My name is Natalie Slayden. I am a Master’s student at Nova Southeastern University working in Dr. Tracey Sutton’s Oceanic Ecology Lab. I am studying the age and growth of deep-pelagic fishes, with case studies of meso- and bathypelagic species from the Gulf of Mexico.
All fishes have three pairs of otoliths. Otoliths are often referred to as ear stones and are located in the cranial cavity of fishes. Otoliths come in different shapes and sizes depending on the species. Therefore, otoliths can be used to identify fish species. Fishes have otoliths to help them detect sound & orient themselves in the water column. Otoliths can tell us a lot about a fish’s life history and they can also be used to determine age.
Left: Both sides of an otolith from the species Ceratoscopelus warmingii (Rivaton & Philippe, 1999). Right: Awesome picture of a Ceratoscopelus warmingii taken by Danté Fenolio.
Have you ever heard of tree rings? Trees have rings that can be counted to reveal how old they are. Otoliths have rings too! These rings can be formed daily, monthly, yearly, or during events such as feeding. Like tree rings, otolith rings can be counted to determine age. Most previous research has focused on aging coastal fishes. Now, I am working to age some mesopelagic (200 – 1000 m) and bathypelagic (deeper than 1000 m) fishes.
Above: The otolith rings of three different species (Gartner, 1991)
Fisheries have become interested in deep-sea fishes to utilize them as feed for aquaculture and as oil for omega dietary supplements. Since they are a target for fisheries, it is important that we understand how long these deep-sea fishes live. Some deep-sea fishes have rings that are formed daily. Most of these fishes with daily rings perform a daily diel vertical migration, meaning they swim from the depths up towards the surface waters at night to feed and then swim back down to the depths at dawn to avoid visual predators. Lanternfishes are one group of fishes that undergo this migration pattern and usually have an age of one year or less. We think that the daily rings are formed due to light or temperature changes that occur during their daily vertical migration. However, for fishes that do not vertically migrate and remain at depth, it is uncertain what their otolith rings represent. Are they daily or yearly? Could they represent a single meal?
So, for my thesis project I will attempt to determine what an otolith ring represents for a non-vertically migrating deep-sea fish. Second, I will be describing the otolith ring patterns and correlating those patterns to the life history of my case study fishes. Lastly, I will be providing age estimations for a number of mesopelagic and bathypelagic fishes.