Category Archives: fish

“Vice President of Fish”

This title grabbed the attention of an all-time low number of  subscribers 30 minutes post-publication (lunch).  I’m re-posting with a new title and a challenge for you to name that fish in the pic below.

As you can see I’m alternating between field conservation topics and discussions more directly relevant to collections husbandry science at living institutions.

This is a short one, but I wanted to offer some fish flakes for thought. A friend of mine who works in an aquatics/aquarium department of a large zoo asked my opinion about appropriate titles for fish and aquatic invertebrate husbandry specialists. My first thought was that the person who signs his pay check is the only person whose opinion matters. My second thought was that it depends on where you work.  At a public aquarium the title of aquarist is popular, but so is biologist.  This friend preferred the term “biologist” because the title is used in some commercial aquaculture circles, and he also felt that such a distinction more aptly described his job responsibilities. He is responsible for life support systems and the maintenance of aquatic ecosystems from reef tanks to brackish water exhibits to pelagic ocean fish tanks.

Aquariology is the study of both the fauna and flora of aqauria. Hence, aquariologist may be the most appropriate title for professional fish husbandry personnel working in public aquaria whereas “fish keeper” may be reserved for the tropical fish hobbyists or private fish breeders.

Fisheries biologists study commercial and wild fisheries, but also must have a working knowledge of fish keeping as well as the design and maintenance of life support systems for commercial fish breeding.

This topic really begs the question of whether or not all husbandry positions deserve specialist titles.   I personally think that “wild animal keeper” is fitting because it has persisted for so long and emphatically coveys the role of working with wildlife.  The Bronx Zoo- based Wildlife Conservation Society and many EAZA members refer to their zoo animal husbandry specialists as such.  Animal Care Specialist or Husbandry Technician are also quite fitting.

I understand that some institutions may refrain from designating husbandry and training staff as “biologists” because those titles have historically been reserved for those personnel conducting research as primary part of their occupation description. I understand this.  The questioned that followed was whether or not an animal husbandry specialist or animal keeper in theory, is deserving of the title “biologist.”   A biologist studies some aspect of life, but does not necessarily conduct research. In academia some faculty are hired exclusively as research scientists (biologists) and do nothing, but conduct research. Hence, it is fair to distinguish a research scientist/biologist from other scientists/biologists who endeavor to do more than conduct research studies.  They may teach, they may curate collections, and they might write science articles for more popular publications among other things.  It is also fair to consider an animal keeper who caters to the environmental and physiological requirements of an animal as a biologist. Through formal education or experience one must have learned enough about organismal biology to sustain life. Fish keepers not only sustain life through managing aquatic life support systems, but they also sustain the aquatic ecosystem that mimics natural environments derived from surface water. Other ectotherm biologists (e.g. herpetologists/herp keepers) also cater to both the organism and the artificial environment. Both these specialist vocational categories require a comprehensive understanding of physiological ecology and ecosystem health on a micro-scale.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

DNRM (Name This Fish)