Scientists have just named an adorable new species of Hawaiian coral reef fish after President Obama.
The fish, now formally dubbed Tosanoides obama, was found back in June during an expedition by divers inside Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument – a protected area that Obama expanded earlier this year.
“We decided to name this fish after President Obama to recognise his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea,” said lead author Richard Pyle from the Bishop Museum in Hawaii.
“This expansion adds a layer of protection to one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth.”
The expansion Pyle is referring to took place back in August when Obama – at the urging of scientists – expanded Papahānaumokuākea by a whopping 1,146,797 square kilometres (442,781 square miles), bringing the total coverage up to 1,508,870 square kilometres (582,578 square miles).
With that, the Papahānaumokuākea is now the largest ecologically protected monument on Earth.
The newly found fish that honours this action is small and coloured bright pink and yellow. It belongs to the genus Tosanoides, which has two other species in it besides this new one.
All of the known Tosanoides species call the tropical region of Pacific Ocean home.
The new species was found and collected during a dive at the Kure Atoll, 1,931 kilometres (1,200 miles) northwest of Honolulu.
It was discovered by US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) divers who were 91 metres (300 feet) below the surface, examining the deep mesophotic coral ecosystem.
These unique coral reef habitats stretch from about 48 metres (150 feet) to 152 metres (500 feet) below the ocean’s surface, making them hard for traditional divers to study, though the team notes that understanding how these deep systems work is the ‘new frontier’ of ocean research.
“These deep coral reefs are home to an incredible diversity of fishes, corals, and other marine invertebrates,” said one of the researchers, Brian Greene, from the Association of Marine Exploration. “There are many new species still waiting to be discovered down there.”
Besides officially protecting the area where the newly discovered fish was found, male T. obama fish have an odd red spot near their tails that has blue around the edges, looking kind of like Obama’s campaign logo.
“The spot on the males is reminiscent of President Obama’s campaign logo,” Pyle said. “It seemed especially appropriate for a fish named in honour of the president.”
So far, this particular species is only known to exist inside the newly expanded monument, which highlights just how important it is to protect the region.
As chief scientist Randall Kosaki from the NOAA explains:
“The new fish is special because it is the only known species of coral-reef fish endemic to the Monument (meaning that the species is found nowhere else on Earth). Our research has documented the highest rate of fish endemism in the world – 100 percent – living on the deep reefs where we found this new species.
Endemic species are unique contributions to global biodiversity. With the onslaught of climate change, we are at risk of losing some of these undiscovered species before we even know they exist.”
The team notes that this is the second new species of fish found in the area. The first – a butterfly fish now known as Prognathodes basabei - was detected back in August by members of the same team.
This isn’t the first time Obama has had a species named after him. His name has been attached to a trapdoor spider, a parasitic hairworm, an extinct lizard, and a speckled freshwater darter.
The team’s work was published in ZooKeys.