Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training, 6080-6084 [2012-2746]

Download as PDF 6080 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 25 / Tuesday, February 7, 2012 / Notices Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses Section 101(a)(5)(D) also requires NMFS to determine that the authorization will not have an unmitigable adverse effect on the availability of marine mammal species or stocks for subsistence use. There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals in the study area (offshore waters of the CNMI) that implicate MMPA section 101(a)(5)(D). Endangered Species Act Of the species of marine mammals that may occur in the survey area, several are listed as endangered under the ESA, including the North Pacific right, humpback, sei, fin, blue, and sperm whales. Under section 7 of the ESA, NSF initiated formal consultation with the NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, Endangered Species Act Interagency Cooperation Division, on this seismic survey. NMFS’s Office of Protected Resources, Permits and Conservation Division, also initiated formal consultation under section 7 of the ESA with NMFS’s Office of Protected Resources, Endangered Species Act Interagency Cooperation Division, to obtain a Biological Opinion (BiOp) evaluating the effects of issuing the IHA on threatened and endangered marine mammals and, if appropriate, authorizing incidental take. In February, 2012, NMFS issued a BiOp and concluded that the action and issuance of the IHA are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of North Pacific right, humpback, sei, fin, blue, and sperm whales. The BiOp also concluded that designated critical habitat for these species would not be affected by the survey. NSF and L–DEO must comply with the Relevant Terms and Conditions of the Incidental Take Statement (ITS) corresponding to NMFS’s BiOp issued to NSF, L–DEO, and NMFS’s Office of Protected Resources. L–DEO must also comply with the mitigation and monitoring requirements included in the IHA in order to be exempt under the ITS in the BiOp from the prohibition on take of listed endangered marine mammal species otherwise prohibited by section 9 of the ESA. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES National Environmental Policy Act With L–DEO’s complete application, NSF provided NMFS an ‘‘Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact Determination Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. and Executive Order 12114 Marine Seismic Survey in the VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Feb 06, 2012 Jkt 226001 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, February–March 2012,’’ which incorporates an ‘‘Environmental Assessment of a Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, February–March 2012,’’ prepared by LGL on behalf of NSF and L–DEO, to met NMFS’s NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) requirements for the issuance of an IHA. The EA analyzes the direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts of the specified activities on marine mammals including those listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. NMFS conducted an independent review and evaluation of the document for sufficiency and compliance with the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) and NOAA Administrative Order 216–6 § 5.09(d), Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, and determined that issuance of the IHA is not likely to result in significant impacts on the human environment. Consequently, NMFS has adopted NSF’s EA and prepared a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the issuance of the IHA. An Environmental Impact Statement is not required and will not be prepared for the action. Authorization NMFS has issued an IHA to L–DEO for the take, by Level B harassment, of small numbers of marine mammals incidental to conducting a marine seismic survey in the CNMI, February to March, 2012, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. Dated: February 1, 2012. Helen M. Golde, Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2012–2749 Filed 2–6–12; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XA959 Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of issuance of a Letter of Authorization AGENCY: PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as amended, and implementing regulations, notice is hereby given that NMFS has issued a letter of authorization (LOA) to the U.S. Navy (Navy) to take marine mammals incidental to Navy training, maintenance, and research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) activities to be conducted within the Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training (AFAST) Study Area for the period of January 22, 2012, through January 22, 2014. DATES: This authorization is effective from January 22, 2012, through January 22, 2014. ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the LOA and supporting documentation may be obtained by writing to P. Michael Payne, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, or by telephoning one of the contacts listed here. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jolie Harrison or Brian D. Hopper, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427– 8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs NMFS to allow, upon request, the incidental taking of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing), if certain findings are made by NMFS and regulations are issued. Under the MMPA, the term ‘‘take’’ means to harass, hunt, capture, or kill or to attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill marine mammals. Regulations governing the taking of marine mammals by the Navy incidental to AFAST training, maintenance, and RDT&E became effective on January 22, 2009 (74 FR 4844, January 27, 2009), and remain in effect through January 22, 2014. The AFAST study area extends east from the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. to 45° W. long. and south from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Coasts to approximately 23° N. lat., but not encompassing the Bahamas (see Figure 1–1 in the Navy’s Application). For detailed information on this action, please refer to the January 2009 final rule. These regulations include mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements and establish a framework to authorize incidental take through the issuance of LOAs. SUMMARY: Summary of Request On August 31, 2011, NMFS received a request from the Navy for a renewal of an LOA issued on January 22, 2011, for the taking of marine mammals E:\FR\FM\07FEN1.SGM 07FEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 25 / Tuesday, February 7, 2012 / Notices incidental to training and research activities conducted within the AFAST Study Area under regulations issued on January 22, 2009 (74 FR 4844, January 27, 2009). The Navy has complied with the measures required in 50 CFR 216.244 and 216.245, as well as the associated 2011 LOA, and submitted the reports and other documentation required in the final rule and the 2011 LOA. Summary of Activity Under the 2011 LOA As described in the Navy’s exercise reports (both classified and unclassified), in 2011, the training activities conducted by the Navy were within the scope and amounts authorized by the 2011 LOA and the levels of take remain within the scope and amounts contemplated by the final rule. The Navy conducted seven major anti-submarine warfare strike group training exercises in 2011, including one Integrated Anti-Submarine Warfare Course (IAC II), two Joint Task Force Exercises (JTFEX), two Composite Training Unit Exercises (COMPTUEX) with IAC IIs, and two Southeaster AntiSubmarine Warfare Integrated Training Initiative exercises SEASWITI). Planned Activities and Estimated Take for 2012 and 2013 In 2012 and 2013, the Navy expects to conduct the same type and amount of training identified in the 2011 LOA. Therefore, for 2012 and 2013, NMFS authorizes the same amount of take that was authorized in 2011. Summary of Monitoring, Reporting, and Other Requirements Under the 2011 LOA tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Annual Exercise Reports The Navy submitted their classified and unclassified 2011 exercise reports within the required timeframes and the unclassified report is posted on NMFS’ Web site: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental.htm. NMFS has reviewed both reports and they contain the information required by the 2011 LOA. The reports indicate the amounts of different types of training that occurred from August 2, 2010, through August 1, 2011. As mentioned above, the Navy conducted seven major antisubmarine warfare training exercises addressed in the rule (the rule analyzed the likely impacts from 39 coordinated unit level training exercises and seven strike group training exercises). The reports also list specific information gathered when marine mammals were detected by Navy watchstanders, such as how far an VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Feb 06, 2012 Jkt 226001 animal was from the vessel, whether sonar was in use, and whether it was powered or shut down. This information indicates that the Navy implemented the safety zone mitigation measures as required. No instances of obvious behavioral disturbance were reported by the Navy watchstanders in their 153 marine mammal sightings totaling 693 animals. Furthermore, safety zones were adhered to, and vessels and aircraft applied mitigation measures when marine mammals were observed within the requisite zones. To summarize, there were a total of 5 sightings of 24 marine mammals for all AFAST Major Training Exercises for reporting (MTERs) at ranges less than 1,000 yards (914 m) during which midfrequency active sonar (MFAS) was in use. Of these 5 total MTER MFAS sightings, there were 4 sightings of 23 dolphins, 0 sightings of whales, 0 sightings of pinnipeds and 1 sighting of 1 sea turtle. There were a total of 4 mitigation events triggered by these sightings, which resulted in two sonar power downs (range to animal < 1,000 yards (914 m)) and two shut down (range to animal < 200 yards (183 m)). During two of these mitigation events sonar was unnecessarily shut down, once when the observed range of a whale was in excess of 1,000 yards (914 m), and once due to passively receiving mammal vocalizations where the range to the animal could not be determined. 2011 Monitoring The Navy conducted the monitoring required by the 2011 LOA and described in the Monitoring Plan, which included aerial and vessel surveys of sonar and exercises by dedicated MMOs, as well as passive acoustic monitoring utilizing high frequency acoustic recording packages (HARPs) and pop-up buoys, and marine mammal tagging, tracking, and biopsy sampling. The Navy submitted their 2011 Monitoring Report, which is posted on NMFS’ Web site (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm), within the required timeframe. The Navy included a summary of their 2011 monitoring effort and results (beginning on page 9 of the monitoring report) and the specific reports for each individual effort are presented in the appendices. Navyfunded marine mammal monitoring accomplishments within the AFAST study area occurred from August 2, 2010 to August 1, 2011. Visual Surveys The majority of monitoring effort for the reporting period was conducted in two locations, Onslow Bay and the Jacksonville (JAX) Operating Area PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 6081 (OPAREA), with an extension of survey effort off Cape Hatteras. These locations serve as the primary study areas for longitudinal baseline monitoring efforts and are also the primary locations for coordinated Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) exercise monitoring events. These monitoring efforts and their findings, if available, will be discussed in greater detail below. The baseline monitoring program consists of year-round multidisciplinary monitoring through