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John Edward Olney, Sr. (1947–2010) Author(s): Eric J. Hilton , G. David Johnson , Edward D. Houde , and Robert J. Latour Source: Copeia, 2011(2):332-341. 2011. Published By: The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists DOI: URL:

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Copeia 2011, No. 2, 332–341

John Edward Olney, Sr. (1947–2010) Eric J. Hilton1, G. David Johnson2, Edward D. Houde3, and Robert J. Latour1


OHN EDWARD OLNEY, SR. passed away on the evening of Monday, 11 January 2010, at his home in Gloucester, Virginia, after a year long, bravely fought battle with cancer. Through this ordeal, John maintained his gentle demeanor, generosity, sense of humor, and love of fishes—and his passion for teaching students about them. In a long and productive career, John was highly regarded for his contributions to zooplankton ecology, ichthyology, and fisheries science. He was especially known for his contributions on the early life history and evolution of fishes. John’s many special qualities made him a uniquely wonderful and unforgettable individual, who enriched the lives of all who knew him. John (Fig. 1) is survived by his wife, Lee Larkin, his son John Olney, Jr. and daughter Susan Olney, his brother Willard ‘‘Buddy’’ Olney and two sisters, Sylvia Kelley and Amelia Hellman, and one grandson, Andrew Blatnik. John, the third of four siblings, was born to Willard and Ruth Olney in Newport News, Virginia on 6 April 1947. The Olneys had moved to Newport News from Alabama during the Great Depression, when Willard found work as a shipfitter for Newport News Shipbuilding. John’s mother worked in the administration of the Newport News school system. As a young boy (Fig. 2), John was curious—often mischievous—and it was at a young age that he developed his wonderful sense of humor. For example, when he was about eight years old, he and a friend ‘‘captured’’ his friend’s mother and tied her up in the attic of his friend’s house. After being held captive for some time, and being unsuccessful in her attempts to get them to release her, she was able to convince John and his friend to give her ‘‘one phone call,’’ which she used wisely, by calling John’s father to come set her free. John’s response: a hearty laugh, the same one enjoyed by those around him for the rest of his life. His brother and sisters recall several instances where John’s curiosity ended with destruction of personal property, usually theirs! At about the age of five, John was found one early morning playing outside with his brother’s baseball, freshly signed by Willie Mays, who had played a game at Ft. Eustis the day before. By the time Buddy realized that John had taken his baseball, the prized autograph had been washed off in the morning dew. Buddy also lost the boat that he had built the summer before college to the hands of an 11-year old John, who, following a series of ‘‘experiments’’ making rockets from matches and aluminum foil, burned down the family garage, along with his brother’s boat. As Buddy recalls, ‘‘No matter what surprise lay in store, you could never be angry with him, because he enjoyed and explored life so much.’’ John’s family gave him an aquarium for Christmas, when he was about eight years old. ‘‘I think this may have been the beginning of his love of ichthyology,’’ recalls his sister


Sylvia. John attended Homer L. Ferguson High School in Newport News, where Sylvia was teaching. He and a friend would frequently stop by her classroom after school asking her to drive them to their favorite aquarium shops in Norfolk. On one such trip, John bought several Silver Dollars (likely a characid, genus Metynnis) for his aquarium. The next morning, to his surprise, all of the vegetation had been stripped from the tank—eaten by his new ravenous and, as he learned, vegetarian fish. He took this blow to his aquarium in stride—everything became a learning experience. Some classmates remember John as having ‘‘radiated gentle humor, kindness and a strong sense of ethics,’’ recalling that he was one of the ‘‘good guys,’’ and a ‘‘super student with a great personality.’’ His kindness, though, was sometimes hidden by his playfulness and chiding, and no one, not even his sister Ame—16 years his junior—was spared. When he was a senior in high school, the Olney family hosted an exchange student from Egypt named Amr Arafa. John would crawl around on his hands and knees and pretend that he was a lion, roaring at Ame, which of course, caused her to cry. Amr would have to reassure her, saying ‘‘don’t cry, Ame, he’s just a friendly lion.’’ After he graduated high school in 1965, John spent a year at Randolph-Macon College before he and his college ‘‘parted ways.’’ John then worked for a short time as a pipefitter’s helper in the Newport News shipyards before he enrolled in the College of William & Mary, from which he graduated with his Bachelors of Science degree in 1971 (his son, John Jr., remarked, ‘‘I forget which aircraft carrier he said had the better pipes for sleeping on . . . I think it was the JFK’’). The following year, he taught biology at York High School in Yorktown, Virginia. John was employed at VIMS as an Assistant Marine Scientist in the Department of Biological Sciences in 1972 and began his master’s degree program under the guidance of George C. Grant in 1974. At this time, John worked on a NSF Research Applied to National Needs (RANN) project headed by Grant concerning distribution of zooplankton in the Chesapeake Bay. His M.S. research focused on the species composition, seasonal abundance, and spatial distribution of ichthyoplankton in the Lower Chesapeake Bay (Olney, 1978). At his master’s defense, Grant gave a humorous introduction, describing John’s ‘‘appearance’’ at VIMS and the development of his thesis topic; this introduction is included in the bound copies of his thesis and was highly regarded and greatly enjoyed by John. ‘‘He kept overhearing the word ‘thesis’ being used by other graduate students,’’ Grant wrote, ‘‘and finally came to my office to ‘splain’ it to him. Using familiar terms and fish eggs as an example, I told him that a student looks at the eggs through a microscope for awhile, sits back and ‘thinks on it’ for an even longer time, then writes about it . . . John started looking at fish eggs from our two

Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William & Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062; E-mail: (EJH); and (RJL) 2 Department of Zoology, Division of Fishes, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box 37012, National Museum of Natural History, MRC 0159, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012; E-mail: 3 University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, P.O. Box 38, Solomons, Maryland 20688; Email: DOI: 10.1643/OT-11-004 F 2011 by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists



Fig. 1. John Edward Olney, Sr., taken in 2008 at VIMS. Photo by Ashleigh Rhea (VIMS).

years of monthly collections from the lower Bay.’’ Thus began John Olney’s research and contributions to ichthyology and the early life history of fishes. The 1970s was a time of particularly active interest in the biology of fishes at VIMS, and many VIMS graduate students during that decade (particularly students of Jack Musick and George Grant) went on to establish active and renowned programs in the ecological and evolutionary biology of

fishes. Jeff Govoni recalls this time at VIMS and meeting John in August 1974. At the time, ‘‘John worked in a cottage on the old VIMS campus known as the ‘Salp House’ . . . a zooplankton sweatshop, and the ‘fish heads’ were all crammed into another sweatshop on the other side of campus, which consisted of a converted machine shop on US highway 17, the so-called Rowe Building.’’ John Olney spent a lot of time in the company of the fish heads, and


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Fig. 3. John Olney with a large red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), c. 1980. Photo courtesy of the Olney family.

Fig. 2. John Olney in his family garden in Newport News, Virginia, c. 1957. Photo courtesy of the Olney family.

Govoni likened ‘‘Rowe Building to the Pacific Biological Laboratory of Cannery Row because of all of the shenanigans that went on there—John played a major role in many of these.’’ John was appointed to the faculty of VIMS as an Instructor in 1979 in the Department of Biological Sciences, and was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1982 (Fig. 3). Due to institutional reorganization, John was moved to the Department of Physical Sciences for about five years, before moving back to Biological Sciences. It was during his time in Physical Sciences that he began work on his ‘‘plankton camera.’’ Much of his research during this stage of his career centered on ichthyoplankton of the Chesapeake Bay. At the time, a Ph.D. was not required of VIMS faculty at the Assistant Professor rank, but when those requirements changed and he was informed that he would be limited in his teaching and mentoring activities because he lacked a Ph.D., John responded by taking a leave of absence to enter a Ph.D. graduate program and complete a dissertation at the University of Maryland under the guidance of Ed Houde. John brought maturity, good humor, and a wealth of knowledge on early life history of fishes to Ed’s lab, which he shared willingly. John’s dissertation was titled Community structure, smallscale patchiness, transport and feeding of larval fishes in an estuarine plume (Olney, 1996), and built upon his longstanding interest in the ecology of larval fishes (Olney, 1983; McGovern and Olney, 1988; Olney and Boehlert, 1988; Govoni and Olney, 1991).

Soon after completing his dissertation and his ‘‘return’’ to VIMS (though in fact he never really left, because when he had moved to Maryland to complete the required course work, he still regularly returned to VIMS to keep tabs on his staff and ongoing research programs), John made his final interdepartmental move from Biological Sciences to the Department of Fisheries Science. Upon the retirement of a Fisheries Science faculty member in 1998, there was a void in the leadership of the Anadromous Fishes program at VIMS, which focused on monitoring the population status of alosines (specifically American Shad, Alosa sapidissma, and to a lesser extent river herrings, A. aestivalis and A. pseudoharengus) along with Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) in the Virginia tributaries of Chesapeake Bay. John was asked to lead this program, which he brought to new levels of visibility and productivity during his 12 years of supervision. In 2004, John turned over the Striped Bass component of his program to a fellow VIMS faculty member so he could focus his efforts on American Shad research. John would openly joke about his transition to overseeing fish monitoring programs as his ‘‘movement to the dark side of fisheries science’’, but in truth, he deeply enjoyed this component of his professional life and took great appreciation in the fact that the work of he and his students was being directly infused into the fisheries management and policy making process. John’s service to college governance was extensive and included appointments to the Academic Affairs, Planning and Resources and Executive committees of the College of William & Mary Faculty Assembly. Within the School of Marine Science/VIMS, he served as Chair of both the Academic Council and Educational Policy Committee and was a member of many committees, including the Academic



Status and Degrees, Library Advisory, and Admissions committees. John served as Chair of the Department of Fisheries Science from 2006 to 2009. Outside of VIMS and the College of William & Mary, John was active on many fronts of professional service, including serving as President of the Tidewater Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (1999) and Associate Editor of the Early Life History Section of AFS (1997–1998) and as a member of the editorial board of Southeastern Naturalist (2001–2009). He was a long-time member of AFS and ASIH, and his ASIH service included participation on the Raney Award Committee (1997–2000). He served as an advisor to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). From 2000–2009, he was the Virginia representative to the ASMFC Shad and River Herring Technical Committee, serving as chairman in 2002–2004. He also served the ASMFC as a member of the American Shad Stock Assessment Sub-Committee (2004–2009) and the Striped Bass Tagging Group (1997–2003). In recognition of his many contributions, John was awarded the 2008 Meritorious Service Award by the American Fisheries Society (Tidewater Chapter). FOR THE LOVE OF FISHES John was often heard to say that he thought of himself as a fisheries biologist who, on occasion, would ‘‘dabble as an ichthyologist,’’ or even that ‘‘I live vicariously through my ichthyology colleagues.’’ This was said with his characteristic humility. In truth though, John was an accomplished ichthyologist, and two groups of fishes in particular, the oarfishes and their relatives (Lampridiformes; Fig. 4) and the pearlfishes (Carapidae), captured his imagination and attention. Many of his papers concerning these families (13 on lampridiforms and 13 on carapids) specifically dealt with the morphology and identification of their early life stages. However, he had a deep knowledge of their morphology generally and used this to evaluate their evolutionary relationships. Doug Markle, his longtime collaborator on the morphology and systematics of the Carapidae recalls the entry into this line of study: ‘‘John had a funny way of asking for help. Around 1974, when we were in graduate school at VIMS, he strolled up to my desk with a vial. ‘Douglas, you need to help me identify this larva.’ The larva had been collected during one of Jack Musick’s slope trawl cruises. While Jack’s crew was busy slopping through mud for macrourids, George Grant’s crew (John and Fred Jacobs) stayed clean, the ‘alphas’ lording over the ‘epsilons’ who worked in the mud. Alphas, like John, wore clean clothes and ‘caught water’ (the epsilon’s phrase for plankton tows), and a recent one had included the odd-looking larva. I don’t know why he knew I needed to help him, but the larva was the pearlfish, Echiodon dawsoni, then undescribed, and a member of a family of fishes we had never seen off Virginia. His request—or demand—that I help led to several papers, a revision of the family, the most rewarding professional collaboration of my career, and one of the most fulfilling friendships in my life.’’ John’s monographic study of the Carapidae, authored with Markle (Markle and Olney, 1990), built upon earlier work (Gordon et al., 1984), which was published as part of the Ahlstrom Symposium volume (Moser et al., 1984), and the resulting classification of this family has been widely adopted (Nelson, 2006). John had a second paper in the so-called ‘Red Book’ on the

