Module OSX-3003:
Air-breathing Mar Vertebrates

Module Facts

Run by School of Ocean Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr James Waggitt

Overall aims and purpose

The module focuses on the biology, ecology and conservation of marine mammals, seabirds, and marine reptiles, including more complex topics such as ecosystem engineers, top down vs. bottom up drivers, movement ecology, cognition, ecosystem indicators, and climate change impacts.

  1. To teach form and function (incl. evolution), life history, ecology, and physiology of the different groups of air-breathing marine vertebrates.

  2. To highlight the ecological roles of top predators, and how the basic functional ecology, life history and behaviour have implications for animal-human interactions and marine conservation.

  3. To allow students to carry out field observations of marine mammals and seabirds.

Course content

This module will consider the basic components of marine mammal, seabirds, and marine reptile biology and ecology. Specific topics will include: evolution and adaption, life history, ecological roles, movement ecology, survey techniques, and current conservation issues, highlighting the use of top predators as ecosystem indicators and engineers. Consideration will be given to the interaction between the ecology of these species and human activity by use of case studies from different areas, highlighting the interactions between life-strategies (e.g. breeding areas, foraging behaviour, migrations etc.) and direct (e.g. interactions with fisheries and tourism) and indirect (climate change) anthropogenic impacts.

This module will involve two field trips. On one field trip the students will visit a small grey seal breeding colony as well as observe California sea lions at the Welsh Mountain Zoo. Students will learn various survey techniques including photo-identification, theodolite tracking, focal follows and scan surveys of behavioural observations. On the other, students will gather data pertaining to probing and feeding success/behaviour of a range of seabirds and use this collected data to test hypotheses on seabird feeding ecology and write a scientific report.

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


A very wide knowledge base extending well beyond the directly taught programme showing an in depth understanding of the concepts presented

Learning outcomes

  1. Compare and contrast marine vertebrates (marine mammals, seabirds, and marine reptiles) with respect to their form, function, physiology, life history and foraging ecology

  2. Be able to critically discuss, from a knowledge of the ecology, behaviour, life history and physiology of the organisms, the ecological roles of top predators and the current conservation issues facing these species

  3. Carry out observational studies on marine vertebrates

  4. To test hypotheses, analyze data and critically assess results

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
EXAM Exam 50
COURSEWORK Movement ecology assignment 20
REPORT Foraging ecology report 20
COURSEWORK Mid-semester test 10

Teaching and Learning Strategy


21 Lectures over the 10 teaching weeks


2 fieldtrips x 6h


2 x 2 hr computer workshops for data handling

Private study

Directed reading list of specific chapters of textbooks and scientific papers. Titles and pages will be provided on Blackboard


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
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.

Subject specific skills

  • Develop and identify research question(s) and/or hypotheses as the basis for investigation.
  • Conduct fieldwork and/or laboratory work competently with awareness of appropriate risk assessment and ethical considerations
  • Recognize and apply appropriate theories and concepts from a range of disciplines.
  • Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Apply subject knowledge to the understanding and addressing of problems.
  • Collect, analyse and interpret primary and/or secondary data using appropriate qualitative and/or quantitative techniques.
  • Appreciation of the complexity and diversity of life processes through the study of organisms.
  • Undertake field and/or laboratory studies of living systems.
  • Undertake practical work to ensure competence in basic experimental skills.


Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: