National Marine Fisheries Service

05/13/2019 | News release | Archived content

Meet Fisheries Biologist Jay Orr

The wry snailfish, Careproctus staufferi, was unknown to science until 2016. It was discovered and described by Jay Orr, who named the species after a colleague at NOAA Fisheries' Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

What are some of the species you named-and how did choose them?

I name some of them for their features or color: mischievous, comic, peaceful, wry, arbiter, dusty, peach, tomato, whiskered, combed, goldeneye, wrinkle-jaw, and comet snailfishes.

I named some in honor of the Aleut people. For example, Allocareproctus unangas, the goldeneye snailfish, was named after the Unangas people of Atka Island, where the species was discovered.

A few species are named after individual people. The hardheaded snailfish (Lopholiparis flerxi) was affectionately named after a colleague with strong opinions.

You didn't name any after yourself?

That's just not done. But there is a new genus of fossil anglerfish discovered by other scientists and named after me: Orrichthys.

Is there one particular discovery that stands out?

The first lot of snailfish we collected in the Aleutians and didn't know what they were. We ended up with five new species out of one haul, including a new genus. That led to more discoveries, and to my realizing the incredible diversity of the Aleutians. After that I saw new species every time we went to the Aleutians.

Why are the Aleutians so richly biodiverse?

Volcanoes and the intersection of different water bodies make the Aleutians a very dynamic, productive, and varied environment. The islands are also remote and cover a vast area, spanning 1500 miles. It is difficult to comprehend the scale. The factors, weather, currents, and distances also make it challenging to work there.

What led you to this work?

I knew I wanted to be an ichthyologist (a scientist who studies fish) since 6th grade. When I got aquarium fish. Actually, it started with an interest in lizards. When they all died, I filled the tank with water and added fish. That was it for me. I started taking biology classes to learn more about fish.

After school at Wheaton College I went into the army as a Chemical officer for several years, then left to go to graduate school at Auburn. After completing my Masters degree there, I met Ted Pietsch at the University of Washington, beginning a career-long collaboration-we just coauthored a new three-volume set of books, Fishes of the Salish Sea. Under his mentorship I completed my PhD on evolutionary relationships among a fascinating array of fish: ghost pipefishes, sea moths, trumpetfish, cornetfish, tubesnouts, snipefish, shrimpfish, even paradoxfish.

While completing my PhD, I also worked training fishery observers to identify Alaskan fish. I wrote a field guide to rockfishes for them. About the same time I was offered the Associate Editor position with Fishery Bulletin.

During that time I got a call from the Groundfish Program director at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, asking if I wanted to be an ichthyologist - officially fulfilling my 6th grade career plans.