Skip to main content

Honours projects

CMST takes on domestic and international Honours students. At Curtin University, the Honours degree is a one-year full-time course, during which the students take a few selected classes, and then spend most of the year researching a topic, that needs to be written up as an Honours thesis before the year is over.

Tuition fees apply for Honours students.

Honours students can enrol either in Semester 1 (February), or in Semester 2 (i.e., mid-year, August).

We have the following one-year Honours projects available.

1. Killer whales in the Bremer Canyon: Mark-recapture photo-ID Supervisors: Christine Erbe, Chandra Salgado Kent

For three years, CMST has been in the Bremer Canyon following and photographing killer whales, Australia’s top ocean predator. Some individuals have distinct markings, and we’ve gotten to know several individuals over the years. This Honour’s project will have access to several seasons of photo-ID pictures (photographs of dorsal fins, eye patches and saddle patches) and help establish a database of photo-ID shots. The student will then investigate visitation patterns and resightings of the same individuals, and ultimately estimate the size of the population of killer whales in the Bremer Canyon for each season of data, and compare the estimates across the years to identify any trends. There is a potential opportunity for additional fieldwork in early 2017, to be confirmed.

2. Killer whales in the Bremer Canyon: Demographics and association patterns Supervisors: Christine Erbe, Chandra Salgado Kent

For three years, CMST has been in the Bremer Canyon following and photographing killer whales, Australia’s top ocean predator. Some individuals have distinct markings, and we’ve gotten to know several individuals over the years. This Honour’s project will have access to several seasons of photo-ID pictures (photographs of dorsal fins, eye patches and saddle patches) and help establish a database of photo-ID shots. We also have a category of photos from each year showing mothers and calves together, which will be needed for this project. The student will utilise the database to determine the numbers of adult males, adult females, and juveniles, to analyse population demographics, and to identify association patterns. There is a potential opportunity for additional fieldwork in early 2017, to be confirmed.

3. Killer whales in the Bremer Canyon: Presence/absence and distribution patterns Supervisors: Christine Erbe, Chandra Salgado Kent, David Antoine

For three years, CMST has been in the Bremer Canyon following and photographing killer whales, Australia’s top ocean predator. Some individuals have distinct markings, and we’ve gotten to know several individuals over the years. This Honour’s project will have access to several seasons of photo-ID pictures (photographs of dorsal fins, eye patches and saddle patches) and help establish a database of photo-ID shots. The student will then investigate distribution patterns of killer whales in the Bremer Canyon, i.e., where were they sighted and when. Once we have presence/absence determined on a temporal and spatial grid, we will add environmental data, such as bathymetry, slope, sea surface temperature, or chlorophyll-a from satellite remote sensing, in order to determine which environmental parameters might drive killer whale distribution.  This project suits a student without fear of “big data” and numerical modelling. There is a potential opportunity for additional fieldwork in early 2017, to be confirmed.

4. Killer whales around Australia: Where do they go? Supervisors: Christine Erbe, Chandra Salgado Kent

For three years, CMST has been in the Bremer Canyon following and photographing killer whales, Australia’s top ocean predator. Some individuals have distinct markings, and we’ve gotten to know several individuals over the years. This Honour’s project will have access to several seasons of photo-ID pictures (photographs of dorsal fins, eye patches and saddle patches) and help establish a database of photo-ID shots. The student will then compare individuals from the Bremer Bay database to individuals in other databases, e.g., the Northern Indian Ocean database, and photos from Ningaloo Reef and potentially other areas around Australia. Do we see the same populations in different parts of Australia at different times of the year, or do these animals have home ranges that don’t overlap, and hence different populations are seen at different locations? There is a potential opportunity for additional fieldwork in early 2017, to be confirmed.

