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Acoustic behaviour of the northern bottlenose whale within the North Atlantic soundscape

School of Biology

Prof P Miller , Prof S Hooker Monday, December 14, 2020 Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding

About the Project

Underwater sound is a key sensory and communication medium for marine obligate species. Among cetaceans, toothed whales produce echolocation clicks for foraging and click and/or tonal sounds for social communication (Miller et al. 2004; Aguilar de Soto et al. 2011). Functional use of sounds takes place within a context of underwater noise generated by both natural and man-made sources. The northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) is a North Atlantic beaked whale classified as “data-deficient” by IUCN, which was heavily harvested for its oil in the past and faces current threats including climate change and anthropogenic noise (Whitehead & Hooker, 2012; Miller et al. 2015; Wensveen et al. 2019). Bottlenose whales are found most often in cold arctic and subarctic waters but can range as far south as the Canary Islands. While preferring in deep water habitats, they are occasionally found in shallow near-shore waters which may increase their risk of stranding (Grove et al., 2019).

Empirical work for the PhD project will have two primary themes: 1) describing the functional use of sound by northern bottlenose whales, and 2) using sounds produced by the species to describe their presence and large-scale movements around the North Atlantic. Previous studies of northern bottlenose whale vocalisations were limited in that records were made from the water surface (Hooker & Whitehead, 2002; Wahlberg, 2012). This study will use continuously monitored acoustic records from animal-attached sound-and-movement recording Dtags to address the questions in theme 1. Sounds produced by tagged whales and nearby conspecifics will be measured, and related to associated behaviour and conditions. The questions in theme 2 will primarily be addressed using fixed long-term deep-water underwater sound recorders placed in bottlenose whale habitats in (sub)arctic waters, including near Jan Mayen and Iceland. Sounds of the species will be identified in recordings using existing or to-be-developed automatic detection methods (e.g. deep-learning or other modern approaches) to describe seasonal and annual behaviour and movement patterns. These patterns will be linked to anthropogenic and other natural sources of sound identified in the recordings.

The outcome of the PhD project will be a substantial advance in our understanding of how this poorly understood beaked whale uses sounds in diverse parts of its habitat. A key objective throughout the project will be to evaluate how noise sources might impact bottlenose whale communication and/or habitat use. This is particularly relevant to the changing Arctic and deep-sea environments and particularly the increasing industrialisation in these otherwise pristine habitats.

The student will be supervised by a collaborative team consisting of Profs Patrick Miller and Sascha Hooker at the University of St Andrews, and Dr Paul Wensveen of the University of Iceland. It is anticipated that the student will participate in collection of new data for the study, but many datasets to address the project already exist and will made available.

The studentship has a target start date of September 2021.
Applications can be made online via our online portal-

Funding Notes

Successful candidates will compete for funding available from the University of Iceland, and from the Carnegie Foundation.
Candidates who have access to external funding sources, or are able to self fund, are also encouraged to apply.


Aguilar de Soto N, Madsen PT, Tyack P, Arranz P, Marrero J, Fais A, Revelli E, Johnson M (2012) No shallow talk: Crytoc strategies in the vocal communication of Blainville’s beaked whales. Mar Mamm Sci 28: E75-E92

Grove T, Senglat C, Petitguyot M, Kosiba D, Rasmussen MH (2020) Mass stranding and unusual sightings of northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) in Skjálfandi Bay, Iceland . Mar Mamm Sci 36:1033-1041.

Hooker SK, Whitehead H (2002) Click characteristics of northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus). Mar Mamm Sci 18:69-80

Miller PJO, Johnson MP, Tyack, PL (2004) Sperm whale behaviour indicates the use of echolocation click buzzes ‘creaks’ in prey capture. Proc R Soc Lond B 271:2239-2247

Miller PJO, Kvadsheim PH, Lam FPA, Tyack PL, Cure C, DeRuiter SL, Kleivane L, Sivle LD, van Ijsselmuide SP, Visser F, Wensveen PJ, von Benda-Beckmann AM, Martin Lopez LM, Narazaki T, Hooker SK (2015) First indications that northern bottlenose whales are sensitive to behavioural disturbance from anthropogenic noise. Royal Society open science 2:140484

Wensveen PJ, Isojunno S, Hansen RR, von Benda-Beckmann AM, Kleivane L, van Ijsselmuide S, Lam FPA, Kvadsheim PH, DeRuiter SL, Cure C, Narazaki T, Tyack PL, Miller PJO (2019) Northern bottlenose whales in a pristine environment respond strongly to close and distant navy sonar signals. Proc R Soc B 286:20182592

Whitehead H, Hooker SK (2012) Uncertain status of the northern bottlenose whale Hyperoodon ampullatus: population fragmentation, legacy of whaling and current threats. Endang Species Res 19:47-61

Wahlberg M (2012) Characteristics of biosonar signals from the northern bottlenose whale, Hyperoodon ampullatus (vol 130, pg 3077, 2011). J Acoust Soc Am 131:3181-3181

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