Centennial Story 17: Donna Hauser (BS, 2003; MS, 2006; PhD, 2016)

I grew up in Alaska, with wilderness always at my fingertips and primed to study marine biology from my first undergraduate days at UW. Yet the transition to Seattle’s urban environment was challenging until I found a home at SAFS, where professors knew your name, your classmates were your allies, and learning was by experience. I started at UW as a biology major, but quickly learned that SAFS offered an educational intimacy unparalleled in other programs, and in 2003, I was proud to earn double BS degrees in Biology and Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. I tend toward the top of the food chain, and so I soaked up every component of Glenn VanBlaricom’s Marine Mammalogy course. As I finished my bachelor degrees, I yearned for more focused marine mammal ecology research as a graduate student and was lucky to slip into an MS project with Glenn and Eli Holmes (Northwest Fisheries Science Center), focused on habitat use of southern resident killer whales. Glenn instilled independence in his students and built a large research lab that encouraged collaborative science.

Donna helping with Glenn VanBlaricom’s long term black abalone census project on San Nicholas Island in 2004
Donna helping with Glenn VanBlaricom’s long term black abalone census project on San Nicholas Island in 2004

Upon completing my MS in 2006, I found myself well-prepared to explore several opportunities and spent time working with non-governmental organizations and federal agencies in both the US and Canada and doing environmental consulting. It took me five years, an infant, and a solid job on the farthest reaches of eastern Canada to decide it was time to go back to school for a PhD—perhaps not the choice everyone would make. I did not intend to return to SAFS at that time and spent a lot of time examining other schools. However, the strength of the SAFS program and the ability to identify a supportive and encouraging mentor in Kristin Laidre, an intriguing research project, and solid funding created the perfect match for my interests. My dissertation (2016) examined the distribution patterns, foraging ecology, and environmental influences affecting two beluga whale populations in Alaska over a period of significant sea ice habitat loss. Through a creative NSF-sponsored fellowship program at the UW, the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Program on Ocean Change, I was also fortunate to gain training in science communication and effective interdisciplinary team-building for improved marine science outcomes aimed at transcending academic, government, and tribal boundaries.

With my broad training as a marine mammal ecologist, I now work at the interface of oceanography, fisheries, and marine biology for applied conservation and management objectives. My recent research centers on the spatial ecology and habitat use of Arctic cetaceans and pinnipeds through quantification of their distribution, movements, and behavior in dynamic and rapidly changing environments that are increasingly exposed to anthropogenic influences. I have returned to Alaska, the state I have always called home, and to which I remain deeply connected. As a research assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, my current and future research plans are driven by a suite of questions addressing the environmental factors and ecological interactions that influence ecological responses of sentinel marine species, and the indigenous people who rely on them, to dynamic and rapidly changing Arctic marine ecosystems. Increasingly, my research centers on community-based, collaborative research with Iñupiaq experts and focuses on impacts to changing Arctic Alaska coastal regions.

Donna on the sea ice near Utqiaġvik, Alaska during spring 2018.
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