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In Memoriam Seiji Ohsumi D. Agr., (1930-2019)
A brief biography of his research career and achievements

Dr. Seiji Ohsumi passed away on November 2, 2019, due to an acute myocardial infarction. He was in his 89th year of life. An eminent whale scientist, for a very long time through the 1960's to the 2010's, he was one of the leading members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee, and served as head of the delegation sent to the Scientific Committee by the Japanese government in the 1990's.


Dr. Ohsumi was born on July 12, 1930 in the present-day Isesaki City, Gunma Prefecture, central Japan, and later attended, under the old system, Maebashi Junior High School (during this period, he briefly attended the Tokyo Army Cadet School) before entering the national Niigata High School. While he was a student there, the school system was reformed and he was one of the last graduates of the old school system. In 1949, he entered the University of Tokyo’s Science Department II, and two years later, when he was transferred to the Faculty of Agriculture, he joined the Department of Fisheries.

After graduating from the university, he enrolled in the Graduate School of Biological Sciences at the University of Tokyo (under the old system) and completed the doctoral program in 1958, receiving a doctorate in agriculture. At the same time, he became an official employee of the Whales Research Institute in April 1958. Meanwhile, while he was a graduate student, he had started his research activities as a part-time researcher at the former Whales Research Institute. During this period, he had already acquired world-class knowledge on both large and small cetaceans under the guidance of the late Dr. Masaharu Nishiwaki (who later served as Director of the University of Tokyo's Institute of Oceanography) and the late Dr. Hideo Omura, the director of the institute.

The doctoral dissertation that Dr. Ohsumi submitted to the University of Tokyo was titled "A study on age determination of the fin whale" and focused on the age determination of fin whales, which was to become his life's work. In his dissertation, he established the annual deposition rate of the growth layers formed in the ear wax plugs, a fin whale age trait, which was one of the most important issues of the IWC Scientific Committee at the time, and thus laid the foundation for many research projects on cetacean stocks both in Japan and abroad.

In 1966, whale resource research came to be implemented as a national responsibility, and Dr. Ohsumi was transferred from the Whales Research Institute to a government fisheries laboratory. He was appointed to the Tokai Regional Fisheries Research Laboratory (Tokyo) in May 1966 and assigned as head of cetacean population studies at the newly established Fisheries Agency Far Seas Fisheries Research Laboratory (currently, National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries, Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture) in August 1967. For the next 25 years he conducted whale research based in Shimizu. In particular, he served as director general at the Far Seas Fisheries Research Laboratory from August 1988 to March 1991.

After retiring as Director of the National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries, he became a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Cetacean Research, and was nominated as director general of the institute in December 1995. Dr. Ohsumi continued to serve in this position until January 2004. After retiring as director general of the ICR, he was appointed as senior scientific advisor, and subsequently as adviser emeritus. From October 2015 until his death on November 2, 2019, he was engaged in encouraging research and training the next generation as adviser emeritus. As he always said, "It’s my eternal mission to come to ICR", he was working at ICR until the day before he passed away.

As described above, Dr. Ohsumi was at the forefront of cetacean research for more than half a century from the 1950s to the 2010s and contributed to the advancement and development of cetacean research and management through his many research and practical research activities. In addition to the fin whale age assessment study mentioned above, a noteworthy achievement is the study of social ecology of sperm whales, which was published in the Whales Research Institute scientific journal as "Some investigations on the school structure of sperm whale (Scientific Reports of the Whales Research Institute, 23:1-25)". This study not only shocked the scientific community but also contributed greatly to the management of the sperm whale stocks, and made Dr. Ohsumi's name in the academic field. He also greatly contributed to the genesis of the International Decade of Cetacean Research (IWC/IDCR), which served as the basis for modern management of whale stocks. During this period, he authored more than 500 scientific papers,articles and books, which are still being compiled in the library of the Institute of Cetacean Research. Over the years, he earned numerous accolades, including the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit and the Special Award of the Mammal Society of Japan. In 2020 he received the Fisheries Journalists Association Special Award.

With the permission of his widow, Dr. Masako Osumi (Professor Emeritus, Japan Women's University, President of IIRS) and their daughter Dr. Noriko Osumi (Professor, Tohoku University, Vice President of Tohoku University), we are pleased to present a tentative list of Dr. Seiji Ohsumi's major research achievements and publications at the end of this eulogy. The complete list will be published at another time.

Designated Corporation for Scientific Whale Research

The Institute of Cetacean Research

・In memory of Dr. Seiji Ohsumi (Abridged: memorial messages)

・Collection of Moments

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