Ichthyology, a subset of zoology, is the study of fishes. Zoology is a branch of biology, and ichthyology incorporates many elements of biology in its studies. When people refer to the study of fishes, grammarians might note this as incorrect. It is correct because multiple species of fish are referred to as fishes.
Modern ichthyology began in the 18th century, with the work of Peter Andreti and Carl Linnaeus. Together they gathered all the previously written data on species of fishes and set up a way to order fish by species, genus, family, and kingdom. Today, about 25,000 known species of fishes are classified according to this system. Ichthyology is a dynamic field, with about 100-200 new discoveries of fishes each year.
Early interest in ichthyology long predates the 18th century. Aristotle classified several hundred species of fishes. Less formal ichthyology was practiced by early hunter-gatherer societies. Understanding where and when certain fish were likely to be present allowed for better food opportunities. Even other animals informally practice ichthyology. Grizzly bears have to know when and where to catch salmon, which is an important part of their diet.
Along with classification of fishes, ichthyology also looks at the evolution of fish species, behavior of fishes, and environmental impact on specific species. Ichthyology is a companion to other fields like ecology, marine biology, oceanography and climatology, since information about fish can lead to greater understanding of the environment or other species of plants and animals.
The field of ichthyology is important, given the vast number of fish species on earth. Since ichthyology assists other disciplines, it considerably adds to understanding of all lifeforms on the planet, past and present. Gathered data about extinct or prehistoric fish species may add to greater knowledge in evolutionary biology, and geography. Fish are primary food sources for numerous birds and mammals, including people, which means understanding their behavior, populations, and biological components, informs scientists about the relationship between animals, fish and the environment.
Ichthyology experts may work in a variety of fields. They might work in natural history, continuing to add to the sum of knowledge about fish. An ichthyologist may conduct field studies on fish behavior or populations, supervise fisheries, study fish on a molecular level, or focus on conservation studies. Courses in ichthyology bring ichthyologists to teach at universities, and ichthyologists supervise most aquariums throughout the world.
Students with a Bachelor’s degree in zoology or biology frequently pursue graduate studies in ichthyology in order to work at better, and usually higher paying positions. Graduate programs in ichthyology may vary according to the focus of each university. Ichthyologists often advise students to carefully research programs and apply to the ones that most match their areas of interest. A fledgling ichthyology student who wants to study fishes from an environmental perspective might not be satisfied with a school emphasizing the molecular biology of fish.