Aliens Among UsMeet


Dr. Gavin HankeCurator of Vertebrate Zoology

Why did you want to become a curator? 
I am a collector and I have always been interested in nature. As a student, I spent many hours collecting fishes, amphibians and reptiles and helped build a research collection at the University of Manitoba. I prepared skeletal material and reconstructed reptile skulls starting in high school and I have hands-on experience building models and dioramas. Museum work is a perfect fit for me. 

How did you become a zoology curator?
My education? At the University of Manitoba I did a bachelor of science in general zoology and master of science on exotic fish introductions. As a hobby, during my master's degree, I published research on placoderm fossils from the Interlake region of Manitoba. My doctorate degree (PhD) at the University of Alberta focused on fossil fishes but, instead of placoderms, I looked at acanthodians and an odd group of fishes thought to be related to the cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays and ratfishes). Shortly after my PhD in 2001, I was hired back in Winnipeg as the zoology curator at the Manitoba Museum. In early 2004, I headed west.

What do you do as curator of vertebrate zoology?
I collect specimens for the museum (particularly fish, amphibian and reptile) and write research papers which are published and available internationally. I help other researchers with their work and maintain contacts with other agencies in British Columbia to obtain as many specimens as possible—from areas where we rarely visit (like northern BC). I have particular interest in exotic species introductions in Canada and the role of the pet trade and food industry in exotic species dispersal. Curators also help develop exhibits—both travelling exhibits and permanent displays here at the Royal BC Museum—and act as a filter to make scientific literature accessible to a general audience.

What have you learned from working with alien species?

Years ago as a member of a committee overseeing introductions and transfers of aquatic life in Manitoba, I jokingly said, “At least we don’t have BC’s problem.”

The joke was on me because a year later I moved to Victoria and BC’s problems are now my problems. Here I sit as a member of an Inter-Ministry Invasive Species Working Group. We meet regularly to talk about invasive species and emerging issues, coordinate eradication efforts and discuss methods of reducing the risk of exotic species arriving in BC.

My particular interests focus on lower vertebrates and the role of the pet trade in exotic species introductions. Pets are a significant source of exotic species globally. One popular pet species, the Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), is now able to successfully reproduce here in BC.

It may seem like a good idea to release an unwanted pet, but guess again. It is far easer to simply not release an unwanted pet than it is to control populations once a species is established.

Stories by or about this person

Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Dr. Gavin Hanke writes about this invasive species.


Heidi GartnerInvertebrates Collection Manager

When did you realize you wanted to become a marine biologist?

As a child I always loved animals and science. In grade 5, I watched an educational TV series called Voyage of the Mimi. It was about a team of researchers travelling the world living on a boat, the Mimi, studying whales and the ocean. I knew instantly that I wanted to do that when I grew up. Which was kind of funny, because I lived in Ontario where there are no oceans.

How did you become the invertebrates collection manager?

I came to Victoria to study biology and oceanography at the University of Victoria. I was still interested in whales when I took my first invertebrate (animals without backbones) biology course. I was absolutely shocked and amazed when I started learning about the diversity of invertebrates and studying their varied anatomy and lifestyles. I was hooked. I took every invertebrate and related marine course I could. After my undergraduate degree I worked with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) studying introduced or alien invertebrates in British Columbia. I then went on to get my master's degree, studying invertebrate fouling communities (those growing on hard substrates such as docks and pilings) along the BC coast. Following my master's degree, I worked a number of different contract positions and then landed back at DFO, this time working with Species At Risk. It was a wonderful job, working to protect endangered species, but when the position came up at the Royal BC Museum, I knew it was a perfect fit.

What do you do in a typical day as the invertebrates collection manager?

The great thing about this job is that every day is different. In any day I may be: doing research, in the field collecting specimens, giving tours, working with visiting researchers, cataloguing and databasing new records, shelving and organizing specimens, identifying animals, or contributing to content for exhibits and learning programs. It is my job to care for the invertebrate collection and to share its stories of British Columbia's natural history. To accomplish this I get to work with a great team of staff and volunteers, visiting researchers, and inquisitive members of the public. In short, it's a busy but wonderful job!

Stories by or about this person

Sometimes, species are identified only years and years after they have been found. In 1995, an unidentified shrimp species was found at Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria. Twenty years later, it has been identified as the Japanese Skeleton Shrimp (Caprella mutica).