Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 28, 1895
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The adjourned discussion on Sir James Hector's paper on the outlying islands south of New Zealand was opened by Sir W. Buller, who said that for those who have not had an opportunity of visiting those islands it was almost impossible to form any correct idea on the subject without such a fine map as that now exhibited. Even Sir Joseph Hooker, in acknowledging receipt of an author's copy of his (Sir Walter's) “Illustrations of Darwinism,” and discussing its argument, had complained that, through the want of such a map, he often found himself in a difficulty about locality. The theory which Sir James Hector had put before the meeting to account for the present configuration of the Auckland Islands was, to his mind, most interesting and suggestive, and seemed to explain much that was obscure before. The information also about the deep-sea soundings, showing the existence of an elevated plateau over an entirely new area, was most valuable, as helping to define the true limits of the much-discussed sunken continent of Antarctica. The lecturer's observations on the geology of the isolated island areas, and his remarks on the zoology and botany, were also very important. In fact, the lecture was bristling

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with points, and was replete with interest. In the observations he was about to offer he would confine himself to the zoological aspect of the question, and, leaving the mammals—the whales and the seals—alone for the present, he would limit his remarks to the birds. And before proceeding further he would call attention to the collection of albatroses on the table, ten in number, representing six species at different ages, as he would have frequent occasion to refer to them in the course of his remarks. He explained that they were part of a collection which Sir James Hector was forming in the Museum, which was to comprise all the known albatroses of the Southern Hemisphere, and that these were to be grouped together according to the method pursued in the British Museum. Another case would contain all the known penguins in this hemisphere; and the other birds would be similarly arranged in natural groups. Directing attention to the mounting of the albatroses on exhibition, Sir Walter mentioned that two of them had been set up by Mr. Cullingford, an expert taxidermist in England, and the fact that the others set up by the local taxidermist (Mr. Yuill) compared so well with these reflected very great credit on his skill. The geographical distribution of the various species of albatros (as also of penguins and other oceanic birds) among these islands was a very curious feature. Speaking generally, each island or group of islands has its own albatros, its own penguin, its own cormorant, and its own set of small petrels. Thus, the Snares are inhabited by that beautiful albatros, or mollymawk, with a bright-yellow strip along the ridge of the bill—the bird which it had been our habit to call Diomedea culminata till it was differentiated by our great authority on petrels, Mr. Osbert Salvin, and named by Rothschild Diomedea bulleri in compliment to himself. The Auckland Islands are the resort, in countless numbers, of the wandering albatros (Diomedea exulans), except that there is a small colony of another species about which he would have something to say later on. Antipodes Island is the home of the beautiful yellow-billed albatros (Diomedea melanophrys). Campbell Island is the great breeding-place of the royal albatros, originally described by the speaker under the name of Diomedea regia,—the noblest member of the whole group. Curiously enough, although this is the recognised resort of that fine species, there is a small colony of them on the Auckland Islands, living apart from the wandering albatros, and breeding at a somewhat later date. The royal albatros, as he explained, is distinguishable from Diomedea exulans by its larger size, by its white head and neck, without any patch on the vertex or crown, by the larger amount of white on the wings, and by having jet-black eyelids, those of the other species being purple. Then we come to the Bounties. Here the dominant species is the beautiful mollymawk now known as Diomedea salvini, but confounded for a long time with the shy albatros (Diomedea cauta) of the Australian seas. What species of albatros it is that inhabits Macquarie Island he had not been able to determine with certainty, no specimens having been brought from that locality. The sooty albatros, which really belongs to another genus, is more diffuse in its range, a few pairs turning up from time to time on each of the groups of islands. So again with the penguins. On the Snares we have the thick-billed penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus), the same as that frequenting the coasts of New Zealand. On the Auckland Islands we have the large and handsome Eudyptes antipodum. Antipodes Island is the home of the fine species which he had dedicated to Dr. Sclater (Eudyptes sclateri), and the smaller and well-known Eudyptes chrysocome. On Campbell Island we appear to have the latter alone, and on the Bounties probably both of them. On Macquarie Island, on the other hand, there are four species not met with elsewhere. First of all, there is the king-penguin (Aptenodytes longirostris), represented in tens of thousands in the beautiful enlarged photographs exhibited