the use of shipboard and aerial visual surveys (24 days each annually), photo identification studies, biopsy sampling, and passive acoustic monitoring. Surveys are conducted year-round using established track lines and standard distance sampling techniques. During the reporting period, aerial surveys were planned monthly in both Onslow Bay and JAX, and monthly surveys were initiated off of Cape Hatteras. In Onslow Bay, aerial surveys were conducted on 13 days between August 2010 and April 2011, and aerial observers reported sightings of five identifiable species of marine mammals. In JAX, aerial surveys were conducted on 27 days during the reporting period, and aerial observers reported sightings of seven identifiable species of marine mammals. Aerial survey effort was shifted from Onslow Bay to Cape Hatteras in May 2011. At the Cape Hatteras, aerial surveys were conducted on 6 days between May 2011 and July 2011, and aerial observers reported 39 sightings of nine identifiable species of marine mammals. Vessel surveys were conducted in both Onslow Bay and JAX during the reporting periods. Vessel-based surveys were also initiated off of Cape Hatteras in July 2011. Vessel-based observers in Onslow Bay reported sightings of two identifiable species of marine mammals. Over 1,300 digital images were taken for species identification and individual recognition. Vessel surveys in JAX reported sightings of two identifiable species of marine mammals. Approximately 1,260 digital images were taken for the purposes of species identification and individual recognition. Vessel surveys off Cape Hatteras reported sightings of seven identifiable species of marine mammals. Approximately 5,700 digital images were taken for the purposes of species identification and individual recognition. 2011 Behavioral Response Study and Biopsy Sampling In conjunction with the vessel surveys off Cape Hatteras, researchers from Duke University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution conducted E:\FR\FM\07FEN1.SGM 07FEN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 6082 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 25 / Tuesday, February 7, 2012 / Notices two controlled exposure experimental playbacks on pilot whales on June 4 and June 7, 2011 as part of an ongoing behavioral response study. During the study, researchers conducted controlled exposure experimental playbacks with six pilot whales along the continental shelf break off Cape Hatteras. Each whale was equipped with a DTAG for recording data. The DTAG is a small, lightweight tag that is placed on a whale using a carbon-fiber pole and attaches to the animal via four silicon suction cups. The DTAG is equipped with a pressure sensor, three-axis magnetometer and accelerometers that measure depth, heading, pitch, and roll, at a rate of five times per second. The tag contains two hydrophones that record sound and a VHF antenna that allows radio tracking of animals while they are at the surface and facilitates re-location of the tag upon release from the animal. Data are archived on the tag during deployment and later downloaded for calibration and analysis. In general, the duration of tag deployments vary and tags can either be released by a programmed release mechanism or by the animal’s actions that result in shedding the device (i.e., breaching, coming into physical contact with other animals, etc.). For this study, the DTAG was programmed to release after a 4 hour period. The 4-hour experimental periods consisted of: A 1-hour pre-exposure period; a 1-hour experimental or control period; a second 1-hour experimental or control period; and a 1-hour postexposure period. During the entire 4hours, detailed, standardized behavioral observations of the focal (tagged) whale and its group were collected from one of the small vessels using a 5-minute point sampling protocol. During the experimental periods, the R/V Volute repeatedly approached the tagged whale with the Simrad EK60 scientific echo sounder turned on. The Volute made the same series of approaches during the control period, but with the echo sounder turned off. The choice of order of the control and experimental treatments was randomized for each whale. Five additional 4-hour focal follows on pilot whales were conducted without the echo sounder or control treatments. Data from these tagging efforts will be analyzed in Matlab to generate descriptive metrics for the diving and acoustic behavior of each whale. These include time-depth profiles for the duration of the tag deployment. In addition, over the duration of the entire field project in the Cape Hatteras survey area, the research team was able to collect 23 biopsy samples from VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Feb 06, 2012 Jkt 226001 bottlenose dolphins (13), Atlantic spotted dolphins (6), and short-finned pilot whales (4). There was one more skin sample from a short-finned pilot whale that was obtained from the suction cup of a DTAG. Researchers focus on these species to address the following: (1) Differentiating two forms of bottlenose dolphins (to date, all samples have been collected from the pelagic white-peducle form); (2) examining the taxonomic identity of the small-bodied, pelagic form of Atlantic spotted dolphins; and (3) determining the gender of tagged short-finned pilot whales. Each tissue sample was subsampled and a reference sample supplied to the NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal Molecular Genetics Laboratory in Lafayette, Louisiana. Passive Acoustic Monitoring and Acoustic Analysis Two passive acoustic systems were used in conjunction with the AFAST monitoring projects in Onslow Bay and JAX—a multi-element towed array used during vessel surveys and bottommounted high-frequency acoustic recorder packages (HARPs). Passive acoustic monitoring was not conducted off Cape Hatteras during the reporting period (August 2, 2010 through August 1, 2011). The towed array was deployed on one day of surveys during August 