3 Weeks. 300 Fish.

3 Weeks. 300 Fish.

My biggest fear working in Natural Resource Management isn’t getting lost on a hike or getting attacked by a shark. It’s not knowing enough information. Not knowing the relevant information is a fear of mine because it means I won’t be as useful in the field as I might want to be. I could be a hindrance to the task at hand, I could do a procedure wrong, or I could identify the wrong species. Either way, it would be counterproductive to the goal of the park. Earlier this summer, that fear became a reality. As mentioned in my previous blog, the Natural Resources department needed to write up a protocol for conducting reef flat fish inventory surveys which meant that the entire marine team–including myself–needed to be familiar with the most common reef fish in the park…all 300 of them.

I’ve never taken an ichthyology class, nor do I have experience identifying fish, so this was all foreign to me. However, I wasn’t going to let that prevent me from losing my job. All I had to do was learn all 300 reef fish, what they look like, what their ID codes are, and how to spell their scientific names. Easy right?

We split up the extensive list of fish into three study sets and put them on Quizlet. I never thought I’d ever use Quizlet outside of school, but it was the only way I was going to memorize this much information in such a short amount of time. We studied each set and tested ourselves each week over the span of three weeks. Throughout this training period, I learned several things about these different fish species and learned little tips that helped me study them.

Reef fish study sets used to train park staff in fish species.
List of reef fish organized by scientific name, common name, and photo.

My favorite type of fish to study–and just overall–is the butterflyfish, more specifically those belonging to the chaetodon genus, because it’s so diverse, and each species has its own unique pattern that sets it apart from the rest. This made it quite easy study them, and it made it fun to spot them in the field because I just wanted to find them all. My least favorite to study would be the wrasses because they are also extremely diverse but fall under several different genera such as thalassoma, cheilinus, stethojulis, cheilio, and so much more. This was a double-edged sword because they were extremely difficult to memorize, but it made me happy that such diversity exists in our reefs.

Ornate Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Reticulated Butterflyfish (chaetodon reticulatus). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Bluelashed Butterflyfish (chaetodon bennetti). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Sixbar Wrasse (thalassoma hardwicke). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Floral Wrasse (cheilinus chlorurus). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Red Shoulder Wrasse (stethojulis bandanensis). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.

When learning these different species, I picked up on a few tips that helped me memorize them. The first tip I learned from one of my fellow interns, Motu, was that the root words of some of the species names actually acted as descriptors of the fish. For example, if the species name had root words resembling fasciatus, lineatus, or, striatus, then that meant that the fish had some sort of banded or striped pattern on it. If the name had root words resembling stigma, punctatus, or maculatus, then the fish had a spot or spotted patterns on it.

Red-Breasted Wrasse (cheilinus fasciatus). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Striped Surgeonfish (acanthurus lineatus). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Lined Bristletooth Surgeonfish (ctenochaetus striatus). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com
One-Spot Snapper (lutjanus monostigma). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Spotband Butterflyfish (chaetodon punctatofasciatus). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Four-Spot Butterflyfish (chaetodon quadrimaculatus). Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.

There are so much more species to learn, and although my internship is coming to an end, I am determined to continue mastering them.

Here are some bonus fish that I find very cool: harlequin filefish(oxymonacanthus longirostris), spotted sharpnose puffer(canthigaster solandri), and fivestripe wrasse(thalassoma quinquevittatum).

Oxymonacanthus longirostris. Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Canthigaster solandri. Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.
Thalassoma quinquevittatum. Photo taken from guamreeflife.com.

  • Mike Gawel
    Posted at 20:56h, 18 August

    Great work and wonderful MOSAIC blog Xavier! Also thanks to Motu and Dave Burdick’s photos.

  • Tim
    Posted at 22:37h, 18 August

    Great job learning all those fish! I hope you will come back and work with us again next summer!