SITE VISIT: A Bountiful Catch

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Science  24 Dec 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5449, pp. 2423
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5449.2423c

It's long been a dream of biodiversity experts to tabulate all the world's species on the Web. Leading the way toward a catalog of life is FishBase, which counts more than 23,000 finfish, 80% of this largest group of vertebrates. Besides enumerating, the data clearinghouse has compiled a wealth of facts, from distribution maps to swimming speeds.

Type in “sockeye salmon,” for example, and you are whisked to a page describing the fish's range (from Japan to Alaska and Los Angeles) and biology. (It actually takes two forms: anadromous sockeyes, and the smaller, landlocked kokanees.) From there you can tap details on distribution, predators, genetic markers, and diet, as well as photos and common names in various languages. FishBase draws on 300 collaborators, who feed data to a team at the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management in the Philippines. “No other animal group has this kind of information on the Internet,” says ichthyologist Bill Eschmeyer of the California Academy of Sciences. The site's 1000 visitors a day range from biology students (who can take a fish quiz) to fishery managers to ecologists studying how harvesting too many small fish, such as menhaden and anchovies, can harm stocks of bigger fish that rely on them.

Project leader Rainer Froese says FishBase owes it success largely to a decade of steady funding from the European Commission, which launched it to help tropical fisheries scientists. The full version comes only on CD, but most of FishBase will be on the Web by the end of 2000.

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