Dr Nienke van Geel

        Dr van Geel with a sound device out at sea

Marine Mammal Ecologist

My main research interest is in cetacean spatio-temporal distributions, habitat preferences and acoustics, and in marine mammal interactions with anthropogenic pressures. 

Contact details:

Research interests

I am particularly interested in interdisciplinary marine mammal research where aspects of biology, ecology and conservation are integrated and investigated by the use of complementary methodological and analytical techniques.

My work includes participation in applied marine mammal research projects related to the sustainable progression of human industries and developments (e.g. marine renewables) while safeguarding the continued presence of local species and the habitats and prey upon which they rely.


Current research project

Marine Acoustics NERC Knowledge Exchange Innovation Placement. 2018-19


Past research project

Strategic review of autonomous system capability for long-term decommissioning monitoring (STREAM): Through collaboration with regulators, the oil and gas industry and platform & sensor developers, the project will establish the cost-benefit of using autonomous systems to perform long-term environmental monitoring in support of North Sea oil and gas decommissioning. Within this project, I coordinate the collation of knowledge and expertise, conduct cost-benefit analysis and provide a knowledge/technology gap analysis to steer future research and development initiatives. Funded by NERC. 2017-18


Past projects

PhD thesis 'Bottlenose dolphin mobility off western Scotland': To allow assessments of anthropogenic impacts on bottlenose dolphins and development of efficient management to mitigate against these, an understanding of dolphin distribution patterns, residency, and spatial and temporal mobility is required.

In light of the proposed marine renewable developments off the Scottish west coast, acoustic (C-POD data; full bandwidth recordings), sightings (dedicated surveys & opportunistic encounters) and photo-ID data were analysed to investigate local bottlenose dolphin mobility patterns. Additionally, the potential for automated tracking of dolphin movements using remote acoustic monitoring was examined.  PhD research funded by MASTS, UHI and Harper Macleod LLP. 2010-15

Peer-reviewed publications

Van Geel NCF, Risch D, Benjamins S, Brook T, Culloch RM, Edwards EWJ, Stevens C and Wilson B (2022) Monitoring cetacean occurrence and variability in ambient sound in Scottish offshore waters. Frontiers in Remote Sensing 3: 934681. https://doi.org/10.3389/frsen.2022.934681

Van Geel N, Marr T, Hastie G, Wilson B (2022) First reported observation of an apparent reproductive bottlenose x Risso's dolphin hybrid. Aquatic Conservation:

Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.3872 

Van Geel NCF, Risch D, and Wittich A (2022) A brief overview of current approaches for underwater sound analysis and reporting. Marine Pollution Bulletin 178: 113610; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2022.113610 

Van Geel NCF, Merchant ND, Culloch RM, Edwards EWJ, Davies IM, O’Hara Murray RB and Brookes KL (2020) Exclusion of tidal influence on ambient sound measurements. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 148(2): 701-712. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1121/10.0001704   

Risch D, van Geel N, Gillespie D, Wilson B (2020) Characterisation of underwater operational sound of a tidal stream turbine. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 147 (4): 2547-2555 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1121/10.0001124 

Risch D, Wilson SC, Hoogerwerf M, van Geel NCF, Edwards EWJ and Brookes KL (2019) Seasonal and diel acoustic presence of North Atlantic minke whales in the North Sea. Scientific Reports 9: 3571 (11 pp). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39752-8

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 

Benjamins, S., van Geel, N., Hastie, G., Elliott, J. and Wilson, B. (2017) Harbour porpoise distribution can vary at small spatiotemporal scales in energetic habitats. Deep-Sea Research II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 141: 191-202.

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

Mäkeläinen, P., Esteban, R., Foote, A.D., Kuningas, S., Nielsen, J., Samarra, F.I.P., Similä, T., van Geel, N.C.F. and Víkingsson, G.A. (2014) A comparison of pigmentation features among North Atlantic killer whale (Orcinus orca) populations. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 94(6): 1335-1341.


Other publications

Risch D, van Geel N (2019) Review of Approaches for Underwater Noise Analysis & Reporting. SRSL report 03135; issue 04. 68 pages

Ryan, C., Leaper, R., Evans, P.G.H., Dyke, K., Robinson, K.P., Haskins, G.N., Calderan, S., van Geel, N., Harries, O., Froud, K., Brownlow, A. and Jack, A. (2016) Entanglement: An emerging threat to humpback whales in Scottish waters. Paper SC/66b/HIM/01 presented to the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee, Portoroz, Slovenia, 20-28th October 2016: 11 pp.

Van Geel, N.C.F. (2016) Predator movements in complex geography: Spatial distribution and temporal occurrence of low-density bottlenose dolphin communities off western Scotland. PhD Thesis. University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland: 459 pp.

Wilson, B., Benjamins, S., Elliott, J., Gordon, J., Macaulay, J., Calderan, S. and van Geel, N. (2014) Estimates of collision risk of harbour porpoises and marine renewable energy devices at sites of high tidal-stream energy. Report prepared for the Scottish Government. Scottish Government, Scotland: 77 pp.

Booth, C.G., Calderan, S.V., van Geel, N.C.F. and Gordon, J.C.D. (2011) Distribution of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) west of Scotland (2009-2010). Unpublished report prepared for the Scottish Government. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, Scotland: 20 pp.

Van Geel, N.C.F., Visser, F., Hartman, K.L., Hendriks, A.J.E. and Huisman, J. (2008) Spatial analyses of cetacean distribution off the south coast of Pico (Azores, Portugal) in relation to water depth and slope gradient. European Research on Cetaceans 22: 5 pp.

Van Geel, N.C.F. (2007) Spatial and temporal analyses of cetacean distribution of the south coast Pico (Azores, Portugal) in relation to the bathymetric features water depth and slope gradient. MSc Thesis. University of Amsterdam / Utrecht University, the Netherlands: 92 pp.

Van Geel, N.C.F. (2006) Species richness patterns of Dutch herpetofauna and odonata in relation to soil and climate. MSc Thesis. Utrecht University, the Netherlands: 125 pp.

Van Geel, N.C.F. (2003) Past and future effects of the Haringvliet sluices on water, soil processes, and vegetation in the Haringvliet and the Biesbosch caused by changed sluice management. BSc Thesis (in Dutch). Utrecht University, the Netherlands: 46 pp.

Consultancy and industry experience

My work focuses on the spatio-temporal distribution, habitat preferences and acoustics of cetaceans, and on marine mammal interactions with anthropogenic pressures. I have extensive experience in the design, practical data collection and analysis of marine mammal survey data, including those collected through visual and passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) for scientific as well as commercial projects. Over the years, I participated in industry and government work, particularly in the fieldwork and data analysis components of these projects. Examples include a variety of applied monitoring projects, such as distribution, abundance and ambient noise surveys to support EU HD and MSFD reporting, anthropogenic noise impacts and encounter risk assessments.

I am a qualified MMO and have several years of PAM experience; I have been responsible for and/or participated in various coastal and offshore boat-based marine mammal surveys in the North Atlantic, North Sea and the Mediterranean. I am experienced in the analysis of acoustic datasets from static and drifting PAM equipment and towed hydrophones using a suite of acoustic software (e.g. PAMGuard, Raven, CPOD.exe). I am proficient in spatial analysis and mapping (ArcGIS) and statistical analysis (in R). Finally, I hold ‘Powerboat Level II’ and ‘Short-Range Maritime Radio Operator’ licenses, and am ‘Personal Survival Techniques’ certified.


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.


Marine Science BSc: Lecturing on ambient noise acoustics for year 3 module 'Marine Conservation'

IDCORE: Lecturing on ‘Marine mammal research techniques’ as part of the ‘Marine Renewables and the Environment’ module


Alumni research students

Rebecca Weeks: Making a splash: A land-based investigation into the surface behaviour of resident, coastal bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) populations of Scotland. MRes project 2012. University of St Andrews

Dominique Weilerman: Spatial and temporal group size patterns of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) on the west coast of Scotland. BSc dissertation. 2012 SAMS UHI


Employment history

Since 2017 Postdoctoral Research Associate Marine Mammal Ecology and Acoustics. SAMS

2016-17 Research Scientist. Marine Conservation Research Ltd. UK

2016 Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) SCANS-III. Aarhus University. Denmark

2010-12 PAM Operator / MMO marine renewables projects. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. UK

2009-10 Marine Biodiversity Officer. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. UK

2008 Field Assistant RV Song of the Whale. International Fund for Animal Welfare. UK



2016 PhD 'Predator movement in complex geography: Spatial distribution and temporal occurrence of low-density bottlenose dolphin communities off western Scotland.' University of Aberdeen / SAMS

2008 MSc Natural Resources Management (Cum Laude) 'Spatial and temporal analyses of cetacean distributions off Pico (Azores, Portugal) in relation to bathymetry.' 'Species richness patterns of Dutch herpetofauna and odonata in relation to soil and climate.' University of Utrecht. The Netherlands

2004 BSc Biology. Emphasis on ecology, behaviour and conservation. University of Utrecht. The Netherlands