Every once in a while, some fisherman yanks a weird, unidentifiable creature out of the sea. An angler with no idea what he has caught may now turn to 83-year-old Henry Fowler, noted ichthyologist at Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences. Fowler has just completed the classification of the world's 25,000 known fishes. His four-volume work, A Catalog of World Fishes, sparkles with ink sketches by the author himself.
The book cost Fowler 17 years and many a headache. In the early years of his research he traveled to all corners of the earth collecting fish. "Now that I've gotten old," he says, "people have to send the fish to me. I worry that the specimens will spoil in transit, thereby making my office somewhat unpopular." He nurses a special grudge against a Russian scientist in Mongolia "who gave a 30-letter name to a quite insignificant shrimp." For some fishes there was no name at all, and Ichthyologist Fowler had to coin one. His own favorite fish? "White perch. There's no better eating."