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Biologists monitor rare pupfish indigenous to Devils Hole

Reported by: Marissa Mike
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Updated: 7/16/2013 3:20 pm
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (KSNV & MyNews3) -- One of the world's rarest fish, that lives right here in southern Nevada, is on the brink of extinction.
 
The Devils Hole pupfish lives in Death Valley and the entire population is down to less than 40.

The pup fish’s habitat is Devil’s Hole and the numbers are decreasing.

Devil's Hole pupfish may be quick in the water, but they are also on the quick decline.

Dr. Kevin Wilson works with the Death Valley National Park.

Wilson monitors the pupfish 60 feet below the inner workings of Devils hole from the algae to the water levels to the fish themselves.

“They are somewhat stressed... high temp, low oxygen,” Wilson said.

The blue iridescent 1-inch-long fish have been living in the 91 degree waters of Devils Hole for more than 10,000 years.

But in the last half-century, they've seen their share of stresses with groundwater pumping in the ‘60s dropped the water levels in Devils Hole making it tough for the endangered species to breed.

Most recently earthquakes shocked the scene during their critical spawning season.

“Induced waves that created movement of water that scoured the shallow shelve,” Wilson said.”

“It would be sad to see the pupfish disappear on our watch,” said Dr. Duane Moser, a microbiologist with the Desert Research Institute.

His job is researching the microorganisms that help sustain the ecosystem of Devils Hole.

“The temps on the shelf are higher today than they would have been in the past,” Moser said “It’s just enough to put them over the edge.”

The pupfish are in such dire numbers. Researchers say there are too few left to capture and breed them in captivity.

So now their temporary lab sits over the fish habitat with funnels above and thermometers in the water.

The hope is for a breakthrough sooner than later.

Otherwise southern Nevada and the world could be without another one of nature's gems.

“We have the bristle cone pines in Mount Charleston. The pupfish at Devils Hole,” Moser said “These are things you don’t find anywhere else in the world. If you lose that, we’re all a little bit poorer for that.”

Because these small fish could have a big impact to the human race, researchers say if those fish die off we'll never know.

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