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Interview 1:37 - 58:16 Play 1:37 - More
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Barry Chernoff, Herman Kihn  








Mexican black howler monkey -- Alouatta pigra 1:04:34 - 1:05:00 Play 1:04:34 - More
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Mexican black howler monkey -- Alouatta pigra 1:11:03 - 1:17:53 Play 1:11:03 - More
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Interview 1:18:02 - 1:44:22 Play 1:18:02 - More
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Barry Chernoff  







Ichthyology; AquaRAP and field work  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
11 Apr 1999

  • Guatemala
  • Las Guacamayas Biological Research Station
  • 17.24667   -90.29306
  • River
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=2: 1=L, 2=R; Decoded MS stereo; Split track

SHOW: Guatemala
DAT #5

(S)=speaking in Spanish
Barry Chernoff (BC)
Herman A. Kihn (H)
Chris Joyce (CJ)
Linda Mack (LM)

Motor, on boat, moving equipment.

Catching Fish: sounds of working equipment, boat creaking, and water throughout

LM: pulling up the first net.

BC: Nnno, okay,okay, no, no,no okay¿leave the nets¿ here we go¿oh, very deadly. This is what a small Petenia and it¿s over here, this is what from last year¿yeah a yearling. Okay, yeah¿but it¿ll be okay.

BC: Don¿t pull in, pull back, that¿s it¿there¿s a big tree it¿s drifted into a big tree and its fishing okay, I have it. no nothing, daytime¿s not very productive. 4:05

BC: From four to six in the morning¿

Back Phil, just a little bit!

BC: Just uh, a little bit more Phil, just poke off, just a little at a time¿

Moving something on board, water sounds.

BC: Back, Phil, back.

BC: This is uh, see this hole here, this is almost three foot diameter a crocodile went through that hole. (how can you tell) Well they get caught, they get attracted by a fish in the net and they make this very very characteristic hole that looks like a truck drove through your net.

If you can keep the back end¿

anything? No there¿s a trunk? down there¿

CJ: One fish?

BC: One fish

CJ: Well what is it?

BC: This is a yearling Petenia, the one that people were fishing the other day on hook and line and gets quite large and is a big food fish, this is the one that uh you caught the orange form of and can swing its jaw out. It¿s a juvenile so we¿ll study what types of conditions its in and how its growing up to uh certain types of statistics that the fisheries biologists have gathered on this species. So its a valuable catch, but um these types of nets are not very productive in the daytime.

CJ: Got a leech on it.

BC: yeah, got a leech on it too.

Moving things around on boat

CJ: ohh, its spongy isn¿t it?

BC: It¿s a morel isn¿t it? yeah, its a mixture of mud and this limestone bottom mixed together in kind of like an oatmeal.

--CJ: it¿s¿ not like sediment like Chesapeake bay mud

BC: No, no, there is some like that. But you see from the hills that we pass on the way from the station that this is a lot of limestone based here and a lot of carsed

You know you can see it go way down. And uh-

you¿re going to go down to the other side

--yeah we¿re going down to the other net which I don¿t think has a good chance of -

--CJ: water or alcohol?

BC: This is uh formalin.

BC: So that¿s a that¿s uh valuable specimen, we don¿t usually get them that small which is good and that¿s part of the way of looking at the health of the region is to see whether the diff ages of the fish are healthy.

motor picks up to 11:35

BC:I can¿t believe the mud is only this much over my shoes

CJ: explain what you are going to be doing now.

BC: okay we are going to use this small hand net this small seine, it has a mesh about an eighth of an inch and its got floats on one side and lead on another. And this is about six feet long and its about three feet deep and what we¿re going to do is keep the lead line on the bottom and the float line on the top and we¿re going to try to catch fishes up against the soggy grass and this pantanos to see what¿s living on the edge of the swamp and the bottom¿s a little bit muddy. We¿re only sinking down about a foot, just feels like we¿re walking on concrete, so chris what you wanna do is take this and put it under your inside arm¿s foot¿so for me that¿s going to be my right foot.

put it on my left foot.

