Anna McCallum started her scientific career with the type of discovery that some biologists spend their entire careers chasing. In 2005, after earning an undergraduate degree, she worked as an assistant aboard the research vessel Southern Surveyor and discovered a new species of shrimp in the deep waters off the southwest coast of Australia. During the cruise, nets trawled the ocean depths from 100–1000 meters, dumping their catch on board for McCallum and her colleagues to sift through. “We found a lot of new species, not all as spectacular as the little shrimp,” McCallum recalls. (Indeed, McCallum says she was so busy sorting samples during her 3:00 PM–3:00 AM shifts, that she doesn’t even remember collecting it.) Finding and identifying the spotty, 5-centimeter-long shrimp was an opportunity to immortalize herself or a close colleague through naming the new species.
But McCallum, now a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, hoped to accomplish a loftier goal: to raise money for marine conservation. She chose the popular web site eBay to raise funds for the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) by auctioning off the right to name the new species. “I think eBay just seemed like an easy way to manage it and make it accessible to anyone,” she says. “I thought it would be a good way to make money for marine conservation and for taxonomy in general.”
Still, exactly who would get involved was hard to predict, McCallum says. “I had no idea who would be interested in this kind of idea,” she says.
As the auction got underway at the end of March, McCallum watched intensely. “A few friends had said that they were going to put up bids so I knew there would be [bids of] at least $100,” she says. “I kept checking it every 10 minutes to see if it had gone up anymore.”
By the end of the auction, about 20 people had joined in. Bob Rosenberry, journalist and publisher of Shrimp News International, which follows world shrimp farming, was one of the more enthusiastic bidders. “I was attracted to the beauty of the specimen and the fact that someone could name it,” he says. “Early on in the auction, I think I made a bid of about $2,000, and I was going to go up to $5,000.” He planned to dub the species Lebbeus shrimpnewsii, after his web site, but then learned he couldn’t name it after a commercial entity, so bowed out of the auction.
The winner of the eBay auction, with a bid of AU $3,600 (US $2,900), was Luc Longley, a former NBA basketball player who won three straight league championships with the dynastic Chicago Bulls team of the 1990s. “It was a total surprise that a basketballer would be interested in this little deep-sea shrimp,” McCallum recalls.
But Longley was no stranger to supporting marine conservation in his native country, having helped halt the construction of a resort near the Ningaloo Reef, a vast coral ecosystem off the west coast of Australia. “That gave me a taste for it,” Longley says. Coincidentally, Longley is from the Western Australia city of Freemantle, which is not far from where McCallum found the shrimp.
Longley says that he was as excited to name the new shrimp species as he was to help the AMCS protect the marine environment. “You get to name a species and you get to donate to charity at the same time,” he says. “It’s a fabulous concept.” He named the shrimp Lebbeus clarehanna, as a birthday present to his eldest daughter, Clare Hanna Longley, who turned 15 this August.
McCallum published a description of the new species and its name in a recent all-shrimp issue of the journal Zootaxa . The paper includes another description of a new species, Lebbeus cristagalli, that McCallum discovered on a 2007 Southern Surveyor cruise. She says she’ll likely have more new species to discover as she studies the biogeography of decapod crustaceans off the coast of Western Australia for her PhD thesis. But she’ll not soon forget the little shrimp whose name she auctioned off on eBay. “Not many shrimps capture the public imagination like this one.”