Shawn Arellano , PhD

Associate Professor · she/her


I’m an integrative marine organismal ecologist who works with larvae in the deep sea! I’m also from Kansas. There I grew up in a small railroading town with my parents and brother and never thought much about the ocean. I was, however, pretty good at school and I liked it, too. So much so that when my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say, “I don’t know. I just want to stay in school!” 

Eventually I went to college and decided to major in Biology because I liked my Biology class in high school. My parents had no experience with college or science, so they had no idea what I could do with a Biology degree and I didn’t either. As a result, I hit the professional school track and decided I should go to Pharmacy school since that is a good job and I had worked in a Pharmacy in high school. I went so far as to start a PharmD program at the University of Kansas, but after one year in pharmacy school I realized that was not a path that I would be happy on; I was more curious about science (I wanted to be a lifelong student, after all) than I was in a that valuable career. I was a bit lost though. Luckily, I had a good undergraduate advisor who assured me “You don’t have to go to pharmacy school” and told me about how a student like me could go on to graduate school.

From there, I owe my career to undergraduate programs and mentors targeting students like me. One such program was the MIMSUP program that used to run at the Shannon Point Marine Center here at Western. That was such a valuable experience for me that I immediately transformed my life trajectory. My new trajectory took me all over the world and into the deep ocean. I also had newfound purpose: I would dedicate myself mentoring undergraduates who may be lost as I was.

My dream of staying in school came true in 2012 when I was hired to return to WWU and develop and run the Marine Science Scholars program here at Western. Since then, I have become part of the faculty in the Biology Department and with the Marine and Coastal Sciences Program. Now, I am lucky to spend every day continuing to study the things I am interested in (The deep sea! Larvae!) and mentoring and learning from all of my students.

Other things you may not know about me:

  • I have one son and a husband
  • I was in marching band in high school
  • I’m Mexican-American (but I don’t speak Spanish well anymore)
  • I don’t live in Bellingham. I live in Anacortes and my lab is at the Shannon Point Marine Center there
  • I’ve lived in the center of and every corner of the United States
  • I spent nearly two-years living in Hong Kong and traveled extensively in China while I was there
  • I have completed over 20 submersible dives, including to more than a mile and a half deep
  • I love musicals, hiking and adventuring with my family, traveling to experience other cultures and especially food, and sometimes I sew

Research Interests

Deep-sea Ecology

Larval Ecology

Marine Invertebrate Ecology

Educational & Professional Experience

PhD in Biology (Marine Biology)  University of Oregon, Oregon Institute of Marine Biology

BS in Biology (Cell Biology, Organismal Biology)  University of Kansas

Postdoctoral Fellowships:

  • Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution