John Warham (1919–2010)
Article first published online: 28 OCT 2010
© 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 British Ornithologists’ Union
Volume 153, Issue 1, pages 225–226, January 2011
How to Cite
Ainley, D. (2011), John Warham (1919–2010). Ibis, 153: 225–226. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2010.01069.x
- Issue published online: 6 DEC 2010
- Article first published online: 28 OCT 2010
John Warham inhabited a world in which research is driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge and in which information not published is information lost. This philosophy propelled John throughout his life and career and it is what made his contribution to the science of avian ecology so significant. To marine ornithology, specifically, he stands among giants like Robert Cushman Murphy.
John was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, England, in October 1919 and began to explore the natural world at an early age. At 18 he landed his first real job, a laboratory assistant in a textile plant, but his plans to pursue a degree in colour chemistry were derailed by the Second World War. He spent the next 6½ years in the British army, leaving as a Captain in 1946. One accomplishment of this period was, during a short leave, marrying Pat Sabido, who would be his lifelong and cherished companion. John was demobilized from the army shortly after the war, but lacking mobility was never in his persona.
John returned to his first job, quickly rising to management. Not long after, he published his first natural history work, Bird Watcher’s Delight (Country Life, London, 1951). At this time the Warhams, suffering a mutual midlife crisis and recognizing that the world’s wildlife was in jeopardy, became scientific vagabonds and travelled at the periphery of civilization. For the next 12 years, they lived in the wilds of Australia, surviving on fees gained from natural history writing and photography in the popular press, and on money Pat earned cooking for outback stations. They visited many offshore islands, including a 15-month stint by John as a biologist on Macquarie Island with the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition. During this period, John managed to publish his second book, The Technique of Bird Photography, which ran to four editions (Focal Press, London & New York, 1956, 1966, 1973, 1983). He was the first to employ stop-action bird photography.
In 1961, the Warhams returned to Britain, where John pursued a Bachelor of Science degree at Durham University. By this time he had already published 35 scientific papers, mostly about seabirds and all in mainstream journals, such as ‘The breeding of the Great-winged Petrel, Pterodroma macroptera’ in Ibis (1956) and ‘The breeding of the Flesh-footed Shearwater, Puffinus carneipes’ in Auk (1958). He finished his BSc in 1965, having by then published an additional 14 papers, including ‘The biology of the Giant Petrel, Macronectes giganteus’ (Auk, 1962) and ‘The Rockhopper Penguin, Eudyptes chrysocome, at Macquarie Island’ (Auk, 1963). Three years later, in 1968, he finished his MSc at Durham University, an activity that slowed his publication rate a bit, but which led to ‘The White-headed Petrel Pterodroma lessoni at Macquarie Island’ (Emu, 1967).
At this point, the Warhams moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, closer to lots of seabirds, and the place he would live for the rest of his life. Here John accepted his second real job, Lecturer in Zoology at the University of Canterbury, while Pat continued her career in nursing, as well as an 18-year stint as President of the Herb Society of Christchurch. John began working, too, toward a PhD, which would involve a comparative study of the breeding biology of the crested penguins (Eudyptes). He had gathered information on Royal Eudyptes schlegeli and Rockhopper Penguins at Macquarie, but to continue required expeditions to the Antipodes, Snares and Campbell islands, where he encountered the Erect-crested Eudyptes sclateri and Snares Crested Eudyptes robustus Penguins. Toward his research ends, he also purchased a 1967 Ford station wagon, retained for most of his life thereafter (he described it as ‘My contribution to the conservation of Earth’s resources’), in order to make the long, arduous trips from Christchurch to study the Fiordland Crested Penguin.
In 1973, John obtained his PhD, in the meantime publishing 12 more papers, mostly on crested penguins, as well as co-authoring a book with D. L. and V. N. Serventy, The Handbook of Australian Sea-birds (Reed, Sydney, 1971). As with Murphy’s The Oceanic Birds of South America (Macmillan, New York, 1936), this book on seabirds of the seas around Australia is a classic.
By the mid-1970s, he turned his attention once more to investigations and writings about his favourite birds, the Procellariiformes. Over the years John, often accompanied by Pat, visited numerous breeding sites of petrels, including Norfolk, Lord Howe and other islands in the southwest Pacific, the smaller islands around Australia and New Zealand, and finally Midway and Kauai in the central Pacific. Wherever he went, he logged copious, observant notes, as his subsequent writings confirmed.
Just 12 years after receiving his PhD, John retired from the university, but only in an official sense. After his retirement in 1985, John published 20 more papers (his publication list eventually totalled around 140). More importantly, he produced the work of his life, a magnificent two-volume treatise on the natural history of petrels and albatross: The Petrels: Their Ecology and Breeding Systems (1990) and The Behaviour, Popula-tion Biology and Physiology of the Petrels (1996), both published by Academic Press and both indispensable to marine ornithologists. Accompanying this set is a 14 500-entry bibliography, including obscure petrel references dating back to Aristotle (http://www.biol.canterbury.ac.nz/people/warham.shtml).
John Warham was blessed with a keen eye, an encyclopaedic memory, an adventurous spirit and a desire to share his discoveries. He expanded the field of marine ornithology as few before and few since. John Warham has been an incredible source of information, an enjoyable person to be around, and the world is a much better place for his sharing it all with us.