A new species of coral reef fish has been named after President Barack Obama. The fish, whose scientific name is Tosanoides obama, was discovered during a June 2016 NOAA research expedition to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Scientists from the Bishop Museum, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Association for Marine Exploration published a description of the fish Dec. 21 during the last weeks of Obama’s Presidency; the study was published in the open-access scientific journal ZooKeys.
“We named this fish after President Obama to recognize his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea,” said Richard Pyle, Bishop Museum scientist and lead author of the study. “This expansion adds a layer of protection to one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth.”
On Aug. 26, President Obama expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument at the urging of Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Native Hawaiian leaders, conservationists, and many marine scientists. At 582,578 square miles, it’s the largest permanent marine protected area on Earth.
On Sept. 1, the President was given a picture of the fish that now bears his name during his trip to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge within the Monument. The photograph was presented to Mr. Obama by famed undersea explorer Sylvia Earle, and the exchange will be featured in the National Geographic film Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures, scheduled to be released Jan. 15, 2017.
The small yellow and pink fish is a kind of basslet, a group that includes many colorful reef fishes popular in the marine aquarium fish trade. There are two other species in the genus Tosanoides, both from the tropical northwestern Pacific Ocean, including southern Japan. Males of the new species have a distinctive spot on the dorsal fin near the tail, which is blue around the edge and red with yellow stripes in the center.
The new fish is also unusual in that it is the only known species of coral reef fish endemic to the Monument, meaning the species is not found anywhere else on Earth. All other reef fish species found within Papahānaumokuākea also occur either in the main Hawaiian Islands or Japan.
“Endemic species are unique contributions to global biodiversity,” said NOAA scientist Randall Kosaki, chief scientist of the research cruise and co-author of the study. “With the onslaught of climate change, we are at risk of losing some of these undiscovered species before we even know they exist.”
The new fish was first seen and collected on a dive to 300 feet at Kure Atoll, 1200 miles northwest of Honolulu. Kure Atoll is the northernmost emergent land of the Hawaiian Islands, and is the highest latitude coral atoll in the world.
This is the second new species of fish named from Papahānaumokuākea this year. In August, Pyle and Kosaki published the description of a new species of butterflyfish based on specimens collected at Pearl and Hermes Atoll earlier this year. Elsewhere, President Obama also has a trapdoor spider, a speckled freshwater darter (fish) and an extinct lizard named after him.
Click here to read the study.
Photo courtesy of NOAA Inouye Regional Center