Is the Chagos Archipelago one of the last tropical refuges for cetaceans? Cetacean distribution, abundance and habitat in the Chagos Archipelago

Applications are invited for a four-year full-time PhD studentship. The studentship is available for 3 years and will aim to start on 1st April 2022.


To apply please use the online application form. Simply search for PhD Marine Sciences (and select the entry point of April 2022), then clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship and name the project at the top of your personal statement.

Online application

Before applying, please ensure you have read the Doctoral College’s general information on applying for a research degree.

For more information on the admissions process please contact

Director of Studies: Clare Embling
2nd Supervisor: Simon Ingram
3rd Supervisor: Tom Letessier (
4th Supervisor: Danielle Harris (
5th Supervisor: Asha de Vos (
6th Supervisor: Charles Anderson (

Applications are invited for a four-year full-time PhD studentship. The studentship (funding) is available for 3 years and will aim to start on 1 April 2022.

Project description

Cetaceans are charismatic yet vulnerable marine animals that capture the public imagination whilst serving a vital ecological role in our oceans. But many whale populations are still recovering from historic whaling and cetaceans worldwide are threatened by a range of threats. The Chagos Archipelago may be one of the last tropical refuges where cetaceans remain protected from human impacts, yet we know very little of their diversity, distribution and abundance in the region. This project provides a unique opportunity to conduct the first study of cetacean abundance and distribution within the Chagos Archipelago.

This studentship will use historical, modern and new records of cetaceans within the Chagos Archipelago marine protected area. This will include new data collected within the project by a dedicated wildlife officer on board the fisheries patrol vessel. A moored hydrophone array will also provide additional data on cetacean habitat use. The student will (i) investigate the biogeography of cetaceans in the Western Indian Ocean; (ii) estimate species abundance within the Chagos Archipelago; and (iii) build species habitat models to identify high use areas. This forms part of a larger project, including another PhD student based in Sri Lanka (with OceanSwell), a dedicated wildlife officer on the fisheries patrol vessel, and a team of researchers from Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the UK (University of Plymouth, Zoological Society of London, and University of St Andrews). The successful candidate will gain advanced skills in statistical modelling, acoustic data analysis, and practical experience in line-transect survey techniques and species identification. There will be opportunities for involvement in science outreach. This will provide the first understanding of the cetacean distribution, abundance and habitat use within the Chagos Archipelago, to guide future conservation and management actions.


This opportunity will suit a student interested in the spatial habitat use of cetaceans for conservation. We are looking for a highly motivated student with good problem solving skills and experience of the Indian Ocean marine region. We would particularly welcome applicants from the Indian Ocean Region due to the nature of the project. This position would suit a student with the following skills and experience:

  • At least a first or upper second class honours degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths)
  • Quantitative skills such as R, MATLAB or similar
  • Experience of GIS is desirable
  • Good communication skills, and an ability to work within a culturally diverse team
The studentship is supported for 3 years and includes full International tuition fees plus a stipend of £15,609 per annum (2021/22 rate).

We are committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considered potential with the same weighting as past experience.

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Clare Embling,

For more information on the admissions process generally, please contact

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 31 January 2022.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview during the week beginning 14 February 2022. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received a response within six weeks of the closing date should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.


Anderson, R.C., Herrera, M., Ilangakoon, A.D., Koya, K.M., Moazzam, M., Mustika, P.L., and Sutaria, D.N. (2020) Cetacean bycatch in Indian Ocean tuna gillnet fisheries. Endangered Species Research, 41: 39-53.

Embling, C.B., Gillibrand, P.A., Gordon, J., Shrimpton, J., Stevick, P.T., and Hammond, P.S. (2010) Using habitat models to identify suitable sites for marine protected areas for harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena). Biological Conservation, 143: 267-279.

Letessier, T.B., Mouillot, D., Bouchet, P.J., Vigliola, L., Fernandes, M.C., Thompson, C., et al. (2019) Remote reefs and seamounts are the last refuges for marine predators across the Indo-Pacific. PLOS Biology, 17(8): e3000366.

Robbins, J.R., Babey, L., & Embling, C.B. (2019) Citizen science in the marine environment: A case-stud estimating common dolphin densities in the north-east Altantic. PeerJ, 7:e27569v1