The Cenderawasih butterflyfish, Forcipiger wanai, was described just a little over three years ago from Cenderwasih Bay Indonesia. New species of butterflyfish don’t come along very often so we definitely took note when one was newly minted.
Forcipiger wanai is only the third species of longnose butterflyfish to be described, along with F. flavissimus and F. longirostris. Whereas these latter two species have a natural distribution throughout the Indian and Pacific Ocean, F. wanai is only known from the Bird’s Head peninsula of West Papua, Indonesia, and previously thought to be one of many endemic reef fish from Cenderawasih Bay.
To our great surprise, while diving Raja Ampat at the beginning of the year we were delighted to discover that the ‘Cenderawasih’ Butterflyfish can also be found outside of the Bay from which it gets its name. On the south side of Waigeo Island, we were diving along a coastal reef slope, just swimming along, checking out the corals, when out of the blue a Cenderawasih butterflyfish just swam into view.
It was very exciting to observe this species in an unexpected place, and since very few pictures of F. wanai are available to view, becoming familiar with the appearance of this fish in real life was a great treat. Although I was set up to photograph stationary corals, our sharp-shooting dive partner Vincent Chalias kept his shutter button hot while documenting the fish outside of its documented natural range.
Like the unusually colored Copperband butterflyfish we also sighted in Raja Ampat, at first we only saw one specimen, and wondered if we had simply sighted a rare waif that strayed far from home. Thankfully, subsequent dives yielded additional sightings of this rare butteflyfish species and we were able to produce a nice photo spread of Forcipiger wanai to share with you.
Interestingly, we sighted plenty of cenderawasih butterflyfish as well as regular yellow longnose butterflyfish, apparently living sympatrically with no issues. Normally the species were paired up with their own kind, but we also some mixed pairings of both Forcipiger wanai and F. flavissimus. And unsurprisinigly, we also saw some possible hybrid specimens which showed an intermediate color between full-on F. wanai with the darkened body coloration, and solid yellow body coloration.
You know, it’s one thing to discover a new species of reef fish through its original description or in online pictures, but it was an altogether different experience to become ‘familiar’ with the Cenderawasih butterflyfish while 40 feet underwater in one of the richest coral reef ecosystems in the world. The ‘saddle’ of dark coloration which straddles the Cenderawasih butterflyfish is quite noticeable and it contrasted strongly with the solid yellow coloration of yellow longnose butterflyfish we also sighted in the same habitats.
We definitely want to give Vincent Chalias an extra helping of photo credit for his spread of Forcipiger wanai pictures; these fish were very wary, darting in and out of coral heads, desperately avoiding our attention. But ultimately his photo skills and determination definitely delivered with this great spread of pictures of Forcipiger wanai, the newest species of butterflyfish.