CWU News

Biology Graduate has a Passion for Sharks

Kelsey Martin

Recent Central Washington University graduate Kelsey Martin was destined to be an animal person.

"When I was a kid my dad would take me fishing," Martin said. "I loved it. . . . Then one time I walked by and saw Dad kill the fish. That was it."

Since then she’s become a vegetarian and isn’t too keen on killing things—even in the name of science—which as a newly minted fisheries biologist, Martin has to do on occasion.

The 2007 Ellensburg High School graduate always has known she wanted to study biology.

“I think I was probably 6 or 7 when I decided I wanted to study sharks,” Martin said.

As a little girl she read books about sharks. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was her favorite movie.

“They just had a bad reputation and they needed more people on their side, so I decided I was going to be the one to save them and change people’s minds,” Martin said.

Yeah, sharks are predators, and they can be dangerous to humans, she admits, but they’re beautiful animals that are mostly just misunderstood. “They’re not out to destroy humanity,” Martin said.

A few years ago the adventurous, ocean-loving Martin went shark diving in Hawaii, but she admits it wasn’t completely satisfying. Why? “Because I was in a cage,” she said.

Walking at commencementKelsey Martin

Martin technically graduated in March, but at commencement on Saturday, she will join the more than 3,100 people in CWU’s Class of 2014 as she accepts her degree in general biology.

“I like the idea of having a broader base because I do want to study sharks, but more important than anything to me is conservation,” Martin said.

She already has a job as a fisheries biologist at Blue Leaf Environmental, an environmental contracting company in Ellensburg. So far she’s been working with fish on the Columbia River and the Snake River.

“I got to catch a seven-and-a-half foot sturgeon,” Martin beamed. “They’re kind of sharkish.”

CWU biology professor Paul James has known Martin for many years. She went to school with his son and daughter.

“When she was a little girl, she was fascinated with sharks and talked about them all the time,” James said, adding that Martin is an excellent student who always wants to learn more and more about biology and ecology.

Field experience

Martin took a field course taught by James at a marine biology station in Hawaii.

“She was definitely the hardest working student on the trip,” James said. “I was so impressed with Kelsey, both in the classroom and in the field, that I hired her to help with our I-90 wildlife crossing study as well as another study looking at fish passage through streams in Ellensburg.”

Over spring break, Martin took another week-long biology field course in southern Mexico, where she investigated biodiversity and geology of tide pools in coastal Jalisco.

After the course, Martin headed to Mazatlan where she gave a presentation at the annual meeting of the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society. The talk focused on a project she worked on with James about the possibility of reintroducing steelhead and coho into Ellensburg’s Wilson and Reecer creeks.

Last year Martin gave a talk at the Washington-British Columbia chapter of the American Fisheries Society annual meeting in Chelan. It was her first taste at public speaking. Her presentation focused on fin condition in juvenile steelhead trout and chinook salmon.

“I’ve been able to get a lot of field experience, which is unique,” Martin said, crediting CWU’s hands-on biology program. “A lot of people at my stage don’t have near the experience.”

Public outreachKelsey Martin

Martin hopes one day her career includes an active role in educating the public about important research.

“There’s so much amazing research being done, but that research isn’t being communicated to the general public,” Martin said. “Everything published is so technical, the general public isn’t going to read that and care. So as far as wanting to make a difference and conserve things, you need to educate people on the issues. I think science needs more public outreach, so I hope there is public outreach for whatever I’m doing.”

Martin earned the 2014 College of the Sciences Award for Student Achievement in Biological Sciences.

“I was not the faculty member who nominated Kelsey for the student of distinction award because another faculty member beat me to it,” James said. “That should tell you how she was able to impress everyone in our department.”

Knowing that multiple biology professors nominated her for the award means a great deal, Martin said.

“They’re all people I really respect,” she said. “There’s something about going to a smaller school like Central. You really get to know your professors.”

Martin plans to go back to school for an advanced degree and has been looking into universities that have shark labs.

TOP PHOTO: Recent CWU graduate Kelsey Martin, a fisheries biologist for Blue Leaf Environmental, is pictured working on the Columbia River near the McNary Dam in May 2014.

MIDDLE PHOTO: Kelsey Martin is pictured during a CWU field course at a marine biology station in Hawaii in March 2013.

ABOVE PHOTO: Recent CWU graduate Kelsey Martin, center, helps sample fish at Wilson Creek in 2013 as part of a study looking at fish passage in Ellensburg streams.

Media contact: Barb Arnott, CWU Public Affairs, 509-963-2841,

June 11, 2014