Deepwater Fish Discovered In Shinnecock Bay

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A snorkeler made an unusual discovery last week when he spotted a tiny pink fish hiding in a rotting wooden piling near the commercial fishing docks in Shinnecock Bay, a long way from its home.

Bob Janke of Calverton said he immediately called his friend Todd Gardner, a biologist at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead last Wednesday, August 21, to report the finding, which he made in about 3 feet of water. Based on the description, Mr. Gardner said he immediately thought of the Anthiinae, a subfamily of fish that includes bass and groupers, and are typically found at great depths.

He tried, however, to keep his enthusiasm in check.

“Very often, I end up being disappointed,” Mr. Gardner said, explaining that he often receives calls from people claiming they have made similar discoveries in local waters. Most times, “it ends up being something really common that they just didn’t recognize.”

But this time was different. Mr. Janke arrived at the aquarium a short time later with the fish in question in a jar. Mr. Gardner photographed it and sent the pictures to Carol Baldwin at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and Forrest Young at Dynasty Marine Associates Inc. in Marathon, Florida, both experts in deep-water fish.

Both agreed that it was one of two species: Hemanthias vivanus or Choranthius tenuis, both of which usually live in water that is between 200 and 2,000 feet in depth.

“This is the first time ever this fish has been found on Long Island,” Mr. Gardner said, explaining that the fish is being held in a tank at the aquarium, providing a unique opportunity for research.

In the coming weeks, he will take a tiny clip of its fin and send it to Ms. Baldwin, who will be able to definitely determine its species based on its DNA sequencing.

Mr. Gardner explained that this type of fish is typically found in the tropics, but its larvae are often carried thousands of miles north, along the surface of the Gulf Stream. “Only the really lucky ones end up being deposited in the right kind of habitat,” he said. “In the Northeast, when the water is warm enough, some settle out and get to their juvenile stage. For many of them, when the weather gets cold in the fall, they just die.”

Little is known about the species, in part due to the difficulty in acquiring samples from such depths of the ocean. Mr. Gardner said it isn’t as much of a priority for biologists as other types of fish that have a higher commercial value.

He estimated the fish to be a few months old, and said it will likely grow to two or three times its current size. Though he said keeping the fish alive in a shallow water tank could prove a tricky task, the biologists will do their best, keeping it in cool water with dim lighting. He also predicted that the discovery will be a range record for the species, meaning it is the farthest north such a fish has ever been found.

It is possible that the fish traveled north in a pocket of water with other larvae of its kind, Mr. Gardner added.

“Without spending a lot of time out there, it’s hard to know,” he said.

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