Acanthopagrus oconnorae is the common name given to a new species of sea bream found in the Red Sea by Dr. Donal Bradley, Distinguished Professor and former Vice President for Research at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). The discovery was made while fishing in mangrove habitat off the shore of the university.
The “new fish” is distinguished from other bream species for having a more shallowly sloping forehead, a distinct black patch on the rearward edge of the gill cover, a more yellowish pectoral fin and paler body color.
Bradley sent a fin clipping from the fish to the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) for genetic analysis, prompting a search for another fish of its kind. Eventually, Bradley caught another one, which enabled the scientists to conduct a detailed study of bream specimens, including direct comparison of their physical morphology and genetics with other sea bream from the region (A. berda, A. bifasciatus and R. haffara), Arabian Gulf (A. arabicus, A. sheim, and A. catenula), and with records online.
Marine scientist and Director of the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) Mike Berumen confirmed that the fish is a distinct species with its closest relative, the Wandering Sea Bream (A. vagus), which inhabits long stretches of the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa and Mozambique.
A recently published paper in the Journal of Fish Biology, Acanthopagrus oconnorae, a new species of seabream (Sparidae) from the Red Sea, details the findings.
“The proposed scientific name for the species, Acanthopagrus oconnorae, honors my mother, Mrs. Winefride Bradley (née O’Connor), on the occasion of her 90th birthday. The proposed common name, Bev Bradley’s Bream, honors my wife,” Bradley said.
One conjecture from the RSRC team as to why this fish eluded identification until now, despite the earliest studies on sea bream in the region beginning around 250 years ago, is that it favors shallow water in and around mangrove stands, which is not a regular target for fisheries activity or scientific diving.
The other message to take from this discovery, Bradley said, is that there is so much yet to be explored in the Red Sea!