Diary of a scientist at Blakely: Dr. Bruce Congdon

Dr. Bruce Congdon inspects leaf litter under microscope in Blakely Island Laboratory (Photo: Sophie Beadle).

My first interaction with Dr. Bruce Congdon was full of laughter. The retired SPU professor spends his time attempting to play guitar, gardening, and bushwacking through the forest. After our first interaction Congdon was blown away by how much we admired him.

We stumbled upon Dr. Congdon in the dinner area playing a few strings on the guitar, all alone.

Naturally, my classmates and I started talking to him.

After only a couple minutes Congdon’s articulate and colorful storytelling skills stuck out. We were immediately engaged with his life story and adventures.

It took only a couple hours before he was added to our ‘cool kids club.’

Which he mentioned “that is the first time anyone has ever called me cool.”

At first, I was not sure which scientist I should observe and interview for a project about research on Blakely, after my first interaction with Congdon I knew that he would be the story.

From his undergrad adventures to his professional studies all the way to his bushwhacking adventures around Blakely, the man is full of life and even more full of curiosity, which he claims is the key to staying young.

What initially started as interest in what scientific research on what you can find at Blakely quickly shifted to what Blakely can make you find out about yourself. Congdon slowly reminded me what what is important is not what you find at the end, but what you find on the way.


As far as scientific accomplishments Congdon was humble in revealing his discovery on Blakley, which is now safeguarded at the Smithsonion Museum in Washington DC.

Initially, Congdon took every oppurtunity he could to collect funnel seeds initially in areas of Washington, such as Skagit and Whatcom County.

He said “wherever I could beat on a bush, I was there.”

On Blakely he found interest in looking under the leaves of Salal, which is typically a very robust dense shrub, typically one to four feet high. During this time he had collected the organisms living on this bush and found a Phytoseiid living in these bushes.

Congdon admitts “that was unusual.”

“There was actually quite a few of them for multiple samples. And it turned out to be a species new to science. And I named it after Tom Crowley.”

Tom Crowley was the man who had largely assisted in acquring Blakely Island for Seattle Pacific University, who Congdon greatly admires.

Making scientific discoveries is no simple feat though, Congdon admitts that he was “suspicious because of where it was.”

Being on Blakely made this discovery even more meaningful in the eye’s of Dr. Congdon, someone who has been a career long and life long advocate for what he calls “Blakely Island Magic.”

Microscopic view of bacteria that Dr. Long and Dr. Congdon collected on Blakely Island (Sophie Beadle).

“This is the only place that I that I put litter from under Salau bushes, and onto a very lazy funnel and looked at the mines that came out of it” he said.

After making the discovery he was able to get the opinion of other scientists, such as Seattle Pacific University Biology professor Dr. Eric Long, who has also conducted countless research projects and class teachings on Blakely.

Congdon specifically kept his focus on discovering new forms of life and unique aspects of ecology at Blakely, starting off on Blakely in 1995 Congdon is a career long and now lifelong advocate for the island and its “magic.”


Dr. Congdon shared multiple aspects of his professional and personal life, and was even kind enough to share about his spiritual journey. Before actually physically visiting Blakely Island, you here about how amazing it is, but you do not know until you go.

Dr. Congdon brings that to a human embodiment. As a professional researcher and amateur hiker Congdon is truly able to bring Blakely’s best qualities to life.

Dr. Congdon’s research and career will physically never be forgotten as his Blakely Island discovery is being kept at the historic Smithsonian Museum, and his lively character and adventurous spirit will forever be imprinted on my classmates and I.

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