Who am I?

I am a Sri Lankan marine biologist, ocean educator and pioneer of blue whale research within the Northern Indian Ocean. My journey started when I was just six years old and I have never looked back. Of course, I have encountered many challenges along the way, but I never gave up on my dreams and over time, I have learnt how to turn negatives into positives and how to make them work for me rather than against me. If I had to live my life over, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Because of the lack of Marine Biology degree programs in my island home (ironically! to hear more about this listen to my TEDxMonterey talk or my TEDxVictoria talk), did my BSc (Hons) in Marine and Environmental Biology at the University of St. Andrews, UK, my MSc in Integrative Biosciences at the University of Oxford, UK and my PhD at the University of Western Australia. Throughout these adventures, I kept going back and working in Sri Lanka, eventually setting up The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project in 2008 (although, I first started writing proposals and working on research ideas back in 2002 after an encounter with some whale poop ~ true story!). Before I started my PhD I was a full blown marine biologist – I was curious about animal behavior. After I met The Unorthodox Whales, I realized that in order to understand their behavior, I had to understand how the environment influenced them, so I decided to do my PhD in an oceanography lab. Definite steep learning curve but so very valuable. At the end of it all, I was able to publish some interesting research that straddles both the physical and biological sides of my interest that also brought me closer to my ultimate question – what influences blue whales to aggregate off southern Sri Lanka throughout the year, particularly given that it is a high-risk area thanks to the ship traffic that passes through. The other exciting outcome of my PhD is that it makes me the first (and only!) Sri Lankan to have a PhD in marine mammal related research! WOO HOO! But most importantly I hope it shows other Sri Lankans and people from my part of the world that ANYTHING is possible as long as you dream BIG!

SO, here is my more formal bio:

Dr. Asha de Vos is a Sri Lankan marine biologist and educator with a BSc (Hons) in Marine and Environmental Biology from the University of St. Andrews, UK, a MSc in Integrative Biosciences from the University of Oxford, UK and a PhD from the University of Western Australia. Her PhD focused on the ‘Factors influencing blue whale distribution off southern Sri Lanka’ specifically as this area overlaps with one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. This represents a part of the research she has been conducting on this population since 2008. Her project ‘The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project’ forms the first long term study on blue whales within the Northern Indian Ocean. She has published several key research publications on Sri Lankan blue whales, which have led to this population being designated as a species in urgent need of conservation research by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC has since invited key Sri Lankan government personnel to participate in whale ship-strike related meetings to gain a broader understanding of the problem. Asha is also an invited member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Cetacean Specialist Group. Her efforts to bring attention to the unusual Sri Lankan blue whales and the threats they face have been showcased internationally by Channel 7 Australia (2010), the BBC (2010), the New York Times (2012), CNN (2012), WIRED UK (2014), the New Scientist (2014) and TED (2015). She is also a guest blogger for National Geographic. Asha is a TED Senior Fellow, a Duke University Global Fellow in Marine Conservation and was recently selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. She is currently a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California Santa Cruz, where she is working specifically on reducing the problem of ship-strike of blue whales in Sri Lankan waters.

She coined the term ‘the Unorthodox Whale’ based on many years of research on the blue whales around Sri Lankan waters and a realisation that they were simply – different.

18 thoughts on “Who am I?

  1. Hi Asha,
    I contacted you a few years ago after watching an inflight documentary featuring your work. Happy that you’ve got that job in Santa Cruz and that you’re starting your own website. Congratulations!!

  2. Thanks for your note Olivia — I am very excited about my new move and the exciting work lined up! Thanks for visiting my blog, I am finally getting it back up to speed.

  3. Hello Asha de Vos, I’m Ama from Sri Lanka. I’m 15 yrs old and I appreciate your work on unorthodox whales. When I grow up I want to help to save and conserve the environment, especially in Sri Lanka as it is much neglected here. And I’m concerned in saving the wild life on the planet but it is hard as not much opportunities are given to it. And I appreciate you and I want to be like you in my future. You’re like a role model to me and I want to make a difference in people’s hearts to change their attitude towards nature and life in it. You’re existence in this world gives me hope and inspiration to follow my dreams further and thank you for saying never to lose my dreams. It made me believe in me.

    • Ama, Thanks so much for your kind words! Its people like you that make me keep doing what I do! Never give up — the world needs more people like you!! Asha

  4. hey Asha de Vos,
    my name is supeshala and i’m from Sri Lanka and i’m 15 years old and when i grow up i wanna be like you, i want to inspire people and do a great part in helping conserve nature especially in our country but since there are not lot of opportunities in Sri Lanka it is a little difficult to achieve your dreams but anyways knowing someone like you exist out there i am really proud of it! so please keep on doing your work and i am so happy that you are doing the study on the unorthodox whales. you are truly an inspiration to me! you made me belive that i should not give up on my dreams, not just yet!

