Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

From Cleaning Fish to Cleaner Fish

By Stephen Luntz

Dr Alexandra Grutter has revealed the extraordinary importance of cleaner fish.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Few scientists get children’s books written about them, but Dr Lexa Grutter is an exception. Having grown up cleaning the fish her father caught, she went on to transform our knowledge of the role of cleaner fish on coral reefs. Author Sneed Collard turned her work into a picture book, On the Coral Reefs, as part of a series on the biological sciences in which Collard puts the scientists at the centre of the story.

Grutter says she was always interested in science, having a shelf for her collection of rocks, shells and birds nests – with more under the house. Her father was a fisherman in Alaska (although the family wisely spent their winters in Mexico). “As the oldest child I spent a lot of time cleaning fish, often stopping to examine their gut’s contents,” she says.

Grutter applied to study at the University of Queensland, but was discouraged by visa restrictions. Instead she studied marine biology at a community college in Hawaii and worked for several years as a scuba diving guide. She says: “I used to take the tourists to see the cleaner fish stations”.

From Hawaii, Grutter went to the University of California Santa Barbara, where students sometimes carried surfboards even while riding bikes. While tempted to return to Hawaii for her doctorate, Grutter decided to fulfill her lifelong ambition of coming to Australia and went to James Cook...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.