We’ve come to our last and final installation of our four part Osaka travelogue. If you’ve been following parts 1, 2 and 3, we hope you’ve enjoyed it, and thank you for exploring some of Osaka’s most opulent reef keepers with us. We’re at the finishing line of this incredible journey and what better way than to finish off this series with where it all began. BlueHarbor! The wonderful culmination of our trip would not have been possible if not for Koji Wada and his hospitality, connections and patience. We’ve covered the shop layout of BlueHarbor in our previous post, so this time round we’ll focus more on some of the incredible species that we got to see in person. This is a fish series after all!
BlueHarbor proper is a hole in the wall, a quaint and unassuming little store along the alleys of Osaka. Often times its the little things in life that slaps us in the face with incredible findings, and BlueHarbor is perhaps the dictionary definition of that. By now it’s safe to say that everyone knows who Koji Wada is, and his innate ability to procure some of the most incredulous species of fish ever. Each time we visit however, its a brand new experience. A metaphorical rebirth. No two visits are ever the same.
On this trip we saw a few things we’ve never seen before, and we’ll feature that in a while. We also got to see some incredible things, like this Tosanoides flavofasciatus. This species is not new to us, and i’ve personally seen the species numerous times, but this is the most gaudily coloured super male specimen yet. Like what we did for Liopropoma aurora, we’ll feature this Tosanoides in a separate post all by itself with additional information on the species, so don’t worry. In the mean time, we’ll just include it here briefly.
The two tiered building is home to many set ups, but upstairs in the office is where all the really good stuff are kept. By good stuff we mean GOOD stuff, because in level one we see twenty one specimens of bandit angelfish (Apolemichthys arcuatus) and three specimens of Centropyge interrupta. Surely the second floor has to out do those. There are five main tanks on this office level, and the Tosanoides flavofasciatus lives in the one closest to the meeting table. In that set up are a few other fish, one of which is this fairy wrasse pictured above.
Cirrhilabrus katoi is a new one for me, and this is my first time seeing the species in person. Although now still only in its female form, it is unmistakable. The news of this fish first came about when Koji uploaded a very low resolution video on his facebook showing the Tosanoides, and the same clip revealed the presence of a small red Cirrhilabrus only for a split second. Instinctively I thought Cirrhilabrus katoi, but because the quality wasn’t good and the fish was not swimming, I needed to see more of it.
Fortunately the fish was still there when we visited, and upon closer inspection, the identity was confirmed. Of course we asked Koji and he said it was indeed C. katoi, so perhaps that would have been easier. Cirrhilabrus katoi is one of the most insanely beautiful species in the genus that is endemic to Japan. Like a christmas tree, the males are festooned with green, blue and all sorts of other colours on a predominantly red body that lights up when they flash. It is exceedingly rare in the trade, although it can be found at depth in the right location. Only a single male has ever been offered for sale by Koji Wada, and it is many years later that this female has taken its place.
The females are red, like many Cirrhilabrus at this life stage. It possesses very nondescript cheek stripes and dot-dash markings on its body. Normally it’s really difficult to distinguish females apart, but luckily for C. katoi, it is the only species in its range to have females looking like this. Yet as unexciting as it may look, compared to the males at least, it’s still a brilliant encounter and a huge plus one for us!
That particular system is also home to two baby Genicanthus personatus. If by now you still do not know of Karen Brittain’s success with this species as a captive bred offering, you really need to start questioning yourself and what you’ve been doing for the last six months. The captive breeding of this species has allowed Genicanthus personatus to spread all over the world like an aggressive cancer, and nearly every rare fish connoisseur now has one. Or two. Some even more. It’s crazy I know, but when we saw these two babies at BlueHarbor, we were no longer surprised. In fact, these were leftovers from previous batches.
Once a near unobtainable gem, G, personatus, although still rare and very pricey, has managed to qualm the raging hearts of die hard fans. Still, the undeniable beauty is seen in these babies. The specific epithet “personatus” means mask, and it was given after the females. It was only years later after the official description that the males were discovered. The females and juveniles are snow white with an abrupt jet black mask and tail band on the caudal peduncle. There is a very faint cyan slate on the fins, a truly remarkable fish.
The two toned fish really embodies the monochrome spirit, which lends a smart and sharp look to the species. The faint cyan wash accents the white really nicely. This aquarium also plays home to Liopropoma fasciatum, which by now has also made an appearance in Japan after its 2014 debut.
