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Cetacean Monitoring

Monitoring of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and mitigation of underwater anthropogenic (man-made) noise is essential during a variety of offshore marine industrial operations.

Monitoring of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and mitigation of underwater anthropogenic (man-made) noise is essential during a variety of offshore marine industrial operations (Cerchio et al., 2014; Finneran et al., 2015; Schlundt et al., 2016; Verfuß et al., 2018). Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs), Protected Species Observers (PSOs) and Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) operators play an important role in reducing impact of offshore industrial operations on the marine environment. Activities in which cetacean monitoring can be a requirement are versatile and range from Oil and Gas (O&G) exploration to renewable energy installations, harbour constructions, and also military exercises (McHugh, 2005; JNCC, 2013; Chapman and Todd, 2016).


Ocean Science Consulting Limited (OSC) are experts in providing immediate personnel and equipment solutions for marine mammal survey requirements anywhere in the world. OSC keeps in stock a range of both customised, and off-the-shelf equipment such as PAM systems, C-PODs, Seal scarers/ADDs, etc.), some of which can be mobilised within 12 hours, and in some cases even less. OSC provides cetacean monitoring services for a range of international clients and offer a range of solutions and adviee on the most operationally-feasible method for any type of survey.

With a core-staff of international and multi-lingual origins (English, Scottish, Welsh, German, Dutch, North American, Chinese, South African, Danish, Greek, and Bulgarian), and experience outrivalling competitors, OSC can also assist with design of a marine mammal mitigation plans, or Marine Mammal Impact Assessments (MMIA) to ensure operational progress without compromising effective mitigation. In New Zealand, for example, MMIAs are extremely involved, but OSC’s New Zealand branch can assist with such requirements. The Greek office can assist with any Mediterranean requirements.


While cetacean monitoring during offshore operations is not required everywhere, progressively more clients voluntarily request OSC to supply MMOs, PSOs and/or PAM operators to carry out cetacean mitigation monitoring throughout operations that are considered to be of potential threat to marine animals. This is particularly the case in regards to the production of underwater sound, which is now regarded widely and accepted legislatively as a form of pollution (Markus and Sánchez, 2018).

The regulatory body in charge in the region of operation decides if marine mammal mitigation is required. For example, MMOs are required for all seismic surveys operating within UK waters.

If a marine mammal Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required before the start of a survey or operation, cetacean monitoring may be needed to determine baseline population size and seasonal distribution. A standard method for monitoring cetacean distribution and abundance is carried out through line-transect surveys using distance-sampling techniques (Buckland et al., 2004; Yuan et al., 2017; Bachl et al., 2019). Using specially-trained personnel, well versed in use of a multitude of techniques to acquire long-term trends, ranging from diel, tidal, seasonal to even annual scales, OSC can also provide solutions during night or poor weather conditions, when visual surveys are impossible.

Cetacean monitoring can help develop a better understanding of which species use certain areas, during which time, and for what purpose, while also allowing investigation of population trends or distribution shifts. This level of assessment is often required before any exploration or production permit is awarded to the operating Oil & Gas (O&G) company, renewable sector or governmental (defence) branch. See examples below where this valuable data has been utilised in the scientific community.


Marine Mammal Mitigation Plan (MMMP) guidelines have been developed for many countries with specific methods and requirements of marine mammal monitoring applicable to the regional conditions, such as by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). As a useful resource, OSC have compiled an overview of current global marine mammal mitigation guidelines. These guidelines often have ‘grey areas’ for operations that do not fit into the ‘standard survey’. In these particularly difficult areas, the dynamic and experienced personnel at OSC can benefit the client immensely through the achievement of simply using outstanding observers with a breadth of experience to work safely within the guidelines, without compromising the timeline of work schedule or the animals’ safety. Moreover, OSC’s personnel have undergone exceptional training over a wide-range of operations, have a zero-accident records to date and are company employees, as opposed to contractors. This level of experience and dedication to client satisfaction is encountered seldomly when hiring contractors through a recruitment agency; however, OSC also uses contractors from an extensive pool of carefully-selected personnel when employee demand exceeds supply. To date, OSC has a 100% zero-operational-downtime record. Any problems encountered are solved quickly on-site by our experienced MMOs and PAM Operators who benefit from 24-hour land-based support.


Ocean Science Consulting is one of a handful of companies worldwide that gathers as much information about marine mammals as possible, in a scientifically-rigorous manner without compromising clients’ operational and permit requirements. First and foremostly, OSC are industrial scientists working under strict client Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). If released from NDA by the client, we produce world-class peer-reviewed publications and articles from work that would have ordinarily been regarded as part of an industrial routine operation. This mutually benefits the client, by demonstrating good environmental stewardship, while achieving the high scientific level required to pass rigorous peer-review standards. An example of such research can be seen in OSC’s on-going work on harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) activity around offshore O&G installations (Todd et al., 2016) as well as investigations of fouling communities on offshore platforms to support decommissioning (Todd et al., 2018; Todd et al., 2019).


