Using specimens collected in 2009 and again in 2015 at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, scientists with the Bishop Museum and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have published an official description of a new species of butterflyfish in the journal ZooKeys, NOAA announced today.
“Butterflyfish are the glamour fish of the coral reefs,” said Richard L. Pyle, a Bishop Museum scientist and lead author on the publication. “They are colorful, beautiful, and have been very well-studied worldwide. Finding a new species of butterflyfish is a rare event.”
One of the reasons the fish has eluded proper description for so long is that it lives at deep coral reefs, which scientists are only now investigating.
“Deep coral reefs at depths of 150 to 500 feet, also known as mesophotic coral ecosystems or ‘the coral-reef twilight zone,’ are among the most poorly explored of all marine ecosystems,” states today’s NOAA news release. “Deeper than most scuba divers can venture, and shallower than most submersible-based exploration, these reefs represent a new frontier for coral reef research.”
The name of the new fish comes in part from a Hawaii Island diver who has long assisted the scientists who’ve studied the new species.
“The new fish, Prognathodes basabei, is named after Pete Basabe, a veteran local diver from Kona who, over the years, has assisted with the collection of reef fishes for numerous scientific studies and educational displays,” states the NOAA news release. “Basabe, an experienced deep diver himself, was instrumental in providing support for the dives that produced the first specimen of the fish that now bears his name.”
Indeed, as the paper makes clear, Basabe and Pyle (referred to as “RLP” in the following excerpt) actually did collect a few specimens of the fish off Kona back in 1998:
While conducting an exploratory dive using a mixed-gas closed-circuit rebreather off the south shore of O‘ahu (Main Hawaiian Islands) on 17 May 1998, the senior author (RLP) observed (but was unable to collect) a group of three Prognathodes near an undercut limestone ledge at a depth of 114 m. Two weeks later (30 May 1998), with the assistance of Peter K. Basabe, RLP collected the first specimen of this species at a depth of 120 m near Kealakekua Bay on the Kona coast of the island of Hawai‘i (TenBruggencate 1998). The following day he collected several more individuals at a depth of 115 m near the site of the observation of 17 May (Allen et al. 1998). All of the collected individuals were brought to the surface alive and maintained in captivity. Unfortunately, when they eventually died, only one was preserved, and it was too badly deteriorated to serve as a type specimen.
The fact that researchers collected specimens of the butterflyfish at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument–recently expanded by President Barack Obama–wasn’t lost on the researchers, either.
“This new discovery illustrates the conservation value of very large marine protected areas,” said NOAA researcher Randall Kosaki, the paper’s co-author. “Not only do they protect the biodiversity that we already know about, they also protect the diversity we’ve yet to discover. And there’s a lot left to discover.”
Click here to read Pyle and Kosaki’s paper in ZooKeys. Also, if you find yourself on Oahu, you can see a living specimen of Prognathodes basabei at the Bishop Museum as part of their exhibit Journeys: Heritage of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which opens on Sept. 7.
Photo of Prognathodes basabei: NOAA