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#4200-6270 University Blvd.
Vancouver, BC

Functional morphologist and evolutionary biologist


Behind the Scenes at the California Academy of Sciences!

Vikram Baliga

With my mind set on re-applying for the NSF Predoctoral Fellowship this coming fall, I've devoted a chunk of this summer to gathering preliminary data and organizing the framework of my dissertation. Quite fortunately, the California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, boasts one of the largest ichthyology collections in the world. Upon perusing the online database for the Ichthyology collection, I found that many of the taxa I was interested in were housed in this museum! Thanks to the generosity of Senior Collections Manager Dave Catania and Curatorial Assistant Mysi Hoang, I have been able to visit the Cal Academy and get a behind-the-scenes look at the Ichthyology department.

As of now, I have made four visits to the Cal Academy. Each time, I've been allowed to walk in through the Research & Staff Entrance located on the southern face of the building.
The back entrance

The Ichthyology collection at the Cal Academy contains nearly 1.2 million specimens of close to 11,000 distinct species. These specimens, preserved in roughly 200,000 jars, are housed in rows that roughly resemble the layout of a typical library. These rows are organized by family, with each family occupying a distinct "group number".
One of many, many, many rows of specimens
Each of these jars contains at least one specimen, though many contain multiple. Some jars are even filled with close to 50 specimens! Each jar is meticulously labelled with all the pertinent information about the specimen(s): species name, location of collection, date collected, method of preservation...etc. These specimens are preserved beautifully, and some are quite old.
This specimen of Embiotoca jacksoni dates back to 1915!
As I am gathering preliminary data, all of my measurements thus far have been non-invasive. Each time I visit the collection, I load up a cart full of jars and return to my workspace to perform these measurements. 
This is my game face.
My visits to the Cal Academy have been extremely rewarding to both my research plans and my personal sense of curiosity. I am eternally grateful to the folks in the Ichthyology department for their guidance and their willingness to foster the hopes of a young scientist!