Endangered Fish Find Temporary Refuge from El Niño at Birch Aquarium at Scripps


Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego is playing a critical role in the conservation of local Southern California Tidewater Goby, an endangered species native to California.

Since El Niño storms have the potential to inundate the habitat of these small coastal fish, Birch Aquarium is temporarily housing 300 gobies to shelter them from the impacts of this year’s storms.

“Birch Aquarium at Scripps is proud to participate in the Tidewater Goby conservation efforts to help protect this endangered species,” says executive director Harry Helling. “Conservation is a critical component to our mission and this initiative is just one way we demonstrate our commitment to protecting the planet, especially the ocean, for future generations.”

Researchers studying the Tidewater Goby (Eucyclogobius newberryi) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) expressed concern that the large El Niño storms could negatively impact its already threatened population. Periodic flushing of gobies is a natural dispersal occurrence that helps populate adjacent estuaries and lagoons. However, species numbers have declined in recent years, possibly due to development and issues related to climate change. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton completed an emergency action plan to evacuate some of the population in order to protect them. Nearly 300 fishes were collected at multiple locations at Camp Pendleton by biologists from UCLA, CDFW, USFWS, and Camp Pendleton, and brought to Birch Aquarium. The number of animals collected represents less than 10 percent of the total population of the species, but will serve as an important safeguard during the rest of the El Niño season.

Since each lagoon habitat is unique, the fish are kept separated into two different populations while living at Birch Aquarium. Spread through 12 large tanks, both groups of Tidewater Gobies have settled into their temporary homes. The fish are doing well in the sandy-bottomed tanks and eating brine shrimp. Some of the endangered fish may be pregnant, and if they successfully breed, the juveniles will be returned the wild.

Members of the public can see the fish in the aquarium’s nursery, located in the Hall of Fishes. In addition, the public is invited to learn more about how they can help save threatened and endangered ocean animals on Endangered Species Day on May 20.

The Tidewater Gobies will be returned to the wild once the current El Niño storm season has passed. Each population will be returned to the particular lagoon from which it was collected.

“We hope that the population will continue to grow upon return to the wild,” says Helling.

About Tidewater Goby

Tidewater Goby are a small fish native to the coastal lagoons and estuaries of California. Rarely exceeding two inches, these shallow water fish require a slow moving mix of fresh and salt water. Historically found from Del Norte County, Calif. to San Diego County, Calif. Tidewater Goby are still found throughout the range, but in fewer locations. These coastal habitats have been heavily impacted by development, diversion of streams and estuaries, pollution, and introduction of non-native species, resulting in the endangered status of the species. Long-term conservation requires continued protection and restoration of degraded habitat.

About Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the aquarium features more than 60 habitats of fishes and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and the western Pacific. An interactive museum showcases research discoveries by Scripps scientists on climate, earth, and ocean science and features five-dozen hands-on elements. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Birch Aquarium has an annual attendance of more than 400,000, including 40,000 school children.

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