Posted: December 21, 2016

Coral Reef Fish named in Honor of President Obama Unique to Papahānaumokuākea

Coral Reef Fish named in Honor of President Obama Unique to Papahānaumokuākea

On December 21, scientists from the Bishop Museum, NOAA, and the Association for Marine Exploration published a description of a new species of coral reef fish that they named after President Barack Obama. The fish, whose scientific name is Tosanoides obama, was discovered during a June 2016 NOAA research expedition to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The study is published in the open-access scientific journal ZooKeys.

Famed undersea explorer Sylvia Earle presents President Obama with a picture of the fish that bears his name during his visit to Midway Atoll in September 2016. Credit: Brian Skerry/National Geographic, while filming "Sea of Hope: America's Underwater Treasures," premiering on National Geographic Channel on January 15, 2017

“We named this fish after President Obama to recognize his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea,” said Richard Pyle, Bishop Museum scientist and lead author of the study. “This expansion adds a layer of protection to one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth.”

On August 26 of this year, at the urging of Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaiʻi), Native Hawaiian leaders, 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. On September 1, the president was given a picture of the fish that now bears his name during his trip to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge within the Monument. The photograph was presented to Mr. Obama by famed undersea explorer Sylvia Earle, and the exchange will be featured in the National Geographic film, “Sea of Hope: America's Underwater Treasures” scheduled to be released January 15, 2017.

Holotype of Tosanoides obama, collected at a depth of 90 m off Kure Atoll. Credit: Richard L. Pyle/Bishop Museum
Paratype of Tosanoides Obama, collected at a depth of 92 m off Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Credit: Richard L. Pyle/Bishop Museum

The small pink and yellow fish is a kind of basslet, a group that includes many colorful reef fishes popular in the marine aquarium fish trade. There are two other species in the genus Tosanoides, both from the tropical northwestern Pacific Ocean, including southern Japan. 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 new fish is also unusual in that it is the only known species of coral reef fish endemic to the Monument (meaning that this species is not found anywhere else on Earth). All other reef fish species found within Papahānaumokuākea also occur either in the main Hawaiian Islands or Japan.

“Endemic species are unique contributions to global biodiversity,” said NOAA scientist Randall Kosaki, chief scientist of the research cruise and co-author of the study. “With the onslaught of climate change, we are at risk of losing some of these undiscovered species before we even know they exist.”

Holotype of Tosanoides obama (upper left) alongside presumed female (lower right, not collected) immediately prior to collection of the holotype, at a depth of 90 m off Kure Atoll. Both fish retreated into the same hole moments after this image was captured. Credit: Richard L. Pyle/Bishop Museum

The new fish was first seen and collected on a dive to 300 feet at Kure Atoll, 1200 miles northwest of Honolulu. Kure Atoll is the northernmost emergent land of the Hawaiian Islands, and is the highest latitude coral atoll in the world. Deep coral reefs at depths of 150 to 500 feet, also known as mesophotic coral ecosystems, or the “coral reef twilight zone,” are among the most poorly explored of all marine ecosystems. Deeper than divers using conventional scuba gear can safely venture, these reefs represent a new frontier for coral-reef research. Using advanced mixed-gas diving systems known as closed-circuit rebreathers, scientists like Pyle and co-authors Brian Greene and Randall Kosaki have been characterizing previously unexplored deep reefs throughout Hawai‘i and the insular Pacific.

This is the second new species of fish named from Papahānaumokuākea this year. In August, Pyle and Kosaki published the description of a new species of butterflyfish (Prognathodes basabei; doi: doi.org10.3897/zookeys.614.10200) based on specimens collected at Pearl and Hermes Atoll earlier this year. Elsewhere, President Obama also has a trapdoor spider, a speckled freshwater darter (fish), and an extinct lizard named after him.

The study was published on December 21, 2016 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal ZooKeys, and is available online at

Pictures and video of the fish and its habitat may be downloaded from Google Drive folder
Videos are available at this Youtube playlist.

Read the Bishop Museum press release »

Original source:

Pyle RL, Greene BD, Kosaki RK (2016) Tosanoides obama, a new basslet (Perciformes: Percoidei: Serranidae) from deep coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. ZooKeys 641: 165–181.