Washington, May 12 (ANI): For the first time, researchers have captured on video how a critically endangered pupfish species behaved when hit with a Tsunami.
For most people in the southwestern U.S., the April 4 El Mayor-Cucapah earthquake was a rocking of the ground.
However, for the inch-long fish pupfish that exist nowhere else on Earth outside of "Devils Hole"-a crack in the ground in Nevada's Mojave Desert-it unleashed a veritable tsunami.
And University of Arizona researchers could for the first time caught the event on cameras installed above and below the water's surface to monitor the fish's spawning behaviour.
It is the first time in decades of research at Devils Hole that an earthquake was captured on video.
The event provided the researchers with a rare opportunity to study how a critically endangered species copes when its confined habitat is shaken up in a dramatic way.
The Devils Hole pupfish spend their lives in what likely is the "smallest habitat of a vertebrate species," said UA professor Scott Bonar.
That habitat is the "spawning shelf" - a submerged rock surface covered by a mere two feet of water. It's here that the pupfish feed and go about their breeding activity.
The shelf forms the only shallow part of a freshwater pool measuring 10 by 50 feet that marks the entrance to the Devils Hole cave.
The pool provides a window into the extensive carbonate aquifer within the Amargosa Valley groundwater basin. Despite explorations undertaken by cave divers, no one has been able to probe the depths of the Devils Hole cave system, although they are known to plunge beyond 500 feet.
On most days, Devils Hole looks like a glassy surface of crystal-clear water, shimmering with an unearthly, iridescent turquoise hue at the bottom of a crack in the rocks 50 feet below ground level.
But on April 4, 16 minutes after the shockwaves arrived in the Mojave Desert 300 miles north of the epicenter near Mexicali in Baja California, serenity gave way to turmoil in the small world of the Devils Hole pupfish.
"The water was sloshing back and forth so hard it splashed against our cameras four feet above the waterline," said Ambre Chaudoin, a graduate student in fisheries conservation and management with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Arizona Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the UA.
"The quake swept the shelf clean from algae, shuffling the silt and cobble around. Such disturbance can be important because the spawning shelf is less than 13 feet long and 7 feet wide, smaller than many walk-in closets," he added.
Just 10 minutes before the quake struck, the researchers had reconnected the video cameras to their recording position inside the pool.
"The fish begin to move out of the camera's view as the waves start getting bigger, and then, because of all the sediment being stirred up, you can't see the fish. As the waves grew stronger, the fish likely moved into deeper waters," said Chaudoin.
"Although we knew from water-level records that earthquakes influenced Devils Hole in the past, this is the first time we've caught one on video. It may provide great insight into how the wave action cleans the fine silt off of the shelf," said Paul Barrett, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who leads the Devils Hole Pupfish Recovery Team.
Although the violent sloshing during the quake washed away algae that are essential to the food web of the critically endangered fish, algae have already grown back substantially, according to iologists. (ANI)