University of St Andrews
Sea Mammal Research Unit

Dr Debbie Russell
Senior Research Fellow

Scottish Oceans Institute
East Sands
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
KY16 8LB



I am a research fellow at the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) and am affiliated with the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Monitoring (CREEM) where I am spend one day a week.


General Information

I am interested in the marine ecosystem and species at the interface between the marine and terrestrial environments, namely seals and seabirds which are dependent on the marine ecosystem for food but on the terrestrial environment for breeding.  I am particularly interested in interactions on various levels: among different taxa, between species and humans, and between species and their changing environment.



  • Investigation of seal population trends and their drivers.
  • Using a mixture of Bayesian and frequentist methods to analyse harbour and grey seal telemetry data to answer both pure and applied research questions.
  • Investigation of the impact of anthropogenic structures, their construction, operation and decommisioning, on marine predators.
  • Using movement and behavioural data within a state-space modelling framework to define activity budgets.
  • Modelling interactions between seals and fisheries in a spatial context, using state space models.
  • Modelling the effect of climate variation on British seabirds.



PhD students

  • J.Chris McKnight, University of St Andrews. "Effects of tag attachment in a large marine vertebrate". Co-supervised with Dave Thompson and Sophie Brasseur.
  • Matt Carter, University of Plymouth. "How do grey seal pups learn how to forage? Using telemetry data to understand development of foraging behaviour in relation to oceanography and potential disturbance".  Co-supervised with Clare Embling,  Kimberley Bennett and Phil Hosegood.

Lectures and Practicals

  • 2nd year interdisciplinary module "Science Methods"
  • Marine Mammal Biology and Environmental Biology Masters.
    • Quantitative Methods for Ecology
    • Research Methods in Marine Mammal Science


  • McConnell B, Hammond PS, Hastie G, Janik V, Jones E, Matthiopoulos J, Morris C, Paterson W, Russell DJF, Smout S, Sparling C, Thompson DT, Wu M (2015). Marine Mammal Scientific Support Research Programme MMSS/001/11. MR5: Characterise Seal Populations.
  • Paterson W, Russell DJF, Wu M, McConnell BJ & Thompson D (2015). Harbour seal haul-out monitoring, Sound of Islay. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No.894.
  • Paterson W, Russell DJF, Wu M, McConnell B, Thompson DT (2015). Monitoring harbour seal haul-out sites in the Sound of Islay. SCOS Briefing Paper 15/11.
  • Russell DJF (2015). Marine Mammal Scientific Support Research Programme MMSS/001/11. CSD5: Changes in at-sea foraging trips of harbour seals and grey seals in south-east Scotland.
  • Russell DJF, Duck C, Morris C, Thompson DT (2015). Review of parameters of grey seal pup production model. 2015. SCOS Briefing Paper 15/03.
  • Russell DJF & McConnell BJ (2014). Seal at-sea distribution, movements and behaviour. OESEA-10-10 Report to DECC.
  • Russell DJF & Lonergan M (2012). Short note on grey seal haul-out events at-sea.  Special Committee on Seals (12/07).
  • Jones EL, McConnell BJ, Duck CD, Morris CD, Hammond PS, Russell DJF & Matthiopoulos J (2012). Marine distribution of grey & harbour seals around the UK. Special Committee on Seals (12/06).
  • Sparling CE, Cox E & Russell DJF (2012). Dogger Bank Seal Telemetry Report. SMRU Ltd report SMRUL-ROY-2012-025 to Royal Haskoning and Forewind.
  • Russell DJF et al. (2011).  SMRU seal telemetry data holdings.  Special Committee on Seals.
  • Russell DJF, Matthiopoulos J & McConnell BJ (2011).  SMRU seal telemetry quality control process.  SMRU seal telemetry data holdings.  Special Committee on Seals.
  • Russell DJF et al. (2011). Modelling interactions between top predators and fishing vessels: implications for fisheries management in a wider ecosystem Detailed report on NERC grant NE/F002025/1.
  • Russell DJF & Sparling CE (2011). Seal Telemetry data and Triton Knoll Offshore Wind Farm. Technical note produced for RWE NRL and Royal Haskoning by SMRU Ltd.
  • Russell DJF (2011). Harbour seal telemetry data relating to potential wind farms: Docking Shoal, Race Bank and Dudgeon. Report commissioned by DECC.
  • Grellier K & Russell DJF (2011). Summary of SMRU seal count and telemetry data from the Humber area. Produced for EMU by SMRU Ltd.
  • Russell DJF (2011).  Seal Telemetry in the Forth and Tay. Interim Report to FTOWDG by SMRU Ltd.




Lucke, K, Hastie, GD, Ternes, K, McConnell, BJ, Moss, S, Russell, DJ, Weber, H & Janik, V 2016, 'Aerial low frequency hearing in captive and free-ranging harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) using auditory brainstem responses' Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology. DOI: 10.1007/s00359-016-1126-8
Chen, F, Shapiro, GI, Bennett, KA, Ingram, SN, Thompson, D, Vincent, C, Russell, DJF & Embling, CB 2016, 'Shipping noise in a dynamic sea: a case study of grey seals in the Celtic Sea' Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol In press. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.09.054
Hastie, GD, Russell, DJ, Benjamins, S, Moss, S, Wilson, B & Thompson, D 2016, 'Dynamic habitat corridors for marine predators: intensive use of a coastal channel by harbour seals is modulated by tidal currents' Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-016-2219-7
Metcalfe, K, Collins, T, Abernethy, KE, Boumba, R, Dengui, J-C, Miyalou, R, Parnell, RJ, Plummer, KE, Russell, DJF, Safou, GK, Tilley, D, Turner, RA, VanLeeuwe, H, Witt, MJ & Godley, BJ 2016, 'Addressing uncertainty in marine resource management; combining community engagement and tracking technology to characterise human behavior' Conservation Letters, vol Early View. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12293
Russell, DJ, Hastie, GD, Thompson, D, Janik, VM, Hammond, PS, Scott-Hayward, LAS, Matthiopoulos, J, Jones, EL & McConnell, BJ 2016, 'Avoidance of wind farms by harbour seals is limited to pile driving activities' Journal of Applied Ecology, vol Early view. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12678
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