2010 in Onslow Bay. A total of three acoustic detections were made, one of which was identified to species. Two HARPs were deployed for over 10 months in Onslow Bay during the reporting period. In JAX, the towed array was deployed on one day of surveys during October 2010. A total of three acoustic detections were made, one of which was identified to species. Four HARP deployments were made in JAX during the reporting period. Very large datasets were collected and a thorough analysis of all acoustic data is currently underway. Since the 2010 AFAST Annual Report, data analyses have been underway on PAM data collected in Onslow Bay and JAX. In Onslow Bay, marine mammal vocalization data collected from the towed-array during vessel-based surveys were analyzed to identify species. For whistles, 624 whistles from four species and 48 sightings were analyzed using Classification and Regression Tree (CART) analysis. Clicks from five species recorded in Onslow Bay and off Cape Hatteras were analyzed following methods similar to Soldevilla et al. (2008) to identify the species to which the clicks belong. Distinct clicks were only found for Risso’s dolphins. PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Coordinated ASW exercise monitoring studies are one of the primary components being used to address specific monitoring questions presented in the AFAST monitoring plan and LOA. Both passive acoustic and visual monitoring methods have been employed to address before/after (aerial surveys) and before/during/after (passive acoustics) monitoring requirements. During this reporting period, vessel-based monitoring that included towed passive acoustic array was conducted during December 3–5, 2010 in conjunction with an ASW exercise in the JAX OPAREA. Thirty acoustic detections of cetaceans were collected during nearly 27 hours of survey effort. Thirteen detections were classified as sperm whales; five detections were classified as sperm whales and delphinids (vocalizing simultaneously); one detection was classified as sperm whales and possible beaked whales; and 11 detections were classified as delphinids. During the previous reporting period, two focused ASW exercise passive acoustic monitoring efforts were conducted in the JAX OPAREA, each included the deployment of 9 pop-up buoys arranged in an array configuration. The goal was to establish intensive short-term (20–30 day) passive acoustic monitoring before, during, and after specific ASW exercises. Analysis of data from both deployments is still in progress. Deployment of nine pop-up units was planned and attempted in December 2010 to coincide with an ASW training exercise in the JAX OPAREA; however, weather conditions and safety concerns prevented the deployment of the devices. In September 2011, the Navy deployed 12 JASCO Autonomous Multichannel Acoustic Recorders (AMARs) sampling at 96 kHz for approximately 30 days in the JAX OPAREA. The AMARs were deployed approximately 10 days prior to the planned 5-day ASW exercise and remained active for approximately 10 days following the exercise. The goal of this monitoring effort is to establish short-term (20–30 days) PAM before, during, and after a specific ASW exercise. Analysis of the collected data will be conducted once recovery has been completed. Aerial surveys were coordinated before and after two ASW training events during the reporting period. Aerial monitoring was conducted August 9–10, 2010 in good to fair sighting conditions, for an ASW exercise in the VACAPES OPAREA. The second survey was conducted December 3–5, 2010 in poor sighting conditions in the JAX OPAREA. During the August E:\FR\FM\07FEN1.SGM 07FEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 25 / Tuesday, February 7, 2012 / Notices 2010 survey, there were a total of seven sightings recorded: one group of bottlenose dolphins; two groups of short-finned pilot whales; one group of sperm whales; two groups of pantropical spotted dolphins; and one group of unidentified dolphins. During the December 2010 survey, there were two sightings of cetaceans (unidentified species). tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Marine Mammal Observations and Lookout Effectiveness Study During the reporting period, coordination of Navy marine mammal observers (MMOs) for ASW exercise was not possible because of logistic constraints and training exercise schedules. The remainder of this section will focus on the progress made to date on the Navy Lookout Effectiveness Study To date, the Navy has successfully completed four Lookout Effectiveness data collection trials. The primary functions of these efforts were to test and refine lookout observation methodology. Of the four studies, one was completed in Hawaii, one was completed in Southern California, and two were completed off the coast of Jacksonville, FL. Each study had four trained biologists acting as MMOs, observing from sunrise to sunset each day while underway, to assess the effectiveness of the Navy lookout team and to obtain data to characterize the possible exposure of marine species to MFAS. On a parallel track with the field protocol development process, methods are being developed for using the data generated by these experiments to estimate the probability of animals entering the harassment zone undetected. An analysis method to allow for intermittent availability is also being developed because many marine mammal species remain at (or close to) the surface for significant periods between dives, and are ‘‘intermittently available’’ for detection. As a proof of concept, both the instantaneous and intermittent availability models to data collection will be applied and the Navy will provide results in next year’s annual monitoring report. In conclusion, the Navy’s implementation of the monitoring plan accomplished several goals, which contribute to a larger body of data intended to better characterize the abundance, distribution, life history, and behaviors of the species in the AFAST study area. In