Tropical Fish in Rhode Island?

Imagine that you're scuba diving off of the New England coast. The ocean is cold, but bearable, and as you make your way through the murky water, you begin to see familiar sights like sea stars, sea urchins and mussels. As you swim past a rock formation, you happen to see a tiny fish the size of your thumbnail wobbling along, and looking sorely out of place:

Photo: John Correa

As you get closer, you realize that what you're looking at is a tiny, lost cowfish--a fish that would normally live in the warm waters of the Bahamas, a thousand miles away.

Photo: John Correa

As dreamlike as this sequence sounds, it actually happens to divers from the New England Aquarium every Fall, when they travel to Jamestown, Rhode Island to search for what they call "southern visitors." Each year, the powerful Gulf Stream current sweeps small tropical fish up from the Caribbean and carries them north, often depositing them close to the New England shore.

These tiny warm-water fish would not survive a New England winter, so the Aquarium's annual dive trips are almost like rescue missions. The fish are brought to the safety of the Aquarium, where often you can even come to visit them: The cowfish pictured above is actually now swimming comfortably in our seahorse exhibit. Come say hello to him next time you're here, although he's growing so quickly that if you don't hurry, you might not recognize him.

Photo: John Correa

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