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Professor Ben Wilson

PhD, Marine Energy and the Environment

Contact details

e: ben.wilson@uhi.ac.uk
t: + 44(0)1631 559346  +44(0)1463 273421

Available to talk to the media about

  • Marine renewables and the environment
  • Marine mammal science


Ben Wilson works on the relationships between marine vertebrates (primarily fish and marine mammals) and industrial activities in coastal waters. These studies have ranged from impacts of navy sonar to chemical pollutants. For the last 9 years he has focused entirely on the potential interactions of these animals with marine renewable energy devices. The primary reason for these studies has been the perceived risk that protected species may collide with and be injured by moving machinery in or on the water. Such negative interactions may jeopardise site consenting and therefore access to key resources such as tidal-narrows. These species-protection studies have diversified towards the mechanical, considering the implications of large species like whales impacting structures like turbines blades leading to device failure and the potential for devices or their substructures / moorings to attract prey species for predators leading to habitat enhancement. These studies have required close liaison with device manufacturers and site developers of both wave and tidal-stream devices.

Working in high energy environments raises many challenges for conventional marine animal study techniques and has led him and his team to develop new methods and sensors that are robust to the lateral or vertical displacement characteristic of these sites. Such developments have included 1) a variety of drifters to measure/calibrate estimates of flow speeds, measure underwater sound or map the distribution of species relative to devices 2) place mammal loggers underneath and around operating wave devices in highly exposed sites in winter and 3) develop ways to experimentally determine how animals respond to the sound of operating devices and specific features such as gearing ratios.

He also leads a larger group at his university studying other biology-to-renewable-device issues such as biofouling and impacts on loading, underwater noise estimation and measurement of entanglement risk of different mooring configurations. Ben is currently looking for ways to document strikes between animals and tidal-turbine blades. This sensor-based issue could solve a significant consenting barrier to the UK’s first tidal-turbine array.


1990 University of Glasgow, BSc Zoology, 1st Class Honours
1995 University of Aberdeen, PhD Zoology. Scottish bottlenose dolphin ecology
1997 University of St. Andrews, Post-docs on dolphin epidermal disease, distribution and naval sonar
1999 Bamfield Marine Science Centre, Simon Fraser Uni, British Columbia, Scientist in residence, Herring acoustics
2000 University of British Columbia, Steller sea lion foraging ecology (S. E. Alaska)
2004 Scottish Association of Marine Science, Scotland, Marine mammals and renewables.

Current research

Marine renewables and marine animals
Research is funded by UK, Scottish governements as well as the EU and private companies

Research groups / interest

Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland

Selected publications

Transregional linkages in the north-eastern Atlantic - an `end-to-end' analysis of pelagic ecosystems. Fox, C, Harris, R, Sundby, S, Achterberg, E, Allen, J. I, Allen, J, Baker, A, Brussaard, CPD, Buckley, P, Cook, EJ., Dye, SR., Edwards, M, Fernand, L, Kershaw, P, Metcalfe, J, Osterhus, S, Potter, T, Sakshaug, E, Speirs, D, Stenevik, E, St. John, M, Thingstad, F & Wilson, B (2009) Oceanography and Marine Biology: an Annual Review 47: 1-76.

Climate change causing starvation in harbour porpoises? Thompson, PM, Ingram, S, Lonergan, M, Northridge, S, Hall, A, Wilson B (2007) Biology Letters 3: 533-535

Diving deep in a foraging hotspot: acoustic insights into bottlenose dolphin dive depths and feeding behaviour. Hastie, G. D., Wilson, B. and Thompson, P. M. (2006). Marine Biology 148(5): 1181-1188.

Quantifying the influence of sociality on population structure in bottlenose dolphins. Lusseau, D., Wilson, B., Hammond, P. S., Grellier, K., Durban, J. W., Parsons, K. M., Barton, T. R. and Thompson, P. M. (2006). Journal of Animal Ecology 75(1): 14-24.

Pacific herring hearing does not include ultrasound. Mann, D. A., Popper, A. N. and Wilson, B. (2005). Biology Letters 1(2): 158-161.

Functional mechanisms underlying cetacean distribution patterns: hotspots for bottlenose dolphins are linked to foraging. Hastie, G. D., Wilson, B., Wilson, L. J., Parsons, K. M. and Thompson, P. M. (2004). Marine Biology 144(2): 397-403.