Marine Mammal Specialist Leaves Island, May Not Be Replaced

Bree Witteveen. Photo courtesy of UAF

Bree Witteveen. Photo courtesy of UAF

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Marine mammal specialist Bree Witteveen with the Marine Advisory Program is moving to the Lower 48, and Kodiak may not get a replacement anytime soon.

Witteveen’s studies have focused on whales and she’s a research assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She’s also been active in investigating last summer’s massive whale die-off, which NOAA declared an unusual mortality event.

Witteveen says she’s been with the University of Alaska for roughly 16 years, and spent a few more in Kodiak, but her interest in marine biology developed a long time before, in Colorado.

“I always was interested in marine biology and whales in particular, ever since I was a little kid. I grew up in Colorado, so I wasn’t even near the ocean, but it always sort of fascinated me and I just have been really fortunate in the path that I followed that I’ve been able to pursue that passion that I’ve had since I was a kid. I can’t really pinpoint it on anything specific, it’s just always been there.”

Despite that strong interest, she explains how the state’s financial situation has impacted her job and pushed her to look at other careers. She says she began dedicating more time to writing grant applications and seeking funds and less to doing what she loves, so it didn’t make sense for her to continue.

“Really, the bottom line is that there’s simply not any funding anymore for my position specifically and then the work that we do generally, so it’s just not really able to be supported anymore. So, living off grants and constantly trying to figure out where your next source of salary and project money is coming from, it just proves to be too stressful.”

She predicts her position will remain vacant.

“My colleague and mentor, Kate Wynne, retired in October, and her position was not re-filled due to budget constraints, and my position will not be either, so there’s not really going to be a marine mammal specialist on the island at least for the foreseeable future.”

Witteveen says she’s preparing for her move this weekend.

“I’m really just trying to wrap up everything that we’re doing and writing a lot of publication and still dealing with that fin whale unusual mortality event from last summer, so really just tying up loose ends and making sure that people are aware that there isn’t going to be a whole of marine mammal research in the next few years.”

She says she’s always had a secondary interest in medicine and is traveling to the Lower 48 to get her master’s degree in nursing at Oregon Health and Science University. She says her ultimate goal is to become a family nurse practitioner.

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