Centennial Story 77: John W. Meldrim (PhD, 1968)

Having a primary interest in fish behavior and ecology, I decided to come to the UW College of Fisheries in the fall of 1963 after earning a BA in biology from Occidental College (CA). Initially, my major professor was Alan DeLacy (MS, 1933; PhD, 1941), but in January 1964, I became Don McPhail’s research assistant and his student. Don introduced me to the Olympic mudminnow (Novumbra hubbsi) that month, and it became the subject of my thesis research. As a graduate student, I joined the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) and presented several papers on Novumbra at their annual national meetings. Additionally, in 1965, I joined the American Fisheries Society (AFS). The student presentations I gave at the ASIH meetings and my activities in AFS after UW resulted in network connections that were of great help for my employment and career.

In addition to my thesis research, I did an independent study under Paul Fields on sound production by northwest Pacific marine fishes (the first such research on these species). Those who remember the aquarium in the basement of the old College of Fisheries building may also remember that there was a large oval tank in the aquarium that held three sablefish (black cod). I plunked my hydrophone in that tank and found that sablefish made a very high frequency click. I used Gordon Orians’ sonograph (from UW upper campus) to print the graphics that showed the sound frequencies. (Gordon used the machine for bird sounds, but kindly let me use it for my fish research.) The sablefish click frequencies reached 22KHz, the upper limit of my hydrophone!  (Most fish sounds are blow 8000 Hz.) I did more research in the oval tank and found that sablefish possibly used the clicks for auto-orientation.

My report on fish sounds apparently became known to fish sound researchers elsewhere in the country, and I was contacted by a researcher in New York about the sablefish finding some years after I left UW. Subsequently, I arranged to have all my fish sound recordings archived in the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology collection (the recordings are available from the Laboratory for your listening pleasure).

After completing my PhD in 1968, I found employment in the private sector with Cornell University Professor Ed Raney’s company, Ichthyoloogical Associates, Inc. (IA). He remembered me from my student presentations at ASIH and offered me a position in Delaware. While at IA, I conducted behavioral studies on responses of mid-Atlantic fishes to temperature and chemical pollutants; I presented the findings at AFS meetings and published them in IA bulletins and local journals. Following 15 years with IA, I joined Harza Engineering Co. (subsequently MWH and now Stantec) in Chicago and worked all over the world on water resource development projects. I retired from the corporate world in 2005 and have been doing independent consulting since then.

AFS Water Quality Section Officers in West Yellowstone, MT (1979); L-R: Foster (Sonny) Mayer, president-elect; John Meldrim, secretary-treasurer; Howard E. Johnson, past-president.
(Photo 1) AFS Water Quality Section Officers in West Yellowstone, MT (1979); L-R: Foster (Sonny) Mayer, president-elect; John Meldrim, secretary-treasurer; Howard E. Johnson, past-president.

After leaving UW, I also became active in AFS. One of my office mates at UW was Howard E. Johnson (PhD, 1967), who finished his PhD (under Max Katz) ahead of me. Howard was quite active in AFS and organized the AFS Water Quality Section in 1976 (the first meeting was held in 1977). As its first president, Howard appointed me secretary-treasurer, a position I held at the founding of the section and for the next 30 years. When Howard completed his two-year term as section president in 1979, I presented him with a plaque for his service at the annual AFS meeting in West Yellowstone, Montana (Photo 1).

Interestingly, my independent research on sablefish sound production at UW has resurfaced in recent years (some 50 years later!). In December 2018, I was contacted by a researcher at the University of Victoria (British Columbia) who recorded the high frequency clicks made by sablefish in a large outdoor pen. That same month, I spoke about my thesis research at the Novumbra Symposium held at Evergreen State in Olympia. The symposium (the second such symposium to be held) was sponsored by the UW (Julian Olden and Lauren Kuehne [MS, 2012; PhD ongoing] at SAFS) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I was the lead speaker at the first Novumbra symposium in Lacey, WA (2012), and was invited to give a summary of that presentation.

John W. Meldrim in 2014, featuring Novumbra T-shirt sold at first Olympic Mudminoow Symposium (2012), in which he was the lead speaker.
John W. Meldrim in 2014, featuring Novumbra T-shirt sold at first Olympic Mudminoow Symposium (2012), in which he was the lead speaker.

I still stay in touch by email with several former UW grad student colleagues: Larry Gilbertson (PhD, 1980), Dave Greenfield (PhD, 1966), Boyd Kynard (PhD, 1972), Dick Lichtenheld (PhD, 1966), Bruce Miller (MS, 1965; PhD, 1969; faculty) and Don Weitkamp (MS, 1971; PhD, 1977)—who apparently prompted this article—and also with Jerry Stober, who, when at UW FRI, used my Ichthyological Associates design for an apparatus to determine temperature preferences of fish.

 

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