An unidentified fish (aka The Mystery Fish) has been found at the Kapiti Marine Reserve. Diver Ben Knight, who is also the chairman of the Guardians of the Kapiti Marine Reserve, found the mystery fish whilst off the coast of Kapiti in January.
“I was out for a snorkel in the marine reserve and spotted what I thought was a small juvenile red moki with unusual color bands. I was curious to know more about this fish so I took a short video clip of it and shared the video to our Guardians Facebook group.” he says.
“We have a number of marine fish experts within the group and they were all very excited to see the video. It turns out this is not a red moki or any other common New Zealand fish and may in fact be a previously unidentified species which is pretty exciting.”
At around 20cm long, it has the markings of a red moki on the body of a tarakihi. Knight says that marine fish experts have been unable to identify the specimen, including authorities from three countries.
The Mystery Fish is believed to be part of the cheilodactylidae family, which includes both the tarakihi and the red moki. Fish from this category are known as morwongs. Morwongs can be found all across the southern hemisphere, however this fish has a distinctive appearance separating it from all others in the family.
There is potential for it to be a cross of tarakihi and red moki, and it’s even been dubbed as a “taramoki” by some. The theory is supported by many, including marine scientist C. A. J. Duffy. However, as the tarakihi and red moki are in different genera, the rank below the family, skepticism has been expressed at the idea.
With the unusually high temperatures of the past few summers, and the high water temperature, it’s also possible that the fish has drifted in from a hotter part of the world, perhaps the Indian Ocean. In any case, divers are encouraged to look out for other fish like it.
Whatever the identity of the Mystery Fish, Knight says the sighting highlights the biodiversity values that Kāpiti Marine Reserve protects and the important role marine reserves play in providing a ‘baseline’ of unexploited habitat and species against which changes resulting from environmental influences can be measured.
Kapiti Marine Reserve was created in 1992, and covers 21.67km², making it slightly larger than Kapiti Island and bigger than three countries.