Well, I'm impressed!

Question: What do you get when you mix hundreds of big fishes with 3 fish experts and 9 keen students?
Answer: A fantastic opportunity for young scientists to learn.

I have just come back from 10 days working with young scientists at the 2nd Demersal Fish Workshop at the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tsukuba, Tokyo (21 October - 1 November, 2013). Nine post-graduate students, assisted by 3 experts, examined over 1900 bottom-dwelling fishes from far-flung locations around the Indo-west Pacific region.

About the specimens
About the participants
About the organisers
Why were we invited to participate?
What were the outcomes?
My take-away message

About the specimens

The specimens were collected during the 1970s from the Kerguelen Islands, the south-western Indian Ocean and the tropical western Pacific Ocean. At that time, Japanese researchers conducted an extensive program of exploratory trawling to investigate potential commercial fisheries. This was before the Law of the Sea convention came into force.

Fishes collected during the trawling operations were stored for over 40 years at the Far Seas Fisheries Institute. In 1998 the FSFI ceased taxonomic work on fishes and no longer required the specimens, which were transferred in 2008 from large vats of formaldehyde into smaller drums, then taken to the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo.

Since that time, some of the specimens had been examined (many during the first workshop in 2012), but many remained to be processed, and that was one of the objectives of our workshop.

About the participants

The Japanese students were all doing postgraduate degrees; 7 MSc degrees and 2 PhDs. They came from 4 universities that spanned the length of the country.

Name Course Institution
Byeol Jeong Masters Kagoshima University
Satokuni Tashiro Masters Kagoshima University
Yusuke Hibino PhD  Mie University
Naohide Nakayama PhD Kochi University
Kosei Ajisaka  Masters Kochi University
Ryo Misawa Masters Kochi University
Taiga Naito Masters Kochi University
Yu Kikuchi Masters Hokkaido University
Kanami Oku Masters Hokkaido University
Martin Gomon External supervisor Museum Victoria
Jeff Williams External supervisor Smithsonian Institution
Mark McGrouther External supervisor Australian Museum


About the organisers

Staff of the National Museum of Nature and Science should be commended for the time and energy they put into organising the workshop.

Dr Gento Shinohara Senior Curator
Dr Keiichi Matsuura Curator Emeritus
Dr Masanori Nakae Curator
Dr Eri Katayama Support Scientist
Dr Fumihito Tashiro Support Scientist
Dr Satoru Chiba Researcher
Dr Takashi Sato Researcher


Why were we invited to participate?

One of the areas from which the specimens were collected was the Indo-west Pacific.  Australia sits right in the middle of the region. The foreign fish workers, Dr Martin Gomon (Museum Victoria), Dr Jeff Williams (US National Museum, Smithsonian Institution) and I all have a good knowledge of fishes from this area.

What were the outcomes?

  • The students examined many specimens and improved their knowledge of fishes.
  • Professional relationships were built by collaborating with other fish workers.
  • Six paratype specimens of Polyplacapros tyleri were 'found' and are now in the National Museum collection.
  • Students had to make extensive use of English, both reading (identification keys and papers), speaking (at their own seminars and with non-Japanese speakers - us!) and listening (seminars were presented in English by Jeff, Martin, Di Bray (Museum Victoria) and me.
  • Having 2 weeks of `fishy immersion` meant that the students had time to concentrate on their identifications and to really explore the key characters of each species.
  • A huge backlog of specimens has been identified, measured, labelled and transferred from formaldehyde into fresh alcohol. These are now stored in the ichthyology collection of the National Museum of Nature and Science, where they are available for future research programs.

My take-away message

You have to admire leaders who invest resources in the training of the next generation of scientists.

The National Museum of Nature and Science covered the travel and living costs for the foreign experts and students plus provided laboratory space, equipment and their time. The logistics of organising this event must have been formidable.

In short, I was very impressed. Ichthyology in Japan is in good shape while such insightful and dedicated people are at the helm.