Micah Quindazzi is asking West Coast fishers and ocean observers to lend him their ears.
Quindazzi is scouring the peninsula for fish ears, called otoliths, in an effort to create a catalogue that he believes could unveil a treasure trove of information about sea life.
“In 1899, scientists discovered ring like structures in the otoliths, similar to tree rings, that can age a fish,” he wrote in an email to the Westerly News. “Since then, otoliths have been used to identify fish species, determine the length of a fish, distinguish populations from each other, and even track the migration routes fish undertake.”
Originally from New Hampshire, Quindazzi moved to Vancouver Island seven years ago and recently completed his Bachelors of Science degree, concentrating on marine biology, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree from the University of Victoria.
“One of the parts of my research has been to determine the marine migration history of coho from around the Salish Sea, but because COVID -19 is keeping me out of the lab, I have been working on my other goal, which is to catalog the otoliths of fish species from around Vancouver Island,” he wrote. “I have been collecting otoliths from around the Salish Sea from various species. Most of the otoliths I have access to came from bait fish in the diets of chinook and coho salmon from another project in our lab. I am also in contact with various places with stores of otoliths from around Vancouver Island. I am taking these and scanning them with a 3D CT scanner to look at their overall shape differences across difference species and populations of species.”
He is currently residing in Ucluelet, where he has been a frequent visitor over the past four years and has enjoyed working as a fisheries observer with Archipelago Marine Research.
“The West Coast is a great place to study marine ecology as there are a ton of different organisms that live in the different sounds and if you go just over 50 kilometres offshore, there are a lot of other organisms that live where the ocean gets rapidly deeper at the continental slope,” he wrote.
In order to complete his catalog, Quindazzi is asking West Coasters to assist by donating any fish heads they acquire, or by pointing him in the direction of any fish that have washed ashore by emailing him at email@example.com.
“I welcome any species of fish. I would especially be interested in rockfish or flatfish otoliths as they are closely related groups with quite divergent otolith shapes,” he wrote.
“I hope this research can aid our general understanding about all the fish that live nearby, as well as creating a useful and easily accessible source for marine ecologists and fisheries scientists alike. This research may also increase our understanding about how many populations of different fish species exist around the island.
He added he’s eager to share his knowledge with anyone interested in his research.
“I enjoy spreading the joy of marine science that I have loved since I was a kid. Just know, anything you would be willing to do to help my sample collections would help and be much appreciated.”
He said his fervent interest in marine ecology began when he was 12 years old and attended a summer camp program called “Marine Madness” at W. Alton Jones and then spent time at Project Oceanology as a teenager.
“What fascinated me the most was the fact that the ocean is quite mysterious, you know how the saying goes, ‘We know more about the surface of the moon than we know about the bottom of the ocean.’ While I was participating in those programs as a kid, I noticed you can only really see a couple of meters down into the water, but under that veil is a vast and diverse collection of life,” he wrote.