$200,000 gift to UCSC establishes graduate fellowship in marine mammals

A gift of $200,000 from Rebecca and Steve Sooy of Foster City has established an endowed fellowship fund to support graduate students studying marine mammals at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The Sooys have been volunteer docents at Año Nuevo State Reserve for many years, where they became fascinated by the northern elephant seals that breed there. The Rebecca and Steve Sooy Graduate Fellowship in Marine Mammals celebrates and continues their long commitment to the understanding and conservation of the northern elephant seal by encouraging and supporting marine mammal research. The fellowship will be open to any graduate student studying marine mammals at UC Santa Cruz, with primary consideration given to students investigating the northern elephant seal.

UCSC is one of the top centers for marine mammal research in the world. The campus has a unique combination of field and laboratory facilities for marine mammal research, including animal holding facilities at Long Marine Laboratory and ready access to natural populations of elephant seals, harbor seals, California sea lions, and Steller sea lions at UC's Año Nuevo Reserve. In addition, UCSC is located on the shores of Monterey Bay, a biologically rich marine environment with one of the highest diversities of marine mammals in the world, including many different species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

UCSC has probably the most active and productive graduate program in marine mammal biology of any university in the world, according to Daniel Costa, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. Graduates of this program have gone on to prominent positions in academia, federal and state government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations.

"The quality of our graduate students is legendary, as our students have consistently won top honors at the Biennial Conference for Marine Mammalogy," Costa said.

But he added that finding support for graduate students is becoming increasingly difficult and problematic due to increases in tuition and fees and declining state support for higher education.

"We are finding it increasingly difficult to compete for the best and brightest students due to a lack of graduate student support. The Rebecca and Steve Sooy Graduate Fellowship in Marine Mammals will go a long way toward solving this problem," Costa said.

The history of marine mammal expertise at UCSC extends back to the campus's earliest years, starting with pioneering researcher Richard Peterson, who was later joined on the UCSC faculty by Burney Le Boeuf and Kenneth Norris. Le Boeuf, now a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology and associate vice chancellor for research, and Peterson studied primarily pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), while Norris was already internationally renowned for his research on cetaceans (dolphins and whales).

Marine mammal researchers at UCSC now cover an ever-widening range of expertise. They include Costa, who studies the physiological ecology of marine mammals, with a special emphasis on elephant seals; Donald Croll, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who has been studying the relationship of oceanography to the foraging ecology of large whales; James Estes, adjunct professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who is known internationally for his work on the role of sea otters in kelp forest communities and, more generally, the role of top predators in marine communities; Terrie Williams, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who studies marine mammal locomotion and energetics; research biologist Stephen Insley, who studies acoustic ecology; and research biologists Colleen and Dave Kastak, who study the sensory ecology and physiology of marine mammals.

The Rebecca and Steve Sooy Graduate Fellowship in Marine Mammals will be administered by the Graduate Division, with the selection of fellows made in cooperation with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.