Fig. 4. John Olney with an opah (Lampris guttatus, VIMS 11900) landed in 1997 at Amory’s Seafood in Hampton, Virginia. Photo courtesy of the Olney family.

development and phylogeny of Lampridiformes (Olney, 1984). His work on the anatomy and systematics of lampridiforms continued and culminated in his contribution to the ‘‘Percomorph Symposium’’ (Olney et al., 1993), which provided a morphological analysis of the family-level relationships among these fishes. John took pride in being an expert on these fishes, because they are particularly difficult to work with, because each family is highly derived in its own peculiar way, and specimens are fragile and often damaged in collecting. John was held in high esteem for his knowledge of and ability to identify the larval stages of teleostean fishes. His expertise was not limited to ‘‘his’’ groups of fishes, but was broad-based and stemmed from his general interest in larval ecology and his appreciation of plankton generally. He contributed to extensive taxonomic chapters in regional guides to larval fishes as well as primary descriptive studies on a wide array of fishes, including tripterygiids, dactyloscopids, and labrisomids (Cavalluzzi and Olney, 2005), blenniids (Cavalluzzi and Olney, 1998; Cavalluzzi et al., 2005), callionymids (Olney and Sedberry, 1983), clupeids (Olney, 1983), sciaenids (Olney, 1983), moronids (Olney et al., 1983), and cynoglossids (Olney and Grant, 1976), as well as numerous papers on the larval stages of Carapidae (Olney


and Markle, 1979; Markle and Olney, 1980; Markle et al., 1983; Gordon et al., 1984; Govoni et al., 1984; Olney and Markle, 1986; Trott and Olney, 1986; Olney et al., 2000; Olney, 2003a, 2003b, 2005a) and Lampridiformes (Olney, 1984, 2003c, 2005b; Olney and Naplin, 1980; Olney and Richards, 2005). As an alumnus of the now-famed Early Life History course taught by Elbert H. ‘‘Ahlie’’ Ahlstrom, John was a staunch proponent of the interplay between systematics and early life history. In 1986 he was awarded the first annual Sally L. Richardson award from the Early Life History Section of the American Fisheries Society for his presentation on the ontogeny and systematics of the pearlfishes. John was also an outspoken advocate for considering the fundamental importance of systematic and taxonomic ichthyology in applied fisheries biology. This advocacy was expressed in many ways, including his published admonition of the consequences of sloppy taxonomy by fisheries biologists (Olney, 2003d). Together with good friends, Jeff Leis and Muneo Okiyama, John co-organized a symposium at the 1995 meeting of the Early Life History Section of the AFS in Sydney, Australia titled ‘‘Fish Larvae and Systematics: Ontogeny and Systematics.’’ In the introduction to the published proceedings (Leis et al., 1997), they reflected on the status and role of ontogeny in understanding the systematic relationships of fishes, noting that most of the attention was directed at groups with highly specialized larvae; in their words, researchers were ‘‘skimming the cream.’’ They posed the question, ‘‘So, what is the future of the use of ontogeny in groups of fishes that have unspecialized larvae?’’ They saw both reasons to be encouraged (many young researchers participating in the symposium) and disappointment (no established systematists without a prior track record in the use of ontogeny in systematics could be convinced to join the program: ‘‘no ‘old dogs’ decided to learn new tricks’’). Despite the difficult and laborious tasks needed to work with larvae to address questions of systematics and homology, many requiring specialized training in dissection and identification of ‘‘minute nubbins of developing cartilage and bone that are usually overlooked by reasonable people’’ (our emphasis of John’s thinly-veiled, lighthearted jab at Dave Johnson), ontogeny is a powerful, yet still underutilized force for systematic ichthyology. John echoed these themes again and again in both formal and informal settings, including the classroom, and now, 27 years after the initial call to arms set forth by the Ahlstrom Symposium, the ‘‘ontogeny police’’ have lost one of its most respected sergeants. It now falls on a new generation of students, many of whom John supervised as an influential teacher, mentor, and example, to carry forward his vision of the integration of ontogeny and systematics. John was a well-respected expert on the biology and conservation of American Shad (Alosa sapidissima). In 1994, a state-wide moratorium on commercial and recreational fishing for American Shad was put into place by the VMRC out of concern for declining stocks in Virginian waters. Concern about the decline in landings of American Shad along the Atlantic coast had prompted the development of an interstate fisheries management plan under the auspices of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Management Program (ASMFC, 1999). In response, John significantly expanded the VIMS American Shad monitoring program to include sampling of adult fish during their spawning migrations in