BC: So we¿re just going to walk up in here and then we¿re going to kneel down in the muck and push the lead line forward¿so come on in, come on in now take it off the foot and¿now saw back and forth (exertion)¿hang on hang on¿now make sure your lead line in is all bagged up¿Herman¿s going to tell us what the fish are get up there Herman and tell us what the fish are

H?:oh what a beautiful fish

--CJ: what¿s that

--BC: that¿s called a firemouth.

CJ: black with a huge red stripe along the bottom.

It¿s a cichlid and its it doesn¿t grow more than two more inches.

That¿s a herring that¿s a marine group that gets into fresh water that¿s a gizzard shad. That¿s uh ¿

its like going in an aquarium in a pet store just pulling up five or so types of fish¿

H: people in FL have pots of these, they don¿t need to get them from here.

CJ: So I see at least four different kinds of fish right here in just one sweep.

--This is lucky because sometimes in the mud when the mud goes up to the chest collecting¿one fish collecting one fish would be very lucky.

H: we got-- listing fish off-mic.

BC: This is a small firemouth, you know what just put some water in it and we¿ll figure it out later.


H: Shads have scales that are shedded¿

the thing about this herring that¿s really unusual is the fact that on the dorsal fin there¿s a big thread about the third the length of the body,

so now you¿re going to photograph them?

So now your going to photo. them, Christian?

Taking pictures

CJ: Now why do you go underneath the roots?

BC: ¿And we have to get the lead line underneath the fishes are swimming right underneath the root systems that¿s where these cichlids are breeding so we¿re trying to push in as far as we can get into the root systems and we¿re going to do it again right here.

19:42 (S)

BC: pull that!

BC: Okay now yeah that¿s it! pull the net and throw these things out!

--you need some help?

Water splashing as christian goes to help

BC: grab this end, Christian..Shake, shake,shake it¿shake it

he¿s got fish?

--yeah, sure does

--another cichlid lately has been used in aquarium for cichlid specialists they were taken from central america to Florida.

H: The cichlid fad was started by germans¿americans were pretty good at Poeciliids which are top minnows

--H: oh! Pierce eye(?)

--BC: oh! Pierce eye!


oh right! Did you see that one that¿s a great one completely its got a tiny little mouth. This is (S) very small size scale. Oh so that¿s good, the bottom is like six inches to a foot of clay like mud.

CJ: where did you learn about all these fish

--H: um: in MI-University of Michigan.

There¿s a bigger one in there. This is [Cichlasoma] pasionis probabaly. Oh no its¿

25:52 (S)

on boat, water swishing, moving around, creaking.


--you got something?

--I think

BC: ohh!!! something different - here you go this way.

--BC: This is a relative of the mosquito fish¿
--H: a pike¿guppy¿of sorts¿.look at his teeth he¿s a predator¿


¿water swishing¿

sounds of exertion¿

more water swishing (vg)

BC: keep going, keep going¿yeah oh well


BC: Yup, yup,it¿s pretty deep here, we¿re just about swimming! Cuida, cuida!!! Look! 34:52

okay this way?
--going straight in there
--BC: no, at an angle, I¿m going to the right of that big cloak

got something here?

--yup, yup, it¿s pretty deep here, we¿re just about swimming.

--CJ: ohh¿wow what is that?
--H: that¿s a molly, a plain molly
--CJ: Looks pretty nice for a plain molly, blue and dark blue.

Did we catch one of those today?

Yeah I think so¿
---a small one

wheezing sounds

--no here he¿s got one.

Another male? Is that another male?
--Bring it up, I can¿t go any further (sounds of exertion) splashes,

BC: oh, got something good! Keep, keep, That¿s it¿I¿ll get the, get the--
more sounds of exertion


that¿s it.

H: Looking for young¿

sounds of exertion

--That¿s it
--BC: nothing huh?
--BC: oh, but we had a bigger cichlid in there and I think while we were caught on that tree it got out.

BC: Well how about if we go straight into that stuff.

Splashing, exertion good sound to 41:18

BC: okay let¿s try, let¿s see if we can get to this little point here. Here¿s this tree right here, be careful.

