The bucket of preserved fish opens, but it doesn’t smell as bad as you might think. Like vinegar, with a hint of sardine. OK, maybe it’s bad, but if you’re Ben Frable, manager of the Marine Vertebrate Collection at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, you’re used to it.
Frable removes the contents: an oarfish, the longest bony fish alive, tightly curled to fit inside its shipping container.
The 15-foot creature uncurls in front of me like a fishy Fruit Roll-Up. Frable and an undergraduate assistant measure and photograph the fish before preparing it for its future afterlife in the Marine Vertebrate Collection.
In a windowless area of Vaughan Hall, shielded from the San Diego sun that would otherwise damage the preserved organisms, the oarfish will join the other two million fish suspended silently in their alcohol seas, a mausoleum of 140,000 jars representing more than 6,000 different marine fish species.
But they’re not entombed here; these specimens are all available to the scientific community, both near and far, and have many tales to tell even in their lifeless state.
About Scripps Oceanography
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.