Standardising Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) Data

Marine Mammal xObservers have a valuable role not only in monitoring and mitigating for species of concern during offshore operations but also for the collection of data which can be collated to form large datasets. These can be analysed with the potential to investigate marine mammal distribution and the effectiveness of mitigation in protecting species of concern. To date the largest datasets of MMO data during industry operations have been gathered for UK continental shelf waters by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and in the Gulf of Mexico collated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Some basic analyses of these datasets have been undertaken.

As the role of marine mammal mitigation expands to worldwide operations the development of a global MMO dataset becomes feasible. However the MMO Association believes this would only be of worth if methods of data collection are standardised and data quality is optimised. The MMO Association wish to highlight the work that been promoted and funded by the E&P Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Programme (JIP) ( to address the status of MMO data and investigate whether existing methods are suitable to create a global framework for analysis.  Please click here to read more about this project. One positive outcome of this project was the development of marine mammal observer forms which were designed to have a global application.

These forms have been adopted by the JNCC in the United Kingdom, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in Ireland, the Mineral Licence and Safety Authority in Greenland and the International Association for Geophysical Contractors. The BOEM also accept their use in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition many MMOs who work in areas where there are no formal regulatory procedures established use these forms as the best available. Since their development these forms have been the subject of feedback, with particular input from the MMOs that use them. JNCC have funded the revision and improvement of these forms and the latest versions can be found online here along with extensive guidance notes.

In addition the MMO Association would like to stress that while the development of standardised data forms and methodologies are fundamental to creating datasets, any data will only have value if the persons collecting these are suitably qualified personnel with proven skills of marine mammal identification and accurate data recording. As a guide to what constitutes suitable qualifications please refer to our Position Statements.

In summary the MMO Association would like to highlight the following:

  • Standardising MMO data collection by establishing global forms and methodologies is essential to create a global dataset and this can be facilitated by adopting MMO forms developed by E&P Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Programme (JIP) ( and further improved by the JNCC - please download  these here.

  • That suitably qualified personnel must be hired to collect MMO data to ensure data quality. Recommended qualifications for MMOs can be found here.
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