Member profile - Harry Rosenthal

As the person who writes the bio blurbs for the project, I hope readers will forgive me for writing this in the first person. It is too creepy to write about yourself in the third person. I have been asked to do a brief article on myself, so here it is.
Citizen Science projects often encompass participants from many generations. On one hand, we have several participants who are “digital-natives”, born to today’s world of the Internet and instant communications, who have adapted to the project’s technology with great speed. However, like many of my generation, I am a “video-native” born to a world where impressions were made and cemented by what we saw on the TV tube. For example, Newton’s Laws of Motion often slips from my memory, but I clearly recall almost every cereal jingle I ever heard as a child on TV. Even today, I recall which toothpaste 4 out of 5 dentists prefer. In summary, television in those early days, had a profound impact on society, especially in terms of how we viewed ourselves, our identity and our neighbours. For example, my father was a loyal fan of the show Sea Hunt. He bought clothing similar to Lloyd Bridges, wore his hair like Lloyd’s and even purchased Voit scuba gear, just like Lloyd’s. The irony was that we lived in New Orleans at the time, and the only body of water large enough to warrant scuba gear was Lake Pontchartrain, a brackish estuary, created by the Mississippi delta and on its clearest day, offered up to three inches of visibility. My first underwater exploration with scuba, was as a 10 year old, with my nose in a new universe of broken bottles and beer cans in this shallow, polluted lake of alluvial mud. Diving could only improve from there, but I was hooked on the underwater world by then.
Like several in the Australasian Fishes project, I aspired to become a marine biologist, but university-level chemistry and physics encouraged a career change. I switched to archaeology/anthropology, and worked for a few years in both land and marine archaeology in the US, the Middle East and Europe. Tiring of a life of poverty as this was well before Indiana Jones, like others of my generation, I sold out, got an MBA, and have spent my career in government, university and the private sector. As a corporate sell-out, I could afford to pursue my interest in underwater photography, starting with a Nikonos II, the only camera I never flooded. It was known as a 100% manual film camera, using large flash bulbs which would implode in your hand, below 5 meters. In the past, I worked in marine construction, underwater search and rescue, and today, while still employed in insurance, risk management and the university sector, I have the good fortune to live in Cronulla, NSW, a waterfront peninsula community offering quick access to varied water conditions on all sides. As a result, you will note, the vast majority of my photos were taken within a lazy kilometre or two of my refrigerator. The majority of my photography today is with a Cannon GX1 Mark ii, in the standard Cannon housing, while using a SeaLife Underwater video light for fill-in light when needed. I am currently on a hiatus from scuba, sorry Lloyd, and when conditions are right, I use a battery operated hookah diving system, which floats on the surface, 10 meters above me, providing air via a hose. The rest of the time is spent snorkelling.
I began seriously working with Mark McGrouther, Collection Manager, Ichthyology, Australian Museum, on the project which has become Australasian Fishes back in 2015, over numerous cups of coffee, making drawings on napkins, iPads and eventually on whiteboards. I was captivated by the power of citizen science and the willingness of so many people to generously donate their time to baseline scientific research. Secondly, I was impressed by the advent of GoPro’s marketing, where they simply asked their customers to post videos on the Internet, giving GoPro widespread free marketing for their product. After several false starts with trying to find agencies to develop in-house, bespoke software to provide the fish identification features we wanted, Mark came across iNaturalist, the world’s leading citizen scientist platform, operated by the California Academy of Sciences. As a video-native, I was sceptical, but quickly we saw that the software was free, battle-tested and had already built in 80% of the utility we’d sketched on our napkins. Since using the platform, the iNaturalist team in the US has worked with Mark to make it more user-friendly for our hemisphere, and we are very pleased with how the platform has operated to date. We are working on the remaining 20% utility at this time, so keep an eye on the journal section for future developments.
It has been very rewarding watching the project grow as it approaches its second birthday in August. There are two elements which stand out strongly for me regarding this type of citizen science project. First, Australasian Fishes is a record of a time and place, which will be extremely useful in the future. For example, if we look at climate change research today, along with satellite imagery and ice-core study, we see many scientists going back to review the weather entries in journals kept by Australian farmers dating back to the arrival of Europeans. It was very traditional for farmers to note in their diaries various aspects of the weather such as temperature, rainfall, etc. These records are proving to be extremely useful in the creation of models of past weather patterns and climate variations. Today, we often hear of “old timers” who say fishing patterns have changed over time. There were more fish and different fish many years ago than today. With photography and digital technology, we can, like the farmers 200 years ago, create accurate snapshots of the conditions around Australian and New Zealand. We can record with scientific precision today's situation regarding the health and distribution of marine fauna. This data, compiled by citizen scientists along with the data from government agencies, such as fisheries, will be useful in our understanding of changes in the oceans over time.
This brings me to the second point, the element of time. It may be some time before the data now being collected by Australasian Fishes actually reaches its full potential. While the project continues to make significant discoveries, see earlier Journal entries, I foresee that there will need to be developments in computer modelling, possibly involving artificial intelligence, before such large databases such as ours will significantly contribute to mankind’s knowledge of our nation’s oceans. In my mind, I suspect the person who will fully utilise the potential of the Australasian Fishes project, is probably in Year 5 at the moment, and will be at university when advancements in computing, AI and nature modelling have advanced enough to fully realise the database.
This is not just whimsy, but there is great present and future value in the project, and I am grateful for all contributors who have shared in the collection of this scientific bonanza, and for a B-class TV show from the 1950’s.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
PS. Harry does know that dolphins aren't fish. :) markmcg
Posted by markmcg markmcg, May 12, 2018 07:47



Thank you very much for writing this terrific profile @harryrosenthal. All those coffees and I didn't have half the story. I'm surprised that your early diving didn't leave a bad taste in your mouth, literally. Thank you very much for being such an ally from the start, back in the days of paper napkins and whiteboards. Yes, there is still much to do but please pat yourself on the back for helping to make it happen. It's greatly appreciated. :)

Posted by markmcg about 3 years ago (Flag)

Great work Harry. If I had to write my own bio it would probably go along the lines of - Likes fish, takes bad photos.

