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LSU Museum of Natural Science Welcomes New Curator of Fishes

To most people, the idea of digging around in a pile of discarded fish seems like a bizarre new form of torture. But Prosanta Chakrabarty, LSU Museum of Natural Science’s curator of fishes, sees it as a great opportunity to unearth otherwise difficult-to-collect specimens – and the chance to make LSU’s deep ocean fish collection one of the biggest and best in the business.

Matt Moerschbaecher
Prosanta Chakrabarty finds rare fish species for specialized collections in the LSU Museum of Natural Science.
“I try to go to Taiwan every year because it’s the best place to find a lot of great specimens,” said Chakrabarty. “Unlike most countries, where all the fishermen deliver their catch around sunrise, villages in Taiwan see deliveries coming in from all over the world around the clock.”

Despite the massive amount of fishermen and the impressive size of their hauls, Chakrabarty said that more than 80 percent of what is caught each day goes to waste because it’s not the target species. All this by-catch is dumped into a pile of “junk” fish in the backs of the seafood markets and eventually ground into bait meal. But because many of these boats do their fishing far out to sea, some of the so-called junk fish are actually rare, hard-to-find species that belong in specialized collections.

“In order to even have the chance – however slim – of even glimpsing some of these species, you’d have to rent a giant deep-sea trawler, which costs around $10,000 a day,” he said. “But since there’s no monetary value in these fish for the people who are catching them, they’re more than happy to let us dig through the piles and make our selections for free.”

Traveling is a major part of his job, since many of the fish he seeks are not native to coastal areas around the United States. Most recently, he and several colleagues traveled to Madagascar on a trip funded by the Niarchos Foundation, which provides small grants to researchers planning big adventures. For Chakrabarty and his colleagues, the trip turned out to be more of an adventure than they expected.

“On our first full day on the expedition, we ended up discovering an amazing new species of blind fish,” he said. “But after a few hours of swimming around in a sinkhole looking for blind fish, two members of our group became gravely ill, eventually having to head home much earlier than expected.”

Chakrabarty comes to LSU from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he served as a post-doctoral fellow in ichthyology after receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He is currently invested in three main lines of study:

He is also extremely interested the correlation between fish and Earth history.

“Because most freshwater fish can’t cross oceans or any long distances across a marine barrier, they can tell us lots about our planet’s history,” he said. “For instance, the fact that blind cave fish in Madagascar are most closely related to blind cave fish in Australia is reference to a time when the two land masses were connected.”

For more information about Prosanta Chakrabarty or the LSU Museum of Natural Science’s Fish Collection, visit www.prosanta.net or contact Ashley Berthelot at 225-578-3870 or aberth4@lsu.edu.

Ashley Berthelot | Writer | Office of Public Affairs
Fall 2008

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