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Minke whale acoustic & foraging ecology to underpin MPA-based conservation

Scottish Association for Marine Science

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Dr D Risch , Prof B Wilson No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

North Atlantic minke whales in Scottish waters face a diversity of anthropogenic threats, including entanglement in fisheries, collision risk with vessels and offshore devices such as tidal turbines, and chemical and noise pollution. Throughout its range, the species is also threatened by large-scale ecosystem change caused by global climate change. Next to a better understanding of the year-round distribution, ecology, and behaviour of the species, effective conservation requires a robust quantification of human impacts on this and other species inhabiting Scottish seas. Such information is urgently needed for successful monitoring and management of the two Scottish minke whale possible Marine Protected Areas (pMPAs), recently proposed.
Building on existing SAMS-HWDT-MSS-HWU collaborations, this project will have access to unique, long-term acoustic and visual datasets from Scottish waters. These data will serve to explore potential changes in minke whale distribution across the last two decades and the potential environmental and anthropogenic drivers for observed patterns. Species distribution and habitat models will be underpinned with field studies collecting new information on several aspects of minke whale ecology.
Overall, the project will allow the successful student to explore the following research topics:
1. Modelling long-term minke whale distribution patterns based on visual survey data
2. Using long-term passive acoustics for monitoring minke whale distribution and underwater noise impacts within Scottish pMPAs
3. Integration of minke whale dive, feeding and associated acoustic behaviour
4. Develop methods to quantify minke whale size, behaviour and health using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

The successful applicant will join a diverse, collaborative group representing academia, NGO and government sectors actively involved in marine conservation research. This studentship will allow the development of a variety of skills from advanced statistical modelling to acoustic analysis and behavioural fieldwork using new technology, such as drones.

Other supervisors:
Dr Ewan Edwards, MSS; Dr Lauren Hartney-Mills, HWDT; Dr Lauren McWhinnie, HWU.

Funding Notes
Funded by NERC Studentships awarded to the SUPER Doctoral Training Partnership. The SUPER DTP partner Universities are St Andrews University, Aberdeen University, Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot-Watt University, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Stirling University, University of Strathclyde and the University of the West of Scotland. Underpinning these research partners, providing additional training and projects are Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the James Hutton Institute, among a total of 40 stakeholder organisations including industry and government agencies and international collaborators.

The start date of this project is: 27 September 2021

The 3½ year studentships cover:
• Tuition fees each year (UK fee rate only* - for 2020/21 this amounts to £4,407 for full-time study
• A maintenance grant each of around £15,000 per annum (for full-time study)
• Funding for research training
• Part-time study is an option, with a minimum of 50% of full-time effort being required.

Due to funder restrictions this project is open only to 1) UK Nationals, 2) non-UK citizens holding Settled Status in the UK (or with an application for Settled Status already in the system) or 3) citizens of Commonwealth Countries.

Applicants should normally have, or be studying for:
• A postgraduate Master’s degree from a degree-awarding body recognised by the UK government, or equivalent, or
• A first or upper second class honours degree from a degree awarding body recognised by the UK government, or equivalent, or
• Other qualifications or experience that affords sufficient evidence of an applicant’s ability to work at the academic level associated with doctoral study.
• The candidate should have strong quantitative skills and ideally some background in acoustic data collection and analysis. This project will be a combination of fieldwork and analysis of long-term data, the candidate should therefore be equally comfortable to plan and conduct fieldwork, as well as with the quantitative analysis of long-term acoustic and visual data sets.

Enquiries (Name, Phone number, Email address)

Project specific enquiries: [Email Address Removed]

General enquiries: Graduate School Office [Email Address Removed]

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