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Fun Facts about Fishes Provided in New Book Co-Authored by NSL’s Bruce Collette

Bruce Collette of NEFSC’s National Systematics Laboratory is the co-author of a new book: “Fishes,The Animal Answer Guide.”

bluefin tuna
Cover of new book co-authored by NEFSC's Bruce Collette

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press in September 2011, the book provides answers to more than 100 of the most common questions about fishes, along with some unusual facts, and features over 100 color photographs. Ichthyologists Gene Helfman, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology, and Collette, a senior scientist at the National Systematics Laboratory, located at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, wrote the book to share their interest and passion in fishes and fish conservation. Collette also serves on the Museum’s Division of Fishes staff.

Chapters range from an introduction to fish and fishes (and how to use the terms correctly), form and function of fishes, fish behavior and fish colors, to fishes and humans, fishes in literature, and “fishology”.  The 216-page book contains answers to many common questions as well as some unusual and funky facts about fishes found throughout the world.

Collette says it took about two years to complete the book, given his many other NOAA responsibilities and professional commitments like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Committee, which he serves as chair of the Species Survival Commission Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group.

Bruce Collette speaks with visitors to the Smithsonian's Sant Ocean Hall exhibit and the "Ask a Scientist" station.
Bruce Collette speaks with visitors to the Smithsonian's Sant Ocean Hall exhibit and the "Ask a Scientist" station.

The authors, both graduates of Cornell University, are also two of the authors of The Diversity of Fishes, considered the world’s leading college-level textbook on that subject. The second edition, published in 2009, expanded and updated their original work, but is not meant for young students or the casual and curious reader.

Collette taught summer courses while on annual leave at the Shoals Marine Laboratory in Maine, which is affiliated with Cornell, at the Bermuda Biological Station, and at the Marine Science Institute of Northeastern University in Nahant, MA.  Although he no longer teaches those courses, he remains committed to formal and informal education and hopes this latest effort will interest young people and members of the public to learn more about fishes of the world.

Dr. Bruce B. Collette
Bruce Collette

Collette says he enjoyed working on this latest project because most of the questions have been asked during his career, and the basic question and answer-type format of the answer guide series was easy to work with.

He admits, however, that it was hard for him to write and edit in a simpler way that what he has been used to doing for scholarly research articles, textbooks, and other professional commitments in taxonomy and systematic.

“I felt I had a social responsibility to share what I had learned during my career and communicate that in a way that was interesting, informative and fun for readers of all ages and experiences,” said Collette, a zoologist who has studied tunas and other surface-dwelling fishes for more than 50 years with the federal fisheries service.

“For someone like me who has spent much of his professional life focused on what fishes do and how they go about life, bringing a broader perspective about fishes to the public was definitely a good thing to do.”

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