In a similarly sized tank adjacent to the former is another set up which recalls the same decor. Four species call this tank their home, but it is this mesmerising Odontanthias fuscipinnis that takes centre stage. O. fuscipinnis is a Hawaiian endemic that has only gained prominence in the last couple of years. Unlike many of its Odontanthias cousins, O. fuscipinnis is relatively unicolourous, being chrome yellow throughout.
Large specimens adopt a more matte yellow-orange finish, which is also beautiful. However the species really shines in its juvenile form where it is almost high-lighter in tone.
Disco rave pink and purple neon highlights also trim the edges of its fins and tails, as well as being present on the face. In particularly small juveniles, it is not unusual to see this purple accent being reticulated all over the body. Unlike O. katayamai that is mostly caught on the reel, O. fuscipinnis is collected using rebreather diving at depths in excess of 200ft in Hawaii. The species is now more widely available and in offered in rather good condition compared to many others in the genus.
Three other fish shares this tank, and they are Prognathodes guyanensis, Pronotogrammus martinicensis and a juvenile Pomacanthus rhomboides. P. rhomboides, also known as the old-woman angelfish, is an unusual member of the genus where the adults are famed for their notoriously “hideous” appearance. Juveniles bear the usual blue and black striae of most Pomacanthus species. The specific epithet “rhomboides” stems not from the juvenile, but from full grown adults. In adults, the fish transforms into a matte sandpaper brown with a broad grey triangle pointed toward the caudal peduncle.
Despite its hideous nature, P. rhomboides is very rare and expensive in the trade. This however is attributed not to its scarcity in the wild, but rather its obscure range of East to South Africa and its generally lack lustre appearance. The adults are unusual in that they are known to swim in small to large groups in open water, sometimes near the surface high above the reef. Such behaviour is not often seen in the genus, and is something rather unique to the old woman angelfish.
In yet another aquarium display, Koji amasses a collection of different, yet equally pricey fish. “Common” fare such as Chaetodon daedalma and Holacanthus clarionensis plague this tank, but two unusual species stood out for me. A small and diminutive Plectranthias nanus makes this upturned PVC pipe its home. Plectranthias nanus is one of the smallest members in the genus, and it bears superficial resemblance to another equally sized and confusing member, P. longimanus.
The behaviour of this little Plectranthias is very amusing to watch, and is completely akin to how it would live in the wild. Shy, coy and preferring to hide in a cloistered secluded area, it peeps its head out regularly from its PVC shelter – much like pulling a rabbit out of a magician’s hat.
We have a pair of these living in our reef tank, but we only ever see it for a brief second or two when it comes out for feeding. Once released into a tank replete with rocks, it will disappear into the background, showing itself only very briefly now and then. This little Plectranthias came from Cairns Marine where it was collected from the Coral Sea.
Another beautiful Coral Sea species to grace this tank is the brand new Cirrhilabrus squirei. C. squirei was first known in 2012 from BlueHarbor, where we managed to catch a glimpse of this species in person for the first time where it debuted in the market. Two years later it was officially described, and was named in honour of Lyle Squire and his family name.
C. squirei is a member of the “lunatus” complex which features similarly sized members with a characteristic lunate caudal fin equipped with two trailing filamentous lobes. It shares this complex and feature with Cirrhilabrus lunatus from Japan, C. johnsoni from the Marshalls and Yap islands, as well as C. brunneus from the Philippines and Indonesia. One other potentially new member currently listed as Cirrhilabrus cf. lunatus may also join this group in future. The specimen of C. squirei pictured above lacks its tail filaments, which will grow back rather quickly. It is however one of the largest i’ve seen and is adorned with some really intense coloration.
It’s interesting to see how the members of the “lunatus” complex differ so drastically in their coloration. despite being in the same conglomeration. This is probably due to their disparate ranges that allowed them to speciate and evolve over time. Many of them are also endemic to a small range, like C. squirei from the Coral Sea and C. lunatus from Japan.
The final set up in this floor houses some more deepwater gems of the Southern Pacific. Bodianus sp. “kimura” is a possible new member with a beautiful golden yellow and orange colour combination. The markings and overall appearance draws identical reference to Bodianus neopercularis from the Pacific. When we first heard about this fish, we were curious as to why there have been so many intermediates and forms of this one particular fish.
