Russell | Sir | Frederick Stratten | 1897-1984 | marine biologist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Frederick Stratten Russell pioneered the measurements of fish stocks that made possible the control of over-fishing by quotas. His earliest experiences were of the sea - boats, fossils-hunting, fishing and the local fisheries of Cornwall were the scenes of his childhood, and the sea lochs of the north west coast of Scotland where he was the first to notice the decline in fish numbers. Russell's schoolteacher father taught him Latin, Greek and watercolour painting - skills of value to him in his later scientific work.

During World War I he was an aerial observer and the photographs he took whilst suspended beneath the fuselage of the aircraft at a height of 18-20,000 feet are amongst the more famous of the 1st World War. He was decorated for gallantry and skill, and he described his wartime experiences as enjoyable, exciting and a time of great camaraderie.

At Cambridge after the war he developed an interest in marine biology, and worked in Egypt for two years, before returning to the Marine Biological Association Laboratory at Plymouth in 1924. During World War II Russell joined RAF intelligence where his work was 'unfailingly skilful and imaginative' in constructing evidence of enemy bombing strategy. Despite many offers of academic jobs, Russell preferred after the War to stay at the Plymouth Laboratory. His benevolent and astute care initiated a 'golden age' for the Laboratory as a multidisciplinary international centre of excellence where oceanographers and marine biologists worked with chemists and plant and animal physiologists. Increased funding allowed the installation of seawater tanks, an expanded library and well-equipped vessels. Russell's technical knowledge of seafaring, commercial fishery, photography and minesweeping as well as statistics and his experimental skills enabled him to investigate the complex interplay of temperature, depth, light, sea currents, diurnal variation, life and breeding cycles and the distribution of plankton. His studies enabled him to draw up a plankton map of the UK waters - an invaluable tool in fishing policy. Russell's other field of research was the life cycle and taxonomy of medusae (jellyfish).


As a student Russell was influenced by the Norwegian oceanographer, Johan Hjort who gave him his first appointment in Egypt. His old teacher and Director of the Laboratory, Dr. E.J. Allen, initiated his career at the Plymouth Laboratory. Russell collaborated with Maurice Yonge, on the publication of the first successful popular description of marine biology (1928), and in the same year they joined the Great Barrier Reef Expedition. Russell had many other collaborators after the War: W.R.G. Atkins, H.W. Harvey, Marie Lebour and L.H.N. Cooper. He encouraged much important research at Plymouth, e.g., O.E. Lowenstein's work in experimental zoology, and A.L. Hodgkin and A.F. Huxley's neurophysiology work received the Nobel Prize. His wife, Gweneth died in 1978. His only child, William was born in 1938.

Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

159 publications largely in journals. His monographs are:

The seas: an introduction to the study of life in the sea, (1928)

The Medusae of the British Isles, vol. 1, ( 1953)

The Medusae of the British Isles, vol. 2, ( 1970)

The eggs and planktonic stages of British marine fishes, (1976)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

Appointed chairman of several government councils, and honorary member of several learned societies and institutions. He was also awarded four honorary degrees.

1928-1929: Appointed member, Great Barrier Reef Expedition

1938: Elected Fellow of Royal Society

1945-1965: Appointed Director, Plymouth Laboratory, Marine Biological Association

1955: Awarded CBE

1965: Awarded Knighthood


List of sources for the biographical information:

Denton, EJ, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, vol. 32 pp 461-493, (London1986)

Cartage, (, 2002)