Watch the film to learn more about the search. © Rewild.
Kaya and Oral searched the streams using tight-weave nets that prevented the Batman River loach from slipping through. They found 14 fish in the Sarim Stream and another nine in the Han Stream.
Kaya and Oral said the population of the loach seems steady, but they are concerned about the effects of pollution, drought, and invasive species, and stressed that further study is needed to get a clearer understanding of the species’ total distribution.
“When we launched the Search for the Lost Fishes, we hoped that we would have the opportunity to celebrate days like this,” said Mike Baltzer, Shoal’s executive director. “There are so many lost and threatened fish and we are so happy that this little loach has been found, and hopefully we can now secure its future. This is the first species of Lost Fishes that has been rediscovered – hopefully the first of many”.
Populations of the Batman River loach nosedived after the construction of the Batman Dam in Turkey between 1986 and 1999, leading some scientists to fear it may have become extinct. Construction of the Batman Dam may have caused populations of the species to fall and, when Kaya and Oral sampled areas downstream of the dam, where the species was recorded in 1974, they were unable to find any individuals. The species’ habitat is now fragmented due to the dam, and the fish can no longer move downstream.
Kaya said: “It is obvious that the establishment of the dam caused shifts in biodiversity due to degradation of the lower part of the habitat needed by the species. I can say this because the species’ preferred habitat is shallow streams, with medium or fast flowing stones or gravel”.
Dr Cüneyt Kaya and Dr Münevver Oral in the field © Rewild
Kaya believes the other threats facing the species are likely to be pollution, drought, and invasive species. “As far as I know, there is no industrial pollution above the points where we identified the species. We must ensure that it does not happen in the future. However, anthropogenic pollution is intense in the region and local people are not conscious. It would be a good solution to raise awareness in the region with the help of NGOs”.
Jörg Freyhof, Europe’s leading ichthyologist and expert on these fishes, and who is working on the paper with Kaya, said: “We have searched for this fish for many years. It is obviously very rare, as it has not been found in the original locations that it was previously recorded. We even doubted that it existed. Cüneyt made massive efforts to finally confirm its existence. Its finding is a sign of hope, that this species has survived despite everything that has been done to kill the river”.
Shoal would love to see a local education programme to help inform people about how pollution can harm endemic fish species, along with collaboration with local government and businesses to encourage better care for the ecosystem. “It’s important to protect and manage all the remaining individuals and populations,” said Baltzer.
Several specimens before they were returned to the stream © Rewild