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Student Stories

Edward Baker

Completed an MSc from the University of Auckland in 2010

Edward is now a freelance marine mammal observer and passive acoustic monitoring operator on seismic survey vessels
“My role is to look (using binoculars) and listen (using hydrophones) for marine mammals and tell the seismic team of any mammals in the area of operation. Local regulations stipulate that seismic activity must be limited or cannot take place when marine mammals are within a certain distance from the air guns used for survey. It’s my job to help the seismic team stick to the regulations by advising them as to when they can and cannot operate the air guns in relation to the presence of marine mammals.

“I work freelance and am registered with agencies that find me work. A typical contract lasts between three to six weeks but can be longer or shorter. There are normally three or four MMO/PAM operators onboard and shifts are split into 12-hour rotations. A typical 12-hour day will then be split between visual observation and acoustic monitoring. Visual monitoring is conducted from the bridge. Knowledge and experience observing marine mammals is required in order to accurately identify the variety of whales, dolphins and seals that may be encountered. Acoustic monitoring is conducted by listening to the audio picked up from an array of hydrophones towed behind the ship. The audio is also interpreted by computer software and displayed visually on a screen for detection of frequencies above and below the human hearing range. Set up and maintenance of the acoustic equipment and deployment of the hydrophone array is a technical process and can require some trouble shooting which adds diversity to the job.

“So far I have worked in New Zealand and the UK and while onboard have observed minke whales, sperm whales, pilot whales, a blue whale, common dolphins and seals. The job is well paid ­– I earn £270 – £300 per day.

“I got into this job by accident. I was working part time for a whale and dolphin watching boat while studying for my degree in Auckland and a friend who also worked there got offered a job and they needed an extra person so they asked me. The fact I had by this point completed my MSc helped in my getting the job and so did the month I had spent during the course working as a Fisheries Observer at the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries.

“From November I am going to be running the acoustic side of a whale survey for a marine conservation charity in the Indian Ocean for six months, so the skills I have learnt in this job have enabled me to get other work as a scientist. I studied aquaculture predominantly for my MSc and in addition to the MMO/PAM work I have provided some scientific advice for a local aquaculturist and I would like to work in aquaculture in the future.”