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Biology of Marine Vertebrates

Module titleBiology of Marine Vertebrates
Module codeBIO3098
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Lucy Hawkes (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Marine megavertebrates (including turtles, sharks, rays, cetaceans, penguins and other aquatic birds) are generally considered very charismatic animals and attract much public and research attention. As a group they also adapt to the challenges of life in water in a diverse range of ways. Building on Stage 1 and 2 modules, you will learn about the different form, function, ecology and physiology of each group of megavertebrates. You will also use practical work to investigate adaptations in more detail, and research-led teaching to understand the very latest developments in the field. The module will also provide you with key employability skills in analysis and communication.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of the module is to provide you with an in-depth insight into the range of adaptations for life in the water and the ways in which biology has adapted to cope with the challenges of low oxygen, high pressure and unpredictability in resources. This insight will help you to develop your critical and creative thinking about how life has adapted to deal with specific challenges, and provide key employability skills in analysis and communication.

The practical knowledge and skills acquired by taking this module are relevant to many areas of employment such as conservation, consultancy, environmental planning, medicine and forensics. By taking part in the practicals you will learn skills of observation, accurate data recording and demonstrate critical thinking which are key to careers in fundamental and applied sciences.

The module content is updated every year to explore topical research areas, some of which are being carried out in the department, and some of which are of global relevance. For example, we debate cutting edge research into animal biologging and conservation. You will learn about the tools required to study such problems, and explore how such science can inform policy and practice which is useful in the context of careers in conservation policy, science, in NGO and consultancy as well as academia.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe the form, function, basic ecology and physiology and role and importance of a range of marine megavertebrates
  • 2. Critically evaluate a range of case studies concerning marine vertebrate form, function, ecology and physiology

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Identify critical questions and methodologies from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 4. With limited guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 5. Describe and evaluate approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 7. Collect and interpret appropriate data and complete research-like tasks, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Lectures will cover the form, function, ecology and physiology of a range of aquatic vertebrate groups, with specific case studies looking into species that have been well studied. For example, diving physiology of elephant seals and emperor penguins, thermal ranges of aquatic vertebrates, foraging energetics of large fish and sharks.

Lectures will include, but are not limited to:

  • Introduction to the module, structure and assessment and key learning outcomes
  • Marine reptiles (turtles, snakes and iguanas)
  • Contrasting marine and freshwater fish and sharks
  • Cetaceans (dolphins and whales)
  • Pinnipeds (seals and sea lions)
  • Seabirds (albatross, gannets and other species)
  • Locomotion and energetics
  • Diving physiology (oxygen storage, hypoxia tolerance)

Practicals will investigate form, function, ecology and physiology of aquatic vertebrates either in the laboratory (using dissections of stranded aquatic animals and lab analysis) or using electronic biologging data to compare adaptations in form, function and physiology.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching17Lectures cover major aquatic vertebrate groups, including their ecology and physiology, as illustrated with a range of case studies
Guided independent study133Reading and preparation for lectures and group work, write-up of practical and assignments and preparation for assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions throughout lectures and practical assessmentsOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay examination601 hour1-6Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay examinationEssay examination1-6August Ref/Def
PosterPosterAllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Marine vertebrate, cetacean, shark, fish, turtle, snake, lizard, physiology, ecology, adaptation, diving, biologging

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

BIO1331 Animals, and BIO2082 Animal Ecophysiology or BIO2074 Marine Biology

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date