The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: A weekend at the Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society Conference with the ‘bowheads.
Peter J. Unmack
Setting out on Sunday the 20th of August 1995, I embarked on a three week fishy tour of the United States. The purpose of the trip was to visit various fish people that I had made contact with since arriving in the USA and to attend the Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society Conference that was acting as a host to several clubs including the RSG. As I was taking off from Sacramento airport for Phoenix, I began to wonder what lay ahead. I had little idea of what to expect, or what I was going to be doing precisely. Needless to say I was a little excited. The first week was spent out in the field chasing Apache trout in the White Mountains of Arizona with Dr John Rinne, a scientist with the US Forest Service. Sunday I moved onto Chicago to visit Roger Klozek, the conservation curator at the Shedd Aquarium for a couple of nights. From there I flew to Columbus to visit Doug Warmoults, curator of fishes at the Columbus Zoological Gardens. I was fortunate to have met both Roger and Doug at the Desert Fishes Council back in November 1994 in Death Valley. At Columbus Zoo, as part of their conservation program, they have an attractive tank of Lake Eacham rainbows (Melanotaenia eachamensis), thanks to the efforts of Kevin Hosmer (new Rainbowfish Times editor) some years ago when he lived there.
Thursday morning it was off to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I had a few dramas with the Greyhound bus. Firstly, I arrived at the terminal just as the bus was due to leave (don’t you just hate those people who always arrive late and hold everyone up!). At our first stop, I popped over to Kmart to buy a drink and some tucker (Oz for food). The cash registers were a little slow and by the time I wandered out the bus was starting to pull away. Fortunately it stopped for me (I was the second last person to get back on!). Gary Lange [RSG chairperson and the one who dragged me here] would have been most pleased having to wander around downtown Pittsburgh wondering where the hell I was (and it wouldn’t have been the first time he has done something like that either! Hi Gary!). Anyway, four hours later I arrived, and after meeting with Gary it was off to the hotel. Since we didn’t know exactly how to find the hotel we stopped off for directions. The guys wanted to pick up some grog (Oz for liquid substances containing alcohol), so we also inquired as to where the beer store and liquor store were. It was wonderful to have finally made it to Pittsburgh. It had been one of those planning nightmares. Gary had emailed me every month since I had arrived in the US (September 1994) asking me to confirm. For a long time, I was unsure if I was going to still be in country by September 1995. Once I confirmed that I would be here, something else came up and I was unsure again. Thankfully, Gary is a patient person and I was finally able to make it. It was great to be able to talk Aussie fish on the same wavelength to a bunch of US rainbowphiles. It was going to be a pleasant change to all those boring cichlidophiles back on the west coast! :-) (Sorry guys.) It was one of those conferences where I virtually knew only five people (none of which I had met in person). It was introductions, introductions, and more introductions. Too many new faces and names for me to absorb in one go. The official number of folk at the conference was 180, although many more turned up for the mega auction. Almost as soon as we arrived at the hotel it was straight into talking fish, fish, and even occasionally more fish. It was great! The rainbowphiles schooled shortly after for dinner (around seventeen of us). We caught a lift from the hotel courtesy bus to another nearby hotel which apparently had a good banquet dinner, only to find they discontinued it some time ago (I don’t remember whose brilliant idea that was! Do you Cary?). Eventually we settled for dinner across the road from our original hotel. By now I had finally met Dr Gerald and Connie Allen for the first time. At least they were “almost” Aussies (even if they are still sandgropers [Oz for Western Australians]). I could still detect a slight American accent, however they did have the Aussie slang down pat (both migrated from the US over twenty years ago). After dinner, Roy Hunter (RSG party animal) and I played the unofficial ANGFA vs RSG pool championship (I forgot to tell him we were playing for sheep stations). Needless to say, ANGFA (Australian New Guinea Fishes Association) took the title with ease. Just in case Roy ever tries to deny it, I have witnesses too, Julie Zeppieri (enchanting RSG fishhead) and Chris Drew (RSG breeder extraordinaire).
