+44 (0)1368 865 722

NZ Qualified Observer

Marine Mammal Observer and Passive Acoustic Monitoring Operators

New Zealand’s Department Of Conservation (DOC) ‘2013 code of conduct for minimising acoustic disturbance to marine mammals from seismic survey operations’, the Code, gives detailed requirements for ‘trained’ and ‘qualified’ observers. Observers are considered to be Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs) or Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) Operators.


A qualified MMO or PAM Operator must have completed a DOC-approved course/assessment process (www.osc-nz.co.nz/training), and must have a minimum of 12 weeks of marine seismic experience in New Zealand continental waters as an MMO or PAM Operator. For example, a qualified MMO must be experienced in visual marine mammal identification and behaviour, and distance and direction of travel estimation.

The qualifications are not interchangeable, i.e. if an MMO completes the MMO course they cannot work as a PAM Operator until they have completed a PAM course.

Further information on trained observers is found at: www.nztrainedobserver.co.nz


During level 1 seismic surveys (www.nzlevel1seismicsurveys.co.nz), there must be two qualified MMOs and two qualified PAM Operators on-board the source vessel. Vessel crew cannot act as qualified observers during level 1 surveys. For level 2 seismic surveys (www.nzlevel2seismicsurveys.co.nz) vessel crew may act as qualified observes if they are trained and experienced, as per the Code. The incorporation of PAM on level 2 surveys is optional, although additional restrictions must be followed, please see www.nzlevel2seismicsurveys.co.nz for more details.


It is possible to have one qualified and one trained observer in each role, as long as the qualified observer acts as a mentor to the trained observer.

With PAM being a relatively new field, the Code has made certain concessions. If no PAM Operators with the required New Zealand experience are available, qualified PAM Operators may have three years of professional experience and a minimum of 12 weeks of international marine seismic experience. Further exceptions may be given in extreme circumstances.


All MMOs and PAM Operators must meet specific DOC standards (www.mmoandpamoperatorstandards.co.nz). The Code also outlines MMO and PAM Operators authorities (e.g. delay or shutdown an acoustic source), responsibilities (e.g. submission of summary report & raw datasheets), and duties (e.g. reporting & communication with DOC).