In Memoriam Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Klausewitz (1922-2018)
On August 31, 2018, the world lost a pioneer in marine research, an outstanding ichthyologist, inspiring environmentalist, museum expert, and historian of science, and we lost a beloved colleague, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Klausewitz, who died in Bad Homburg, near Frankfurt am Main, Germany after a short stay in hospital.
On 20 July 1922 he was born to high-school teachers in southern Berlin. In his early years he already knew that his future career would be associated with nature. Brought up and educated to think freely and independently, young Wolfgang developed an early interest in the natural sciences and wanted to become a zoologist. His father was supportive but kept warning him that he might not be able to make a living as a zoologist. Confronted with this conflict, he contacted the zoologist Dr. Franz Xaver Graf Zedtwitz, an author of popular science books and Lutz Heck, the Director of Berlin Zoo in those days, and asked them for their advice. They both encouraged him, but his dream came to a sudden end when in 1941 he was drafted by the army, starting his military service. While he was a recruit, he had an opportunity to attend a lecture by the famous Austrian zoologist and marine explorer Hans Hass about his dive adventures in the Caribbean, which fascinated Wolfgang Klausewitz and left lasting memories. During World War II, he served as a lieutenant in the military and was deployed in North Africa, France and Italy, finally ending up as an American prisoner of war. When he was released in 1946, he had lost five valuable years of his life, and he doubted that his dream of becoming a zoologist was still realistic.
With the help of a friend, he was able to obtain a residence permit in Frankfurt am Main, where he discovered the magazine “Natur und Volk” (nature and people) at his landlady’s place. This magazine was published by the Senckenberg Museum of Nature, and Klausewitz decided to visit the museum’s then director, Prof. Robert Mertens, who strongly advised him against studying zoology in those difficult times. Disillusioned, he went back to his work where he spoke with a young colleague named Rita, who replied: “If it is your desire to become a zoologist, you must study zoology; otherwise you will be unhappy for the rest of your life”. Years later, Rita would become his wife and lifetime partner.
In 1946, he enrolled at Frankfurt University and started studying biology. However, the buildings of the university had largely been destroyed during the war and students had to help rebuilding their institutes. The Institute of Zoology was next to the Senckenberg Museum and Klausewitz, still an undergraduate student, was invited by Prof. Mertens to give a public lecture. As a result, he started working as a volunteer in the Herpetology Section of the museum in 1949, where three years later, he earned his Ph.D. with a microbiological thesis on the lymphatic system and blood cells of amphibians. For two more years he worked in herpetology, until in 1954, he was permanently employed as the Head of the Fish Section.
Subsequent years were characterized by research expeditions. In 1957-58, W. Klausewitz participated in a research cruise to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean aboard the schooner “Xarifa”. The expedition was organized and directed by Hans Hass. Ichthyological research in the following years was based on the collections of fishes and biological data from this extraordinary cruise. As a former student of Robert Mertens, Klausewitz appreciated the importance of complementing comparative morphological studies of preserved specimens with observations of life fishes in their natural environment and introduced new research methodologies, such as the documentation of fish distribution along reef transects, which today is a common method for studying reef fish population dynamics.
In 1963, W. Klausewitz spent six months at the Mote (Cape Haze) Marine Laboratory for joint research with the world-famous shark specialist Prof. Eugenie Clark (1922-2015, see aqua 21/2), with whom he shared a keen interest in Red Sea ichthyology. A year later he joined the German research vessel Meteor on another scientific expedition to the Red Sea. Throughout his scientific career his research focused on taxonomy, systematics and biogeography of Red Sea and Indian Ocean fishes, particularly eels (Anguilliformes), coral reef-associated and deep-sea species. He described about 40 new fish species. A new genus (Klausewitzia) and several new species, such as Heteroconger klausewitzi, Leporinus klausewitzi, Lotilia klausewitzi, and Plectranthias klausewitzi were named after him.
In the 1970s, when threats to aquatic environments, such as pollution became of increasing concern, he embarked on ecological studies of freshwater fishes in the German rivers Rhein and Main, tackling conservation issues and building public awareness. He also took a keen interest in fish ethology, studying the cognitive capabilities, consciousness, awareness, pain, etc., in fishes. As of 1963, he complimented his ichthyological research with academic teaching, lecturing at the universities of Darmstadt, Frankfurt am Main, and Offenbach. He was instrumental in shaping the European Ichthyological Union and for many years served as its Secretary General.
As a museum scientist he combined scientific research with public outreach through museum exhibitions, public lectures and popular articles. For several years he directed his own television programmes about animals and nature. In 1961, he became the Head of Senckenberg’s Education Department. He designed and executed several museum exhibitions, such as “Animals in Flight” (1959), “75 Years of Pithecanthropus” (1965), “Animals in Ancient Egypt” (1970), and “Environment 2000”, which was particularly popular. Between 1984 and 1987, he designed the Museum’s permanent fish exhibition, which still today is open to the public. In 1971, he became the Head of the Vertebrates Department and in 1980 the Museum’s Deputy Director.
In 1966, he joined the Association of German Museums (DMB) and from 1975 to 1983 served as its President, the first natural scientist taking up this position that had previously been reserved for art historians. He took a leading role in reshaping the DMB.
Following his retirement in 1987, he became an Honorary Research Associate of the Senckenberg Museum. While continuing with research on fish taxonomy and biogeography, he took an increasing interest in the history of ichthyology, focussing on the famous researcher and explorer Eduard Rüppell (1794-1884), the founder of Red Sea fish research at the Senckenberg Museum and its first Curator of Ichthyology. Wolfgang Klausewitz published about 350 scientific and popular papers, including several books. He received several awards, above all for his contributions to environmental conservation, and became an honorary member of the Association of German Museums, the European Ichthyological Union, the Société française d’Ichtyologie, and the Zoological Society of Israel.
For me, like for many other young people interested in marine biology, Wolfgang Klausewitz became a role model. As a boy, I was fascinated by television programmes about the Xarifa Expedition to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, including the first underwater footage ever shown on TV. Klausewitz was the fish expert of this expedition and as a 10-year old I used to say to my parents, that once I am grown up I want to do his job; 22 years later, I became his successor as Curator of Ichthyology at the Senckenberg Museum. I first met W. Klausewitz personally in early 1978, when as an undergraduate student I had collected freshwater fishes in Syria and Jordan. After identifying my collections with the limited literature available in the university library, my supervisor told me to contact Dr. Klausewitz and to deposit my collections at the Senckenberg Museum. I must admit, I was very nervous when I phoned him. He invited me to the museum and spend quite some time with me checking my collections and identifications. The next year, he invited me to the European Congress of Ichthyology in Warsaw, Poland, where I gave my first scientific talk. Klausewitz personally introduced me to leading international ichthyologists. During my graduate studies, I spent much time at his lab, studying collections and making use of the ichthyological library. I wanted to become an ichthyologist, but ichthyology was not taught at German universities. Being taught ichthyology by Wolfgang Klausewitz, with whom I worked as a research assistant after graduation, was an outstanding privilege, for which I am very grateful. I remember the very inspiring discussions we had, particularly about Red Sea ichthyogeography, endemism, and deep-sea fishes. We will always remember Wolfgang Klausewitz as an inspirational model.