Ocean Science Consulting is dedicated to raise the general standard of cetacean mitigation and monitoring across the industry. Our employees have a minimum 2:1 undergraduate degree in marine biology (or equivalent in another science discipline) and have undergone competitive pre-employment traineeships (with over 400 applicants per post), gaining valuable experience in MMO and PAM projects world-wide. In addition, we have PhD-level researchers, who are capable of analysing survey data to perform distance sampling, species distribution modelling, acoustic analysis and much more. Only the best candidates succeed in achieving full-time employment within our company, ensuring that personnel we provide are second to none. We simply only take the best, and competition is fierce.

OSC can provide all services required for cetacean monitoring studies by drawing from an extensive range of Marine Mammal Observer and Passive Acoustic Monitoring equipment, including static hydrophones such as T-PODs, C-PODs, or towed hydrophone arrays. All Passive Acoustic Monitoring systems are supplied with a 100% redundancy (both towed and static), which have been manufactured using high-end prestige suppliers. These systems can monitor everything from low frequency calls of baleen whales to the high frequency clicks of dolphins and porpoises, and most importantly, our personnel understand the underlying acoustic principles. OSC’s cetacean monitoring services can be used for mitigation purposes, EIAs and to conduct distance sampling line-transect surveys. Additional monitoring surveys include real-time attended noise validation during operations such as pile-driving and modelling sound propagation around drilling operations, Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessels (FPSOs) as seen in Todd and White (2010).

Incorporated in Edinburgh, Scotland, Ocean Science Consulting has been providing cetacean monitoring (and other marine environmental services) with high calibre clients (see testimonials) since 2004. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss cetacean monitoring, marine mammal mitigation, environmental consultancy or any other requirements.

To learn more about Ocean Science Consulting and our work, visit our homepage.


Bachl, FE, Lindgren, F, Borchers, DL, and Illian, JB (2019): inlabru: an R package for Bayesian spatial modelling from ecological survey data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution in press.

Buckland, ST, Anderson, DR, Burnham, KP, Laake, JL, Borchers, DL, and Thomas, L (2004): Advanced distance sampling: estimating abundance of biological populations. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 416.

Cerchio, S, Strindberg, S, Collins, T, Bennett, C, and Rosenbaum, HC (2014): Seismic surveys negatively affect humpback whale singing activity off Northern Angola. PLoS ONE 9, e86464.

Chapman, ECN, and Todd, IB (2016): Enhancing oil & gas exploration activities with Māori culture and creating career pathways – iwi Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) and Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) training course: New Zealand Petroleum Conference. Auckland, New Zealand.

Finneran, JJ, Schlundt, CE, Branstetter, BK, Trickey, JS, Bowman, V, and Jenkins, K (2015): Effects of multiple impulses from a seismic air gun on bottlenose dolphin hearing and behavior. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 137, 1634-1646.

JNCC (2013): Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) Courses. Available at: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-4703 [Accessed 14th March].

Markus, T, and Sánchez, PPS (2018): Managing and regulating underwater noise pollution. In M. Salomon, and T. Markus (Eds): Handbook on Marine Environment Protection : Science, Impacts and Sustainable Management. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp. 971-995.

McHugh, R (2005): Hydroacoustic monitoring of piling operations in the North Sea, and PAMGUARD – Passive Acoustic Monitoring Guardianship open-source software: National Physical Laboratory Underwater Noise Measurement Seminar Series 13th October 2005. NPL, Teddington, UK.

Schlundt, CE, Finneran, JJ, Branstetter, BK, Trickey, JS, Bowman, V, and Jenkins, K (2016): Auditory effects of multiple impulses from a seismic air gun on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). In N. A. Popper, and A. Hawkins (Eds): The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life II. Springer New York, New York, NY, pp. 987-991.

Todd, VLG, Lavallin, EW, and Macreadie, PI (2018): Quantitative analysis of fish and invertebrate assemblage dynamics in association with a North Sea oil and gas installation complex. Marine Environmental Research 142, 69-79.

Todd, VLG, Warley, JC, and Todd, IB (2016): Meals on wheels? A decade of megafaunal visual and real-time Passive Acoustic Monitoring detections from on-tow and stationary offshore oil and gas rigs and platforms in the North and Irish Seas. PLoS ONE 11, 25.

Todd, VLG, and White, PR (2010): Proximate measurements of acoustic emissions associated with the installation and operation of an exploration jack-up drilling-rig in the North Sea. Springer, Cork.

Todd, VLG, Williamson, LD, Cox, SE, Todd, IB, and Macreadie, PI (2019): Characterising the first-wave of fish and invertebrate colonisation on a new offshore petroleum platform. ICES Journal of Marine Science.

Verfuß, UK, Gillespie, D, Gordon, J, Marques, TA, Miller, B, Plunkett, R, Theriault, JA, Tollit, DJ, Zitterbart, DP, Hubert, P, and Thomas, L (2018): Comparing methods suitable for monitoring marine mammals in low visibility conditions during seismic surveys. Marine Pollution Bulletin 126, 1-18.

Yuan, Y, Bachl, FE, Lindgren, F, Borchers, DL, Illian, JB, Buckland, ST, Rue, H, and Gerrodette, T (2017): Point process models for spatio-temporal distance sampling data from a large-scale survey of blue whales. Ann. Appl. Stat. 11, 2270-2297.