THE curiosity of a Weipa fisherman has led to a new species of fish being discovered in Queensland. For years, the “blue bastard” was known to anglers throughout the region, but most had just assumed it was a painted sweetlips, another similar-looking species.
But Weipa man Ben Bright thought otherwise. Having caught numerous blue bastards over the years, something didn’t add up when he compared them to images in books.
The painted sweetlips is also a bottom-feeding fish, whereas the blue bastard was commonly found in shallow reef areas. So Mr Bright decided to find out exactly what type of fish the blue bastard was. As it turned out, it was its own type of fish, although related to the sweetlips family.
“I emailed a biologist I know and he put me on to Jeff Johnson at the Queensland Museum,” Mr Bright recalled. “When I rang Jeff he basically knew straight away that I was on to something. They had known about this fish for a while, but hadn’t had the resources to throw at proving it.”
But now they had Mr Bright, who was a willing volunteer to help solve the mystery.
So last year, the man affectionately known as “Notso”, spent as many spare days and hours as he could muster to catch samples of the blue bastard to send away to Mr Johnson at the museum. It was easier said than done.
“The thing about the blue bastard is they are hard to catch. It took me a few months to catch four of them to send away,” Mr Bright said. “Once I got the four samples they needed I sent them down frozen so they could analyse them.”
From there, Mr Johnson teamed up with a Queensland Museum geneticist to analyse comparative specimens taken from as far afield as Africa, the Middle East and Japan, using their DNA sequence codes to see if it matched other species. Mr Johnson said it was amazing the blue bastard had remained elusive for so long, given the knowledge of its existence within the fly-fishing community.
“It’s quite a unique fish in both biology and behaviour, so in a way it’s surprising it took this long for it to be officially recognised as a new species,” he said.
Queensland Museum CEO Suzanne Miller said being able to scientifically confirm the existence of the fish was another exciting achievement. “It is also wonderful to be able to work with community to bring a new scientific discovery to the world,” she said.
The blue bastard can grow up to one metre in length, and undergoes an amazing transformation in colouration between juvenile and adult growth stages. The often solitary fish also exhibits a unique ‘kissing’ form of aggressive behaviour between rival males, thought be in defence of their territory, where they will rush each other and lock jaws in prolonged and violent struggles.
Mr Bright, who has a degree in aquaculture, said he was proud to play a role in the discovery, which has led to the fish being given the name plectorhinchus caeruleonothus. “It’s a big deal in the science world,” he said.
The Latin name acknowledges the fish’s family – sweetlips – while the second word translates directly to blue bastard. The scientific paper on the blue bastard was published in the zoological journal Zootaxa.
(Article by Matt Nicholls)