Dr Natacha Aguilar de Soto

Marie Slodowska Curie Fellow

tel: (44) (0) 1334 461808
fax: (44) (0) 1334 461800
email: na30@st-andrews.ac.uk
room: 207  (The Observatory)
The Observatory
Buchanan Gardens
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
KY16 9LZ

General Information

My research has two main avenues: cetaceans (from foraging to social life and conservation) and impacts of underwater acoustic pollution, both of them with implications on conservation biology. I combine work at CREEM with continuing a long-term cetacean research line at the University of La Laguna, in the Canary Islands, where I will work from May 2017. 

My work at CREEM is funded by the EU Horizon2020 project ECOSOUND, summarized below:


Defining a Good Environmental Status for ocean noise within the European Marine Framework Strategy is challenged by our limited knowledge about noise effects on marine fauna. ECOSOUND proposes that there are two broad types of mechanisms of noise impact on individual animals, both with potential population-level effects: bottom-up, i.e. noise responses that operate at the genetic, cellular or physiological level, which are likely to be conserved across taxa; and top-down, i.e. behavioural reactions driven by the life style of each species, which may result in physiological damage and even death. ECOSOUND will study bottom-up effects exploring if noise may induce morphological changes in several invertebrate taxa. Species will be selected following the Krogh´s principle, i.e. choosing species better suited to study the biological questions posed. Here, we will select study species known to show phenotypic plasticity when exposed to stressors. Identifying developmental mechanisms of noise-effects is critical to predict potential common physiological paths over a wide range of taxa. Top-down effects will be investigated by comparing the life style of four species of deep-diving whales, and developing models to identify the reasons and potential consequences at the individual and population levels of the different vulnerability of these species to noise. For this, ECOSOUND will use the largest existing set of multi-sensor acoustic tag data of these whales, and apply quantitative ecology methods to develop bioenergetics models linking foraging and diving behaviour, metabolic rate, life history and social structure of the species. The results will inform transfer functions for PCAD models of Population Consequences of Acoustic Disturbance. ECOSOUND will strengthen the multidisciplinary research profile of the fellow with the fields of developmental biology and quantitative ecology, while contributing expertise on cetacean biologging studies and a new research line of noise-effects on marine invertebrates to USTAN. The results of ECOSOUND will be relevant for the EU Marine Framework Strategy in the emergent field of management of ocean noise.


I am member of the Research Group on Marine Biodiversity, Ecology and Conservation (BIOECOMAC) of the University of La Laguna (Tenerife, Canary Islands), where I direct research on cetaceans and marine bioacoustics. The main activities now  are: i) continuing a long term monitoring program of beaked whales off El Hierro (the smallest, most tropical and...without mass tourism! of the archipelago) started in 2003 (see photoID catalogue at www.cetabase.info);  ii) a ship-strike prevention working group targeted to reduce the strike mortality of sperm whales and other cetaceans (see Fais et al. 2016 below); iii) monitoring marine fauna from platforms of opportunity with the Cetacean and Seabird Sighting Net (www.aviste.me); iv) collaboration in acoustic research of the endangered little shearwater in Canarias for the conservation of this species (www.canariasconlamar.wordpress.info).






  1. Aguilar, N., Martín, V., Silva, M. A., Edler, R., Reyes, C., Carrillo, M., Schiavi, A., Morales, T., García, B., Sánchez, A., García, N., Steiner, L., Scheer, M., Gocker, R., Walker, D., Villa, E., Szlama, P., Carroll, E. L. True´s beaked whale in Macaronesia. PeerJ. In press

  2. Aguilar de Soto, N. & Kight, C. (2016). Physiological effects of noise. Ch. 8 in Solan, M. & Whiteley, N. (Eds) Stressors in the Marine Environment. Physiological and Ecological Responses and Societal Implications. Oxford University Press. 350 pp. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/stressors-in-the-marine-environment-9780198718826?cc=gb&lang=en&

  3. Aguilar de Soto, N. (2016). Peer-Reviewed Studies on the Effects of Anthropogenic Noise on Marine Invertebrates: From Scallop Larvae to Giant Squid. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4939-2981-8_3, http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-1-4939-2981-8_3

