You are here:

Marine Predators as Indicators of the Integrity and Health of Marine Ecosystems

What is the Marine Predators activity?

This is a programme of research run by the Sea Mammal Research Unit, which will provide advice and information to government and industry.

The importance of marine mammals

Marine mammals reflect underlying process within a complex ecosystem and are vulnerable to human activity. Interest in marine mammals is a good way of promoting public engagement with environmental issues.

What will the activity do?

The activity aims to provide information to government and industry about the upper end of marine food chains.

Specifically, the activity will

  1. Provide formal scientific advice annually, on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council, to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Scottish Government about the management of marine mammals. This is in relation to the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Marine (Scotland) Bill
  2. Operate the science advisory review process for some of this Advice through the UK Special Committee on Seals
  3. Support the UK government in its commitments under the EU Habitats Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  4. Conduct annual and multi-annual surveys and status reviews for marine mammals in UK territorial and European offshore waters.

The research will

  • predict the distribution and abundance of marine mammals in the UK
  • explain the population dynamics of marine mammals in the UK
  • examine and quantify the vulnerability of marine mammals to anthropogenic changes including offshore developments, direct and indirect effects of fishing and pollution
  • quantify the extent to which marine mammals can be used as indicators of change in marine ecosystems, including the effects of climate, fishing and the consequences of pollution including within parts of the human food chain

Tools available

The activity will

  • develop new techniques for sensing the marine environment by putting instruments onto marine mammals
  • develop technologies for sensing the responses of marine mammals to environmental change

Instruments include

  • A variety of telemetry tags & data acquisition management software
  • Software to visualize data in time and space, including PAMGUARD - an open-source software community, developing marine mammal acoustic detection and localisation software to benefit the marine environment.

The Sea Mammal Research Unit provide advice and support on data collection through to analysis. More details are available on the website instrumentation pages.

How will the outputs be used?

Outputs will be used to provide advice on

  • offshore marine renewable energy developments
  • effects of different kinds of anthropogenic pollution (including noise)
  • reducing the effects of fisheries by-catch on marine mammals
  • implementation of a new marine management and licensing system in Scotland that will probably see regional management plans being developed for marine mammals especially in connection with aquaculture.

Use by policy makers

The programme has been explicitly designed to meet the needs of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Scottish Government and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Implicitly, it has also been designed to support the Department of Energy and Climate Change policy-making around marine renewable energy and also for the Minstry of Defence.

Industry links

SMRU Marine makes the world renowned expertise of the Sea Mammal Research Unit available to industry, their advisors and regulators to address challenges related to environmental regulations concerning marine mammals.

Clients are from the offshore renewable energy, oil & gas, marine infrastructure and government sectors including defence.

Specifically, this programme will, for example,

  • work with BAE systems, to provide a risk management system to the Royal Navy
  • provide environmental risk assessments to Quinetiq
  • provide advice to Exxonmobil and Oil and Gas UK


Start and end dates: April 2009 to March 2022

Other organisations involved:

Scottish Natural Heritage are also involved in the programme.


Marine predators as indicators of the integrity and health of marine ecosystems