On the edge between science and art: Historical biodiversity data from Japanese ‘gyotaku’

Read the full story at Phys.org

Historical biodiversity data is being obtained from museum specimens, literature, classic monographs and old photographs, yet those sources can be damaged, lost or not completely adequate. That brings us to the need of finding additional, even if non-traditional, sources.

Biodiversity observations are made not only by researchers, but also by citizens, though rather often these data are poorly documented or not publicly accessible. Nowadays, this type of data can be found mostly with online citizen science projects resources.

In Japan many recreational fishers have recorded their memorable catches as ‘gyotaku‘, which means fish impression or fish rubbing in English. ‘Gyotaku’ is made directly from the fish specimen and usually includes information such as sampling date and locality, the name of the fisherman, its witnesses, the fish species (frequently its local name), and fishing tackle used. This art has existed since the last Edo period. Currently, the oldest ‘gyotaku’ material is the collection of the Tsuruoka City Library made in 1839…

A Japanese research team, led by Mr. Yusuke Miyazaki, has conducted multiple surveys among recreational fishing shops in different regions of Japan in order to understand if ‘gyotaku’ information is available within all the territory of the country, including latitudinal limits (from subarctic to subtropical regions) and gather historical biodiversity data from it.

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