  4. Aguilar de Soto et al. (15 authors) (2016). From physiology to policy: A review of physiological noise effects on marine fauna with implications for mitigation. Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics (POMA). Here is the paper:     http://asa.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1121/2.0000299
    >and here is the overall journal link:  http://asa.scitation.org/toc/pma/27/1?expanded=27

  5. Ariza, A., Landeira, J.M., Escánez, A., Wienerroither, R.M., Aguilar, N., Røstad, A., Kaartvedt, S. & Hernández-León, S. (2016) Vertical distribution, composition and migratory patterns of acoustic scattering layers in the Canary Islands. Journal of Marine Systems.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924796316000178

  6. Fais A., Lewis T. P., Zitterbart D. P., Álvarez O. and Aguilar de Soto N. (2016) Are ship strikes sustainable for sperm whales in the Canary Islands? PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150660. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150660. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0150660

  7. Fais A., Johnson M., Wilson M., Aguilar Soto N. & Madsen P.T. (2016) Echolocating sperm whales and their prey: Chasing and buzzing, but no big bangs. Scientific Reports.

  8. Martin Lopez, Aguilar de Soto, Miller, Johnson (2016) Tracking the kinematics of caudal-oscillatory swimming: a comparison of two on-animal sensing methods. Journal of Experimental Biology.219 (4) 2103-2109

  9. Marrero, J., Jensen, F., Laia, L., Aguilar de Soto, N. (2016) Different modes of acoustic communication in deep-diving short-finned pilot whales. Marine Mammal Science. http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/mms.12344

  10. Martín, L.; Miller, P; Aguilar, N; Johnson, M. (2015) Gait switches and fast twitches: biomechanical strategies for long diving in beaked whales. Journal of Experimental Biology. 218, 1325-1338.


Conferences /workshops


  • Sea Mammals and Sonar Symposium. St. Andrews. October 2015. Presentations available at www.tno.nl/smss
  • Spanish National Biodiversity Conference. May 2015.


  • Mistic Seas (EU-funded project to identify indicators for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in Macaronesia). Meeting of expert group. Azores. March 2016  http://bit.ly/1Ti5qzz


Titles of presentations at these conferences:

  1. Aguilar de Soto, N., Madsen, P., Johnson, M. Niche diversification in deep-diving sperm, pilot and beaked whales. European Research on Cetaceans 30th. Funchal, Madeira. March 2016.
  2. Aguilar Soto, N., Donovan, C., Hooker, S., Gillespie, D., Gkikopoulou, K., Harris, C., Harris, D., Isojunno, S., Johnson, M.,  Marshall, L., Miller, P., Oedekoven, C., Palmer, K., Prieto, R., Smout, S., Thomas, L., Tyack, P., Wensveen, P., Wu, M. The challenge of real-time mitigation for beaked whales. Sea Mammals and Sonar Symposium. St. Andrews. 2015
  3. Aguilar, N. Top-down and down-up physiological effects of noise on marine fauna Towards an Acoustically Sound Ocean. An International Conference on Ocean Noise. Barcelona. 2015
  4. Aguilar, N. Impactos de la exploración y explotación de  hidrocarburos en el mar. Congreso Nacional de Biodiversidad. Tenerife. 2015
  5. Aguilar, N.  et al. Guepardos, elefantes y camellos de las aguas profundas de Canarias: diversificación de nichos en los cetáceos de profundidad. Congreso Nacional de Biodiversidad. Tenerife. 2015
  6. García, B., García, N., Morales, T., Sánchez, A., Gil, M., Aguilar, F., Bécares, J., Aguilar de Soto, N. www.aviste.me: an innovate online database of cetacean and seabird sightings. European Research on Cetaceans 30th. Funchal, Madeira. March 2016.
  7. Gkikopoulou, K., Aguilar de Soto, N., Gillespie, D., Johnson, M., Smout, S., Tyack, P. Blainville’s beaked whale click scans as cues for abundance estimation. . European Research on Cetaceans 30th. Funchal, Madeira. March 2016.  
  8. Martin Lopez, L., Shorter, A., Aguilar de Soto, N., Madsen, P., Miller, P., Wisniewska, D., Johnson, M. The benefit of being big: body rotations and acceleration over a 3000:1 mass range in cetaceans. European Research on Cetaceans 30th. Funchal, Madeira. March 2016.
  9. Morales, T., Ritter, R., Pérez-González, C., Sánchez, S., Roca, J., Zaera, J., Aguilar de Soto; N. Modelling of cetacean seasonal distribution in the Canary Islands. Why species residents and others not?. European Research on Cetaceans 30th. Funchal, Madeira. March 2016.
  10. Reyes, C,  Carroll, E.L., Silva, M. A, Edler, R., Steiner, L., Schiavi, A, Morales, T. , García, B., Sánchez, A., García, N., Aguilar de Soto, N. A new colouration for the True´s beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus) in Macaronesia. European Research on Cetaceans 30th. Funchal, Madeira. March 2016.
  11. Reyes, C., Schiavi, A., Aguilar de Soto, N. Population size and structure of beaked whales off El Hierro, Canary Islands. Congreso Nacional de Biodiversidad. Tenerife. 2015


Commissions of trust

  • Co-author of report: Beaked whales: a review of distribution and abundance in UK waters and new information on life history, diving behaviour and ecology, noise impacts, approaches to monitoring and options for mitigation. This document was produced as part of the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change's offshore energy Strategic Environmental Assessment programme.
  • Co-author of report: Convention of Migratory Species Environmental Impact Guidelines for Underwater Noise.
  • Co-author of report: New Zealand Environmental Impact Guidelines for Seismic Surveys at Sea.
  • Convenor of the Working Group on Ship-Strikes Prevention in the Canary Islands. Meetings in May 2015 and February 2016, with participants from the Spanisg and Canary Islands Governments, shipping companies, the academia and the International Whaling Commission delegate on ship-strikes.


IP. Assessing the resilience of beake whales to human impacts. Funded by the Office of Naval Research to ULL with partners from USA, Italy, Denmark and UK (University of St. Andrews). (2016-2019)

Co-IP. Heart rate logging in deep-diving cetaceans. A new tool for assessing disturbance. Funded by the Office of Naval Research to Moss Landing Laboratory (USA) with partners from USA, Spain (University of La Laguna) and UK (University of St. Andrews) (2016-2019)

Co-IP. Stimating beaked whale density from passive acoustic recorders. Funded by the Office of Naval Research to ULL and University of St. Andrews. (2016-2018)

IP. Canarias con la Mar: conservación de la pardela chica y el cachalote en Canarias. Funded by Fundación Biodiversidad-MAGRAMA to GIC-ULL. www.canariasconlamar.wordpress.com (2014-2015)

IP. Monitoreo de zifios en El Hierro. Funded by Fundación Biodiversidad-MAGRAMA to ULL. (2015-june 2016)

IP. Population Parametes of Beaked Whales. Funded by the Office of Naval Research to ULL. (2012-may 2015)




  • Jacobo Marrero. Acoustic communication of short finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus). ULL. February 2016. PhD cum laude with international mention.


  • Talía Morales. Seasonal distribution of cetaceans in the Canary Islands. Master in Marine Biodiversity. ULL. Defended in May 2015 (marks: 9.6 over 10)
  • Salvador Hernández. Cetacean distribution in the waters of Malta studied with visual and acoustic surveys. Master in Marine Biodiversity. ULL. Defended in May 2015 (marks: 9.2 over 10)
  • Jesús Alcazar. Acoustic behaviour of Blainville´s beaked whales. ULL. Defended in March 2016 (marks: 10 over 10)
  • Anna Sánchez. Abundance and seasonal distribution of rough toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis) in El Hierro. ULL. June 2016.
  • Cristina Reyes. Beaked whale population dynamics. Co-supervision with Prof. Phil Hammond. University of St Andrews. Expected end in February 2017.
  • Daniel García. Acoustic estimation of abundance of beaked whales in the Canary Islands. ULL. Expected end in May 2017.



