Minke whale acoustic & foraging ecology

to underpin MPA-based conservation content

to underpin MPA-based conservation

This project is based at SAMS UHI, Oban

PLEASE NOTE: 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.

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 pMPAs, recently proposed.

Building on existing SAMS-HWDT-MSS 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 has four objectives:
Objective 1: Modelling long-term minke whale distribution patterns based on visual survey data
Objective 2: Using long-term passive acoustics for monitoring minke whale distribution and underwater noise impacts within Scottish pMPAs
Objective 3: Integration of minke whale dive, feeding and associated acoustic behaviour
Objective 4: Develop methods to quantify minke whale size, behaviour and health using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

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 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.

Contacts and supervisory team for this project: content

Contacts and supervisory team for this project:

Project specific enquiries: denise.risch@sams.ac.uk

General enquiries: Graduate School Office gradresearch@uhi.ac.uk

Supervisory team (click name to view research profile):

Dr Denise Risch, SAMS UHI

Prof Ben Wilson, SAMS UHI

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