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the major tributaries of the Virginia portion of Chesapeake Bay. This program mimics the same fishing gear and locations as those used in the shad roe fishery, for which historic commercial fishing log books from watermen working the James, York, and Rappahannock rivers were donated to VIMS. These log books allow for direct comparisons of current stock status to those during periods of active fishing. John designed this program in part to provide compliance to the federally mandated fishery management plan, but also to provide a platform for studying the ecology and biology of American Shad, reflecting his full appreciation and expertise of both the pure and applied aspects of fisheries science. Based on data collected from this monitoring program, John, together with students and other collaborators, published more than 25 peer-reviewed papers on American Shad (Maki et al., 2001, 2002, 2006; Olney and Hoenig, 2001; Olney et al., 2001, 2003, 2006a, 2006b; Bilkovic et al., 2002a, 2002b; Olney, 2003d; Olney and McBride, 2003; Walter and Olney, 2003; Wilhite et al., 2003; Hoffman and Olney, 2005; McBride et al., 2005; Hoffman et al., 2007a, 2007b, 2008; Hoenig et al., 2008; Walther et al., 2008; Aunins and Olney, 2009; Tuckey and Olney, 2010), with several more in press or in review at the time of his death. This is in addition to the hundreds of pages that John and colleagues authored as annual reports for this and other fisheries programs, as well as contributions to stock assessments (ASMFC, 2007a, 2007b). The shad program that John established has served as the basis for eight theses and dissertations (Aiken, 2000; Bilkovic, 2000; Maki, 2000; Hyle, 2004; Aunins, 2006; Hoffman, 2006; Upton, 2008; Tuckey, 2009), all supervised by John. John served as the principal advisor to the VMRC and the ASMFC on decisions related to shad management in Virginia. A key highlight of John’s tenure as ‘‘Virginia’s shad man,’’ to use his terminology, came during the permitting process for the construction of the Mattaponi River–King William Reservoir, which was to serve as a large scale supply of potable water for residents of Newport News, Virginia. Because of the work of John and his students and colleagues on American Shad reproductive biology, distribution of associated ichthyoplankton, and habitat utilization of young-of-the year fish, John was able to convey to VMRC and ASMFC that the proposed location for the reservoir was at the heart of the spawning grounds and areas of productivity for American Shad in the York River. John was very proud of the fact that research from his lab played a significant role in shaping land use, and although he maintained strict professionalism and objectivity during his testimony on this issue, John was secretly pleased that the reservoir project failed and that the ‘‘American Shad resource won the battle’’ (Olney et al., 2006a). In 2003, John was awarded the American Fisheries Society (Tidewater Chapter) Conservation Award for his work on fisheries conservation. John also is well known for his fundamental contributions to understanding factors that control reproductive success in Striped Bass. His collaborative research with other professionals and students explored relationships between recruitment success and abundance of zooplankton prey and fish predators with respect to survival of Striped Bass larvae (McGovern and Olney, 1988, 1996; Grant and Olney, 1991). John’s research was the first to reveal that spawning events by Striped Bass are synchronized with temperature spikes in Bay tributaries (Olney et al., 1991). He also


collaborated in efforts to analyze tag–recovery data to estimate annual survival rates of Striped Bass in the Rappahannock River, despite the fact that the models and estimation procedures used to derive those rates employed a fair amount of ‘‘flute music’’ (Latour et al., 2001a, 2001b). Less known are John’s explorations into development of optical technology to sample plankton. He developed a sampler that utilized in situ silhouette photography to successfully sample and identify estuarine plankton, including fish larvae (Olney and Houde, 1993). Other duties and interests diverted John from following-up on that development, but the success highlights the breadth of John’s skills and interests. Despite all of his scientific accomplishments and the respect he had garnered from his colleagues for his research and knowledge of fishes, John’s sincerity and humility were remarkable, and garnered the trust and friendship of many local watermen with whom he worked closely. MENTORING STUDENTS AND TEACHING ‘‘LARVAL FISHES’’ John was a beloved and respected teacher and mentor, who served as the major advisor for 20 theses and dissertations (seven masters and 13 Ph.D.s) and as a committee member for an additional 31 students (22 masters and eight Ph.D.s). Many of John’s later students were members of the ‘‘shad group’’ at VIMS and concentrated on various aspects of the ecology, fisheries biology, and restoration of American Shad in Virginia waters. More extensively, however, John was a confidant for countless students at VIMS and beyond. John had a special way of challenging students and colleagues, alike, both as a way of gauging a person’s knowledge but also their potential and seriousness. Patricia Crewe, John’s longtime lab technician and close friend, remembers him frequently coming into the lab where students and staff were sorting and identifying fish larvae. He would zero-in on someone and casually ask in rapid succession, ‘‘So, what is it that you are looking at? Really? How do you know? Are you sure?’’ Particularly if the questioned individual was correct, John’s questions would continue and become more critical and argumentative: he took great joy in trying to have his ‘‘victim’’ begin to second-guess themselves. He wanted to see people stick to their guns and above all to have them be confident in what they knew. Troy Tuckey remembers John as ‘‘a jovial and challenging advisor. He fully supported students, academically and financially, from the first moment that you joined his group. By allowing students to explore opportunities that may not be directly related to their research, he fostered a passion for learning that I will continue to draw upon throughout my career. John recognized that students thrive under different levels of involvement from their mentor, and he had the ability to let students run with their ideas if he felt they had things together, while holding others back and offering more guidance, if he knew they needed it. Personally, John showed me that you can be demanding and still show compassion—that you can have high expectations and do so with a smile.’’ Sally Upton, one of John’s recent master’s degree students, recalls a point of time early in her program when things on her project and experiments weren’t going very well and it seemed that her project was not going to work out. John’s calm reassurance and persistence helped her keep at her project. When positive results finally began to come in, and an elated Upton showed the data to John, his remark was something to the effect, in a playful way,


