Dr. Jack Randall – Hawaii’s Renowned Fish Scientist

MikeSevernsDiving Diving on Maui, Marine Life, People in diving 7 Comments

Scuba Dives on Dr. Jack Randall’s 90th Birthday

This past week, as you may have heard, former President George H.W. Bush celebrated his 90th birthday by jumping out of a plane, performing his 8th skydive. But did you know that here in Hawaii, a locally well-known septuagenarian marked his 90th by scuba diving? Dr. John E. Randall, former Curator of Fishes of the Bishop Museum and member of the Graduate Faculty in Zoology of the University of Hawai’i, was taken for the dive by former student Dr. Richard Pyle from the dive boat of good friend Dr. Gordon Tribble. He even shared the dive off Waikiki with two of his grandchildren, Sandra and Sean!

Jack's 90thdive3

Dr. John E. Randall after a scuba dive with his grandchildren on his 90th birthday

Dr. Randall, or “Jack” as he is known, has led an incredibly rich and adventurous life, so the fact that he dived on his 90th birthday is actually not that surprising. As a 26-year old, Jack built and then sailed his 37-foot ketch from California to Hawaii where he earned a PhD in Zoology. He married Helen Au, also a graduate assistant in Zoology. They sailed the ketch with daughter Lori (age 2.5) to Tahiti for research on fishes with support of a research fellowship from Bishop Museum and Yale University. While an assistant professor at the University of Miami, he directed a marine biological survey of the Virgin Islands National Park, followed by four years at the University of Puerto Rico as a Professor of Zoology and Director of the Institute of Marine Biology. He returned to Hawaii in 1965 as Director of the Oceanic Institute for a year before becoming the ichthyologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Jack’s long career has resulted in the description of 731 valid new species of fish, more than any ichthyologist in history! At 90 he continues to describe and write about fishes, and this year will publish his 14th guidebook on fishes, entitled Coastal Fishes of the Red Sea with a Russian and a German as coauthors. It includes all the fishes of the Red Sea to 200 m (total 1072 species).

More exciting however is his soon to be published memoir, Fish ‘n’ Ships! I have had the opportunity to read much of it, and while I can’t talk about it just yet, I will say that it is a page-turner. Jack has packed so many adventures (and close calls!) into his life, and he has lived through so many interesting periods in US history that I could not put it down. The book should be published before the end of 2015.

by Pauline Fiene

Comments 7

  1. On field trips in his late seventies, Jack would still to 6 dives a day, then stay up half the night preserving and photographing his specimens. On one expedition Rich Pyle, then one of Jack’s students, tried to match him dive for dive, but soon gave up!

  2. I’m sitting next to Jack right now in his home office, and we’re working on his Memoirs (now on the slow, tedious process of aligning all the images with the text just so). Most of the corrections I’m entering for the text right now are from Pauline’s EXCELLENT review of a draft copy (THANK YOU, PAULINE!!). Jack and I were just reminiscing on the expedition that John referred to. It was in 1993 in the Solomon Islands, and Owen McMillian and I were the two “young bucks” (aka students) on the ship. Owen and I decided we would match Jack dive-for-dive. On the first day, we actually did SEVEN dives to keep up with him (I remember for #6, I just wearily put a tank on and sat under the boat. #7 was the most miserable night dive of my life…) After only two days of this, I had a fever and Owen was likewise exhausted, and we both took a full day off from diving, then resumed a “normal” 3-4 dives thereafter. Jack kept up the 6-7 dives/day pace (plus HOURS photographing specimens each night until the wee hours of the morning) for the entire two weeks of the trip. On the very last day, as we needed to pull anchor and head back to Honiara in time to catch our flight home, Jack was the last one still in the water. Bruce Carlson was sent out to fetch him, and brought down a hand-written sign that said “The boat is leaving.”

  3. The age difference between Jack and his “young buck” divers never mattered. In 1970 Jack lead a National Geographic expedition to the South Pacific aboard the Westward. Jack was in his late 40’s and his divers were in their early 20’s but Jack still made more dives than anyone aboard. Jack compounded his ego bust of the twenty something’s by keeping us awake each night until well after midnight while he ran the ships generator to photograph his beloved fish! Happy Birthday Jack!

  4. While on a dive boat at Bunaken, Indonesia I was relaying this story today (7/12/15). Two Indonesian divers from Minanga Divers (Manado) said they met Jack on one of his dives here. We & they are thrilled yet not surprised at his accomplishment of diving at 90. The shop has his book for sale and is so very proud, as I am, to have the privilege of knowing Jack. I look forward to the release of memoirs!! Aloha

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