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by Sir James Hector at last meeting—a bird so abundant on those islands that the boiling of them down for their fat has become a well-established and lucrative business; secondly, the yellow-crowned royal penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus), being the same as Eudyptes schlegeli of Dr. Finsch; the extremely rare black penguin (Eudyptes atratus), of which only two examples have been recorded; and, lastly, a smaller penguin belonging to another group, having a slender bill, and known as Pygoscelis-tœniatus. But the fact that he wished to emphasize was this: that each of the islands, or groups of islands, is a nursery for particular species of oceanic birds which appear never to interfere with each other's sanctuary. Nothing is more wonderful in the romance of natural history than the unerring instinct with which these birds, year after year, after measureless wanderings on the face of the ocean, find their way back, at the appointed time, to their common breeding-place. Albatroses and penguins spend about ten months of the year at sea. The albatros sweeps the vast waste of waters with its broad, never-tiring pinions, and rests and sleeps on the bosom of the deep. It never leaves the sea till the breeding-season commences, when the reproductive instinct impels it to seek its rocky cradle; and then, without chart or compass, and apparently without difficulty, it sails direct to its old breeding-place—a mere rock, so to speak, in the wilderness of waters. In the case of the penguins this natural instinct is even more wonderful. The penguin spends nearly the whole of its life in the water, which is its natural element; for, not being furnished with anything but rudimentary wings, or flippers, it is unable to fly. For purposes of reproduction it finds its way back to its island nursery when nature prompts it to undertake that duty. It may be said of the albatros that it can mount in the air and take its bearings when looking for its island asylum. But not so with the penguin. Owing to its conditions of existence it is unable to leave the water, and, swimming on the surface, can, at the best, see only a few yards ahead. And yet, with unerring precision, each species of penguin goes straight back to its particular island sanctuary, and to its own community. As an illustration of the truly oceanic character of a penguin's life, he reminded the Society that at a former meeting, some two or three years ago, he had exhibited the foot of a penguin, taken from a fresh bird, in which a bunch of barnacles had become attached to the toes through long immersion in seawater—this, too, in spite of the every-day wear-and-tear of active life. Then, again, several of the groups of islands can claim a distinctive species of cormorant; as, for example, Phalacrocorax colensoi, on the Auckland Islands, and Phalacrocorax nycthemerus, on Campbell Island; and of the smaller species of oceanic petrels each has its own favourite breeding-ground, and never interferes with that of the others. There are other birds that present an interesting study in these islands. For example, there is a snipe, the closely-allied species of which are very sedentary in their habits. Thus, the pretty little snipe described by himself some twenty years ago as Gallinago pusilla (owing to the smallness of its size) inhabits the Chatham Islands, where Mr. Rothschild has discovered a second species. At the Snares we have Gallinago huegeli, so named in honour of Baron von Hügel, the discoverer. At the Auckland Islands we have the well-known Gallinago aucklandica, one of the finest of the group; and at Antipodes Island, Gallinago tristrami of Rothschild. Then, again, at the Auckland Islands there is the curious flightless duck (Nesonetta aucklandica), which is found nowhere else. It has been suggested, with some show of truth, by Count Salvadori that this is a direct descendant from Anas chlorotis of New Zealand, the wings having become atrophied and aborted through the change of environment, the duck requiring no longer to fly, but rather to scale the rocks which enclose its habitat by climbing, a faculty in which it excels. He also mentioned that Sir James Hector had sent to Professor Newton specimens

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of this flightless duck in spirit, whilst he (Sir Walter) had sent specimens of the New Zealand bird; also in spirit: so that we might expect before long to hear more on this interesting subject. All we can do at present is to await patiently the report of our leading comparative anatomist on the question raised by Count Salvadori, which has an important bearing on the theory of evolution. There is another endemic form—the Auckland Island merganser (Mergus australis)—a form which is not met with in any other part of the Southern Hemisphere; also a peculiar species of rail (Rallus nzuelleri), so called in compliment to Baron von Mueller—a bird so rare that there is only one known example, in the museum at Stuttgart. On Antipodes Island there are two species of parrakeet, living side by side, and found nowhere else; and an endemic species of groundpipit (Anthus steindachneri). On the Snares there is a species of fernbird (Sphenæacus caudatus) very similar to the one inhabiting New Zealand, but quite distinct both from that and from Sphenæacus rufescens of the Chatham Islands. He said he might go on enumerating cases of this kind without end; but he had said enough to show that these islands present for our consideration some important zoo-geographical problems. He felt, therefore, that the Society was indebted to Sir James Hector for having brought the subject prominently forward by his interesting and instructive lecture.

Mr. Travers said that Mr. Moseley, in his notes during the voyage of the “Challenger,” mentions this habit of the penguin keeping its egg in a pouch, and adds that the albatros and the mollymawk do the same; but with this latter he did not agree, as they have good nests to hold the eggs. He understood that the penguin sometimes laid two eggs

Mr. H. Travers (with permission) gave some information about the habits of the birds on these islands. He said that the so-called flightless duck did fly to a slight extent; the penguin lays two eggs, but only hatches one, the same as the gannets; the albatros has no pouch, but the penguin has.