‘‘You don’t know how many nights I lost sleep because of you!’’ Through this whole period of time he never gave the slightest hint that he ever questioned the project and was busy trying to come up with back-up projects for her. At VIMS, John taught or co-taught several courses, including the introductory courses Marine Fisheries Science and Coastal and Estuarine Processes, Issues, and Investigations, and had a wonderful ability to smoothly and clearly deliver lectures that students appreciated. In 1983, John developed a course on larval fishes, which, over the years broadened and became his passion. For more than a decade he pondered over how a version of this course could be brought to a broader national and international audience. With his persistence, this wish came to fruition, and from 2005 to 2008, when he teamed up with Ed Houde to teach a unique summer course, the Early Life History of Marine Fishes, on the campus of the University of New England. For that course, John steadfastly built an extensive and unrivaled teaching collection representing larvae of 145 families and used it to demonstrate to students the remarkably diverse specializations that have evolved to allow larval fishes to thrive in the plankton. In 2005, John joined Dave Johnson to explore the extensive larval collection at the National Museum of Science and Nature in Tokyo. Dave fondly remembers their ‘‘two kids in a candy store’’ adventure (likening the trip as a whole to a scene from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels) and how excited John was to be able to add 33 families to his teaching collection for the course. John taught the course with great enthusiasm and passion for larval fishes. Troy Tuckey recalls, ‘‘to really see John at his finest as an instructor, you would have needed to take his larval fishes course. John would reign over the lab section of the course passionately describing the evolution of fishes and explaining the relationships among the reference material he accumulated over the course of his career. His desire to teach was so deep that he would allow students to handle the single representative specimen of a family in his collection, despite the potential risk of damage that might result. When I took the course, the temperature in the classroom hovered around 38uC for a week. Dripping with sweat, yet still smiling, John stayed beyond the official end of lab each day, so that students had the chance to ask questions and receive guidance.’’ He combined his profound expertise and knowledge with entertaining stories. Nalani Schnell recalls that after the first afternoon identifying leptocephali, she told her Japanese friend about this first day of class, who told her that in Japan some leptocephali are eaten raw in a salad or in sushi. Knowing what a gourmand John was, Nalani told him about this and he became so excited that he searched for a picture of this rare dish and added it to his lecture about leptocephali. Among many things, it was the little details like this that made his lectures above all so easily accessible and enjoyable for students. Many of the more than 65 alumni of this course have cited it as a career and life changing experience. Nalani says that this course had a tremendous impact on her research and career. ‘‘John supported students, including me,’’ she says, ‘‘and believed in them, no matter where they came from, as long as he sensed interest and passion. He made a difference because he cared.’’ John’s approach to student education stands as a model to emulate, and his skill and dedication as an educator were recognized in 2005, when the American Fisheries Society (Tidewater Chapter) recognized him with its Excellence in Fisheries Education Award.


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Fig. 5. Jack Musick (left) and John Olney (right) cooking at the annual VIMS Faculty Seafood Fest, 2006. Photo by Sally Upton (VIMS).

LEGACY Scientifically and academically, John’s place in the history of ichthyology is secured by the results and contributions he made to the understanding of the biology of fishes from both basic and applied perspectives. The unique larval fish collection that he built together with the course itself and his lecture notes and course guide are remarkable products and sources of information, and will remain as important parts of his legacy. As he wished, his lab notes are being synthesized for publication by Nalani Schnell and Dave Johnson. More far-reaching are John’s contributions to the future of ichthyology through his tireless, passionate training and education of students, both those directly working with him as advisees and all the others he touched as a confidant. Sally Upton recalls, ‘‘I always admired his commitment to my education and future plans. When I was working for him after finishing my degree, I remember being nervous about going in to discuss my plans to take an informal education position rather than continue with research. He was completely supportive and told me that education was important and it was a good field.’’ Students played a vital role in John’s life, and he ensured his continued support of them by establishing a growing endowment for student research in ichthyology at VIMS. To those who knew him, John Olney will perhaps be best remembered, and missed, for his infectious laugh, which seemed to lift ceiling tiles and rafters with not only its volume but frequency. His deep, smooth, and gentle voice, with his thick southeastern Virginian drawl, could be sharply punctuated by a bright laugh, often accompanied by a knee slap or an affectionate pat on the back of whomever might be closest by. The drawl, though certainly not unique, seemed somehow special when the two-for-one syllable words rolled off his tongue: shaayyud (shad), striped baayyus (bass), saayud (sad), and one that has stuck with Dave Johnson since the early 1990s, when John was continually asking him ‘‘Suun (Son), are you sure Stahhlifferous (Stylephorus) is a lampridiform?’’ Friends, family, and colleagues valued his culinary talents. For many years, he

Fig. 6. John Olney and peacock bass (Cichla sp.) during a trip on the Rio Negro in January 2002. Photo courtesy of the Olney family.

cooked for VIMS students at their fall fundraiser (a pig-roast, which turned into an all-day affair and usually an all-day party), as well as for the VIMS and William & Mary faculty at their annual seafood fest (Fig. 5). For many, he was a committed and trustworthy friend. Doug Markle recalls ‘‘John drove a thousand miles to Canada to be my best man. On that trip I learned of John’s sense of responsibility. On the way home, he stopped for a lunch of steamed mussels near Bar Harbor, Maine. After a devastating attack of food poisoning in the car, accompanied by total embarrassment in front of his future wife . . . the responsibility for the event was clear. Every telling of the story in my presence was highlighted by the emphatic statement, ‘The sacrifices I make to cover your sorry butt!’ followed by a laugh and ‘but I love you anyway.’’’ John had a deep appreciation of natural history, and his skills and knowledge as a naturalist transcended his expertise of ichthyology. He loved the outdoors, and his hunting and fishing (Fig. 6) served not only to feed his taste for game meat, but also allowed him time to observe nature. Springtime brought the promise of morel mushroom hunting in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with good friends at his side, a ritual that he practiced for over two decades (Fig. 7). Dave Johnson remembers, ‘‘Each year when spring came, I knew that I would be spending some one-on-one quality time with John in the mountains walking, talking, and always hoping to find the mother lode. We started doing this in the late 1980s, and with each passing year, it seemed to become more important to both of us. We would drive several hours to meet in the Blue Ridge two or three times each season—the first day would be hard work, climbing over rocks and up steep inclines. It


