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Sluczanowski, Philip (1952–1994)

by Rob Lewis and S. A. Shepherd

This article was published online in 2018

Philip Richard Wladyslaw Sluczanowski (1951–1994), mathematician and fisheries scientist, was born on 14 July 1951 in Johannesburg, South Africa, only child of Polish parents Wladyslaw Sluczanowski, a Russian-born civil engineer, and his wife Jadwiga Maria Paulina, née Groyecka. His parents had met in Krakόw, Poland, and were married in 1936. Having suffered deprivations and separation, they were serendipitously reunited in an Italian refugee centre after World War II and relocated to South Africa in 1947. Philip was educated at St Henry’s Marist Brothers’ School, Durban, and the University of Witwatersrand (BSc Hons, 1972), Johannesburg. In October 1973 he commenced doctoral studies in optimal control theory in the faculty of engineering at Imperial College, London (PhD, 1981). He married Sharon Odile Barbara Palmer on 3 January 1975 at Mariannhill, South Africa. The couple migrated to Australia later that year and would be granted citizenship in 1979.

Settling in Armidale, New South Wales, Sluczanowski worked as a research assistant in agricultural economics and statistics at the University of New England. In 1977 he moved to Adelaide, South Australia, and was employed as a senior research officer at the State Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Department of Fisheries from 1979), where he was based for the remainder of his career. Working in the population dynamics section, he inventively applied optimal control theory to generate models of fisheries. His study—which formed the basis of his doctoral thesis—focused on the Spencer Gulf prawn (Penaeus latisulcatus), significantly contributing to improvement in its management. He was also an early advocate of integrating fisheries data with computer-based interactive graphics packages. Using his modelling skills, he created tools that supported the ethical and sustainable development of natural resources. He soon became recognised as ‘one of Australia’s brightest and most innovative fisheries scientists’ (SARDI Communicator 1994, 2).

In 1984 Sluczanowski visited leading research institutes in Canada and the United States of America. Back in Australia, he spent eighteen months as head of research and development in a private firm as part of an industry exchange before returning as acting manager of the fisheries research branch (1987–89). He was a member of numerous professional organisations including the Australian Marine Sciences Association, Australian Society for Fish Biology, and International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade. Drawing on his department’s previous collaboration with scientists in Mexico, he appeared before the Federal Senate inquiry into trade and investment relations between Australia and Latin America in 1991. He noted the similarity of their marine environments and highlighted the benefits of cooperative research.

During the mid-1980s Sluczanowski had pioneered the fine-scale management of abalone (Haliotis spp.) at the metapopulation level, and developed and applied novel egg-per-recruit analyses to these fisheries. Turning his attention to the declining Australian southern shark stocks (school shark, Galeorhinus galeus, and gummy shark, Mustelus antarcticus), he was the principal investigator in a project that created SharkSim, a fishery graphics simulation. He had attracted funding from the Fishing Industry Research and Development Council, and Fisheries Development Trust Account. The program was highly commended in the IBM Conservation awards and a paper on it was awarded the conservation prize at the Sharks Down Under workshop at Taronga Zoo in 1991. SharkSim was widely recognised as having alerted biologists, fishers, and managers to the precarious state of the fishery, and helping to save it from an imminent collapse.

A colleague Jeremy Prince recalled that Sluczanowski ‘was all about demystifying the science’ (pers. comm.). He brought together artists and scientists, encouraging them to make user-friendly computer programs that would assist non-scientists to understand principles underpinning fisheries management and sustainable development. As chair (1990–91) of the Australian Network for Art and Technology, he recognised that artists might help to ‘design and create tools that offer easier and deeper insights into complex relationships’ (Sluczanowski et al. 1995, 72). Two decades after his death, his modelling tools continued to be used for teaching fisheries population dynamics in universities around the world.  

Sluczanowski was passionate and highly principled—as a young man he had left South Africa after developing ‘a profound sense of the injustice there’ (Prince and Fairbairn 1994, 13). Outside work, he enjoyed cooking and African jazz music. One of his most cherished achievements was his 1981 certification as a master juggler, a skill he used to amuse and entertain his colleagues and friends. Diagnosed with cancer in October 1993, he died on 23 May 1994 at his home in Goodwood, South Australia. His wife, and their three sons survived him.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Prince, Jeremy. Personal communication
  • Prince, Jeremy, and Lesley Fairbairn. ‘Fisheries Research Opened Up Resources Technology.’ Australian, 27 June 1994, 13
  • SARDI Communicator. ‘Dr Philip Sluczanowski Obituary, 1951–1994.’ 2, no. 5 (28 July 1994): 2
  • Sluczanowski family. Personal communication
  • Sluczanowski, Philip R. W., R. K. Lewis, Jeremy D. Prince, and John Tonkin. ‘Interactive Graphics Computer Models for Fisheries Management.’ In Assessment Methodologies and Management: Proceedings of the World Fisheries Congress, Theme 5, edited by G. T. Sakagawa, 71-79. New Dehli: Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. Pvt Ltd, 1995
  • South Australian Department of Fisheries. ‘Final Report.’ Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Project 90/13: Fisheries Graphics Simulator for Shark, Tuna, and Gemfish. 1992. Accessed 3 August 2017. http://www.frdc.com.au/research/Final_Reports/1990-013-DLD.pdf. Copy held on ADB file

Citation details

Rob Lewis and S. A. Shepherd, 'Sluczanowski, Philip (1952–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sluczanowski-philip-19072/text30661, published online 2018, accessed online 23 May 2019.

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