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Call for Expression of Interest for PhD project:

Body-condition and health of humpback whales on their Alaskan foraging grounds

The Alaska Whale Foundation (AWF) and the Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP) at the University of Hawaii are seeking applicants for a PhD project. This project aims to build on our Alaska - Hawaii humpback whale (HBW) body condition work using Unoccupied Aerial Systems (UAS; drone) - photogrammetry. The research will focus on how ocean conditions and/or foraging tactics influence whale body condition on the Alaskan foraging grounds. Within this general topic, the successful applicant will be encouraged to explore their own areas of research interest. The PhD project will have access to >3000 body condition measurements of individual HBWs in Alaska collected over the past six years - with another >7000 measurements available from their Hawaiian breeding grounds. The successful applicant will be expected to continue to collect UAS body condition data in Alaska for an additional 3-4 field seasons. Other available data streams include 30 years of whale sighting history data, tri-accelerometer video tag data from >50 whales, >150 biopsy samples, and recent systematic physical, chemical and biological oceanographic data.

This project will entail annual five-month field seasons in Southeast (SE) Alaska (May-October) with possible additional short ~two-week field trips to Alaska between November and April. Field work is based out of AWFs remote field station in Warms Springs Bay, SE Alaska. While in the field, the successful candidate will be working with a team of 4-6 graduate students and interns. A key field responsibility of the candidate is to collect UAS-photogrammetry data of HBWs from small research vessels. The successful candidate will be responsible for managing and maintaining the Alaskan humpback whale body condition database.

Required qualifications:

Applicants must have strong analytical and coding/programming experience in R and/or MATLAB. Candidates must have significant UAS experience and hold a FAA 107 license when field work commences. Strong writing skills are required.

Desirable qualifications:

Candidates should be well-read in biological and oceanographic literature, especially pertaining to climate change, ocean health, and ocean productivity and how these affect marine food webs. We seek candidates with small boat field experience. Masters degree preferable. Experience in database management.

The project is a collaboration between Alaska Whale Foundation and the Marine Mammal Research Program at the University of Hawaii. The student will be enrolled at the University of Hawaii and be based at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology on Oahu.

The successful candidate will be provided with full tuition costs and a PhD stipend (GA-ship) for the initial year of their program. While further funding cannot be guaranteed at this stage, PIs currently have grants submitted for additional student stipend and tuition support (outcomes pending), and track records of success in establishing funding/GAships. Teaching assistantships (which cover student stipends and tuition) at the University of Hawaii are typically available for students who do not have GAships.


15 Sept 2023: Deadline to express interest in position.

1 Nov 2023: Shortlisted applicants will be invited for Zoom interviews during 7-14 Nov.

15-17 Nov 2023: The preferred applicant will be asked to submit their PhD application to the University of Hawaii.

Mid-Dec 2023: Formal deadline for PhD applications to University of Hawaii.

Jan-Mar 2024: Applicant joins field team for one-month of training in Hawaii (food/accommodation will be provided).

March/April 2024: PhD position offers sent out by the Registrar at the University of Hawaii.

May - June 2024: Commence pre-PhD field work in Alaska.

July/Aug 2024: PhD enrolment.

To apply:

Candidates should submit the following materials via email to and in a single PDF document, with the file name “YourLastName_AlaskaHawaii_PhD.pdf” and the subject heading:

“HBW_PhD_AlaskaHawaii_application” no later than 15 September 2023:

1) A cover letter explaining your motivation for applying for this position, how your prior experience qualifies you for the position, how you satisfy both the required and desirable qualifications, and your career goals.

2) Your CV

3) Two letters from personal references

MMRP and AWF are committed to equality and diversity and encourage applications from women, underrepresented minorities, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities.


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