New Hawaiian coral-reef fish named for President Obama

Tosanoides obama
CC BY 3.0 Dr. Sylvia Earle gives President Barack Obama a photograph of Tosanoides obama on Midway Atoll. (Photo: Brian Skerry/National Geographic)

The new species endemic to the marine protected area expanded by Obama was named in honor of his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment.

Sure, presidents get bridges and libraries and highways named after them – but how many get an animal named in their honor? Now that's a legacy. And that's what just happened for President Obama when scientists named a new fish in honor of the president.

In the summer of 2016 Obama expanded Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to a whopping 582,578 square miles, making it the largest permanent marine protected area on Earth. The new fish, Tosanoides Obama, is from the area.

"We decided to name this fish after President Obama to recognize his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea," says 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."

The description of the new species was published by scientists from the Bishop Museum, NOAA, and the Association for Marine Exploration. The small pink and yellow fish is a kind of basslet and was discovered during a June 2016 NOAA expedition to Papahānaumokuākea. It was collected at 300 feet below the surface at Kure Atoll, the northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands – it is the highest latitude coral atoll on the planet.

Obama fishRichard L. Pyle / Bishop Museum/CC BY 3.0

"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% – living on the deep reefs where we found this new species," says NOAA scientist Randall Kosaki, chief scientist of the research cruise, and co-author on the paper. Yet unlike the other endemic species in the Hawaiian Islands, this new species stands out because it is the only one that lives exclusively within the Monument itself. "Endemic species are unique contributions to global biodiversity," Kosaki adds. "With the onslaught of climate change, we are at risk of losing some of these undiscovered species before we even know they exist."

And while this is such a wonderful honor, it isn’t a first for Obama. As it stands now, there is also a trapdoor spider, a speckled freshwater darter fish, a parasitic hairworm, and an extinct lizard all bearing the name of Obama – a president whose legacy will transcend history books as it sneaks into biology books as well.

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