Larry Allen, a respected authority on California’s coastal marine fishes and chair of the Department of Biology at California State University, Northridge, has received one of the highest honors given by the Southern California Academy of Sciences, for his contributions to scientific knowledge regarding Southern California and to the region’s scientific community.
The academy surprised Allen with its Wheeler North Award, named for the pioneering marine biologist and environmental scientist whose work led to a better understanding of California’s coastal kelp beds, during its annual meeting in early May. The award is given only occasionally, as deemed appropriate by the academy’s board. Allen is the award’s sixth recipient since its inception in 2004.
“I was really honored,” Allen said. “It’s always nice to have the stuff you’ve done over a lifetime acknowledged, particularly for excellence in research. It’s about making a fundamental impact on research and the culture of research in Southern California. So, it’s quite an honor.”
Allen has spent more than 35 years studying the biogeography and ecology of marine fishes of the Pacific coast of North America, particularly along California’s coast. He regularly involves students in his research. Over the years, 45 of the students who worked personally with him on research have received master’s degrees in marine biology, and 15 have gone on to receive Ph.D.s. Of those with doctorates, about six are now professors themselves.
“I like to study fish, and involved students in it,” he said. “I like to embed enthusiasm in my students, and I think it’s working.”
Allen thought he had been invited to give a plenary address on California’s giant sea bass at the academy’s annual meeting May 6.
“They fooled me,” he said. “I was about to give the plenary address when a lot of my students from decades ago started showing up. I started wondering what was going on. There were students of mine from the 1980s, 1990s and the early 2010s along with my current students.”
When fellow marine biologist Daniel Pondella, who co-edited the book “The Ecology of Marine Fishes: California and Adjacent Waters” with Allen and Michael H. Horn, climbed onto the stage and presented him with the Wheeler North Award, Allen said he was stunned.
“It was really nice,” Allen said. “Wheeler North was a big-deal marine ecologist in California. He did a lot of fundamental work on California’s kelp beds. He’s kind of a hero of mine. To receive an award named after him is quite an honor. And then to have my students there made it very special.”