This is an archived article.

November 1, 2007

UW fish collection becomes part of the Burke Museum

The Burke Museum is getting into ichthyology. The UW has chosen the accredited museum, home of dinosaur and mammal fossils, wildlife exhibitions, native art and much more, to oversee the institution’s vast fish collection.

The UW has been gathering specimens for its fish collection since 1919, when the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (formerly the College of Fisheries, then the School of Fisheries) was created, according to the collection’s Web site (learn more at http://artedi.fish.washington.edu/). Some of the specimens date back as far as 1843, but the UW didn’t start seriously collecting fish until 1928.

Now the collection includes about 7.5 million individual fish in about 125,000 lots. About one-quarter of the collection are freshwater fishes from the Northwest; the other three-quarters, the Web site states, were collected primarily from the eastern North Pacific and the western tropical Pacific, as well as other sites worldwide. All the specimens are stored in glass jars or stainless steel tanks containing 70 percent ethanol preservative.

The collection acts as a databank for research and species identification by scientists around the world, scholars from local and regional agencies, UW students and faculty and the public.

“The collection will become increasingly valuable to the world community as global deterioration of natural environments continues to cause the extinction of species,” said Ted Pietsch, a professor of aquatic and fisheries sciences who was curator of fish for the School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, within the College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, and will continue his duties as Burke Museum Curator of Fishes.

Pietsch said, “If extinctions continue, studies of species diversity will have to rely on specimens in collections. Of particular concern is the environment of the ocean and especially its fishes, which are vital to our planet’s food chain, and about which little is known.”

Pietsch added, “This large, well-documented collection is the only such resource in the Pacific Northwest. It provides an essential source of information about past populations, offers a critical means to predict future environmental change and is essential to understanding the dynamics of ecosystems, not only in the Puget Sound region, but across the entire Pacific Rim.”

Katherine Maslenikov, who manages the collection (and will continue doing so), said protecting the fish collection over the long term was a priority in the management change. “One of the Burke’s main purposes is to protect collections and improve collections,” she said. The museum can provide a guarantee that the collection will be maintained and cared for. “It’s important for us to know the collection will be protected.”

And though the Fish Collection will henceforth be overseen by the Burke, the fish specimens themselves aren’t going anywhere — they are securely stored at the Fisheries Teaching and Research Building.

Both Maslenikov and Pietsch praised Burke Museum Director Julie Stein for her help in bringing the fish collection under the museum’s care.