News & Politics

The “World’s Rarest Fish” Could Only Be Found in Maryland. Now, It’s Probably Extinct.

The Maryland Darter hasn’t been spotted in 33 years.

The Maryland darter fish was seen in creeks off the Susquehanna River. Photograph courtesy of Nicolas Raymond on Flickr.

After several months of searching, wildlife officials are ready to declare the Maryland Darter extinct. The fish, which Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) calls the world’s rarest, hasn’t been seen in 33 years.

The three-inch brown fish, first discovered in 1912, has lived in a creek off the Susquehanna River in Harford County, Northeast of Baltimore. It has only ever been seen in Maryland, and, according to the DNR, is the state’s sole endemic vertebrate, as it lives nowhere else. Darters only thrive in a certain part of a creek, which is why they can be so hard to find.

Frostburg State University biology professor Rich Raesly is supposedly the last person to have seen a Darter, and that was in 1988. Raesly and his students have been on the lookout ever since, according to the Chesapeake Bay Journal. Jay Kilian, a natural resource biologist with the Maryland DNR, spent 13 years organizing search parties looking for a sighting. He never once spotted it.

Maryland darter fish. Illustration courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Though it isn’t official yet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has drafted an order that would classify the fish as extinct, saying there is only a 1 percent chance a sighting was missed during search efforts. The order cites water quality issues as the cause of extinction, notably from runoff and air pollution.

The Darter was discovered in 1912 by Cornell University biologists. After its initial discovery, it took another 50 years for anyone to see the fish again. It has been listed as endangered since 1967.

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