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Biology of Aquatic Vertebrates

Module titleBiology of Aquatic Vertebrates
Module codeBIO2437
Academic year2018/9
Module staff
Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Aquatic vertebrates (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 modules, you will learn about the different form, function, ecology and physiology of each group of aquatic vertebrates and use practical work to illustrate specific adaptations in more detail. We will also focus on specific case studies to illustrate the extremes of life in the water. The module will also provide you with key employability skills in analysis and communication.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will build on the Stage 1 modules BIO1419 Introduction to Vertebrate Zoology and BIO1420 Physiology, will complement the Stage 2 modules BIO2432 Exploitation of the Sea and BIO2431 The Biology of Mammals, and will provide you with a key foundation for Stage 3 modules, including field courses such as BIO3403 Bahamas Field Course. 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.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe the form, function and basic ecology and physiology of a range of aquatic vertebrates
  • 2. Explain, in some detail, a range of case studies of aquatic vertebrate form, function, ecology and physiology
  • 3. Explain, in some detail, the role and importance of aquatic vertebrates

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Describe in some detail essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 5. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 6. Identify and implement, with guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing specific research problems in biosciences
  • 7. With some guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 8. 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...

  • 9. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid conclusions
  • 10. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 11. Collect and interpret appropriate data and complete research-like tasks, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance
  • 12. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills, and apply own evaluation criteria
  • 13. Reflect effectively on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Lectures will cover the form, function, ecology and physiology of a range of aquatic vertebrate groups, with specific case studies 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)
  • 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 and function of aquatic vertebrates either in the laboratory (using dissections of stranded aquatic animals and lab analysis) or at the National Seal Sanctuary 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 Teaching 15Lectures cover major aquatic vertebrate groups, including their ecology and physiology, as illustrated with a range of case studies
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 9Practical covers aspects of aquatic vertebrate ecology and physiology
Guided independent study126Reading 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 during lectures and practical sessionsOngoing 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
Examination601 hour1-11Written
Report / presentation401 poster / 1000 words / 10 minutes1-11Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination1-11August assessment period
Report / presentationNot applicableNot applicableNot applicable

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.┬áThe report/presentation is not deferrable due to its practical nature. 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, mammal, reptile, bird, fish, shark, biology, ecology, behaviour, physiology, adaptation

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date