New basslet named in honour of President Obama

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The new basslet has been named Tosanoides obama . Image by R. L. Pyle.

A colourful new reef fish discovered in the remote northwestern Hawaiian Islands has been given the name Tosanoides obama.


The new basslet was named in honour of President Barack Obama to recognise his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea, where the new fish was found during a June 2016 NOAA expedition.

In August this year, at the urging of Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), conservationists, and many marine scientists, President Obama expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. At 582,578 square miles, it is the largest permanent marine protected area on Earth.

There are two other species in the genus Tosanoides, both from the tropical northwestern Pacific Ocean. Males of the new species have a distinctive spot on the dorsal fin near the tail, which is blue around the edge and red with yellow stripes in the center. “The spot on the males is reminiscent of President Obama’s campaign logo,” said Dr. Richard Pyle, Bishop Museum scientist and lead author of the study. “It seemed especially appropriate for a fish named in honour of the president.”

“The new fish is special because it is the only known species of coral-reef fish endemic to the Monument (meaning that the species is found nowhere else on Earth). Our research has documented the highest rate of fish endemism in the world — 100 percent — living on the deep reefs where we found this new species,” said NOAA scientist Randall Kosaki, chief scientist of the research cruise, and co-author on the paper. However, unlike all the other Hawaiian endemic species, which also occur in the main Hawaiian Islands, this new species is special because it is the only one that is limited to within the Monument itself. “Endemic species are unique contributions to global biodiversity,” Kosaki added. “With the onslaught of climate change, we are at risk of losing some of these undiscovered species before we even know they exist.”

The new fish was first discovered and collected on a dive to 300 feet at Kure Atoll, 1,200 miles northwest of Honolulu. Kure is the northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands, and is the highest latitude coral atoll in the world. 

The new study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal ZooKeys, and is available online.