Dr Steven Benjamins

Marine Mammal Ecologist

I am a marine ecologist interested in how large mobile marine top predators - notably marine mammals - interact with marine industries such as marine renewables, aquaculture, and fisheries.

The main focus of my work is improving status assessment methods and resolving small-scale habitat usage patterns.

Contact details:

Research interests

  • >Assessing distribution, relative abundance and habitat use of large marine vertebrates (marine mammals, seabirds, elasmobranchs etc.) in coastal and shelf waters, particularly within tidal channels and other energetic environments;
  • >Developing new tools (survey methods, sensory equipment etc.) to facilitate studying large marine vertebrates in energetic environments, and exploring links to small-scale ephemeral oceanographic features;
  • >Improving understanding of the impacts of human activities (particularly fisheries, shipping, acoustic pollution and marine renewable energy generation) on large marine vertebrates, and developing novel technological and management approaches to minimise or mitigate such impacts;
  • >Assessing status of marine species and environments for purposes of (inter-)national policy drivers.

 

Current projects

Low-frequency Acoustic Deterrent Devices and Porpoises (LEAP): Assessing potential impact of low-frequency Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) on cetaceans in Scottish coastal waters (project lead). Funded by Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum. 2016-17

Investigation of the novel challenges of an integrated offshore multi-purpose platform (INNO-MPP): Developing a photo-ID database for common/flapper skate in western Scotland for management of local MPA (project lead). Funded by Scottish Natural Heritage. 2017-18

Investigation of the novel challenges of an integrated offshore multi-purpose platform (INNO-MPP): Identifying interactions between co-located marine renewable energy devices, aquaculture and the environment. Funded by EPSRC/NERC. 2017-20

Selected past projects

Marine Renewable Energy and the Environment (MaREE). Funded by European Regional Development Fund, Scottish Funding Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise. 2010-13

Understanding How Marine Renewable Device Operations Influence Fine Scale Habitat Use and Behaviour of Marine Vertebrates (RESPONSE). Funded by NERC. 2011-16

Hebridean Marine Energy Futures (HMEF): Funded by Scottish Funding Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise. 2011-14

TIDES. Funded by EU PF7. 2014-16

EXtreme Loading of Marine Energy Devices due to Waves, Current, Flotsam and Mammal Impact (X-MED). Funded by EPSRC. 2012-15

Peer-reviewed publications

Benjamins, S. Fox, C. J., Last, K. S., McCarty, C. E., 2018. Individual identification of flapper skate Dipturus intermedius using a baited camera lander. Endangered Species Research 37, p37. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00911

Findlay, C.R., Ripple, H.D., Coomber, F., Froud, K., Harries, O. van Geel, N.C.F., Calderan, S.V., Benjamins, S., Risch, D., Wilson, B. (2018). Mapping widespread and increasing underwater noise pollution from acoustic deterrent devices. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 135. pp 1042-1050. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.08.042 

Hastie GD, Russell DJF, Lepper P, Elliott J, Wilson B, Benjamins S, Thompson, D. 2017. Harbour seals avoid tidal turbine noise: implications for collision risk. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12981

Fox, C.J., Benjamins, S., Masden, E.A. & Miller, R.G. 2017. Challenges and opportunities in monitoring the impacts of tidal-stream energy devices on marine vertebrates. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews: DOI:10.1016/j.rser.2017.06.004.

Hastie, G.D., Russell, D.J.F., Benjamins, S., Moss, S., Wilson, B., & Thompson, D. 2016. Dynamic habitat corridors for marine predators; intensive use of a coastal channel by harbour seals is modulated by tidal currents. Behavioral Ecology and SocioBiology 70(12): 2161-2174

Benjamins, S., van Geel, N., Hastie, G., Elliott, J., & Wilson, B. 2016. Harbour porpoise distribution can vary at small spatiotemporal scales in energetic habitats. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 141: 191-202.

Benjamins, S., Dale, A., van Geel, N., & Wilson, B. 2016. Riding the tide: use of a moving tidal-stream habitat by harbour porpoises. Marine Ecology Progress Series 549: 275-288.

Benjamins, S., Dale, A. C., Hastie, G., Waggitt, J. J., Lea, M. A., Scott, B., & Wilson, B. 2015. Confusion reigns? A review of marine megafauna interactions with tidal-stream environments. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 53: 1-54.

Wilson, B., Benjamins, S., & Elliott, J. 2013. Using drifting passive echolocation loggers to study harbour porpoises in tidal stream habitats. Endangered Species Research 22: 125–143.

Benjamins, S., Ledwell, W., Huntington, J., & Davidson, A.R. 2012. Assessing changes in numbers and distribution of large whale entanglements in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Marine Mammal Science 28(3): 579-601.

Stenson, G., Benjamins, S., & Reddin, D. 2011. Using bycatch data to understand habitat use of small cetaceans: lessons from an experimental driftnet fishery. ICES Journal of Marine Science 68(5): 937-946.

