Ecology and Behaviour of Marine Mammals (3 ECTS)

Semester: 2nd

Code: 14331078

Coordinator: Ana Marçalo (

Objectives: Recognition and distinction of taxa comprising the marine mammals group, with particular focus in the order Cetacea. Comprehension of the evolution and life history of marine mammals. Main threats and tools for their conservation and management. Perception of the diversity and complexity of the behaviour of cetaceans. Diet and importance of trophic interactions of marine mammals, as top predators. Notions of the main techniques and methodologies used in the study of cetaceans.

Learning Outcomes: By the end of this UC, students should acquire the theoretical knowledge above described, as well as the practical knowledge on the identification of the most common species of cetaceans occurring in Portugal and the application of photo-identification techniques. Additionally, students are expected to assess climate conditions for cetacean sightings and also potential constraints related to this type of field work.


12 h of lectures + 18 h of field work + 54 h of independent work.

The student will use the time assigned as "independent work" to study for a written exam.


As the registration for any elective is mandatory, please wait for an email by the MSc Coordinating Team requesting the names of the electives that you plan to choose for your 1st year, 2nd semester.

NOTE - Enrollment in this elective unit is subject to a maximum number of students. A justification will be requested upon registration, in case that this number is reached and student selection is necessary.


Theoretical topics will be presented in lectures. This UC also comprises two boat trips (sea conditions dependent), with possibility of accommodation at AIMM’s field research station, and also theoretical-practical sessions at UAlg.

Evaluation will be carried out by a written exam (75%) and during the field trips (25%)


  1. Taxonomy and external morphology of marine mammals
  2. Evolution of marine mammals
  3. Anatomical and physiological adaptations of marine mammals
  4. Anthropogenic interactions
  5. Conservation and management of marine mammals
  6. Behavioural ecology of cetaceans
  7. Diet and feeding ecology of marine mammals
  8. Reproduction and mating strategies in cetaceans
  9. Methodologies of study in cetaceans

The combination of lectures and boat trips will provide students a solid understanding of basic knowledge on the ecology and behaviour of marine mammals, and also the knowledge of the broad range of themes, techniques and methodologies as well as potential difficulties of this scientific field. Students should also understand the importance of studying marine mammals, as top predators and, consequently, their importance in the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems.