August 18, 2015

10 of the weirdest fishes at the Burke

By Katherine P. Maslenikov

As Collections Manager of the Burke Museum’s Ichthyology Collection, I spend my days surrounded by millions of preserved fish specimens. We have plenty of the local species that are familiar to most people, like salmon, cod, and flounder, but I find myself more interested in the unusual species with strange adaptations to harsh environments.

Fishes display a fascinating array of specialized anatomy that has evolved over millions of years, leading to the amazing biodiversity we see today. I’ve picked 10 of my favorites to show just a taste of the variety of species represented in the Burke collections. Enjoy!

1) A shark with two heads

This Spotted Spiny Dogfish (Squalus suckleyi) specimen has been in our collection for decades, but no one knows where it came from. If I had to guess, I would say it was found inside the mother during a dogfish dissection in a biology lab. Dogfish females give birth to live young, so they are commonly used in biology labs to show the developing embryos. These ‘conjoined twins’ would not have made it far in the wild, since they would be easy prey. We’re just glad someone thought to preserve it (them)!

A Spotted Spiny Dogfish (Squalus suckleyi) specimen with two heads. Photo: Burke Museum

August 03, 2015

For the love of "grotesque" deep-sea fishes

Imagine a creature in the ocean with huge, gnarly teeth, a protruding dorsal fin spine and the ability to expand its mouth and stomach to consume creatures larger than itself.

While this may sound like a terrifying deep-sea monster, Dr. Theodore (Ted) Pietsch, Burke Museum curator of fishes and University of Washington (UW) professor, has grown to love them, having spent a lifetime of study on a group of fishes known as the deep-sea anglerfishes.

Stewart's Footballfish, Himantolophus stewarti, about 6 inches long, described by Ted as new to science in 2011.

“I would have missed out on a lot”
I recently sat down with Ted in his office at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Science building to discuss his history with these fascinating creatures.

Like many researchers, Ted started down his particular path thanks to a serendipitous moment and a push from a mentor.

July 16, 2015

Preparing for 'The Really Big One'

By Stan Chernicoff

In the past four days, some of you may have spent a thoroughly unnerving twenty minutes reading Kathryn Schulz's "The Really Big One"—a terrifying portrait of the likely effects and aftermath of the next great Cascadia earthquake published in the July 20 issue of The New Yorker.

Few if any seismologists in our region would contest or deny that a catastrophic earthquake in the Pacific Northwest is inevitable. It will happen. There is no doubt. Of course the critical question is... When? Will this disaster strike tonight? On Sunday? Or sixty years from this morning?

The answer to this critical question, despite our considerable efforts, continues to elude us. So what would the wisest among us do in light of this horrifying tectonic reality? Prepare.

Do you have an earthquake kit assembled and accessible near an exit door of your home or apartment? Does your kit contain all or most of the following items?

July 14, 2015

Conversations with collections: Native artists inspired

The Here & Now: Native Artists Inspired
exhibit at the Burke Museum
(November 22, 2014 – July 27, 2015).
Pictured: PochaHaida, 2009, by Lisa Telford. 
The vitality of the Native art scene in the Northwest continues to grow in creative and unexpected ways, but connections to older artworks often provide the spark that keeps Native artists inspired.

Over the past ten years, the Burke Museum’s Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Native Art has awarded grants to more than 90 artists and scholars so they can visit the Burke Museum and interact with the cultural collections.

We wanted to gauge the real-world effects that our grants had on recipients, so we contacted each of our grantees and invited them to share how their artistic practice was affected by their visit to the Burke.

Many told us about new pieces they made that were inspired or informed by the historical artworks at the museum, so we created an exhibit, Here & Now: Native Artists Inspired, in November 2014 to showcase their art alongside the pieces from the Burke that they identified as being key to their learning.

Before the exhibit closes on July 27, 2015, (here’s how you can plan your visit) we want to share some of the pieces in the exhibit, along with the artists’ thoughts on this process—the conversations between the old and the new—in their own words.

July 08, 2015

Spider photographer and collector’s legacy lives on

By Rod Crawford

Many people try to avoid spiders, but spider enthusiast Bob Thomson sought them out and collected them for the Burke Museum—contributing more than 9,000 specimens and hundreds of photographs! So when I heard that my old friend and colleague had died, I thought his story should be shared, and put together the following from my recollections and with some help from his son Jonathan.

Bob's son, Jonathan Thomson, captured this photo of his father in Sumatra. 

June 04, 2015

Birds that bury their eggs: How megapodes’ nesting behavior evolved

Australian Brush-turkey chick shortly after hatching and emerging
from incubation mound and showing well-developed flight feathers.
Photo: Burke Museum.
By Sharon Birks

Did you know that not all birds sit on their eggs to incubate them? Megapodes (family Megapodiidae)—a fascinating group of birds named for their large feet—cleverly harness environmental heat sources to incubate their eggs.

Depending on the species and location, megapodes may lay their eggs in burrows dug in sun-warmed beaches or geothermally active areas, or they may build large incubation mounds that function like compost piles and generate heat through decomposition.

Although most megapodes look like distant chicken relatives (they are), their unique incubation behavior has driven a suite of unusual adaptations, including:
  • large feet to help them dig burrows or build mounds; 
  • thin, porous egg shells to help eggs “breathe” underground; and
  • the ability for chicks to dig themselves out from under several feet of soil after hatching and emerge ready to fly and fend for themselves.

How did this odd incubation behavior evolve?

May 20, 2015

Introducing Washington's first dinosaur

Brace yourselves, dino-lovers: Burke Museum paleontologists have discovered the first dinosaur fossil ever found in Washington state!

The fossil is a partial left thigh bone of a theropod dinosaur, the group of two-legged, meat-eating dinosaurs that includes Velociraptor, Tyrannosaurus rex and modern birds. It was found along the shores of Sucia Island State Park in the San Juan Islands.

The fossil is approximately 80 million years old and is from the Late Cretaceous period. During that time, the rocks that today form Sucia Island were likely further south. How much further south is a topic of scientific debate, with locations ranging between present day Baja California, Mexico, and northern California. Earthquakes and other geologic forces that constantly reshape our planet moved the rocks north to their present-day location.

Burke Museum Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Dr. Christian Sidor and University of Washington graduate student Brandon Peecook describe the find in the journal PLOS ONE.

As the Washington State Museum of Natural History and Culture, we're so excited to display Washington's first dinosaur fossil in our lobby and share the discovery with you!

The road to discovering Washington’s first dinosaur fossil...
On April 10, 2012, two Burke Museum research associates were at Sucia Island State Park with a collecting permit for fossil ammonites—sea creatures with spiral-shaped shells that lived at the same time as dinosaurs.

The shore where the fossil was found on the southwest tip of Sucia Island State Park.
Photo courtesy of the Burke Museum.