Fish out of water
Zeb Hogan's Monster Fish exhibit comes to Discovery Museum
When telling tales of really big fish, Zeb Hogan is one of the few fishermen in the world with no need to exaggerate. Hogan, a Reno resident and host of Nat Geo WILD’s Monster Fish television show, travels Earth in search of the world’s largest freshwater fish, and is now bringing his work home to Nevada in the form of a museum exhibition.
The exhibition, titled Monster Fish: In Search of the Last River Giants, will be displayed at the Wells Discovery Museum from Nov. 14 to April 24, 2016. The interactive exhibit includes life-sized sculptures of giant fish from around the world, video from Hogan’s show, photos, interactive games that visitors can play to learn about how fish biologists do research, and more.
“It’s a culmination of 10 years of work and research on these large fish,” said Hogan, a research assistant professor for the University of Nevada, Reno College of Science. “It’s the only place you can go and in one location learn about these different fish that occur all over the world.”
Freshwater fish around the world face threats from overfishing, habitat fragmentation, dams, pollution, invasive species and climate change, says Hogan. Large fish face additional challenges, such as higher vulnerability to overfishing and habitat fragmentation. “About 70 percent of them are endangered,” Hogan said. “Big fish need more habitat, and they’re targeted first for harvest because they’re worth more money.”
To locate the world’s biggest fish, Hogan keeps his eyes and ears open for stories. He begins by searching for studies that other scientists have published, then he looks to newspapers. “A lot of times when there’s a big fish caught, even in Australia, or Asia or South America, it’ll be in the newspaper,” Hogan said.
Once he has narrowed down a region where big fish might be found, Hogan travels to the area and often visits fish markets, where he talks to local fishermen. “People tell stories about big fish,” Hogan said. “A lot of these big fish are so rare now that they don’t show up in markets a lot, but fishermen still tell stories. I’ll talk to a fisherman, and he’ll say, ’Oh yeah, three years ago, this guy who lives 20 miles down the river caught this big fish,’ and then I’ll actually go find the guy.”
The Monster Fish exhibit includes models of a 20-foot long Freshwater Sawfish, an Arapaima, a Goonch, a Giant Carp and a Mississippi Paddlefish. Each model is life-sized and biologically accurate, and hand-crafted by Gary Staab of Staab Studios in Missouri.
“We put [Staab] in touch with biologists and scientists from other parts of the world,” Hogan said. “He would go back and forth sending drawings and sending small sculptures, and asking whether or not the sculptures looked right, until he had something that was realistic.”
Monster Fish was an exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in D.C. from March through October. Reno is the first stop on the exhibit’s traveling tour. Getting it here required support from Hogan, the staff at The Discovery museum, the College of Science at University of Nevada, Reno, National Geographic, and members of the local community who fundraised.
“It’s been something that a small group of us have been working on for a long time. I’m hoping that a lot of people will come and enjoy it,” Hogan said.