Posted by: 1000fish | May 5, 2020

Requiem for Dr. Fish

Dateline: April 26, 2020 – Honolulu, Hawaii

It is with great sadness that I report that Dr. Jack Randall, a true giant of the ichthyology world and one of the great heroes of my species hunting quest, passed away on April 26. He was 95 years old. Dr. Randall, who never let me call him Dr. Randall in emails – he was just “Jack” – described and named 830 fish species in his lifetime. That’s over 2% of all known fish, and that number will undoubtedly rise as the scientific community goes through his numerous papers that are still pending. In the taxonomy world, he is Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky rolled into one. Notice Tom Brady doesn’t get mentioned here, because all of Dr. Randall’s pufferfish were fully inflated.

Dr. Jack Randall – 1924-2020.

Jack at work. Yes, I’ve caught everything in the picture, except a diver.

My fish ID library is jammed with his books, and there aren’t nearly enough in there, so I just bought a few more.

The latest Randall book to join my collection. This one is sort of a romance novel, because that’s a Harlequin Tuskfish on the cover.

These are tomes, hefty “go-to” fish bibles for when you’ve caught some off-brand hogfish in the Maldives and it doesn’t fit anything in the tourist guides you buy at the airport. This is dorsal spine and anal ray counts, opercles and caudal peduncles, vomerine patches and premaxilla, and where VIII + I,20-22 actually means something. Dr. Jack Randall was the man who made me study and love science – something I spent my entire college career avoiding.

I know this one pretty much page-by-page.

By no means are these works of dry academia – many of the entries have hidden nuggets of humor. One of my personal favorites is in Reef and Shore Fishes of the Hawaiian Islands, under the Yellowmargin Moray – “Divers who repeatedly feed morays often have scars on their hands from feeding that did not go as planned.”

A yellowmargin moray from Kona.

Other remarks speak to the risks taken to document a species. The Undulated Moray account contains the following observation – “More prone to bite than most morays. (One I was trying to photograph underwater lunged out to bite my camera housing.)”

Martini with an Undulated Moray. It repeatedly tried to kill him.

I was first introduced to Jack’s works by Wade and Jamie Hamamoto.

A day so wonderful that even Jamie couldn’t ruin it.

We were on some perfect North Shore beach together, well into the evening, right about the time when Wade and I would start talking about pizzas. The conversation turned, of course, to fish. I asked about the differences between two flagtail species, and they both said, “You have to get Dr. Jack’s book.” I’m pretty sure they stuck a copy of it in my tackle bag the next morning, and I’m even more sure Jamie put a dead crab right next to it.

A few years later, I was stuck on a parrotfish ID, as many of us often are, because juvenile parrotfish are the next worst thing to tilapia for IDs. In a fit of desperation, I actually emailed Dr. Randall. This was the functional equivalent of asking Arnold Palmer for advice about the windmill on your local miniature golf course. But he responded. He responded quickly, set me straight on the ID, and opened up an occasional correspondence that went on for many years. Over time, as he retired and focused on writing his memoirs, he made sure to refer me to many experts in his network, such as Dr. Jeff Johnson, who is a superstar in his own right. Jack and I always talked about getting a drink when one of us was in the other’s neighborhood, but alas, time flew by and it never happened. I regret this as much as never seeing Roger Barnes play music.

In the time since I first opened one of Jack’s books, those books, plus the emails and correspondence with other academics Jack sent me to, have helped me identify 311 fish. That’s over 16% of my 1919 total species, tied to the efforts of one man. Of my 206 IGFA world records, 108 of them were identified with resources from Dr. Randall. I love to read these books – they are a source of inspiration for future trips, and are especially treasured now while we all can’t travel.

A record surge wrasse. I had initially thought it was a Christmas wrasse – Jack gently corrected the ID. 

Marta also will occasionally read the books. She especially enjoys the section on the red coronetfish, which, she reminds me almost daily, she has caught and that I probably will never catch.

Oh, how I hate this picture.

Thus, it does not always bother me as much as it should when she trips on the pile of Jack’s books I keep near the bathroom door. It happens in the middle of the night, when she stops snoring long enough to go take a Sudafed, but somehow thinks she is being redeemingly considerate by not turning on the light. I wait, and seconds later, we get the sound of a heavy book being kicked into the door by a curiously large foot and a loud “$%@&!!! WHO THE #%$& PUT THAT THERE??” I pretend to stay asleep and smile quietly in the darkness.

Marta’s first world record, a Peppered Moray, was also identified through one of Jack’s books. (And some detective work by Dr. Alfredo Carvalho.)

Did I mention I broke her record two days later? You can read the details in “The Eels of Justice.”

John Ernest Randall Jr. was born on May 22, 1924, in Los Angeles, California. He took an early interest in the ocean, and after a stint in the US Army during WWII, he graduated UCLA with a zoology degree in 1950*. In 1955, he earned his ichthyology PhD from the University of Hawaii. He held positions at the University of Miami and the University of Puerto Rico before returning to Hawaii in 1965. In 1967, he started working for the Bishop Museum and, though he officially retired in 2009, he continued to describe species – I would guess just for the fun of it.

Dr. Jack Randall.

In 1951, he married Helen Au, and she was his lifetime partner both at home and in the scientific world. She frequently assisted him on expeditions and with manuscripts. Helen’s commitment to her work can be summed up in single sentence from Reef and Shore Fishes of the Hawaiian Islands. “Helen Randall received a wound from the preopercular spine of this species in Moorea and experienced severe pain, indicating the presence of a venom.” In addition to his wife, Jack is survived by two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Through his entire career, he visited and dove hundreds of exotic locations, braved unknown and sometimes hostile wildlife, and established a career so legendary that he became known as “Dr. Fish.”

On Fishbase.org, they give “Randall” as the example in the author search.

Although he never sought out attention for himself, his accomplishments meant that the scientific community was going to recognize him. At the moment, there are at least 51 species — and two genera — that reference him. One of my favorites is Randall’s Snapper, which Captain Dale Leverone has caught and I haven’t.

At least Jamie hasn’t caught one.

I look at all of this, and I see a life well spent, a life that has inspired countless others, including myself, and a life that has made us all more aware of the wonders we know and have yet to know in our oceans. (If we can manage not to destroy them.) In his honor, I am setting a personal goal to catch at least 10 of the fish named after Dr. Randall. Whoops – I should have called him Jack.

Thank you and God bless you, Dr. Fish.

Steve

 

*Biographical facts in the sections above were pulled from the obituary written about Dr. Randall by Christie Wilcox of the Washington Post.


Responses

  1. A great report … congratulations from red Sea Egypt .
    B R to Queen Marta .

  2. Thanks Steve.
    That was a great story about a great man. Dr. Randall was such a legend and yet he was so humble. He quickly answered questions that Jamie asked no matter how many times she emailed him. I have nothing but respect for that man. Hope to see you soon buddy. Getting tired of being caged up like a old animal.

  3. Thank you very much for sharing this. I devoured his books as a kid and your post brings back a flood of fond memories. T


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