Dr Clare Embling (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth)
Dr Jennifer Jackson (British Antarctic Survey)
Dr Natalie Kelly (Australian Antarctic Division)
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 (https://www.bas.ac.uk/project/poets-wcb/). 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.
(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.
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.