08/17/09 – Rare Find?
Sunday afternoon's dive brought an unexpected find, a deepwater goosefish called Sladenia shaefersi. This deepwater goosefish is such an infrequent catch that it does not even have a common name. It is an interesting fish with a wide mouth filled with sharp teeth, eyes that point more upward than forward and dark smooth skin covered with spiral-shaped white markings.
This is the first specimen caught in United States waters and only the third caught in the world. The previous collections are from the southern Caribbean Sea near the northern end of South America. There are also two photographic documentations of the fish, one in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the coast of South Carolina. It was exciting to collect this fish and be able to examine it closely.
Finding this fish here and coupling it with the photographic evidence from the Gulf and South Carolina, suggests that it might not be as rare as we think. It may simply be that, because this habitat is so difficult to sample, these fish have remained hidden. These deepwater reefs provide extraordinary habitat for a variety of species. The reefs themselves are hard to reach and even more difficult from which to collect. The Johnson-Sea-Link submersible is one of very few ways we can explore the area and sample for specific animals. This goosefish might also be tied very strongly to this reef habitat, just as Polar Bears are tied to the Arctic.
This area of deepwater reefs off Cape Canaveral has extraordinary biodiversity, even more than some other areas we have surveyed on this mission. As in our last visit in 2004, we find small patch reefs that are packed with unique species. Every dive adds more to our knowledge and understanding of the area and the follow up work back in the lab will help trace the energy flow through this ecosystem and populations that live in this habitat.