Pictures in FishBase


There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. A compressed picture in FishBase requires about 40,000 bytes of storage space; one word requires about 8 bytes. In FishBase, a picture is thus worth about 5,000 words.


Be that as it may, FishBase presently contains more than 26,000 pictures of fishes. These pictures consist of family pictograms, color drawings of fish, scanned black-and-white (B/W) drawings, scanned color photos or slides, drawings of fish larvae, drawings of fish eggs, rather repulsive representations of fish diseases, and, for philatelists, over 700 fish stamps for over 460 species.

FishBase contains different types of pictures

The FishBase fish pictures vary in appearance and quality, due to the different ways they were obtained, viz.:

  1. scanned in B/W, without subsequent processing;

  2. redrawn (and generally simplified), then scanned, with subsequent ‘cleaning up’, pixel-by-pixel, of the computerized image;

  3. as in (2), but with subsequent coloring of the B/W image;

  4. scanned with 16 shades of gray;

  5. scanned in true color, 640 * 480 pixel resolution.

The resulting figures rank from (5) to (1) in terms of aesthetic appeal, with category (1) being sometimes so ugly that we not only must apologize for them, but promise that they will all gradually be replaced (most were already).

On the other hand, many of the more than 3,000 underwater photos mostly done by J.E. Randall are of such stunning beauty that some people are using our slide show as screen saver.

We used the GIF format to compress drawings and gray-scale scannings; and the JPEG format to compress scanned color photos about 20-fold. If your hardware supports only 16 colors, the photos will look quite unrealistic; 256 colors already look acceptable and 65,000 colors give you the best display.


The pictures in (2) and (3) are credited to R. Cada and R. Atanacio or to volunteers to the FishBase Project (notably Magnus Olsson-Ringby), while most of the stamps are credited to Ilya Pauly and R. Rosal, both FishBase volunteers (see ‘Fish Stamps’, this vol.).

The pictures in (1), (4) and (5) are credited to their original sources in three different ways:

FAO contributed many black-and-white drawings
  1. through the name of the source(s) of the picture, i.e., of the artist who originally drew the picture, and/or of the author(s) of the paper or book in which the picture originally appeared;

  2. through the name of the photographer;

  3. through the name as in (a) and (b) and the name of the institution that owns the picture’s copyright (e.g., FAO/P. Lastrico );

  4. through the word ‘after’ followed by a source as in (a).

Additionally, pictures scanned from FAO publications are labeled ‘FAO’ in the body of the picture itself.

Items (a), (b) and (c) refer to pictures which we have explicit permission to use. Item (d) refers to pictures for which such permission could not be obtained, such as for the (non-copyrighted) pictures of the late H.W. Halbeisen, a friend to one of us (RF), or pictures from very old publications with lapsed copyright.

This leads, obviously, to an invitation to colleagues to consider sending us picture files for incorporation in FishBase. In addition, we are interested in obtaining permission to use more published photos or slide collections with good identification. We hope that the scheme presented above for giving credit to the author(s) of such pictures is appropriate, and appreciate your suggestions for improvement if you feel differently.

FishBase can hold several pictures for each species

With our current system, we can process up to 50 slides or photos per day, and with JPEG compression storage space is not much of a limitation. Thus, for every species in FishBase, we would like to have one morphological drawing, one ‘dead fish’ photo, one aquarium photo or drawing showing live colors, and one underwater photo showing the fish in its natural environment. Additional photos can be attached to the OCCURRENCES table (this vol.), if the provided information allows to pinpoint a locality and a date. To date, more than 200 colleagues, most notably J.E. Randall, have provided us with their slides for use in FishBase, on the understanding that they remain the owner of the copyright and that FishBase will contain only low-resolution scans (100-500 dpi) of their photos. Contributors do of course receive a free copy of FishBase and they can actually use an option in the FishBase slide show menu to see (and show!) their photos. In other words, we will have created a computerized archive for them, which is also widely distributed and thus makes their photos known.

Hot to see pictures

To see a picture of the current species, click on the button with the fish icon in the SPECIES, FAMILY, LARVAE or EGGS window. Alternatively, you can watch different slide shows by clicking on the Pictures button in the FishBase Main Menu, or play the Fish Quiz, which draws on the Family pictograms and on the scanned photos.

Best photos of the month

On the Internet, a thumbnail sized picture will show in the ‘Species Summary’ page. When clicked on, it will display a page with all available pictures for a species in thumbnail format. This is useful for comparing, e.g., different color phases. When a thumbnail photo is enlarged, all the related data such as length of fish, locality, date and remarks are shown under the picture. The photographer’s name as link to his e-mail, and a URL to his homepage (if any) are shown on top of the picture. Users can ‘Add score’ to a photo, and these scores are used to create monthly updated pages with ‘100 Best Photos in FishBase’. The ‘Best Photos’ page is also accessible from the links at the top of the ‘Search FishBase’ page.


We thank former FishBase artist Roberto Cada for the production of most of the colored drawings, the FAO Fisheries Data and Identification Programme for permission to use the figures in various catalogues and identification sheets, P.C. Young for permission to use photos and drawings from several CSIRO publications, John E. Randall for his permission to let us use low-resolution scans of his more than 10,000 slides; the New Zealand Fishing Industry Board, I.G. Baird, T. Gloerfelt-Tarp, K. Sainsbury, K.-T. Shao, P.C. Heemstra to use the photos in their books on New Zealand, Indonesian, Australian, Taiwanese and South African fishes, respectively; D. McPhail for her drawings of B.C. fishes; D. Cook, D. Faber, R. Field, M. Kochzius, G. Jennings, J. Jensen, R. Patzner and L. Seegers for contributing many fish photos and illustrations, and many other colleagues for permission to use smaller sets of pictures (see general section on Credit). The names of all contributors are shown in the COLLABORATORS table (this vol.) as well as in the ‘View pictures by photographer’ selection list.

Rainer Froese, Rachel Atanacio and Daniel Pauly