CJ: Is that as much fun as it looks?

It¿s better!

BC: here let¿s come on under here.

BC: Everything has spines on it. we¿re just completely caught.

BC: let¿s see if we can just push straight in.

oh I see what you¿re gonna do.

BC: Alright, okay, here¿s the-the net¿s twisted okay we¿re getting¿

BC: can you come this way towards me now go straight¿

BC: WHOA! oh that¿s a stick - forget it, forget it

--too many branches

water sounds, people in background talking, someone spitting

BC: This is an amphibious assault

breathing hard

CJ: Is this the only way to catch fish?

BC: It is here. There are no beaches, usually we rely upon beaches that we can pull this net right up onto the land but as you can see there are no beaches there is just this marsh coming out into the river, so if you don¿t do this, you¿re not going to get a sample from here and uh although its a lot of hard work its the only way to sample and uh this is one of the reasons that our program is recording a lot of diversity because we get people who are uniformly crazy and willing to get into this stuff. And uh a lot of fish people won¿t get into this or deal with swimming in deep mud.

BC: okay let¿s get it so, let¿s make sure its played out and the bottom¿s not rolled, that¿s another problem that¿s been happening sometimes¿that¿s see that¿s¿can you grab that stick-Okay! Can you push to your right a little bit, I¿ll push to the left.

¿let¿s go!¿do what we can

BC: Okay hang on let me circle under, doing pretty well¿okay that¿s alright that¿s alright, bring it up, bring it up. I don¿t know if there¿s going to be anything in this.

Water splashing

--This is wonderful firm only sink a foot and a half
--¿only sinking up to my crotch¿
--BC: we¿ll try one more thing, one more pass¿a little bit more open.

More exertion

some sort of bird chirping, (BC: That¿s the song of the ichthyologist) ¿see if we can saw it back and forth okay lift!

There¿s a fresh water sponge¿

--I don¿t think so¿

--H: oh yeah one poeciliia ¿oh yeah, plenty of them.

H: Mollies and

BC: another pike poeciliid, that¿s a nice one

--H: listing fish.

BC: We¿re going to do one more pass

--BC: speaking in spanish about saying "last time"

BC: so how many species did we get herman?

--H:counting 1 to 10

BC: it¿s a lot of work and it¿s hard work but it¿s the only way we¿re going to document what¿s here (someone spitting in background)

¿you¿re going to have to come way in

water splashing

motor starting, someone speaking in Spanish
motor ambi to 1:03:58

LM: okay it¿s pretty dawn(dark?) here and I¿m heading over to try for these howler monkeys.
--monkey barks to 1:05:00


1:06:19 distinct bird calls

more ambi with birds, sounds like night time

LM: Well if there were howler monkeys here they¿re gone.

LM: okay the monkeys are howling again we¿re going to try again
distant barking, getting closer (LM walking)
1:11:33 much closer barking (talking in background)
LM moves to get closer to monkeys and also bc of talking (walking)

monkeys barking w birds chirping¿closer to 1:18:00 no more barking

I¿m Barry Chernoff and I¿m an ichthyologist, I study fishes at the field museum of natural history in Chicago.

--CJ: umm, we¿re down her for a project called AquaRAP which is yr program tell me what it does and what you¿re trying to accomplish here.

AquaRAP is a program that was designed by a number of scientists from south america and myself in partnership with conservation international - our goal is to work on conservation strategies for watersheds, we believe that watersheds and the organisms tat live inside them have not been receiving the attention that is really needed to give them adequate protection, so we put together a program of scientists from many countries and representing many scientific disciplines for example who study plants that live at the edge of the water, people who study plants inside the water, we study water chem. The little algae and the little critters that float inside the water the zooplankton and the phytoplankton as well as the aquatic insects the mollusks and the crustaceans, and of course, we also study the fish and our job is to put all of that information together to strategies to provide people the information for which they can make choices, choice about what they would like their environment to look like in the future, one of the things that people don¿t realize are where the many aquatic organisms reproduce - um what are the areas that adults use what is very little appreciated often is how dynamic aquatic organisms really are - many times in the past park lines used to be drawn and if there was a piece of a river in it people used to think that¿s good enough for aquatic conservation - but in fact many species esp. in s america migrate um up to 500 km about 200-250 miles every year from where they live as adults to where they breed and where their young grow up - we take an approach it¿s multi- it¿s international because rivers don¿t know about political boundaries we use many disciplines and we¿re trying to put this information out in a way that can be used in the hands of local communities as well as um govt. agencies, environmental managers, and not, and ngos

