A recent expedition to Curaçao’s “middle-light” reefs has discovered several new species of fish:
Ensconced in a plexiglass bubble some 500 feet beneath the azure waves of the southern Caribbean Sea, Carole Baldwin spied a lumpy oddball of a flesh-colored fish. It looked like an anglerfish, also known as a sea toad. Yet Baldwin, one of the most experienced Caribbean fish specialists alive, had not seen this variety.
She directed a technician in the five-person submarine to grab the creature with the vehicle’s suction arm. A squirt of anesthetic slowed the oddball so the arm could drop it into a milk crate strapped to the front of the sub.
Here, on one of 21 dives Baldwin and her colleagues made just off the island of Curacao, was another prize, another species probably new to science. Then the sub dropped. The groggy fish floated out of the crate, roused and wriggled off into the dark.
“There’s always one that gets away,” Baldwin said later in her office at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where a taxidermied swordfish presides from high atop the back wall. But at least a half-dozen newly discovered species did not escape the milk crate this summer.
While much of the ocean remains a vast unknown and no doubt full of unseen creatures, most of the Caribbean has been well surveyed. Pulling new species from this sea was “a huge surprise,” Baldwin said. “Everyone thought, ‘Been there, done that.’ ”
Previously on Green Antilles: Puerto Rico’s “middle-light” reefs explored for the first time.
[Photo: Barry B. Brown via washingtonpost.com]