As popular as marine angelfishes are, there’s still a few species which hardly register on the radar of aficionados. It doesn’t help that several of these species like Apolemichthys guezei, Genicanthus spinus and Centropyge hotumatua are very rarely encountered by people, but thankfully we’ve got one of the unobtainium angelfish living not too far from the U.S. coast.
The Clipperton angelfish, Holacanthus limbaughi, is restricted to a tony atoll about 1,000 miles off the shores of west Mexico. This tiny spit of uninhabited land is actually a French protectorate which is better known to longline fishermen than any kind of divers or fish collectors.
Many beautiful eastern Pacific tropical fish live at Clipperton Island, but none is ‘more endemic’ than the clipperton angelfish. Unfortunately, the last time we really heard about fresh new Clippertons was nearly eight years ago due to some shady fish handling and a seized shipment of ‘Blue Passer’ angelfish.
All drama and legalese aside, the clipperton angelfish is a quite beautiful fish, which shares many traits in common with another beautiful Holacanthus, the Clarion angelfish. However instead of being mostly golden orange with a yellow tail, the Clipperton angel is mostly blue with a BIG white tail.
In teh absence of good lighting adults of this species may look grey overall, but with proper illumination, the brilliant metallic blue edging of its fins is hard to miss. Also, the whole body actually sports a lustrous blue green iridescence, which turns to a subtle lavender color around the face. But youngun’s are almost solid blue, and unique among all species of Pomacanthidae.
Alas, if you want to see a living Clipperton Angelfish you’ll have to go to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, the only place in the world where this species is on public display. Which is exactly what we did on our way down to MACNA last week.
We’ve been visiting this lonesome Clipperton throughout the years, dropping in on his public aquarium co-star, the overgrown annularis angelfish which has since ‘retired’ from public view. This clipperton angelfish was the result of an expedition back in the late nineties, we don’t exactly when, but this fish has got to be right around the corner from 20 years old.
Despite its advanced years, the Clipperton angelfish is still going strong in a fairly large exhibit. Every couple years we come around the corner expecting it not to be there, and so far, each time, there it is swimming calmly and taking its sweet time to show itself off near the front glass of this exhibit.
As you can see this long term aquarium resident is not shy of the camera – we featured this specimen in a full length article many years ago and it was a delight to revisit this fish and see that it is in good health. It might be a little rotund in the belly after years of a fatty aquarium diet but that’s much better than the alternative.
If you’re a diehard angelfish fan and find yourself in the Long Beach area, do yourself a favor and swing by the Aquarium of the Americas and say hello to this fella. He’s the only one on display for thousands of miles, and anywhere in the world that we’re aware of.