MSc in Marine Mammal Science

General information

The MSc in Marine Mammal Science prepares students for professional careers in the research and conservation of marine mammals. It is the only research-focused MSc degree in this popular subject worldwide, and is taught by leading experts at the Sea Mammal Research Unit and the Scottish Oceans Institute.

The need to know more about the lives and behaviours of marine mammals, driven by many agendas, coincides with a period in which improving technology is making it increasingly possible for us to probe the marine environment, and learn more about its inhabitants.

As a result, the rapidly developing, and highly topical, discipline of marine mammal science is an area in which many excellent biology graduates seek to conduct research.

The MSc in Marine Mammal Science is intended to prepare students fully for a professional career involved with conservation of and research into marine mammals. It is, first and foremost, a course in quantitative marine ecology. The degree aims to address the unique scientific challenges of marine mammal physiology and behaviour with strong components of methodology, laboratory work, and field study. The course is led by members of the world renowned Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU).

The Master in Marine Mammal Science is offered as a full-time, intensive postgraduate programme. The course consists of two semesters with taught components and an independent research project taking place during the entire year, with particular focus during the last 3 months.

The taught component is modular in structure. Students are required to complete 5 compulsory modules of four to seven weeks in duration. Students also have to choose three optional modules, each four weeks in duration, from a total of five (or six) on offer. The optional modules (see below) reflect the recognised research excellence here at St Andrews and are taught by expert staff in the particular fields.

Teaching will be done by means of lectures, seminars, debates, workshops and tutorials. Practicals involve lab work, field work, modelling and computer-based data analysis. Other taught activities include several field trips to practice survey and observational techniques. Peer-study groups will be used in several modules to support a student-to-student led learning forum.

The course will be intensive: students will have a very full timetable, and will be asked to work both as individuals and in groups.

Teaching will be done by means of lectures, seminars and tutorials. Practicals involve lab work, field work, modelling and computer-based data analysis. Other taught activities include several field trips to practice survey and observational techniques.

Taught Component

Compulsory modules Optional modules
Conservation and Management of Marine Mammals Population Biology of Marine Mammals
Priniples of Marine Mammal Biologyc Current Issues of Marine Mammal Behaviour
Mathematical and Statistical Modelling for Biologists Current Issues in Biologging
  Advanced Bioacoustics for Marine Mammal Science
  Predator Ecology in Polar Ecosystems*
  Estimating Animal Abudance


Learning outcome:

Students will undertake an individual research project during at least three months over the summer. Projects may involve some fieldwork, but given the relatively short time frame will be primarily focused on the analysis of existing data. Projects will be supervised by SMRU staff but may be carried out in another location, possibly with joint supervision from staff in other institutions. There is potential for students who have their own data, to work on these, provided that the details of such a project are agreed with their supervisor in advance. 

Contact Person: Dr Luke Rendell (Course Organiser) (


The highlighted icons, represent the fields of education (in compliance with ISCED Classification) engaged during this course/programme.

0511 - Biology", "0512 - Biotechnology", "0512 - Toxicology", "0521 - Ecology", "0522 - Conservation and environmental management", "0542 - Statistics", "0588 - Scientific modelling


Venue: University of St Andrews
St Andrews, United Kingdom

School of Biology
East Sands, St Andrews
Fife, KY16 8LB

The Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews is the only UK institution dedicated exclusively to marine mammal research, and has an excellent international reputation. There are over 40 staff and research students.

Especially important themes for which the SMRU has established an international reputation are:

  1. biologging and instrumentation
  2. bioacoustics
  3. population modelling
  4. abundance estimation
  5. the study of individual behaviour, feeding and foraging
  6. physiology


Open from
1 Oct 2019 to 3 Apr 2020


UK/EU students: £9.450

Overseas students: £23.090(TBC)


Degree Requirements

  • A 1st or good 2.1. undergraduate (Honours) degree (or equivalent) in a biological science. Other scientific, engineering or mathematics degrees may be acceptable – please contact us if you are interested in the course, but  are unsure about your qualifications.
  • Advanced Maths and Stats (at AS/A-level Higher, International Baccalaureate, undergraduate training or equivalent).
  • Very good baseline IT skills: word-processing, spreadsheet use, email and Internet.

Language Requirements
Proof of satisfactory English Language competence for applicants whose first language is not English. Students must be able to communicate their ideas effectively in writing, in discussions and presentations. The following tests are accepted:

  • IELTS: 7
  • Pearson Test of English (PTE): 70
  • TOEFL iBT: 100*
  • Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE): B
  • Cambridge Eng;ish: Advanced (CAE): B

*Please note, TOEFL is not considered a SELT (Secure English Language Test certificate) for visa purposes so you cannot use TOEFL if you need a Tier 4 student visa.

It is highly desirable for applicants to have:

  • Relevant field or lab experience from previous employment, project or voluntary work.
  • Further IT skills, e.g. programming, database software, experience of the use of statistical packages for analysing (e.g. MATLAB, SPSS, SAS or R).
  • Dedicated calculus and/or statistics modules at University level.

Application Procedure:

Application requirements

Marine Mammal Science applicants should not submit a cover letter or writing sample with their applications.

For more guidance, see supporting documents and references for postgraduate taught programmes. 

Application deadline

3 April 2020. Decisions on applications will only be communicated after the application deadline. Applicants should apply as early as possible to be eligible for certain scholarships and for international visa purposes.

Grant Opportunities:

There are currently no course-specific studentships available. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that you have sufficient funding to support yourself during the MSc. The postgraduate scholarship section on the University of St Andrews website provides a comprehensive list of potential funding bodies for UK, EU and overseas students – please see  University’s postgraduate scholarship website.

If none of the listed scholarships apply to you then you will have to find your own funding and explore funding opportunities in your home country.

Please note that application deadlines for most scholarship or support schemes predate the start of the course by months (e.g. application deadlines for September course entry can be as early as December in the previous year). You should seek to apply for potential support as soon as possible. Please do not wait until you have been accepted onto the MSc.


The University of St Andrews has clearly defined exit points for its taught postgraduate (pg) studies. These are:

  • PG Certificate: exit point after successfully completing 60 credits over one semester in pg taught modules.
  • PG Diploma: exit point after successfully completing 120 credits over two semesters in pg taught modules.
  • MSc: degree awarded after successfully completing 120 credits in taught modules over two semestersand successfully completing a 60 credit research thesis.

Students who have successfully completed 120 credits in the taught components might be given the option to work towards the postgraduate research degree of MPhil which requires a further 12 months of independent research under the supervision of academic and research staff at St Andrews.


Academic level: Master


Students will be assessed in different ways:

  •  Closed written exams will be set for some modules, and will be taken at the end of the term during which the module is completed.
  • Continuous assessment will involve different tasks focusing on transferable and topical research skills, practical work and data analysis. e.g. students will be asked to make conference-style presentations and posters, write reports, and present the results of data analysis and modelling exercises.
  • The research project will be assessed by means of a written dissertation and the presentation of a poster at the MRes student conference.

Qualification: Master of Science

SCQF Credits
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