oa Annals of the Natal Museum - The work of the s.s. Pieter Faure in Natal waters, with special reference to the Crustacea and Mollusca; with descriptions of new species of Mollusca from Natal

Volume 16, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0304-0798



In 1895 the Cape Government inaugurated a Marine Biological Survey and appointed Dr J. D. F. Gilchrist as Marine Biologist. Dr Gilchrist promptly urged the necessity of a vessel for this purpose, and the steam trawler Pieter Faure, 176 tons, was built in Glasgow in 1897. She began work in August 1897, and by 1900 had carried out a detailed survey of Cape waters from St. Helena Bay to the East London area, in the course of which several areas suitable for commercial trawling were discovered. These successful results were noted by the Natal Government, and application was made to the Cape Government for assistance and advice for similar investigations along the Natal coast. The request was readily agreed to, and the Pieter Faure spent 3½ months (13 December, 1900, to 5 April, 1901) surveying the coast from Durban to Cape Vidal (Zululand), together with several stations along the Natal South coast on her way back to Cape waters. From a commercial point of view the results of the Natal survey were not encouraging, but many new and interesting forms of marine life were procured, having indirectly an important bearing on fishing questions. Although the main purpose of the survey was the discovery of trawling areas, the scientific aspect was not neglected. From among the contents of the dredges and trawls when emptied on deck, fishes took precedence for the preserving jars. A very impressive quantity of invertebrates was brought back for investigation. With a larger vessel, with more facilities and equipment, and a larger staff, an even greater amount of "small stuff" would have been preserved. From the bottom-deposits which came up in the dredge most of the larger specimens were picked out, but not always all of them. Some of the deposits were washed. But when there was a large quantity, sometimes a quarter or half a dredgefull, the whole was not preserved, only one or two bottles-full. Thus many small crustacea, molluscs etc. went back into the sea. Formalin (3%-5% ) was used for preservation, and unfortunately the bulk of the collection was allowed to remain as preserved for several years. In 1910, however, the collection was transferred to the South African Museum, and most of the invertebrates removed to alcohol. Nevertheless many specimens were found to be in unexpectedly good condition; especially in the case of bottom-samples from which the liquid had evaporated. Some details of the area surveyed are obtainable from the record books. The depths ranged from 6 to 100 fathoms. The bottom-deposits were mostly shelly sand, broken shells, stones, and rock; patches of mud and fine sand were found only in the neighbourhood of the big estuaries: Tugela and Amatikulu, St. Lucia, and Durban. On the return cruise after completing her main work in Natal, the Pieter Faure made one haul 11 miles out from Durban in 185-200 fathoms with dredge and shrimp trawl, and another at 24 miles in 440 fathoms with shrimp trawl. Off Port Shepstone two hauls were made: one with dredge at 11 miles off shore in 250 fathoms, the other at 12 miles were the trawl did not touch bottom with 500 fathoms of wire out. The invertebrates obtained from these deep-sea hauls, especially the one off Durban in 440 fathoms, have proved extraordinarily interesting from the scientific point of view, and indicate that further investigations would be very productive. Except off Cape Point the Pieter Faure sampled the continental slope below 250 fathoms only at this one locality off the Natal coast, and at two localities in the East London area, where at 300-400 fathoms an equally interesting deep-sea fauna was discovered.

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