Specimens by the Millions: Managing Large, Specialized Collections at the University of Washington Burke Museum Fish Collection

The University of Washington Fish Collection is a state-funded collection shared between the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture dating back to 1919. Early collecting followed the interests of curators and university class field trips, with a slow and steady growth rate up until the late 1970s. At that time, recognizing that state and federal agencies routinely collect specimens as part of their fishery and resource management efforts, we sought out partnerships with several local agencies, most notably the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Department, to provide collections support for the natural history specimens collected through their survey work. The millions of specimens collected through these efforts, including adults, juveniles, eggs, larvae, skeletal materials, otoliths, and tissue samples, along with detailed locality data, are now freely available to researchers around the world. Vouchering specimens adds value to agency research by allowing for verification of results of work critical to the management of our resources, including supporting forensic vouchering for law enforcement. Our collection benefits not only from the huge number and diversity of specimens we can make available to researchers, but also through training opportunities for our students who help to curate the collections and often participate in survey fieldwork along with agency scientists. I outline these partnerships and the benefits to both parties as we curate these vast specialized collections.

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