The collection of fishes housed in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, has been an important resource of the University for teaching and research for more than 75 years.2  The Collection was originally the result of opportunistic gathering by faculty and students of the new College of Fisheries formed in 1919 and, to a degree, gifts from other museums.3  From the beginning, the Collection has been used as a resource for teaching ichthyology and as a tool for fish identification.4 

Biological collections are the foundation upon which studies of biological diversity are based.  The study of systematics and evolution, biogeography, ecology, ethology, genetics, and most other branches of biology are dependent upon the accurate identification of the specimens studied and upon their evolutionary relationships.  Biological collections today often serve many purposes, such as a source of material for research, education, reference, and exhibition (Anderson and Pietsch, 1997).

          Today the UW Fish Collection houses about 243,300 juvenile and adult specimens in 95,048 lots (Table 1; Figs. 1, 2).  Some 3,663 species contained in 1,326 genera and 303 families are represented.  Nearly a quarter of the juveniles and adults are composed of freshwater fishes, mainly from Oregon through Alaska.  The remaining are marine species collected from Baja California through the Bering Sea, the Aleutian and Kuril Islands, and from the western tropical Pacific, largely from Christmas Island to Guam and the Philippines.  An extensive collection of marine fish eggs and larvae, consisting of 61,831 lots, mostly from the eastern North Pacific Ocean, is also part of the Collection.5  Ichthyologists from North America and other nations utilize the Collection by borrowing specimens for study (Table 2) or visiting the Collection to examine fishes (Table 3).

The Collection was not formalized until 1928 when the School’s first ichthyologist was hired.  Leonard Schultz began an intensive collecting program, organized the Collection in a systematic manner, initiated a research program in systematic ichthyology, and taught courses in ichthyology (Fig. 3).  Schultz left the UW in 1937 for a position at the U.S. National Museum and, except for the period 1948-1957, a trained replacement was not engaged until 1963.  During most of this 25-year hiatus, the Collection generally was only cursorily funded and maintained, there were only a few graduate students in ichthyology, and research in the systematics of fishes was not pursued.  Two different ichthyologists were hired as Curators of Fishes during the period 1963-1972, but both left the School after a short period.6

The arrival in 1978 of Theodore W. Pietsch as Curator and Assistant Professor marked a turning point in the development of the Fish Collection.  In the 25 years since his arrival the Collection has grown to become a world-class resource housed in a state-of-the art facility, a program has been pursued in systematic ichthyology as well as in studies of biological diversity, and graduate students have become an integral part of the ichthyology program.7

Today there is a crisis in biological collections caused by lack of funding for their maintenance, a shortage of trained systematists and, mainly, neglect of natural history museums by university or other administrators responsible for collections.  Anderson and Pietsch (1997) have summarized this juncture.  They wrote “Sufficient backing [for biological collections] will come only if those of us who actually study biodiversity are successful in educating the rest of the biological community, the general public, and decision makers as to the role played by these depositories in developing our understanding of the global ecosystem.”

This paper traces the development of the Fish Collection at the University of Washington.  An attempt is made to document the accomplishments of the various individuals curating the Collection over the past 75 years.  It strives to assess the relative growth of the Collection over time, to document the Collection-based research programs undertaken, and to identify research undertaken by graduate students utilizing the Collection. An attempt is also made to cast into the future of the Fish Collection at the UW.



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