Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, 14(3):361-369, 2004. Paper abstract bibtex
Otoliths, or 'ear stones', are calcium carbonate structures found in all vertebrates. In teleosts, they have a number of sensory functions, including hearing. Daily growth increments of these structures have permitted advanced age and population studies of teleosts. Whereas 'normal' otoliths are composed of crystals imbedded within a protein matrix as aragonite, a 'crystalline' form of calcium carbonate termed vaterite is also found. A review of the otolith literature demonstrates a significant level of understanding of the structure and function of otoliths, but the cause for crystalline otolith structure remains speculative. Pairs of otoliths from hatchery and wild juvenile and adult coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) were examined visually for determination of otolith microstructure type. The vateritic or crystalline otoliths were found in much higher percentages in juvenile hatchery-reared coho salmon than in juvenile wild coho salmon, supporting previous studies. There did not seem to be any negative impact on size or survival. There was also no correlation between crystalline otoliths and premature maturation in coho males. A preliminary study of adult coho salmon returning to Big Qualicum and Chilliwack hatcheries showed even higher ratios of vateritic otoliths than observed in juveniles.