|The Sea Mammal Research Unit is the foremost research institution
carrying out research on marine mammals in the World. With over 40 staff and students,
SMRU represents a formidable concentration of expertise and talent in the field of marine
mammalogy and, more generally, in marine ecology. The mission of the SMRU is to carry out
fundamental research into the biology of upper trophic level predators in the oceans and,
through this, to provide support to the Natural Environment Research Council so that it
can carry out its statutory duty to advise Government in the UK about the management of
In order to better meet this mission, SMRU was relocated from
Cambridge to St Andrews in 1996, when it became incorporated within the Gatty Marine
Laboratory at the University of St Andrews. Not only did this bring the unit closer to its
main field sites, including the Tay Estuary which contains bottlenose dolphins, porpoises,
and harbour and grey seals, but it also brought the Unit into a successful marine
laboratory in which a variety of complimentary research on a range of issues in marine
biology was already being addressed. A purpose-built and state-of-the art laboratory was
built to contain the Unit and this contains facilities for holding seals in captivity as
well as an all-weather work boat for use within the local area.
The marine environment is a challenging place in which to conduct research. Over the
years, SMRU has demonstrated a high level of innovation in its research. This has
concentrated mainly upon seals and cetaceans although new research initiatives are also
being brought forward on marine turtles and seabirds. The unit operates mainly in the
coastal waters around Britain but its links to other researchers around the world mean
that it has some major research projects in the Antarctic, Arctic and the tropics. The
staff of the Unit are also called on regularly to provide expert opinion to help with
issues of marine resource management around the world.
Central to the research strategy of SMRU are underpinning technological and modeling
developments. A unique quality of the SMRU research is that it can, within the envelope of
a relatively modest staff complement, deliver the full range of skills that allow the Unit
to operate effectively from the development of ideas and hypotheses through to the
delivery of fully developed science programmes. There are substantial challenges in
visualizing how marine mammals operate in a world that is remote from land and people and
SMRU has been highly successful at meeting these challenges. Its unique combination of
satellite tags and web-based visualization software can provide scientists and the public
with insights into the lives of these animals that would not otherwise be visible.
Sophisticated biophysical modeling, that is informed by the data coming from instruments
on marine mammals, is being used to develop predictions of the effects of environmental
change on marine mammals.
SMRU prides itself in its leadership within its field but it also sees its role as the
provider of a service to the wider research community. This includes like-minded
researchers working on similar problems throughout the world as well as industry or
government agencies that are seeking advice about issues relating to marine mammals.
Perhaps most important of all, SMRU has an important role in the provision of
information to the general public. Issues about marine mammals occupy an important place
in peoples lives and we want to provide objective information and informed opinion
about topical issues. I hope that visitors to this web site will feel satisfied that we
are providing the information they are seeking.
SMRU Director: Professor Ian L. Boyd
SMRU PR Press Officer: Amanda Pomeroy
SMRU is carrying out a study into the survival of grey seal
Approximately half of the 1300 pups born at the island each year will
die before their first birthday. We dont know why some pups die and others survive
but we suspect that it is related to how big they are when they leave the island. Grey
seal pups are abandoned by their mothers after 18 days and have to learn to feed
themselves. Large pups may have more time to learn before they starve to death than
To see if this is the case we weighed 215 grey seal pups and glued
yellow and green tags to their heads. The tags will fall off when the animals moult next
season so they will only stay on for one year at the most. The hats are
individually numbered and coded according to pup weight. The codes, either two numbers, a
number and a letter or two letters, are stamped on the front and sides of the hats and
will be visible when the animals are hauled-out on land or are swimming near the shore. We
would very much like to know, if you see a pup wearing a hat, when and where
you saw it and what its colour and code were.
There is a reward for any hats we get back from pups
that have died, so look out for dead seals on the beach or hats on the shore
that have fallen off. Please contact Ailsa Hall at the Sea Mammal Research Unit, the
telephone number is shown below and is printed on the hat should you find one.