All the fish in the (Salish) Sea

October 7, 2014
Burke Museum

Fishes are a vital part of our economy, marine environment, and regional identity; but do we even know our own fishes?

The last compilation of Salish Sea fishes—nothing more than a list of species, without illustrations—was published more than three decades ago. Ted Pietsch, emeritus curator of fishes of the Burke Museum, is working on the first-ever book about local marine fishes, The Fishes of the Salish Sea. The book is part of current efforts to protect and restore the Salish Sea, an inland waterway shared by Washington and British Columbia, which includes Puget Sound.

Tiger Rockfish illustration

Tiger Rockfish (Sebastes nigrocinctus).
Image: Joseph R. Tomelleri

Silverspotted Sculpin illustration

Silverspotted Sculpin (Blepsias cirrhosis)
Image: Joseph R. Tomelleri

Slender Cockscomb and Mosshead Warbonnet illustrations

(A) Slender Cockscomb (Anoplarchus insignis). (B) Mosshead Warbonnet (Chirolophis nugator).
Image: Joseph R. Tomelleri

The Salish Sea and the surrounding basin.

The Salish Sea and Surrounding Basin.
Photo: Stefan Freelan. Used with permission.

Over the past 30 years, the number of known fish species has increased significantly, but few people are aware of what life is like in our local waters.

While working on the book, Pietsch and Affiliate Curator James Wilder Orr are referencing specimens from the Burke’s fish collection. Through this project, they have discovered an additional 35 species of fishes, increasing the number of known Salish Sea species by almost 14%.

In addition to cataloging new species, the book will be the first resource that covers the anatomy, identification, and taxonomy of these fishes through scientifically accurate and beautiful color illustrations. It will also highlight the geology, oceanography, and historical biogeography of the region.

"If we don't know what's there, we won't know what to save."

Ted Pietsch, emeritus curator of the Fish Collection of the Burke Museum

This book will be an important community resource on the biodiversity of Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea. On a weekly basis, the Burke’s fish collection receives inquiries from members of the public who catch a fish and don't know what it is. Fishes of the Salish Sea will not only help to identify fishes, but can be used on fishing boats, by environmental consultants, fishery biologists, teachers, and others. It will serve as a foundation for determining the occurrence of new species and the disappearance of others, enabling the selection of species as indicators of ecosystem health, and providing a basis for identifying the mechanisms responsible for marine animal declines.

“We’re very concerned about the conservation of the Puget Sound” Pietsch said. “If we don’t know what’s there, we won’t know what to save.”

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