Fish Tale

By Alice Phillips

Science teacher Blaise Eitner was fishing off of the San Diego coast for rockfish specimens on a research vessel when the captain of the boat decided he wanted to fish with the scientists. He came down and stood next to Eitner, getting ready to throw in his short rod and dinky hooks. Eitner told him he wouldn’t catch anything with it because it would not reach the bottom, but nevertheless the captain cast his line. Suddenly, the line pulled taut and the captain reeled it in. When he pulled it out of the water, there was a bright red rockfish on the end of the line.

Eitner immediately recognized that the rockfish the captain had caught was not indigenous to Southern California waters and was a species he had never studied before. He photographed it before the red and white speckled fish could discolor, took a DNA sample, and froze the rockfish for preservational purposes.

Although he had to document the fish and write reports in several scientific journals in order to validate the discovery, Eitner was sure that this was a new species of rockfish.

“I had to undergo the long, laborious task of making sure this wasn’t already known to science,” Eitner said. “I had to make sure it wasn’t a stray rockfish from somewhere else.”

The Sebastes Moseri, Eitner’s red rockfish with white speckles, was the first rockfish to have DNA data included in the description of the species.

At the time, Eitner was working for the National Marine Fishery Service lab and was in search of a university career, replete with both research opportunities in the Marine Biology field.

However, Eitner came to Harvard-Westlake through his wife, then girlfriend, middle school science teacher Tara Eitner, and began substituting the Marine Biology classes rather frequently due to the teacher’s declining health. At the same time, he started getting university offers.

“I went from rags to riches, in that not only did I have one offer [from Cal State University at Long Beach] but I had this extra thing from Harvard-Westlake,” Eitner said.

Eventually, Eitner abandoned the possibility of a university career and took the offer to teach high school students about his childhood passion, marine biology.

“I wasn’t dealing very well with the pressures of research,” Eitner said. “I was pretty much consumed by it. I wouldn’t be thinking about the moment. I think I’m a better father and husband as a result [of not taking a university offer].

“I’m more of a people person. Research is a pretty lonely job,” he said.

Eitner’s marine biologist past remains with him even now in his Munger 106 classroom, where he can be found feeding, cleaning, and maintaining all of the fish and fishtanks.