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Organisation Reference Sea Mammal Research Unit
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This information has been provided by the Sea Mammal Research Unit  and is supplied in its original format.

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 seal populations.

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 people’s 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 pups.

Approximately half of the 1300 pups born at the island each year will die before their first birthday. We don’t 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 smaller ones.

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.

Dates Referenced August 2001
Contact Details Sea Mammal Research Unit
Gatty Marine Laboratory
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
Fife KY16 8LB
Tel: 01334 462630
Fax: 01334 462632
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