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FISH = Find Interesting Specimens Here By Gavin Hanke, Curator, Vertebrate Zoology


ou’d think with all the fishing boats plying our coastal waters that there would not be any new fish to discover. Since 1999, the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) staff have partnered with colleagues from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to survey our coastal waters. While these surveys had specific goals, we were able to tag along on the CCGS W.E. Ricker and select animals from the catch for the collection. These were not your average shoreline surveys. Some trawl nets ranged down between 1.0 and 2.5 km depth and caught deep water species that rival anything from science fiction. Imagine eels that are leaf-like and completely translucent. We caught lanternfishes and a host of other fishes like the Shining Loosejaw (Aristostomias scintillans) which have bioluminescent organs (photophores) which they can use for communication, to disguise their body profile or perhaps to attract prey. Shallow water fishes seem boring by comparison.


What’s inSight

Fall 2014

A few years ago we thought we had 34 new species to report for British Columbia, but that number has grown to 47 after re-examination of fishes in the collection, additional fish from Department of Fisheries surveys, and fish from Archipelago Marine Research Ltd. and BC’s fishery observer program. These species are not new to science, but they are new to the waters of British Columbia.

a trawl sample. It took a while, but by 2012 we were able to publish the first records of duck-billed eels (Venefica ocella and Venefica tentaculata) in British Columbia. In a nutshell, this paper announced the presence of a new family (Nettastomatidae), a new genus, and two new species for British Columbia. The specimens themselves are housed in the Royal BC Museum’s ichthyology collection.

Because museum researchers preserve specimens in a wellmaintained collection, the fishes from historic surveys can be re-examined to see if they had been identified correctly. Yes, identifications sometimes are rushed and wrong, but since we keep specimens, we are able to look back and correct mistakes. Several duckbilled eels had been misidentified as either Saw Palate Eels or Snipe Eels, and unless you take the time to look, these mistakes can sit for decades uncorrected. Duckbilled Eels were not on our radar (actually sonar would be a more appropriate metaphor) until 2006 when I noticed a Duckbilled Eel among the fishes in

We also send specimens to experts when requested, and as a result Daniel Kamikawa and Duane Stevenson, from the US National Marine Fisheries Service, were able to publish the first record of the halosaur Aldrovandia oleosa for British Columbia along with their records for the United States coastline. The first two Aldrovandia specimens were collected west of Moresby and Graham islands, but had not been identified to species until Duane Stevenson had a look. Their work increases the value of the collection with each species identified. This year we have a research paper which details first records

What's inSight Fall 2014  
What's inSight Fall 2014