The Geo People
Marine mammal observation


The Geo People provide experienced MMOs and PAM equipment ready to subcontract to operators for the following:

• marine seismic survey
• vertical seismic profile (VSP)
• pile-driving for offshore wind turbines
• UXO surveys around windfarms
• UXO deactivation
• cable repair
• cable laying and rock placement for cables
• explosives for rig de-commissioning (North Sea)

Marine mammal observers (MMO) mitigate when marine life is present within the exclusion zone around a sound source. Pressure waves from seismic sources, explosives (controlled and UXO detonation), and from pile-driving, can potentially disturb marine life in the vicinity. These pressure waves particularly affect whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, turtles, and seabirds – all of which use sound to communicate for breeding, migration and feeding. Our MMOs look out for sightings before any sound is made and mitigate from then on.

The UK JNCC guidelines used by The Geo People were the first of this type to be written and use 'Soft Start'. This is a procedure to warn marine fauna to stay clear of imminent noise, that involves shooting airguns at low power and then gradually and systematically increasing power output until full power is achieved (usually over a period of 20 minutes). ‘Soft Start’ is so effective that this procedure is now also used in other guidelines around the world, for example, Gulf of Mexico (USA), New Zealand, Brazil, Greenland, Ireland and Australia.

For Africa, JNCC guidelines are also usually used, in addition to the various other local recommendations. JNCC guideline training is undertaken by all MMOs registered with The Geo People.




The Geo People trains its MMOs in how best to record marine wildlife, and mitigate rapidly. Practice is required to simultaneously:

  • record a written physical description of a marine mammal
  • log which direction it is travelling in
  • describe its behaviour
  • log the time
  • inform the contractor's seismic observers that they need to stop firing until further notice (which will be when the marine mammal has exited the exclusion zone)
  • continue to track the marine mammal and keep the seismic observers informed

The Geo People will advise their MMOs as to:

• technical equipment to take
• correct guidelines to use
• wildlife guide publications that are required
• give guidance on personal protective equipment
• for first time MMOs, let them know what it is like to be at sea

Marine mammal observers ideally use 7x50 marine binoculars for sighting. The binoculars are best being reticulated, as this will enable the MMO to estimate distances for sightings, pre-shooting searches and for soft start. The Geo People also provides range sticks, as an alternative to a reticle.

Wildlife positions are calculated by using trigonometry each time that a log entry is made. This requires practice to work out clearly, whether or not a marine mammal is in the exclusion zone. This method is especially important if the MMO is far from the source, as with a de-commissioning survey.

MMOs ensure that the guidelines and special recommendations for the area they are working in are followed, and that events and any non-compliances are recorded. They write a report on the survey mitigation efforts and ensure that guideline requirements for minimising acoustic disturbance and injury to marine mammals from seismic surveys are fulfilled.

Forming a good relationship with the seismic observers makes the process a lot easier and understanding and taking an interest in each other’s role in the project is a good place to start.

MMOs provided by The Geo People are all graduates in marine biology/environmental science or an equivalent subject. Apart from the academic, the main skills required for working as an MMO are good time keeping, the ability to organise their schedule, being well prepared and getting on well with other observers.

Importantly, an inherent strong interest in nature greatly helps the MMO to keep very long watches through binoculars and this interest is what their degree will indicate. Should production stop whilst on line and the MMO does not happen to be observing, the pre-shooting watch would need to start all over again and the client and/or contractor would lose time and significant money – so vigilance is essential.

The Geo People encourage their MMOs to be trained in PAM deployment and use so that at times of poor visibility in the day, the contractor can continue to operate. This results in split shifts and the job being more varied, a welcome relief to those involved.

The Marine Mammal Observer Association (MMOA) provides a list of training courses for MMOs. For further information on training courses, please visit the MMOA website. Even if you are not planning on becoming an MMO yourself, it is worthwhile attending one of these courses to appreciate the work that the MMOs do.

