March 25, 2021
Hearing the Once-Silent World: Dr. Marie Fish
- as seen by -Cassandra Paul
Marie “Bobbie” Dennis Poland Fish worked as a research assistant for the Department of Tropical Research at the Wildlife Conservation Society (then the New York Zoological Society) from 1925 to 1932. The Department of Tropical Research was a pillar of WCS’s commitment to scientific research as the staff ran dozens of expeditions to various tropical locations around the world to collect, document, study, illustrate, photograph, and film the many plants and animals they encountered.
Dr. Fish was a member of the research crew on the Arcturus Oceanographic Expedition, a six-month maritime excursion in 1925 dedicated to investigating the Sargasso Sea and the marine life beneath it, as well as the Humboldt Current. One of the trip’s main tasks was to take samples of ocean life by dredging the sea floor and hauling specific sections of the sea to gain an understanding of the distribution of fish and plants. In the image above, Dr. Fish can be seen examining one of the hauls.
After traveling on the Arcturus, Dr. Fish worked with other WCS staff in the Department of Tropical Research to study the specimens and data collected on the expedition. In 1927, using research from the Arcturus Expedition, she published “Contributions to the embryology of the American eel (Anguilla rostrata lesueur)” in Zoologica, WCS’s former scientific journal. In all, data and findings from the Arcturus Expedition resulted in eleven articles published in Zoologica alone.
Dr. Fish completed her undergraduate education at Smith College and earned her PhD from the University of Rhode Island. After WCS, Dr. Fish went on to work for the United States Bureau of Fishes (now the United States Fish Commission), the Buffalo Museum of Science, the New York State Conservation Department, the University of Rhode Island, the United States National Museum (now the Smithsonian Institution), and the Office of Naval Research. Dr. Fish, along with her husband Charles John Fish (who was also a researcher on the Arcturus Expedition), founded the Narragansett Marine Laboratory (now the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography).
Later in her career, Dr. Fish focused on identifying sounds made by marine animals, allowing her to found the field of marine bioacoustics. She wrote extensively in this area, including her article “The production of underwater sound by Opsanus sp., a new toadfish from Bimini, Bahamas” in Zoologica. Her research had profound results for the United States Navy. Without it, naval officers could not distinguish between enemy submarines and wildlife on sonar scans. This research led her to earn the Distinguished Service Medal from the US Navy, the highest award a civilian can earn from that military branch.
Dr. Fish died in 1989, at age 88, after a career dedicated to advancing scientific knowledge through research, publication, and education.
This post on Marie Fish was written alongside the WCS Library and Archives’ current efforts to expand access to our digitized materials by editing Wikipedia articles on current and former WCS staff and research.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Women’s History Month, Wild View is featuring posts by and about women and their contributions to science and conservation throughout March. The Wildlife Conservation Society is also celebrating 125 years of saving wildlife and wild places. WCS was founded as the New York Zoological Society in 1895, and the flagship Bronx Zoo opened in 1899.