In an effort to help the species recover, biologists have moved some of the few remaining endangered Devils Hole pupfish from their secluded desert hot spring to a federal hatchery and, for a lucky few, a Las Vegas casino.
A total of nine pupfish — an inch-long blue fish named for its puppy-like energy level — were moved to the Mandalay Bay casino's aquarium and a federal fish hatchery on the Colorado River.
“This is the first time in our efforts to propagate the fish that we’ve moved actual Devils Hole fish,” said Bob Williams, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service field supervisor.
Williams is a spokesman for a state and federal team trying to save one of the first species listed as endangered in the United States.
Couples brought together
Two male adult pupfish were captured in their spring at Death Valley National Park along the Nevada-California border and moved Thursday to the Shark Reef aquarium and exhibit at the Mandalay Bay, Williams said.
Two female adult pupfish were brought to the Shark Reef exhibit from a refuge at Hoover Dam, where biologists have been trying to raise a backup population of the fish.
Five younger pupfish also were moved from Devils Hole to the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery in Arizona as part of a plan to establish Devils Hole pupfish in aquaria.
After the moves, an estimated 36 adult pupfish remain in the species’ only known natural home, a water-filled subterranean cavern about 100 miles west of Las Vegas, Williams said.
For more than 50 years, scientists have been trying to save the species, which once numbered more than 500.
Since the late 1990s, federal biologists have been tracking falling numbers. An accident wiped out as much as half the population in 2004. The species has not made the comeback experts had hoped.
They have bred hybrid pupfish at several facilities, including the Shark Reef.
Williams said the next step is to breed pure pupfish to stem the decline of a genetically unique species distinguished by the lack of pelvic fin common to other pupfish species.
Truman's 'peculiar fish'
To safeguard what he called a “peculiar fish,” President Harry Truman in 1952 designated 40 acres around the hole as part of Death Valley National Monument.
In 1967, the Devils Hole pupfish was listed as endangered.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that year that the site could be protected, and sided with the fish again in 1976 when developers and farmers challenged conservation efforts.