    • Supeshala, Thanks so much for your message! Its people like you that make me keep doing what I do! Never give up — the world needs more people like you!! Asha

  5. Hey Megan — Thanks for your message. Unfortunately I don’t have any opportunities at present but follow your heart and you will find yourself doing what you love before you know it ! :)

  6. Hi Asha, My name is Bronte and I am 13 years old and live in Sydney Australia. I have a passion for the Balaenoptera musculus spicies (The Blue Whale spicies, but you would know that). Your job is MY DREAM job.
    I know that you went to the University of Western Australia and I was wondering what you studied to become the INSPIRING and AMAZING marine Biologist you are now.
    I love your work and hope to work with you in the future,
    Bronte Hayes

    • Hi Bronte!
      Thanks so much for your email! It’s so great to hear your excitement and enthusiasm. I always wanted to be a marine biologist and live a life of adventure. i am definitely lucky to have found that and to have the right support in the form of family and friends. That is always very important. Besides that I did my undergraduate degree in Marine and Environmental Biology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, a Masters in Integrative Biosciences at the University of Oxford and I then went to the University of Western Australia to do my PhD. I had actually started this research before I started my PhD so I continued it while I was there. In general, I just worked towards my goals and took any opportunity to work in the field and gain experience that I could. Good luck with your endeavours!! Asha

  7. Hi Asha,

    My name is Fin and I am a Marine Biologist from New Zealand. I am heading to Sri lanka in February 2015 and was wondering if you had any projects happening that I could come and assist with? I am only there for 3 weeks but it would be great to meet and hear about your work.

    Look forward to hearing from you,


    • Hi Fin, Sorry I missed your message. Best way to contact me would have been through the contact page. Hope you had a good time in Sri Lanka nonetheless! Asha

  8. Hello, my name is Mason Huss. First i would like to start by saying that i think your work is fascinating. I have always aspired to be a great scientist and look up to figures such as Jane Goodall, Paul Watson, Dian Fossey, not to mention yourself! Your dedication to marine mammals is admirable. I am going for my PhD in Zoology. I lean heavily towards Marine Zoology. I was curious as to the real life differences between marine biologists and marine zoologists? For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a Zoologist but now that I have started college ( I will be transferring to Oregon State University this spring) I have met a couple of professors who are not Zoologists but have done conservation work that I am really interested in. I was just curious if you had any suggestions! Thanks

    • Mason, thanks for your email and kind words. Much appreciate. So to start off with Marine zoologists only study animal life in the oceans , while marine biologists study all biological aspects of the marine environment including plants and protozoa. It’s not a huge distinction but big enough to think about. My personal suggestion would be that you consider a career in marine biology because it is a bit more broad based and less restricting. What if you get through college and realise that you would rather study sea urchins? While it is not impossible, I think its always better to keep your options somewhat open. How that helps! Asha

  9. Dear Ms. Asha,

    I saw your video on TED Talk and felt inspiring looking at the work you have been doing. I have passion for writing about people who are leading unconventional lives and are contributing to this world differently. I am guest author at YourStory.com. I would like to connect with you further to write about you and your work.

    Looking forward to your response. You can connect me at artiagupta@gmail.com.

    Thanking You.

    With Warm Regards,

  10. Hi Asha,

    I listened to your presentation on Ted and I think you are truly inspirational! It is fantastic to see the dedication and devotion towards this research.

    I have not yet had a chance to see a whale and to be honest, I would rather not see a whale in real life if it meant that I could protect their habitat. What we have in Sri Lanka (I say we because my mother is Sri Lankan and I love the country dearly) is unique and I believe that what you do and the awareness that you are creating can help preserve this unique habitat for these gracious giants. I am so afraid that the same will happen as has happened to many places in this world when greed takes over.

    I hope you can continue your research and that you can assist in the protection of their habitat against mass tourism.

    Keep up the fantastic work!


    • Thank you for your wonderful note Niels! I am lucky that I do what I love and I am even luckier to have the support of people like yourself in my quest to leave this a better place than I found it!

  11. Asha,

    It was a lovely surprise today when I showed my science students a video about blue whales and there you were! I recognized you instantly and the orange Duke Marine Lab Summer 2008 shirt confirmed it, “I know her! And I have the same shirt!” Glad to see you are so successful in your blue whale research and I hope you are doing well!

    ~ Katie Bogue

    • Haha that is awesome! Thank you for showing your class the video and more so for stopping by to let me know!! :)

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