January 3, 2005
$200,000 gift to UCSC establishes graduate
fellowship in marine mammals
By Tim Stephens
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 UCSC.
Steve and Rebecca Sooy
Photo: Sandor Nagyszalanczy
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 UCSC, 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
"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,"
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.
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