Alumni Profile: Bill Pennell ’65 (Bowdoin Magazine)

Bill Pennell '65 (Illustration: Chelee Ross '12)

This profile originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of Bowdoin magazine.

Bowdoin major: Philosophy

Title: Professor & Scientist Emeritus; Director, Institute for Coastal Research, Vancouver Island University

Website: www.viu.ca/deepbay/


Career path from Bowdoin: Jim Moulton, a key advisor and inspiration, introduced me to the joys of plankton, which have stayed with me ever since. Later, he helped me gain admission to McGill University’s Marine Sciences Centre, which is how I came to Canada. On Vancouver Island, I accidentally encountered the fascinating new subject of aquaculture.

Current schedule: I still have an office at VIU and stay involved with colleagues and students. These three decades have been wonderful; excellent colleagues and students, much travel, and endless learning curves. I am still much taken with photography, especially in the digital age, and I have managed to stay in close touch with John McKee, who was a Bowdoin mentor in my early photo days.

Biggest lessons gained from teaching: I suppose learning to understand new areas, learning to enjoy endlessly being on new learning curves and never knowing enough.

On fellow researchers: I tend to admire those who have been willing to step outside a defined specialization. This is risky, but it is how the best discoveries are made.

Most amazing biological phenomena witnessed: The big year runs of sockeye salmon up the Frazer River watershed-over 30 million last year, bright red with green heads. The spring herring spawning in the Strait of Georgia: seals, sea lions, birds and fish all getting the year’s first big energy pulse. The restored Alewife run in Damariscotta River.

Favorite Bowdoin memory: A summer trip to Alaska with three classmates, Russ Weigel, Chew Stephenson, and Walt Christie ’64. We drove from Maine, across Canada, and throughout Alaska in a 1950s International Harvester step van (a former diaper van) and had endless adventures. I amused my young colleagues by towing a plankton net, swimming in many cold lakes dotted across the continent, tow line in my teeth, in search of a rare cladoceran-a quest suggested by Jim Moulton. During the school year, there were nighttime quests for smelts, plankton sampling off the Gurnet Bridge, and of course fraternity parties.

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