Prof Patrick Miller:

My research focuses on communication and behavioural ecology of marine mammals. I record and describe the behaviour patterns of marine mammals in order to elucidate their function, and how life in the sea affects behaviour and physiology.  This research often makes use of novel research tools such as hydrophone arrays to identify which whale within a group is calling, and animal-attached tags.   Marine mammals live in a world increasingly affected by anthropogenic activity, and I have conducted several studies of how underwater noise affects behaviour of cetaceans, and the potential that disturbance might lead to lasting harm.


My research focuses on social communication and behavioral ecology of marine mammals. I record and describe the behaviour patterns of marine mammals in order to elucidate their function, often using novel research tools. I seek to unravel how the marine environment and anthropogenic stressors such as sonar might influence foraging, social interactions, swimming behaviour, and body condition.

Current Projects

Novel methods to study body condition of cetaceans at sea

Body condition influences how animals trade-off foraging and anti-predator behaviors, and modulates responses to human disturbance. However, current methods for estimating lipid store body condition in cetaceans are descriptive or do not measure full-body fat stores. In this study, we are working to validate, establish and utilize a novel, non-invasive method to measure total body lipid-stores of free-ranging cetaceans by analysis of their underwater swimming pattern. The results of this study will establish and validate an innovative technique to measure body condition in cetaceans, and examine the interplay of body condition with foraging and anti-predator behaviors and reproductive status of females.

Killer whales in the North Atlantic

Killer whales are generalist predators as a species, but each population seems to be remarkably specialized on certain prey types. This project seeks to describe natural behaviour of killer whales in the North Atlantic, focusing upon interatctions between foraging behaviour, social interactions and acoustic communication of herring-feeding killer whales. Work in this area also seeks to explore interactions of killer whales with other speces, and how killer whales respond to underwater noise.

Effects of noise on cetaceans and other animals

The underwater environment is subject to the input of noise from human activities, but there are wide gaps in our understanding about how noise might affect marine mammals. My work within the international collaboration known as '3S' has focused on describing how several species of cetaceans respond to experimental presentation of sonar and various control sounds including killer whale sounds. To aid in management of this important problem, a key component of this work is to determine the levels of noise at which responses start I am using animal models ranging from the fruit fly D montana to long-finned pilot whale to explore how noise influences communication systems and how signallers might respond to noise within ecological and evolutionary time scales.

source: symbiosis

Recent Publications:

Recent publications listed in research@st-andrews
Harris, CM, Thomas, L, Falcone, E, Hildebrand, J, Houser, D, Kvadsheim, P, Lam, F-PA, Miller, P, Moretti, DJ, Read, A, Slabbekoorn, H, Southall, BL, Tyack, PL, Wartzok, D & Janik, VM 2017, 'Marine mammals and sonar: dose-response studies, the risk-disturbance hypothesis and the role of exposure context' Journal of Applied Ecology, vol Early view. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12955
Kvadsheim, PH, DeRuiter, S, Sivle, LD, Goldbogen, J, Roland-Hansen, R, Miller, PJO, Lam, F-PA, Calambokidis, J, Friedlaender, A, Visser, F, Tyack, PL, Kleivane, L & Southall, B 2017, 'Avoidance responses of minke whales to 1–4 kHz naval sonar' Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol In press. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.05.037