Fig. 7. John Olney (left) and G. David Johnson (right) after a particularly successful morel hunt, 2005.

became harder every year, and John suggested that eventually we would have to petition the National Park Service for handicapped access! We often stayed in cheap motels in Luray and always dined at a wonderfully strange restaurant that seemed like something out of Twin Peaks. With cruise control set at 35 mph, we would travel the Skyline Drive listening to Jerry Jeff Walker, Robert Earl Keen and John Prine, talking, singing . . . silent. The next day was always planned for an early rising to beat the locals into the woods, but we rarely made it and on a couple of occasions were ridiculed when we passed good old boys with their large sacs of morels as we dragged ourselves up the now even steeper hillsides. Nevermind, we usually got enough, then the big goodbye hugs and back to our respective abodes, to look forward to another year. Those days shared with John Olney were some of the most meaningless, meaningful times in my life, and they embodied, for me, the essence of John Olneyness—something that all of us who knew him cherished in many different ways.’’ Simply, John loved life and loved sharing his with family, friends, colleagues, and students. He is greatly missed. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS We come to write this obituary from having multiple different relationships with John Olney, including that of academic advisor and later co-instructor (EDH), post-doc advisee (RJL), VIMS faculty colleagues (RJL, EJH), and best friend (GDJ), but we all come to it from the perspective of being his friends, for which we are especially proud. We are grateful to John’s family for sharing so freely with us, and the numerous colleagues and friends who graciously and eagerly recounted their memories and thoughts of John. It is somehow comforting, if not bittersweet, that the loss we feel is shared by so many others. This is contribution number 3131 of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William & Mary. LITERATURE CITED Aiken, M. L. 2000. A framework for construction and analysis of juvenile abundance indices for American shad (Alosa sapidissima) in the York River, Virginia. Unpubl.


M.S. thesis, The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. ASMFC. 1999. Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Shad and River Herring. Fishery Management Report No. 35. ASMFC. 2007a. American Shad Stock Assessment Report for Peer Review. Vols. I–III. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Stock Assessment Report No. 07-01 Supplement. ASMFC. 2007b. Terms of Reference & Advisory Report to the American Shad Stock Assessment Peer Review. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Stock Assessment Report No. 07-01 Aunins, A. W. 2006. Migratory and spawning behavior of American shad in the James River, Virginia. Unpubl. M.S. thesis, The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Aunins, A. W., and J. E. Olney. 2009. Migration and spawning behavior of American shad in the James River, Virginia. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 138:1392–1404. Bilkovic, D. M. 2000. Assessment of spawning and nursery habitat suitability for American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) in the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers. Unpubl. Ph.D. diss., The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Bilkovic, D. M., C. H. Hershner, and J. E. Olney. 2002a. Macroscale assessment of American shad spawning and nursery habitat in the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers, Virginia. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 22:1176–1192. Bilkovic, D. M., J. E. Olney, and C. H. Hershner. 2002b. Spawning of American shad (Alosa sapidissima) and striped bass (Morone saxatilis) in the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers, Virginia. Fishery Bulletin 100:632–640. Cavalluzzi, M. R., and J. E. Olney. 1998. Preliminary guide to the early life history stages of blennioid fishes of the western central Atlantic, with faunal list and meristic data from all known blennioid species. NOAA/NMFS Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-416. Cavalluzzi, M. R., and J. E. Olney. 2005. Families Tripterygiidae, Dactyloscopidae, Labrisomidae, p. 1935– 1968. In: Guide to the Early Life History Stages of Fishes of the Western Central North Atlantic. W. J. Richards (ed.). CRC Press, Miami. Cavalluzzi, M. R., J. E. Olney, and J. G. Ditty. 2005. Blennioidei, Family Blenniidae, p. 1933, 1969–1994. In: Guide to the Early Life History Stages of Fishes of the Western Central North Atlantic. W. J. Richards (ed.). CRC Press, Miami. Gordon, D., D. F. Markle, and J. E. Olney. 1984. Ophidiiformes: development and relationships, p. 308–319. In: Ontogeny and Systematics of Fishes. H. G. Moser, W. J. Richards, D. M. Cohen, M. P. Fahay, A. W. Kendall, Jr., and S. L. Richardson (eds.). American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, Lawrence, Kansas. Govoni, J. J., and J. E. Olney. 1991. Potential predation on fish eggs by the ctenophore, Mnemiopsis leidyi, in and about the Chesapeake Bay plume. Fishery Bulletin 89:181–186. Govoni, J. J., J. E. Olney, D. F. Markle, and W. R. Curtsinger. 1984. Observations on the structure and evaluation of possible functions of the vexillum in larval Carapidae (Ophidiiformes). Bulletin of Marine Science 34:60–70.


