Mar. 9, 1999 Dr. Whit Gibbons and Dr. Kurt Buhlmann, scientists from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) accompanied John Jensen and Jim Ozier of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources on a spelunking expedition in north Georgia last week and found a rare, blind fish known as a southern cavefish. As teachers of ecology students and courses at the University of Georgia, both Gibbons and Buhlmann take every opportunity to acquaint themselves with the rich biodiversity of the southeastern region. Exploring caves adds another dimension to their quest for discovering and understanding the biology of the region's inhabitants.
Cavefish are not just blind; they are eyeless. They are small white fish known to inhabit the waters deep beneath the earth but they are rarely seen by people because they are found only at limited points at which underground lakes can be reached through caves. While some scientists look for the cavefish for years, this group had been underground for about an hour and had come to the end of a winding tunnel. The rain outside was making the water level of the cave rise when Buhlmann spotted the fish. Within 30 minutes he was able to capture it using a net. Only two other individual cavefish have ever been caught in Georgia, one in 1969 and one in 1973.
Little is known about this elusive fish. Even to call them rare may be inaccurate. They may be abundant, but simply live outside our knowledge. Their number cannot be estimated and no one knows how they live or reproduce. As Dr. Gibbons points out, "The ultimate question is how many species are living beneath the earth's surface that humans are yet to find, and perhaps never will?"
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