general, the monitoring conducted in 2010–2011 satisfied the objectives of the monitoring plan and specifically contributed to the VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Feb 06, 2012 Jkt 226001 following: (1) A greater knowledge and understanding of the density and distribution of species within the AFAST study area; (2) the vocalizations of different species, which advances the development of automated classification software; (3) the movement patterns of individual (both vertically in the water column as well as horizontally for the duration of a DTAG deployment); and (4) observable behavioral patterns of marine mammals, before, during, and after exposure to Navy training activities. Except as described below in the Adaptive Management section, NMFS concludes that the results of these monitoring efforts when taken together with the findings presented in the 2011 exercise report (see Annual Exercise Report section) do not warrant making changes to the current monitoring/ mitigation requirements identified in the LOA. While the data collected by the Navy through monitoring and reporting builds upon the existing body of information in a valuable way, none of the new data contradict, or amend, the assumptions that underlie the findings in the 2009 rule in a manner that would suggest changing the current mitigation or monitoring. Adaptive Management In general, adaptive management allows NMFS to consider new information from different sources to determine (with input from the Navy regarding practicability) if monitoring efforts should be modified if new information suggests that such modifications are appropriate. All of the 5-year rules and LOAs issued to the Navy include an adaptive management component, which includes an annual meeting between NMFS and the Navy. NMFS and the Navy conducted an adaptive management meeting in October, 2011, which representatives from the Marine Mammal Commission participated in, wherein we reviewed the Navy monitoring results through August 1, 2011, discussed other Navy research and development efforts, and discussed other new information that could potentially inform decisions regarding Navy mitigation and monitoring. Based on the implementation of the 2011 monitoring, the Navy proposed some minor modifications to their monitoring plan for 2012, which NMFS agreed were appropriate. Additional details regarding these minor modifications are provided in Section 13 of the Navy’s 2011 LOA Application, which may be viewed at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ pr/permits/incidental.htm. PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 6083 Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Report The 2010 LOA required that the Navy update the ICMP Plan to reflect development in three areas, specifically: (1) Identifying more specific monitoring sub-goals under the major goals that have been identified; (2) characterizing Navy Range Complexes and study areas within the context of the prioritization guidelines described in the ICMP Plan; and (3) continuing to develop data management, organization and access procedures. The Navy has updated the ICMP Plan as required. Because the ICMP is an evolving Program, we posted the ICMP on NMFS Web site: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm and specifically requested input when the 2011 LOA notice published (76 FR 4637, January 26, 2011), which the Navy and NMFS have considered and applied as appropriate. 2011 Monitoring Meeting The regulations that established the framework for authorizing the taking of marine mammals incidental to Navy training activities required the Navy, with guidance and support from NMFS, to convene a Monitoring Workshop in 2011 (50 CFR 216.245(k)). The Marine Mammal Monitoring Workshop, which included scientists, representatives from non-governmental organization, and Marine Mammal Commission staff, took place in June 2011. Pursuant to the regulations, this workshop presented a consolidated overview of monitoring activities conducted in 2009 and 2010, as well as the outcomes of selected monitoring-related research. In 2010, the Navy convened a Scientific Advisory Group (SAG), comprised of experts in the fields of marine mammals and underwater acoustics, to review the Navy’s current monitoring plans and make recommendations. The results of the SAG’s review were also presented at the meeting. Participants engaged in open discussion of the lessons learned, and discussed how to improve the Navy’s monitoring plan moving forward. NOAA Workshops In a January 19, 2010, letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, NOAA identified the need for two interrelated workshops on marine mammals and sound in the ocean. To address this commitment, NOAA is convening two parallel, focused, relatively small, and product-driven working groups. One will identify and map cetacean ‘‘hot spots’’, defined as areas of known, or reasonably E:\FR\FM\07FEN1.SGM 07FEN1 6084 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 25 / Tuesday, February 7, 2012 / Notices predictable, biological importance (i.e., for reproduction, feeding, migration) and/or high densities. The second working group will be directed toward developing a comprehensive data collection and analysis plan for describing and predicting underwater sound fields in different areas. The outcomes of these working groups will be integrated and analyzed in a broader symposium to include a larger audience of scientists, industries, federal agencies, conservation managers, and environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The final products and analyses will provide a more robust, comprehensive, and context-specific biological and acoustic basis by which to inform subsequent management decisions regarding human-generated noise in our oceans. The steering committee has been convened and met for the first time in October, 2010. The working group efforts should take about a year to complete, and both working groups met twice in 2011 to plan and discuss the final products. The final symposium is planned to be held in late spring or early summer in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2012. The results of these working groups will be analyzed by NMFS in an adaptive management context, as related to the AFAST final rule (74 FR 4844, January 27, 2009), and mitigation or monitoring measures may be modified, as appropriate. