Noumea—It’s not exactly whale sized, but it’s a big deal when any new fish species is found, however tiny.
This fish, Polyipnus laruei, is named after yachters Pierre and William Larue who discovered it. After more than two years’ work, the description of the new fish species has been officially approved by the Zootaxa scientific journal.
In 2014, Pierre and William Larue were boating near Tombo Reef, close to Boulari Boat Pass, when they spotted a small silver fish floating on the water. Pierre immediately took high-resolution photos that he sent to a journalist, who then contacted Gérard Mou-Tham, a French Development Research Institute fish scientist. The fish did not match any known lagoon specimens, so another researcher, Dominique Ponton, suggested it might be a hatchetfish of the Polyipnus genus, a deep-water fish.
When an article appeared in the press, Pacific Community taxonomist Elodie
Vourey examined the fish. While she was familiar with this fish family, she had never seen this species before and decided to write a description of the specimen, which she sent to Antony Scott Harold, a hatchetfish expert and professor at College of Charleston in the United States, who confirmed that it was indeed a new species.
The description work was done by Vourey, Cyndie Dupoux, a technician managing invertebrate collections at the Paris Natural History Museum and Dr. Harold.
The specimen was examined from every angle in challenging circumstances. It had to remain intact, because it was the only available specimen and would become the reference deposited at MNHN. SPC and IRD twice tried unsuccessfully to catch other specimens of the fish during missions in the area.
The first stage was to write a detailed description of the fish. X-rays were made of it to examine its morphology and the number of vertebrae. A genetic test was conducted on one of its fins and the specimen with other fish of the same genus in the MNHN collection.
The authors of the article chose to name the fish after its discoverers to acknowledge them and congratulate them on their curiosity.
Throughout the process, Pierre and William Larue were kept informed of progress. “It’s been a wonderful adventure,” they said. “We thought it was a known species and that we were just going to give you a specimen […] it’s amazing the fish caught the interest of scientists and it all led to a publication.”
It was also an exciting adventure for Vourey. “I’m delighted to be able to give this new species William and Pierre’s surname,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for them, we could not have done this work. They had the presence of mind to take snapshots of the fish immediately, freeze it and contact some scientists. This team work has been a memorable experience of curiosity, sharing and enthusiasm.”
The ocean is teeming with yet more unclassified species, particularly in the high seas and deep waters, and SPC and IRD have started a three-year endeavour to improve its knowledge of ocean species off New Caledonia and Wallis & Futuna under Biopelagos, a European Union-funded BEST 2.0 programme project.
Like Pierre and William Larue, boating enthusiasts can contribute to this important work. If you find a species that looks unusual to you during an outing, collect the specimen, take good photographs of it, place it in your cooler and then freeze it. Then contact IRD or SPC scientists.
For further details and photos, please contact Elodie Vourey at +687 262000, extension 31457 (office) or 31470 (laboratory)
SPC is the principal scientific and technical organization in the Pacific region, supporting sustainable development since 1947. It is an international development organization owned and governed by its 26 country and territory members.