Beaked whale monitoring (genetics, photoID, passive acoustics). El Hierro. May 2015.

Experiments of noise on marine invertebrates from June 2016


Interview in regional TV in the Canary Islands about cetacean biodiversity in El Hierro. May 2015

TV, radio, printed and digital press news about a paper published using DISTANCE sampling (distancesampling.org) to estimate sperm whale abundance in the Canary Islands to assess if ship-strikes are sustainable for the local stock of this species (Fais et al. 2016). Several articles with local, national and international coverage. March-May 2016





Recent Publications

Aguilar de Soto, N, Martín, V, Silva, M, Edler, R, Reyes, C, Carrillo, M, Schiavi, A, Morales, T, García-Ovide, B, Sanchez-Mora, A, Garcia-Tavero, N, Steiner, L, Scheer, M, Gockel, R, Walker, D, Villa, E, Szlama, P, Eriksson, IK, Tejedor, M, Perez-Gil, M, Quaresma, J, Bachara, W & Carroll, E 2017, 'True’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus) in Macaronesia' PeerJ, vol 5, e3059. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.3059
Pérez, JM, Jensen, FH, Rojano-Doñate, L & Aguilar de Soto, N 2017, 'Different modes of acoustic communication in deep-diving short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus)' Marine Mammal Science, vol 33, no. 1, pp. 59-79. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12344
Aguilar De Soto, N, Gkikopoulou, K, Hooker, S, Isojunno, S, Johnson, M, Miller, P, Tyack, P, Wensveen, P, Donovan, C, Harris, CM, Harris, D, Marshall, L, Oedekoven, C, Prieto, R & Thomas, L 2016, 'From physiology to policy: a review of physiological noise effects on marine fauna with implications for mitigation' Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics, vol 27, no. 1, 040008. DOI: 10.1121/2.0000299
Martin Lopez, LM, Aguilar de Soto, N, Miller, P & Johnson, M 2016, 'Tracking the kinematics of caudal-oscillatory swimming: a comparison of two on-animal sensing methods' Journal of Experimental Biology, vol 219, no. 14, pp. 2103-2109. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.136242
Fais, A, Johnson, M, Wilson, M, Aguilar de Soto, N & Madsen, PT 2016, 'Sperm whale predator-prey interactions involve chasing and buzzing, but no acoustic stunning' Scientific Reports, vol 6, 28562. DOI: 10.1038/srep28562
Fais, A, Lewis, TP, Zitterbart, DP, Álvarez, O, Tejedor, A & Aguilar de Soto, N 2016, 'Abundance and distribution of sperm whales in the Canary Islands: can sperm whales in the Archipelago sustain the current level of ship-strike mortalities?' PLoS One, vol 11, no. 3, e0150660, pp. 1-16. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150660
Constantine, R, Johnson, M, Riekkola, L, Jervis, S, Kozmian-Ledward, L, Dennis, T, Torres, LG & Aguilar de Soto, N 2015, 'Mitigation of vessel-strike mortality of endangered Bryde's whales in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand' Biological Conservation, vol 186, pp. 149-157. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2015.03.008
Jensen, F, Wahlberg, M, Beedholm, K, Johnson, M, Aguilar de Soto, N & Madsen, P 2015, 'Single-click beam patterns suggest dynamic changes to the field of view of echolocating Atlantic Spotted Dolphins (Stenella frontalis) in the wild' Journal of Experimental Biology, vol 218, pp. 1314-1324. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.116285
Fais, A, Aguilar de Soto, N, Johnson, M, Pérez-González, C, Miller, PJO & Madsen, PT 2015, 'Sperm whale echolocation behaviour reveals a directed, prior-based search strategy informed by prey distribution' Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, vol 69, no. 4, pp. 663-674. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-015-1877-1
Arranz, P, Borchers, DL, Aguilar de Soto, N, Johnson, MP & Cox, MJ 2014, 'A new method to study inshore whale cue distribution from land-based observations' Marine Mammal Science, vol 30, no. 2, pp. 810-818. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12077

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