Visitors to the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center will soon be able to see a rarely displayed deepwater fish — thanks to a snorkeler’s discovery in Shinnecock Bay.
The tiny orange and pink fish was found hiding among the cracks of a rotting underwater piling in just three feet of water – a record for both range and depth in which such a fish has ever been seen, according to aquarium officials.
Avid snorkeler Bob Janke captured the fish, placed it in a jar and took it to his friend Todd Gardner of Calverton, a biologist at the Riverhead aquarium. Though Mr. Gardner suspected it belonged to a rare deepwater species known as an Anthiinae, he tried not to get too excited.
“As far as I know, there are no shallow-water members of this group in the Atlantic,” Mr. Gardner said.
In an effort to identify the fish, Mr. Gardner sent photos to two trusted deepwater fish experts, Carol Baldwin of the Smithsonian Institution and Forrest Young of Dynasty Marine.
The experts agreed that the fish represents one of two species: a Hemanthias vivanus, known as the red barbier, or Choranthius tenuis, known as a threadnose bass. Both are members of the Anthiines subfamily. These types of fish are usually found at depths of 200 to 2,000-feet, making the discovery an anomaly.
“When you talk about depths over a couple hundred feet, very few people are scuba diving deeper than that,” Mr. Gardner said.
“Within that depth range [the fish] would be too expensive to collect and take home to put on display,” he explained, which is why so few aquariums have access to deepwater fish.
Gulf Stream currents are known to catch tropical fish in the larval stage and bring them north, which is likely what happened to this little fish, Mr. Gardner said.
Once the fish gets used to its new home in Riverhead, Mr. Gardner will take a fin clip for DNA sequencing and a definitive ID. It is now being cared for behind the scenes at the aquarium, where it has been quarantined, and has begun eating small crustaceans like copepods and mysids, aquarium officials said.
“Providing he keeps eating and growing, we’ll know soon enough, since the adult forms are easily distinguished,” Mr. Gardner said. “This is a huge discovery.”
Aquarium officials said Atlantic Anthiines are poorly studied and rarely on display at aquariums.
“This specimen should provide us with some unique opportunities to learn more about these beautiful, deepwater fishes,” Mr. Gardner said.