Prof Ben Wilson

Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI
Scottish Marine Institute
PA37 1QA
tel: +44 (0) 1631 559346

Available to talk to the media about

  • Marine renewables and the environment
  • Marine mammal science

In these languages



Ben Wilson works on the relationships between marine vertebrates (primarily fish and marine mammals) and industrial activities in coastal waters. These studies have ranged from impacts of navy sonar to chemical pollutants. For the last 9 years he has focused entirely on the potential interactions of these animals with marine renewable energy devices. The primary reason for these studies has been the perceived risk that protected species may collide with and be injured by moving machinery in or on the water. Such negative interactions may jeopardise site consenting and therefore access to key resources such as tidal-narrows. These species-protection studies have diversified towards the mechanical, considering the implications of large species like whales impacting structures like turbines blades leading to device failure and the potential for devices or their substructures / moorings to attract prey species for predators leading to habitat enhancement. These studies have required close liaison with device manufacturers and site developers of both wave and tidal-stream devices.

Working in high energy environments raises many challenges for conventional marine animal study techniques and has led him and his team to develop new methods and sensors that are robust to the lateral or vertical displacement characteristic of these sites. Such developments have included 1) a variety of drifters to measure/calibrate estimates of flow speeds, measure underwater sound or map the distribution of species relative to devices 2) place mammal loggers underneath and around operating wave devices in highly exposed sites in winter and 3) develop ways to experimentally determine how animals respond to the sound of operating devices and specific features such as gearing ratios.

He also leads a larger group at his university studying other biology-to-renewable-device issues such as biofouling and impacts on loading, underwater noise estimation and measurement of entanglement risk of different mooring configurations. Ben is currently looking for ways to document strikes between animals and tidal-turbine blades. This sensor-based issue could solve a significant consenting barrier to the UK’s first tidal-turbine array.


1990 University of Glasgow, BSc Zoology, 1st Class Honours
1995 University of Aberdeen, PhD Zoology. Scottish bottlenose dolphin ecology
1997 University of St. Andrews, Post-docs on dolphin epidermal disease, distribution and naval sonar
1999 Bamfield Marine Science Centre, Simon Fraser Uni, British Columbia, Scientist in residence, Herring acoustics
2000 University of British Columbia, Steller sea lion foraging ecology (S. E. Alaska)
2004 Scottish Association of Marine Science, Scotland, Marine mammals and renewables.

Current research

Marine renewables and marine animals - research is funded by UK, Scottish governments as well as the EU and private companies.

Research groups and interests

Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland

Selected publications

GD Hastie, DJF Russell, P Lepper, J Elliott, B Wilson, S Benjamins, D Thompson 2018. Harbour seals avoid tidal turbine noise: Implications for collision risk Journal of Applied Ecology 55 (2), 684-693

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

B Wilson 2016. Might marine protected areas for mobile megafauna suit their proponents more than the animals? Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 26 (1), 3-8

GD Hastie, DJF Russell, S Benjamins, S Moss, B Wilson, D Thompson 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

MM Gangloff, GJ Edgar, B Wilson 2016. Imperilled species in aquatic ecosystems: emerging threats, management and future prognoses Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 26 (5), 858-871

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

ZL Hutchison, VJ Hendrick, MT Burrows, B Wilson, KS Last 2016. Buried alive: the behavioural response of the mussels, modiolus modiolus and mytilus edulis to sudden burial by sediment PloS one 11 (3), e0151471