aqua journal

Book review – Fishes of Australia’s Southern Coast


By M. Gommon, D. Bray & R. Kuiter
Reed New Holland Publishers
(Australia) Pty. Ltd, 2008. 928pp. Aust. $130.00
ISBN 978187706-9185 (hard cover)

Not long ago, when talking to Martin Gomon, the senior editor of this book, described it as a heavy tome, weighing more than 2 kg, which provides information on 873 species of fish. The book should be a useful addition to the knowledge of South Australian fishes considering that its pred-ecessor only listed 422 (Scott et al. 1974). Curiously Gomon et al. state that only 392 South Australian fishes were known prior to this publication. Its possible of course that the freshwater fishes in Scott et al. were excluded. The new book may (see below) deal with “all the fishes” south of the 30°S latitude and all the fishes down to 45° according to the map on page 10. However the two maps provided are subject to interpretation, the upper diagram includes a grey coloured rectangle which presumably is the area covered, judging by the large caption above it. The lower diagram, however, has a legend which suggests that the book coverage is restricted to the green-yellow strip extending from west of Recherche Archipelago to roughly the Wilson’s Promontory. The upper map  includes the best part of NSW (all of the NSW coast just to the north of Coffs Harbour) and a considerable part of southern Western Australia, to more than 200 km north of Perth. Looking at maps recording familial dist-ributions, it is more likely that the upper map is the better guide to the area covered by the book. Typically, as in most new books published on Australian fish fauna in recent times, the introduction includes general information on geography, habitat type, short notes on commercial and recreational fishing, marine parks, protected species and laws covering fish and fisheries. The last are only just mentioned and the import/export of valuable fish is are not discussed. Information on how to use the book is provided and the fish are treated in their phylogenetic order. Pp. 862-89 include diagrams which allow the user to identify fish by measuring or counting various given attributes. Shapes of fins and line diagrams of various parts of fish anatomy are also included. Fifteen pages of terms used by biologists and a list of abbreviations is also given. The list of references is quite impressive, 13 pages in all.
The book deals with fish and fishlike organisms starting with cephalochordates, hagfishes, lampreys, cartilaginous fishes (including spookfishes) and “all the known teleosts” that occur in south Australian waters. The keys are quite extensive and it will be interesting to put them into practice and see how well they work.
A great number of photographs is provided by the third editor, Mr. Rudie Kuiter and these are difficult to emulate. Mr. Kuiter has a long experience in underwater photography and this is reflected in the outstanding quality of photos accompanying the text.
The book will be useful to anyone who is interested in southern Australian fish. There are quite a number of fish specialists that have been consulted and have been invited as contributors to the book which is now a common practice since no one person can be a specialist on all of the approximately 26 thousand species that have been described until now. However, a great number of families are dealt with “in house” (mostly by Dr. Gomon, who has described close to 100 families, some with co-authors) and time will tell whether the information provided will be as up to date or as accurate as it would have been if it were possible to engage all of the extant specialists to contribute (they may have been asked but refused to contribute of course) whose knowledge would add more authority to the volume. I can think of quite a few authors who have published extensively on Australian fish but do not appear to have contributed to this volume. The two other contributors who deal with quite a number of families, keeping the book “in house”, are Ms Diane Bray, Collections Manager, Museum of Victoria, Melbourne who is also one of the editors and Mr. Tarmo Raadik of the Arthur Rylah, Institute of Applied Ecology, Victoria. Thankfully most cartilaginous fishes are dealt with by renowned specialists which will undoubtedly update the publication of Last and Stevens on Sharks and Rays of Australia published quite a few years ago.
I found it curious that some families are described by people who are not known to work in that field and therefore are unlikely to have specialist knowledge of that particular group. T. Raadik, for example, amongst a number of other families has dealt with atherinids, totally it seems, relying on papers published by postgraduate students and me at Macquarie University and Professor Ian Potter. I note that there are no listed contributory papers on atherinids published by Raadik. On reading Raadik’s account of atherinids, it is easy to discover the provenance of the original data and descriptions. Some sentences are very eminently recognisable, meristics correspond to those found in our papers whilst the morphometrics are converted from proportions to percentages which convey identical information. Raadik seems to be oblivious to the fact that the status of Atherinosoma elongata is questionable (Pavlov et al.,1988) recognisinig this fish as a valid species.
If it is assumed that the range covered by the book extends to about 30°S then a description of Atherinomorus ogilbyi, a very common species which occurs north of 34°­S should have been included. This species is also found on the south-western side of Australia. Craterocephalus honoriae is not included either. It is common in open to the sea, saline coastal lakes and are known to occur from at least 32°22’S to beyond the 30°S which is the limit of the range covered by this book.
Raadik had taken upon himself to review quite a number of families, including the Galaxiidae when a world expert on this group is Dr. Bob McDowell. Perhaps Bob was not available to contribute. I am also surprised that Martin Gomon had dealt with the Beloniformes especially since the world expert on this group is Dr. Bruce Collette who, some years ago, came to Australia to study this group. Perhaps he was not available either. To my way of thinking,  the families of fishes not dealt with by an expert, may not necessarily provide all the latest and most accurate information. There has been a recent study of Indo-Pacific region which had a special emphasis on all Australian mugilids by Dr. Javad Ghasemzadeh’s.
Whilst Ghasemzadeh Ph. D dissertation and his paper are cited,  Dr. Gomon, when dealing with the mugilids, ignores Ghasemzadeh’s placement of Liza into the synonymy of Gracilimugil. Perhaps Dr. Ian Harrison, the world expert on mullets could have been consulted to determine the validity of Gracilimugil.
It is hard to believe the statement that “almost all of the authors are collection based taxonomists” especially in the light of the fact that Dr. Gomon, together with 2 of his colleagues, is responsible for the about half the total accounts of the families. If the object of the book is to be a guide, the authors may be forgiven for excluding specialist information.
Gomon, nevertherless, must be congratulated for his enterprise and endeavour. This book will serve as a good reference for any one who wants to know what can be found in the waters of southern Australia. For detailed account of latest taxonomic opinions, I suspect, one would have to go beyond this publication.

PAVLOV, A., IVANTSOFF, W., LAST. P. R. & CROWLEY, L. E. L. M. 1988. Kestratherina brevirostris, a New Genus and Species of Silverside (Pisces: ateherinidae) with a Review of Atherinid Marine and Estuarine Genera of Southern Australia. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 39: 385-97.

Walter Ivantsoff


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