August 19, 2022

Dear Members of Our Campus Community,

It is with great sadness that I write to share with you that Professor Emeritus Alfred Ebeling passed away on June 16.

Dr. Ebeling joined our Department of Biological Sciences (now Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology) in 1963, and retired 31 years later in 1994. He was one of the founding faculty members of our Marine Science Institute, and twice served as MSI Acting Director. He was a pioneering researcher, including his field studies of marine fishes and his work with colleagues and students to study the effects of the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969. Professor Ebeling was known as a devoted teacher and mentor, guiding more than 30 graduate students.

Our hearts go out to his daughter, Sandra, and son, Charles, as well as all of his family members, colleagues, friends, and former students around the world. Our campus flag will be lowered in Al’s honor and memory on September 1.

I am honored to share the following tribute from our Marine Science Institute.

Alfred W. Ebeling (1931 - 2022)

UCSB’s Marine Science Institute lost one of its founding members and most ardent supporters when Dr. Alfred (Al) Ebeling passed away at his daughter’s home on June 16, 2022 of age-related illness. Al was born in Anaheim CA on March 30, 1931, and much like his famous namesake Alfred Wallace, he spent much of his leisure time hiking, fishing and exploring the natural world. He loved the ocean and in college bought some of the first commercially available scuba gear. He was a skilled free diver as well having been at the University of Hawaii for his first year of college. Al graduated from UCLA in Zoology in 1953 and received his Ph. D. in Ichthyology at UCLA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1960 earning honors from the Phi Sigma and Sigma Xi Societies and the Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. He was an Assistant Professor of Biology at Yale University for three years prior to joining the faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences (now the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology) at UCSB in 1963. He retired in 1994.

Early in his career Al established himself as a world authority on the systematics and distribution of midwater and deep-sea fishes focusing on mesopelagic “bigscale” fishes in the family Melamphaidae. His graduate research included numerous cruises to the San Diego Trough and participation in the Eastropic Expedition, an extensive cooperative oceanographic survey of the central and eastern tropical Pacific. In 1960 the Indian Ocean had been identified as greatest unknown in the global ocean and soon after his arrival at UCSB Al was chosen as the Chief Scientist to lead the third cruise of the International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE), which was designed to stimulate international cooperation in ocean sciences in the region. Al’s early years at UCSB also featured many research cruises with his graduate students to offshore basins of southern California to study the ecology of fishes in the deep scattering layer with funding from the Office of Naval Research.

The Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 was a pivotal turning point in Al’s career as it thrust him into studying the effects of the spill on the ecology of shallow reef fishes. He incorporated scuba diving into his research to observe fish in their natural habitat (something that he had been unable to do studying deep sea fishes), and with consistent funding from the National Science Foundation he and his students became trailblazers in using manipulative field experiments to determine the factors underlying the distribution, abundance and diversity of kelp forest fishes. Al’s name became synonymous with temperate reef fish ecology, and UCSB became the premier hub for the discipline under his guidance. Always the consummate naturalist, Al recognized the dependence of fish on their living kelp forest habitat, and when that habitat was damaged in the 1980s by large El Niño storms and hordes of grazing sea urchins he switched from studying fishes to studying the causes of kelp forest decline and the mechanisms by which they recover. His work on these topics was among his most highly cited publications.

The 1969 oil spill raised the world’s awareness of the fragile nature of the coastal environment and it galvanized the UCSB community to take an active role in protecting it. Recognizing that this was best achieved through interdisciplinary research, Al and his colleague Professor Robert (Bob) Holmes met with then UCSB chancellor Vernon Cheadle to propose the formation of the Marine Science Institute (MSI) at UCSB to facilitate collaborative research in marine science on campus across a wide range of disciplines and departments. Al and Bob’s persuasive efforts and Chancellor Cheadle’s leadership led to the establishment of MSI in 1969. It has since grown to be the largest organized research unit at UCSB, and it ranks internationally as a leader in ocean and environmental research. Al served as the MSI Acting Director from 1984-1987 and 1993-1994.

Al recognized the unique coastal setting of the UCSB campus made it well-suited to become a center of excellence in marine science. Once MSI was established he became a strong proponent for expanding the marine program at UCSB. In the mid 1970’s he advocated for, and subsequently led, a search for four new faculty positions in marine biology that resulted in the hiring of Drs. Alice Alldredge, Barbara Prézelin, Robert Trench and Robert Warner. Al viewed his role in leading this effort as one of the most significant contributions of his career as the achievements and international acclaim attained by all four of the faculty hired served to make UCSB one of the top-ranked marine science programs in the world.

Al’s contributions to marine science were evidenced by his many publications, numerous honors and awards, and diverse and influential portfolio of regional, national and international professional activities. As a faculty member at UCSB, he contributed greatly to enhancing the university’s mission of education and research. His courses in ichthyology were very popular and his knowledge of natural history coupled with his self-deprecating sense of humor endeared him to his students. Among his more notable accomplishments are more than 30 graduate students who received their MA or Ph. D. under his mentorship. Al was fiercely loyal and committed to his students and he worked tirelessly to ensure their success in graduate school and beyond. His efforts in this area created an enduring legacy as many of his former students became university professors who relied extensively on Al’s teachings to inspire their own students. In spite of his many accomplishments Al maintained a remarkable sense of humility. He was quick to downplay the significance of his accomplishments and to deflect praise for his success to others.

Al was preceded in death by his wife Jan who passed away in 2016. He is survived by his daughter Sandra and son Charles and three grandchildren. He also leaves behind a large number of graduate students who cherished and valued his steadfast mentorship and endearing friendship. He is dearly missed and fondly remembered by all.


Henry T. Yang