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Nevada scientists report highest population in decades of rare Devils Hole pupfish

Devils Hole pupfish
Death Valley National Park
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Devils Hole pupfish

One of the rarest fish on earth, the Devils Hole pupfish in Death Valley, is making a comeback — relatively. Scientists recently counted 175 of the small fish, the highest count in 22 years.

The finding also comes 50 years after the first time the isolated fish were counted on April 6, 1972.

The fish live in the sun-lit shallows of a small cavern, the smallest range of any vertebrate on the planet, according to Death Valley National Park. (Devils Hole is a detached unit of Death Valley National Park adjacent to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nye County.)

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Before the 1900s, the population was around 200, then it dropped to an average of 90 in recent years. The lowest count was 35 fish.

Kevin Wilson, aquatic ecologist for Death Valley National Park, manages resources of Devils Hole, and stated “such shifts highlight the importance of maintaining long-term data as we work to find out what’s changed.”

There was a "surprising" number of young pupfish below the surface, according to Brandon Senger, supervising fisheries biologist for Nevada Department of Wildlife. The fish appeared in "remarkable" condition and very active.

The pupfish will be counted again next fall. 

Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She oversees and writes State of Nevada’s online and social media content.