The Fish Collection

This may be the most depressing post I will ever write on this blog and for that I apologize, but it is part of the reason I began a tumblr for the UMZM because some information just needs to be shared with the rest of the world. 

The University of Montana’s Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum is not solely a mammalian collection; we also have about 7,000 avian specimens and close to 3,200 jarred specimens in alcohol, mostly consisting of fish.  The space allotted towards our storage of specimens has been greatly decreased in the last decade.  The ‘Fish Collection’ as we affectionally and regretfully call it was once housed in an office room on the 4th floor of our current building but a few years ago we were given notice that the entire collection — thousands of specimens preserved in gallons of flammable alcohol — needed to be moved to make space for a new faculty member.  We were assured it would be a temporary move and the fish were unfortunately relocated to the  basement of a nearby building on campus.  Entry to the collection is through a janitor’s closet. 

That happened about five years ago and the fish are still in that basement.  Many of these specimens can be seen in the background of photos from biology classes on the University campus dating back to 1913 — nearly 100 years ago.  Many of these jarred specimens are also the first reported cases of that species in Montana and other nearby states.  

I have spent quite a few long sleepless nights pondering over this issue and the priorities of my alma mater, the UM.  I do not put blame on any one individual or department in particular, it is just the state of our society today.  We are a new generation of people having grown up with the Internet, which I believe makes many feel as though we can get our source information online, and the original source has become obsolete.  I look at these pictures of the Fish Collection and am so disheartened feeling as though I will not be able to bring my children or grandchildren to see this fantastic jarred collection in the future.  We have historic photo reproductions hanging in our museum and I see the lines of jarred fish, lizards, amphibians and snakes polished and glowing behind women in full skirts, sitting at worn wooded desks, peering through ancient microscopes.  At one point this entire collection was the main source of information on the local fish species — now it has been virtually discarded in favor for what?   

I hope it reassures you to know that we are working desperately and adamantly at acquiring a research grant that would allow us to save our fish collection, but if it does not work out we will be forced to deaccession the entire collection and donate it to another university or museum, who would only take the specimens it wanted or could salvage.  

It is our job as a natural history museum to take care of our donations in perpetuity — we were given these items because the original owner or collector did not have the facility of accommodation to care for them in perpetuity — and now we are failing to do the same.  

I hate for this to be a cheap plug, but if you too are deeply troubled by this you can feel free to become a friend of the museum and all of the proceeds go directly towards maintaining our collections and preventing the same from happening to the rest of our innumerable specimens.