University of St Andrews
Sea Mammal Research Unit
SMRU > Research > Reproduction


Reproduction allows animals to turn resources into offspring and provide for the replacement of current generations. Marine mammals face particular challenges to successful reproduction because of their life histories, ecology and size. For many marine mammals, the respective locations of foraging and breeding areas may have important influences on how reproduction occurs.  The cumulative success of individual reproductive efforts is one of the fundamental demographic drivers for the make-up and abundance of a population therefore it is critical that we have a broad understanding of reproduction.   


Some species, particularly cetaceans, may only become available for study when they die and/or become stranded.  Information obtained from these dead animals can yield estimates of pregnancy rate, longevity and age at sexual maturity.  With a large number of samples, it is also possible to determine population parameters such as the duration of gestation.

Studies of live animals depend on observability.  Individuals within a population may be identified using natural or artifical markings or tags, allowing estimation of demographic rates over a long time series.  Crucially, these types of study also allow behavior, including reproductive behaviour to be studied, either directly through observed interactions between animals, or indirectly through genetic sampling of parents and offspring.   These studies allow insights into how reproductive behaviour maps onto mating and reproductive success and the characteristics of the mating system.


Sinead Murphy is studying the reproductive patterns of common dolphins and harbour porpoises and has made a special study of sperm competition in common dolphins.

Paddy Pomeroy is responsible for long term studies of grey seals breeding at the islands of  North Rona and Isle of May.  His particular interest is in how individual variability contributes to population processes. 

Ian Boyd has maintained a long-standing research interest in the ecology of reproduction in marine mammals and other higher vertebrates. Recently, this has focused upon the evolution of life histories and the relative strength of capital and income breeding in pinnipeds as part of a calloboration with John McNamara and Alisdair Houston from Bristol University, Phil Stephens from Durham University and Karen Harding from Göthenburg.

Reproductive anomalies as a result of pollution are also of interest, and several SMRU staff have collaborated with other workers (such as the Institute of Zoology).

Reproduction allows animals to turn resources into offspring



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