Paul Collins retires after 40 plus-year career at natural history museum
There are a number of things that Paul W. Collins misses since he retired in January as curator of vertebrate zoology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where he was on the staff for almost half a century.
“The diversity: preparing specimens for the research collections, helping with museum exhibits like the rehabilitation of the blue whale skeleton near the entrance to the museum, leading field trips to places like the Channel Islands, Carrizo Plain and Carpinteria Marsh, and interacting with co-workers, the public and personnel in agencies like the California Department of Fish & Wildlife,” Mr. Collins told the News-Press from his home in Santa Ynez, where he has lived for 33 years.
Anything he doesn’t miss?
“Oh, yes, preparing stinky specimens like skunks and harvesting the skeleton from rotten whales on the beach. And I don’t miss the daily commute over San Marcos Pass.”
Vertebrate zoology, he explained, is the study of animals with backbones — birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
“Everything from the tiniest shrew and hummingbird to the largest whale,” said Mr. Collins, whose interest in science began when he was in elementary school growing up in Sierra Madre, where his father worked as a structural engineer. “I always enjoyed finding and observing birds, lizards, snakes and frogs.”
He came to Santa Barbara to attend high school at St. Anthony’s Seminary, then located on the hill above the museum.
“Father Anthony Bauman, my biology teacher, introduced me to the museum staff and exhibits at the museum, to birding, bird banding, small museum trapping and how to prepare museum study skins,” said Mr.Collins.
After two years at Pasadena City College, he transferred to UCSB, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology while also volunteering at the museum.
“When I graduated, I was hired to work in the Department of Vertebrate Zoology by the acting curator, Waldo Abbott. In the late 1970s, I returned to UCSB to pursue a master’s degree in zoology, which I completed in 1982,” said Mr. Collins.
Beside Mr. Abbott, there were two other staff members who played pivotal roles in his career.
“Charles Woodhouse Jr. was curator of vertebrate zoology for 20 years. He was a marine biologist, and I assisted him with necropsies of dead marine mammals that washed up on the beaches. We had a great working relationship. He allowed me the opportunity to expand my research horizons in a variety of different areas,” said Mr. Collins.
“When Dennis Power became executive director of the museum, he sparked my interest in the Channel Islands. Dennis had his ornithology degree from the University of Kansas, a real hotbed for ornithology, and used some of his grant money to pay half of my salary for field trips to the islands to study the birds.”
This ultimately led to the project Mr. Collins is working on now, a book titled “Birds of California’s Channel Islands: Their Status and Abundance.”
“The last book on Channel Island birds was written in 1917. There is a huge amount of data I have been able to tap into. My book summarizes information about the birds from 1843 to 2021,” he said.
“I have completed 390 species accounts for the book and still have 61 to go. I am on the downhill slope and plan to complete the book by early summer. One good thing about the pandemic is that it has allowed me to focus on the book.”
Especially eager for him to finish is his wife Tina Collins, who is retired from her 35-year career as a nurse at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
“We’re looking forward to traveling around the United States and Canada, which will include visits with our children Carrie, a lawyer in Santa Rosa; Sierra, a first grade teacher on the White River Apache Reservation near Pinetop, Arizona; and Joseph, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, in Thousand Oaks,” said Mr. Collins.
Paying tribute to the retiree’s accomplishments in a recent museum newsletter, Luke J. Swetland, president and CEO, wrote the following: “It is hard to summarize the breadth of work that Collins has been involved with while working at the museum — exhibits, education, field trips, collections management, contracted studies and peer-reviewed research. During four decades, he has authored 72 peer-reviewed publications, 19 other publications and manuscripts, 120 environmental consulting reports and 69 contract reports, presented 39 posters and papers at scientific meetings, and given more than 80 public talks/lectures.
“What a body of work!”