We have actively been cataloguing, maintaining, and curating a variety of museum collections over the past six decades. The specimens in the our marine biodiversity collection contribute to a wide range of scientific research and play a crucial role in undergraduate coursework.

Our research on the Southern California Bight one of the most spatially and temporally exhaustive specimen-based sampling programs in the region.

  • ~90% of species in the collection are marine fish from Southern Californi The other ~10% are from South Africa, Antarctica, Tanzania, France, Moorea, Australia, Burma, Ghana, Mexico, Greece, Panama, the Galapagos Islands, Croatia, and other states including Indiana, Hawaii, and New York.
  • The very first specimen was collected by the VRG in the Islas Revillagigedos, Mexico on August 25, 1946 - Schindleria praematura (Schindler’s fish) named for Dr. David W. Schindler of University if Alberta, Canada.
    • Schindleria praematura
  • VRG keeps voucher collections for each project that we work on that requires fish identification (San Diego Bay, Southern California Bight Otter Trawls).
  • Our deepest specimen is a deepwater eelpout (Thermarces spp.) that was collected by Dr. Goffredi in 2015 from the Gulf of California during a research cruise studying hydrothermal vents at 3,663 m depth.
    • Thermarces spp.
  • Our collection contributes to numerous undergraduate courses. In any given year, over 300 students are introduced to marine biology using our specimens.
  • This traditional fish collection has been used as a voucher collection for our various ecological and biogeographic surveys over the past 5 decades and as vouchers for our phylogenetic studies. We have described the life history of commercial and recreational percoid species from southern California, the Gulf of California and Eastern Pacific. These studies include surveys of croakers (Sciaenidae), rock bass (Serranidae), surfperches (Embiotocidae), and grunts (Haemulidae).
  • Our holdings have expanded the role of a traditional fixed and preserved fish collection into the fields of ecology, conservation, and restoration, all while remaining committed to vouchering whole specimens and associated tissues whenever possible


The collection was established in 1960 by John S. Stephens, Jr., faculty emeritus. Stephens and his mentee, Dr.  Dan Pondella, the current VRG Director, started working together on rocky- reef fishes in the eastern Pacific in 1985. Since its inception, the collection has continued to expand, resulting in the collection of over 686,000 marine fish and invertebrate specimens spanning nearly six decades.

John S. Stephens, Jr. Dr. Daniel Pondella






We are currently embarking on a project funded by the NSF to digitize our specimen collections. The digitization process is led by Research Assistant Zoe Scholz with the help of two undergraduate students. Parts of the collection are already available on Arctos and will be migrated to iDigBio in the future. Any researchers interested in utilizing the collection can do so at no charge, please contact us for more information.

Arctos MapOur marine fish, invertebrate, and plankton collection has been instrumental in supporting research efforts on a variety of taxonomic and life history studies. Thus far, dozens of papers have been published that have utilized the collection. However, the full potential for this collection to be used in scientific research has not yet been achieved. Officially, we have no formal statistics on loans or visitors, but the collection has proven itself valuable to the network of collaborators that are aware of it. In the past 5 years, five important manuscripts utilizing the collection have been published by VRG staff and by collaborators including Cal Poly Pomona, UC Santa Barbara, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. By migrating the catalog to an online database, the collection will become available to a broader research community. With the acceleration of global environmental changes, it is becoming imperative that researchers have access to long-term data and specimen series. By making these specimens and their associated data more accessible, we hope to increase research on the impacts of ocean warming and acidification on ecological communities. These are timely and imperative research issues that require immediate attention.

Explore our collection on Arctos
(Search under Collections: MLZ: Fish/Herb)