Queen’s award for leading Scottish research unit

Thursday 24 November 2011

An adult male killer whale surfaces nearby in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. Killer whales are studied by researchers at SMRU in both the North Pacific and the North Atlantic.

The University of St Andrews has been awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize in recognition of the work of a world-leading research unit which is helping to further understanding and protection of the oceans.

The Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews is among the winners in the Diamond Jubilee Round of The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education.

The Anniversary Prizes, which recognise excellence in higher education and research, were announced at a reception at St James Palace, London, on Thursday 24 November 2011.

The Sea Mammal Research Unit has become a world leader in applied research promoting best practice in the health and governance of the ocean environment.  Based at the East Sands, St Andrews, the Unit is part of the University’s School of Biology and Scottish Oceans Institute. It operates from the tropics to the poles and maintains a particular focus on the UK’s seas.  Its academic staff and graduate team specialise in research on marine mammals – primarily seals, whales and dolphins – using innovative monitoring techniques.

The sea mammals which SMRU monitor provide a unique and sensitive early warning system to track and measure a range of factors concerned with the sustainability of human exploitation of the seas.

With the scale and nature of industrial exploitation of the oceans rapidly developing, there is increasing demand for and impact of SMRU’s services, and its contribution to national policies.

Professor Ian Boyd, Director of the Unit, and University Chancellor Sir Menzies Campbell, were at St James Palace to hear the announcement. Professor Boyd said:

“Marine mammals are a bit like the canary in the cage. If we know how to read their behaviour and populations we can minimise the effect of our resource exploitation on the ocean. Although we need to exploit the ocean we also need to find ways of doing this sustainably. Marine mammals have a capacity to tell us when we are reaching the limits.

“My colleagues and I are delighted that our institution has been recognised in this way. It is truly a privilege to work with such magnificent animals and to have the job of translating their importance into information that the public can use. We also recognise that the institute is a hub in a global network of scientists and collaborators who share our passion for understanding these enigmatic creatures.”

Pictures illustrating the work of the Sea Mammal Research Unit are available from the University Press Office on request. Email [email protected], [email protected].

Notes to Editors


SMRU is a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Delivery Partner that provides the UK’s main science capability in the field of marine mammal biology. NERC strategic science funding supports al proportion of SMRU’s overall research activities and the resources contributed by NERC mainly fund research on seals, thus reflecting the strategic need to support the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. However, SMRU also focuses more than 50% of its research effort on cetaceans. In agreement with NERC, SMRU raises the remainder of the funding to support its strategic research programme from other sources, including the EU, Defra, Scottish Government, MoD, DECC and from an income stream generated as a result of the development and supply of instrumentation to the rest of the science community.

The Unit employs a wide range of methods to deliver its mission to improve human understanding of the ocean ‘sea profiling’ and protective work : peer-reviewed scientific publications; advanced teaching to bring on a new generation of skilled practitioners; independent and impartial advice to government and to industries important to the UK economy, the development and supply of innovative technologies and informing the public though a suite of educational literature.  SMRU’s work  provides the scientific basis for informing UK and Scottish government policy relating to marine mammals and on the use of UK territorial seas, reporting on marine predators and giving practical advice (leading for example to the reduction of by-catch of cetaceans).  The Unit has also developed an environmental risk management system for the Royal Navy.  It works to a business model with global outreach and has formed strong international collaborations through its commercial operational units in North America and the Far East.

The Royal Anniversary Trust

The Royal Anniversary Trust is an independent charity – registered number 1,000,000 -concerned with the advancement of education for public benefit.  It was set up in 1990 with the object of carrying out a programme of events and activities during 1992, funded and supported from private sources with official endorsement, to mark the 40th anniversary of The Queen’s accession and her years of service as Head of State.  The Trust currently works to promote world class excellence in UK universities and colleges through The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education. The Prizes are a biennial award scheme which is within the UK’s national honours system.  As such they are the UK’s most prestigious form of national recognition open to a UK academic or vocational institution.  The honour is distinctive in recognising the institution rather than an individual or team. The scheme was established in 1993 with the approval of The Queen and all-party support in Parliament.

All eligible universities and colleges in the UK are invited to enter the biennial rounds of the scheme. The assessment process is overseen by the Awards Council of the Trust which makes the final recommendations which are submitted to the Prime Minister for advice to The Queen. www.royalanniversarytrust.org.uk

A full list of winning institutions will be available at www.royalanniversarytrust.org.uk/news from Friday 25 November 2011.


Issued by the University of St Andrews

Niall Scott, Director of Corporate Communications, [email protected]

01334 462244, 07711 223062 

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