Biologist Daniel Costa receives Outstanding Faculty Award

Daniel Costa
Daniel Costa (Photo by Bruce Lyon)

Daniel Costa, distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) at UC Santa Cruz, has received the 2021-22 Outstanding Faculty Award from the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences. The annual award is the division's highest honor for faculty achievement, recognizing combined excellence in research, teaching, and service.

“Dan Costa is an internationally known and widely respected scientist who has made significant contributions both to UCSC and to the broader scientific community. An extraordinary faculty member, he is truly deserving of this award,” wrote Paul Koch, dean of physical and biological sciences, in a letter announcing the award.

Costa is a leading authority on the physiology, ecology, and behavior of large marine vertebrates, including whales, seals, sea lions, and seabirds. He has been a pioneer in the development and use of electronic tags to track the movements and behavior of marine mammals and to gather oceanographic data. The Costa Lab leads the long-running UCSC elephant seal research program at Año Nuevo Reserve, and his research on marine mammals and seabirds has ranged across the globe, from Monterey Bay to Alaska, Antarctica, Australia, the Galapagos Islands, and other locations.

By facilitating global collaborations and providing new tools and insights into the physiology and ecology of marine mammals, Costa has helped transform research on marine megafauna. His research discoveries have also contributed to timely conservation applications for protecting marine species around the world.

An influential teacher and mentor, Costa teaches one of the most popular upper division biology courses—Biology of Marine Mammals—incorporating photos, videos, and audio recordings from his field work into the lectures. Many undergraduates have also been involved in his lab and field work, gaining valuable research experience.

Koch noted that Costa’s lab has been an important training ground for the next generation of marine scientists. Costa has supervised 25 master’s students, 39 doctoral students, and 28 postdoctoral scholars—a diverse group, including women, underrepresented minorities, and international students, many of whom are now in prominent positions around the world.

Costa has served in leadership positions at the campus, national, and international level. As IMS director, he has reorganized its administrative structure, strengthened the relationship between UCSC and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), and helped develop plans for the UCSC Center for Coastal Climate Resilience. At the systemwide level, Costa served as chair of the UC Natural Reserve System Advisory Committee and was a founding member of the California Cooperative Ecosystems Study Unit. He has served as an adviser for numerous national and international funding agencies, foundations, and academic institutions, and has held leadership positions on large multi-institutional projects and research consortia.

A fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and the Society for Marine Mammalogy, Costa held the Ida Benson Lynn Chair in Ocean Health at UC Santa Cruz from 2008 to 2013. He received the Antarctica Service Medal, and Costa Spur in Antarctica was named in recognition of his contributions to Antarctic research. Costa received his B.A. in biology at UCLA and his Ph.D. in zoology at UCSC. He joined the UCSC faculty in 1991.