Mr. Harding said this statement of these birds finding their way back to their own particular island is most interesting, and bears out what has often been said about animal instinct: they possess senses of which we have no idea. It is common to all the animal creation. He gave instances of this instinct, and particularly mentioned the bee and the limpet finding its way back from long distances to its own hive or rock.

Mr. Hustwick asked if the young birds remained on the nests until the return of the parents, and, if so, how do they live.

Mr. Richardson thought these birds were useful in getting rid of the octopus.

The President said that the most interesting portions of Sir James Hector's paper were those in which he embodied the novel and important conclusions respecting the origin of the Auckland Islands, and the new information respecting the elevated sea-bottom between the Auckland and Campbell Islands and New Zealand: the latter especially removed many difficulties that had been felt. with regard to the distribution of the plants and animals found on the islands. A similar state of things existed between the North Cape and the Three Kings Islands, but it had long been held—erroneously, as it now appeared—that the sea bottom between New Zealand and the Auckland Islands was only to be touched at a great depth. Although the remarks on the birds of the islands had been well discussed, he should like to ask the author if he could offer any explanation of the causes of the differences in the nests of the albatros on different islands. On Antipodes he came across numerous nests which were very roughly finished and of rather small size, while on the other islands they were symmetrical and extremely regular. Were the dif-

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ferences to be seen in this particular characteristic of the species, or were the poorly-finished nests to be considered the first efforts of inexperienced builders? If so, it would be at variance with what was exhibited by birds in general, the first nest being usually as perfect as those constructed at a later period of life. He intended to have made some remarks on the botany of the antarctic islands, but the late period of the evening would only allow of a cursory reference to the subject. These islands were remarkable for the large number of endemic plants with beautiful flowers and striking foliage. The genus Pleurophyllum, of which there were three species, all of great beauty, was absolutely restricted to these islands, and constituted one of the most interesting features of the flora. Stilbocarpa polaris, with its bold foliage, waxy flowers, and glossy fruit was found on all the islands, but nowhere else. Two handsome species of Ligusticum, with beautiful foliage and large umbels of red flowers, were equally attractive, although in a different way. Celmisia vernicosa, one of the most beautiful species of a beautiful genus, is not found elsewhere; so also the lustrous Anthericum rossii, with its diœcious golden flowers arranged in densely-crowded erect racemes. One other plant must be mentioned, although it will by no means exhaust the list—the beautiful Veronica benthami, with its glossy foliage and large flowers of azure blue. Now, it is most remarkable that this assemblage of conspicuous plants with beautiful flowers should be crowded on these rocky islands, the climate of which is more severe than that of any part of New Zealand proper. There is no other instance in temperate climates where so many striking and beautiful plants are to be found in such a limited space; and it is most noteworthy that, with the exception of several ferns of wide distribution, none of the plants to be found on the islands exhibit any great amount of variation; they are remarkably uniform in appearance, and this uniformity contrasts strongly with the wide variation exhibited by large portions of the New Zealand flora. He was glad to have the opportunity of expressing his indebtedness to Sir J. Hector for the large amount of information contained in the paper which had been laid before them.

Sir James Hector, in reply, thanked the members for the kindness with which they had received his lecture. Since last meeting the large map now exhibited, showing the physical features of the Southern Hemisphere, had been prepared with the skilful assistance of Mr. Pierard. He trusted that it would be of service to illustrate many future discussions. With reference to the remarks of the President and Sir W. Buller regarding the singular distribution of birds and plants among the islands, he said that the differences were such as to show that the islands were remnants of an extensive land-area that had been dissevered long enough to permit of specific characters springing up, and yet he had been able to show that some at least belong to very recent geological formations. The discovery of fossils last year on Seymour Island, near the antarctic circle—which appear to indicate a similar assemblage to that which characterizes the Upper Eocene of New Zealand, and is always held to indicate conditions warmer than those of the New Zealand seas at the present time—is a remarkably significant fact. It is very tantalising to have such a large area of the globe unexplored. Without any special appliances, Captain Cook, on four occasions, almost reached the shore of the antarctic land 120 years ago. Fifty years ago, also with sailing-ships, Ross was the first to land. Twenty-one years ago the “Challenger,” without any special outfit for resisting the inclement conditions, brought back a wealth of interesting information. With modern appliances, and the great experience that has now been gained in ice-bound navigation, there should be no difficulty in fitting out a suitable expedition. In reply to the President, he said that the albatros nests differ very much in size and form, chiefly owing to their being used over and over again, and

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each year receiving a fresh addition of cementing matter. The hatching process of the penguin is quite a different and a more difficult problem—which is, how a bird with a rigid body and hard feathers can lay its egg on a round boulder and sit on top of it. The photograph on the screen explained how this was done.