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Acoustics & marine mammals

PhD project on Australian dolphin acoustic ecology

The Marine Mammal Foundation (MMF, Melbourne, Victoria, and Centre for Marine Science & Technology (CMST, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia; html: are looking for a postgraduate student to undertake research towards a Ph.D. degree in dolphin acoustics.

Supervisors: Dr Kate Charlton-Robb (Marine Mammal Foundation) and Prof Christine Erbe (CMST)

Timeline: 2018-2021

Background: The Burrunan dolphin (Tursiops australis) occurs as small, genetically distinct and isolated populations in coastal areas of southern Australia and is listed as threatened. MMF has studied the populations in Port Phillip Bay (PPB) and Gippsland Lakes (GL), Victoria, Australia, for over a decade. There is a photo-ID catalogue of ~120 individuals in PPB and ~100 individuals GL. In PPB, dolphins are resident all year round; whilst the GL supports a maternal based resident population (present year round) with >60 transient males present in the austral winter. Dolphins rely heavily on sound production for navigating, foraging, communicating and socialising. Sound production is linked to behaviour, group cohesion and identification of individuals. Noisy environments can cause behavioural changes, displacement from high-impact areas, adjustment of sound production rates and spectral shifts. Such disturbances can affect core biological activities of dolphins and ultimately their health and fitness. Current ongoing projects (incl. 2 PhD and 1 Honours) are investigating population demographics, association patterns, behaviour, genetics, feeding ecology, toxicology, and habitat characteristics.

PhD project: This project will focus on bioacoustics including sound repertoire, signature whistles, linking sound production with behaviour, using passive acoustic monitoring to document distribution, linking sound production with the two different soundscapes in PPB and GL, and the potential effects of boat noise. This study will provide the acoustic angle and thus extend our previous and current research into species/taxonomic distinction of the Burrunan dolphin, geospatial and temporal distribution patterns, behaviour and potential disturbance by humans.

Field work: For the coming 2 years, boat-based field work is scheduled for 22 days every 3 months across the two locations.

Funding: All field-related costs are covered, i.e., boats, fuel, accommodation while in the field, acoustic equipment incl. autonomous recorders and short-term suction-cup tags.

There is NO funding for a student stipend, so the prospective student will have to cover their own living allowance. Students are encouraged to apply for scholarships.

This project is open to Australian, New Zealand and international students. However, international tuition fees will have to be covered by the student. There is no tuition liability for Australian or New Zealand students.

The student will enrol at Curtin University, Perth, in the School of Earth & Planetary Science. The first few months will be spent at CMST in Perth. The student will then be required to move to Victoria for the 2 years of field work, with occasional trips back to Perth, and ideally return full-time to CMST in Perth for data analysis and thesis write-up.

The prospective candidate would have a BSc (Hons) or MSc degree (first class) in a relevant discipline. The student must have prior experience in any of the following: acoustics, maths, engineering, physics, numerical modelling, MATLAB, or programming in R as this project involves substantial acoustic data analysis and modelling. The following are beneficial: experience with field research on small cetaceans, small boat handling skills, marine mammal biology, and dolphin fin identification. Ideal candidates will have strong oral and written communication skills and work well in a team.

Please email your expression of interest, CV, and two academic references to Dr Kate Charlton-Robb at or Dr Christine Erbe at by 31 May 2018.