Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth. The California Academy of Sciences’ coral reef exhibit focuses on the Philippines, an area known as the marine biodiversity center of the world. There is both immense biodiversity in the corals that make up the reefs and in the organisms that inhabit the reefs. Scientists estimate that there are about 2,500 species of fish in the coral reef, mangroves, and seagrass beds of the Philippines as compared to only about 500 species in the Caribbean.
With this immense diversity of fish, it is difficult to imagine that one could ever learn to identify specific fish. Looking at fish shapes is an easy way to identify a fish to the level of its taxonomic family. Families of fish tend to have similar body shapes, dorsal fin types, tails, mouth positions, and head features. Many of these characteristics have been selected for because they help fish survive in their particular habitat. Fish shape is therefore an interesting attribute to study because it allows one to identify a fish’s taxonomic family and explore the adaptations of specific fish families to their environments.