Garra barreimiae wurayahi Khalaf, 2009 : A New Blind Cave Fish Subspecies from Wadi Al Wurayah Pools, Emirate of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates

The Arabian Freshwater Fishes at the Arabia's Wildlife Centre, Sharjah Desert Park, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates 

By: Dr. Sc. Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa

Note: This article was published in "Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin". ISSN 0178 - 6288. Number 40, Twenty-third Year, April 2005. pp. 1 - 9. Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

I visited the Arabia’s Wildlife Centre at Sharjah Desert Park, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, on several occasions (22.7.2004, 3.8.2004 and 27.1.2005).

The Sharjah Desert Park is located on the Sharjah – Dhaid Road and is about 28 Km far away from the city of Sharjah.

Entry fees are 30 Dirhams for families, 15 Dhs. for single visitors and 2 Dhs. for school students.

The focus of the Arabia’s Wildlife Centre is on Arabian Wildlife and aims to show people how rich in diversity the fauna of the Arabian Peninsula is. The Centre contains over a hundred species of animals.

In this study I will concentrate on the Arabian Freshwater Fishes which are found in the Arabian Peninsula and which are exhibited at the Arabia’s Wildlife Centre.

The fishes are situated in aquariums in the Amphibians and Fish Division (Blue wall colour) and the nocturnal house.

Five species of Freshwater Fishes live in the Arabian Peninsula, four native and one introduced. Three native species are exhibited at the Arabia’s Wildlife Centre in Sharjah.

1- The Muscat Cyprinion (Cyprinion microphthalmum muscatensis Boulenger, 1888) :

Family: Cyprinidae.

Arabic Name: Al-Shabut Al-Muscati.

Range: Cyprinion microphthalmum (Day, 1880): Asia: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Oman (subspecies).                                                                                                                                                         Cyprinion microphthalmum muscatensis (Boulenger, 1888): Arabian Peninsula: tributaries of the Gulf of Oman in Oman (Beech).

Status: Common in Wadis with permanent water, within its range.

Habitat: Occurs in deeper pools in Wadis with flowing water.

Size: Maximum size of the Muscat Cyprinion is 13 cm.

Behaviour: Swims in shoals in mid water. These fish grow to a size which their individual pools allow, with the largest fish found in the biggest pools. When threatened they swim into the shaded area of the pool.

Food: Cyprinions have the body shape of an active hunter and feed on small aquatic organisms.

Reproduction: The breeding season is in periods when the water flow is at its peak. The fish turn a darker colour and the head and gills become bright blue, prior to mating and spawning.

Detail: These fish are threatened by the introduction of alien fish species such as Tilapia into their river systems.

2- The Arabian Killifish (Aphanius dispar dispar Rueppell, 1829):

Family: Cyprinodontidae.

Arabic Name: Samaket Al-Akhwar Al-Arabia, Afty.

Range: Indian Ocean: from Egypt to Somalia southward to Eil, a landlocked population in the Siwa Oasis, western Egypt. Immigrant through the Suez Canal into the southeastern Mediterranean basin, Egypt and Palestine. Elsewhere: Dead Sea, Red Sea, Arabian (Persian) Gulf, western India; landlocked populations in Saudi Arabia, Iran (Beech).

Status: Very common.

Habitat: These fish are extremely tolerant of water conditions. They can live in the freshwater pools of Wadis, coastal sea water shallows and in high saline pools found on sabkha flats.

Size: Maximum size of the Arabian Killifish is 7 cm.

Behaviour: Killifish occur in large shoals in the marine Environment, particularly in mangrove swamps and sheltered lagoons. However, in freshwater Wadi pools shoal size rarely exceeds 50 individuals.

Food: The position of their mouth and the presence of 12 – 20 teeth indicate that killifish are active predators of small organisms, but little else is known.

Reproduction: Despite their abundance and distribution, little is known of their biology in the southern Arabian Peninsula.

