Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.


  • Academic Session: 2022-23
  • School: School of Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 1 (SCQF level 7)
  • Typically Offered: Summer
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: Yes

Short Description

This course will introduce you to the diversity, behaviour and ecology of seals, whales and dolphins. We focus on learning how to identify and record the behaviour of UK species and study how they have adapted to their aquatic existence. The course includes lectures, laboratory sessions and field work on a research vessel. The course is residential and is based at FSC Millport, Isle of Cumbrae during July. This course involves part-time and full-time students from three participating UK universities.



Requirements of Entry


Excluded Courses



As a field-based course, the written assignment consists of a field journal (100%) documenting identification methods and critically analysing the behaviour of marine mammals and adaption to their aquatic existence.

Course Aims

The aim of this course is to examine the diversity of seals and cetaceans encountered in UK waters and throughout the World. It concentrates on the identification and behaviour of marine mammals and examines ways in which these are animals are adapted to their aquatic existence.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:



■ recognise the main groups of marine mammals that include the seals (Pinnipeds), whales (Cetaceans) and manatee / dugongs (Sirenians) as well as other carnivore groups including the otters (Lutrinae) and polar bear (Ursdiae)

■ describe how marine mammals are anatomically adapted to an aquatic existence

■ give an account of the difference in thermal properties of water and air and explain the consequences for thermoregulation of marine mammals

■ explain how marine mammals avoid the "bends" (aeroembolism) during diving

■ state the main sites of oxygen storage in marine mammals and describe the main physiological changes during diving



■ describe the evolutionary origins of the Order: Pinnipedia

■ give the classification of the three families of Pinnipeds and state their main anatomical differences

■ describe the diversity of Pinnipeds and their global distribution

■ recognise the main anatomical differences between grey and harbour seals and give an account of their breeding behaviour and distribution

■ describe the scientific methods used to record the movements and behaviour of pinnipeds at sea

■ describe the trends in seal populations and outline the UK legislation protecting seals

■ critically analyse the consequences of disease outbreaks on UK seal populations

■ give an account of the ways in which seals interact with fisheries and fish populations



■ describe the evolutionary origins of the Order: Cetacea

■ give the classification of the baleen and toothed whales

■ give an account of communication in the cetaceans and explain how this influences their social behaviour

■ explain the scientific methods used to survey and study cetacean populations

■ identify the common species of cetaceans encountered in UK waters

■ give a critical account of the threats to cetacean populations and state the UK laws protecting cetaceans and the role of the International Whaling Commission (IWC)

■ critique the role of whale watching and its economic and conservation impact


Practical skills

■ identify marine mammals from land and at sea

■ conduct surveys of marine mammals using standard methodology

■ undertake behavioural observations using scientific methods


Transferable skills

■ develop skills in laboratory and field work, scientific report writing, independent research, communication and team working

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.