A collection of fishes has been accumulating in the course of research and
teaching at the University of Washington
since the School of Aquatic and
Fishery Sciences (originally the College
of Fisheries, and then the School of Fisheries) was organized in 1919.
Although some of the material is dated as early as 1843, serious collecting did
not begin until 1928. About one quarter of the collection was obtained during
the tenure of Leonard P. Schultz, between 1930 and 1936. Dr. Schultz taught
ichthyology, made numerous collections in the Pacific
Northwest, described a number of new forms, and began major
revisionary studies of many groups of fishes common to this region.
After Leonard Schultz left the University of Washington in 1936, responsibility for
the collection fell to Arthur D. Welander who took over the courses in
ichthyology that had been started by Schultz. Growth of the Fish Collection,
however, was restricted by the limited space occupied by the School of Aquatic
and Fishery Sciences until 1949.
In 1949, a new building, the Fisheries Center,
constructed by the University
of Washington to house
the School, provided approximately 2,540 square feet of floor space for the
collection, plus an adjoining cataloging and preparation room. This additional
space permitted expansion of the collection under the direction of Dr.
Welander. The University provided funds for shelving, preservatives, and
containers, as well as suport for graduate assistants to carry on the tasks of
curating and cataloging new material and periodically checking the level of
preservative in old jars. During the years 1948 to 1959, Albert W. Herre was
engaged by the University as Acting Curator of Fishes, especially to work on
mid-Pacific and Philippine collections. In the meantime, Dr. Welander became
involved with the work of the Laboratory of Radiation Biology, and while this
required some systematic work, his primary interests came to lie in the field
of effects of radiation on the early development of fishes.
After Dr. Herre retired from his
work at the School
of Aquatic and Fishery
Sciences in 1959 due to illness, the collection remained more or less idle
until the fall of 1963 when J. D. McPhail was appointed Assistant Professor and
Curator of Fishes. At that time the collection was badly disorganized after
having been moved, two years before, from its original location on the first
floor of the Fisheries
Center to the basement.
Dr. McPhail completely reorganized the collection and substantially added
material until his resignation from the University in 1966.
After the resignation of
McPhail, and seeing no one in the immediate future who could accept the
responsibility for their care, the type specimens of the collection, 13
holotypes and 112 paratypes, representing 48 nominal species, were transferred
in September of 1966 to the collection of the National Museum of Natural
History in Washington, D. C. Although Dr. Welander continued to supervise the
maintenance of the collection by graduate students paid by the University of Washington, no trained ichthyologists
actively worked with the collection from 1966 to 1978.
In September of 1978, upon the
retirement of Dr. Welander, Theodore W. Pietsch was appointed to the faculty of
the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences as
Assistant Professor and Curator of Fishes. Shortly thereafter, with the help of
a one-year grant (1979-1980) from the Biological Research Resources Program of
the National Science Foundation, as well as strong support from the School and the
University, the entire collection was cleaned, realcoholed, and reorganized. In
addition, all backlog material was incorporated into the main collection, and
serious drainage and ventilation problems were corrected. However, efforts to
to relabel and recatalog the collection, initiated in 1981 subsequent to
termination of NSF support, were interrupted by severe budgetary cutbacks
placed on the University by the State of Washington.
The collection received only minimal financial support for the next several
The situation improved
dramatically beginning in 1988 when a three-year NSF collection facilities
grant was awarded to Dr. Pietsch to coincide with the University's construction
of a new fisheries building, "Fisheries Teaching and Research" (FTR).
The NSF funds made possible the hiring of the collection's first collection
manager, Alexandra M. Snyder, in September 1988, while funds from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences provided
for a permanent graduate research assistantship in the collection. By the time
the FTR building was occupied in May 1990, conversion of all lots from
isopropanol preservative to ethanol, and replacement of cardboard-lined metal
caps to polyethylene-lined polypropylene caps, had nearly been completed.
Excellent progress had also been made towards recataloging and computerizing
The new facility was christened
on 23 May 1990 with a catered "open house" hosted by Dr. Pietsch,
which was attended by 174 faculty, staff, and students, all of whom were very
favorably pleased with what they saw. FTR provides approximately 3400 square
feet of floor space to house the fish collection, including adequate space for
specimen preparation, to accomodate visitors, and for storage of supplies,
collecting gear, and archives that document the collection. There is also
office space for the collection manager and four graduate students, plus an
additional room that houses a small ichthyological library and computer
workstations. The entire facility is fire-protected by a built-in sprinkler
system, spark-proof lighting, and fire resistant walls. The collection itself
can be made entirely secure behind locked doors in total darkness, and the
temperature is maintained at a nearly constant temperature of 19° C. A movable
"Spacesaver" compactor storage system provides 5285 linear feet of
shelf space for the collection--nearly twice that provided in the old building
and sufficient for decades of expansion.
By September 1991, when NSF
collection support expired, essentially all material had been converted to
ethanol preservative, all metal lids had been replaced, large specimens had
been moved into new stainless steel tanks, most backlog material had been cataloged,
and over 14,500 lots had been entered into the collection's database management
system. After termination of NSF support, the School of Aquatic
and Fishery Sciences demonstrated a strong commitment to the collection by
providing permanent salary support for the collection manager position.
