A freshwater fish that scientists thought was extinct has been found in southeastern Turkey, after an absence of nearly 50 years.
“I have been researching this area for 12 years and this fish was always on my wish list,” said Dr. Cüneyt Kaya, associate professor at Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University. “It has taken a long time. When I saw the distinctive bands of the fish, I was very happy. It was a perfect moment. “
The critically endangered Batman river loach (Paraschistura chrysicristinae), a tiny fish with yellow and brown stripes that grows to a maximum length of 3.6 cm (1.4 in), was previously found in streams and tributaries of the Batman and Ambar rivers, where it was last seen in 1974.
Kaya, a fish taxonomist, and Dr. Münevver Oral, a geneticist and researcher at the same university, focused their search on the loach upstream from Batman Dam, which was built between 1986 and 1999. “Because the species was lost , we couldn’t “We don’t know the original natural habitat so we weren’t sure where to look,” Kaya said. “The species is also very small and cylindrical, so the mesh of the nets had to be smaller. Previously, we used larger nets and I think the fish went through the nets so we didn’t find it. “
Using tightly woven nets, Kaya and Oral found 14 loaches in shallow, rocky, fast-flowing areas of Sarim Creek and another nine in Han Creek. The size of the fish may have counted in their favor. “We are lucky, because this species has no economic value,” Oral said. “If we talk about big trout, people like to go fishing. People often think of the fish they can eat. But the Batman river loach is so small. Local people tell us, ‘Is that why you came here, just to find this?’ “
More work is now needed to help secure the loach’s future, including examining potential threats such as populations fragmented by the dam, drought (which has been particularly severe in Turkey in 2021) and contamination. “Man-made pollution is a problem, so we need to raise the awareness of the local population,” Oral said. “The construction of the dam is another threat. There could also be invasive species. We don’t know the ecology of the species, so we need to do more research. “
Kaya and Oral’s expedition had the support of the conservation organizations Shoal and Re: wild, as part of their Search for the lost fish draft. The Batman River Loach is the first fish to be found on your “Most Wanted” 10 Lost Species list, which also includes the big catfish (Rhyzosomichthys) in Colombia’s high-altitude Tota Lake and the duck-billed buntingi (Adrianichthys kruyti) in Lake Poso, Indonesia.
“Freshwater fish are important to millions of people around the world who depend on them for their daily survival,” said Mike Baltzer, CEO of Shoal. “There are more than 18,000 species of fish. They are important for biodiversity and climate change, and a perfect indicator of the health of the rivers and lakes that we depend on for survival. Once these fish are found, it is necessary to work to save the species. “
According to the Forgotten fishes of the world report, which WWF, Shoal and other partners published this year, freshwater fish face serious threats.
“Freshwater fish are considered the most threatened group of fauna on the planet,” said Baltzer. “More than a third of freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction. Freshwater fish need more attention, we need to conserve rivers and lakes.
“It is very exciting to find a species like the Batman River Loach that was believed to be extinct. [It shows] that if we focus our minds and efforts, we can find other species and stop the extinction of fish. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism