Published online 13 September 2007 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news070910-9


Fish for sale

Non-profits auction species names for conservation.

Launch the slideshow  Launch the slideshowGerry Allen / CI

Over the years, philanthropists have lent their names to art galleries, schools and hospitals. But in a watershed auction, the world's rich will be able to add their names to several new species of fish — all in the name of charity.

On Thursday 20 September, an auction to name ten new species of fish is being held by the Monaco-based Monaco-Asia Society, a non-profit organization devoted to Asian causes and Conservation International, based in Arlington, Virginia. The fish are a few of the dozens discovered by Conservation International during expeditions to reefs off the coast of Indonesia's Papua Province in 2006.

Bidders will arrive from around the world for a gala at Monaco's Oceanographic Museum, which sits on a bluff high above the Mediterranean Ocean. Prince Albert II will be in attendance, and auction house Christie's will oversee the bidding pro-bono.

This isn't the first auction for a species name. For example, in 2005 an anonymous online bidder won the right to name a new kind of Bolivian monkey for a charitable donation of US$650,000. But this is the first time that multiple species will be auctioned in a single event, according to Monaco-Asia Society president Francesco Bongiovanni.


There's nothing wrong with naming an animal after the rich and famous, says Andrew Polaszek, executive secretary at the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in London. The only technical requirements, he says, are that the name must have a generic and specific part and be published in a paper or monograph — something that Conservation International will presumably do. Species are routinely named after famous scientists, and one species of cave beetle is even named after Adolf Hitler. He says that "you can essentially name a species anything you want".

Bongiovanni says he hopes the gala will raise US$1.2-1.4 million for further expeditions and conservation efforts in the region. But is it fair to name a species after a wealthy patron, rather than the scientist who discovered or described it? Bongiovanni says yes — especially because it is all for the greater good of the fish. "At the end of the day," he says, "these species need names."

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