About Oceans Initiative

Oceans Initiative is a team of scientists on a mission to protect marine life, including whales, dolphins, sharks, salmon & seabirds, in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Like the animals we study, we are highly mobile. We spend time getting our feet wet in the field, wherever our work is needed, and time sharing our cutting-edge science to inform conservation action. Oceans Initiative was co-founded by Erin Ashe and Rob Williams. Oceans Initiative is the keystone project of a registered charity in Canada called Oceans Research and Conservation Association. In the US, Oceans Initiative is a standalone nonprofit registered in Washington state, and fiscally sponsored through The Ocean Foundation.

Who is Oceans Initiative?

Erin Ashe

erin headshot 3I recently received my PhD from the University of St Andrews, Scotland and co-founder of the research and conservation non-profit, Oceans Initiative. The primary focus of my PhD research is the ecology of Pacific white-sided dolphins in the Pacific Northwest.

I use photo-identification and acoustics to learn more about the conservation status of these fascinating dolphins. I am also interested in how mammal-eating killer whales (Bigg’s) may be impacting Pacific white-sided dolphin population dynamics and behavior. My research interests include mark-recapture, ecology, conservation biology, demography, acoustics, population viability analysis, marine protected areas. My research is motivated by a desire to use science to make tangible conservation impacts.

Rob Williams

rob headshot lo resI’m a marine conservation biologist. Some happy accidents led me to studying whales in 1995, and although my work occasionally veers toward salmon, sharks or sunfish, most of my research involves whales and whale conservation. Marine conservation biology allows me to marry creative science to a good cause. It combines my love of travel, science and math, and the ocean and the animals that live in it. I like identifying gaps that affect our ability to protect marine wildlife, and developing pragmatic ways to fill in those gaps cheaply and well. I enjoy building connections between ideas and people.

A lot of my time is spent sharing findings in the scientific literature. My work is finding a niche: I have served on the editorial boards of well-respected scientific journals (currently Animal Conservation and Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation); have been a member of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission since 2000; was the Canada-US Fulbright Chair at the University of Washington (Seattle, 2009-10); was a Marie Curie Research Fellow (University of St Andrews, Scotland, 2010-2012), and am currently a Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation (2015-2018). Erin and I have fun doing what we do for a living, and we love the fact that our family is part of our research team.

Meet Our Friends and Colleagues


Our academic training comes from the biologists at the Sea Mammal Research Unit and the statisticians at the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling at the University of St Andrews. Rob is also an alumnus of UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Unit.


We recently partnered with New England Aquarium and Salmon Coast Research Station on a project to find a way to protect Dall’s porpoise from injuries in fishing nets


Our ocean noise work involves collaborations with Cornell University, Curtin University, University of Victoria’s MEOPAR-funded NEMES project, JASCO Applied Sciences, and SMRU Consulting.


Our dolphin research relies on long-term collaborations with Raincoast Research and OrcaLab and sightings from MERS.


Many of our projects rely on assistance from Fisheries and Oceans, Canada and National Marine Fisheries Service.