Undertaking a University project (Dissertation/Thesis) with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT)

Since 1990, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, and its predecessor the Mull Cetacean Project, has been conducting research into whales, dolphins and porpoises found in Hebridean waters. A range of issues have been tackled including the biology, ecology and behaviour of cetaceans, ecotourism, conservation issues, and public perceptions. A number of reports, papers and conference abstracts have been produced.

HWDT have worked with numerous students over the past ten years providing career advice, volunteer placements and projects for dissertations and theses.

Student projects that have been previously undertaken with HWDT can be found here.

Students interested in undertaking a project with HWDT must undergo and adhere to a strict admittance process.

General information

Students will be under the supervision of one or more of the HWDT Science Team (Marine Biodiversity Officer or Sightings and Strandings Officer). The Science Team member will offer advice and guidance but will not direct the project.

HWDT can provide access to the research vessel Silurian for students to understand how data are collected as well as space in the Tobermory office with free internet connection.

It is recommended that students spend time onboard Silurian. If students are unable to spend time onboard then they must arrange alternative ways to familiarise themselves with HWDT, its research and the way in which data are collected. In the summer, the Marine Biodiversity Officer will not be in the office and the Sightings and Strandings Officer may be attending events so if students plan on arranging a meeting with members of the Science team or working from the Tobermory office they will need to plan their visit in advance.

Students are strongly encouraged to speak to one of the members of the HWDT Science Team before applying to undertake a student project with HWDT.

If successful HWDT will make available the requested data and the student must provide HWDT with corrected versions of these data, including any predictor-type variable data used in analysis if appropriate.

Student project application process:

1. Research HWDT, their aims and objectives and past publications/reports and student projects;

2. Identify a gap in the research where your project could be beneficial to the Trust’s work;

3. Write down some possible project ideas and research these within a UK and European context;

4. Speak to your project supervisor about your project ideas;

5. Contact the Marine Biodiversity Officer or Sightings and Strandings Officer to discuss the ideas;

6. The Marine Biodiversity Officer or Sightings and Strandings Officer may (depending on the success of the discussion) then invite you to submit a project proposal;

7. Submit a project proposal;

Your proposal must contain the following:

7.1. A CV and Cover Letter detailing why you want to undertake a project in conjunction with HWDT and what you hope to achieve. This must also include some information about the supervisor;

7.2. A project title. Don’t worry if you haven’t a snappy title to begin with. That’s normal, but you will need a general idea;

7.3. Project description: introduce your idea;

7.4. Project aim and objectives: identify the aim of the project and what objectives you will have to achieve to successfully complete the project;

7.5. Project deliverables: provide a clear list of the outputs from the project, and

7.6. Resources required for the project: detail the resources which are essential to completing the project (including what you will require from HWDT)

The proposal does not to be long an A4 page will suffice. As the proposal will be sent around a large and very busy Scientific Committee, the more condensed the proposal, the better.

8. Depending on the success of the proposal, the Science team will send the proposal to the Scientific Committee.

9. The Scientific Committee will make recommendations and an ultimate decision.

10. If successful, a data sharing agreement will be constructed by the HWDT Science team. Only when the data sharing agreement is signed by all parties will the student be able to obtain the required data.

The data sharing agreement will outline the student’s requirements and that of HWDT’s (an example data sharing agreement can be issued on request).


Some things to consider:

Data are stored in Access databases. Students should have a basic understanding of databases or a supervisor willing to help them.

Data are collected under line-transect protocols, familiarity with this method and its analysis is recommended.

Students wishing to analyse photo-identification data need to have a basic understanding of databases or a supervisor willing to help them. Also, students should have some experience in photo identification analysis.

Students wishing to analyse acoustic data need to have a good understanding of the hardware used, the methods of data collection and a thorough understanding of PAMGUARD or other appropriate acoustic software.

HWDT Scientific Committee:

Dr Ben Wilson – Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS)
Dr Russell Leaper – IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Dr Peter Evans – Sea Watch Foundation
Dr Jonathan Gordon – Sea Mammal Research Unit, Marine Ecological Research
Susannah Calderan – HWDT consultant
Nienke van Geel – HWDT consultant, SAMS PhD student
Dr Conor Ryan – HWDT consultant


If you have any questions pertaining to the above or wish to discuss any of the above information in further detail please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Lauren Hartny-Mills on science@hwdt.org or on 01688 302620*
*Please be aware that during the research season the Science team have limited time in the office and are often without email/internet access for long periods of time.