Baleen Whale-prey Associations in the Northern Scotia Arc


Baleen Whale-prey Associations in the Northern Scotia Arc


Project Description


Dr Sophie Fielding (British Antarctic Survey) contact me

Dr Clare Embling (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth)

Dr Jennifer Jackson (British Antarctic Survey)

Dr Natalie Kelly (Australian Antarctic Division)

Project Background

Sub-Antarctic South Georgia is a marine biodiversity hotspot, and was historically at the epicentre of modern whaling, with >170,000 whales killed locally. A century later, krill-feeding humpback whales have become a common sight at South Georgia again. South Georgia is a hotspot and key fishery area for Antarctic krill, the characteristics of which are annually monitored by the BAS ( Krill are keystone species, forming swarms of different sizes and shapes depending on their age/size, time of day and location. Krill in this region also have some unique characteristics compared to other Southern Ocean areas, including a predominance of larger-sized animals. New whale sighting datasets, collected alongside active acoustic surveys, provide an opportunity to assess the spatial interactions between whales and krill in a key krill fishery area, also an area of international significance for whales. Are there prey swarm aspects (depth, size, type, location) that most strongly predict whale presence? Do these vary between shelf and offshore waters? The candidate will gain experience in active acoustic and whale sightings (line-transect distance-sampling) data analysis, habitat and species distribution modelling, application of machine-learning tools to large datasets, and ecological statistics, with training provided via supervisors and UK-based training courses. It may be possible that the work will include one Antarctic field-trip to gain experience in collection of active acoustic and whale sightings data.


Work includes:

(1) Acoustic analysis for krill-swarm identification and classification (including machine-learning tools)

(2) Investigating associations between krill-swarm characteristics and whale occurrence (at a range of temporal and spatial scales), using sightings datasets associated with krill surveys

(3) Comparing patterns with earlier surveys, to establish any significant shifts in association over time.

Results will assist management bodies such as the Commission for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and International Whaling Commission (IWC) in making decisions that could influence the continuing recovery of baleen whales and other Southern Ocean krill predators, through reports authored by the candidate.

This studentship will be based at the British Antarctic Survey, and registered at the University of Plymouth.

Person Specification

The candidate will have a degree in a STEM subject, with strong statistical analysis and computer programming skills. Candidates with mathematics or physics degrees strongly encouraged to apply.


  • 1. Tarling GA, Klevjer T, Fielding S, Watkins J, Atkinson A, Murphy EJ, et al. (2009) Variability and predictability of Antarctic krill swarm structure. Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers. 56:1994-2012. doi: 10.1016/j.dsr.2009.07.004
  • 2. Fielding S, Watkins JL, Trathan PN, Enderlein P, Waluda CM, Stowasser G, et al. (2014) Interannual variability in Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) density at South Georgia, Southern Ocean: 1997-2013. ICES Journal of Marine Science 71: 2578-2588. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsu104.
  • 3. Reid K, Brierley AS, & Nevitt GA (2000) An initial examination of relationships between the distribution of whales and Antarctic krill Euphausia superba at South Georgia. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 2:143-149. (
  • 4. Jackson JA, Kennedy AS, Moore M, Andriolo A, Bamford C, Calderan S, et al. (In press) Whales return to a historical hotspot of industrial whaling? The pattern of southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) recovery at South Georgia. Endangered Species Research doi: 10.3354/esr01072.
  • 5. Embling CB, Illian J, Armstrong E, van der Kooij J, Sharples J, Camphuysen KCJ, & Scott BE (2012) Investigating fine-scale spatio-temporal predator-prey patterns in dynamic marine ecosystems: a functional data analysis approach. Journal of Applied Ecology 49: 481-492

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside significant relevant non-academic experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.

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