Spring 2014

Bill Stanley

Curating a World Class Collection

Bill Stanley

ELBOWS-DEEP IN A SOUPY MIXTURE of maggots and rotting flesh, Bill Stanley (’86, Biology, Zoology, ’89, M.S. Biology) found his life’s passion.

“My first day volunteering (at the HSU Vertebrae Museum), I pulled the lid off a barrel and found a sea lion flipper sticking out of this goop,” Stanley said. “I spent the rest of the day scraping it clean. I never looked back from that experience.”

Stanley has traveled a long journey from the day he discovered a “group of long-haired freaks” eviscerating whale skulls behind Humboldt State’s research lab to the Serengeti plains of Tanzania. That’s where he recently was, fulfilling one of his roles as a Director of Collections at the world-renowned Field Museum of Natural History, in Chicago.

He’s familiar with the sights, having spent most of his childhood in Kenya, where his family moved in 1968. It was a career move for his father who was employed by Bank of America, and as it turned out, also for his son.

“When I was growing up, we hunted for food,” Stanley said. “That’s where I first developed my love of natural history.”

Stanley’s impact on the study of natural history has been significant, expanding the knowledge base on several species while introducing the scientific community to previously undiscovered mammals. Last summer, Stanley identified a new species of hero shrew, which he named for Thor Holmes (’80, Biology), one of his former instructors and collections manager at HSU’s Vertebrate Museum.

His focus has shifted over the years, from larger animals to bats and rodents. “It’s easier to discover new species of rodents because nobody wants to look at them,” he said.

The greatest challenge for the next generation of mammal researchers may be communicating with the masses, Stanley said. “There is a trend of distancing ourselves from nature. Kids don’t play with a frog, getting their hands all over it,” he said. “If you’re trying to stay safe from something, you’re not paying attention to its health.”