Research and Fieldwork

Helping WA Museum explore the big questions we face

The WA Museum is heavily involved in research projects investigating the rich human history, biodiversity and geodiversity of Western Australia. Here are just a few of the projects that were directly supported by the Foundation for the WA Museum.

Pet dog lives on in name of newly described Pilbara land snail species

Bothriembryon rocketi, the first of its kind described from the rugged, semi-arid Pilbara, has been named by WA Museum scientists. 

Two Foundation for the WA Museum donors, who bought the rights to name a species at an auction, chose the name in memory of their beloved pet dog Rocket.

New Sea Star species named after Loisette Marsh AM

Dr Chris Mah, one of the world’s leading experts on sea stars (Asteroidea), visited the WA Museum in early 2023 to undertake a month-long laboratory-based investigation of the Museum’s Asteroidea collection. His aim was to explore registered and legacy material in the WA Museum collection in order to identify new genera and species and publish their taxonomic descriptions.

Dr Mah has published the first paper resulting from his visit, in which he describes two new species in the Odontasteridae sea star family. He named one of them, a “toothless” odontasterid, Marshastra loisetteae, in honour of Loisette Marsh.

Dazzling Diprotodon discovery in the Pilbara’s red dirt

When scientists from the Western Australian Museum go on field trips searching for fossils, conditions can be very harsh. Remote locations, no power, no water and virtually no phone or internet coverage mean that planning and bushcraft are essential to ensure that the dig team is fully self-sufficient and safe for the duration of the trip.

All this, and fossil finds are in no way guaranteed. The situation at the fossil dig that took place in October 2023 in the Pilbara could not have been more different.

Searching for missing shipwrecks

During 2021-22, this project investigated the wreck site of the Trial (wrecked in 1622) which was contentious and lacking evidence, and searched for the eventual wreck site of the SS Koombana, lost with all hands in 1912 and never seen since. 

The particular focus of this project was to commission an aerial magnetometer survey of the two remote sites in question, with a view to identifying possible targets for more detailed in situ investigation.

The survey results were fed into the documentary series Shipwreck Hunters Australia. Two episodes of the six-part series feature Trial and SS Koombana respectively.

The project successfully resulted in 100% coverage of both the Trial Rocks and Port Hedland search areas. The results provided further positive support to the identification of Trial, as it can now be confirmed to be the only shipwreck in the Trial Rocks area. The SS Koombana survey located six targets of low or moderate interest. However, none were of a size expected for a large steamship such as SS Koombana.

Nevertheless, the search was valuable, as a large area of seabed within the priority search area can now be discounted from future search efforts.