The Ichthyology Collection began as part of the general Vertebrate Collection when the Museum was established in 1854 and the first director, Frederick McCoy, acquired highly significant material from Australia and overseas.
The collection now contains over 450,000 specimens in more than 45,000 lots. Represented are around 4,000 species of fishes (sharks, rays, chimaeras, jawless and bony fishes) as well as representatives of the lancelets (primitive chordates belonging to the subphylum Cephalochordata). More than 38,000 lots are Australian fishes, including approximately 9,700 lots of freshwater fishes. The type collection contains around 720 lots.
The majority of the collection is comprised of formalin fixed specimens stored in 70% ethanol. Sub-collections include ethanol fixed cryogenically preserved tissues, larval fishes in 70-95% ethanol, specimens initially fixed and stored in 95% ethanol, historic mounted specimens and dry skins, dry skeletal material and cleared and alizarin stained material. Associated with the specimens are data, images, X-rays, illustrations and literature (including field notebooks).
The Ichthyology Collection is one of the oldest and most significant fish collections in Australia, representing 150 years of acquisition from a wide variety of sources. It contains the world's most diverse and comprehensive collection of fishes from marine, estuarine and freshwater environments of southern and south-eastern Australia and includes the largest single collection of Victorian fishes. Other strengths include the deep-water collections, including tissue samples of many rare deep-water species. Taxonomic, evolutionary and biogeographic research is encouraged and the collection is used by many Australian and overseas researchers through both actual visits and the loaning of specimens.
The Ichthyology Collection is the legislated repository for fish specimens collected in Victorian waters. It provides information on the composition and changing distributions of not only Victorian fishes, but of the whole Australian fish fauna over the past 150 years. Taxonomic and distributional collection data contributes significantly to a range of scientific and policy issues, including Australia-wide fauna conservation. The Type Collection has been acquired over the full life of the Museum and provides the ultimate reference for a significant number of Australian species.