Cetacean Ecologist


Dawn Barlow is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna Lab at Hatfield Marine Science Center. Dawn’s research interests are in the ecology and conservation of marine mammals. In particular, she studies what drives when and where whales can be found and how their distribution overlaps with human activities, using tools such as spatial statistics, bioacoustics, and oceanography. Dawn’s doctoral research focused on the ecology of blue whales in New Zealand, bringing together multiple data streams to understand their habitat use patterns and inform conservation management efforts. As a Postdoctoral Scholar, Dawn is investigating harbor porpoise and gray whale distribution patterns in the nearshore waters of the Northern California Current over three decades. She has conducted research in Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, California, and has had the great pleasure of collaborating on at-sea surveys for marine mammals off the Oregon Coast since 2018 with an interdisciplinary group of marine scientists. Dawn is excited to be part of the HALO project and grateful for the opportunity to continue exploring Oregon’s rich offshore waters with this dynamic team. She received a B.S. in Organismal Biology and a B.A. in Environmental Policy from Pitzer College in 2016, a M.S. in Wildlife Science at Oregon State University in 2018, and a Ph.D. in Wildlife Science at Oregon State University in 2022. While not doing research, Dawn can often be found in, on, or near the water—swimming, sailing, freediving, or at the beach with her dog, Quin. 

Why is the HALO project important to you? Anything you’re most excited to learn about?

I have been an Oregon Coast resident since 2016, when I moved to Newport to begin graduate school. The HALO project is an opportunity to deepen my connection to the place I call home, and to contribute to our understanding of what drives marine mammal distribution patterns in Oregon waters, in current and future environmental conditions. The HALO project is also unique in its year-round data collection. With slim windows of workable weather conditions for much of the year, any information we can gather will greatly enhance what is known about the marine predators off our coast and the ecosystem they inhabit. Our monthly 24-hr cruises on the R/V Pacific Storm make this goal possible. The interdisciplinary nature of the HALO project, paired with other ongoing monitoring efforts here in Oregon waters, means we have the capacity for a comprehensive and holistic assessment of this dynamic ecosystem. I can’t wait to see what we uncover. In the meantime, I am thrilled for the opportunity to get out to sea and eager to help the project take shape as best I can. 

Why is support from the public so essential to the
HALO project?

When I moved to the Oregon Coast, I was most looking forward to the research opportunities that awaited. What I did not expect was to find such a welcoming, hard-working, thoughtful, ocean-oriented community of people that have shaped my experience of living here. In my interactions with folks in town over the years, I have consistently observed two things: people who live here feel connected to this place, and are always curious about the wildlife and the ecosystem in our back yard, regardless of their background or occupation. The Gray Whale License Plate funds are directly enabling exploration and discovery on our coastal doorstep, fueled by our connection to and curiosity about this place that we call home. In turn, it makes me proud that our findings will be shared with the coastal community, enhancing knowledge and informing conservation efforts.