Grant, G. C., and J. E. Olney. 1991. Distribution of striped bass, Morone saxatilis, eggs and larvae in major Virginia rivers. Fishery Bulletin 89:187–193. Hoenig, J. M., R. J. Latour, and J. E. Olney. 2008. Estimating stock composition of American shad (Alosa sapidissima) using mark–recovery data. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 28:507–515. Hoffman, J. C. 2006. Natal-river to estuary migration of American shad: estimating the value of essential rearing habitat. Unpubl. Ph.D. diss., The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Hoffman, J. C., D. A. Bronk, and J. E. Olney. 2007a. Contribution of allochthonous carbon to American shad production in the Mattaponi River, Virginia using stable isotopes. Estuaries and Coasts 30:1034–1048. Hoffman, J. C., D. A. Bronk, and J. E. Olney. 2007b. Tracking nursery habitat use by young American shad using stable isotopes. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 136:1285–1297. Hoffman, J. C., K. E. Limburg, D. A. Bronk, and J. E. Olney. 2008. Overwintering habitats of migratory juvenile American shad in Chesapeake Bay. Environmental Biology of Fishes 81:329–345. Hoffman, J., and J. E. Olney. 2005. Cohort dynamics of juvenile American shad (Alosa sapidissima) in the Pamunkey River, Virginia. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 134:1–18. Hyle, R. H. 2004. Reproductive biology of American shad, Alosa sapidissima, in the Mattaponi River. Unpubl. M.S. thesis, The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Latour, R. J., J. M. Hoenig, J. E. Olney, and K. H. Pollock. 2001a. A simple test for non-mixing in multi-year tagging studies: application to striped bass (Morone saxatilis) tagged in the Rappahannock River, Virginia. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 130:848–856. Latour, R. J., J. M. Hoenig, J. E. Olney, and K. H. Pollock. 2001b. Diagnostics for multi-year tagging models with application to Atlantic striped bass (Morone saxatilis). Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 58:1716–1726. Leis, J., J. E. Olney, and M. Okiyama. 1997. Introduction to the proceedings of the symposium, fish larvae and systematics: ontogeny and relationships. Bulletin of Marine Science 60:1–5. Maki, K. L. 2000. Maturation and repeat spawning by American shad in the York River, Virginia. Unpubl. M.S. thesis, The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Maki, K. L., J. M. Hoenig, and J. E. Olney. 2001. Estimating proportion mature at age when immature fish are unavailable for study, with application to American shad (Alosa sapidissima) in the York River, Virginia. Journal of North American Fisheries Management 21:703–716. Maki, K. L., J. M. Hoenig, and J. E. Olney. 2002. Interpreting maturation data for American Shad in the presence of fishing mortality—a look at historical data from the York River, Virginia. Journal of North American Fisheries Management 22:509–517. Maki, K. L., J. M. Hoenig, J. E. Olney, and D. M. Heisey. 2006. Comparing historical catches of American shad in multifilament and monofilament nets: a step toward setting restoration targets for Viginia stocks. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 26:282–288.

Copeia 2011, No. 2

Markle, D. F., and J. E. Olney. 1980. A description of the vexillifer larvae of Pyramodon ventralis and Snyderidia canina (Piseces, Carapidae) with comments on classification. Pacific Science 34:173–180. Markle, D. F., and J. E. Olney. 1990. Systematics of the pearlfishes (Pisces, Ophidiiformes). Bulletin of Marine Science 47:269–410. Markle, D. F., J. T. Williams, and J. E. Olney. 1983. A new species of Echiodon (Pisces, Carapidae) from Antarctic and adjacent seas. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 96:645–657. McBride, R., M. Hendricks, and J. E. Olney. 2005. Testing the validity of Cating’s (1953) method for age determination of American shad using scales. Fisheries 30:10–17. McGovern, J. C., and J. E. Olney. 1988. Potential predation by fish and invertebrates on early life history stages of striped bass in the Pamunkey River, Virginia. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 117:152–161. McGovern, J. C., and J. E. Olney. 1996. Factors affecting survival of early life stages and subsequent recruitment of striped bass on the Pamunkey River, Virginia. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science 53:1713–1726. Moser, H. G., W. J. Richards, D. M. Cohen, M. P. Fahay, A. W. Kendall, Jr., and S. L. Richardson (eds.). 1984. Ontogeny and Systematics of Fishes. American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, Lawrence, Kansas. Nelson, J. S. 2006. Fishes of the World. Fourth edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York. Olney, J. E. 1978. Planktonic fish eggs and larvae of the lower Chesapeake Bay. Unpubl. M.S. thesis, The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Olney, J. E. 1983. Eggs and early larvae of the bay anchovy, Anchoa mitchilli, and the weakfish, Cynoscion regalis, in lower Chesapeake Bay with notes on associated ichthyoplankton. Estuaries 6:173–180. Olney, J. E. 1984. Lampriformes: development and relationships, p. 368–379. In: Ontogeny and Systematics of Fishes. H. G. Moser, W. J. Richards, D. M. Cohen, M. P. Fahay, A. W. Kendall, Jr., and S. L. Richardson (eds.). American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, Lawrence, Kansas. Olney, J. E. 1996. Community structure, small-scale patchiness, transport and feeding of larval fishes in an estuarine plume. Unpubl. Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, Solomons, Maryland. Olney, J. E. 2003a. Preliminary guide to the identification of the early life history stages of carapid fishes of the western central North Atlantic. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFC-514. Olney, J. E. 2003b. Order Ophidiiformes, Family Carapidae, Pearlfishes, p. 963–964. In: FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes, The Living Resources of the Western Central Atlantic. K. E. Carpenter (ed.). FAO, Rome. Olney, J. E. 2003c. Order Lampridiformes, Families Stylephoridae, Radiicephalidae, Lophotidae, Trachipteridae, Regalecidae, p. 953–959. In: FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes, The Living Resources of the Western Central Atlantic. K. E. Carpenter (ed.). FAO, Rome. Olney, J. E. 2003d. Incorrect use of the names ‘‘Alosidae’’ and ‘‘alosid’’ when referring to the shads in the subfamily Alosinae (Teleostei, Clupeidae). American Fisheries Society Symposium 35:xiii–xv. Olney, J. E. 2005a. Order Ophidiiformes, family Carapidae, p. 749–757. In: Guide to the Early Life History Stages of


