University of Washington Announces New Marine Biology Major

From iconic orcas to life-sustaining salmon runs, the Pacific Northwest and the city of Seattle, have always been deeply connected to the sea.

Uniquely positioned in the region, the University of Washington (UW) has established itself as a world-leader in the fields of Oceanography and Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. The UW is thrilled to announce that it will be expanding the scope of its marine science offerings to include a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Marine Biology. While students could minor in Marine Biology, this is the first time it will be offered as a major at the UW.

“The Marine Biology Major educates students in the core biological concepts in a marine setting. In addition, students have the rare opportunity to study a wide variety of relevant topics that incorporate advanced skills,” said Kerry Naish, director of the Marine Biology program. “The combination of subject matter with skill building is beneficial because students will graduate with the knowledge necessary to solve emerging issues in the marine environment and beyond.”

Undergraduate students examining an ocean sunfish or mola mola and wolf eel. Part of the the Burke Museum’s Ichthyology Collection
Undergraduate students examining an ocean sunfish or mola mola and wolf eel. Part of the the Burke Museum’s Ichthyology Collection

Working with the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; the School of Oceanography; and the UW owned field station, Friday Harbor Labs, the College of the Environment developed the new Marine Biology major to complement the established programs while also building a novel curriculum attractive to students. This joint approach will foster a creative and collaborative community among disciplines, providing undergraduate students the opportunity to work with a range of faculty, staff, and graduate students.

“The curriculum is designed to provide students with a holistic approach that integrates hands on field experience, laboratory skills and incredible courses taught by world-class scientists,” said Jacqueline Padilla- Gamiño, assistant professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño collecting coral spawn in a lab in Hawaii
Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño collecting coral spawn in a lab in Hawaii

Katie Hearther is an undergraduate student who recently declared a double major in Marine Biology and Oceanography after learning of the announcement.

“There are very few institutions across the country that offer such a variety of marine science focuses, and I am ecstatic that I can now double major in Oceanography and Marine Biology,” said Hearther. “Despite popular belief, these two fields are extraordinarily different, and I am equally passionate about both. The new major will allow me to expand my marine science education within two departments that each offer unique, fantastic opportunities to undergraduate students.”

A priority of the major’s design is to ensure students will receive a strong foundation in the sciences, sharing learning goals with the degrees in Oceanography, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, and Biology. In addition, they will be able to select from a broad range of specialized courses uniquely offered by the three participating programs. Students in the major can connect with these programs early in their education. Within these classes, students can develop advanced skills in areas of biotechnology, instrumentation, programing and modeling, statistical analysis, science communication, resource conservation and management, food security, and climate impacts.

“My favorite opportunity in the Marine Biology major is hands-on experience with the adaptations of marine organisms, while practicing how to communicate what you know and how you know it, scientifically,” said Jennifer Ruesink, an associate professor in the biology department.

“There are a ton of students who are already passionate about the field and many other students who will be attracted to the major as they learn how it develops the scientific, quantitative, analytical and communication skills valuable for a range of careers,” said Joe Kobayashi, the Marine Biology academic advisor.

A student looks in tide pools at Friday Harbor Labs
Friday Harbor Labs

A standout feature of Marine Biology is that students complete an integrative field experience which includes research or field courses at marine field stations, like Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island. Nestled along the waterfront of a 484-acre wildlife preserve, Friday Harbor Labs provides students an unparalleled opportunity to immerse themselves in marine science and work closely with Marine Biology faculty in the field.

“It is a place where students and faculty get to interact closely, to the benefit of both,” said Megan Dethier, Associate Director for Academics and the Environment at Friday Harbor Labs. “Students who learn best by ‘doing’ thrive here, as most time is spent actively seeking patterns in the field, studying live organisms in the lab, conducting hands-on experiments, and communicating their science.”

“Studying at Friday Harbor Labs will surely be a highlight of my undergraduate studies and a springboard for my future plans,” said Andrew Chin, a double major in Marine Biology and Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

A degree in Marine Biology from the UW will prepare students to tackle some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. Graduates are well equipped for careers in management agencies from local to international levels, environmental consulting, non-profit organizations, and a range of educational settings.

“The ocean is beautiful, diverse, complex, and under-explored. It is also changing,” said Alex Gagon, an assistant professor with the School of Oceanography. “The next generation of marine biologists will pair discovery with stewardship as they build a sustainable future for humans and marine life. This challenge will require broadly trained scientists who can bring an interdisciplinary approach to complex problems, which is precisely the type of education that Marine Biology majors receive at the University of Washington.”

Marine Biology is an open major which can be declared at any time by currently enrolled UW undergraduates. To declare the major, contact the Marine Biology Academic Advisor at