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News Species of Butterflyfish Discovered in Deep Reef

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Image courtesy of Greg McFall / NOAA.

Image courtesy of Greg McFall / NOAA.

Scientists from Bishop Museum and NOAA have published a description of a new species of butterflyfish from deep reefs of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The study was published today in the scientific journal ZooKeys.

Scientists say finding a new species of butterflyfish is a rare event.

The species was first observed in video taken from manned submersibles more than 20 years ago, at depths as great as 600 feet. However, because of the extreme depths, it was many years before technical divers using advanced electronics were able to collect and preserve specimens allowing for proper scientific documentation.

The species description was published in the midst of the ongoing International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress in Honolulu.


The Bishop Museum will be offering the public a chance to view live specimens of this butterflyfish in a new aquarium exhibit space in conjunction with the museum’s current exhibit Journeys: Heritage of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.


The new display will be opened with a special edition of the Museum’s lecture series titled “Traditions of the Pacific: Expanding the Journey,” on Sept. 7, 2016.

In light of President Barack Obama’s recent expansion of Papahanaumokuakea, this lecture will bring together a panel of distinguished Bishop Museum researchers to give attendees a timely and in-depth look at the largest protected marine area on the planet.

Dr. Norine Yeung, malacology researcher and an invited speaker at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, will be highlighting examples from the Journeys exhibit to demonstrate how museums connect us to nature through research, cultural heritage and education.


Dr. Mara Mulrooney, director of cultural resources, will talk about her recent visit to Nīhoa, and the cultural richness and significance of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Lastly, the panel will be enriched with first-hand accounts from Dr. Richard Pyle, associate zoologist and the first author on the publication describing the new butterflyfish. Pyle will talk about his diving adventures in the largely unexplored coral reef “twilight zones”—those between 100 and 500 feet—and will reflect on the implications of the recent expansion of the Monument by President Obama.

The new fish, Prognathodes basabei, is named after Pete Basabe, a veteran diver from Kona, Hawaiʻi who over the years has assisted with the collection of reef fish for numerous scientific studies and educational displays. Basabe, an experienced deep diver himself, was instrumental in providing support for the dives that produced the first specimen of the fish that now bears his name.


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