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Marine mammal research at St Andrews

The School of Biology is one of the largest and most diverse research intensive departments in the UK. In the most recent UK-wide Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014) evaluation, the impact of research undertaken in Biological Sciences in St Andrews was rated top in Scotland and second across the UK.

Four of the six impact case studies involved marine research with a particular focus on marine mammals. The four case studies are built on the research strength and expertise held by members of the Sea Mammal Research Unit, and reflect their international outlook and strong network with collaborators world-wide. Impact case studies covered diverse topical issues:

  • Mitigating environmental impacts of naval sonar
  • Marine mammal conservation – from policy to bycatch reduction
  • Enabling industry compliance with offshore regulation 
  • Animal-borne telemetry tags for conservation and weather forecasting.

Marine Mammal Science MSc students undertake research projects on a broad range of marine mammal related questions reflecting the diversity and breadth of interests of the staff within the Sea Mammal Research Unit. Some examples of recent student MSc project titles are listed below:

  • Eye in the Sky: The performance of UAVs as aerial photogrammetry platforms using harbour seals in Loch Fleet
  • Relationship between harbour seal distribution and hydrodynamic features in a tidally energetic environment.
  • Suitable harbour seal habitat in the Last Glacial Maximum and the future
  • From Chiloé to Chiloensis: identifying potential habitat for the near threatened Chilean dolphin
  • Seeking the bigger picture: modelling small scale environmental relationships to identify suitable habitat for the Peale's dolphin throughout the Chiloense ecoregion, southern Chile
  • Living on the edge: post-moult dive behaviour of the Weddell seal in the southern Weddell Sea
  • Investigating Seal Depredation at Scottish Salmon Farms
  • The relationship between prey availability and consumption by harbour porpoises in the southern North Sea.
  • Cortisol variation within harbour porpoise blubber
  • Don’t you know that you’re toxic? Evidence for domoic acid exposure and uptake in Scottish harbour porpoises and declining harbour seals
  • Can whales shake their heads: Lateral head rotation across the suborder Odontoceti
  • Why do beaked whales perform shallow dives?
  • Using acoustic tags to determine caller identity in free-ranging resident killer whales
  • Classification of long-finned pilot whale calls in the Straight of Gibraltar
  • Mingling on migration: an opportunity for the cultural transmission of song among South Pacific humpback whale populations
  • Vocal development and vocal learning in male northern elephant seals
  • Sex-specific social structure: investigating the role of sex in temporal and spatial changes in a protected population of bottlenose dolphins
  • Group composition and kinship of Southern right whales in sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands, New Zealand.