Biology of Marine Fishes


Fishes can tear through flesh, enter and eviscerate the bodies of dead animals, consume eyeballs, drink blood, play dead, tie knots, and produce slime. Fishes can range from 6mm to 13m long and live in almost every habitat imaginable. Some can produce alcohol and some live without any red blood in their bodies. They can live in tide pools starved of oxygen, live in water temperatures below freezing, and live more than a kilometer below the water’s surface. Fishes are unbelievably diverse and make up more than half of all vertebrate species. Find out more about these incredible animals while we explore their diversity, physiology, ecology, anatomy, and biomechanics in one of the most breathtaking places on earth!

Research Skills: Students will gain experience identifying and collecting diverse fishes in their natural habitat (dip net, beach seine, trawling, hook and line) in addition to conducting field research and laboratory experiments (e.g. swimming in a flume). Students will pursue their own independent research project.

Boat Use: You will be given the opportunity to drive boats if you choose to do so. Boat driving is recommended but not required for Biology of Marine Fishes. Students who wish to drive boats at BMSC must hold a PCOC and valid first aid certificate and will participate in an introductory boat check-out on the first day of orientation.

Prerequisites: Introduction to vertebrate biology or consent of the instructor.

Textbook (required): The Diversity of Fishes, 2nd edition, by Helfman, Collette, Facey & Bowen.


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Biology of Marine Fishes is an amazing class set in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth. Highly motivated students explore the incredible diversity of fishes that persists on the west coast of Vancouver Island by beach seining, hook-and-line fishing, and bottom trawling. With over 30 species of fishes identified during field trips, students are exposed to almost all of the major groups of fishes in the world. In addition to trips to various islands in Barkley Sound, we will go to the Nitinat River Hatchery, the Great Tide Pool, and fresh water streams. We may hike to Cape Beale, which provides a phenomenal view of the Pacific Ocean. The latter half of the course will be devoted to independent projects, which are extremely original and utilize the diverse resources available at the marine station. Previous independent projects have ranged from ecology to biomechanics/physiology, including projects such as the effects of salinity on swimming and feeding performance, the scaling of morphology, habitat selection in intertidal fishes, parasite assemblages, colour change, and the effects of exercise on blood pH and red blood cell concentration.

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