Home / Early Career / Other Opportunities / MSc & PhD project on cetacean research available

MSc & PhD project on cetacean research available


Two student projects are available with NRF Grantholder bursaries attached to join a project investigating "Climate change impacts on cetaceans – using the south western Cape as a model system".   

The broader project is investigating the environmental factors limiting the ranges of cetaceans around the Western Cape, South Africa, with implications for climate change. The area lies at the border between two biogeographic zones with the range limits of 5 species of dolphin occurring within the study area. The project will be using a range of data sources including citizen science, historic archives, small boat surveys for photo identification, and Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM). 


The PhD project on offer (NRF Bursary R60 000 pa x 3 Years - Supervisors: Dr Tess Gridley, Dr Simon Elwen) will use the PAM data and involve comparing and analysing data collected with different acoustic recorders (C-PODs and Sound Traps). The project will focus on using modelling techniques to investigate long-term trends in cetacean presence and interaction with environmental and biological covariates.Beyond this core question, there is considerable scope to taylor aspects of the PhD to your interests (or be involved through co-supervision of lower-level students) with questions focussing on call types and rates for some poorly described focal species, detection distances, sound scape modelling, human interaction etc.   

For this position - preferred skills include: 

  • Prior experience with acoustic data analysis
  • Familiarity with Matlab and or R  and PamGuard
  • Publication focussed


MSc project:  Bursary R40 000 pa x 2 years. Supervisor Dr Simon Elwen. 

Project description - Using archival data, local user knowledge and citizen science to study marine mega-fauna.  

The project will requires considerable independent work and data collection from a variety of sources including the scientific literature, data archives, media archives and water users. We aim to make considerable use of 'Citizen scientists' and the applicant must be English-Afrikaans bilingual. Goal of the project is to build up an extensive geo-spatial dataset of cetacean presence in the study area which can be used to investigate changes over time and possible reasons therefore

Students will be registered through the University of Pretoria but based predominantly in Cape Town with the Sea Search Africa research group (www.seasearch.co.za).   As per NRF guidelines, preference will be given to South African citizens or permanent residents. We are looking for self motivated and independent students who show initiative and demonstrate project leadership skills.


For both projects, preferred skills include: 

  • Strong analytical background, familiarity with R, analysing large and diverse data sets and data modelling.
  • Marine research experience, especially time on small boats and in challenging field conditions.
  • Photographic skills, including photo-identification
  • Class IV diver or ability and desire to achieve such
  • Driving license
  • Team work and leadership qualities.

Applications and enquiries may be forwarded to Dr Simon Elwen (simon.elwen@gmail.com) asap but by the end of September latest. Please include a cover letter with motivation and research interests and a current CV including references.