Detail: Arabian Killifish are the predominant food source of a number of predatory fish species, particularly in mangrove swamps and shallow lagoons.

3- The Omani Blind Cave Fish (Garra barreimiae barreimiae Fowler and Steinitz, 1956):

 Family: Cyprinidae.

Arabic Name: Samaket Al-Kuhouf Al-A’mia’ Al-O’mania.

Subspecies:

1- Garra barreimiae barreimiae Fowler and Steinitz, 1956, from Al Buraimi Oasis, Sultanate of Oman. 

2- Garra barreimiae shawkahensis Banister and Clarke, 1977, from Wadi Shawkah, Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. 

3- Garra barreimiae gallagheri Krupp, 1988, from Seeq and Wadi Bani Khalid north of Muqal, Sultanate of Oman.

4- Garra barreimiae wurayahi Khalaf, 2009, from Wadi Al Wurayah, Emirate of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates (Recent Discovery).

Range: Arabian Peninsula: endemic to the Hajjar Mountains (Oman and the United Arab Emirates).

Status: This is a blind, subterranean population of the common Wadi Garra from the United Arab Emirates.

Habitat: These fish live in pools found in the subterranean caverns of mountain ranges. 

Size: The Garra barreimiae barraeimiae reaches 6.2 cm. and the Garra barreimiae shawkahensis reaches 7.2 cm. (Beech).

Behaviour: Blind cave fish live in permanent darkness and have no use for eyes! They are similar in overall form to other southern Arabian Loaches, but little else is known.

Food: As they share caverns with bats it is believed that at least some of the blind cave fish diet is derived from bat droppings!

Reproduction: Nothing is known about the reproduction of these fish.

Detail: The Omani blind cave fish were hatched out recently at the Arabian Wildlife Centre in Sharjah.

The name is a little confusing as they have eyes and can see perfectly well. This is in fact only true of the small fish. The eyes develop only while the fish is immature and then stop growing, even though the body will continue to reach full size. The result is that the head actually grows around the eyes until, as in adults the eyes are deeply embedded in the tissue, rendering the fish completely blind.

These fish are extremely rare, coming from only one cave system in Oman and in the United Arab Emirates. The species is of high conservation Priority.

The group exhibited is from the first clutch of blind cave fish ever to be bred in captivity in Arabia.

4- The Freshwater Goby (Awaous aeneofuscus Peters, 1852):

Note: This fourth Arabian freshwater fish species is not been exhibited at the Arabian Wildlife Centre in Sharjah.

Family: Gobiidae.

Arabic Name: Qobion Al-Miah Al-A’thba.

Range: The freshwater Goby is well known from watersheds along the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa as well as Madagascar, East Africa, the Gulf of Aden and southern Arabia (Yemen, Oman and United Arab Emirates). It occurs eastwards at least as far as Pakistan (Feulner and Cunningham).

The Wadi Hatta (U.A.E.) Population: The discovery of an isolated goby population in the Wadi Hatta watershed raises questions about the ecology and lifestyle of this fish and the history of its arrival and persistence, since Wadi Hatta is an intermittent stream that flows continuously to the sea only after exceptional rains -- an event which occurs only every several years at best. Normal pluvial discharge is dispersed and absorbed as it transits the coarse gravels of the Batinah coastal plain, which here is some 12.5 km wide. Awaous aeneofuscus is present for several kilometers in the middle reaches of the Wadi Qahfi tributary of Wadi Hatta, a few kilometers downstream from the popular "Hatta Pools," in an area of mixed bedrock and coarse gravel substrate with occasional large boulders and scattered permanent pools of a meter or more in depth. There it is most abundant in deeper pools that are somewhat isolated from the main surface flow. The site is centered at 24 deg. 45'23"N, 56 deg. 11'36"E, and is approximately 25 km inland, 15 km within the mountain front and 35 km upstream from the Gulf of Oman coast, at an elevation of about 250 meters. The area is relatively difficult to reach by vehicle but it is nevertheless regularly visited by local people, who use traditional techniques to harvest the endemic cyprinid fish Garra barreimiae which is eaten. A smaller population has been found in a more limited section of a second, downstream tributary of Wadi Hatta (Feulner and Cunningham).

