University of St Andrews
Sea Mammal Research Unit
SMRU > Research > Industrial Impacts / Interactions

Industrial Impacts / Interactions

Marine mammals are becoming increasingly involved with numerous human industrial activities.  Oil exploration and production, aggregate extraction, shipping, fishing, tourism and renewable energy production industries all interact in one way or another with marine mammals.  As highly visible, popular and charismatic animals, marine mammals are often near the centre of public concerns for the health and wellbeing of the marine environment.   Numerous SMRU studies therefore focus on measuring the impacts of industrial practices on aspects of marine mammal biology, and in addressing potential ways of minimising such impacts.


A variety of approaches has been used to address questions surrounding industrial impacts and interactions.  One method the remote monitoring of heart rate and diving pattern of seals fitted with VHF transmitters before during and after exposure to an acoustic stimulus similar to those used during seismic explorations. 

Another approach involves making direct observation of free swimming animals in the vicinity of a specific human activity and comparing their behaviour and movements with situations were the same human activity is absent. 

In some instances population level measures may be made – for example of the number of sightings or acoustic detections of animals within specified ranges of some activity.  In the case of fisheries bycatch, measures of direct mortality can be made by monitoring enough fishing operations. 


Dave Thompson and Jonathan Gordon have examined the effects of air-gun acoustic stimuli on the hear rate and diving behaviour of common seals.

Ian Boyd is chief scientist of a large inter-disciplinary programme that is examining the reactions of beaked whales to naval sonar by tracking the whales using naval passive acoustic detection arrays around the Bahamas.  He was also the Chairman of an international working group that produced a research strategy about the effects of sound on marine mammals for the European Science Foundation Marine Board

Ian Boyd , Callan Duck, Rob Harris, and Isla Graham  have been at the centre of developing the Moray Firth seal-salmon management plan .

SMRU and SMRU Ltd are also involved in several environmental impact assessments looking at the likely effects of wind and tidal turbine installations in areas inhabited by marine mammals. 

Jonathan Gordon and Simon Northridge are also looking at the effects of acoustic deterrent devices at salmon farms on the behaviour and distribution of marine mammals.

Fisheries interact with marine mammals



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