Fishes of the Western Central North Atlantic. W. J. Richards (ed.). CRC Press, Miami. Olney, J. E. 2005b. Order Lampridiformes, families Lampridae, Stylephoridae, Lophotidae, Radiicephalidae, and Regalecidae, p. 991–1017. In: Guide to the Early Life History Stages of Fishes of the Western Central North Atlantic. W. J. Richards (ed.). CRC Press, Miami. Olney, J. E., C. C. Baldwin, and G. D. Johnson. 1993. Phylogeny of lampridiform fishes. Bulletin of Marine Science 52:137–169. Olney, J. E., D. M. Bilkovic, C. Hershner, L. Varnell, H. Wang, and R. Mann. 2006a. Six fish and 600,000 thirsty folks—a fishing moratorium on American shad thwarts a controversial municipal reservoir project in Virginia, USA. Proceedings of the Fourth World Fisheries Conference, Vancouver, B. C. 2004:1285–1297. Olney, J. E., and G. Boehlert. 1988. Nearshore ichthyoplankton assemblages associated with seagrass beds in the lower Chesapeake Bay. Marine Ecology–Progress Series 45:33–43. Olney, J. E., S. C. Denny, and J. M. Hoenig. 2001. Criteria for determining maturity stage in female American shad, Alosa sapidissima, and the mystery of partial spawning. Bulletin Francais de la Peche et de la Pisciculture 362/ 363:881–901. Olney, J. E., J. D. Field, and J. C. McGovern. 1991. Striped bass egg mortality, production and female biomass in four Virginia rivers, 1980–1989. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 120:354–367. Olney, J. E., and G. C. Grant. 1976. Early planktonic larvae of the blackcheek tonguefish, Symphurus plagiusa, in the lower Chesapeake Bay. Chesapeake Science 17:229–237. Olney, J. E., G. C. Grant, F. E. Schultz, C. L. Cooper, and J. Hageman. 1983. Pterygiophore-interdigitation patterns in larvae of four Morone species (Teleostei, Percichthyidae). Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 112:525–531. Olney, J. E., and J. M. Hoenig. 2001. Managing a fishery under moratorium: assessment opportunities for Virginia’s stocks of American shad (Alosa sapidissima). Fisheries 26:6–12. Olney, J. E., D. A. Hopler, Jr., T. P. Gunther, Jr., K. L. Maki, and J. M. Hoenig. 2003. Signs of recovery of American shad, Alosa sapidissima, in the James River, Virginia. American Fisheries Society Special Symposium 35:323– 329. Olney, J. E., and E. D. Houde. 1993. Evaluation of in-situ silhouette photography in studies of estuarine zooplankton and ichthyoplankton. Bulletin of Marine Science 52:845–872. Olney, J. E., R. J. Latour, B. E. Watkins, and D. G. Clarke. 2006b. Migratory behavior of American shad (Alosa sapidissima) in the York River, Virginia with implications for estimating in-river exploitation from tag recovery data. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 135:889– 896. Olney, J. E., J. M. Leis, and D. Rennis. 2000. Carapidae— Pearlfishes, p. 104–108. In: The Larvae of Indo-Pacific


Coastal Fishes. J. M. Leis and B. M. Carson-Ewart (eds.). Brill, Leiden. Olney, J. E., and D. F. Markle. 1979. Description and occurrence of vexillifer larvae of Echiodon (Pisces, Carapidae) in the western North Atlantic and notes on other carapid vexillifers. Bulletin of Marine Science 29:365– 379. Olney, J. E., and D. F. Markle. 1986. Family Carapidae, p. 350–354. In: Smiths’ Sea Fishes. M. M. Smith and P. C. Heemstra (eds.). J. L. B. Smith Institute of Ichthyology, Grahamstown. Olney, J. E., and R. S. McBride. 2003. Intraspecific variation in batch fecundity of American shad (Alosa sapidissima): revisiting the paradigm of reciprocal trends in reproductive traits. American Fisheries Society Symposium 35: 85–192. Olney, J. E., and A. Naplin. 1980. Eggs of the scalloped ribbonfish, Zu cristatus (Pisces, Trachipteridae), in the western North Atlantic. Copeia 1980:165–166. Olney, J. E., and W. J. Richards. 2005. Family Trachipteridae, p. 1019–1026. In: Guide to the Early Life History Stages of Fishes of the Western Central North Atlantic. W. J. Richards (ed.). CRC Press, Miami. Olney, J. E., and G. R. Sedberry. 1983. Dragonet larvae (Pisces, Callionymidae) in plankton collections on the continental shelf and slope of the eastern United States. Biological Oceanography 3:103–122. Trott, L. B., and J. E. Olney. 1986. Family Carapidae, p. 1172–1176. In: Fishes of the Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean. P. J. P. Whitehead, M.-L. Bauchot, J.-C. Hureau, J. Nielsen, and E. Tortonese (eds.). United Nations Committee of the Environment and Science, Special Publication, Paris, France. Tuckey, T. 2009. Variability in juvenile growth, mortality, maturity and abundance of American shad and blueback herring in Virginia. Unpubl. Ph.D. diss., The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Tuckey, T., and J. E. Olney. 2010. Maturity schedules of female American shad vary at small spatial scales in Chesapeake Bay. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 30:1020–1031. Upton, S. A. 2008. Novel use of a natural isotope to track recruitment and evaluate age determination for the 2002 year class of American shad in the York River, Virginia. Unpubl. M.S. thesis, The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Walter, J. F., and J. E. Olney. 2003. Feeding behavior of American shad during the spawning migration in the York River, Virginia. American Fisheries Society Symposium 35:201–209. Walther, B. D., S. R. Thorrold, and J. E. Olney. 2008. Geochemical signatures in otoliths record natal origins of American shad. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 137:57–69. Wilhite, M. L., K. L. Maki, J. M. Hoenig, and J. E. Olney. 2003. Towards validation of a juvenile index of abundance for American shad in the York River, Virginia (USA). American Fisheries Society Symposium 35:285–294.

Biography of John Edward Olney, Sr.  

A biography of late VIMS professor John Olney, Sr. written by colleagues Eric Hilton, G. David Johnson, Edward Houde, and Rob Latour for inc...

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