Interesting to learn about your back story, sounds like there's a book in there!!

Posted by sascha_schulz about 3 years ago (Flag)

Thanks all, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to work on something as worthwhile as this, with so many dedicated people.

Posted by harryrosenthal about 3 years ago (Flag)

Brilliant work. Harry has been instrumental in getting this whole thing up and running -- I really like the idea that it started life on the back of a napkin -- and look how successful it has become in just such a short time! Great work Harry, Mark, and all contributors. Hope you can get back to diving soon.

Posted by richardling about 3 years ago (Flag)

Also, great work on all the bios -- a pretty thankless task I expect -- so glad your story has also been heard too even if you had to write your own :-)

Posted by richardling about 3 years ago (Flag)

great profile Harry!!!Thanks for sharing!!!!

Posted by pam_darook about 3 years ago (Flag)

I'm finishing an essay on citizen science for my masters in this has been an inspiring read, thanks for sharing!

Posted by jordi_nz about 3 years ago (Flag)

I enjoyed reading about your background. The fridge should be everyone's point of reference. :-)

You mention a purpose for Australasian fishes project. I propose the following:

Contribute to the overall knowledge of marine environs,
to provide baselines from which changes (due to say climate change, pollution or over fishing) can be measured and
to educate the public on the variety, beauty and delicacy of marine species.

We could take on collaborative citizen research. What tropical species are found south during the summer and how long? What are the changes in the marine equivalents to canaries in a mine? (this may mean setting up another site to monitor non-fish species).
There are a few of us who would love to contribute.

Posted by fiftygrit about 3 years ago (Flag)

Love the bio, Harry. Bit too humble, I suspect, though we've not met in person (lucky you!).
One small point: you've made me question the origin of 'Bio' as it is applied to our species, and all I've arrived at after at least 2 seconds deep thought is: we should all remind those unfortunates less at one with the natural world that we ARE 'just another species', another part of the big jigsaw puzzle in the sea (and, oh, alright... begrudgingly on the land and in the sky).
It's all biology, isn't it? Or is that bio-illogical?? Apologies but then I always apologise and keep spouting this!

Posted by davemmdave about 3 years ago (Flag)

Hi @davemmdave, I had a very good chuckle over your post, thanks for the respite. I believe I know where you are coming from, and I think you've made an insightful point. I fully agree with you, but let me tell you about my one, small, nagging point, and that is I suspect we have improved our position on the leader board from "just another species". Technically, you are 100% correct, however, we seem to be the only species who has actually changed the planet, in ways such as ocean elevation, climate change, average temperatures, loss of wetlands, and all the other impacts which have taken thousands of year to develop. I have heard that some scientists regard our current time as new epoch in the history of the planet. We have moved from the Holocene to the Anthropocene Epoch. I like this view, not because I fully buy the theory, but I really look forward to the arguments about when the Anthropocene Epoch started. In any case, any specie which has an Epoch named after them, has to be in a class of its own, in my view.

Posted by harryrosenthal about 3 years ago (Flag)

Hi @harryrosenthal , All good, and I absolutely agree with you!

Posted by davemmdave about 3 years ago (Flag)

Nice to hear more of your back story Harry...and very glad that you Mark spent all that napkin and coffee time getting Australasian fishes off the ground!

Posted by lachlan_fetterplace about 3 years ago (Flag)

@harryrosenthal Sorry for the late comment, great bio and a truly awesome story. I love your photos, always submitting new and interesting things to the AF Project ! :D :D :D

Posted by henrick almost 3 years ago (Flag)

@harryrosenthal: I also like your discussion relating to "more fish and different fish many years ago than today"
@fiftygrit mentioned the idea of focusing on "tropical species...found south during the summer and for how long? "
Shelly Ocean Swimmers Project Participants are also very interested in this.
As we swim nearly every day in the Cronulla area, we are well suited to record changes over time. For example at Bell Place in Gunnamatta Bay we see the same 3 Schooling Bannerfish and the same Humbug fish in the same location every time we swim there.(Also Threadfin Butterfly fish and Vagabond Butterfly fish) Also at Darook we see Moorish Idols near the wharf at Fisheries. We will all be fascinated to see this winter if they all survive. Before we started Inaturalist a year ago we didn't take such precise notice of dates and species..but now thanks to this terrific Inaturalist Citizen Science Program, we can now record our observations with certainty and observe changes. We will keep you posted about our tropical fish species. Thanks Harry and Fiftygrit for raising this important point about observing changes over time. Thanks to you Harry and Mark and all the other people involved in setting up the Australasian Fishes project. Thanks also to the amazing Identifiers who help us every day with our Observations. This is great bio as it tells us about Harry and also raises important issues. Thanks!!

Posted by pam_darook almost 3 years ago (Flag)

Wonderfully said @pam_darook. Thank you very much for your encouraging comments. I'm delighted that Australasian Fishes is proving to be such a useful platform for you and the Shelly Ocean Swimmers. :)

Posted by markmcg almost 3 years ago (Flag)

Add a Comment

Sign In or Sign Up to add comments