CJ: so, not just scientific endeavor¿you were talking yesterday, about the idea that what did you call it a supermarket -what did you say?

we look at the river as economic potential, not just as a place to conserve and many peoples depend on rivers not just for water but for food - and so esp. in s america as the rivers as potential food banks, um there are some areas near ___ up on the Orinoco that combine gather more than 200 thousand metric tons every year the world¿s oceans have been stuck for the last decade at about 80 million metric tons so that¿s rather impressive and at about two dollars a pound clean that works out to about 1.1 billion dollars annually - there are no dams in the world that I know of that generate that much economic potential on a yearly basis, although they provide important services - so our job is to look at the economic info as well it¿s putting info in the hands of people - for instance we did a program a couple years ago in the Paraguay river and we found many species that were not harvested in Paraguay but are eaten rather readily in Brazil so that¿s a potential export market it¿s a potential food bank for the future as populations grow. We¿ve learned in our country is that yesterday¿s trash fish is today¿s delicacy. The best example of that is the orange roughy as well as monk fish they wouldn¿t have been touched in US markets.

CJ: RAP started out ten years ago¿it seems to have graduated into something much bigger¿ how is it diff with aquatic part in there?

BC: well AquaRAP started by some people at Conservation Int. and another person at field museum and myself getting together and saying - look we really need to begin a program for the aquatic environment and let¿s start in central and south america and what we decided to do which was slightly diff than RAP program was we knew it was going to have to be slightly larger - the original RAPs were very stripped down to three or four scientists on this program alone we have almost 25 scientists. When we were just in the Pantanal we had 35 scientists, we had 35 scientists, Rep many disciplines we knew that we don¿t know enough about the aquatic environ to eliminate certain disciplines right now they had a good idea when they started RAP about what might be key or index organisms we don¿t know that so our program at the same time of trying to provide strategy for environmental conservation and also for sustainable use of the ecosystems is also to learn what are the correlations what are the assoc. among water chemistry, the fishes, the plants and therefore, in the future we might be able to reduce the equation so people can come in and more rapidly assess and get a picture of the biological and the conservation value of regions.

CJ: How difficult to convince people who live in tropical countries about the pot. Value of something they¿re not used to viewing as anything but something that¿s in the way of cattle ranching something that¿s not normally thought of as a resource?

BC: think that people around the world are really intelligent and our experience has shown that when we talk to people in local communities that they¿re very interested and they want to learn . For example, when we showed fishermen in Bolivia the need for and the necessity for the varsia-that is the inundated areas that are along the bank-when we told them that these were the nursery grounds for species and making their livelihood they were much more interested in how do we protect such areas than before they had that info. Cattle ranching has two components to it - is it at the level of the common person or is it big landowners running big operations. I think at the level of the common person they can make their own decisions of what would be better off and many of the regions in the amazon where people have to slash and burn they only get about three years out of a sight before they have to move on and slash and burn - if hey had another sustainable way to make that land pay off for them, that is through economic potential of the rivers, they might change their mind. At the level of the big land owners, that¿s where we really have to depend on getting information to NGOs, in ministers, education people and begin discussions about what what would that country, the authorities of a given country like that country to look like in times future, and we try to provide a picture of what would happen to the fauna if what we perceive as the current threats come about.

CJ: idea of sustainable development¿what I¿ve heard is ¿record spotty at best¿why is it so hard to accomplish and what needs to be done to make it work if ever?

