January 13, 2011

Ology of the Month: Ichthyology

Introducing a new Burke Blog feature:

Each month the Burke Blog will introduce a new "-ology." The suffix -ology simply means "the study of ______." Hook up -ology with the scientific name of your area of interest and voilà, an -ology is born. For a complete list of  -ologies ranging from acarology to zymology click here.

This month, I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite -ologies: ICHTHYOLOGY. Contrary to its pronunciation, it is not the study of things that gross people out (unless fish fall into that category for you in which case you’re looking for ichthyophobia.) I digress.

Simple, right? In name yes, in scope no. Fish make up close to half of all vertebrate species in existence today. They can be found in salty, sandy, fresh, sewage-y, pristine and polluted waters from Antarctica to the Arctic. The classification, preservation and conservation of these creatures are a major concern for ichthyologists around the world. At the Burke Museum, ichthyologists use the enormous UW Fish Collection to add to our growing understanding of the amazing ecosystems here in the Northwest and beyond.

Ichthyology = the study of fish
I asked the Burke’s fish collection manager and professional ichthyologist, Katherine Maslenikov, to tell me a bit more about the fishes:

ES: What are some common misconceptions about ichthyologists?
KM: I guess most people assume that if you work on fish it is the commercial species, such as salmon. We spend most of our time in the Burke Fish Collection trying to educate people about the other 30,000 species of fishes in the world.

Katherine Maslenikov manages the Burke fish collection.
 ES: Why should people care about ichthyology?
KM: There are more species of fishes than all other vertebrates combined. They are fascinating to study in terms of evolution and adaptation. Most people have some connection with fishes- whether it is to eat them in a restaurant, go catch them in the wild, or keep them in an aquarium. Fishes are valuable resources that need to be well managed and conserved.

ES: What is your favorite fish?
KM: There are so many fascinating fishes, but I guess my favorite would have to be the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker (Eumicrotremus orbis).
Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker
ES: What's one small step we can take to assist your research or preserve/conserve fish diversity?
KM: Just be respectful of the resource: if you eat fish, don't take more than you need and try to only eat fishes caught in sustainable fisheries; if you keep fish in aquaria, make sure they are not rare or threatened and were raised in a sustainable way--not blasted out of a reef with dynamite. People often think the ocean is an endless resource, but we know this is clearly not the case. There are plenty of examples of fisheries crashing because we just took too many fish out of the populations. Treating the resources with respect will ensure that future generations can enjoy them as well.

ES: What is the most interesting research project to use the Fish Collection this year?

KM: One of our graduate students, Chris Kenaley, just finished up his Ph.D. on a group of deep-sea dragonfishes (family Stomiidae), showing the unique visual system using far-red light-producing cephalic photophores. Basically, there are many deep-sea animals that produce light (bioluminescence), but these fishes have special organs on their heads that produce a red light, which is very different from other fishes. It enables them to sneak up on their prey using this light without being detected.\

Read more about the Burke Ichthyology department here.
Do you have a favorite fish story? Post it in the comments below!

Posted by: Emily Sparling