William Hamner PhD

Principal Scientist

William Hamner PhD & Peggy Hamner

Bill Hamner received a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Yale University (1961).  Peggy was an undergraduate Physics major at Wellesley College when she and Bill first met; they married while still undergraduates.  They moved to California where Bill obtained a Ph.D. degree in Zoology from UCLA (1965) with a dissertation on Photoperiodic Control of the Annual Reproductive Cycle of Birds, work he continued as an Assistant Professor of Zoology at UC Davis (1966-1972).  Thereafter, he received joint-appointments at UC Davis as Associate Professor of Zoology and Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences (1972-1974).  While at UC Davis, Peggy Hamner finished her Bachelor’s degree (Zoology), obtained a Master of Science degree (Marine Ecology), and produced two sons.  

Hamner’s research interests changed from birds to zooplankton while at UC Davis (allergic to feathers) and from 1971-72 he and a group of highly gifted graduate students (including Peggy) spent 15 months at the Lerner Marine Lab on Bimini in the Bahamas pioneering the technique of bluewater scientific diving in the open sea, a research approach that emphasizes use of SCUBA to conduct in situ studies of undisturbed individual animals in their own environment, collecting undamaged live animals for additional research in the lab.  They dove every day from small boats off-shore in the Gulf Stream and investigated gelatinous zooplankton (funded by NSF, Guggenheim, National Geographic, and UC sabbatical).  Bill and Peggy have worked as a research team since 1972, with a primary research interest in the behavior of marine animals (Popular articles in National Geographic Magazine, below.)

In 1974 the Hamners moved to Townsville, Queensland, Australia.  Bill was appointed as Principal Research Scientist and Peggy as a Research Associate at the newly formed Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). The Hamners conducted research on coral reefs and coastal zooplankton in Australia from 1974-1977.  In 1977 they moved to Palau for 2 years and began NSF funded research on the saltwater lakes of Palau.  Their research on jellyfish in one of the lakes was featured in the IMAX film, “The Living Sea.”

In 1979 they returned to UCLA where they continued to do oceanic field research with graduate students using SCUBA, research submersibles and ROVs, working off California, in Palau, Australia, Antarctica, the Bering Sea, the Gulf of California, Saanich Inlet, British Columbia, and Monterey Bay.  Peggy earned the unique distinction in her forties of being the “Oldest Woman in the World to Dive Antarctica”  when they investigated Antarctic krill around the Antarctic Peninsula.

The birth of in situ oceanographic observations, introduced the novel idea of using SCUBA while drifting in the surface waters of the Gulf Stream to make the first observations and measurements of fragile gelatinous plankton in the open sea. There was a serious risk posed by using SCUBA at sea and Hamner’s basic safety procedures for conducting blue-water diving operations using tethers, surface-supported down-lines and a central ‘safety diver’ are essentially unchanged today (Haddock, S. H. D. & J. N. Heine, 2005, Scientific blue-water diving. La Jolla, California). To illustrate the breadth of blue-water SCUBA, the AAUS database currently listed 3,048 hours of blue-water diving operations from 1997-2007, from 19 institutions, supporting 200 scientific divers.  These contributions to in situ open ocean science were recognized as one of the major advances in biological oceanography by the National Science Foundation at its celebration of 50 years of NSF-sponsored ocean research. In 2009 Dr. Hamner received a Scientific Diving Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Academy of Underwater Sciences.

In addition to their research and Bill’s Professorial duties as lecturer and graduate student advisor at UCLA, since 1992 the Hamners developed and led 15 years of marine science Outreach Education for K-12 teachers funded by the National Science Foundation and private donors.  Since retiring and moving to Alabama, both Bill and Peggy have given courses in marine biology for retired adults in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute @ The University of Alabama.

*  popular articles on our research:

Hamner, W. M.  Oct. 1974.  Blue-water plankton.  Nat’l. Geogr. Mag. 146: 530-545.
Hamner, W. M.  Feb. 1982.  Strange world of Palau's salt lakes.  Nat’l. Geogr. Mag. 161: 264-282.
Hamner, W. M.  May 1984.  Krill: Untapped bounty?  Nat’l. Geogr. Mag. 165: 626-643.
Hamner, W. M.  Aug. 1994.  Australia's box jellyfish: a killer down under.  Nat'l. Geogr. Mag. 186: 116-130.