Updated: June 18, 2014 at 5:46 pm
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (AP) — The razorback sucker, an endangered fish species believed missing from Grand Canyon National Park since the 1990s, has been found spawning in the lower Colorado River.
Researchers have discovered larval razorback suckers since mid-April in the river that runs through the canyon, U.S. Department of the Interior officials said Wednesday.
This development indicates that suitable habitat is available to support larger populations of the species that's characterized by a long, high sharp-edged hump behind its head, experts said.
The razorback sucker, which can grow to up to 3 feet in length and live 40 years or more, was once abundant throughout the Colorado River and its tributaries from the Green River in Wyoming to the Gulf of California.
But because of basin-wide alterations in habitat and the introduction of non-native species, spawning and survival to adulthood for the razorback sucker was known to occur only in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the Arizona-Nevada border.
The National Park Service and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released nine adult razorback suckers on March 16 in the Colorado River within Grand Canyon National Park.
The larval fish were first detected April 14 and again in multiple samples later in April and last month, officials said.
Larval razorback suckers were surprisingly found at nine of the 47 locations in the park, said Mark McKinstry, a biologist with the Bureau of Reclamation.
"We're all hoping to see evidence that these larval fish survive to adulthood in the coming years," said Brian Healy, fisheries program manager for the national park.
The creation of the Glen Canyon Dam in the early 1960s near the Arizona-Utah border led to a loss of habitat for some Grand Canyon fish species, experts said.
The suckers don't reproduce easily in temperatures below 50 degrees and are eaten by exotic fish such as bullhead, carp and channel catfish.