Did Alaska Earthquake Rekindle This Death Valley Fish?

National Park Service photo

OK, someone contact Fran Tarkenton and let’s bring back an episode of That’s Incredible. Only a cheesy 1970s TV show that shared the weirdest tales of freak events and bonafide miracles could make sense out of this.


(Remind me to add hang-gliding with my dog on the bucket list.)

Anyway, the National Park Service says the recent 7.9 earthquake off the coast of Alaska had a geological reaction that had an impact on spawning Devil’s Hole pupfish, a tiny endangered species that’s only found in a small body of water on the Nevada side of California’s vast Death Valley National Park.

Newsweek has more on this – well – incredible act of nature.

An earthquake that caused a tsunami watch for the entire West Coast of the United States really did create waves—in Death Valley National Park. And those tiny waves, known as a seiche, may prompt the creation of more of an extremely rare species of tiny fish.

The earthquake’s shaking caused the Devils Hole pupfish—a critically endangeredspecies of fish that are a bit shorter than your average golf tee and are found only in one pond in the park—to spawn, the National Park Service said on Wednesday.

“It’s crazy that distant earthquakes affect Devils Hole,” Kevin Wilson, an aquatic ecologist at Death Valley National Park, stated in a press release. “We’ve seen this a few times before, but it still amazes me.”

The Devils Hole pupfish, also known as the desert pupfish or Cyprinodon diabolis, may be one of the rarest species of fish on Earth. Whether or not they are the rarest fish is up for some debate—and can change even with small population fluctuations. Current estimates place the number of Devils Hole pupfish at 115; a recent estimate of the red handfish, found off Tasmania, Australia, indicated that between 40 to 80 fish might exist. Nevertheless, some called the pupfish “the rarest fish in the world” when the population was down to 35 fish in 2013, as Scientific American reported.

Here’s the full NPS press release:

DEATH VALLEY, CA – A powerful earthquake off the coast of Alaska caused water to slosh in Devils Hole, in Death Valley National Park.

The magnitude 7.9 earthquake’s epicenter was in the Gulf of Alaska, approximately 170 miles south of Kodiak, Alaska, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake happened in the early morning hours of Monday, January 23, 2018.

Minutes later, the earthquake’s impact was felt about 2,000 miles away in the Nevada desert.

“It’s crazy that distant earthquakes affect Devils Hole,” said Kevin Wilson, Aquatic Ecologist for Death Valley National Park. “We’ve seen this a few times before, but it still amazes me.”

The phenomenon is technically known as a seismic seiche. They are standing waves in an enclosed body of water (such as a lake or a pool) caused by an earthquake’s seismic waves.

“That sounds a lot like a tsunami,” said Wilson, “but tsunamis are caused by an earthquake moving the ocean floor up or down. Tsunamis can generate much larger waves.”

Fortunately, the temblor triggered only an 8-inch tsunami in the Pacific Ocean. The seiche in Devils Hole caused waves over one foot high.

Devils Hole is a water-filled limestone cave in Amargosa Valley, Nevada. It is part of Death Valley National Park. The site is the only natural habitat of the critically endangered Devils Hole pupfish, which numbered only 115 fish in the most recent survey.

The park isn’t too concerned about the quake’s impact on the fish. “The pupfish’s food source will probably be a little reduced for a bit, but it is expected to rebound,” said Ambre Chaudoin, Biological Science Technician. A primary component of the pupfish’s diet is algae growing on a shallow sunlit shelf at the top of Devils Hole.

Chaudoin observed the fish spawning after the seiche, which she said is their normal reaction to events that disturb the habitat. The fish’s color changed for spawning, with the males gaining a brilliant blue color. Devils Hole pupfish normally only spawn in spring and fall.

A video of a 2012 seiche in Devils Hole can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/a6h82PIi_-0