The University of Washington seemed like an odd choice for a kid from Tulsa, Oklahoma. However, after a visit to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, I knew where I wanted to be. And, even though I was initially not accepted, the UW became home for nearly 15 years. And, Seattle has been home for 25 years.
As a freshman, I signed up for the wildlife science program in the College of Forest Resources. I enjoyed learning about the flora and fauna of Pacific Northwest forests. Amphibian surveys in old growth forests, deploying and listening to some of the early bat sonar detectors, learning about the urban crows of Seattle, and exploring the politics and conservation of the spotted owl were just a few of the experiences. However, it was the marine mammalogy course in SAFS that finally pointed me toward the marine environment.
Growing up in middle America, my only exposure to marine mammals was in zoos and aquaria. While those experiences were valuable and planted a seed of appreciation for marine creatures, it wasn’t until I took marine mammalogy that my scientific curiosity for marine mammals began. The course was taught by Glenn VanBlaricom, and as I approached the end of my undergraduate degree, Glenn provided guidance as I pursued funding opportunities for graduate school. He also connected me with the Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, where I participated in various research projects and made lifelong friends.
I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to pursue graduate research in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, studying the potential impacts of harbor seal predation on salmon runs in Hood Canal. The project was a wonderful exposure to the world of marine mammal research. Extensive hours observing seals (and other wildlife, day and night) from blinds at the mouth of the Dosewallips or Duckabush rivers instilled a love for Hood Canal and the marine environment of Puget Sound. My coursework at SAFS inspired me to embrace the quantitative world. And, I was given the freedom to pursue unplanned paths—such as the two times mammal-eating killer whales decided to spend several weeks feeding on my harbor seal study animals.
I am now part of an exceptional team of colleagues at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Our focus is on the ecology and abundance of phocids in Alaska. It is a privilege to find myself working on some of the most important conservation and ecological issues of our time: changing climate and changing oceans. This May, I returned to the marine mammalogy course to give a guest lecture on the use of biologging in marine mammal research. I couldn’t help but be thankful for all SAFS and the University of Washington have provided me and for helping guide me to this point in my career.