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Biology of Marine Vertebrates

Module titleBiology of Marine Vertebrates
Module codeBIO3098
Academic year2023/4
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 charismatic species of conservation concern, which attract much policy, public and research attention. The study of marine vertebrates incorporates techniques and approaches across disciplines, including biologging (the attachment of tracking devices), satellite remote sensing and physiology. Building on Stage 1 and 2 modules, you will learn about the different ecology and physiology of each group of marine vertebrates, as well as the techniques and research themes at the cutting edge of this research field. You will develop computer-based analytical skills to work with marine vertebrate data, and the module will feature 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 vertebrate life in the water and the ways in which marine vertebrates can be studied for conservation and management. This insight will help you to develop critical and creative thinking about studying vertebrates in the wild, 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 computer-based 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 ecology, physiology, role and importance of a range of marine vertebrates
  • 2. Critically evaluate a range of case studies concerning marine vertebrate ecology and physiology
  • 3. Understand and discuss the use of ‘biologging’ approaches for studying marine vertebrates

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Identify critical questions and methodologies from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 5. With limited guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 6. 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...

  • 7. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 8. 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 ecology and physiology of a range of marine vertebrate groups and the techniques used to study marine vertebrates, with specific case studies emerging in the latest literature. Lectures will include, but are not limited to:

  • Introduction to the module, structure and assessment and key learning outcomes
  • Ecology and biology of major marine vertebrate groups
  • Biologging techniques that archive sensor data
  • Biologging techniques that remotely transmit data
  • Biologging techniques to make inferences about the behaviour and location of marine vertebrates
  • Diving physiology (oxygen storage, hypoxia tolerance)
  • Specific case studies including bluefin tuna, basking sharks and sea turtles.

Computer-based practicals will use biologging data to develop skills in the analysis and interpretation of spatio-temporal and vertical data from marine vertebrates.

Accessibility statement:

As part of this module you will undertake sessions in the computing laboratory that are of 2-3 hrs in duration. Breaks are possible and students are able to leave the laboratory for short periods.

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 teaching12Computer-based practicals (4 x 3 hours)
Scheduled learning and teaching13Lectures
Guided independent study36Lecture consolidation and associated outside reading
Guided independent study49Coursework
Guided independent study40Exam revision


Formative assessment

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

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 examination601500 words1-7Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay examinationEssay examination1-7August 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