Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science

Degree Name

Marine Science

First Advisor

Rosanna J. Milligan, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Paul Arena, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Philip Matich, Ph.D.


Sciaenidae, Otolith, Morphology, Growth, Elliptic-Fourier, ShapeR


Sciaenids are a diverse family of coastal fishes and their fisheries are an important industry in the United States. In the northern Gulf of Mexico this industry is dominated by six species, specifically, red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), black drum (Pogonias cromis), spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus), sand seatrout (C. arenarius), Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus), and spot (Leiostomus xathurus). Sagittal otoliths of all species were evaluated for changes in size and shape in relation to changes in fish total length and age across a variety of seasons and habitats. Evaluation of otolith morphology was done through computer-aided image analysis, specifically the R package ShapeR, and conventional shape descriptors. Results showed there were strong ontogenetic changes in otolith size and shape in all species. Otolith length and width were among the best predictors of fish total length in all species. Furthermore, otolith size metrics (i.e., otolith length, width, perimeter, area and mass) were used to determine the fish species with high accuracy (95.2%). Otolith shape was not a great predictor of fish total length nor species identification, as the development of protuberances on the surface of the otoliths over the lives of the fishes induced a wide range of shape complexities. The results provide a preliminary framework for using otolith morphology to evaluate the fish size and age in sciaenids and how the environment impacts their otolith morphology. This work is the first of its kind to be conducted on sciaenids in the northern Gulf of Mexico and improves upon our biologic and ecologic knowledge of these socioeconomically important fishes.