10 Recently Extinct Fish

Oil tanks and dead fish
Oil tanks and dead fish. Getty Images/ Elena Duvernay/Stocktrek Images

It's no small matter to declare a species of fish extinct: after all, the oceans are vast and deep (witness the discovery in 1938 of a live coelacanth, a fish thought to be extinct for 100 million years), and even a moderately sized lake can yield surprises after years of observation. Still, most experts agree that the 10 fish on this list are gone for good—and that many more species will vanish if we don't take better care of our natural marine resources. (See also 100 Recently Extinct Animals and Why Do Animals Go Extinct?

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The Blackfin Cisco

blackfin cisco
The Blackfin Cisco (Government of Ontario).

A "salmonid" fish, and hence closely related to salmon and trout, the Blackfin Cisco was one plentiful in the Great Lakes, but recently succumbed to a combination of overfishing and predation by not one, but three, invasive species (the Alewife, the Rainbow Smelt, and a genus of sea lamprey). The Blackfin Cisco didn't disappear from the Great Lakes all at once: the last attested Lake Huron sighing was in 1960, the last Lake Michigan sighting in 1969, and the last known sighting of all (near Thunder Bay, Ontario) in 2006.

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The Blue Walleye

blue walleye
The Blue Walleye (Wikimedia Commons).

Also known as the Blue Pike, the Blue Walleye was fished out of the Great Lakes by the bucketload from the late 19th century to the middle 20th--the last known specimen being sighted in the early 1980's. It wasn't only overfishing that led to the Blue Walleye's demise; we can also blame the introduction of an invasive species, the Rainbow Smelt, and industrial pollution from surrounding factories. Many people claim to have caught Blue Walleyes, but experts believe these were actually blue-tinged Yellow Walleyes, which are still extant.

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The Galapagos Damsel

galapagos damsel
The Galapagos Damsel (Wikimedia Commons).

The Galapagos Islands are where Charles Darwin laid much of the groundwork for the theory of evolution--and today, this distant archipelago harbors some of the world's most endangered species. The Galapagos Damsel didn't fall victim to human encroachment: rather, this plankton-eating fish never recovered from a temporary increase in local water temperatures (caused by the El Nino currents of the early 1980's) that drastically reduced plankton populations. Some experts harbor the hope that remnants of this fish persist off the coast of Peru.

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The Gravenche

The Gravenche (Wikimedia Commons).

You might think that Lake Geneva, on the border of Switzerland and France, would enjoy more ecological protection than the Great Lakes of the capitalist-minded U.S. This is, in fact, largely the case, but these regulations came too late for the Gravenche, a foot-long salmon relative that was overfished in the late 19th century, had virtually disappeared by the early 1920's, and was last seen in 1950. Adding insult to injury, there are apparently no Gravenche specimens (either on display or in storage) in any of the world's natural history museums!  

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The Harelip Sucker

The Harelip Sucker
The Harelip Sucker (State of Alabama).

Considering how colorful (not to mention insulting) its name is, surprisingly little is known about the Harelip Sucker, which was last seen in the late 19th century. The first specimen of this seven-inch-long fish, native to the rushing freshwater streams of the southeastern U.S., was caught in 1859, and only described nearly 20 years later. By then, the Harelip Sucker was already nearly extinct, doomed by the relentless infusion of silt into its otherwise pristine ecosystem. Did it have a harelip, and did it suck? You'll have to visit a museum to find out!

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The Lake Titicaca Orestias

lake titicaca orestias
The Lake Titicaca Orestias (Wikimedia Commons).

If fish can go extinct in the vast Great Lakes, it should come as no surprise that they can also disappear from Lake Titicaca in South America, which is an order of magnitude smaller. Also known as the Amanto, the Lake Titicaca Orestias was a small, unprepossessing fish with an unusually large head and a distinctive underbite, doomed in the mid-20th century by the introduction into Lake Titicaca of various species of trout.  If you want to see this fish today, you'll have to travel all the way to the National Museum of Natural History in the Netherlands, where there are two preserved specimens.

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The Silver Trout

silver trout
The Silver Trout (Wikimedia Commons).

Of all the fish on this list, you might assume the Silver Trout fell victim to human overconsumption; after all, who doesn't like trout for dinner? In fact, this fish was extremely rare even when it was first discovered; the only known specimens were native to three small lakes in New Hampshire, and were likely the remnants of a larger population that was dragged northward by retreating glaciers thousands of years ago. Never common to begin with, the Silver Trout was doomed by the stocking of recreational fish, and the last attested individuals were dredged up in 1930

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The Tecopa Pupfish

tecopa pupfish
The Tecopa Pupfish (Wikimedia Commons).

Not only exotic bacteria thrive in conditions that humans would find hostile to life: witness the late, lamented Tacopa Pupfish, which swam in the hot springs of California's Mojave Desert (average water temperature: about 110 degrees Fahrenheit). The Pupfish could survive harsh environmental conditions, but it couldn't survive human encroachment: a health fad in the 1950's and 1960's led to the construction of bathhouses in the hot springs' vicinity, and the springs themselves were artificially enlarged and diverted. The last Tecopa Pupfish was caught in early 1970, and there have been no confirmed sightings since.  

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The Thicktail Chub

thicktail chub
The Thicktail Chub (Wikimedia Commons).

Compared to the Great Lakes or Lake Titicaca, the Thicktail Chub lived in a relatively unappealing habitat: the marshes, lowlands, and weed-choked backwaters of California's Central Valley. As recently as 1900, the small, minnow-sized Thicktail Chub was one of the most common fish in the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay, and it helped to nourish central California's Native American population. Sadly, this fish was doomed both by overfishing (to service the burgeoning population of San Francisco) and the conversion of its habitat for agriculture; the last attested sighting was in the late 1950's.

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The Yellowfin Cutthroat Trout

yellowfin cutthroat trout
The GreenBack Cutthroat Trout, a close relative of the Yellowfin (Wikimedia Commons).

The Yellowfin Cutthroat Trout sounds like a legend straight out of the American West: a 10-pound trout, sporting bright yellow fins, that had been spotted in the Twin Lakes of Colorado during the late 19th century. As it turns out, the Yellowfin wasn't the hallucination of some drunk cowboy, but an actual trout subspecies described by a pair of academics in the 1891 Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission. Unfortunately, the Yellowfin Cutthroat Trout was doomed by the introduction of the more fecund Rainbow Trout in the early 20th century; it's survived by its close relative, the smaller Greenback Cutthroat Trout.