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New species of orange-red scorpionfish discovered in the Caribbean

  • The fish was discovered using a manned submersible, Curasub, operated by Smithsonian Institute’s Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP).
  • The scientists have named the newly discovered scorpionfish Scorpaenodes barrybrowni in honor of freelance photographer Barry Brown.
  • The fish’s common name is Stellate Scorpionfish, which the authors say is in reference to the star-shaped yellowish spots on the fish’s pectoral fin and radiating pigment markings highlighting its eyes.

In the southern Caribbean Sea, near the Island of Curaçao, scientists have discovered a new species of vibrantly-colored scorpionfish.

This bright orange-red fish occurs at depths of 95 to 160 meters (or 310 to 525 feet) and is the deepest-living member of its genus in the western Atlantic Ocean, researchers write in a new study published in ZooKeys. The fish was discovered using a manned submersible, Curasub, operated by Smithsonian Institute’s Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP).

Conventional SCUBA divers cannot go beyond depths of 30 to 50 metres below the water surface. But Curasub can go up to 300 meters, and is used by marine scientists to study the lesser-known tropical marine fishes and invertebrates occurring at those depths. Using two hydraulic arms, the Carasub immobilizes, anaesthetizes, and collects fish from these depths.

“The 50-300 m tropical ocean zone is poorly studied – too deep for conventional SCUBA and too shallow to be of much interest to really deep-diving submersibles,” Carole C. Baldwin, lead scientist of DROP, said in a statement. “The Curasub is providing scientists with the technology needed to remedy this gap in our knowledge of Caribbean reef biodiversity.”

Scorpaenodes barrybrowni in honor of Substation Curaçao and freelance photographer Barry Brown. Photo credit: Barry Brown.

The scientists have named the newly discovered scorpionfish Scorpaenodes barrybrowni in honor of freelance photographer Barry Brown, who “has patiently, diligently, and expertly taken photographs of hundreds of fishes and invertebrates captured alive by DROP Investigators,” the authors write. “He has generously shared his photographs, and they have enhanced numerous scientific and educational publications.”

The fish’s common name is Stellate Scorpionfish, which the authors say is in reference to the star-shaped yellowish spots on the fish’s pectoral fin and radiating pigment markings highlighting its eyes.

So far, the Carasub has discovered a number of new species. In January this year, for example, the Carasub discovered the Godzilla goby, while in 2013, the team discovered a new species of the blenny fish, Haptoclinus dropi.

“Stay tuned for more new discoveries,” Baldwin said in the statement. “We have only scratched the surface of our understanding of the biodiversity of tropical deep reefs.”

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