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Module OSX-3010:
Marine Mammal Observation

Module Facts

Run by School of Ocean Sciences

10 Credits or 5 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Prof Jan Geert Hiddink

Overall aims and purpose

The module focuses on the survey and monitoring methodologies of marine mammals in the field. The course will consist of lectures as well as boat surveys aboard our research vessel. The lectures will focus on the classification of cetaceans, species identification, conservation issues and monitoring survey methods. The practical element of the course will allow students to directly learn how to conduct systematic watches and fill in standardised recording forms, and how to process these observations. This module with teach students the skills needed for:

  • identifying the various cetacean species found in the Irish Sea
  • estimating group size and distinguishing between calves, juveniles and adults
  • determining cetacean behaviours
  • assessing sea state and other key environmental features

Boat trips and land watches will be undertaken along the north Anglesey coast, a place well-known for the presence and high sighting frequency of harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins and grey seals.

Course content

This module provides the concepts behind and experience of marine mammal observations at sea. Students will be introduced to the identification of species, the biology of these species, survey and monitoring techniques and to assessing sea state and other key environmental features. The module will consist of two days lectures, and two days fieldwork, at sea or alternatively one day at sea and one day land-based. The data that is collected is used to produce a research report in which hypotheses regarding the relationship between cetacean abundance and environmental variables such as depth are tested. If sufficient data cannot be collected on the fieldtrips, existing datasets will be used. Students will undertake some basic analyses, such as extracting the data from an Access database. Plotting of sightings using GIS (ArcView) will be illustrated. They will then examine for relationships with environmental variables like bathymetry.

Assessment Criteria


Knowledge and basic understanding reliant entirely on the taught programme


Wider knowledge and moderate understanding based on the taught programme, but with evidence of enquiry beyond that. Able in data collection, data analysis and presentation. Understanding the limitations of the data collected.


A very wide knowledge base extending well beyond the directly taught programme showing an in depth understanding of the concepts presented. Expertise in data collection, data analysis and presentation. Understanding the limitations of the data collected and how observations might be improved.

Learning outcomes

  1. Identify a range of marine mammal species

  2. Be familiar with a range of survey techniques for marine mammals

  3. Quantify the abundance of marine mammals at sea

  4. Assess sea state and other key environmental features

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
EXAM Computer test 20
REPORT Field trip report 80

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Practical classes and workshops

Help sessions

Private study 66
Lecture 13
Fieldwork 16
Practical classes and workshops 3

Two days of lectures (7.5 hours per day)


1 day of field observations from RV Prince Madog 1 day of field observations from Point Lynas


3 h session for guidance through data-analysis for the fieldtrip report


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team

Courses including this module