Dr. Hsuan-Ching Ho, a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Biodiversity Research Center, Academia Sinica, recently discovered two previously unknown fish species dwelling on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico where the recent BP oil spill is threatening their existence. The study, jointly conducted by Dr. John Sparks from the American Museum of Natural History and Dr. Prosanta Chakrabarty from Louisiana State University, indicated the habitats of these newly identified pancake batfishes are largely within the affected area. The research was published online in the Journal of Fish Biology on July 15, 2010.
The Gulf of Mexico of today remains home to marine creatures waiting to be described, despite past scientific surveys and fishery exploitation taken place in the area. The genus Halieutichthys, commonly known as pancake batfishes owing to the small flat and rounded body, comprises a group of fishes occurring in the western Atlantic Ocean that incorporates the Gulf of Mexico. After examining more than 5000 specimens collected from the western Atlantic Ocean, Dr. Hsuan-Ching Ho and his colleagues found that what has been recognized as one single species, Halieuticthys aculeatus are actually five different species. Three of them live in the Gulf of Mexico, including two newly described species (H. intermedius and Halieutichthys bispinosus, see figure 1 and 2) and a re-described species H. aculeatus. All five species live in waters either partially or fully encompassed by the recent oil spill, with the H. intermedius species completely restricted to the oil spill area.
Pancake batfishes, members of the anglerfish family Ogcocephalidae, are bottom dwellers often found over a sandy substratum ranging from 10 to 800 meters in depth. Some of them can even be found in perpetually dark waters as deep as 4000 meters below the ocean. Pancake batfishes move by ‘walking’ awkwardly along the substrate using their stout, arm-like fins; such movements bear resemblance to that of a walking bat. As most anglerfishes, batfishes have a dorsal fin that is modified into a spine or lure, although their lure excretes a fluid to reel in prey instead of bio-illuminating.
Although the oil spill has been contained, it has become perhaps the worst environmental disaster of the US. Scientists are now worried that in the oil-affected water even those who survived would face dire situations such as food shortages; subsequently, the offspring of these creatures might not be able to subsist. According to co-author Dr. Sparks, discoveries such as theirs underscore the potential loss of undocumented biodiversity that a disaster of this scale may portend.
Dr. Shao Kwang-Tsao, a Research Fellow of the Biodiversity Research Center, said of the study: “It encourages scientists to challenge established taxonomies and re-describe marine species as well as species of less studied categories.” Dr. Ho currently works in Dr. Shao’s laboratory.
The full article entitled “Review of the Halieutichthys aculeatus Species Complex (Lophiiformes: Ogcocephalidae), with Descriptions of Two New Species” is available online at: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/123584238/HTMLSTART?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0.