June 21, 2010 | 1
A newfound subspecies that hasn’t even been properly named yet could be wiped out by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, its discoverer has now warned.
The Louisiana pancake batfish, a previously unknown subspecies of pancake batfish (Halieutichthys aculeatus), was discovered six months ago by Prosanta Chakrabarty, assistant professor and curator of ichthyology at the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Sciences in Baton Rouge.
The tiny bottom-feeding batfish probably wouldn’t be directly threatened by the oil leak, because it lives at depths of 450 meters. But the small invertebrates that the batfish relies on for food could be killed by the crude oil or become poisonous as a result of contact with it. The toxic dispersant COREXIT, five million liters of which have been used so far to break up the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, could also pose a threat. "We know the oil and dispersant are toxic, and these batfish are low on the food chain, so I am worried that they will be susceptible," Chakrabarty told the AFP news service.
Chakrabarty first discovered a jarred sample of the batfish, along with another new species, in Louisiana State University’s collection. He then found four or five live samples in a trawling expedition in the Gulf last fall. "We were lucky to get four or five specimens," Chakrabarty told CNN. "The variation we found was enough for me to be convinced that there was something new."
The batfish, just a few centimeters in size, doesn’t swim, but hops around the seabed on its fins.
Photo: Louisiana pancake batfish by Prosanta Chakrabarty, courtesy of Louisiana State University