California Academy of Sciences - To Explore, Explain, and Protect the Natural World

William N. Eschmeyer

Senior Curator and Chairman
Department of Ichthyology

B. S. University of Michigan (1961); M. S., Ph. D. Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Miami (1964, 1967). Assistant Curator, California Academy of Sciences (1967-69); Associate Curator (1969-74); Curator (1974-83); Chief Curator (1975-77); Director of Research (1977-83); Senior Curator (1983- ); Acting Director of Public Programs (3/96-10/96); Follett Chair of Ichthyology (1996- ). Board of Governors, American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists; International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature; Fellow, California Academy of Sciences.

Most of my research has been on a large group of marine fishes that comprise the family Scorpaenidae. Included in this group are the well-known tropical stonefishes, turkeyfishes and their allies. Many of these species are venomous, and some, such as stonefishes can kill humans. I usually use my publication on stonefishes (that reviewed the two existing species and described two new ones) as a clear-cut example of why defining species is important -- since each species is likely to differ slightly in its venom biochemistry, it is important in preparation of antidotes or in looking for possible pharmaceutical products that chemists be able to define the species they are studying. Systematic studies also provide information on identification and distribution of species that are important for fisheries management of commercially and recreationally important species.

In studying this family, I have examined specimens in most major museums in the world and have conducted field work in Australia, in the Atlantic and Caribbean, off Africa, and along the Pacific Coast.

My systematic studies are published in technical papers that are used primarily by specialists; information in these and similar technical papers are the foundations for general treatments, such as the fishes of a particular region -- and these summary works are used by biologists, ecologists, and others to make identifications. I have also contributed in this area by authoring 'Field Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes' in the Roger Tory Peterson natural history series.

Since 1982 I have taken a special interest in summarizing information about fishes. There is no World summary of our knowledge of fishes, and with the advent of computerization, I felt such summaries were possible. We began with the 13,500 generic names of recent and fossil fishes. With assistance from the National Science Foundation, that database was built. Because technical details had to be checked (such as correct original spelling, type species, author, date, etc.), we have examined most of the original (first) proposals of these names, and this has meant examining much of the early literature dating back to 1758. A "Catalog of the Recent Genera of Fishes" was published by the Academy in 1990. Thereafter, $200,000 from NSF was made available to build similar databases for the approximately 55,000 named species of living fishes (of which about 25,000 are actually valid, the others being duplicates for species described more than once). This database is nearing completion, and is available on-line at It will be published in early 1997. Special emphasis has been place on examining all original descriptions and on determining which meseums contain the type specimens on which the original (first) descriptions were based. A large database of references is included. These databases, built and maintained at the California Academy of Sciences, will allow the organization and retrieval of accumulated information about fishes, and will assist in evaluating fish diversity on a worldwide basis (for example, there is no summary of our knowledge of South American freshwater fishes, an area of crucial concern for species preservation).

Eschmeyer, W. N. 1969. A systematic review of the scorpionfishes of the Atlantic Ocean (Pisces: Scorpaenidae). Occasional Papers of the California Academy of Sciences 79:130 pp.

___________ 1973. Two new stonefishes (Pisces: Scorpaenidae) from the Indo-Pacific, with a synopsis of the subfamily Synanceiinae. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 36(18):373-382 (with K. V. Rama Rao).

__________ 1984. Scorpaeniformes: Relationships. Pp. 438-447. In: Ontogeny and Systematics of Fishes. Special Publication no. 1, American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. (with B. B. Washington and K. M. Howe).

__________ 1990. Catalog of the Genera of Recent Fishes. (Some sections with co-authors). California Academy of Sciences. 697 pp.

Paxton, J.R. and W.N. Eschmeyer (co-editors). 1994. Encyclopedia of Fishes. Weldon Owen Pty Limited, Mahons Point, Australia. Published in the United States in 1995 by Academic Press, San Diego. 240 pp.

Eschmeyer, W. N. 1995. The role of taxonomic databases, with special emphasis on fishes. Chapter 19, pp. 333-338, in : Marine and Coastal Biodiversity in the Tropical Island Pacific Region. Vol. 1 Species systematics and information management priorities.

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