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Authorization The Navy complied with the requirements of the 2011 LOA. Based on our review of the record, NMFS has determined that the marine mammal take resulting from the 2011 military readiness training and research activities falls within the levels previously anticipated, analyzed, and authorized. Further, the level of taking authorized in 2012 and 2013 for the Navy’s AFAST activities is consistent with our previous findings made for the total taking allowed under the AFAST regulations. Finally, the record supports NMFS’ conclusion that the total number of marine mammals taken by the 2012 and 2013 AFAST activities will have no more than a negligible impact on the affected species or stock of marine mammals and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of these species or stocks for taking for subsistence uses. Accordingly, NMFS has issued a twoyear LOA for Navy training exercises conducted in the AFAST Study Area from January 22, 2012, through January 22, 2014. VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Feb 06, 2012 Jkt 226001 Dated: February 1, 2012. Helen M. Golde, Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2012–2746 Filed 2–6–12; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XA883 Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; U.S. Navy Training in the Southern California Range Complex National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of issuance of a Letter of Authorization. AGENCY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as amended, and implementing regulations, notice is hereby given that NMFS has issued a Letter of Authorization (LOA) to the U.S. Navy (Navy) to take marine mammals incidental to Navy training, maintenance, and research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) activities to be conducted within the Southern California (SOCAL) Range Complex, which extends south and southwest off the southern California coast. DATES: This authorization is effective from February 8, 2012, through January 14, 2014. ADDRESSES: The LOA and supporting documentation may be obtained by writing to P. Michael Payne, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 EastWest Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, or by telephoning one of the contacts listed here. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Michelle Magliocca, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs NMFS to allow, upon request, the incidental taking of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing), if certain findings are made by NMFS and regulations are issued. Under the MMPA, the term ‘‘take’’ means to harass, hunt, capture, or kill or to attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill marine mammals. Regulations governing the taking of marine mammals by the Navy incidental to training, maintenance, and RDT&E in SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 the SOCAL Range Complex became effective on January 14, 2009 (74 FR 3881, January 21, 2009), and remain in effect through January 14, 2014. An interim final rule was issued on February 7, 2011 (76 FR 6699, February 8, 2011) that included an amendment to allow for greater flexibility in the types and amounts of sound sources used by the Navy in SOCAL, the Hawaii Range Complex, and the Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training Study Area. NMFS issued the Navy a 1-year LOA on January 9, 2012, which is superseded by the 2-year LOA described in this notice. A modified final rule was issued on February 1, 2012 (77 FR 4917) that allows for multi-year LOAs. For detailed information on these documents, please refer to their respective Federal Register notices. The regulations include mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements and establish a framework to authorize incidental take through the issuance of LOAs. Summary of Request On August 30, 2011, NMFS received a request from the Navy for a renewal of an LOA issued on January 22, 2011, for the taking of marine mammals incidental to training and research activities conducted within the SOCAL Range Complex under regulations issued on February 8, 2011 (76 FR 6699). The Navy has complied with the measures required in 50 CFR 216.274 and 216.275 and submitted the reports and other documentation required in the final rule and the 2011 LOA. Although the Navy exceeded the average annual estimated usage of two sonar systems, they remain well within the authorized 5-year source amounts and the authorized 5-year marine mammal takes. Summary of Activity Under the 2011 LOA The Navy’s classified 2010–2011 exercise report indicates that the Navy exceeded the average annual amount of two sonar systems during this monitoring period. However, the Navy remains well within their authorized 5year source amounts. Sonar usage since January 22, 2009 (when the first LOA was issued) remains below 60 percent for all source types. Furthermore, the interim final rule for SOCAL (76 FR 6699, February 8, 2011) increased flexibility of sonar usage, provided it does not result in exceeding the incidental take analyzed and identified in the final rule. Based on the amount of sonar system use, the Navy’s postcalculation estimates show that exposures for eight species may have exceeded the annual authorization in E:\FR\FM\07FEN1.SGM 07FEN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 25 (Tuesday, February 7, 2012)]
[Notices]
[Pages 6080-6084]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-2746]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XA959


Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet 
Active Sonar Training

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of issuance of a Letter of Authorization

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SUMMARY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as 
amended, and implementing regulations, notice is hereby given that NMFS 
has issued a letter of authorization (LOA) to the U.S. Navy (Navy) to 
take marine mammals incidental to Navy training, maintenance, and 
research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) activities to be 
conducted within the Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training (AFAST) Study 
Area for the period of January 22, 2012, through January 22, 2014.

DATES: This authorization is effective from January 22, 2012, through 
January 22, 2014.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the LOA and supporting documentation 
may be obtained by writing to P. Michael Payne, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, or by 
telephoning one of the contacts listed here.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jolie Harrison or Brian D. Hopper, 
Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 
1361 et seq.) directs NMFS to allow, upon request, the incidental 
taking of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified 
activity (other than commercial fishing), if certain findings are made 
by NMFS and regulations are issued. Under the MMPA, the term ``take'' 
means to harass, hunt, capture, or kill or to attempt to harass, hunt, 
capture, or kill marine mammals.
    Regulations governing the taking of marine mammals by the Navy 
incidental to AFAST training, maintenance, and RDT&E became effective 
on January 22, 2009 (74 FR 4844, January 27, 2009), and remain in 
effect through January 22, 2014. The AFAST study area extends east from 
the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. to 45[deg] W. long. and south from the 
Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Coasts to approximately 23[deg] N. lat., 
but not encompassing the Bahamas (see Figure 1-1 in the Navy's 
Application). For detailed information on this action, please refer to 
the January 2009 final rule. These regulations include mitigation, 
monitoring, and reporting requirements and establish a framework to 
authorize incidental take through the issuance of LOAs.

Summary of Request

    On August 31, 2011, NMFS received a request from the Navy for a 
renewal of an LOA issued on January 22, 2011, for the taking of marine 
mammals

[[Page 6081]]

incidental to training and research activities conducted within the 
AFAST Study Area under regulations issued on January 22, 2009 (74 FR 
4844, January 27, 2009). The Navy has complied with the measures 
required in 50 CFR 216.244 and 216.245, as well as the associated 2011 
LOA, and submitted the reports and other documentation required in the 
final rule and the 2011 LOA.

Summary of Activity Under the 2011 LOA

    As described in the Navy's exercise reports (both classified and 
unclassified), in 2011, the training activities conducted by the Navy 
were within the scope and amounts authorized by the 2011 LOA and the 
levels of take remain within the scope and amounts contemplated by the 
final rule. The Navy conducted seven major anti-submarine warfare 
strike group training exercises in 2011, including one Integrated Anti-
Submarine Warfare Course (IAC II), two Joint Task Force Exercises 
(JTFEX), two Composite Training Unit Exercises (COMPTUEX) with IAC IIs, 
and two Southeaster Anti-Submarine Warfare Integrated Training 
Initiative exercises SEASWITI).

Planned Activities and Estimated Take for 2012 and 2013

    In 2012 and 2013, the Navy expects to conduct the same type and 
amount of training identified in the 2011 LOA. Therefore, for 2012 and 
2013, NMFS authorizes the same amount of take that was authorized in 
2011.

