Close encounters of the eel kind for Leigh author

The book includes familiar species such as the snapper/tāmure, as well as less well-known and occasionally bizarre animals such as the slender snipe eel and oarfish.
Left, Caiger says one of the more unusual local fish species is the pot-bellied seahorse. Like all seahorses, the male does the bulk of the parenting, looking after the developing young in his pouch until they are ready to head out into the world. Right, Author Paul Caiger in his work clothes.

Leigh-based ecologist, underwater photographer and now author Paul Caiger has just published a book about New Zealand’s marine and freshwater fish, and he has the scars to prove it.

Fishes of Aotearoa, released this month, contains scores of intriguing images of various fish species, alongside compelling natural history stories.

“It’s not designed to be a book you have to read from cover to cover, but rather something that you can have on the coffee table and dip into at your leisure,” Caiger says.

“It is also designed for a broad general audience, rather than being a scientific work.”

The 14 months that Caiger spent writing the book was not without incident.

While photographing in a waist-deep stream in the Waitakeres in the middle of the night, wearing his full diver’s kit, he found himself surrounded by dozens of long fin eels.

“One found the only bit of exposed flesh on me – my lips around the mouth of my snorkel. He latched on and was still hanging on when I stood up. It took a couple of weeks for my lip to heal after that encounter.”

Caiger first moved to Leigh in 2009 to do his post graduate degree at Auckland University’s marine lab at Goat Island. It’s where he met his future wife, Jenni Stanley, who was studying to be a marine biologist.

He later took up post-doctoral positions in the United States, researching fish acoustics and deep-sea fish biology.

These days, he is the diving officer at the Leigh lab, supporting scientific field work, running dive programmes and training, as well as producing numerous scientific manuscripts and reports on fishes.

Caiger says his book is primarily a celebration of Aotearoa’s marine diversity, but there is an underlying theme.

“There is definitely a need for better protection for our marine environments, both through better management and more marine reserves.

“While most other New Zealand animals are protected under the Wildlife Act, our freshwater fish species are not, and only seven of our marine fishes are – mostly international migratory megafauna such as great whites and manta rays. We have a decent way to go before we collectively see fishes as simply more than a resource and, with the escalating global pressures of climate change, there is no time to lose.”

Asked for his views on the government’s recent decision to allow trawling corridors through the Hauraki Gulf, Caiger said he was 100 per cent opposed.

Book Giveaway

Mahurangi Matters has a copy of Fishes of Aotearoa to giveaway. To enter, just email with Fishes of Aotearoa in the subject line. Please include your name, address and phone number. Competition closes on November 2 at 10am.