Earthquakes Might Have Been Good For Endangered Pupfish

The earthquakes two weeks ago were bad news for many. In Ridgecrest, California, homes burned and roads cracked. In Nevada, a man was crushed under the car he was working on.  


But 200-something miles away, in an outpost of Death Valley, the 7.1-magnitude earthquake might’ve been good for one of the rarest fishes on the planet. 

"The earthquakes they are kind of a two-edged sword," said Kevin Wilson, the aquatic ecologist at Death Valley National Park. "There is a very positive aspect of earthquakes occurring in Devil's Hole, and then there is this short-term negative impact."

The short-term negative impact is that fish eggs probably died during the quake, but the long-term positive impact is that quakes can "reset" the eco-system by sloshing away algae and dead leaves that can take oxygen from the water.

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Wilson said the park service hopes releasing the dramatic video of the earthquake will help draw attention to the Devils Hole pupfish, which is probably the world's most endangered fish.

It is only found in this one pool of water, which is located in a remote section of the Mojave Desert. Right now, there are 135 fish in the pool, but in the spring of 2013, the population was down to just 35.

"I live in Pahrump and my wife and I felt [the earthquake]," Wilson said, "and the first thing I thought about was, 'Oh my goodness, what's happened at Devil's Hole?'"

After he felt the quake, Wilson checked cameras that surround Devil's Hole and saw large waves and splashes. He had to go out the next morning to check on the system and the fish.

But Wilson points out that the fish have evolved in an environment where earthquakes happen. 

"The fish know that something is coming and they will swim deeper into Devil's Hole where the effects aren't as bad," he said.


Kevin Wilson, aquatic ecologist, Death Valley National Park

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