Quentin Bone obituary

Other lives: Marine zoologist who studied how fish swim

My friend Quentin Bone, who has died aged 89, was an outstanding marine zoologist whose publications on how fish swim made him a leader in this field while still in his 30s.

His 1966 paper comparing and contrasting details of fine structure, innervation and performance of the two very different sorts of muscle that drive a fish through water, became a citation classic. His jointly authored Biology of Fishes (1982) is now in its third edition.

Born in Hampstead, north London, Quentin was the eldest child of the muralist Mary Adshead and painter Stephen Bone, art critic for the Manchester Guardian in the 1950s, and grandson of the artist Sir Muirhead Bone. Quentin might well have become an artist himself, but as a schoolboy he went on countryside walks with his father, who was “rarely unable to name any flowers or insects we found”, and this led him to adopt a career in biology.

From Warwick school, he went on to St John’s College, Oxford, graduating in 1954 with a first in zoology and comparative anatomy. He started his research work with a year as occupant of the Oxford “table” at the Naples Zoological Station, home to living examples of the amphioxus, a primitive fishlike creature, and its larvae. Returning to Naples as a prize fellow at Magdalen College, he produced clear, concise published papers that were presented for a DPhil in 1960.

Squid etchings by Quentin Bone
Squid etchings by Quentin Bone Photograph: provided by family

Quentin’s first job, from the age of 27, as a government scientist at the Marine Biological Association’s laboratory on Plymouth Hoe, Devon, was effectively also his last. It gave him more freedom than most research posts, introduced him to top visiting scientists, and allowed frequent foreign travel. On mandatory retirement at the age of 60, he became an emeritus research fellow. More than a third of his publications date from that period.

First and foremost a naturalist, Quentin displayed a restless curiosity – combined with an irrepressible playfulness that he used to hide behind – disciplined by the need to make evolutionary sense of what he observed.

Scientific illustrations by Quentin Bone
Scientific illustrations by Quentin Bone Photograph: provided by family

In 1974 he joined his friend and contemporary George Mackie at the Friday Harbor marine laboratories in Washington, where Mackie had pioneered work on the swimming of jellyfish. The next years saw the two of them at Villefranche-sur-Mer, in the south of France, investigating the behaviour of gelatinous tunicates. The recordings obtained from these small marine animals, early offshoots from our own line of evolution, provided answers to such fundamental questions as how the chain of individuals making up a colony of translucent salps swim as one.

In 1984 Quentin was made a fellow of the Royal Society. He was awarded the zoological medal of the Linnean Society in 1999 and the Frink medal of the Zoological Society in 2003.

In 1958 he married Susan Smith; they had met at the wedding of the modernist architect Oliver Hill. An accomplished artist, she died earlier this year. They are survived by their four sons, Matthew, Oliver, Alexander and Daniel, and by 11 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Andrew Packard

The GuardianTramp

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