Casting a Wide Net

Bill Eschmeyer's Catalogue of Fishes covers over 25,000 species.

Even the wildest fish story couldn't measure up, in length at least, to Bill Eschmeyer's comprehensive Catalog of Fishes. Published in 1998 after fourteen years of work, this three-volume set includes a description of every fish species known to science at the time - a number that totals over 25,000. No other zoologist has ever attempted such a feat within his or her field of study.

To assemble the monumental work, Eschmeyer and his colleagues had to sort through a considerable amount of confusion. Scientists and amateurs alike have been describing species of fish since the late 1700's - over time and across seas, many species have been given multiple names or misidentified. To track down the correct name and description of such species, Eschmeyer traveled around the world to examine the "type" specimens upon which the original descriptions were based. He even visited the Emperor of Japan, who has described several fish species since taking the throne.

In addition to reviewing the work of other scientists, Eschmeyer has also contributed some of his own species descriptions to the Catalog of Fishes. A rockfish expert, he often receives specimens in the mail from other institutions that are hoping for help with identification, many of which turn out to be new rockfish species. After describing these species in scientific papers, he adds the new information to the online version of his Catalog, which continues to grow by about 250 new species a year.

Colleagues in Japan sent this rockfish specimen to Eschmeyer in the 1970's, hoping he could help with identification. After determining that the fish had never before been described, Eschmeyer named the species Rhinopias argoliba, after the Greek words for white teardrop.

, Eschmeyer's Catalog of Fishes is continually updated as ichthyologists discover and describe new species.

Eschmeyer found this misidentified scorpionfish specimen in the Australian Museum's collections. Based on its distinct camouflage coloration, he determined that it represented a new species and named it Rhinopias aphanes, after the Greek word for inconspicuous.