Feb 29, 2024 - News

Scripps scientists discover "new" fish species in unexpected place

The newly discovered tailspot wrasse

The newly discovered tailspot wrasse. Photo: Allison and Carlos Estape, courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

A team of scientists, including UC San Diego's Ben Frable, discovered a previously unknown species of tropical fish off Mexico's Pacific coast.

Why it matters: Even in a place visited regularly by people, such species can still be discovered — which "just shows how big and complex the world is," Frable told UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The intrigue: Researchers found the Halichoeres sanchezi, a species of wrasse fish, in an underwater field of volcanic rubble and lava boulders on the last day of a 2022 expedition.

  • The fish likely exists only in the remote islands of Revillagigedo Archipelago, according to Scripps.
  • Located hundreds of miles from Mexico's coast, the islands' isolation and legal protections created a "window back in time to before intensive fishing — there are many sharks and big groupers that would be fished out in other places," Frable told Scripps.
  • As North America's largest fully protected marine reserve, these Mexican islands with their robust marine life are quite popular for recreational scuba divers to see sharks, manta rays, humpback whales and sea turtles.

Driving the news: Researchers described the newly discovered, reddish-orange and yellowish-white fish with distinctive black patches in a paper published Wednesday in the journal PeerJ.

  • It is named after marine scientist Carlos Armando Sánchez Ortíz of the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, who collected the first specimen and organized the trip.

Between the lines: The expedition's extensive underwater photography and videography helped reveal the species and create a comprehensive assessment of reef fishes at the islands.

What's next: Further studies could reveal two more previously unknown species from specimens collected on the recent trip, according to Frable.

  • More discoveries are also possible with future trips to explore other estuaries, reefs and tidal zones around the islands.
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