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Mike Bruton Shares Adventurous Tales of an Ichthyologist at the Launch of When I was a Fish

Mike Bruton

There was no venue more fitting to launch When I was a Fish: Tales of an Ichthyologist by Mike Bruton than the Two Oceans Aquarium in late April.

As Bruton, the erstwhile director of the aquarium’s Environmental Education Centre, posed for the photographer beforehand, he pointed out the spotted grunter swimming in the I&J Predator tank. “That is one of the fishes that I caught in the Nahoon River in East London as a youth,” he said. “It stimulated my early interest in fishes.”

Mike Bruton and Patrick GarrattWhen I was a FishBruton regaled the audience with hilarious and fascinating tales from his wide experience. He was joined by his long time colleague and friend, Patrick Garratt, the managing director of the aquarium, in a conversation that held the guests enchanted.

The author spoke about a few of the reasons that had compelled him to write his biography. “Maybe it was a way of explaining to my family what I was doing when I should have been on family holidays,” he quipped wryly. “But I really feel I wrote this book because it is an extension of my passion for sharing my passion for science with scientists and non-scientists alike.”

Bruton shared various recollections of the development work in the early days of the Two Oceans Aquarium. Regarding the coelacanth, he said the work he had done with Hans Fricke led him to believe that captive study could be beneficial for the species.

Initially Fricke and he had campaigned against coelacanths being caught and displayed in captivity. This had been based on the fear of expediting their extinction. At that time they were known only to exist in South Africa and the Comoros. “We now know that they are far more widespread and common than we previously thought and have been found in Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, Madagascar. There is yet another species that has been found in Indonesia.”

A great deal more about their physiology, habitat preferences, behaviour and feeding habits is now known and understood than when Professor JLB Smith discovered the species in 1938 in East London. “We are confident that they would survive in captivity,” Bruton said. “They are not sensitive to reduced water pressure in shallow water but they are sensitive to low oxygen and high light levels, which we can cater for.”

Bruton is not advocating the capture of specimens for exhibit but cited the example of a coelacanth that was caught in Tanzania and is being kept alive in a resuscitation tank.

“Many stay alive for quite a long time after being caught. If the facilities were available to be kept alive and transferred we might learn more about their habits and behaviour. I have proposed in my book that it is time for us to display and study a coelacanth in a public aquarium,” he said. The biggest challenge will be transporting them from the capture site to the host aquarium but he is optimistic that the expertise now exists to do so. “This is one of the next great adventures in South African ichthyology,” he said.

After reflecting on the various adventures he has had in his lifetime, Garratt and Bruton engaged in a rich conversation that focused, in part, on the relatively low level of attention that marine life gets in general. These two icthyologists look forward to the day when a fairer proportion of resources and effort are invested in conservation in their field. This is a book to look out for and future events promise to be worth the effort of attending.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks



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Posted by Jacana Media on Wednesday, 29 April 2015



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