World Ocean Census - Extract 4 - Whaling Logs, Menus and Other Records

3 January 2010

Fourth amazing extract from The World Ocean Census: A global survey of marine life: Painting a Picture of the past - Whaling Logs, Menus and Other Records.

Since the written records of historical fish populations were mostly limited to species with commercial value, researchers initially focused their efforts there. The first tasks were to identify, recover, transcribe and interpret data sets pertaining to marine species from historical records. Some sources were foreign to marine science and had never been used or linked together in this way before. The documents ranged from Russian monastery records of the 1600s and dusty old whaling logs stored in archives around the world to Australian landing records from the 20th century, early scientific survey cruises starting in the 19th century, and tax records from the Baltic region. In one instance, American restaurant menus served as a source, not only for changing dietary preferences but also as an indicator of the availability and stock abundance of marine species.

Non-written sources were as varied as fish bones recovered from archeological digs of medieval England and Scotland to paleoceanographic data in Estonia, where archeologists found imported cod bones dating from the late 13th century. All these diverse sources were analyzed to create a time series of stock abundance and geographic distribution that was weighted with information about the influence of fishing, climate variability and other factors that may have caused changes in marine animal populations.

Text and images reprinted with permission from World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Marine Life by Darlene Trew Crist, Gail Scowcroft and James M. Harding Jr., Firefly Books, 2009.

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