[MARMAM] Seeking PhD student for Burrunan dolphin acoustic ecology research

Kate Charlton-Robb kate at marinemammal.org.au
Mon Apr 9 22:53:30 PDT 2018

The Marine Mammal Foundation (MMF, Melbourne, Victoria, 
www.marinemammal.org.au) and Centre for Marine Science & Technology 
(CMST, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia; html: 
www.curtin.edu.au/cmst <http://www.curtin.edu.au/cmst>) 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 

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 

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 kate at marinemammal.org.au or Dr 
Christine Erbe at C.Erbe at curtin.edu.au by 31 May 2018.

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