The Era of Theodore Wells Pietsch


Theodore Wells Pietsch (1945-) was appointed Assistant Professor and Curator of Fishes at the School of Fisheries in the fall of 1978 (Fig. 16).  Pietsch received his B.S. in zoology in 1967 at the University of Michigan and earned his M.S. (1969) and Ph. D. (1973) degrees from the University of Southern California.  After a two-year postdoctoral appointment at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Pietsch joined the Department of Biology, California State University, Long Beach as an assistant professor (Anon., 1998).65 

Pietsch is a collection based systematic ichthyologist with interests in biosystematics, distribution and zoogeography, and the functional morphology of feeding behavior in fishes, as well as in the history of science.  His particular expertise is in deep-sea anglerfishes of the order Lophiiformes.  Pietsch advanced to associate professor in 1981 and professor in 1984.66

When Pietsch arrived at the School of Fisheries in 1978, the Fish Collection was in less than pristine condition, having suffered years of inadequate support bordering on neglect.  Relegated to the basement of the Fisheries Center in the early 1960s, the Collection was disorganized, the storage area reeked of formaldehyde due to broken containers and inadequate ventilation, and the facilities were dark, dusty, and cramped.  Many containers of specimens had either dried up or had lost much of their preserving fluid (Fig. 17).  Records of loans, exchanges, and acquisitions were poorly documented.  Such records sometimes did not even note taxa or the number of specimens lent.

Pietsch immediately applied for financial support to begin the task of rehabilitating the Collection.  He received a two-year (1979-1981) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that provided for basic curatorial requirements.67  The physical plant was improved by using these funds for the installation of improved lighting, ventilation, and a new fumehood.  A large stainless steel sink was installed and the walls in the Collection area were painted.  Immediate research needs were met with the purchase of microscopes, a refrigerator, freezer, filing cabinets, and a typewriter (Pietsch, 1982a).

The Collection was cleaned, realcoholed, and rearranged.  All lots had been identified and properly stored for immediate retrieval by the end of the grant period in 1982.  Efforts begun in 1981 to re-label and re-catalog the Collection were interrupted, however, by severe budget cuts at the University of Washington.  Only minimal support was extended to the Collection over the next several years.  The Curator, with part-time student help, maintained the Collection during 1978-1987.68

An acquisition policy was formulated by Pietsch to emphasize the collection of cold-water fishes from the North Pacific.  To this end, the fishes collected by Herre from the Philippine Islands in 1947-1948 were transferred to the California Academy of Sciences in 1980 and 1982 in exchange for material from the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea.69  Arrangements were made to receive new collections of North Pacific fishes made by the School of Fisheries and the UW Department of Oceanography, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the NMFS Foreign Fisheries Observer Program (Pietsch, 1982a). 

Pietsch developed a course in ichthyology for undergraduate students that he generally taught twice yearly from 1978-1989.  He also taught comparative anatomy of fishes, various seminars, and other courses for graduate students.  Pietsch is noted for his excellent teaching.  He received the first of his four awards for excellence in teaching in 1986 (and he additionally received three “honorable mentions”), and was made a “Fellow of the University of Washington Teaching Academy” in 1998.70

Graduate students became an integral part of the ichthyology program.  During the period 1978-1987, Pietsch supervised the work of seven graduate students culminating in the granting of four Master of Science degrees and three doctorates (Appendix).71  The thesis research of these students was based mainly on specimens in the Fish Collection or those obtained on loan from other institutions.  During this period three graduate students were normally in residence.

Pietsch was highly productive during his initial decade at the UW.  He published about 48 papers from 1978-1987.  Most of these publications were on the systematics of the fishes of the Order Lophiiformes, his specialty (e.g., Pietsch, 1979, 1981; Pietsch and Van Duzer, 1980).72   In 1987 he, and co-author David B. Grobecker, published a book summarizing Pietsch’s research on shallow-water antennarioid anglerfishes (Pietsch and Grobecker, 1987).

In the mid-1980s, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC), part of the NMFS, with significant funding to the UW from NSF, transferred much of its collection of marine fish eggs and larvae to the Collection.  This was the start of significant growth in the accession of early life history stages of fishes from the North Pacific Ocean.  By late 1988 the Fish Collection included about 48,000 identified lots of fish eggs and larvae (Pietsch, 1990).

In this period, Pietsch undertook several contracts with the AFSC to provide an ichthyological meristic database and a literature database for that Center’s early life history group.  Additionally, contracts were received for teaching fish identification to NMFS’s newly hired foreign fisheries observers (Table 4).73

Pietsch also received ten grants during 1978-1987, mainly from the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution, for collection based systematic studies of fishes.  He also received three grants to aid in the preparation of books he was writing (Table 4).74

As part of a planned expansion of physical facilities for the marine sciences, the University of Washington in the 1980s approved construction of a new fisheries building, Fisheries Teaching and Research (FTR).  The 28,000 square foot (gross) building was designed to house the Curator of Fishes, graduate students in ichthyology, and the Fish Collection, as well as to provide classrooms, laboratories, and office space for other faculty, staff, and graduate students (Fig. 18).  Occupancy was set for late 1989.75

Pietsch submitted a grant proposal to NSF in 1987 to facilitate and upgrade the physical facilities for the Collection and to otherwise prepare it for relocation to the new fisheries building.  He asked for a three-year commitment of support to 1) re-catalog and computerize the entire Collection; 2) recap the existing glassware with museum-approved polypropylene lids equipped with polypropylene liners; 3) convert the preservation fluid from isopropyl to ethanol;76 4) identify and curate all back-log material; and 5) box, transfer, and reorganize the Collection in a manually operated, compactor storage system in the new building.  The proposal was funded in April 1988 for a three-year period.77  Significant financial support for the new facility also came from the School of Fisheries.

A full-time manager for the Collection, Alexandra M. Snyder, was hired upon receipt of the NSF grant in the fall of 1988.  A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Snyder (Fig. 19) was previously a Collections Manager of fishes at the Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan.  A half-time cataloger as well as graduate students provided additional curatorial help during that period.   The conversion of all lots of fishes from isopropanol to ethanol and the replacement of cardboard-lined metal caps with polyethylene-lined polyethylene caps was nearly completed by the time the new facility was occupied in May 1990.  Considerable progress also had been made in re-cataloging and computerizing the Collection (Pietsch, 1990).78

The new Collection facility in FTR was inaugurated on 23 May 1990.  Pietsch hosted a catered “open house” for the occasion.  About 174 people from the greater University community attended the function and toured the new quarters.79  The new facility provides about 3,400 square feet of floor space to house the Fish Collection.  Adequate space is included for the storage of glassware, flammable preserving reagents, and record archives (Fig. 20).  Fish preparation and visitor study space is included.  Offices are provided for the Collections Manager and three graduate students (Fig. 21).  An adjacent room provides space for an ichthyological library and for computer workstations.80  The Collection is fire-protected by a sprinkler system and spark-proof lighting as well as fire resistant walls.  The Collection can be made secure behind locked doors in total darkness while maintaining a nearly constant temperature of 19°C.  An office and laboratory space for the Curator is provided on the second floor of the building (Pietsch, 1990). 

The Collection is stored in a moveable Spacesaver™ compactor system.  The compactors provide 5,285 linear feet of shelf space for the Collection, but uses only about 84% of the floor space previously required (Figs. 22, 23).  This system allows for considerable future expansion.81

By the time the NSF grant expired in 1991, most all specimens had been converted to ethanol preservative, metal lids had been replaced by polyethylene lids, large specimens had been transferred to new stainless steel tanks, and most backlogged material had been cataloged.  The transfer of ledger records into computer files had begun with over 14,500 lots entered into the Collection data management system by the end of 1991.  By prior agreement with NSF, the School of Fisheries provided permanent salary support for the Collections Manager position after the NSF grant expired.

In the spring of 1991, Pietsch submitted another grant proposal to NSF, this time to establish an “Archival Center for Early Life History Stages of Fishes at the School of Fisheries.”  At that time, three fish collections had been designated by NSF as “Regional Centers” for the archival of early stages of fishes.  These institutions were the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C., and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.  Pietsch proposed that the University of Washington be designated a “Center” for the Pacific Northwest region.82

Pietsch asked that financial support be provided by NSF to 1) relocate and consolidate all existing egg and larval material in the new Fish Collection facility; 2) convert the preservation fluid for larvae from buffered formalin to 70% ethanol; 3) double vial and label the entire Collection; 4) catalog and computerize the entire Collection; and 5) arrange the Collection in cardboard trays and wooden drawers in “Cornell insect cabinets.”  The proposal was funded for three years beginning in July 1992 with additional support from the School and the College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences (Table 4).83

A post-doctoral research associate was hired in September 1992 to oversee the curation project.  Michael William Brogan received his doctorate at the University of Arizona and was an expert on larval fishes.  He also possessed strong computer programming skills.84

By the fall of 1995 when the NSF grant expired, about 55,000 lots of fish eggs and larvae had been transferred to the Collection from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the International Pacific Halibut Commission, the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, and the Vancouver, British Columbia, Public Aquarium.  The preservation fluid was changed, as required, to 70% ethanol for larvae and 3% formalin for fish eggs.  The samples were stored in glass vials with Poly-Sealtm caps, and all lots were stored in airtight and lightproof steel storage cabinets.  Nearly 8,000 lots had been cataloged and entered into the Collection’s database management system.  The samples were bar-coded as part of a new loan invoice program written by Brogan.  Data for an additional 25,000 lots transferred to the Collection had been entered into computer files by the AFSC, but the files had not been transferred to the Fish Collection by the time NSF funding expired in the fall of 1995.85

Additional funding to continue the transfer to the Collection was provided from 1995-1997 by the AFSC through the Washington Sea Grant Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Program (NOAA).86  By the end of these contracts, about 50,000 lots of fish eggs and larvae had been cataloged and could be searched on-line (Table 4). 87

In an effort to bring together ichthyologists of the Pacific Northwest for communication and social interaction, Pietsch, along with Douglas F. Markle of Oregon State University, established the Gilbert Ichthyological Society in 1989.  Named after the famed Stanford University ichthyologist Charles Henry Gilbert (1859-1928), the Society offers a forum for graduate students to interact with their peers as well as with professionals.  Students attending annual meetings of the Society can present orally or by poster the results of their research.  Over a 14-year period, the Society has developed into an important forum for ichthyology of the Northwest.88

The Collections Manager, Alexandra Snyder, left the UW in November 1992 to take a position at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.  The Collection was without a full-time supervision until the fall of 1993 when a new Collections Manager was recruited.  In the interim, Mary Lonzarich, then a graduate student of Pietsch, and Brogan assumed the Collections Manager duties.89

Brian Keith Urbain joined the UW as Collections Manager in September 1993.  A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Urbain came to the UW from the Department of Ichthyology, American Museum of Natural History, New York.  He possessed strong computer skills as well as curation experience. 

With Urbain “on board,” a concerted effort was made to catalog and computerize the large backlog of material that had accumulated over the past several years.  Most of these adult specimens came from the AFSC as a result of interactions between Pietsch and that agency over the previous 15 years.  Several undergraduate students in fisheries were hired to assist in this undertaking and over 6,300 catalog accessions were added within two years, an increase of over 25%.  Noteworthy in this effort was Kirt M. Hughes, then an undergraduate student.  He single-handedly curated, cataloged, and organized the Collection’s 500 or so large (2-, 3-, and 5-gallon) glass-jarred lots.90

In late 1993 Urbain updated the Collection’s database management practices.  He switched from “dBase” (DOS) database software to “Paradox,” a Windows TM based program.  Urbain implemented a new set of data-entry standards and structural changes to the database in order to ensure greater data consistency and accuracy.  After the conversion was effected in early 1994, effort was then focused on editing the existing data and continuing the computerization of the cataloged lots in the Collection.  Several undergraduate students, both hired and volunteer, assisted Urbain.91

In an effort to expand the educational potential of the Collection and to reach a greater audience outside the University community, an Elementary Outreach Program was established in late 1995.  The program provides tours of the Fish Collection facilities for elementary school children and engages them in “hands-on” workshops illustrating fish diversity.  The program has been extremely popular with the public and hundreds of children from local Seattle school districts and outlying counties have participated.92

Another two-year contract with AFSC was initiated in 1999.  This contract was to 1) assemble and transfer to the Collection from AFSC all available eggs and larvae collected from 1991-1994; 2) transfer collection and ecological data associated with the eggs and larvae from AFSC files to the UW database; 3) upgrade and add to the database; 4) complete a full inventory of lots housed in the UW Collection; and 5) incorporate into the Collection eggs and larvae of miscellaneous taxa that were retained by AFSC during earlier transfers (Table 4).93

Additional contracts were received from the AFSC during 1999-2001.  One contract was to curate and accession adult rockfishes into the Collection.  A second, larger contract provided for the training and curation over three years of the NMFS Domestic Observer Program.  In 2001 a third contract over three years provided for curation of adult specimens from surveys of AFSC off Alaska and continued curation of eggs and larvae holdings from that laboratory (Table 4).94

A “sea change” for the Fish Collection began in October 1993 when Pietsch submitted a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation to undertake a cooperative, international exploration of the flora and fauna of the Kuril Archipelago, a chain of some 56 islands lying north of Japan and off the east coast of Russia.  The International Kuril Island Project (IKIP) was a collaboration of American, Russian, and Japanese scientists to survey the plants, insects, spiders, freshwater and terrestrial mollusks, freshwater fishes, amphibians, and reptiles of the Kuril Archipelago.  The participating institutions were the University of Washington; the Russian Academy of Sciences, Far East Branch, Vladivostok; and Hokkaido University, Hokkaido, Japan.95  The Fish Collection changed from largely a recipient of ichthyological materials from various sources to a long-term program of active collection in what became a series of major international expeditions over ten years.

The genesis of IKIP occurred in 1991 when Pietsch was on a fellowship at Hokkaido University sponsored by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).  Subsequent discussions and planning with both Russian and Japanese scientists eventually led in October 1993 to the submission of a proposal to the NSF, Division of Environmental Biology, Biotic Surveys and Inventories Program.  The proposal resulted in a “proof of concept” award for one year (15 July 1994-30 June 1995) and a “trial” expedition to the southern Kuril Islands in the summer of 1994.  This initial survey was successful, and in November of 1994 a proposal to survey the major islands of the entire Kuril Archipelago over five years was submitted to NSF.  Collaborating Russian and Japanese scientists made parallel submissions for support to the Russian Academy of Sciences and JSPS.  All three requests were successful, but NSF funds provided the primary support of the project during its scheduled lifetime (1995-1999).96  A one-year terminal supplement was funded for 2000-2001 (Table 4).

The goals of this study were to 1) survey the major islands of the Kuril Archipelago, and the southern tip of Kamchatka, focusing on plants, insects, spiders, freshwater and terrestrial mollusks, freshwater fishes, amphibians, and reptiles; 2) sort, identify, and curate whole specimens and ethanol-fixed tissue Collection for future study; 3) develop a database of specimens and taxa for use in later studies; 4) make the immediate results of the surveys—databases, written information, as well as preserved collections—widely available as quickly as possible to researchers around the world; 5) provide training, field experience, and research opportunities for students and professional biologists of all three participating institutions; and 6) publish descriptions of new species, record new distributional records, and prepare keys, guides, and annotated checklists of the flora and fauna of the Kuril Islands.97

The International Kuril Island Program was a highly successful biological survey.  The stated goals were met and, in some cases, exceeded.  Each summer from 1994-2000 international teams of scientists and students (averaging 34 per year and totaling 77 individuals for all seven years combined) met in Vladivostok, Russia, boarded a large research vessel of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and spent an average of 25 days in the field collecting specimens.  All 30 of the larger islands in the chain were visited (the remaining 26 islands in the complex are little more than bare rocks, often nearly submerged at high tide).  Some 6,580 sites were sampled in widely varying habitats.98 

Over the course of the field studies, several undisturbed archaeological sites were discovered on various islands of the Archipelago.  These discoveries led to the collaboration of paleobiologists and archaeologists from the three cooperating nations and to a request to NSF for additional funding to incorporate archaeological studies into IKIP.99

Although IKIP ended in 2000, the cooperative biodiversity program was extended to Sakhalin Island in 2001 and is funded for continuation through 2003 under a new “umbrella” program, called “Okhotskia.”100 Considerable details about the planning and execution of IKIP and Okhotskia may be found at the Okhotskia website.101

The long-term IKIP and Okhotskia projects provided field and laboratory opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students at the UW.  A series of seven NSF grants (for about $10,000 each) to support undergraduate research (Research Experience for Undergraduates) was obtained by Pietsch from 1995-2001 (Table 4).102 Two or three undergraduates per year took part in one or more IKIP expeditions.  Grants from NSF also supported ichthyology graduate students.  The project also provided training for Russian faculty, students, and government biologists.103

Over 335,000 specimens of various taxa were collected, exported to the U.S., and deposited in the UW Fish Collection through 2001.104  Among these were over 59,000 fishes (mainly freshwater) belonging to 22 families, about 86 genera, and approximately 139 species.  Over 164 loans and gifts (whole specimens as well as tissues fixed in ethanol) have been made by the Collection to 113 specialists around the world.  These total over 13,529 lots and about 151,906 specimens. 105

A program of the size, scope, and duration of IKIP and the resultant magnitude of the collections made, and data obtained, required a significant effort at database management.  A web-site was established and, using computer-based inventory-control programs, a Kuril Island database was established.  The database contains 1) forms-based database search gateway; 2) map-based locality record browser; and 3) loans and gifts of Kuril Island material.  Dealing with tens of thousands of specimens and making their records available electronically was a major undertaking.106

Through fall 2001, about 154 publications have emanated from IKIP.  Forty descriptions of new taxa have been published (or are in press), including three new fishes.  Many more publications are reasonably expected in the future.107

An NSF and JSPS supported “International Symposium on Kuril Island Biodiversity” organized by Pietsch was held 18-22 May 2001 in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan.  American, Japanese, and Russian scientists presented forty-two papers and 14 posters.  A schedule of the symposium and abstracts of the presentation were published by the Hokkaido University Museum and is also present on the symposium website.108

The past 15 years or so have been a time of maturing of the Fish Collection.  The Collection has grown yearly with the addition of specimens mainly from IKIP, AFSC, and the Foreign and Domestic Fisheries Observer Programs of NMFS.  The yearly growth rate is estimated to be about 5%.  The total number of fishes is about 243,300 adolescents and adults and about 5.7 million eggs and larvae.

The advent of the computer during this period was a major change for record keeping of the Collection.  The computerization of the Collection is a continuing process.  The maturing of the Internet has made the dissemination of information and data to a wide audience a relatively easy task.

While Pietsch continued to teach ichthyology and various other courses dealing mainly with the anatomy and systematics of fishes, he obtained additional grants from NSF, the Smithsonian Institution, and private foundations for his studies on the systematics of various groups of fishes. Additionally, he obtained four grants from various benefactors for book subsidies (Table 4).109

In 1997 the Fish Collection received significant attention from ichthyologists and herpetologists from across the nation.  In June of that year, Pietsch hosted the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) on the UW campus while also serving as the President of the Society for 1996-1997.  This conference was a joint meeting of six societies, including ASIH.  Other participants were the Herpetology League, Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, 21st Early Life History Conference, American Elasmobranch Society, and the Gilbert Ichthyological Society Annual Meeting.  There were 1662 persons registered for the meetings, making the Seattle conference the largest ever sponsored by ASIH (Anon., 1997).  Also in 1997, a book edited by Pietsch and Anderson (1997) was published by ASIH.  Collection Building in Ichthyology and Herpetology contained papers presented at an ASIH symposium of the same name held in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1990 as well as additional contributions (Shaw and Robins, 1998).

In 1998 Pietsch received a significant endowment to establish the “Dorothy T. Gilbert Endowed Ichthyology Research Fund.”  Mrs. Gilbert (1929-) of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the widow of William Woodruff Gilbert (1921-1995), the grandson of Charles Henry Gilbert.  The purpose of the endowment is to provide “financial assistance for students conducting research in ichthyology, preferably those making use of the resources of the University of Washington Fish Collection.”

Funds from the “Gilbert Endowment” have been used to enable graduate students to travel to museums to examine “type material” and to purchase equipment such as digital calipers and computers for student’s research.  This endowment has enabled the Curator to provide research funds for graduate students in ichthyology now and will provide such in the foreseeable future. 110

Fourteen advanced degrees (10 M.S. and four Ph.D.) in ichthyology were awarded during 1988-2002 (Appendix).  These students all extensively utilized the Fish Collection.

The Collections Manager, Brian Urbain, left the UW in August 2001 to study entomology at the Texas A & M University.  Katherine E. Pearson replaced him as Manager in September of that same year (Fig. 24).  Pearson holds an M. A. degree from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas where she held a curatorial assistantship at the School’s Natural History Museum.111

During 1988-2002, Pietsch published about 57 papers on a variety of fish topics.  These included additional papers on lophiiform fishes (e.g., Bertelsen and Pietsch, 1996, 1998; Stewart and Pietsch, 1998), systematic papers on other taxa (Pietsch, 1989, 1993), and papers emanating from the IKIP (i.e., Amaoka et al., 2000; Pietsch et al., 2001).  Additionally, he published an increasing number of contributions on the history of ichthyology, including two books (e.g., Pietsch, 1995a, b; 1997, 2001).112



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