We dug a little deeper and found out that this Bodianus conundrum is more complicated than it seems. It turns out that there are two colour forms in both the adult phase and the juvenile phase, and the coloration is interchangeable depending on conditions. Juveniles can adopt either an orange and yellow striped coloration, as seen above, or a completely white and red form that looks identical to B. neopercularis. Likewise, adults are also seen in these two colour forms, and they can change both in the wild and in captivity.
We’ve seen various permutations of change occurring in this species. Red/white banded juveniles growing into yellow adults, yellow juveniles growing into yellow adults or yellow adults changing into red/white ones for example. This throws a lot of questions into the mix regarding the validity of this species as a legitimate taxon, or if this is just a local form of B. neopercularis which can alter its coloration based on dietary or environmental changes.
Whatever it is, more samples, studies and analysis has to be carried out for more concrete answers.
This tank also features two females of Cirrhilabrus claire. This fish has a very interesting story and background, and like Bodianus “kimura”, it leaves us with more questions than answers. C. claire was named in honour of Claire T. Michihara, wife of the first collector for the species. It was officially described in 2001 based on specimens collected from the Cook Islands, which will serve as the type locality for this species.
It was only after eleven years in 2012 that much of the world saw the first ever living specimens in the trade. Since then we had only faded holotypes to base our guesses on, with regards to what this fish looks like. These however, were collected from the Southern Pacific. Miles away from their type location of the Cook Islands.
We took some HD photos of the males, marvelling at the unique coloration for this species. The Southern Pacific C. claire sports a purple ground color that appears greenish under certain oblique angles of lighting. The head is fitted with a yellow helmet and the tail is edged in black. It was unknown to us at the time that these represented a different variation of the species, and we only realised this when the real Cirrhilabrus claire was collected from the Cook Islands last year.
The Cook Island forms showed a completely different looking fish, which featured crazy red fins, an orange tail and a head without a helmet. The species is more colourful and vibrant and looks nothing like those that come out of the Southern Pacific. Since these came out of the Cook Islands, which serves as the type location, then these off-coloured C. claire must bear the original true to type coloration.
Now that leaves us asking, what do those from the Southern Pacific represent? A geographical variation? A new but closely related species? Without further investigation, no one will know. One thing’s for sure, we were tricked into thinking those were the real C. claire, and in the midst of the excitement, we should have known that since those weren’t from the Cooks, it could have gone both ways really. A range extension for the species, or a geographical form unique to the area and different from the type species.
A Pseudocheilinus ocellatus from the Southern Pacific also shares its home with the other two labrids. Individuals coming from this area are very unique, and are very much different from others coming from various locales. This species is wide ranging, and variable enough. It comes therefore as a surprise that juveniles from this area are completely suffused in yellow. The link above shows some examples of this phenomenon.
As it ages, the yellow suffusion is slowly replaced by the more familiar fuchsia, where it eventually reduces to a single strip along the dorsal fin. This unique coloration is found only in specimens coming out of the Southern Pacific, and has not been seen in those from other locales as of yet.
Numerous teeny weeny juvenile Centropyge narcosis and Paracentropyge boylei are also present. These two species have been talked about literally to the point of over exposure in the last two years or so, but it is always nice to see them again in person. Also this is the first time such tiny specimens of C. narcosis have ever been offered, and these juveniles are really only the size of a thumb nail.
BlueHarbor is really on a league of its own. There are many great stores and entities out there but really, it’s quite impossible or even unfair to pitch them against Koji and BlueHarbor. I guess more than anything else Koji is also a sucker for fish, and gets them in because at the end of the day, he’s a fish guy too.
It was a wonderful three days, getting to visit Mr. Makoto Matsuoka, Mr. Yume Yasuda and Dr. Shimokobe all in such a short time. Sincerest and warmest thank you as well, to Mr. Koji Wada. Prior to meeting in Osaka, Koji was in Singapore for two days. We travelled to Osaka with two hours apart between our flights after that.
I’ll forever remember the whirlwind of fish amazingness all squeezed in three days. I’ll also never forget that five hour boat ride at sea in blistering winter winds and choppy waves. Both events resulted in me needing to lie down, one for good reason and the other for fear of death. We took a group photo outside of BlueHarbor, but posting that won’t be necessary. My, and our sincerest gratitude transcends across a mere internet group-fie.