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Devils Hole pupfish population reaches 19-year high in Nevada

Devils Hole pupfish
Death Valley National Park
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Devils Hole pupfish

Good news for one of the rarest fish on earth: Officials announced a count of 263 Devils Hole pupfish in their small Nevada cavern, the most they've observed in 19 years. 

The count was made after a 7.6 earthquake in Mexico "sloshed" around the small area on Sept. 19. Scientists used scuba and surface counters. 

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Counting pupfish in the shallow shelf portion of Devils Hole. (Death Valley Natural History Association/Kendra DeSomma)

The critically endangered fish live in the upper 80 feet of a deep water-filled cavern, which makes it the smallest range of any vertebrate species on the planet, according to officials. The area is a detached unit of Death Valley National Park, near Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nye County. 

The count is seasonal, and the highest since Sept. 2003. Decades ago, the count was around 400 to 500 in the fall. 

Kevin Wilson, aquatic ecologist for Death Valley National Park, manages resources of Devils Hole, and said in a news release that “recent high spring and fall counts show the importance of maintaining long-term data as we work to find out what’s changed.”

This week’s count continues an overall fall increase over the last nine years from the all-time low of 35 fish, officials said. 

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Right: Scuba divers about to descend in to Devils Hole to count pupfish. (National Park Service)

“It’s exciting to see the numbers gradually increasing over recent years," said Michael Schwemm, senior fish biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The ongoing trend, especially in this highly variable population, makes clear that habitat conditions have changed in a good way since the lowest counts, and we’re excited about the future directions for research and recovery.” 

The next count is planned for spring. 

 

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.