Gordon Chan on a boat with Liz Baja

Early life

Gordon Luke Chan was born on January 2, 1930 in Seattle, Washington. He attended Tamalpais Union High School in Mill Valley, California from 1944 to 1948.



From 1948 to 1953, Chan studied at Stanford University where he obtained his BA and MA. Chan furthered his education at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in 1959, University of Washington’s School of Oceanography in 1960 and University of the Pacific’s Pacific Marine Station in 1961. He later obtained his PhD at the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied from 1967 to 1970. To further his passion for educating others, Chan earned a California Secondary Teaching Life Credential and became a certified instructor for the National Association of Underwater Instructors.


Contributions to the Academy

Chan worked at the California Academy of Sciences as a research associate from 1987 to 1993. Throughout his career, Chan collected thousands of images of intertidal and underwater organisms on 35 mm slides. His photos primarily covered the west coast of North America, along with Japan, Palau, Guam, and Australia.


Educating future scientists

Chan dedicated 38 years of his life to teaching future scientists. Chan taught at Franklin Junior High School in Vallejo, California from 1955 to 1956. He taught at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California from 1956 to 1965. From 1965 to 1993, he was a professor of zoology and marine biology at the College of Marin. Meanwhile, Chan participated in the California Community College, Division of Vocational and Technical Education State Marine Technology Curriculum study from 1966 to 1968.


Preserving the natural world

Chan centered his classes around fieldwork, even taking his students to Hearst Castle where William Randolph Hearst Jr. invited College of Marin students to swim in the Hearst Castle pool. Many of his slides included pictures of his students in action during field studies as well as images of seals, whales, sharks, octopuses and nudibranchs. Moreover, Chan’s notebooks showed maps of sites all over the San Francisco Bay Area, with original drawings of marine specimens that he encountered.

Chan also co-founded the Bolinas Marine Station.

In 1971, two oil tankers collided under the Golden Gate Bridge, causing the largest oil spill the San Francisco Bay has ever experienced. Using baseline intertidal population counts from his PhD thesis “Ecological Effects on Duxbury Reef,” Chan analyzed intertidal biota changes and recovery for over ten years after the oil spill. This project was one of a few among environmental disaster studies at the time that could compare data from fixed transects before and after the event.


Chan's legacy

Gordon Chan is remembered for his dedication to preserving the natural world and his passion for inspiring his students. A plaque was created “In memory of Dr. Gordon L. Chan 1930–1996 who, to preserve the tidepool resources of this area, was instrumental in the creation of the Duxbury Reef Marine Reserve.” In addition, within a forest grove, a plaque reads, “These redwoods planted in memory of a great scientist, teacher and friend.” Chan is known for his best line: “Take advantage of the best tides and don’t let it go by the wayside.”

Chan’s legacy lies in the work of the students he inspired throughout his life. Academy scientists Dr. Terry Gosliner and Dr. Gary Williams were Chan’s students in high school. Gosliner credited his numerous nudibranch discoveries to the teacher who sparked his interest in marine biology. Gosliner also named a nudibranch Hallaxa chani, in honor of Chan.



Chan, G.L. Curriculum vitae. Nov. 1991. College of Marin, Kentfield, CA.

Chan, G.L. “Fresh Water Life.” Personal notebook.

Chan, G.L. “Marine Life I.” Personal notebook.

Chan, G.L. “Marine Life II.” Personal notebook.

Chan, G.L. Slides.

Rubenstien, S. “Obituary – Gordon Chan.” 15 Mar. 1996. SF Gate. San Francisco, CA.

Simons, E. "The Legacy of Gordon Chan." 19 May 2021. Bay Nature.


About the author

Viva Voong is a Careers in Science Level 3 intern at the California Academy of Sciences and a graduating senior at Lowell High School.

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