Marine Biology I

Course CodeBEN103
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment


Are you interested in learning more about:

  • Marine ecology systems 
  • Reef formation and function
  • Marine organisms including fish, cephalopods and marine mammals
  • The impact of humans on marine ecosystems

With this course, that is exactly what you will be covering, This is an introductory course helping you to build your knowledge and understanding across many different areas of marine biology. 

This course is great for those who:

  • Are interested in a career involving marine life
  • Want to work within the ecotourism sector
  • Love nature and are interested in gaining broader knowledge of different ecosystems
  • Are studying and want to diversify into a different area of marine studies

There is a lot to be learnt about life beneath the sea, so why not join the course to discover what it is all about!

Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Marine Ecology Systems
    • Ecology; Marine Weather (including El Nino, Thermocline, Gulf streams, etc), Continental shelf, Nutrient cycle, Red tide, Plankton, Marine Plants (including Mangroves, Shallow & Deep water algae, etc)
  2. Shallow Waters & Reefs
    • Coral Reefs, Rocky Shorelines, Estuaries, Introduction to marine arthropods
  3. Shellfish & Crustaceans
    • Molluscs and Brachiopods. True Crabs, Hermit Crabs, Lobsters, Prawns etc
  4. Squid, Octopus, and Other Primitive Animals
    • (Cephalopods and Clupeoids, etc)
  5. Fish Part A
    • (Cartilaginous Fish) Sharks, Eels, Rays; Shark Lifecycle, How dangerous are sharks? Effect of sharks on tourism, etc.
  6. Fish Part B
    • (Bony Fish) Fish Anatomy/structure (identifying external & internal parts); legalities (protection of wildlife), types of fish, etc
  7. Marine Mammals
    • (Dolphins, Whales, etc) Types of marine mammals, protection and politics, position of these animals in the food chain, products derived from marine mammals & substitutes for those products.
  8. Turtles, Sea Snakes and Seabirds
    • Types of turtles & sea snakes; toxicity of sea snakes; turtle protection, penguins and other sea birds (eg stints, knots, pelicans, swans, gulls, eagles, ibis, egrets, terns, shearwaters, gannets, albatross, prions, oyster-catchers and petrels).
  9. Human Impact on Marine Environments & Fishing
    • Human impact on marine environments; commercial vs recreational fishing, significance of certain mesopelagic fish, techniques for managing stocks of fish & other marine life.

Why it Pays to Know

A job role linked to ecotourism is planning, selling or leading tours of marine areas, doing this role you will be asked questions about the places you are taking people.

Ecotourists want to know and understand the places they visit. That is all part of the experience for them; and getting to be a good ecotourism professional will always involve getting to know the places you visit and the things that inhabit those places.

Ocean Creatures -Large and Small

All sorts of animals inhabit the ocean, but whales are the largest and perhaps most important to ecotourism. Whales are biologically speaking, "ungulate animals".

Ungulates are a group of mammals that includes cattle, sheep, deer, elephants and even Aardvarks. All of these animals are actually more closely related to whales and dolphins than what seals are.

Whales and Dolphins

Whales and dolphins are members of a group of "ungulate" animals, called cetaceans.

Cetaceans may not be the obvious candidates to be “artiodactyls” but molecular analysis has shown them to be more closely related to ruminant artiodactyls than what ruminants are to pigs.

Over 80 species of whales, porpoises and dolphins populate the world’s oceans.  There are also four species of dolphin which inhabit freshwater rivers and estuaries in regions of Asia and Central and South America.  The Order Cetacea is divided into two main groups (or suborders) – Baleen whales (Mysticetes) and toothed whales (Odondocetes). Dolphins, Orcas and Porpoises fall into the Odontocetes group.

In general, the Baleen whales are much larger than the toothed whales.  They also differ in that they use Baleen plates to filter food from water.  Ondondocetes form a much larger group of species than the Mysticetes.  

Characteristics of Cetaceans

  •    Aquatic, hairless mammals
  •    Front limbs modified into flippers, absent hind limbs, apart from internal remnants
  •    Skull adapted so that the nostrils open on top of the head through a blow hole
  •    Eyes and ears are relatively small
  •    No vocal apparatus, but can produce distinctive sounds for communication with other whales or echolocation.
  •    Mammary glands either side of the vaginal opening feeding into a single teat.

Habitat and Distribution

All species are fully aquatic, whilst most are pelagic and roam through the open oceans, although some species prefer to roam nearer coastlines.  Cetacean species can be found in the oceans worldwide, and some within freshwater rivers of North and South America and Asia.  Orcinus orca can be found roaming through all oceans across the globe, whilst other species are restricted to one hemisphere.  Some Cetaceans form movement patterns which can vary from vast migrations to short distance travels.  Generally, the short journeys occur when they are foraging for food or when it is mating season.  Many species will travel annual migrations travelling thousands of kilometres, and with Whales most will travel to warm temperate or tropical waters in winter.  It is usually here that they will breed and give birth. In summer, whales will either migrate to the Artic or Antarctica waters where it is calmer seas in this season.  Some Cetacean species do not show clear migratory paths, but are seasonal migrators.  This is the case with the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin which seems to migrate when food sources decrease.  Cetacean species can travel at fast speeds with great bursts, and the Blue Whale has been recorded travelling at 50km/hr.  Cetaceans can also stay under water for long periods of time, varying between species, which assists in these long migratory travels.  