BC: well you¿re right it is hard and the idea goes back even to Aldous Leopold his idea of land ethic that he write about so eloquently in the Sand County Almanac a long time ago. The key how are common people going to make a living in tropical areas? Number one issue is population and feeding people. Many countries have had programs to give people free land if they will improve land well improving the land means to develop that to habitat change to take out of forest and put it into something rec. as productive, so how do we change those equations is really the big issue we might have made other decisions in the united states had we certain pieces of information beforehand. All we can do and all our program is trying to do is give people the info about what¿s out there what its potential value is- how things will change or might change if they continue with current practices - -- and then work with them if they will allow us to make some sort of compromise about it another possibility though is that if we know that we cannot save everything. That¿s where my heart lies that¿s where my passion lies, but we know that¿s not a possibility. The key to the types of conservation programs that AquaRAP is talking about is multi-use plans what we¿re saying let¿s find the most important areas of reproduction and let¿s try and save those. Let¿s find the best nursery grounds and try to save those. And then see how humans and how biodiversity can coexist at the same time through multi-use plans bc we have to one of the fundamental premises of AquaRAP is that man is part of the eco. its not fair to look at it any other way.

CJ: You mention that you can¿t save everything¿its a really messy job, you act as though you¿d like to save everything

BC: yeah, I¿d like to, that¿s what inspires me I love the fishes and that¿s why id o this for a living

--there¿s seems to be an element of desperation

BC: yeah, bc we¿ re running out of time, we¿re trying to Train people, it¿s hard to find money we¿re really running out of time. I¿ve been back to places whether it¿s Venezuela or Mexico where I had been five or seven years earlier and you look at the degree of environmental degradation or we take the wonderful records that were in our museum collections and we match them up against what we see today and you see the pattern of change. It¿s easy to document. So we¿re doing this with a real send of urgency. We put ourselves out here many months a year, we have other things to do as scientists as well to write this up, to analyze the data to try and publish. What we¿re doing but its literally going to hell in a handbasket and that¿s why areas such as the station here and this park in Guatemala is such a great opp. because there already is a degree of protection but what we¿re finding now is that really to save a lot of the resources that people are depending on like the Machaca, the big brycons, these big tetras that grow to about 25 pounds that people are living on many of the local comm depend on this, that many of the areas not in the park because the park was designed with terrestrial notions in mind, many of the critical areas are just on the other side of the park and as we saw yesterday, they were burning the land these patanos or marshes in order to cultivate clear areas, that¿s critical habitat for many of the big fishes here to spawn in and so those are really crucial areas and I was talking to one of the directors of the park and showing him the relationship of the types of fishes and the types of inundated habitats that aren¿t usually valued and then he was really excited and started to say well how can we extend the boundaries of the park and I said to him how can we work with the local peoples to make them understand the rel. between what¿s in their environment and their sources of food.

CJ: Tell me about this ecosystem¿

BC: right what were sitting on here is we¿re sitting on a rather steep hillside which is all limestone base and we can see the limestone - and at the base of this we have the forest coming down to this on the north side and on the south side by and large we have this large saw grass swamps - and um so its very unusual that way - its also an interesting area bc we have fishes from the northern zones extending as very far down as they can in to the tropics and we have tropical species from south america extending their way through central america north, so its an interesting mixture, we have a dry deciduous forest here -which is very unlikely - but what we also discovered here on this trip that people hadn¿t written about were varsia like forests, and varsia are these very famous inundated tree areas in south america, these lowland swamps¿these are critical areas because many of the trees come into fruit during the period of inundation - and depend upon the fishes to eat the fruit, swallow the seeds - and the seeds have to pass through fish stomachs in order to germinate properly, so there¿s a really close association between a lot of the forests right along the edge of the water as well as these marsh areas - and the fishes and this again isn¿t something that hasn¿t been appreciated as far north as Guatemala that¿s something that¿s been written about quite a bit for south america.

CJ: place is unique?

BC: Yeah it¿s very unique¿There are many different types of habitats that I haven¿t seen and many other places esp with the limestone mixed in with the mud and all of that¿and one of the things that we hope is that this will sort of spawn or make the beginning of a sort of long term ecological study of the terrestrial community and the aquatic community. It¿s a really good place to get a handle on mixing with both.

