MST2013 : Marine Vertebrates

  • Module Leader(s): Dr Per Berggren
  • Owning School: Marine Sciences & Technology
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0


This module is designed to provide understanding of the evolution, physiology and adaptations of vertebrates to life in the marine environment. The lectures and laboratory practicals will specifically address aspects of the biology of fish, marine mammals and sea birds. Building upon the entry level of vertebrate biology of MST1001 Biodiversity of Marine Animals, this module will cover in detail aspects of the biology of fish (elasmobranchs and teleosts) including specific aspects of their physiology, locomotion and migratory patterns. The module will also address important aspects of cetacean biology and ecology, including distribution, abundance, population structure, behaviour and communication. Other marine mammals that will be covered include pinnipeds, manatees, dugongs, polar bears and sea otters. The module will further cover aspects of the biology and ecology of sea birds. Finally, marine reptiles will be covered briefly.

You will learn about the biology of marine vertebrates, many of which are top consumers in marine food webs. You will learn about the biology of marine fish including the elasmobranchs (sharks, rays, chimeras) and teleosts (bony fish). The module will address specific aspects of fish biology including fish locomotion and hydrodynamics and patterns of fish migration. You will learn about the charismatic megafauna of the ocean ecosystem, including whales, dolphins, seals and dugongs. Specific aspects of their biology and ecology will be covered including behaviour, social structure, communication and communication. You will also learn about pinniped biology (seals, sea lions, walruses), the biology of sea birds and marine reptiles including turtles, marine iguanas and sea snakes.

Outline Of Syllabus

17 x 1 hour lectures based on the following topics:
1. Introduction to module – vertebrate evolution
2. Marine mammal diversity and anatomy
3. Pathology of marine mammals
4. Cetacean biology and ecology
5. Cetacean distribution, abundance and population structure
6. Teleost diversity and anatomy
7. Teleost locomotion
8. Teleost physiology
9. Elasmobranch diversity and anatomy
10. Elasmobranch physiology
11. Foraging ecology of pinnipeds and birds
12. Diving physiology I
13. Diving physiology II
14. Pinnipeds
15. Sirenians, Ursids and Mustelids
16. Cetacean behaviour, social structure and communication
17. Revision session / question time

3 x 3 hour practicals based on the following topics:
1. Dissection of marine mammals
2. Anatomy, growth, age & buoyancy – dissection of dogfish
3. Breath holding practical

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion15:005:00Assessed practical reports
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion18:308:30Revision for Exam
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion11:301:30Exam
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture161:0016:00Including tutorials
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion125:3025:30Preparation of revision material and practicing past examination papers
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical26:0012:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical23:006:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading125:3025:30Consolidating lecture notes and further reading
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lecture program and associated reading establish the basic framework and body of knowledge required. The laboratory practical classes compliment the lecture series and allow the development of appropriate technical skills.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination902A70N/A
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Practical/lab report2M30Coursework (related to practicals). 3 individual reports each contributing 10% of the final mark. Maximum total 1000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Lectures and laboratory practicals provide the necessary knowledge and skills from the module. A combination of an exam and hand-in laboratory reports is regarded as most appropriate form of assessment of the learning outcome for this particular module. Three laboratory practicals will comprise the assessment, each of which will be worth 10% of the module assessment.

Practical Report 1 - 300 words in length
Practical Report 2 and 3 - 350 words in length

Reading Lists


Disclaimer: The University will use all reasonable endeavours to deliver modules in accordance with the descriptions set out in this catalogue. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, however, the University reserves the right to introduce changes to the information given including the addition, withdrawal or restructuring of modules if it considers such action to be necessary.