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Endangered pupfish found only in limestone cave makes miraculous rebound: 'We're excited about the future'

"It's exciting to see an increasing trend."

"It’s exciting to see an increasing trend."

Photo Credit: U.S Fish & Wildlife Service

The Devils Hole pupfish may be small — generally less than an inch long, per the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — but they became the source of major celebrations among fisheries biologists this spring.

The pupfish is endangered, with the entire population confined to a single cave — Devils Hole — in Nevada's Death Valley. In fact, it holds the record for the smallest habitat of any vertebrate species, as Good News Network reported.

Biologists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been monitoring the population of this vulnerable species for decades by conducting annual counts with scuba divers. 

According to the NPS, there was an average of 200 to 250 pupfish recorded each year prior to the mid-1990s. But in the decades following, the population sank to fewer than 100 fish, with an alarming all-time low of only 35 fish in 2013.

Fortunately, the spring 2024 count brought promising results of nearly 200 individuals — a 25-year high.

Brandon Senger, Supervising Fisheries Biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said in an NPS press release, "It was really encouraging to see such a large number of young fish during these spring dives. Conditions within Devils Hole looked healthy, so we have hopes of high recruitment over the coming months that will lead to a large population in the fall."

"It's exciting to see an increasing trend, especially in this highly variable population," added Senior Fish Biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Michael Schwemm. 

"Increasing numbers allow the managing agencies to consider research that may not have been possible in the past, when even slight perturbations of habitat or fish had to be completely avoided. We're excited about the future directions with respect to managing this species."

The resurgence of the pupfish is also great news for locals and tourists who come to view the unique species from a special viewing platform near Devils Hole. The oasis is heavily protected by fencing to ensure the species' survival, proving that conservation efforts make a difference for both humans and animals. 

For example, efforts to restore bee populations and wetland ecosystems show what's possible when we work together to safeguard our shared planet. 

The Good News Network wrote, "There is a cold comfort given to the nature lover who knows, even if they never witness it, that a small and inconceivably vulnerable fish lives on still in peace and tranquility in the desert."

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