I arose at 8am and set about putting my slides together as I wanted to catch Dr Robert Goldstein at 9.45 with his entertaining talk on North American native fish. They suffer pretty much the same image as Aussie fish in Oz, few people keep or pay attention to them. Next up was Dr Allen with two presentations on collecting in New Guinea and Irian Jaya. What a lucky fella he is to go tripping around the jungle! Wouldn’t you all love to do that? Just think, you too could catch malaria, then slip and stab yourself down to the bone on a spire of limestone, and better still, get that infected and still be several days away from proper medical attention. That would really give me a buzz doing that sort of collecting. That island really has some magnificent scenery, rivers, lakes, and fishes. The highlight for me was his tale of the discovery of a blind gudgeon (Oxyeleotris sp.). Pretty amazing stuff. My only complaint was that he showed too many stinking rainbowfish pictures! Need more of those magnificent gudgeons and gobies. :-) Following that, I was in the spotlight with a blurb on Aussie desert fishes. Lee Finley spoke next on loricarid catfish. Lee Finley is Mr Catfish; I am surprised he hasn’t grown whiskers yet. I doubt there would be few around who could match Lee’s knowledge of catfish. Saturday night was the conference dinner and the ‘bowphiles were schooling together and fooling around (luckily they were not spawning freely like rainbows do, despite the efforts of some!). Sherry Taylor (RSG renewals), along with a few other folk, almost missed dinner as they had the fortune of being stuck in the lift between the fifth and sixth floors! Needless to say they had a wonderful time up there! That night, it was fairly amusing to watch Cary Hostrawser (a Yankee) and Carl Taylor (a Southerner) (both RSG fishcrazies) arguing about whether the North or the South was better in this respect or that respect. They just couldn’t help themselves! Just like two people arguing about whether Melbourne or Sydney has the best weather (Melbourne does of course!).
Sunday was a pretty relaxing day. The mega auction took up the better part of it for most people. It gave me a chance to look through the fish show. They only had around 680 entries! There were ninety six fish classes as well as plants and other miscellaneous categories that brought the total number to one hundred and thirty five! Now that’s a big show. There were all sorts of weird and wonderful fish displayed along with the more popular aquarium fishes. The rest of the day was spent talking and catching up with newly met ‘bowheads and other fish folk. Most of the less dedicated RSG fish heads left Sunday evening, leaving a core group of four remaining (myself, Roy, Chris, and Cary) to talk more fish.
The final week of the trip was spent in Canada, back in the real metric world again, yippee! Chris Drew had kindly offered to drive me the five hours back to London where I was able to check out his wonderful fish and catch a two hour train to Toronto. I was visiting some folk at the University of Toronto who have done considerable work on Canadian springs. After two nights it was off to Ottawa to catch up with both Rob Huntley to talk fish conservation, and Dr Brian Coad. Dr Coad has spent considerable time working on Iranian desert fish. Man that is a radical looking place, Death Valley eat your heart out. There are some really neat killifish in the genus Aphanius that live in springs there. Friday was back on the train again for the eight hour trip to Detroit. Scott Buckels [retired Rainbowfish Times editor] had suggested that I visit him to see the Water Wonderland Show which was put on that weekend by five local Michigan clubs.
Sunday was back to the “real” world again after a seven hour flight home to Sacramento. All in all it had been a terrific trip that I am unlikely to repeat for a long time. For all of you who couldn’t make it out to Pittsburgh, all I can say is you missed a superb time. For me, none of this would have been possible without the tremendous efforts of the Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society for putting on a fantastic conference. My thanks also go to the Rainbowfish Study Group of North America for generously sponsoring my trip to Pittsburgh. Gary Lange deserves special thanks for all his efforts and patience to get me there. Finally I would like to warmly thank all the other kind folk who invited me into their homes, fed me, gave me a bed for the night, and drove me around. I look forward to repaying the favors.
Reprinted from The Rainbowfish Times, Journal of The North American Rainbowfish Study Group. Volume 9(2):12-15. 1995.