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New freshwater fish species report reveals a fish called wolverine, a colorful goby and 209 other new species

Freshwater species conservation initiative Shoal, with support from Re:wild, releases report highlighting the incredible diversity of 211 newly described freshwater fish species

For immediate release, March 25, 2022

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For immediate release
March 14, 2022

Freshwater species conservation initiative Shoal, with support from Re:wild and Synchronicity Earth, published a landmark new report on March 24, outlining the 2011 freshwater fish species described in 2021. The ‘New Species 2021’ report dives into detail on a selection of the species - striped and spotted, soft and spiky, bold and timid - in all their magnificent diversity.

"Every discovery of a new species highlights the unique connections among all living things, enriching our lives and filling us with appreciation for the wealth of biodiversity our Earth supports, Harmony Patricio, conservation program manager at Shoal and freshwater fish conservation program manager at Re:wild, said. "For conservationists, understanding these links between organisms is crucial in helping us prioritize where to act." 

An average of four freshwater fish species were described each week last year, proving there is still much to learn about what lies under the surface of the planet’s rivers, lakes and wetlands. With around one-third of freshwater fish threatened with extinction, it is a race to discover and describe species to give them the best possible chance of survival. 

Each new species deepens researchers' understanding of evolution, informs knowledge of the relations between species, other organisms and their environment, and helps define conservation priorities.

Discoveries can even lead to research that deepens knowledge of human life: Danionella cerebrum, for example, is currently used in neurophysiological research, with ramifications for understanding brain function in humans.

“Two-hundred-and-eleven is a remarkable number of species to be described in just one year, though it is by no means an anomaly," said Mike Baltzer, Shoal’s executive director. "Each year, hundreds of freshwater fish species are described by scientists. New Species 2021 will be the first edition of an annual release of New Species reports from Shoal. We are excited by the opportunity to help tell the species’ stories, and hope we can draw attention to them, and encourage people to act to help save them before it’s too late”.

Other species detailed in the report include:

The Mumbai blind eel Rakthamichthys mumba: discovered, ironically, at the bottom of a well shaft in the grounds of a school for the blind. It is bright red and has no eyes, fins or scales.

The aptly named Wolverine pleco Hopliancistrus wolverine: possesses three stout ‘odontodes’ concealed beneath its gill covers, which it uses defensively to stab anything that threatens it. Researchers report repeatedly bloodied fingers when handling them.

And the fantastically colorful Kijimuna and Bunagaya gobies Lentipes kijimuna and Lentipes bunagaya from Okinawa, Japan. Named after woodland spirits of the island’s folklore.

“This report is a fantastic example of how much we still have to learn about freshwater fish biodiversity," said Brian Zimmerman, director of conservation and science at Bristol Zoological Society in the UK, and co-chair of the IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group, said. "With 211 species newly described in one year, across such an incredibly diverse range of taxa and geographical locations, it brings so much excitement and hope to those who care about the freshwater ecosystems that sustain life on earth.  The variety of habitats, forms and behaviors represented in each of the newly described species offers incredible opportunities for further study and understanding. I am truly inspired by this report and look forward to learning more about the fascinating species it showcases.”

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Photo: The recently described Kijimuna goby, from Okinawa, Japan. Named after a
wood spirit of Okinawan folk mythology. © Ken Maeda

Shoal is a global collaborative initiative to halt the extinction and recover populations of the most threatened freshwater species in the wild. Freshwater species are going extinct faster than their marine or terrestrial cousins, and almost one in three of those alive today could soon disappear, never to return. There is an urgent need for determined action, and Shoal is building a strong community of partners that will work together to give critical attention, escalate support, and accelerate and intensify the action that is required to stem the tide of extinction and recover endangered species populations throughout the Earth’s freshwaters.

Shoal is a programme of Synchronicity Earth and Re:wild. Synchronicity Earth is a charity registered in the UK and Wales No: 1132786 and a company limited by guarantee No: 06952204. Re:wild is a U.S.-based 501(c)3 non-profit corporation.

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