In 1992, thanks once again to
NSF, the College of Ocean and Fishery Science, and the School of Aquatic
and Fishery Sciences, a three-year project was begun to establish an archival
center for Northeast Pacific fish eggs and larvae at the Fish Collection. The
goals of this project included: 1) consolidate several regional collections of
Northeast Pacific and Bering Sea fish eggs and
larvae for permanent archival storage at the Fish Collection; 2) fully curate
all lots; 3) catalog and computerize the collection; and 4) make the collection
freely available to researchers. Michael W. Brogan was hired in September of
1992 as a postdoctoral research associate to oversee the project, which also
included funds for graduate and undergraduate assistants. By September of 1995
when the original funds expired, nearly 55,000 lots of eggs and larvae had been
transferred from the Alaska Fisheries Science
Center, International Pacific Halibut
of Aquatic and Fishery
Sciences, and Vancouver Public Aquarium. Fluid preservatives were changed as
required (3% buffered formalin for eggs, 70% ethanol for larvae), vial closures
were upgraded to Poly-Seal caps, and all lots were arranged in air-tight,
light-proof cabinets. Approximately 8,000 lots of larvae had been cataloged,
entered in the collection's database management system, and bar-coded to work
with a new loan invoice program written by Dr. Brogan. The data for an
additional 25,000 lots transferred to the Fish Collection had been computerized
at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, but the data files had not yet been
transferred to the Fish Collection before termination of funding.
Another significant change in
the collection ocurred in November of 1992 when the collection manager,
Alexandra Snyder, left the University of Washington to take a new position at
the University of New Mexico. The collection was without a a full-time
collection manager until September of 1993, when Brian K. Urbain, then at the
American Museum of Natural History, accepted an offer to fill the position.
During the interim period, collection management duties were assumed by Mary
Lonzarich, then a graduate student of Dr. Pietsch, and Michael Brogan,
postdoctoral research associate.
With the arrival of Mr. Urbain,
a concerted effort was made to catalog and computerize the large volume of
backlogged material that had been accumulating for several years. The majority
of these specimens were received from the Alaska Fisheries
(National Marine Fisheries Service) as a result of interactions between Dr.
Pietsch and the agency over the previous 15 years. Several fisheries
undergraduates were hired to aid in this project and, within two years, nearly
6,300 catalog numbers had been added--an increase of over 25%. The efforts of
Kirt M. Hughes (then an undergraduate) during this period are especially
noteworthy. He single-handedly curated, cataloged, and organized the
collection's 500 or so large (2, 3, and 5 gallon) glass-jarred lots.
A change in computer database
management practices took place in late 1993 when Mr. Urbain switched from
"dBase" (DOS) database software to "Paradox" (Windows) and
implemented a set of data-entry standards and structural changes to the
database in an effort to ensure greater data consistency and accuracy. With the
database successfully converted from one format to the other in early 1994,
attention was focused on editing the existing data and continuing the
computerization of the collection's catalogued lots. Several undergraduates,
both hired and volunteered, made significant contributions to these efforts.
In an attempt to expand the
educational potential of the collection's resources beyond the University
community, the Fish Collection established, in late 1995, an Elementary Outreach Program. Created
by Mr. Urbain, the program provides tours of our facilities for elementary
school children, and engages them in "hands-on" workshops concerning
fish diversity. The program has been expanded to include grades 3-12, and is extremely
popular with the public. Thousands of
children from local school districts and outlying counties have participated to
The UW Fish Collection was
involved in The International Kuril Island Project (IKIP), and The International
Sakhalin Island Project (ISIP), a collaboration of American, Russian, and
Japanese scientists, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation
beginning in 1994, to survey the plants, insects, spiders, freshwater and
terrestrial mollusks, freshwater fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and
mammals of the Kuril Archipelago and Sakhalin Island. The collection has
benefited from IKIP and ISIP in several ways, including the addition of a large
number of lots of freshwater fishes from the poorly known areas of the Kuril
Archipelago and Sakhalin
Island, through the
purchase of computers and increased database activities, and through partial
funding for the establishment of our internet server.
"Integration and Dissemination of Ichthyoplankton
Databases” was a one-year project funded by the Alaska Fisheries Science
Center (AFSC) through the Washington Sea Grant Program, beginning in September
1995. With this funding, we continued the transfer of fish eggs and larvae from
the AFSC, begun in 1992 with support from NSF, and made the associated database
available to researchers on the internet. Currently about 80,000 lots of eggs
and larvae have been cataloged and are searchable online.
The Fish Collection currently receives funding from NMFS to
archive specimens in both the Adult and Early Life History collections, and to
train observers for the North Pacific Groundfish fleet. Three graduate students and various hourly
undergraduate positions are supported through these contracts.
We officially joined the Burke Museum
in July of 2007. Still physically
located in and supported by the School
of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, this
new relationship with the Burke ensures that all of the main collections housed
on the UW campus are now available through Washington State’s
official museum of natural history and culture.