History – Department of Biology - University of Copenhagen

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Marine Biology > History


The Marine Biological Section was established 1. january 2010 as a part of a reorganization of the Biological Institute. January 2011 we will merge with EEAO ( Section for Evolution and Ecology of Aquatic Organisms) and the Section will be located in both Helsingør and Copenhagen.

Marine Biological Laboratory 1958


Gunnar Thorson at sea collecting samples

The laboratory was officially founded in 1958, but its earliest history extends back to the 1930's. At that time the founder and first director of the laboratory, the late Professor Gunnar Thorson, then employed at the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen, started a private marine laboratory on the Swedish Island of Hven. The main objective of this laboratory was the study of planktonic larvae of benthic invertebrates. These endeavours, in which Gunnar Thorson involved several younger zoologists, resulted in a large memoir published shortly after the Second World War. During the war Denmark was occupied and it was no longer possible to use the laboratory on Hven; instead a laboratory was established in a former candy shop in the old part of Helsingør. This laboratory was also the basis for physiological studies on the relation between metabolic rate and body size carried out by the late Erik Zeuthen in the 1940's. After the war Gunnar Thorson made a considerable effort to persuade the University of Copenhagen to establish a Danish marine laboratory in the tradition of marine laboratories abroad such as Kristineberg in Sweden, Stazione Zoologica in Naples, and the laboratories at Plymouth, Woods Hole and Roscoff. In the late 1950's these efforts eventually succeeded. The town of Helsingør donated a building (which had been erected by the German occupation forces for stockpiling torpedoes) to the University of Copenhagen. It was changed into a two story laboratory building (which today constitutes the "old laboratory"), a building containing dormitories and a dining hall was added and the research vessel OPHELIA was donated by the Rockefeller Foundation. The laboratory was inaugurated as a university department in 1958. The laboratory initially included a staff of only three tenured scientists and the research efforts concentrated on the ecology of benthic invertebrates. The laboratory was internationally oriented from the beginning and visiting scientists from abroad were frequent.
During the 1960's the size of the staff steadily increased and in 1970 the laboratory was enlarged: a new laboratory building was erected (the "new laboratory") including an auditorium and a library and the dormitory building was enlarged. The new laboratory building also includes a small public aquarium displaying marine life from the Sound and adjacent seas.