The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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David Noakes Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

June 4, 2015


David Lloyd George Noakes was born in 1947 in the village of Hensall, Ontario Canada. Growing up in a rural area, the outdoors and reading became very important to him at an early age. A strong student, Noakes also developed an interest in science as a boy. After graduating from high school in 1961, he enrolled at the University of Western Ontario, majoring in Biology. He completed his undergraduate studies in 1965 and moved directly into a graduate program at Western Ontario, with a focus on animal behavior. Because his mentor worked with fish, Noakes decided to follow suit, and he completed his master's degree in Zoology in 1966.

From there, Noakes moved to the United States with his wife to pursue a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley. As a Ph.D. student, Noakes broadened his interests to include ecology and evolution as well as animal behavior. His thesis examined the social behavior of cichlids and involved both laboratory studies conducted at Berkeley as well as field work based in Central America. Noakes received his Ph.D. in Zoology in 1971.

Noakes' first academic appointment was in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh, where he was hired into a junior faculty position and given the title, University Demonstrator. His research at Edinburgh continued to focus on genetics and behavior in fish. He and his wife remained in Scotland for three years, during which time their first son was born.

In 1974 Noakes and his family returned to Canada, where Noakes began a lengthy tenure as a faculty member at the University of Guelph in his native Ontario. At Guelph, Noakes taught animal ecology, behavior, and ichthyology courses. His early research focused on populations of local cold-water fish, with specific inquiry into their social behavior, the evolution of their behavior, and their behavior genetics.

In 1980 Noakes took a sabbatical year at the University of Oxford, where he continued to study fish behavior. Around this time, Noakes also began traveling to Iceland, and he subsequently established an exchange program with students and fellow faculty at Guelph. In the mid-2000s, he formalized this collaboration into the Iceland-Guelph Institute, and he has maintained his connection with Icelandic academics to this day.

In 1995 Noakes began a program of study on different varieties of arctic char native to Iceland, the end goal being the identification of a species suitable for raising on Canadian fish farms. Later, in the 2000s, Noakes began a long-term project evaluating the impact of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station on the population of Lake Huron whitefish. In this, Noakes also worked as a mediator between First Nations leaders and staff at the nuclear plant, both of whom sought a better understanding of the potential ecological impact of the station.

In 2002 Noakes led an investigation of the interactions between Pacific and Atlantic salmon, examining the behavior, feeding, and spawning habits of native and introduced salmonids. The group discovered that introduced species were disrupting the established social hierarchies of native Atlantic salmon, possibly preventing the native populations from recovering. While at Guelph, Noakes also conducted multiple studies of killfish, the only fish species known to reproduce by self-fertilization

In 2005 Noakes left Canada in favor of a position as professor of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University and director and senior scientist of the newly created Oregon Hatchery Research Center (OHRC), located in the Oregon Coast Range near Alsea, Oregon. The OHRC, a joint venture of Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, was specifically designed to be a research center. And from its founding, the OHRC has pursued a three-pronged mission: to understand the mechanisms that might produce differences between hatchery fish and wild fish; to develop approaches to meet fishery and conservation goals; and to help Oregonians understand the relationships that exist between wild fish, hatchery fish, and the environment. Under Noakes' leadership, the OHRC has developed an international reputation, and regularly serves as host to researchers from around the world. The OHRC is also engaged with Oregon's tribal communities, evaluating species, such as lamprey, that are of particular significance to Native traditions.

In 2012 Noakes was awarded the American Fisheries Society Award of Excellence. Today, he teaches a graduate level fish ecology class for the university, and serves as thesis advisor to a number of graduate students.