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Studying Marine Mammals in the Wild



Course format On-site

Course Description:

The course will be held in summer at the Whale Research Station of the University of Iceland at Húsavík, NE-Iceland. This field course will introduce the fundamentals of a suite of field methodologies used in the study of free-ranging cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Students will stay at Husavik, in an integrated field course setting. During the first half of the course, students will receive background lectures on the diverse assemblage of dolphins and whales off Husavik, learn about the theory and practice behind different cetacean research methodologies. The methods will include: photo-identification, tracking cetaceans at sea, ship-based survey techniques, behavioural observational techniques, vertical-array acoustics using time-delay methods, towed-array acoustics using beam-forming, bottom-mounted hydrophone recording, and on-shore tracking using a surveyor's theodolite. Experts will present research seminars focusing on how the methodologies are used in cutting-edge research. At the end of the first half of the course the postgraduate students will present a specific research project using data collected during the fieldwork. The research  proposals and specific protocols will be discussed and determined by the entire group. Postgraduate students will work alongside teams of senior undergraduate students who will choose or be assigned a specific methodology. The results of research projects will be presented in an oral presentation (50%) and then in a written report (50%). The written reports will be due 2 weeks after the end of the field course.

Students are required to be in Húsavik. Students are required to cover the cost of travel to and from Húsavíkm, cost of accommodation and the cost of food during the course. Rooms at the Húsavík Hostel have been prebooked.


Graduate students and students who have finished at least the first two years of the bachelor's degree in Biology can participate in this course, if places are available.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

  • The student has knowledge of the most common cetaceans in Icelandic waters.
  • The student has knowledge of the different aspects of the general biology of whales, such as life history, distribution, behavior, and vocalization.
  • The student has obtained knowledge about whaling and the history of whaling.
  • The student has learned the most important methods to study marine mammals in the field.
  • The student has knowledge of how to analyze data obtained in the field.

Practical ability and skills

  • The student has practical experience of using different methods to study marine mammals.
  • The student has practical experience in studying marine mammals using a theodolite from land.
  • The student has experience in recording sound from cetaceans using a hydrophones or hydrophone arrays.
  • The student has experience in boat-based tracking and photo-identification.

Theoretical skills

  • The student has learnt the theories behind the different methods used.

Communication skills and information literacy

  • The student is able to read and evaluate the quality of scientific articles in the field of marine mammal science.
  • The student has gained experience in the collection of and analysis of scientific data in collaboration with others as well as cooperation in making the results of their study available to others in the form of an oral presentation.
  • The student knows how to construct and write a report about the research project conducted in the field.


ISCED Categories

Machinery and operators