Habitat and Food: A. aeneofuscus is well adapted to a variety of habitats that range from large, muddy rivers with silty bottoms to fairly clear desert streams. It is an omnivorous feeder and is able to feed on small invertebrates. In desert streams it is known to ingest large amounts of fine sand and the detrital and algal material surrounding each grain is digested and the remainder passed (Feulner and Cunningham).

Size: The population of A. aeneofuscus in Wadi Qahfi has been observed intermittently since April 1998 and is estimated at 100-200 individuals. The largest individuals observed were approximately 22 cm. and the smallest were approximately 9 cm. The presence of gobies having a range of sizes suggests either multiple recent episodes of marine recruitment or the occurrence of breeding in situ (Feulner and Cunningham).

Reproduction: Awaous aeneofuscus has long been suspected to breed in freshwater. Reproduction has never been observed but may be similar to other large species of Awaous in moving downstream to the mouth of streams, in freshwater, where males guard large rocks, stumps, etc., and numerous females lay eggs. Males do most guarding of eggs. The Eggs hatch in about 24 hours, becoming part of the oceanic plankton community for an unknown amount of time. Recruitment of fry into streams occurs during lunar high tides and after a significant amount of seasonal rains.

Wadi Hatta is not known to have flowed to the sea since the freshwater gobies were first observed in late 1997, but it might possibly have done so during wetter years such as 1992-93 and 1995-96. The winter months are statistically the rainiest in the U.A.E. but rainfall is highly variable from year to year, both in amount and time of occurrence. Mountain regions are susceptible to heavy but highly localised showers. The frequency with which Wadi Hatta discharges to the sea has undoubtedly been diminished by the construction of three dams in the watershed within the U.A.E., above the Wadi Qahfi tributary. Two of these have been constructed within the past decade. As a result, the existing goby population may now be unusually isolated and dependent on self-reproduction rather than recruitment (Feulner and Cunningham).

5- The Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus Linnaeus, 1758):

Note: This fifth Arabian freshwater fish species is an introduced species and is not been exhibited at the Arabian Wildlife Centre in Sharjah.

Family: Cichlidae.

Arabic Name: Samak Al-Bulti Al-Niili.

Range: Africa: Nile from below Albert Nile to the delta; Jebel Marra; Lake Chad basin and the rivers Niger, Benue, Volta, Gambia and Senegal. Asia: coastal rivers of Palestine. Widely introduced for aquaculture, with many existing strains. Several countries report adverse ecological impact after introduction (fishbase.org).

The Wadi Hatta (U.A.E.) Population: Tilapia (Oreochromis spp.) was first noticed in Wadi Qahfi in the Hatta Pools area, a few kilometers upstream from the sites occupied by A. aeneofuscus, in April 1998. Their introduction may have been relatively recent, since no tilapia were seen in the goby area when A. aeneofuscus was first discovered in October 1997 and only one tilapia was seen there when goby specimens were first collected in April 1998. In January 2000, however, tilapias were present in essentially all of the pools containing gobies. A few individual tilapias reached an estimated length of c.30 cm - significantly larger than the largest gobies. A. aeneofuscus co-exists with the notoriously adaptable and resilient O. mossambicus in South African rivers, but it seems reasonable to be concerned that the presence of tilapia at such close quarters may have an adverse effect on the survival of A. aeneofuscus (Feulner and Cunningham).

Size: Maximum size is 60 cm. Maximum published weight: 4,324 g. Maximum reported age: 9 years (fishbase.org).

Detail: The Nile Tilapia is one of the world's oldest delicacies. It can be traced back over 4,500 years through hieroglyphs and carvings depicting this small fish that indicate it were the food of Egyptian Kings (Pharaohs). Native to the Nile River, Tilapia spread to the fresh waters of Africa and Asia and has been eaten for millennia -and farmed since 2,500 BC. Tilapia has had many names -- including St. Peter's Fish. It has been called St. Peter's fish since Biblical times because it is believed to be not only the fish that Peter caught, but the fish with which Jesus fed the multitudes in the famous parable (Aquafind).

The Worldwide harvest of farmed tilapia has surpassed 800,000 metric tons, and tilapias are second only to carps as the most widely farmed freshwater fish in the world (Popma and Masser).

References and Internet Websites:

Arabia’s Wildlife Centre, Sharjah Desert Park. Guide (in English and Arabic). The Environment and Protected Areas Authority, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

Beech, Mark. Osteological Comparative Collection of Arabian Gulf Fishes. www.users.york.ac.uk/~mjb117/myfish.htm

Beech, Mark. The Native Freshwater Fish Species of the United Arab Emirates. - a U.A.E. Fish Web Resource Project. www-users.york.ac.uk/~mjb117/awaous.htm

Boulenger, G. A. (1888). An account of the fishes obtained by Surgeon-Major A. S. G. Jayakar at Muscat, east coast of Arabia. Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. (PZSL), Apr., 1887 (pt 4): 653-667.                                                                                                                           

Day, F. (1880). On the fishes of Afghanistan. Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. (PZSL), Aug., 1880 (pt 2): 224-232 [1-10].

Feulner, Gary R. and Peter L. Cunningham. The freshwater goby (Awaous aeneofuscus) in the Wadi Hatta watershed (U.A.E./Oman). From Tribulus magazine. www.enhg.org/tribulus/trib07.htm

Fowler, H. W. and H. Steinitz (1956). Fishes from Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Oman. Bull. Res. Counc. Isr. (BRCI), v. 5B (no. 3-4): 260-292.

Freshwater Fishes. www.geocities.com/sunnychai/Fish/Fresh/NileTilapia.JPG

Freshwater Fishes of Iran. Species Accounts – Cichlidae. www.briancoad.com/species%20accounts/cichlidae.htm

Freshwater Fishes of Oman. http://richardfield.freeservers.com/freshwat.htm

Khalaf, Norman Ali Bassam (1980). Tabie’t Al-Talawon fi Al-Haywanat (The Colouration of Animals). Al-Biology Bulletin. Number 1. January 1980, Safar 1401. Biological Society, Kuwait University, State of Kuwait. pp. 4-5. (in Arabic).

Khalaf, Norman Ali Bassam (1981). Fawa'ed Alasmak. (The Benefits of Fishes). Al-Biology Magazine, Biological Socity, Kuwait University, State of Kuwait. Number 1. Sunday 7.6.1981, 5. Sha'ban 1401. pp. 54-55. (in Arabic).

Khalaf, Norman (Translator) (1982). Al-Miah Al-Mulawatha Tohaded Al-Asmak Bi’ilinqiraad (Water Pollution threatens the Fish Fauna with Extinction). Al-Biology Bulletin. Number 18, Third Year, First Semester, Saturday 6.11.1982. Biological Society, Kuwait University, State of Kuwait. pp. 7. (Translation from German into Arabic).

Khalaf, Norman Ali B.(1986). The Schooling of Fishes. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. Number 9. Fourth Year. Ramadan 1406. May 1986. Durham, United Kingdom. pp. 1-13.

Khalaf, Norman Ali B. (1986). The Fish Fauna in Van Mildert Pond, Durham City, North East England. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. Number 9. Fourth Year. Ramadan 1406. May 1986. Department of Zoology, University of Durham, Durham, United Kingdom. pp. 14-20.

Khalaf, N.A.B. (1986). The Schooling of Sumatra Barbs (Barbus tetrazona tetrazona) and Minnows (Phoxinus phoxinus). Dissertation, Master of Science in Ecology, Departments of Zoology and Botany, University of Durham, England. pps. 59.

Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman Ali Bassam (1992). An Introduction to the Animal Life in Palestine. Gazelle. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. Bonn-Bad Godesberg, Federal Republic of Germany. Number 30, Tenth Year, October 1992. pp. 1-7. (in Arabic).

Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman Ali Bassam (1994). An Introduction to the Animal Life in Palestine. Shqae’q Al-Nouma’n (Anemone coronaria). A Quarterly Magazine Issued by the Program EAI (Education for Awareness and for Involvement). Environmental Education / Children for Nature Protection. In Cooperation with Dept. of General and Higher Education. P.L.O., Palestine. Number 4. Huzairan (June) 1994. pp. 16-21. (in Arabic).

Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman Ali (2004). Gazelle : Das Palästinensische Biologische Bulletin. Eine Wissenschaftliche Reise in Palästina, Arabien und Europa zwischen 1983 – 2004 / Gazelle : The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. A Scientific Journey in Palestine, Arabia and Europe between 1983 – 2004. Erste Auflage (First Edition), Juli 2004: 452 Seiten/Pages. Zweite erweiterte Auflage (Second Extended Edition), August 2004: 460 Seiten/Pages. Norman Ali Khalaf, Bonn-Bad Godesberg, Germany. www.geocities.com/jaffacity/Gazelle_Bulletin.html

Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman Ali (2005). The Arabian Freshwater Fishes in the Arabia’s Wildlife Centre, Sharjah Desert Park, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. ISSN 0178 - 6288. Number 40, Twenty-third Year, April 2005. pp. 1-9. Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. http://emirati-blind-cave-fish.webs.com/arabianfreshwaterfish.htm

Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman Ali (2005). Aquatica Arabica. An Aquatic Scientific Journey in Palestine, Arabia and Europe between 1980 - 2005 / Aquatica Arabica. Eine Aquatische Wissenschaftliche Reise in Palästina, Arabien und Europa zwischen 1980 - 2005. Erste Auflage (First Edition), August 2005: 376 Seiten/Pages. Norman Ali Khalaf, Rilchingen-Hanweiler, Bundesrepublik Deutschland & Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. www.geocities.com/jaffacity/Aquatica_Arabica.html

Khalaf, N.A.B. (2005). The Schooling of Sumatra Barbs (Barbus tetrazona tetrazona) and Minnows (Phoxinus phoxinus). [M.Sc. Dissertation in Ecology, Departments of Zoology and Botany, University of Durham, England. September 1986. pps. 59 + iv]. In: Aquatica Arabica. An Aquatic Scientific Journey in Palestine, Arabia and Europe between 1980 - 2005. Erste Auflage, August 2005. Norman Ali Khalaf, Rilchingen-Hanweiler, Bundesrepublik Deutschland & Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. pp. 28-93.

Khalaf, Norman Ali (2005, 2006). Chapter 3: Geography, Flora and Fauna. Pages 32-39. In: Palestine: A Guide. By Mariam Shahin, Photography by George Azar. Northampton, Massachusetts: Interlink Publishing Group, 2005, 2006. xi + 471 pages. Appendices to page 500.

Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa, Dr. Sc. Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher (2009). Garra barreimiae wurayahi Khalaf, 2009 : A New Blind Cave Fish Subspecies from Wadi Al Wurayah Pools, Emirate of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. ISSN 0178 - 6288. Number 90, Twenty-seventh Year, June 2009, Jumada Al-Akhera 1430 AH. pp. 1-15. Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.    http://emirati-blind-cave-fish.webs.com/  

Oreochromis niloticus niloticus Nile tilapia. www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=2&genusname=Oreochromis&speciesname=niloticus%20niloticus

Popma, Thomas and Michael Masser. Tilapia: Life History and Biology. BioFilter.Com. Aquatic Information Center. www.biofilter.com/SRAC283.htm

Tilapia. Aquafind: Aquatic Fish Database. www.aquafind.com/info/TilapiaLinks.php