Sound of Sharks: assessing the spatial and temporal distribution of sharks in Plymouth Sound and surrounding waters to inform sustainable ecosystem management approaches

Applications are invited for a 3.5-year PhD studentship. The studentship is due to start on 1 October 2024.


To apply please use the online application form. Simply search for PhD Marine Sciences (and select the entry point of October 2024), then clearly state that you are applying for a PhD and name the project at the top of your personal statement. You do not need to provide a research proposal. In the Fees section, please select the option "90/Other source". 
Online application
Before applying, please ensure you have read the Doctoral College’s general information on applying for a postgraduate research degree. 
For more information on the admissions process please contact
Lead Supervisor (Director of Studies): Dr Emma Sheehan
Second Supervisor: Professor David Sims
Third Supervisor: Dr Peter Miller 
Applications are invited for a 3.5-year PhD studentship with Marine Research Plymouth – a collaborative partnership between the University of Plymouth, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association. The studentship is due to start on 1 October 2024.
This project is one of four topics available for the studentship. We anticipate supporting one position, which will be allocated to the best combination of candidate and project as they emerge from interviews across the pool of available topics. Browse all available topics.
Plymouth has been at the forefront of global marine research for more than a century, and today it is home to the largest concentration of marine researchers in the UK. Come and join our vibrant community of marine PhD students.

Project description 

Elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) play a key role in maintaining ecosystem structure and function, building ocean-human connections through tourism, and underpin valuable recreational and commercial fisheries. Globally, elasmobranchs are threatened with extinction, attributed mainly to overfishing and incidental bycatch, and population recovery is limited due to being slow to mature and reproduce. Insufficient monitoring and management have allowed the proportion of threatened elasmobranchs to increase in recent years. Elasmobranchs are a critical marine resource that requires a dramatic improvement to management.
By combining acoustic telemetry (tagging and tracking), video surveys and Earth observation systems, this PhD will build a better understanding of elasmobranch movement and distribution around Plymouth Sound and surrounding waters. The student will use and build upon the University of Plymouth’s telemetry array to investigate movement ecology of key elasmobranchs and their prey. Small scale distribution and habitat use over time will be investigated using an extensive collection of video survey data gathered around the Southwest. Combining these techniques with remote sensing data, the student will develop modelling approaches to identify environmental drivers of elasmobranch distribution and residence such as marine heatwaves, frontal zones and extreme climate events. Collaborative working with recreational anglers, local organisations and authorities, combined with historical datasets, will provide insight into the effect of current management measures such as MPA’s on elasmobranchs and facilitate the development of improved management plans and conservation measures. 
The student will receive training in tagging techniques including a Home Office personal licence, followed by practical experience assisting the experienced UoP team. They will plan and conduct fieldwork including tagging, receiver downloads and maintenance. They will gain training and experience in processing large datasets using advanced statistical analysis and visualisation techniques. Aspirational components of the PhD may include advanced monitoring technology such as EK80 echo sounder surveys. 
Figure: top left – tagging a smoothhound; top right – an undulate ray on BRUV; bottom left – acoustic receivers being deployed; bottom right – acoustic tags.
Figure: top left – tagging a smoothhound; top right – an undulate ray on BRUV; bottom left – acoustic receivers being deployed; bottom right – acoustic tags.


Applicants should have a first or upper second class honours degree in marine sciences or a relevant masters qualification. Examples include ecology or oceanography, but similar degrees are considered. Applicants should also have relevant fieldwork experience and data analysis skills using R and GIS. Experience working with remote sensing data and acoustic telemetry data would be beneficial.
Non-native English speakers must have an IELTS Academic score of 6.5 or above (with no less than 5.5 in any element) or equivalent.
The studentship is supported for 3.5 years and includes full home tuition fees plus a stipend at the 2024/25 rate (to be confirmed; compare the 2023/24 rate of £18,110 per annum). The last 6 months of the four-year registration period is a self-funded ‘writing-up’ period. The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for home fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants normally required to cover international fees will have to cover the difference between the home and the international tuition fee rates (approximately £12,697 per annum at 2023/24 rate).
If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Emma Sheehan.
The closing date for applications is 12 noon on Monday 8 January 2024.
Shortlisted candidates will be informed as soon as possible after the deadline, with interviews likely to take place in the second half of February. 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 that their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.