5. & 6. Southern right whale and pygmy blue whale photo-ID, residency and site fidelity in southwestern Australia Supervisor: Chandra Salgado Kent and Chris Burton

Iconic cetacean species, such as humpback, blue, and southern right whales are listed internationally as high priority species for conservation due to their vulnerable/endangered status. These whales use southwestern Australia for migrating, resting and/or calving each year. While the region is currently relatively pristine, it is experiencing increasing human pressures associated with a growing population. Over the past eight years, CMST has partnered with Western Whale Research and Dunsborough Coast and Land Care on the Southwestern Ecology Whale Study (http://souwest.org).  SouWEST endeavors to contribute to securing the long-term future of these whales by improving the scientific foundation for conservation management and species protection in the region. A sub-project of SouWEST focuses on using photos of whales to identify long-term use and spatial extent by individuals in southwest coastal waters. There are two Honours projects available to contribute to this sub-project, which would involve identifying individuals in a large archive of photographs collected since 1994. There is a potential for additional fieldwork in early 2017 to supplement the photo archive.

7. Feeding energetics of humpback whales in Antarctica Supervisor: Rob McCauley

In January 2014 the WAVES expedition (Centre for Whale Research, Curtin University and University of Alaska) deployed a high resolution “Lander” tag on a feeding humpback whale and followed it for 12 hours with a Biosonics DTX single-beam sonar running. The tag was recovered and contained good sensor data from 3-axis accelerometers, magnetic heading orientation, depth, temperature and GPS location, combined with sonar data of the krill patches the whale was feeding on. The tag data will allow the student to calculate feeding rates and to correlate these with biomass of the krill patch the whale passed through. The krill patch was remarkably fluid with time, the dynamics of this can be investigated and linked to how the feeding humpback exploited the krill patch. This work would best be tackled by a student with some grounding in physics or maths as analysis of the tag and sonar data is challenging, although we can supply software for analysis.

8. Acoustic behaviour of Bryde's / fin / minke whales Supervisors: Rob McCauley

CMST has a large archive of ocean noise which shows seasonal visitation along the WA coast by dwarf minke, Bryde’s and fin whales. None of this acoustic data has been analysed in any depth for the migratory patterns or calling behaviour of the respective whale.  Analysis of existing data sets is an ideal Honours or Masters project and may lead into field studies of the respective species, which are poorly known in the Australian context. The work would suit students with some technical or maths/computing background.

9. Analysis of sea noise in Antarctica Supervisors: Rob McCauley

In January 2014 the WAVES expedition (Centre for Whale Research and Curtin) collected almost 30 days of sonobuoy data from the Southern Ocean and east Antarctic ice edge.  The data sets are rich in biological signals (whales and seals mostly), physical sea noise (storm and ice asssociated) and man-made noise (seismic survey from Australian shelf break at 1200 n mile).  Several of the sonobuoys were deployed in broadband mode and have some surprising signals in the high frequencies. Most sonobuoy deployments allow bearing estimation of the sources detected. The data can be analysed for biological signals or physical sea noise sources and offers an opportunity for a student to become involved in bioacoustic analysis while studying the Antarctic environment.

10. Monitoring Swan River mulloway (Argyrosomus japonicus) Supervisors: Miles Parsons and Rob McCauley

Each summer a large number of mulloway enter the Swan River to spawn, forming an aggregation each night around the Mosman Bay area. CMST deploys an underwater noise logger in Mosman Bay, recording advertisement calls as males attempt to attract females. This aggregation moves up and down the Swan River in the late afternoon and around sunset, varying with the season, lunar phase and tide times.  A number of projects may be conducted at this location from analysing mulloway calls or monitoring aggregation movement patterns, to assessing the level of call discrimination by attracting female mulloway with Acoustically Baited Remote Underwater Videos (ABRUVS).  This project will require analytical skills and Matlab programming. Boating experience preferential.