Benjamins, S., Kulka, D. W., & Lawson, J. 2010. Recent incidental catch of sharks in gillnet fisheries of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Endangered Species Research 11(2): 133-146.

Benjamins, S., Kulka, D. W., & Lawson, J. 2008. Incidental catch of seabirds in Newfoundland and Labrador gillnet fisheries, 2001-2003. Endangered Species Research 5(2-3): 149-160.

Benjamins, S., Lawson, J., & Stenson, G. 2007. Recent Harbor Porpoise Bycatch in Newfoundland, Canada’s Gillnet Fisheries. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 9(3): 189-199.

Ledwell, W., Benjamins, S., Lawson, J., & Huntington, J. 2007. The most southerly record of a bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, from the western north Atlantic Ocean. Arctic 60(1): 17-22.

 

Book reviews

Benjamins, S. 2014. Book review: Ecology and Conservation of the Sirenia: Dugongs and Manatees, Helene Marsh, Thomas O’Shea, John Reynolds III. Cambridge University Press (2011). 521 pp., ISBN: 978-0-521-88828 (hardback). Biological Conservation 179: 53.

 

Conference papers

Wilson, B., Marmo, B., Lepper, P. A., Risch, D., Benjamins, S., Hastie, G., & Carter, C. 2017. Good noise, bad noise: A tricky case of balancing risk of physical injury against acoustic disturbance for marine mammals and tidal energy devices. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 141(5): 3921-3921.

Benjamins, S., Macleod, A., Greenhill, L., & Wilson, B. 2015. Surveying Marine Mammals in Nearby Tidal Energy Development Sites: a Comparison. Conference paper presented at the European Wave & Tidal Energy Conference, Nantes, France, September 2015: 8pp.

Benjamins, S., & Ledwell, W. 2009. Vagrant sociable monodontids in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Pages 24-27 in: Goodwin, L., Pierce, G. & Berrow, S. (Eds.): Proceedings of the ECS Workshop ‘Protection and management of solitary sociable cetaceans’, ECS Special Publications Series No.52.

 

Commercial & regulatory reports

Tett P, Benjamins S, Black KD, Coulson M, Davidson K, Fernandes T, Fox C, Hart M, Hicks N, Hughes A, Hunter D-C, Nickell T, Risch D, Tocher D, Vare L, Vespoor E, Wilding T, Wilson B, Wittich A (2018) Review of the environmental impacts of salmon farming in Scotland. Report for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee. The Scottish Parliament, 196 pp.

Risch, D., Benjamins, S., Stauber, J., Marmo, B., Wilson, B. & Allen, C. 2016. Caithness to Shetland HVDC: Assessment of the Source and Effects of Anthropogenic Noise in the Marine Environment. A report by Scottish Association for Marine Science, Research Services Limited, Oban for Scottish & Southern Energy.

Sparling, C., Smith, K., Benjamins, S., Wilson, B., Gordon, J., Stringell, T., Morris, C., Hastie, G., Thompson, D., & Pomeroy, P. 2015. Guidance to inform marine mammal site characterisation requirements at wave and tidal stream energy sites in Wales. Natural Resources Wales/Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru NRW Evidence Report No. 82: 88 pp.

Benjamins, S., Harnois, V., Smith, H.C.M., Johanning, L., Greenhill, L., Carter, C. and Wilson, B. 2014. Understanding the potential for marine megafauna entanglement risk from renewable marine energy developments. Scottish Natural Heritage/Dualchas Nàdair na h-Alba Commissioned Report No. 791: 95 pp.

Wilson, B., Elliott, J. & Benjamins, S. 2013. DP Marine Energy Project: Occurrence of Marine Mammals and Basking Sharks in and around a proposed tidal-energy site. Update Report following two years of survey effort. Report #00669 by the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Research Services Limited, Oban, to DP Marine Energy Ireland Ltd, Cork, Ireland.

Batty, R., Benjamins, S., & Wilson, B. 2012. MeyGen tidal stream turbine array environmental impact assessment - modelling encounter rate between turbines and marine mammals. Report #00599 by the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Research Services Limited, Oban, to MeyGen Ltd, London.

Wilson, B., Benjamins, S., Elliott, J., Gordon, J., Macaulay, J., Calderan, S., & Van Geel, N. 2012. Estimates of Collision Risk of Harbour Porpoises and Marine Renewable Energy Devices at Sites of High Tidal-Stream Energy. A Marine Scotland Report. 79 pp.

Aish, A., Ashworth, J., Barrio Froján, B., Benjamins, S., Bolam, S., Brazier, P., Brockington, S., Chaniotis, P., Clements, A., Coggan, R., Coltman, N., Connor, D., Coyle, M., Davies, J., Edwards, H., Edwards, T., Greathead, C., Greenstreet, S., Hall-Spencer, J., Hawkridge, J., Hiscock. K., Howell. K., Hughes, A., Ide, R., James, B., Kelly, C., Khan-Marnie, J., Mackie, T., Manson, F., Mazik, K., Mieszkowska, N., Moore, J., O’Reilly, M., Pirie, P., Prior, A., Reach, I., Rees, I., Robinson, L., Sanderson, B., Service, M., Stoker, B., Tellier, P. & Verling, E. 2010. Charting Progress 2 - Healthy and Biological Diverse Seas Feeder Report: Section 3.1: Marine Habitats. Published by Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs on behalf of UKMMAS. p68-271. In: UKMMAS (2010) Charting Progress 2 Healthy and Biological Diverse Seas Feeder Report (Eds. Frost, M., and Hawkridge, J.).

