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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Invertebrate Zoology

photo of octocoral Dendonepthea sp.

A photo of octocoral Dendonepthea sp.

Frederick M. Bayer
Smithsonian Curator

Frederick “Ted” M. Bayer, 85, a retired Smithsonian curator, died after a long illness on October 2 at Washington Home in Washington, D. C.

Dr. Bayer published over 130 papers and books on the taxonomy and natural history of soft corals (i.e., octocorals: sea fans and sea whips), describing over 170 new species, 40 genera, and even three new families. He was long acknowledged as the doyen of soft coral research, attracting visitors and collections to the Smithsonian from all parts of the world. Several dozen species from many different groups of animals have been named in his honor, including the hydroid Hydractinia bayeri, described by his colleague, the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito.

Dr. Bayer was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey on Halloween night, 1921, but grew up in southern Florida, where he became an amateur naturalist at a young age, his early passion being the collection of seashells. His undergraduate education was interrupted by WWII, during which time he served as a photographic technician in the Army Air Corps (36th Photo Reconnaissance) from December 1942 to December 1945. In this capacity he traveled to New Guinea, the Philippines, and Okinawa, in his spare time making collections and drawings of shells, fish, and butterflies. He eventually received his BS from the University of Miami, and his MS and PhD degrees from George Washington University in 1954 and 1958, respectively.

He was hired as a Smithsonian curator at the National Museum of Natural History in 1947. Almost immediately he was sent to Bikini Atoll to survey the marine fauna just two years after the nuclear testing at that island. He also spent many months of field work in Micronesia at Ifaluk (1953) and Palau (1955). Bayer left the Smithsonian in 1961 to become a Professor at the School of Marine Science, University of Miami. During that time he participated in numerous deep-sea collecting expeditions in the Caribbean and off western Africa, as well as mentoring over a dozen graduate students in the classification of exotic marine invertebrates. He returned to the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, Smithsonian Institution in 1975 where he continued his interrupted curatorial career for another 21 years until he retired in 1996. He continued to work and publish papers at the Museum as a Curator Emeritus until 2006. Although an expert on corals, he was a broadly based naturalist, perhaps one of the most knowledgeable deep-sea biologists in the world.

He was an outstanding bio-illustrator, both in black and white line drawings (the stipple technique) as well as color paintings. He painted a series of fourteen beautiful, scientifically accurate underwater scenes that were used for a set of postage stamps for Haiti in 1973. After the scanning electron microscope was invented, he employed it assiduously to examine the microscopic anatomy of the octocoral skeleton, ultimately amassing a collection of over 40,000 images, many taken in stereo view.

Dr. Bayer was a commissioner of the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature for 23 years (1972-1995), the international body that adjudicates disputes about zoological classification. He was also an ardent supporter of the Handel Society in Washington D. C. He was a member of the Washington Academy of Sciences. Survivors include a niece, Lisa Stojek, and nephew, Michael Glocheski, both living in Plymouth, Michigan.

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