Otolith: in the ear of the fish

Manly Dam Project

Otolith: in the ear of the fish uses a series of drawings in ink and soot to map the unseen adaptions over time in the behaviour of the Climbing Galaxias (Galaxias brevipinnis), a native fish inhabiting Sydney’s Manly Dam and its connecting waterways. Ecologists have learned about the migratory patterns of this fish and its growth, age and life history through decoding their otoliths – calcified kidney-shaped ringed structures inside the fish’s head that lay down a pair of translucent and opaque bands every day.

An ancient fish, the Climbing Galaxias existed before the splitting up of Gondwana between 60 and 120 million years ago. It is believed to be the species from which other native galaxias evolved and is the only remaining galaxias inhabiting the Sydney area. In past times it migrated between the sea and fresh water, the suction of its strong pectoral fins allowing it to climb heights of 10 metres or more. When Manly Dam was built in 1892, the Galaxias became landlocked. It has since adapted to spawning in the dam.

In the drawings the body parts of the Climbing Galaxias are layered and fused with other imagery: scientific diagrams, engineer’s plans for the Dam and snatches of text. This new narrative incorporates marks made with materials from the dam itself – water, wood, sedges and casuarinas.

Research for this project evolved through swims in the dam, walks around it taken with friends, and exchanges with dedicated local activists, archivists, rangers, engineers, scientists and ecologists from Australia and New Zealand.

Otolith: in the ear of the fish was exhibited in the Manly Dam Project at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum in Sydney.

Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney
paper, charcoal, pencil
Documents | PDFS
1. Catalogue - Manly Dam Project