10 Fish That Have Recently Become Extinct

Predation, pollution, and loss of habitats have eradicated these species

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. 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.

01
of 10

The Blackfin Cisco

Blackfin Cisco

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A salmonid fish and hence closely related to salmon and trout, the Blackfin Cisco was once 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 overnight: 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, was in 2006.

02
of 10

The Blue Walleye

The Blue Walleye

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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 mid 20th Century. The last known specimen was sighted in the early 1980s. It wasn't only overfishing that led to the Blue Walleye's demise. Also to blame were 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 those fish were actually blue-tinged Yellow Walleyes, which are not extinct.

03
of 10

The Galapagos Damsel

Galapagos Damsel

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The Galapagos Islands are where Charles Darwin laid much of the groundwork for the theory of evolution. 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 that resulted from the El Niño currents of the early 1980s that drastically reduced plankton populations. Some experts harbor the hope that remnants of the species may yet exist off the coast of Peru.

04
of 10

The Gravenche

The Gravenche

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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 United States. While this is, in fact, largely the case, such regulations came too late for the Gravenche. This foot-long salmon relative was overfished in the late 19th century and had virtually disappeared by the early 1920s. It 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. 

05
of 10

The Harelip Sucker

The Harelip Sucker

State of Alabama

Considering how colorful 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 may have to visit a museum to find out.

06
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The Lake Titicaca Orestias

The Lake Titicaca Orestias

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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 of various species of trout into the lake. 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 on display.

07
of 10

The Silver Trout

The Silver Trout

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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, native to three small lakes in New Hampshire, were likely the remnants of a larger population that was dragged northward by retreating glaciers thousands of years earlier. Never common to begin with, the Silver Trout was doomed by the stocking of recreational fish. The last attested individuals were seen in 1930.

08
of 10

The Tecopa Pupfish

The Tecopa Pupfish

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Not only exotic bacteria thrive in conditions that humans would find hostile to life. Witness the late, lamented Tecopa Pupfish, which swam in the hot springs of California's Mojave Desert (average water temperature: about 110° Fahrenheit). The Pupfish could survive harsh environmental conditions, however, it couldn't survive human encroachment. A health fad in the 1950s and 1960s led to the construction of bathhouses in the vicinity of the hot springs, 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. 

09
of 10

The Thicktail Chub

The Thicktail Chub

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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 was a staple in the diet of 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 verified sighting was in the late 1950s.

10
of 10

The Yellowfin Cutthroat Trout

Yellowfin Cutthroat Trout

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The Yellowfin Cutthroat Trout sounds like a legend straight out of the American West. This 10-pound trout, sporting bright yellow fins was first spotted in the Twin Lakes of Colorado during the late 19th century. As it turns out, the Yellowfin wasn't the hallucination of some drunken 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 is, however, survived by its close relative, the smaller Greenback Cutthroat Trout.

Back From the Dead

Meanwhile, there’s word from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) in North Carolina that the Smoky Madtom (Noturis baileyi), a venomous catfish native to the Little Tennessee Watershed that was long believed extinct, is “back from the dead.”

Smoky Madtoms only grow to about than three inches in length, but they come equipped with spines that can deliver a nasty sting should you accidentally step on one while crossing a stream. Found in just a few counties in the Little Tennessee River system along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the species was considered extinct until the early 1980s when biologists happened upon a handful—which they did not pick up by hand or they would have gotten stung.

Smoky Madtoms are considered a federally endangered species. According to GSMNP conservationists, the best thing you can do to ensure the species endures is to leave them alone and try not to disturb the rocks in the streams they call home.