Dr Jack Randall

Eulogy, composed by Jeff Leis

Dr John E Randall, universally known as Jack, one of the world’s outstanding ichthyologists, passed away on 26 April 2020 at age 95. He was one of the first scuba diving fish scientists, and focused his research on fishes living on coral reefs.  He produced over 900 journal papers and books on all aspects of reef-fish biology, with more in press at his death. To date, Jack is responsible for naming (often with co-authors) 30 genera and 834 species of fishes new to science, most of which live on coral reefs.  This prodigious output made Jack the most prolific describer of coral-reef fishes in history.  Given his uncompleted collaborations, it is likely another 20-25 species will eventually have been described by Jack Randall and his collaborators.  This is all the more remarkable since Jack discovered and collected such a high proportion of these new species himself while diving in coral-reef waters world-wide.  Fittingly, he was the first winner of the Pieter Bleeker Award for Systematic Ichthyology, awarded only every four years at the Indo-Pacific Fish Conference (IPFC).  The award is named after Bleeker, a 19th century Dutch physician, who described a very large number of fish species, mostly from what is now known as Indonesia.

The IPFC is proud to have been able to recognize Jack’s outstanding work, and below we repeat the presentation speech for the First Bleeker Award presented to Jack Randall at the 7th Indo Pacific Fish Conference in Taipei in 2005.  The speech text was prepared by Kent Carpenter with input from Rich Pyle and Jeff Leis, all former students of Jack, and presented by Kent Carpenter [note that data on Jack in the speech are up to date as at 2005].

 More about Jack Randall and his adventurous career can be found at the following:

David W. Greenfield (2001) Historical Perspectives: John E. Randall. Copeia: August 2001, Vol. 2001, No. 3, pp. 872-877. https://doi.org/10.1643/0045-8511(2001)001[0872:JER]2.0.CO;2

Jeff Leis
(With thanks to Rich Pyle for information on Jack Randall’s publications)

Memorial Page

Click the link below to visit Dr. Jack Randall’s Memorial Page

Photo Gallery

Presentation of Bleeker award to Dr Jack Randall at the IPFC, 2005

Presentation text by Dr Kent Carpenter

 I have the honor of introducing the first recipient of the First Bleeker Award in Indo-Pacific Ichthyology. For his lifetime distinguished accomplishments and outstanding contributions in the study of fish systematics in the Indo-Pacific region: This award goes to none other than Dr John E. Randall.

I’ve known Jack for about 30 years and the only true lament I ever heard him say was: “My only regret in life is that I was born after Pieter Bleeker”. The idea, of course, if Jack had arrived in Indonesia at a time in history prior to Bleeker, that Jack would be at the top of the list in terms of numbers of fish species described, instead of Bleeker. Then this would be the first John Randall award that we would be giving out to who knows whom.

But History has it otherwise. In fact, in our time, there is no more appropriate recipient of the Bleeker Award in Systematics than Jack Randall.  Bleeker himself was a man of undaunted energy and remarkable intellect.  He channeled these qualities into ichthyology primarily in Indonesia, in a region where more fish species exist than any place else on earth, at a time when only a fraction of the species were known to science. The giants of systematic ichthyology built their reputations at a time when a small percentage of total fish species were described.  Bleeker ended up describing 1,994 species, more than any other ichthyologist.

Jack’s accomplishments are no less impressive.  Similar to Bleeker in terms of boundless energy and keen intellect, Jack adds an indomitable spirit of underwater adventure. Unlike in Bleeker’s time, Jack mostly has to hunt for increasingly rare new species, spending long hours underwater.  This has required fearless and intelligent use of SCUBA, the ability to recognize all known species, and skill in capturing the elusive valuable specimen.  In these, Jack has no equal.

Above water, he applies the other traits that earn the reputation of a productive scientist: attention to detail and accuracy, sleuth in search of truth, and dedication to publication. 

In terms of productivity, superlatives are insufficient; the numbers speak for themselves.  Jack has described (to 2005) a total of 607 species.  This places him as number 15 on the all-time list of authors of fish species.  However, all those above him on this list had the distinct advantage of working at a time when there were still many species unknown to science. Jack sits at the top of the list in terms of ferreting out remaining undescribed species and in one other notable category: coral reef species.  He described 582 coral reef fishes with only Bleeker coming close to this with 537.

To be fair, Jack had one other big advantage aside from SCUBA that Bleeker lacked: photography.  Jack invented an excellent method of taking photos of newly collected dead specimens. This, together with superb underwater photographic ability has helped him communicate new discoveries and the diversity of coral reef fishes.

I would like to close this introduction with a small excerpt from a poem about Jack Randall that was authored by John Earle.

Jack’s modesty cannot be silenced
He builds upon the works of giants.
Karl Linné of Systema fame
Gave fish (and himself) a Latin name.
French poissonists flocked to science’s aid,
Cuvier, Quoy, Gaimard, Lacépède.
Deutch fischwissenschaft marched as well
Mit Bloch, Schneider, Günther, und Rüppell.
With what they had some went quite far,
Like David Jordan, super-Starr.

 But greatest was Pieter Bleeker
Who must have got help from der Maker.
Our wise Dutch doctor’s justly famed.
Five hundred coral reef fish named
From fishes bought from fishermen,
Studied and drawn, descriptions penned.
From Java to the Celebes
He missed few species in the seas
With dry-boot ichthyology.

 So things remained a century
Till now with new technology,
A kindred soul saw Bleeker’s vision,
And dove in to complete his mission.
In fact, it might be fairly stated
Pieter’s been reincarnated.
Who is this masked man?  Here’s a clue:
His name has seven letters too.

It is altogether fitting and appropriate that the first Bleeker award for fish systematics go to Jack Randall.