National Geographic Daily News
Unidentified fish hide from an underwater robot's bright lights.

Meet El Chilito.

Image courtesy Avi Klapfer

Jane J. Lee

National Geographic

Published October 10, 2013

What's in a name? Well, if you're Tania Curiel, an 18-year-old living in Portland, Oregon, a ten-day trip to the Galápagos for two.

The college sophomore has just won a contest sponsored by the National Geographic Society to help name a fish that experts say could be a new species.

Curiel beat out over 9,500 entries with her suggestion of "El Chilito."

"I saw that it was discovered off the coast of Chile, so I was thinking of something along the lines of Chile," she told National Geographic. And the suffix "-ita" means small or cute, so she came up with El Chilito. "Small and cute from Chile," she explained.

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala picked the winning name because "it is a very simpatico name that makes you want to hug the little fish." He also said that the name referred to the color of the animal, which reminded him of a hot chili pepper.

Sala discovered the brightly colored animal in February in the seas surrounding the Desventuradas Islands (which means the "unfortunate islands" in Spanish) off the coast of Chile.

He came upon the four-inch (ten-centimeter) creature while exploring a seamount near San Félix Island (map) in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

While maneuvering a submersible 436 feet (133 meters) down a basalt wall, Sala and colleagues spotted several colorful spots hovering near the rock. "We got closer and tried to focus and zoom our video camera to get a closer look, but the spots darted into a hole and disappeared as soon as our submarine lights were on them," Sala wrote in an email earlier this year.

They saw more of the yellow-orange spots farther down and were able to get a good look: It turns out they were fish that Sala had never seen before.

Crowd Sourcing

"We consulted experts and everyone thought that it was a new species," Sala added.

Confirmation of this fish's new species designation must involve studies of physical specimens—experts performed initial examinations based on video footage and photographs—and a formal description in a scientific journal.

"Scientific naming is a very laborious process," said Luiz Rocha, a fish researcher at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, in an interview earlier this year.

The amount of time it takes to formally name a species varies, but it can take anywhere from six months to a year, said Rocha, who was not involved in the expedition.

In the case of a potentially new fish species, specialists look at body measurements including the length, body depth, the number of scales in the lateral line, and the number of flexible spines in the fins called fin rays, he explained.

But until researchers can fully examine this mystery fish, Sala would like to be able to share his find with the public.

"There are parts of science and discovery that should be conducted also by citizens," he wrote. "If people can name planets, they should be able to name animals, too."

First Time

Curiel has participated in church raffles before, but never anything like the Name This Fish contest. "I saw it on Facebook and entered and didn't think of it anymore," she remembers.

Then she got an email saying she had won. "I thought it was spam at first, so I ignored it," Curiel said. But it was a slow day at work, so she opened the email and read it.

She still can't believe it: "It's a little too good to be true," she said.

But Curiel can't wait to take the Galápagos trip. She plans to bring her father, who first introduced her to National Geographic magazine when she was little girl—despite the pleas of her younger brother.

60 comments
Vida John
Vida John

It was lovely to meet you!  I was just telling friends about the trip and your very cool story.

Carlos Victor
Carlos Victor

Congratulations, I'm jealous, it's a great honor. Have a nice trip:)

elisabeth s.
elisabeth s.

Congratulations Tania for your stunning and breathtaking shot !!!

Have a very nice trip to the Galapagos :-) There will be plenty of fishes to capture !!! ENJOY and Congrats again :-)

Beverly Black
Beverly Black

 Sorry Tania, I spelled your name wrong. I should have caught it before I sent it.

Beverly Black
Beverly Black

Tonia, I believe they made the right choice, picking your name as the winner. It's perfect and easy to remember and pronounce. It certainly does fit the fish. A sweet name for a sweet fish from a sweet girl. My congratulations to you, darling and my prayers are for you and your father to have a safe and wonderful trip. Wish I were wealthy and I would pay for your brother to go with you.

Alexandra Egorova
Alexandra Egorova

Congrats, dear Curiel! The name  for the fish is very sweet! Have a great trip! And many thanks to The National Geographic team for such an interesting contest!

hashem imanian
hashem imanian

Dear Curiel

Congratulations,have a great trip,and good luck

Davide Vadalà
Davide Vadalà

Wasn't the name supposed to be relative to shape, colors, etc? It might be a nice name, but not pertinent to the competition. I would rather use that name for a fast-food. Anyway, best wishes from Nomad Travellers to enjoy your trip

Paul Ciccotti
Paul Ciccotti

Congratulations! I hope you and your father have a fabulous trip. I also hope your brother is not too disappointed.

Gertruda Gubijan
Gertruda Gubijan

All my Congratulations girl, you deserved it. You choose the beautiful name.Have a very good trip.

James Cowley
James Cowley

What an appropriate prize for Curiel; and what an event to remember and cherish. 

J. Francis
J. Francis

Congrats and enjoy your trip to the Galápagos Islands!

J. Francis
J. Francis

I love the name! It is very smart and clever!

Chase Magnus
Chase Magnus

Congrats and Enjoy!!!!!!!! I love the name it's PERFECT!

Hannah Vane-Tempest
Hannah Vane-Tempest

Congratulations!! Enjoy your trip and great name it suits the fish perfectly!!

Holly Hak
Holly Hak

Congratulations! Nice fish, nice name.

Enjoy your trip.

João Adalberto Pereira
João Adalberto Pereira

Congratulations!!! That you have a good trip to Galápagos!

I hope for news about that!

Ryan Abetria
Ryan Abetria

El Chilito nice name! Congratulations Tania Curiel

Kathleen Durr
Kathleen Durr

Congratulations! Tania. You and your father will have a trip of a life time. Be sure to take lots of pictures. Kathy

Sukhbinder Sidhu
Sukhbinder Sidhu

What a great story. The generosity of those who thought of this idea of inviting the general public and fans of National Geographic to name the fish is simply amazing.

Trip Affleck
Trip Affleck

no. it's a Mango Fish. the coloring and the fact that Chile is known for mangos makes it the obvious choice. your argument is invalid.

Tania Curiel
Tania Curiel

@Davide Vadalà Thanks Davide. The name is representative to its shape / colors. It looks like a little chili and it is cute. I think that's pretty representative -- even if it's not explicit. 

Tania Curiel
Tania Curiel

@Paul Ciccotti Thank you! My brother is a bit sad - he is an aspiring photographer, so he is very jealous. :)

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