
arrived here they started naming species here that reminded them of where they
had been before.”
said having these records nearly a century on from when the fishes were
collected meant researchers could look into what had changed for the various
species in the collection.
seas, climate change and repeated La Niña events all affect the ocean’s
precarious ecosystem, and it is possible that fishes in the collection won’t be
as abundant as they used to be.
Bishop Museum in Hawaii has a database of local names for marine species from
the Pacific, which the Auckland Museum can contribute to and grow the knowledge