Physical Characteristics and Physiology

Cetaceans, in general, are aquatic species which are large, streamlined and hairless.  Their front limbs are modified to have either flippers or fins and exhibit no external hind legs, although there are internal remnants.  They lack an external ear and only have a vestigial ear pinnae.  They have adapted to have nostrils on the top of the head known as a blowhole, and this assists in their locomotion underwater.  They have very small eyes which are positioned far back on the side of their heads which allows for excellent binocular vision. Their tails are long which expands in to two horizontal lobes or flukes which is flattened laterally and moves up and down allowing for fast thrusts of movement.
The size of a Cetacean varies between species and this Order comprises of the largest mammal on the planet, the Blue Whale, which is thought to be the biggest mammal ever to have existed.  Weighing up to 140 tonnes and can reach up to a length of 34 meters, with flippers reaching to about three to four meters in length.  

Most species are sexually dimorphic with variation; male Blue Whales are smaller than the females, and it is the opposite for Bottlenose Dolphins, with the males being larger in size than the females.  Cetacean species have very large brains are thought to be highly intelligent. The skin is thick, and contains a subcutaneous layer filled with fat and oil which assists in regulating their body temperatures.  Cetacean species do lack sweat glands, although they have very efficient and complex circulatory and respiratory systems.  Smaller species contain a modified heat exchange system within their flippers and flukes which allows warmth from the arterial blood to heat up venous blood which is returning to the heart.  This is very complex and assists in their habitat diversity.

Cetaceans have large, elongated bodies which assists in their torpedo speeds and also enables them to breach out of the water.  This is a common sight with Dolphins which have slicker bodies, but can also be seen with Baleen Whales.  Their reproductive organs are held internally which assists in their locomotion underwater to be more streamlined and efficient.  This is probably another reason for the modified ears and nose structures.  

Some Cetacean species have completely lost teeth within their jaws, Mysticetes, instead have modified structures which acts by filtering tiny plankton from the water for feeding.  Other species have still retained their teeth on both the upper and lower jaw and these are known as Odondocetes species.  

Cetaceans are able to produce distinct sounds for communication, mating and echolocation and are specific to the individual and can be heard for over a kilometre.  Dolphins are a good example of the use of echolocation and, like bats, use it to identify prey and other objects.  They produce sound as clicks which bounces off objects or potential prey, and ricochets back providing them with information about the location, distance and size.

Digestion and feeding habits vary between species, and this is one of the reasons for the split in to suborders.  Mysticetes, or Baleen, species lack the presence of teeth instead have developed hair fringed plates, known as baleen plates, which are made up of keratin.  These modified structures act like a sieve, filtering out tiny organisms and plankton for feeding.  Odondocetes species (toothed species) will thrive on fish, crustaceans, squid, aquatic birds and mammals, even other smaller Cetaceans.

Cetacean species also have a chambered stomach to aid in their digestion.  The first compartment is referred to as a forestomach, and this acts much like a crop in birds.  The second compartment is known as the glandular stomach and it is here which the chemical breakdown takes place.  The third compartment which is referred to as the pyloric stomach is a muscular organ which control flow into the intestinal tract.  

The reproductive strategies and courtship can be quite difficult to study due to their location but it is believed most species are Polyandry (one female with various males), Polygyny (one male and variant females) and Polygynandry (strategy that a number of males mate with a number of females).  Northern Right Whales exhibit courtship behaviour at the surface which shows various number of male individuals circling one female, who may mate with several of these males.  

Most Cetacean species have a mating season once a year, with the females giving birth to one offspring every one to six years depending on the species. Reproduction, gestations and nursing varies between species but all females incubate the young inside their bodies and give birth to live young.  Calves are born tail first and must swim the moment they are born.  

Cetacean mothers are attentive who provide milk to their young calf, protect from predators and will accompany the young to the water surface for their first breath of air.  Males are believed to have very little to parental care, however it has been observed that some male species will bring food to their young.  

All Cetaceans are fully aquatic therefore have to be able to swim from the moment they are born.  They do this by pumping their tail in an up and down motion, whilst using their flippers for stability.  This allows them to reach high speeds, with Baleen species reaching 26km/hour and toothed species reaching over 30km/hour.  Toothed species (Odondocetes) are able to gain extra speed form riding waves which can be exhibited when they follow the waves created by boats.  Prior to diving, all Cetacean species will inhale then they may remain underwater for a few seconds to over an hour.  

The social structure of Cetacean species varies greatly, and some species live single, solitary life, whilst others form unstable groups, and others form large herds made up of hundreds of individuals.  The Bottlenose Dolphin, for example, will form bonds to last a lifetime, and Orcas will form dominance hierarchy pods.  

Many species form migratory patterns, whilst others remain within the same area for life.  The Humpback Whale is known for its extensive migratory route to temperate feeding grounds, and tropical breeding grounds.  


There are lots of reasons why studying this course with us is the right step for you, here are some of them:

  • If you are working in any coastal situation, as an ecotourism professional, it will be very important to have a solid, broad understanding of marine science
  • This course will underpin your capacity to develop, market and deliver ecotour services in coastal and marine locations
  • Whilst the course is designed to be an introduction, this doesn't mean that there isn't depth of information, you will gain a great range of knowledge across a variety of different areas
  • Within your studies you will be asked to complete tasks applied to a specific context, this helps you apply the learning that has been developed to show this knowledge in practice
  • Throughout the course you will supported by subject specialist tutors who are there to impart their professional experience, and answer any questions
  • Our courses are designed to be studied flexibly, meaning that you can study alongside other existing commitments such as work and family


You can enrol on the course now, but if you have any questions about the content of the course or studying with ACS, then please get in touch with us today - use our FREE COURSE COUNSELLING SERVICE to get in touch with our expert tutors. They will be pleased to help you!


It's Easy to Enrol

Select a Learning Method


$461.00Payment plans available.

Courses can be started at any time from anywhere in the world!

Need Help?

Take advantage of our personalised, expert course counselling service to ensure you're making the best course choices for your situation.