Tyler, James C. (Emeritus)
United States National Museum of Natural History
Jim was born on March 31, 1935, in Shanghai, China, where his father was a Marine Corps officer on the Yangtze River Patrol. Upon the early death of his father, he returned to his mother’s family in Ottawa, Kansas, where he became fascinated with fossils, minnows, snakes, and Indian artifacts. Jim moved to Washington, D.C., during World War II, where he completed high school. He then entered George Washington University in 1953, and was graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a major in biology in 1957. While an undergraduate he obtained a part-time job in the Fish Division of the National Museum of Natural History, first as a collection assistant (bottle washer) and then as a research assistant, field collector in the Gulf of Mexico, and radiographic technician. His identifications of the then rare fish specimens that were coming into the Smithsonian from exploratory research vessels working in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean led to the publication of his first scientific paper and a decision to enter graduate school for ichthyology at Stanford University. He received his PhD degree from Stanford in 1962 with a dissertation on the osteologically-based relationships of tetraodontiform fishes (trigger fishes, boxfishes, puffer fishes), and he has continued to study the systematics, behavior, and ecology of these mainly coral reef fishes and their fossil antecedents throughout his career. From 1962 to 1972, he was an assistant and associate curator of ichthyology and herpetology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He accepted the position of assistant director in 1972 and then director from 1973 to 1975 of the Lerner Marine Laboratory on the island of Bimini in the Bahamas, a broad-based marine research and teaching laboratory of the American Museum of Natural History. From 1975 to 1980, he held a variety of administrative positions in the National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington, D.C., and Miami, Florida, involving endangered and threatened species (mostly sea turtles, bluefin tunas, sturgeons, and corals), eventually becoming manager of the entire Endangered Species Program of the Service. From 1980 to 1985, he was the director of the Biological Research Resources Program of the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., allocating funding to research facilities, especially to systematic collections in museums and to terrestrial and marine field stations. In 1985, he joined the Smithsonian Institution as the deputy director of the National Museum of Natural History, and from 1986 to 1990, served two one-year-long terms as the acting director there and another year as the acting director of the National Air and Space Museum. In 1990, he returned to a full-time research position in the Natural History Museum, spending about half of his time on fossil fish systematics and phylogeny and half on the behavioral ecology of living coral reef fishes. He is pleased that his life has included marriage and two children; more than 100 publications (including two books and several large monographs); research-related visits to more than 100 countries around the world; being on an ice-breaker (1958-59) in the Antarctic, with four voyages around the Horn; organizing the expedition to Australia in 1970 that discovered the long-lost cannons that Captain James Cook jettisoned from the Endeavour when it went aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 1770; five aquanaut sojourns, living underwater in Caribbean habitats for up to 18 days at a time, and sometimes using silent and bubbleless oxygen re-breathers; scuba diving to observe and collect fishes in all of the main coral reef seas of the world; trips in deep submersibles to the ocean floor; meeting many luminaries of aviation history and space exploration; landing in a jet on an aircraft carrier; and numerous awards for exceptional service. Jim was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1986 and served on the board of managers numerous times.