Young Ocean Explorers is a television series presented by 14-year-old Riley Hathaway. In each 5-minute episode, Riley explores sea creatures and underwater ecosystems and interviews marine experts.
All schools in New Zealand and the Cook Islands were provided with a copy of the book and the video series on DVD in 2015. See the Useful links section at the bottom of this page for ordering information.
Episode 1: Stingrays/eagle rays (whai/whai keo)
Riley travels to Little Barrier Island to find sea creatures that fly like a bird, sting like a bee and are related to sharks. On the way, she spots the largest ray of all – a manta ray. The manta ray is enormous – the size of a large trampoline. Riley also sees numerous kite-shaped stingrays and diamond shaped eagle rays. Rays eat shellfish, crabs and fish and are eaten by sharks and orcas.
Episode 2: Harbours (wahapū)
Riley snorkels in the Whangateau Harbour at high tide and discovers a busy underwater city. Harbours act as a crèche for young fish, providing them with food and protection from predators. Vegetation such as seagrass, mangroves and rushes make great hiding places. Shellfish like pipi and cockles clean the water in a similar way to a swimming pool filter pump!
Episode 3: Crayfish (kōura)
Imagine being an animal that everyone wants to eat! Fortunately for the crayfish that Riley sees, Goat Island is a marine reserve, and the crayfish are off limits to human hunters. Crayfish have a spikey exoskeleton to protect them from snapper and other predators. They use their antennae to explore their environment and to detect changes in the water. Crayfish are an important part of the underwater ecosystem. They feed on kina (sea urchins), and this prevents kelp forests from being overgrazed.
Episode 4: Orcas (maki)
Riley travels to a sandbank in Whangarei Harbour where orcas often hunt stingrays. Orcas hunt in groups, and their teamwork gives them an advantage over solitary predators. Orcas use local hunting techniques and communicate with others in their pod to surround their prey. One orca will grab a stingray’s wing and hold it until another orca comes to bite the other wing. The orcas rip the stingray in half and share it. Baby orcas learn these techniques from their parents.
Episode 5: Triplefins
Triplefins get their name from an unusual feature. They have three dorsal fins – most fish have just one. A triplefin has one fin on its head and two fins on its back. Most fish have a special organ (called a swim bladder) full of air to keep them afloat, but a triplefin is even more unusual because it doesn’t have a swim bladder. Triplefins don’t swim – they sit on the seafloor and move by bouncing! Riley thinks New Zealand is the triplefin capital of the world. Of the world’s 130 triplefin species, 26 are endemic – found only in New Zealand. That is an amazing 20%!
Episode 6: Sandager’s wrasse
Riley meets one of the strangest fish yet – the Sandager’s wrasse. She thinks it’s funny that they were named by a New Zealand lighthouse keeper named Sandager who had no idea these fish sleep under the sand at night. What is really strange about these fish is that they are all born as females! A single male looks after a group of female fish. If something happens to the male, the ‘bossiest’ female becomes a male fish within 2 weeks. The fish changes both gender and appearance – male fish have colourful stripes.
Episode 7: Common dolphins (aihe)
Riley is surprised to hear that Auckland has heavy traffic in the water as well as on the land. The Hauraki Gulf is known as the ocean’s highway due to the number of large marine mammals that travel through it. Eighteen different types of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been spotted in this area. Not surprisingly, the dolphin found most often is the common dolphin. Dolphins swim in large groups called pods, and although they are agile swimmers, they are threatened by boats and rubbish.
Episode 8: Kelp (rimurapa)
Riley overcomes her fear of crabs to visit an underwater forest. There are around 850 species of seaweed in New Zealand. These plants not only play a crucial role in the sea’s ecosystems, they provide about 70% of the Earth’s oxygen. Riley learns how kelp is part of the food chain and what happens to kelp when kōura are overfished.
Episode 9: Turtles (honu)
What is cold-blooded, can hold its breath for up to 5 hours, can swim long distances, has no ears, has no vocal cords, is protected by armour and is responsible for the project that led to Young Ocean Explorers? The sea turtle. Sea turtles are sighted in New Zealand, but they do not live here as they prefer warmer waters. Turtles come into shallow harbours to feed. Sadly, that is where rubbish tends to collect. Turtles can eat floating plastic, thinking it is a plant. Plastic sits in their stomach, making them unwell.
Episode 10: Sharks (mangō)
Most people try to avoid sharks, but Riley, Steve and animal curator Craig Thorburn head out in the Hauraki Gulf in search of them. Sharks are a top-order predator – they eat smaller fish and keep fish populations healthy by removing old, slow or weak fish. They have special adaptations to help them hunt – binocular vision (like humans), excellent hearing and different types of teeth that act like knives and forks.
Nature of science
People often think that science is something done only by scientists and via the ‘scientific method’. Through her personal observations and asking questions, Riley is working and acting as a scientist.