11. Sound production by Western Rock Lobster (Panulirus cygnus) Supervisors: Miles Parsons and Iain Parnum

Rock lobster puerulus are capable of producing sound via stridulation.  Acoustic characteristics (source level, duration, spectral peak frequencies) of these sounds vary with growth.  The project will compare the disturbance and agonistic sounds of rock lobster at various life stages and estimate the propagation and uses of these sounds.  Work will be conducted with the Curtin Aquatic Research Laboratories and Department of Fisheries WA at Hillarys.

12. Ship noise in Australian marine habitats Supervisor: Christine Erbe

The marine soundscape can be split into its biophony (the sounds of whales, dolphins, fish, crustaceans etc.), geophony (the sounds of wind, rain, waves, ice etc.) and anthrophony (the sounds of human/industrial operations). Ship traffic is the most persistent source of man-made noise in the marine environment—with potentially significant bioacoustic impacts on marine fauna, most of which rely heavily on acoustics for their critical life functions. CMST has recorded the marine soundscape around Australia for 15 years at various sites. Using publicly available position logs of large vessels, we can 1) compute received levels of individual ships, 2) calculate source levels of individual ships by sound propagation modeling, and 3) determine the contribution of shipping to the local noise budgets. This project will suit a mathematically skilled student with some experience in scientific software development, data analysis and numerical modeling. An acoustic background is NOT necessary.

13. Variability in acoustic tag performance and detection range. Supervisors: Dr. Miles Parsons and Dr. Christine Erbe

Acoustic tags are increasingly used to track behavioural patterns of numerous marine species, but the long-term performance of the pinging tags and stationary receivers is rarely tested.  Bio-fouling of the receivers, for example, holds potential to significantly reduce performance, affecting the results of marine studies. This project aims to assess directionality, source levels and detection ranges of some acoustic tags in a practical environment and the propagation of their signals. A number of acoustic tag receivers are located at the Mullaloo Beach Lab site. Working in collaboration with Mullaloo Beach Surf LifeSavers tags are to be periodically located in and around the array while tag source levels are also tested. Matlab programming skills will be developed. Kayaking experience preferential.

14. Black cockatoos calling Supervisors: Christine Erbe and Bill Bateman

We are looking for two Honours students interested in studying cockatoo acoustics for a year. Black cockatoos, Calyptorhynchus sp., are endangered and specially protected in Western Australia. There is a regular citizen science survey, called the Great Cocky Count, which has provided crucial information on black cockatoo populations.

Cockatoos are noisy. They produce sounds that differ by species, age, gender and behaviour. We want to explore whether passive acoustic listening can provide additional data on population size, distribution and demographics. We have preliminary recordings of Carnaby’s cockatoos near the Curtin University Bentley campus, and of red-tailed black cockatoos in John Forrest National Park. The Honours students will be involved in additional field work, including recordings and visual observations, establish a call repertoire of these two species, correlate calls with behaviour and demographic parameters, and potentially look at changes in calling behaviour as a function of human disturbance.

15. Mapping habitats and finding fish hotspots in the Swan River, WA Supervisors: Dr Iain Parnum & Dr Miles Parsons

This project will use sonar and echo-sounders to map habitats and fish biomass in the swan river. This will use existing data, but also involve collection of new data. Students would gain knowledge of acoustic data acquisition and processing, and complementary ground-truth techniques, such as grab sampling and underwater video. The data would explore the spatial variability and the connection between habitats and associated fauna.

16. The bioacoustic repertoire of Australian striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) Supervisors: Christine Erbe, Rob McCauley, Chandra Salgado Kent

Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) are an offshore, pelagic species of dolphin, which are most commonly seen along the edge of the continental shelf or over deep-water canyons. We have little information about the Australian population. Threats are direct catches, fisheries bycatch and pollution. Curtin University’s Centre for Marine Science & Technology has photographic and passive acoustic data for this species, and we are looking for a 1-year Honour’s student to study the bioacoustics of Australian striped dolphins, with the overall aim of characterising their sound repertoire to aid long-term passive acoustic monitoring. We are hoping to fill this position as soon as possible, January 2017 the latest. Depending on timing, there might be opportunities for additional field work.