World’s rarest fish, the Devils Hole pupfish, gets boost in population

World’s rarest fish, the Devils Hole pupfish, gets boost in population

Outdoors

World’s rarest fish, the Devils Hole pupfish, gets boost in population


The Devils Hole pupfish, tiny residents of Death Valley described as the world’s rarest fish, enjoyed a boost in population with scientists counting the highest number they’ve observed in fifteen years.

Volunteers and staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nevada Department of Wildlife, and the National Park Service counted 187 of the endangered Devils Hole pupfish in a two-day survey conducted Sept. 29-30, as reported by the National Park Service on Wednesday.

“We are not out of the woods, but this is a good step in the continued recovery efforts for this fish,” said Kevin Wilson, Aquatic Ecologist for Death Valley National Park.

The Devils Hole itself is a water-filled cavern that is 500-feet deep and cut into the side of a hill. It is located in a detached unit of Death Valley National Park adjacent to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nye County, Nevada.

The Devils Hole pupfish have been found as deep as 66 feet but generally feed and spawn on a shallow rock shelf near the surface.

Scientists donned scuba gear to count those fish in the cavern while others observed from specially rigged platforms as seen in the photo.

The population averaged 324 from 1970 to 1996 and 171 from 1997 to 2004. The count in 2003 was 297. Since 2005 it has remained below 200 individuals. In fall of 2005, only 84 were counted, the same as counted in the spring. The National Park Service reports the numbers dropping to only 38 In 2006-2007 and 35 in 2013.

“In natural systems it’s important to appreciate that small populations fluctuate in size seasonally and annually, and it is not uncommon to gain or lose 30 fish between counts,” said Michael Schwemm, senior fish biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Still, our current count far exceeds this margin.”

The scientists noted that the Devils Hole pupfish looked healthy and they were pleased with their age range.

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“The majority of the fish we counted were juveniles and young adults,” said Brandon Senger, supervising fisheries biologist for Nevada Department of Wildlife. “This population structure is what is really important and we will continue to monitor this closely.”

From the National Park Service:

Starting in the mid-1990s, the Devils Hole pupfish population began what was to become a severe decline. Studies have been undertaken to better understand energy flow in the system, water chemistry, pupfish genetics, organisms living the the water, and other factors. Although the decline’s cause has not yet been determined, knowledge of the Devils Hole ecosystem has been greatly extended. Efforts continue to save this species that has existed for ten thousand years.

Photos courtesy of the National Park Service.

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