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Scientists have confirmed that a fish being served as food in Australia is a previously unknown species.
In 2000, a fisherman showed photographs of a type of grouper to Queensland Museum fish expert Jeff Johnson. Johnson had never seen the fish before, and he immediately thought it might be a new species.
For years, Johnson tried to secure specimens of the fish but was unsuccessful. In 2017, he found and bought five of the fish at a market in Brisbane and started working to prove that they were a new species.
Johnson collaborated with Dr. Jessica Worthington Wilmer, a geneticist at the Queensland Museum. She took the specimens to the museum’s lab and compared them to fish samples in other museum collections. The comparison proved that the species was new.
Reportedly delicious as food, the fish is caught off the central section of the Great Barrier Reef, where it dwells in depths of about 220 to 230 meters. It measures at least 70 centimeters, and while it lacks distinctive bodily markings, it has dark edges around some fins. It has a close resemblance to other grouper species. This explains why it remained unnoticed for a long time.
According to Queensland Museum Chief Executive Dr. Jim Thompson, genetic research, such as the method done on the fish, is gaining popularity as a way to identify new species. He feels fortunate to have a readily accessible molecular lab at the Queensland Museum that aids scientific research and analysis. The recent discovery, he claims, is remarkable proof that museums are indeed helpful in preserving and advancing scientific knowledge.