Helen M Hiley

        Picture of Helen M Hiley

PhD student

I am a marine mammal ecologist interested in cetacean and pinniped behaviour, acoustics and habitat preference. My PhD will focus on harbour porpoise fine scale habitat use in Scotland.

Contact details:

Unlocking the enigma of Scottish harbour porpoise fine-scale habitat use

The use of static passive acoustic monitoring devices (e.g. C-Pods) to passively listen for animals has become increasingly common for marine mammals. Harbour porpoise emit echolocation click trains at an almost constant rate, making them a particularly good candidate for monitoring through PAM.

However, it is becoming increasingly evident that monitoring porpoises using PAM is far from straightforward, with large differences found in detection rates in varying habitat, in time of day/night and time of year, and at different depths.

This project will aim to determine what drives some of these differences and identify some of the drivers that underpin porpoise distribution and habitat use. It will bring together a number of different datasets from around Scotland (e.g., COMPASS, ECOMMAS).



Professor Ben Wilson, SAMS UHI

Dr Steve Benjamins, SAMS

Dr Kate Brookes, Marine Scotland

Professor Paul Thompson, University of Aberdeen






University of the Highlands and Islands

Professional training courses

RYA Powerboat Level 2

Marine Mammal Observer (JNCC certified)

Protected Species Observer


Fieldwork experience

Research Assistant, Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St Andrews (2017-2020)

I co-led three field seasons on the west coast of Scotland during my work on harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), conducting playback experiments, and visually tracking their behavioural response to an acoustic stimulus. I also carried out a range of work on a number of fish farms on the west coast of Scotland.

 I led the 2019 harbour seal (Phoca Vitulina) photo ID field season at Loch Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, as part of my work for the Harbour seal decline project.

Field Assistant, Shark Bay Dolphin Research Alliance (2016)

I assisted with the research carried out on the resident Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) population in Shark Bay, Western Australia, collecting both visual and acoustic data from the research vessel. This included photo identification and passive acoustic monitoring using a towed hydrophone array.

Research Assistant, Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre (2011-2012)

I conducted visual land and boat-based surveys monitoring the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) population in Cardigan Bay, Wales. I also conducted photo ID work and led the collection of passive acoustic monitoring data using a towed array. My role also included training new volunteers in land-based visual survey techniques.


Public engagement experience

Marine Community Engagement Officer, Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside (2016)

Engaging the public and school groups with the Irish Sea and the wildlife that can be found there. I recruited, trained, and managed volunteers to assist with engagement events and citizen science survey work carried out by the Trust, such as intertidal surveying as part of the Shoresearch project, marine mammal land-based surveying and family open days at local nature reserves or beaches.

Science Communicator and Overseas Team Leader, Edinburgh International Science Festival

I have spent time working for EISF in both Scotland and Abu Dhabi. I have run workshops for children on wildlife conservation in the UAE, the science of sound and how animals use it, and the science of blood and the body.

Dolphinwatch People Engagement Officer, RSPB (2015)

Running community engagement events at the watch site, managing a team of Dolphinwatch volunteers to engage with the public, and carrying out land based marine mammal surveys as part of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) citizen science Shorewatch project.

Trainee Marine and Coastal Conservation Officer, Cumbria Wildlife Trust (2014)

I ran a wide range of community engagement events throughout Cumbria and Lancashire such as marine mammal ID workshop, intertidal surveying, coastal bird ID, beached art, coastal walks, nature reserve open days, and school visits.


Media Coverage

2015 – BBC Scotland– RSPB Dolphinwatch (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-32348742)

2015 – STV evening news – RSPB Dolphinwatch

2015 – BBC Radio Scotland – RSPB Dolphinwatch



2017-2020 - Research Assistant, University of St Andrews

2016-2017 - Marine Community Engagement Officer, Lancashire Wildlife Trust

2016 - Field Assistant, Shark Dolphin Research Alliance

2015 - Dolphinwatch People Engagement Officer, RSPB

2014-2015 - Trainee Marine and Coastal Conservation Officer - Cumbria Wildlife Trust


Higher Education

2013 - MRes Marine Mammal Science, University of St Andrews

2012 - BSc (Hons) Marine Biology, University of St Andrews

Peer Reviewed Publications

Hiley HM, Janik VM, Götz T (2021) Behavioural reactions of harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena to startle-eliciting stimuli: movement responses and practical applications. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 672:223-241. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13757

Hiley, H. M., Perry, S., Hartley, S., & King, S. (2017). What’s occurring? Ultrasonic signature whistle use in Welsh bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Bioacoustics, 26(1), 25-35. https://doi.org/10.1080/09524622.2016.1174885


Other research outputs

S.Perry, N.Boxall, T.Lumb, H.Hiley & S. Hartley, Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre Welsh Bottlenose Dolphin Photo-Identification Catalogue 2011.