Andrea Collins, who oversees MMO projects for The Geo People, is herself a qualified MMO, as well as having had extensive experience in the field. During a survey, there is plenty of interaction between The Geo People and the MMOs, both on a personal and a technical level.


Protected species observers (PSO) and seabird observers (SO) are needed for some projects. A PSO or SO is usually also the MMO. In fact, MMOs are better off knowing about birds also, as birds display certain behaviours in the presence of cetaceans.

A PSO or SO will use binoculars (with reticle or range finder), camera, clock, ID guides and ideally a GPS device. The Geo People provides advice about recommended equipment models.

We encourage our MMOs to look out for seabirds as these can indicate the presence of cetaceans. It also makes observation more interesting and help the observer to remain focused.

Onboard Norwegian vessels, marine mammal and seabird observations (species and numbers observed) are routinely recorded so as to ascertain marine and seabird mammal distributions and spatial associations with potential prey species. Visual observations were made by three observers from the vessel bridges; one dedicated sea bird observer and two dedicated marine mammal observers. While most species of birds are recorded continuously along the cruise transects, the ship-following sea bird species (for example, northern fulmars and gulls) are counted periodically (for example, every hour). The Geo People is registered in Norway (Norwegian Register of Business Enterprises – Brønnøysund Register Centre). We have a substantial number of PSOs and MMOs registered with us locally in the UK. Flight costs are therefore optimal for work in Norwegian waters.


Passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) of the aquatic environment uses underwater microphones (hydrophones) to detect, monitor and locate vocalising marine mammals.

The term ‘passive’ means that we just listen and do not put noise into the environment. This method should not be confused with active acoustic systems such as acoustic deterrent devices (ADD), such as ‘pingers’, acoustic harassment devices (AHD) such as seal scarers, and sonar that is used for other purposes. 

Passive acoustics are important to augment visual surveys and assess temporal and spatial changes in the density and behaviour of some marine animals. PAM can also provide important details about the acoustic environments of cetaceans. On many seismic surveys, during night time operations or at times of poor visibility (when binoculars cannot be used) PAM equipment is used to detect clicks, whistles and moans from cetaceans.

The Geo People provides passive acoustic monitoring equipment with 100% redundancy for use during night time operations or in the day when visibility is poor. The Night Hawk III system from MSeis is commonly used. A number of PAM training course can be found on the MMOA website.

PAM operators are trained in, and able to deploy the equipment during mobilisation and to pack it up on completion, ready for shipping back. Equipment is then checked as being present against the inventory. The Geo People has close links with several PAM providers. Any problems in deployment are reported to us, so that we can have them resolved quickly.


Fishery liaison officers (FLO) are employed where marine seismic surveys co-locate with a fishing area. FLOs are the link between fishing vessels in the seismic survey area and seismic vessel. They therefore need to communicate in the same language as those on the fishing vessel who may not necessarily be native to the country in which the survey is being acquired. 

An offshore FLO works closely with the offshore client and the fishing industry to minimise any potential impact of the project upon local fishing. The objective is to facilitate as far as possible, an arrangement based on co-existence.

An onshore FLO keeps local fishing vessels informed of ongoing work on major projects within that area. This allows local fishermen to understand the potential hazards and to plan their fishing activities accordingly. It also enables the seismic survey project to proceed unhindered by fishing vessels, saving significant time and money for the client or seismic contractor.

FLOs each have certification to meet those standards necessary to work offshore. The certification includes sea survival and medicals applicable to the marine sector.

The fishery liaison officer and marine mammal observer are frequently one and the same person onboard the seismic vessel. They log all contact between vessels and report to relevant organisations.

MMO training & courses

The Geo People conducts BOEM PSO, and PAM courses, in conjunction with our PAM suppliers, anywhere in the world.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) set the guidelines for the Gulf of Mexico and will therefore also teach local regulations. Those taking this course will be BOEM PSO accredited and will be listed on the BOEM register.

These courses are especially useful for supplying ‘local content’ for MMO and PAM operators and have important modules on learning how to work effectively offshore, and on learning the required standards of professional conduct for MMO/PAM.

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