The FishWatcher Database

With the advent of SCUBA diving and underwater photography, fish watching is becoming increasingly popular, as indicated by the numerous guidebooks for snorklers and SCUBA divers (e.g., Lewis et al. 1986; Humann 1994; Randall 1996). However, fish watching need not be restricted to tropical seas, as demonstrated by Smith (1994). There are even booklets for certain areas that contain nothing but the scientific and common names of the fishes one might encounter, and space to note date, time, depth and size (Sea Challenger 1995).

The FishWatcher database is our attempt to encourage the systematic reporting of encounters with fish, which¾ if correct identification can be documented, e.g., by a photo¾ might help to increase our understanding of fish biodiversity, similar to the contribution of amateur birdwatchers to the understanding of bird distribution and migrations.

In the CD-ROM version, the FishWatcher button leads you to the FishWatcher menu where you can create and maintain a personal or institutional database on where, when and how you have seen, caught or acquired what fish. The fields in the table are generally the same as those described in the OCCURRENCES table (this vol.). The FishWatcher table is embedded in its own database (USER.MDB) and resides on the harddisk in the C:\FishBase directory.


The Class, Order and Family fields are filled from FishBase once a valid genus has been entered. These fields remain empty if the generic name does not match a valid genus in FishBase.

The international common name is filled from FishBase once a specific name has been entered which matches a valid name for which a common name is available.

The Picture field is meant to hold the name of a digitized picture file provided by the user. You have to specify the path of your picture directory using the PicPath button. If you double-click on the file name, the picture will be displayed.

The Date field records the date of collection, observation or acquisition. The year is repeated to accommodate records from the previous and next centuries (we survived the Y2K bug!).

For later assessment of the quality of identification, it is important to know the document on which the identification was based. Double-click on the blank field to search for the reference number; double-click on the reference number to see the full citation.

You can carry forward entries from previous records

The fields Locality, Locality type, Country, Province and FAO area are self-explanatory. Drainage refers to the river basin where a fish has been encountered. Since entries in these fields often remain the same, you can use the Ctrl +’ key combination to carry forward an entry from the previous record.

Coordinates are the best option to pinpoint a locality. Just type in the numbers: degree and minute signs will be added automatically. The coordinates entered here will be displayed as yellow dots on the distribution map.

Click on the Environment, Specimen or Misc. info buttons to enter additional information.

See the Local Knowledge Database below for explanation of editing buttons.

We are planning to develop further the FishWatcher module into a full fish collection database, either as stand-alone or as front end to existing databases. Please contact us if you are interested to participate in this project.

How to get there

You get to the FishWatcher database by clicking on the User Databases button in the FishBase Advanced Main Menu, and the FishWatcher button in the next window.


In FishBase on the Internet, go to the ‘Species Summary’ page of the species that you have observed and click the Fishwatchers: Add observation link. You will be assigned an identification number and a password to allow you to later edit your records. After that, a Data Entry page will open with the same fields as described above.


Humann, P. 1994. Reef fish identification, Caribbean, Bahamas. New World Publications, Jacksonville, Florida. 426 p.

Lewis, D., P. Reinthal and J. Trendall. 1986. A guide to the fishes of Lake Malawi National Park. World Wildlife Fund, Gland, Switzerland. 71 p.

Randall, J. 1996. Shore fishes of Hawaii. Natural World Press, Vida, Oregon. 216 p.

Sea Challenger. 1995. Fishwatcher’s species checklist for Pacific Coast invertebrates and fishes. Sea Challengers Inc., Monterey.

Smith, C.L. 1994. Fish watching: an outdoor guide to freshwater fishes. Cornell University Press, Ithaca. 216 p.

Rainer Froese