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Sea Mammal Research Unit

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The Sea Mammal Research Unit is one of the foremost research institutions carrying out research on marine mammals in the World. With over 40 staff and students, SMRU represents a formidable concentration of expertise and talent in the field of marine mammalogy and, more generally, in marine ecology. The mission of the SMRU is to carry out fundamental research into the biology of upper trophic level predators in the oceans and, through this, to provide support to the Natural Environment Research Council so that it can carry out its statutory duty to advise Government in the UK about the management of seal populations.

Related Profiles:
Pelagic Ecology Research Group

Research Unit website

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Staff List:

academic
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Boehme, Dr Lars MASTS Lecturer
(School of Biology)
lb284@st-and.ac.uk
01334 462677
  Oceanography using animal-borne sensors
keywords:
Behavioural biology, Ecology, Environmental biology, Environmental modelling, Marine biology, Marine mammals
Dr Lars Boehme

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Fedak, Prof Michael Professor
(School of Biology)
maf3@st-and.ac.uk
01334 463218
  Ecology, physiology and life history of marine mammals
keywords:
Behavioural biology, Marine biology, Marine mammals, Zoology
Prof Michael Fedak

Ecology, physiology and life history of marine mammals

 

Interactions between the foraging behaviour and diving physiology:Interactions between foraging ecology and reproductive success;parental investment; interactions between marine mammals and theexploitation of marine resources; use of telemetry and remotesensing to study marine mammals at sea.

Research group:

NERC Sea Mammal Research Unit

Research students:

Mr. David Thompson (with J. Parker, University of Liverpool)

Funded collaborations:

ELIFONTS (FRS Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen; Department of MarineSciences and Coastal Management, University of Newcastle; Institutefor Terrestrial Ecology, Banchory; Danish Institute for FisheriesResearch, Copenhagen); IBN-DLO, Netherlands; Australian AntarcticDivision.




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Hall, Prof Ailsa Professor, Director SMRU
(School of Biology)
ajh7@st-and.ac.uk
01334 462634
  Environmental and physiological factors affecting marine mammal health and survival.
keywords:
Marine mammals, Population biology
Prof Ailsa Hall

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Hammond, Prof Philip Professor
(School of Biology)
psh2@st-and.ac.uk
01334 463222
  Population dynamics, ecology and foraging behaviour of seals and cetaceans
keywords:
Conservation biology, Ecology, Marine biology, Marine mammals, Population biology
Prof Philip Hammond

Population dynamics and ecology

Foraging behaviour and diet of seals and cetaceans. Estimation of animal abundance. Statistical and mathematical modelling of marine mammal population parameters and processes. Interactions between marine mammals and man: management of whaling, cetacean bycatch in fisheries, seal-fishery interactions; conservation of vulnerable species.




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Harwood, Prof John Professor
(School of Biology)
jh17@st-and.ac.uk
  Population and conservation biology
keywords:
Biodiversity, Ecological modelling, Environmental modelling, Marine biology, Statistics
Prof John Harwood

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Heinrich, Dr Sonja Course Director, MSc Marine Mammal Science
(School of Biology)
sh52@st-and.ac.uk
01334 462628
  Marine mammal ecology & conservation
keywords:
Conservation biology, Ecology, Marine biology, Marine mammals
Dr Sonja Heinrich

Research Interests:

Marine mammal ecology (distribution & habitat use, species interactions, conservation of vulnerable species, polar regions),

Research Project:

Conservation ecology of small cetaceans in southern Chile

 




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Hooker, Dr Sascha Reader
(School of Biology)
sh43@st-and.ac.uk
01334 467201
  Ecology and behaviour of marine mammals
keywords:
Behavioural biology, Marine mammals, Zoology
Dr Sascha Hooker

My interests lie primarily in the study of foraging behaviour and ecology of marine predators, and the application of this to conservation planning.

Current Projects

Marine predator foraging ecology

Work on predator foraging often relies on inference from dive profiles. Using a miniature video camera attached to the animal we can view the foraging space of a diving animal and test previously used proxies for foraging behaviour. The identification of foraging areas and assessment of the stability of these over time and space enable us to investigate variability in foraging success and the criteria driving this (whether anthropogenically or environmentally induced)

Diving physiology

The mechanisms allowing marine mammals to avoid problems associated with diving to depth are still only partially understood. Recent deaths of beaked whales associated with sonar exposure appear to be due to decompression sickness. I am interested in how problems such as shallow-water blackout and decompression sickness are avoided, and use modelling approaches to determine risk based on dive profiles.

Conservation planning and marine protected areas

An ecosystem-approach is widely advocated in conservation planning but ecosystem modelling approaches, despite their sophistication, often suffer from a lack of source data or inherent uncertainties. An alternative is to use spatially explicit management. I am interested in the application of such marine reserve areas to higher predators.


MPhil/PhD project opportunities:

 

  • Potential students are welcome to contact me to discuss projects.



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Janik, Prof Vincent Professor of Biology
Director of Scottish Oceans Institute

(School of Biology)
vj@st-and.ac.uk
01334 467214
  Acoustic communication and behaviour in marine mammals
keywords:
Animal communication, Behavioural biology, Marine biology, Marine mammals
Prof Vincent Janik

Mechanisms and content of marinemammal vocal interactions

Two of the main questions we ask in our lab is how marine mammalscommunicate and what kind of information they exchange. This requiresthedetailed analysis of vocal interactions in captivity and in the wild.We usepassive acoustic localization to ascribe sounds to individuals. Thisallows usto correlate different types of vocalizations or interactions withbehaviouralcontexts. Using these methods we describe the use of vocalizationsduringforaging and social interactions in dolphins and seals. This alsoincludes theexperiemtnal investigation of vocal learning, one of the mechanismsthat can beused to introduce novel signals into a communication system.

Referential communication andindividual identity

Signature whistles are individually distinctive signals given bybottlenosedolphins in isolation contexts. Unlike isolation calls of other animalstheyare learned and can be copied by conspecifics. This kind of copying canbe usedto address a specific individual. Our studies investigate whetherdolphins arecapable to use voice cues and how background noise and water pressureaffectdolphin signals and consequently voice recognition. We also study theindividual recognition skills of dolphins to explore their naturalability touse learned labels, a crucial step in the evolution of referentialcommunication.This is done by using playback techniques in the wild anddiscriminationexperiments with captive individuals. Comparative work on other speciestriesto identify conditions that lead to the evolution of these skills.

Geographic variation and traditions in behaviour patterns

Marine mammals show a substantialamount of geographic variation in their behaviour patterns. Even withinthesame species vocal repertoires differ between different sites. This maybecaused directly by differences in habitat or indirectly through theeffects ofthe environment on the social behaviour and social structure of apopulation.To fully explore all possible causes of variation I am interested in avarietyof other factors that may affect communication behaviour. These includerangingpatterns, foraging behaviour and association patterns of dolphins.

Reactions to changes in the acoustic environment

While conspecifics certainly providevery relevant acoustic information to marine mammals, they areexposed to atremendous variety of different sound types. These can provideadditionalinformation about threats (e.g. predators) or opportunities (e.g.foraging). Weuse playback experiments to investigate communication distances andacousticmasking as well as reactions to other species or non-biological soundsources. These studies help us to understand what kind of information marine mammals extract from their acoustic environment and how they adjust their own calling behaviour to achieve optimal transmission of information. These studies also inform conservation efforts by giving details on howmarinemammals react to different kinds of noise.

 

 

 

 

 




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Johnson, Dr Mark Senior Research Fellow
(School of Biology)
mj26@st-and.ac.uk
01334 462624
 
Dr Mark Johnson

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McConnell, Dr Bernie Senior Research Fellow
(School of Biology)
bm8@st-and.ac.uk
01334 463280
  keywords:
Marine mammals, Population biology
Dr Bernie McConnell

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Miller, Prof Patrick Professor
(School of Biology)
pm29@st-and.ac.uk
01334 463554
  Acoustic communication and behavioural ecology
keywords:
Behavioural biology, Marine biology, Marine mammals, Population biology, Zoology
Prof Patrick Miller

My research focuses on social communication and behavioral ecology of marine mammals. I record and describe the behaviour patterns of marine mammals in order to elucidate their function, often using novel research tools. I seek to unravel how the marine environment influences foraging, social interactions, and swimming behaviour.

Current Projects

Foraging and social behaviour of sperm whales

Sperm whales are prodigious divers. We have used acoustic and motion-recording suction-cup tags their diving, sound production, and resting behaviour. We now know that sperm whales spend over 50% of their time actively pursuing prey at depth. My lab is working to describe other aspects of sperm whale behaviour, including how and when sperm whales rest, and possibly sleep, within their busy dive schedule.

Diverse feeding habits of killer whales:mammal –eaters versus herring - herders

Killer whales are generalist predators as a species, but each population is remarkably specialized on certain prey types. This project seeks to describe how prey type might relate to population-level differences in foraging and social behaviour.

Effects of noise on communication

To be effective in communication, signals must be detected and decoded in the presence of noise. I am using animal models ranging from the fruit fly D montana to the humpback whale to explore how noise influences communication systems and how signallers might respond to noise within ecological and evolutionary time scales.




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Northridge, Dr Simon Senior Lecturer
(School of Biology)
spn1@st-and.ac.uk
01334 462654
  Interactions between people, fishing and the environment
Dr Simon Northridge

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Pomeroy, Dr Paddy Senior Research Scientist
(School of Biology)
pp6@st-and.ac.uk
01334 463061
  Behavioural ecology of marine mammals
keywords:
Marine mammals, Population biology
Dr Paddy Pomeroy

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Rendell, Dr Luke MASTS Reader in Biology
(School of Biology)
ler4@st-and.ac.uk
01334 463499
  The evolution of learning, behaviour and communication
keywords:
Animal communication, Behavioural biology, Conservation biology, Evolutionary biology, Marine biology, Marine mammals
Dr Luke Rendell

I was appointed MASTS Lecturer in the School of Biology in February 2012.

I started my last postdoc in January 2007 with Kevin Laland, as part of the EU-NEST project 'CULTAPTATION: Dynamics and adaptation in human cumulative culture', with partner groups in Sweden and Italy. The work being undertaken at St Andrews related to the evolution of cumulative culture - the ability to progress from, say, biplanes to Airbuses -  through understanding how the social learning  that underpins it may have evolved. In my case specifically, I am studying the evolution of social learning strategies (when does it pay to learn from others and who does it pay most to learn from), since the cultural dynamics depend critically on which strategies are used in a given case. I am using theoretical approaches - game theory and simulation modelling - to evaluate when we might expect a given strategy to confer selective advantage. I also lent a hand to the various experimental projects ongoing in the lab, as the interplay between theory and empirical work is one of the most exciting things about the group.

Prior to this, I brought a NERC Postdoctoral Fellow to the group of Vincent Janik. I first came to St Andrews in September 2003, after completing my Ph.D. in June 2003 in the lab of Hal Whitehead at Dalhousie University in Canada. I previously  worked as a research assistant in the Wildlife conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford after gaining my B.Sc. in Marine Zoology at UCNW Bangor in 1995. Naturally, St Andrews knocks the socks off all of them!

 


 

 

From 1998 to 2006 I studied aspects of vocal behaviour in various cetacean species, with my Ph.D. and NERC Fellowship research focussing on the sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, a fantastic yet still surprisingly mysterious animal. This work continues when I have time from my primary duties!

My NERC research had three different but linked strands, all of which stem from the discovery during my Ph.D. of vocal clans in sperm whales. The discovery of these vocal clans has major implications for how we understand sperm whale population biology. Furthermore, the work joins a growing body of provocative research on cultural processes in cetaceans, which in turn fits into a vigorous, inter-disciplinary and exciting debate on the nature and existence of non-human culture. The three strands were:

(1) Understanding genetic relationships between clans. I worked with the South West Fisheries Centre and my former group at Dalhousie University to analyse DNA from sloughed skin samples collected during extended fieldwork in Chile.

(2) Dialects in different habitats. I have been investigating vocal variation in Mediterranean sperm whales to try and understand environmental factors underlying the evolution of coda dialects. I am collaborating with a Spanish group, Proyecto Alnitak, on a project funded through One World Wildlife, which we hope to build into a longitudinal study of sperm whales around the Balearic Islands.

(3) Understanding individual vocal behaviour. Working closely with Canadian Ph.D. student Tyler Schulz, we have developed techniques to investigate how individual repertoires relate to group repertoires.

Publications
If you are looking to download publications, please use the 'Publications' link above. They are highly recommended for sufferers of insomnia. You can also access some publications through my old Dalhousie webpage.

 




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Smout, Dr Sophie Lecturer
(School of Biology)
scs10@st-and.ac.uk
01334 461829
  Predator life history and trophic interactions
keywords:
Ecological modelling, Environmental modelling, Marine biology, Statistics
Dr Sophie Smout

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Thompson, Dr Dave Senior Research Scientist
(School of Biology)
dt2@st-and.ac.uk
01334 462637
  Foraging, diving behaviour, population dynamics, seals, sealions, fur seals.
keywords:
Marine mammals, Population biology
Dr Dave Thompson

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Tyack, Prof Peter Professor
(School of Biology)
plt@st-and.ac.uk
01334 462630
  Behaviour and acoustic communication in cetaceans
keywords:
Animal communication, Behavioural biology, Conservation biology, Marine mammals
Prof Peter Tyack

 

Acoustic communication and social behavior

 

Current Research Projects

 

Comparative studies of acoustic communication, social behavior, and vocal production learning among cetaceans and other taxa

Development and function of individual- and group-distinctive vocalisations

Behavioral responses of cetaceans to anthropogenic sounds

Development of novel bioacoustic methods, including tags and acoustic localisation, to collect data critical for the above scientific issues

 


MPhil/PhD project opportunities:

Potential students are welcome to contact me to discuss projects

 




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