Strengths and Weaknesses of Utilizing Protected Species Observer Data to Assess the Responses of Protected Marine Species to Seismic Surveys in the Gulf of Mexico

Environmental Forensics
Oral Presentation

Prepared by C. Kelly, M. Barkaszi
CSA Ocean Sciences Inc., 8502 SW Kansas Ave., Stuart, FL, 34997, United States

Contact Information: [email protected]; 610-329-2963


In 2002 the National Marine Fisheries Service published a biological opinion pertaining to the implementation of measures necessary to minimize the incidental take of protected marine species during seismic survey activities conducted in the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of that opinion, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) implemented a Seismic Survey Mitigation Notice to Lessees that has resulted in the collection of an abundance of visual and acoustic observational data by Protected Species Observers (PSOs) placed onboard seismic survey vessels during relevant operations conducted within the Gulf of Mexico. For the period between 2002 and 2015 alone, a total of 3,886 bi-weekly reports representing approximately 600,000 hours of PSO visual effort and containing over 15,000 visual records were generated during these surveys. The dataset, while robust overall, was subject to instances of variable quality and completeness that presented challenges for conducting post hoc statistical analyses pertaining to the various responses of protected species (i.e., marine mammals, sea turtles) to those seismic surveys. The purpose of this presentation is to discuss ways in which that dataset was utilized effectively to inform guidance involving protected species management and mitigation during seismic surveys, the limitations of that dataset, and recommendations on ways to improve data collection that can be used for post hoc statistical analyses under current regulatory requirements in the Gulf of Mexico.