The Yonkers group discovers the lyre goby in the Hudson River, the first in the region


The fish don’t look like much, leaner and smaller than most little fingers.

But to the team that found him swimming in the Hudson River along the shores of Yonkers, his presence here is a mystery.

In late October, a team of students, led by Jason Muller, outreach coordinator at the Urban River Center at Sarah Lawrence College in Beczak, caught the fish, which had never been documented in the Hudson River before.

“The real question is, are there more out there than right here on our swamp?” Muller said.

Muller thought it could be a hairless goby, which they see about a dozen each year, or a black-spotted goby, an invasive species.

Jason Muller, Outreach Coordinator at Beczak's Center for the Urban River in Yonkers, left, with Yonkers high school students Sukaina Rashid and Michael Castro look at an aquarium on December 6, 2021 containing Lyre Goby, a small fish that a team including high school students discovered in the Hudson River.  The small fish had never before been found alive in the Hudson River.

Muller brought the fish to Tom Lake with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, who contacted other experts to help identify it.

Dr. Bob Schmidt, professor emeritus at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and Dr. Jeremy Wright, curator of ichthyology (the study of fish) at the New York State Museum, agreed that the fish was a lyre goby. It is the 236th documented species in the Hudson River watershed.

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In the days after the fish were caught, Sukaina Rashid, a Yonkers High School student on the team, followed the email chain as experts weigh in on what it might be.

“I just remember being worried and sad,” said Rashid – if the fish turned out to be a black-spotted goby, she feared it would be killed because it was invasive.

But that was the fate of the fish anyway as it (and three others also caught later) was kept to join a collection of specimens at the New York State Museum.

How did they get here?

Prior to Muller and the students’ discovery, the most northerly where the lyre goby was documented was Chesapeake Bay, over 200 miles south of where they found.

Their range stretches as far as South America, said Schmidt, an ichthyologist.

He described a few possibilities as to how the lyre gobies reached the Hudson.

A small fish called Lyre Goby was recently found in the Hudson River, pictured on December 6, 2021. The fish, which had never been found alive in the Hudson River, was discovered by a team from the Center for the Urban River in Beczak in Yonkers.

“One possibility, of course, is that they could swim,” Schmidt said. “It seems like a long distance to swim, but it’s not impossible.”

Another possibility is that their larvae will drift in ocean currents, which happens with other types of fish, he said.

Or, they could have been transported by humans.

Sometimes fish are transported by ballast water from freighters, said Ryan Palmer, director of the Center for the Urban River in Beczak.

It is also possible that climate change is playing a role. Palmer noted that the Hudson is about 1 degree Celsius warmer than it was 75 years ago, which could have allowed them to travel this far north.

A goby party in the Hudson

Besides the lyre goby, there are five other types of small gobies in the Hudson, Schmidt said.

An adult male lyre goby is distinguished from other gobies by its coloring and the shape of its tail. It has two reddish stripes on the tail and two small black spots at its base, a dark dorsal fin, and three black lines that run from the eye to the upper jaw.

A small fish called Lyre Goby at the Center for the Urban River in Beczak in Yonkers on September 6, 2021. A team from the Beczak Center recently discovered in the Hudson River.  The small fish had never before been found alive in the Hudson River.

Those found in the Hudson were small, around 35mm (around 1.4 inches), but in their research they found that near Cuba the lyre goby was around 150mm (around 6 inches) tall.

Although Muller and others involved in the identification have not heard of anyone who identified a lyre goby between where they found them in Yonkers and Chesapeake Bay, they suspect there is. more there.

“Maybe they’re so small that they’ve been missed in the net by other organizations that do this kind of work,” Muller said. “But I think there will definitely be more attention now to research this fish specifically for others who purse seine.”

It’s not uncommon for unexpected fish to appear in the Hudson River, Schmidt said, but it’s more unusual for them to settle and stay.

Muller’s team threw their last nets at the end of November. They will resume purse seine fishing in March or April, depending on the weather.

The team that discovered the lyre goby included Rashid, another high school student from Yonkers High School, Michael Castro, and Gabriella Marchesani, a sophomore from Sara Lawrence College.

They all volunteered with the center to help make up for data lost during the pandemic.

For Palmer, discovery embodies the centre’s raison d’être: to make science accessible to everyone.

And, Palmer said, “You never know what you’re going to find.”

Contact Diana Dombrowski at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @domdomdiana


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