May 8, 2012

Researchers Concentrating on Ear Bones in Fish

If only fish could talk. Think of the possible range of questions we could ask. Certainly, we could satisfy our greedy angler hearts with a range of questions like: What’s your favorite food and when? Or, Where can I best locate you and when should we meet there? Or, how do planetary conditions affect your appetite? It’s endless, the questions we could ask. Just think if there was a convention and the speakers addressing the crowd were game fish from around the globe and there was a question and answer session. Man, that would be a sold out event for sure.

“This question is for the tarpon, so I was wondering…”

But, no dice – communication is a bit trickier than that. Understanding requires a bit more work, study or science one could say. Much how the alleged alien scientists probe and test, there are people who are busy discovering the nature of fish on a sophisticated level. We can hook a fish on a small mayfly, land it and slice the tummy open and have a look, but this doesn’t tell us anything more than what’s on the menu lately. How about… Where are you from fish? Where have you been and where are you likely to go?

Well there are some people who are getting to the bottom of this question by carefully observing inner ear bones, or Otoliths in fish. In fact, these bones can be sliced and read much like rings on a tree trunk! Pretty cool huh! I have a buddy who is a fisheries graduate student and he has been studying this very science in Willamette River Chinook Salmon in Oregon. And it seems that other teams of researchers have been on the same path concerning Cutthroat Trout. The ear bones actually tell the fish’s story!

You can read more about it in this recent article from the Columbia Basin Bulletin

I emailed my buddy Sam Bourret this article and for those interested, this was his reply:

Thanks for the article, this goes along really well with my work. To bad the differences in isotopes are as prevelent between the habitats that we wanted to learn more about, but I am making the best of it - should be done in the fall.

They don't mention this, but the isotopic variation is driven by differences in underlying geology. So the isotopic chemicals go from the geology - water - otolith. I think there could be some easy applications in the upper snake, with the obvious differences in geology up the gros ventre (sandstone) and in the tetons (granite). - I love those cuttys!!

Have a good time,


  1. That's pretty cool. Thanks for the piece! Had no idea "place" could play such a factor in physical characteristics.

  2. yea - I thought that was really interesting too. can see otoliths palying a major role in studies moving forth. thanks for stopping by


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