Consultancy and industry experience

I have 6+ years of experience working on projects related to the marine renewable energy industry with a particular focus on baseline data collection and impact monitoring of marine mammals. To date the focus of my work has been on projects in Scotland and Northern Ireland. My expertise includes literature reviewing, survey design and execution, data analysis and technical report writing, as well as providing advice on appropriate monitoring strategies. I maintain strong connections with both developers and regulators to facilitate project delivery.

 

Accessing consultancy services from SAMS

SAMS consultancy work is delivered through its wholly owned commercial subsidiary, SAMS Research Services Ltd. (SRSL). SRSL operates a comprehensive Quality Management System (QMS) that is accredited to ISO9001:2008 standard, guaranteeing that all projects deliver the best possible service to our customers. All SRSL projects are planned by a professional programme manager who oversees a team of dedicated project managers, all of whom are focussed specifically on client delivery, and have scientific experience and technical expertise in fields relevant to their assigned projects.

For further information concerning commercial enterprise opportunities at SAMS, please contact SRSL by email (info@srsl.com) or phone +44 (0) 1631 559 470.

Lecturing

Marine Science BSc: Lecturer - year 2 Marine Biology

Marine Science BSc: Module leader and lecturere - year 3 Marine Conservation

Marine Science BSc: Lecturer - year 3 Marine Zoology

Marine Science BSc: Lecturer - year 3 Fisheries Ecology

Marine Science BSc: Supervisor - year 3 Literature Review

Marine Science BSc: Lecturer - year 3 Marine Robotics

Marine Science BSc: Lecturer - year 4 Behaviour & Biomechanics of Marine Animals

Marine Science BSc: Lecturer - year 4 Polar Seas

Marine Science BSc: Supervisor - year 4 Dissertation

Aquaculture, Environment and Society MSc: Lecturer

 

IDORE (Industrail Doctoral Centre for Offshore Renewable Energy) D Eng

I oversee day-to-day delivery of the Marine Environment module of the ongoing IDCORE D.Eng. degree programme, administered through the University of Edinburgh. This module has been delivered by SAMS since 2012 and I have been involved with its delivery since the beginning. My responsibilities include module organisation, logistics and administration, delivery of lectures and marking of final assessments.

 

Current research students

Recruiting Factors affecting the occurrence and behaviour of harbour porpoises around Scottish fish farms. Phd 2017-20. UHI

 

Alumni research students

Josh Lawrence: Spatiotemporal distribution of marine mammals in the Great Race tidal system off the west coast of Scotland. MSc 2013. University of St Andrews

Sara Fernandez: Spatio-temporal distribution of seabirds in a tidally active region southwest of Scotland: The Gulf of Corryvreckan. MSc 2013. University of St Andrews

Sophie Meyjes: Time-lapse Photography of Oceanographic Features:  A Novel Approach in a Tidally Driven Race. MSc 2014. University of St Andrews

Charlotte Findlay: The relative use of different types of Commercial Aquaculture Acoustic Devices (CAADs) used in fish farms along the west coast of Scotland. MSc 2016. University of St Andrews

Hayden Ripple: Spatiotemporal patterns in CAAD usage off the west coast of Scotland. MSc 2016. University of St Andrews

Professional activities

ICES Working Group on Marine Mammal Ecology (WGMME): Member since 2012

Scientific Committee for the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust (HWDT): Member since 2016

Reviewer for: Endangered Species Research; Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography; Marine Ecology Progress Series; Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems; ICES Journal of Marine Science; Aquatic Mammals

 

Expert advice to regulators / government

Member of the Scottish Government’s Marine Species & Habitats Assessment Group (SHSAG) since 2017

Employment history

2010-present: Postdoctoral Research Associate. SAMS

2010: Teaching Assistant. University of Otago. Dunedin, New Zealand

2007-09: Marine Assessment Officer / Marine Mapping Scientist. Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Peterborough, England, UK

2002-07: Graduate Research Assistant (during Ph.D.). Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

2001: Junior Research Scientist. Netherlands Institute for Fisheries Research (RIVO-DLO), IJmuiden, the Netherlands (now part of Wageningen Marine Research)

2000: Research Assistant. Danish Institute for Fisheries Research (DIFRES), Charlottenlund, Denmark (now part of Technical University of Denmark)

 

Qualifications

2007  PhD 'Incidental catch of large marine vertebrates in gillnet fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador'. Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Canada

1999  MSc Marine Biology. University of Groningen. The Netherlands