Something FishyWhat can you learn about fish from illustrations and the Royal BC Museum collection? 


Cold, smelly, wet, slimy, delicious.

These are words a person might use to describe fish. A fish biologist might think otherwise. A biologist might use words like: varied, sleek, challenging and even beautiful. The diversity of fishes in British Columbia is astounding. The words could go on and on. 

The fish collection at the Royal BC Museum strives to mirror the diversity of the province. The collection contains about 647 species with more added every time researchers get out to survey new areas. Most fishes are housed in alcohol in jars, ranging from 125 millilitres up to 2 litres in volume. Larger specimens such as sharks and sturgeon are housed in vats.

The wet collection also includes cleared and stained fishes which allow for study of skeletal structure. Each jar in the collection may only house one specimen or, in other cases, the jar may be packed with a number of specimens caught at a particular place and time. Each jar has a label that includes collection data and the catalogue number for the contained specimen(s).

The collection grows with the addition of research specimens and donations, and from specimens transferred from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ministry of Environment, regional Natural Resources Officers and a wide range of other sources.

Illustrations add to the work of collections by clearly showing distinguishing features of different species, body parts and the actual, sometimes vivid, colours that fish have (colours will fade or change in preserved specimens). 

In this pathway:

  • Examine different styles of illustration in look
  • Read about fishy research at the Royal BC Museum
  • Meet our curator of vertebrate zoology

How do you describe a fish, or would you prefer to draw one?