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Intelligent Ocean's Marine Mammal Observer Training Courses are approved by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement  (BSEE)

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What is a Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) and Passive Acoustic Monitoring  (PAM) Operator?

Projects requiring Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs) and Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) Operators have arisen due to concerns regarding the levels of man-made noise in the ocean and how this may affect marine life, in particular, marine mammals and turtles.

The four main operations at sea that are causing concern are:

  • Geophysical Surveys - looking for new oil and gas reserves

  • Explosives - used in the decommissioning of oil platforms and structures

  • Pile Driving for Construction for example wind farm construction, tidal turbine and new piers

  • Military Sonar used to detect submarines

The governing body in the United Kingdom responsible for implementing mitigation measures to protect marine mammals during offshore operations within the UK continental shelf is the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).  Persons employed as MMOs and PAM operators in UK continental shelf waters must first undertake a MMO training course recognised by the JNCC.


In the Gulf of Mexico, MMOs are called Protected Species Observers (PSOs) and the governing bodies responsible for implementing mitigation measures to protect marine mammals and turtles during seismic survey operations within the Gulf of Mexico are the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). Persons employed as PSOs and PAM operators in the Gulf Of Mexico must first undertake a PSO training course recognised by the BOEM/BSEE.

The Role of the MMO and PAM Operator

The role of the MMO and PAM operator is to be present on the ships during offshore operations and to act immediately to protect marine mammals should they enter an exclusion  zone (usually 500 metres) prior to operations. MMOs will advise personnel onboard to delay operations until the animals are at a safe distance and also to record behaviour and sightings at other times.



The observer must first be able to detect marine mammals. This is done by visual and passive acoustic monitoring. Visual monitoring is conducted by using the highest platform with the best all-round vision and using simply a pair of binoculars the MMO scans the surrounding areas for animals. Visual monitoring is done in all observation work.

In addition passive acoustic monitoring may also be carried out. Marine mammals spend most of their time underwater and for those species who are very vocal and are deep divers such as sperm whales    acoustic monitoring can be conducted in addition to visual monitoring to increase the likelihood of detection. Acoustic monitoring also allows for the MMO to detect animals at night. Passive Acoustic Monitoring is conducted by deploying hydrophone cables and monitoring in-coming signals on computers with specially designed acoustic software.

Qualifications required to become an MMO in the UK

To work as an MMO in the UK you will need the following certification:

  • Survival Training: Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training (BOSIET) Certificate including Helicopter Underwater Evacuation Training (HUET).

  • Offshore Fitness Physical Examination: OGUK Medical.

  • MMO Training Course: Must be approved by the JNCC.

Persons likely to win contracts working as MMOs are those which have additional biological or environmental qualifications and/or have experience of working at sea. To work as an MMO in some areas of the UK where marine mammals are more abundant you will be required to have experience of working with marine mammals whether this is formally as a researcher or through voluntary work.





Email:  info@intelligentocean.com