The Helfrich’s firefish, Nemateleotris helfrichi has been discovered in the Philippines, extending the species range by more than 1000 km, or 600 miles. The recent finding is important not only from a fish ecology perspective but it also puts this fish within reach of the prolific fish exporting stations of the Philippines.
The discovery of the Helfrich’s firefish was made about 3500 miles from where Helfrich’s firefish are usually exported to the aquarium trade, in the Marshall Islands, by divers working for RVS Fishworld in Calayan Island, Cagayan at a depth of 30 meters, or just around 100 feet. Despite coming from thousands of miles from the origin of Marshallese helfrich’s firefish, the lone specimen which is chronicled in pictures below looks virtually identical to how we expect Helfrich’s firefish to appear.
It should be noted that the “real” N. helfrichi is likely to come solely from the south Pacific Ocean where Cook Island specimens are much larger with an overall purple face, and that what we call helfrich’s firefish is a different species which has yet to be officially recognized. And we’ve seen this story play out before with the exquisite firefish, Nemateleotris exquisita being a different species of purple firefish from the western Indian Ocean which was described less than two years ago.
The color pattern of the filipino Nemateleotris helfrichi looks perfect, the first dorsal fin and the pelvic fins look a little on the long side but this is normal for certain fish specimens which are presumed to be males of the species. With just one specimen to show for their collecting efforts, RVS Fishworld will have to come up with many more samples of Helfrich’s firefish to determine whether this species is truly found in the Philippines, or if this one perfect little guy is simply a waif that strayed a little too far from home.