Mike Mullin and Bob Conover converged on Woods Hole, Massachusetts, not exactly at the same time, but with some common interests. In the spring of 1958 the Conovers came over from Narragansett, Rhode Island so that Bob could work with Sheina Marshall and A. P. Orr from Millport, UK, on copepod feeding at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Mike arrived the following year as a graduate student of plankton biologist George Clarke, who had an affiliation with both Harvard and WHOI. It was living copepods that formed their common bond, in part stimulated by Sheina and A. P. Orr, who pioneered the laboratory study of Calanus physiology.

Mike spent several summers at Woods Hole, which included a few cruises, some experimental work in Bob Conover's laboratory, and a preliminary search for a Ph.D. research subject. As Mike's project developed, WHOI tried, not always successfully, to keep him supplied with experimental material during the autumn and winter at Harvard.

In the autumn of 1960 Mike headed west to La Jolla, California, to spend an academic year at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), to expand his statistical and physiological knowledge in an oceanographic context where Calanus was available all year, virtually off Scripps pier. He returned to Harvard and WHOI in September 1961 with some new ideas and lots of enthusiasm, which yielded his doctoral thesis ‘Comparative Ecology of the Genus Calanus in the Gulf of Maine’ in the autumn of 1963.

Before making California his permanent residence, Mike joined the International Indian Ocean Expedition on the R/V ‘Anton Bruun’ as an NSF Post-doctoral Fellow in the spring of 1964, followed by further post-doctoral research in the Department of Zoology, University of Auckland, New Zealand. The zooplankton community and its near-tropical environment in the Indian Ocean were in marked contrast to his experience in the considerably more productive, but less diverse, waters, in the Gulf of Maine. This research resulted in several papers on the nutritional environment and feeding behaviour of its calanoid copepods. These papers, plus his doctoral research, set a course of scientific production that continued throughout his life.

On his return to the United States, Mike joined John Strickland's Food Chain Research Group (FCRG) at SIO in the autumn of 1964. With this talented scientific community he studied zooplankton feeding, growth, production and distribution over much of the north Pacific Ocean. In that same year, Bob Conover came west to the Friday Harbor Laboratory of the University of Washington to teach the zooplankton ecology course with Karl Banse. Mike assumed this role in 1966 at FHL, where he met two of his early graduate students, Jed Hirota and Arthur Barnett.

In addition to being an inspiring teacher and mentor, Mike was also a gifted administrator. He held a number of leadership posts at SIO, including Chairman of the Department, Associate Director, Deputy Director, Dean of Academic Affairs at SIO, and most recently, as Director of the Marine Life Research Group (MLRG). Since 1997 he had served as Editor-in-Chief of the multidisciplinary journal Fisheries Oceanography, conceived by Tim Parsons in 1992. In Mike's later career some of his research emphasis was concentrated on the critical interaction between zooplankton and the young fish which ate them.


Gus Paffenhöfer and Mike first met in October 1968 at Scripps where Gus worked until June 1970 whilst beginning his studies on planktonic copepods. At Scripps, Mike was a pioneer in developing an ecological understanding of the function of planktonic copepods in the ocean by combining field observations with experimental results. Of his numerous papers, three seem to be of extraordinary significance: the research on Rhincalanus nasutus resulted in information on the complete life cycle, including an outstanding study on food selection by a planktonic copepod. A later paper on determining the production of the dominant copepod Calanus helgolandicus (now pacificus ) off Southern California showed Mike's idea of combining field and laboratory results to obtain an environmental estimate. The third showed his early grasp on the significance of patchiness in the ocean, relating phytoplankton concentration/aggregation to feeding rates of copepods, so as to quantify when and where in the water column they may meet their metabolic requirements. These studies were at the leading edge of marine ecological research, and were indicative of Mike's extraordinary talent.

These major contributions were complemented by his commitment to education, in particular in advising graduate students. During the late 1960s and early 1970s of all professors at Scripps, it appeared that Mike Mullin was the major advisor of the graduate students who were starting there. Every week he spent numerous hours conferring with students about their futures. His selfless attitude was known throughout SIO. One of the prime examples of this attitude was when one of his students, Bill Bartram, passed away near the end of his doctorate research. Mike transformed the thesis results into a manuscript for the Journal of Plankton Research where it was published without any reference to the advisor's efforts (as intended by Mike!).

Lastly, it should be mentioned that Michael Mullin was a proponent of Fair Play, i.e. give credit where credit is due and reward those who truly deserve it. At the same time, those who struggle despite major efforts should also receive positive comments. In essence, we had, and really still have, amongst us a personality who through his behaviour influenced many of the next generation positively, and will be an example of what our attitude towards others could, and probably should, be.


Music was the other major commitment in Mike's life. Both Mike and his younger brother Mark were boy soprano choristers at an early age. On arriving in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1957 as a Harvard junior, Mike joined the Harvard Glee Club; he also sang in a church choir on Garden Street where he met Connie Hammond, a freshman at Radcliffe College. She was also interested in biology, subsequently spent three summers in Woods Hole at the Marine Biological Laboratories, and later taught biology and chemistry at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Mike and Connie were married a few days after Christmas in 1964, seven years after they first met.

There were elements of professional skill in Mike's musical life as there were in his scientific career. Shortly after their arrival in La Jolla, he and Connie joined the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) Madrigal Singers. Mike became conductor of the 20-voice group in the late 1960s. Under Mike's leadership for over 30 years the group, later known as the La Jolla Renaissance Singers, performed in period costumes at Christmas and at various local venues in the spring. Music played a significant role throughout Mike and Connie's married life and their three children also became competent musicians at an early age.

Of their children, Stephen Joseph Mullin is following the family tradition, being a third-generation biologist, now teaching at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. In addition to his wife Connie and Stephen, Mike is survived by son Keith Alan Mullin, who designs children's toys, and daughter Laura Mullin Thompson, a business woman, both of La Jolla, and a granddaughter Alexandrea Christine Mullin. He is also survived by his mother, Alma Hill Mullin of El Paso, Texas, and brother, Mark Hill Mullin of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

He passed away on December 19, 2000 in La Jolla of complications following cardiac surgery. A memorial service was held at Scripps Institution of Oceanography on January 6, 2001, on the lawn above the Scripps pier. Friends from Japan provided stunning arrangements of purple and white flowers. His ‘Pacific twin’, Mac Omori, whom he had first met in Woods Hole, joined a number of out-of-town guests. Music played an important role in the ceremony, and the tributes were many. Mike, always modest, would have suggested that an honour such as this final homage was not really deserved. But as his wife Connie noted, he would have loved the concert!

To honour his commitment to graduate education at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his intent as expressed in a trust document, the Mullin family has established an endowment fund in his name to support graduate students at Scripps. The goal is to create the Michael M. Mullin Graduate Student Fellowship in Biological Oceanography.

Contributions to this endowment fund may be sent to Lawrance Bailey, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0210, USA. Cheques should be made payable to UC Regents; please note ‘For Mullin Fund’ on the cheque.