After 4 years in Curacao and some of the most amazing fishes known to man, I thought I had seen it all and was beginning to have doubts about whether we would find a new species that is as unique as the ecosystem it inhabits. Was I ever wrong. This new Plectranthias sp. is truly another wonder of the deep with its stunning coloration and very laid back demeanor.
It was collected from a depth of 200 meters (~650 feet) by the Curasub and RV Chapman on the nearby island, Klein Curacao, which is located 15km (~10 miles) from the main island of Curacao. This new Plectranthias species resembles the Apricot Bass (Plectranthias garrupellus) in size and posture but the coloration is what sets this fish apart.
The red, white, and yellow dorsal fade to a mélange of reds and yellows throughout the body with the typical teardrop pupils characteristic of basslets but this specimen has a yellow streak that runs across the nose and is continued through the eye to help hide the eyes from potential predators or prey.
This Plectranthias began his journey to the surface with the Curasub, which was able to collect this specimen alive with minimal stress, and its next stop was with Specialty Divers Manuel Jove, Michiel Van der Huls, and Jonathan Cremona . These divers removed the fishes from the collecting pod and placed them in special individual cups which were kept together in a mesh bag tied off to a down-line to allow seawater to pass through as the fishes decompress.
This particular fish made his way up to the surface in an amazing record time of 36 hours with four stops and did not require a needle/venting to complete his acclimation from the deep. After the decompression was completed our crew returned to Curacao Sea Aquarium with the new Plectranthias and a host of other deep water goodies for quarantine and eventual addition into the deep water displays at the Curacao Sea Aquarium.
This fish is so amazing we knew we would not get to keep him for long, but in the short time he was in our care we learned quite a bit about his behavior and habits. Despite being somewhat reclusive at first, this fish really developed an outgoing personality and would often react to greet guests to the lab (mostly because he got fed), but after the first two days it lost fear of lights and camera flashes.
We fed this specimen live mysis shrimp, which it started taking readily the first day. It spent most of its time either hiding half-in/half-out of a small cave or perched on the edge of the habitats in his system. A quite curious fish after acclimation that moved gracefully through the aquarium to explore its new habitat and was never too afraid to show offits amazing coloration.
We did not have the opportunity to mix it with other associated mesophotic fishes like the Golden Bass (Liopoproma abberans), Apricot Bass (Plectranthias garrupellus), Bladefin Basslet (Jeboehlkia gladifer), or Banded Basslet (Lipogramma evides), so I cannot comment on how it will interact with other fishes but if its normal demeanor is any indicator then this should be a peaceful fish indeed.
Collected along with the new Plectranthias were a species of deep sea box crab and the smallest Bladefin Basslet (Jeboehlkia gladifer) we have ever seen. Both specimens are just more examples of the wonders to be found on Mesophotic/Deep reef systems (70m-330m) and how little we know about these habitats. The box crab currently feeds on small snails living within the deep water display system at the Curacao Sea Aquarium and we supplement its diet with an addition of other snails found from the shallows and intertidal areas.
The Bladefin Basslet is estimated to be somewhere between 60 and 75 days old and is the smallest specimen of the species we have ever collected and decompressed successfully. This individual was collected at a depth of 230m (~ 750 feet) and as been living in the deep water quarantine since it is so small we would lose it in the displays. Below you can see some short videos of this fish eating Artemia and then live mysis. Notice that it is still clear enough to see the pink Artemia in the gut during the video.
The more time we spend in the deep, the more we realize how much more there is still to be learned and that ocean is still full of secrets and treasures like this new Plectranthias. As we delve further into the modern era our technology and reach into the depths of the oceans increases and so should our understanding of how these organisms, and their ecosystems, play a vital role in the grand scheme of things.
There is more than meets the eye when it comes to the depths of the ocean with only a select few are able to take our eyes to the deep. Even fewer still venture forth into the depths to bring wonders like these fishes back for all to see and learn. We hope to keep bringing you more updates on the fascinating life from deep beneath the waves. As always you can follow updates on the Curacao Sea Aquarium on our Facebook page, or right here on ReefBuilders!
This has been a guest contribution from Joe Oliver, a resident Marine Biologist for the Curacao Sea Aquarium and Substation Curacao.