Johan Hjort was born in Christiania [Oslo] in 1869. He was educated at the University of Munich, graduating with a doctorate in 1892. In 1893, Hjort was appointed curator of the University Zootomical Museum and the following year became a research fellow in fisheries, studying physiological chemistry at Jena from 1895 to 1896 in order to widen his knowledge. Returning to Norway in 1897, he was appointed director of the Biological Station at Drobak, organizing research into the development of the Norwegian fisheries.
In 1899, Hjort suggested that the Norwegian government should build a marine research vessel, and in 1900, he led the Norwegian Oceanographic Expedition in the steamship Michael Sars to conduct a wide range of physical oceanographic, marine biological and fisheries research investigations in the Norwegian Sea. Sailing to the north coast of Iceland and northwest toward the pack ice of the Greenland Sea, the scientists on board conducted a thorough study of the waters around Jan Mayen and landed on the island at Tommerbukta.
Hjort helped to develop the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, established in 1902, and in 1906, became chief director of fisheries in Norway. In 1910, he was invited by Sir John Murray to lead a deep-sea expedition to the North Atlantic, publishing the expedition results with Murray in the marine biology classic The depths of the ocean in 1912.
Between 1914 and 1915, he was asked by the Canadian government to organize and conduct fishery investigations. Resigning from his post as director of fisheries in Norway during the First World War, he undertook studies in Copenhagen and Cambridge before returning to Norway in 1921 as professor of marine biology at the University of Oslo. He initiated scientific studies of whales and the whaling industry, becoming chairman of the first Norwegian Whaling Committee in 1924, and serving as chairman of the International Whaling Committee from 1926 to 1939. He held the post of president of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea from 1939 until his death in 1948.
From the guide to the Johan Hjort collection, 1912, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)