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WHO WAS CHARLES HENRY GILBERT?


Charles Henry Gilbert (1859-1928) was a pioneer ichthyologist and fishery biologist of particular significance to natural history of the western United States (Fig. 1). He collected and studied fishes from Central America north to Alaska and described many new species. Later he became "the" expert on Pacific salmon and was a noted conservationist of the Northwest (Dunn, 1996a; Dunn, 1996b; Dunn, 1997).

Born in Rockford, Illinois, on 5 December 1859, Gilbert spent his early years in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he came under the influence of his high school teacher, David Starr Jordan (1851-1931).4 When Jordan (Fig. 2) became a Professor of Natural History at Butler University in Indianapolis, Gilbert followed and received his B.A. degree in 1879. Jordan moved to Indiana University, in Bloomington, in the fall of 1879 and Gilbert again followed, receiving his M.S. degree in 1882 and his Ph.D. in 1883. His doctorate was the first ever awarded by Indiana University.

Jordan and Gilbert explored the streams and rivers of Indiana and the southeastern United States in the late 1870s and described a number of new fishes. In 1879, Jordan was asked by Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823-1887), Commissioner of the U.S. Fish Commission, to undertake a survey of the fisheries of the Pacific Coast of the United States. Jordan took leave of absence from Indiana University, chose Gilbert as his assistant, and headed west to San Francisco, California, in December 1879. Their pioneering one-year survey of fishes of the West laid the foundation for nearly 50 years of study of Pacific fishes and fisheries by the team of Jordan and Gilbert (Pietsch and Dunn, 1997).

By the time Gilbert received his Ph.D. degree at the age of 24, he was the author or co-author of over 80 scientific publications, most of them as junior co-author with Jordan. Gilbert served at Indiana University from 1880-1884, first as instructor, then as Assistant Professor in Natural Sciences and Modern Languages. In 1884, he accepted the Professorship of Natural History at the University of Cincinnati, in Ohio, remaining there until December 1888. In 1889, Gilbert returned to Indiana University as Professor of Natural History.

Jordan became President of Indiana University in 1885. However, in 1890, Senator and Mrs. Leland Stanford chose Jordan to be the founding president of a new university to be established in Palo Alto, California, in memory of their deceased son, Leland Stanford, Jr. Among Jordanís first appointments to the new faculty was Charles Henry Gilbert to serve as the Chairman of the Zoology Department.

Gilbert then began a career at Stanford University that spanned nearly 37 years. He concentrated on Pacific fishes, mostly marine, and participated in numerous expeditions aboard the U.S. Fish Commission Steamer Albatross. These cruises included three to Alaska, two off California, and one each to the Hawaiian Islands (Dunn, 1996c) and the Japanese Archipelago (Dunn, 1996d). As a pioneer descriptive ichthyologist, Gilbert described, either alone or with others, about 117 new genera and 620 species of fishes.

Around 1909, Gilbert turned his attention to the study of Pacific salmon and soon became the foremost expert on these economically important fishes. He studied salmon from California to Alaska, but concentrated his efforts on British Columbia (from about 1912 to 1921) and Alaska (from 1918-1927). He was the first scientist to correctly apply the scale method to aging of Pacific salmon, he pioneered racial studies using scales, and he was instrumental in establishing tagging programs on salmon in Alaska. He was the first to confirm the "home stream" theory to spawning salmon. Additionally, he was also one of the very first scientists to consider the population dynamics of northwest stocks of salmon (Dunn, 1996a).

In his later years, Gilbert became an outspoken champion of the need for conservation of Pacific salmon, warning all who would listen that this resource was in dire jeopardy unless over-fishing was curtailed. His world view was far ahead of his time and he urged the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to instigate data collection programs for Alaska salmon.

Always formal and proper and a man of high moral standards, Gilbert nevertheless was a demanding person with a sharp eye and an even sharper temper. He supervised the graduate studies of several ichthyologists and fishery biologists who became notable in their field, among them William Francis Thompson (1888-1965) and Carl Levitt Hubbs (1894-1979).

Gilbert died in 1928 at the age of 68, but he has been remembered and honored by ichthyologists and fishery biologists for his many contributions.5 In addition to the "Gilbert Ichthyological Society" discussed here, a United States Bureau of Commercial Fisheries research vessel was commissioned in 1952 as the Charles H. Gilbert. In 1991 a building at Stanford University was named the √ęCharles Gilbert Biological Sciences Building." In 1998, the SAFS was the recipient of the "Dorothy T. Gilbert Endowed Ichthyology Research Fund," established by the wife of William Woodruff Gilbert (1921-1995), the late grandson of Charles Henry.

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