CJ: Tell me about what you¿ve found so far in terms of fish?

BC: well we think that in this region here we can document with certainty about fifty species living in the San Pedro area - and to date and we've only been collecting two days we¿ve collected about 25 species - and its a wonderful assortment of aquarium fishes and other types of things some of the fish just have spectacular colors the little cichlids that we see like the firemouth cichlid-we also caught another species of silver side species which I work n it was part of thesis studies and I¿m really excited about that bc of this species there were only two specimens caught back in 1935 and we¿ve collected two more so we¿re our job is to collect some more so that I can get that thing described. It¿s a wonderful thing we¿ve seen these bizarre primitive fishes these gar fishes¿these big long pike like things with giant teeth¿so its been really interesting¿we have two species of herring that live in the rivers or shads that are here, we¿ve also seen many mollies and relatives of guppy fish that are living in the water¿so really its an interesting mixture¿haven¿t exp this for about 15 years when I used to live in mexico and central america so it¿s good to see.

--CJ: anything that we missed?

--BC: let¿s see, anything we missed, um I know we can splice the tape.

--CJ:oh yeah, but I always ask the wrong questions.


1:37:32 I think one of the things¿(people talking)

--BC: hold on a second

BC: one of the most important things about this investigation, just look at the mix of people we just have a couple of scientists from Brazil here, scientists¿ and students - and one of the things that we¿re really trying to promote bringing young people into the fray and stimulating international cooperation among scientists of diff countries bc its going to be through that type of cooperation and information sharing that we¿re going to be able to do something vis a vis put together programs for conservation that can be extended into other areas as well as to provide people exp. In different countries, in diff types of habitats that they can look for when they go back home to their countries there are very few americans that participate in our AquaRAP program primarily bc we want people from other countries to feel ownership over the program.

Cj asking questions about difficulties of field biology¿seems like its such a diff way to do science when you could have done pharmaceutical research.

BC: This is me - I do this bc this is who I am I don¿t think I could have a desk job or just work in the laboratories, for me its being outdoors and getting the exp and seeing and learning the biology first hand, something about the ecology and then bringing it back to the laboratory and trying t make it live through the types of science we do but umm there are many things that I could do, but I have to do this, internally I don¿t have a choice unless I was physically impaired or despite the diseases I have and other people have had, but we keep coming back to this, for me this is my internal makeup¿ its really not about the pay, the food or the threats, it¿s just what I have to do to satisfy my own curiosity - there¿s a lot of the world that I want to see, the aquatic world and I want to understand how it works and unless I can put myself into that and see the living colors and hold them in my hand, I¿m never going to really understand it in a way that¿s important to me, so like a yoyo I keep coming back¿

--CJ: what are they doing over there?

BC: so just like a yoyo I keep coming back¿

BC: but another thing is - I¿m really curious about the natural world, I really want to understand where it came from and many of the exp and the studies we do in our lab is to try to understand how things are related to one another who their close relatives are and I think understanding those things gives us a good basis for understanding possibilities are for the future so very much I¿m just driven by the curiosity of how the world came to be and what its possibilities are for where its going to go and try and help others make the best decisions possible for maintaining these marvelous things. Fishes hold the history of the world inside their bodies inside the shapes of their bones, the colors of their scales the number of fins, the number of rays in their fins, the number of teeth in their mouth, the form of the teeth and you have to realize the power inside the org and it was the org that told bio very early that continents had to be connected together¿so those are the storytellers and its our job to pull out the info content from these organisms and and bring stories to light to learn learn from that we can learn from their morphologies and their genetics¿and whether they¿re under stress, whether they¿re changing, we will compare those fishes back to those collected in 1935 and what types of changes there are in their outward phenotypes¿and we can learn a lot about not only evolution but conservation from these things

AMBI for interview

talking in background

creaking sound, wind picks up, still talking in back

1:50:18 bug buzzing. again

1:58:02 moving around, someone moving something closer to others, more talking and laughing, closer voice

AMBI ends

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