Love child of the deep blue ocean

Pilbara News - - News - Peter de Krui­jff

■ A fish which has taunted North­ern Aus­tralian an­glers has been sci­en­tif­i­cally la­belled a lit­eral “bas­tard” to catch.

The fish’s sci­en­tific name is Plec­torhinchus caeruleonothus, with caeruleo mean­ing blue and nothus, bas­tard, due to its no­to­ri­ety as a dif­fi­cult tar­get species among the fly fish­ing com­mu­nity in WA and Cape York, Queens­land.

The blue bas­tard is a species of sweet­lip, of­ten con­fused for a painted sweet­lip. It is com­mon across the north of the coun­try which was iden­ti­fied by Queens­land Mu­seum ichthy­ol­o­gist Jeff John­son af­ter a Weipa fish­er­man Ben Bright sent him a few photos.

Mr John­son said Mr Bright then caught four adult spec­i­mens on fly over a few months to be used for DNA anal­y­sis against com­par­a­tive species from else­where in the world.

“DNA se­quences of nu­mer­ous other sweet­lip species from Aus­tralia, In­done­sia, Ja­pan, East Africa and the Ara­bian Sea were ob­tained from var­i­ous sources, es­pe­cially an in­ter­na­tional data­base of DNA codes,” he said.

“In ad­di­tion to this a large num­ber of pro­por­tional mea­sure­ments, and counts of fea­tures such as scales, fin spines, gill rak­ers and teeth, were made from 17 pre­served mu­seum spec­i­mens found in fish col­lec­tions in Perth, Dar­win and Ho­bart.”

The blue bas­tard grows up to one me­tre in length and is a soli­tary fish which en­gages in ag­gres­sive “kiss­ing” with male ri­vals which will lock jaws in pro­longed strug­gles. Like the painted sweet­lip, the blue bas­tard is grey­ish in colour as an adult and un­der­goes a trans­for­ma­tion los­ing the colour­ful pat­terns of its ju­ve­nile stage as it gets older.

Where the blue bas­tard dif­fers, though, is in the dor­sal fin spines where the painted sweet­lip has nine or 10 com­pared with the for­mer’s 12.

The blue bas­tard likes shal­low flats near rocky or coral out­crops sur­rounded by sand and can be found from the Nin­ga­loo Reef through to Ex­mouth and the Dampier Ar­chi­pel­ago.

About 30 new species of fish are of­fi­cially de­scribed by ichthy­ol­o­gists from Aus­tralian wa­ters ev­ery year.

Mr John­son said there were still many new un­de­scribed species out there in the big blue.

“Es­pe­cially in re­mote ar­eas of the north,” he said. “Many will be small, cryptic, or look sim­i­lar to other al­ready known species.”

Pic­ture: Queens­land Mu­seum

An adult blue bas­tard.

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