Summary of Monitoring, Reporting, and Other Requirements Under the 2011 
LOA

Annual Exercise Reports

    The Navy submitted their classified and unclassified 2011 exercise 
reports within the required timeframes and the unclassified report is 
posted on NMFS' Web site: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. NMFS has reviewed both reports and they contain the 
information required by the 2011 LOA. The reports indicate the amounts 
of different types of training that occurred from August 2, 2010, 
through August 1, 2011. As mentioned above, the Navy conducted seven 
major anti-submarine warfare training exercises addressed in the rule 
(the rule analyzed the likely impacts from 39 coordinated unit level 
training exercises and seven strike group training exercises).
    The reports also list specific information gathered when marine 
mammals were detected by Navy watchstanders, such as how far an animal 
was from the vessel, whether sonar was in use, and whether it was 
powered or shut down. This information indicates that the Navy 
implemented the safety zone mitigation measures as required. No 
instances of obvious behavioral disturbance were reported by the Navy 
watchstanders in their 153 marine mammal sightings totaling 693 
animals. Furthermore, safety zones were adhered to, and vessels and 
aircraft applied mitigation measures when marine mammals were observed 
within the requisite zones. To summarize, there were a total of 5 
sightings of 24 marine mammals for all AFAST Major Training Exercises 
for reporting (MTERs) at ranges less than 1,000 yards (914 m) during 
which mid-frequency active sonar (MFAS) was in use. Of these 5 total 
MTER MFAS sightings, there were 4 sightings of 23 dolphins, 0 sightings 
of whales, 0 sightings of pinnipeds and 1 sighting of 1 sea turtle. 
There were a total of 4 mitigation events triggered by these sightings, 
which resulted in two sonar power downs (range to animal < 1,000 yards 
(914 m)) and two shut down (range to animal < 200 yards (183 m)). 
During two of these mitigation events sonar was unnecessarily shut 
down, once when the observed range of a whale was in excess of 1,000 
yards (914 m), and once due to passively receiving mammal vocalizations 
where the range to the animal could not be determined.

2011 Monitoring

    The Navy conducted the monitoring required by the 2011 LOA and 
described in the Monitoring Plan, which included aerial and vessel 
surveys of sonar and exercises by dedicated MMOs, as well as passive 
acoustic monitoring utilizing high frequency acoustic recording 
packages (HARPs) and pop-up buoys, and marine mammal tagging, tracking, 
and biopsy sampling. The Navy submitted their 2011 Monitoring Report, 
which is posted on NMFS' Web site (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm), within the required timeframe. The Navy included a 
summary of their 2011 monitoring effort and results (beginning on page 
9 of the monitoring report) and the specific reports for each 
individual effort are presented in the appendices. Navy-funded marine 
mammal monitoring accomplishments within the AFAST study area occurred 
from August 2, 2010 to August 1, 2011.

Visual Surveys

    The majority of monitoring effort for the reporting period was 
conducted in two locations, Onslow Bay and the Jacksonville (JAX) 
Operating Area (OPAREA), with an extension of survey effort off Cape 
Hatteras. These locations serve as the primary study areas for 
longitudinal baseline monitoring efforts and are also the primary 
locations for coordinated Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) exercise 
monitoring events. These monitoring efforts and their findings, if 
available, will be discussed in greater detail below.
    The baseline monitoring program consists of year-round multi-
disciplinary monitoring through the use of shipboard and aerial visual 
surveys (24 days each annually), photo identification studies, biopsy 
sampling, and passive acoustic monitoring. Surveys are conducted year-
round using established track lines and standard distance sampling 
techniques. During the reporting period, aerial surveys were planned 
monthly in both Onslow Bay and JAX, and monthly surveys were initiated 
off of Cape Hatteras. In Onslow Bay, aerial surveys were conducted on 
13 days between August 2010 and April 2011, and aerial observers 
reported sightings of five identifiable species of marine mammals. In 
JAX, aerial surveys were conducted on 27 days during the reporting 
period, and aerial observers reported sightings of seven identifiable 
species of marine mammals. Aerial survey effort was shifted from Onslow 
Bay to Cape Hatteras in May 2011. At the Cape Hatteras, aerial surveys 
were conducted on 6 days between May 2011 and July 2011, and aerial 
observers reported 39 sightings of nine identifiable species of marine 
mammals.
    Vessel surveys were conducted in both Onslow Bay and JAX during the 
reporting periods. Vessel-based surveys were also initiated off of Cape 
Hatteras in July 2011. Vessel-based observers in Onslow Bay reported 
sightings of two identifiable species of marine mammals. Over 1,300 
digital images were taken for species identification and individual 
recognition. Vessel surveys in JAX reported sightings of two 
identifiable species of marine mammals. Approximately 1,260 digital 
images were taken for the purposes of species identification and 
individual recognition. Vessel surveys off Cape Hatteras reported 
sightings of seven identifiable species of marine mammals. 
Approximately 5,700 digital images were taken for the purposes of 
species identification and individual recognition.

2011 Behavioral Response Study and Biopsy Sampling

    In conjunction with the vessel surveys off Cape Hatteras, 
researchers from Duke University and Woods Hole Oceanographic 
Institution conducted

[[Page 6082]]

two controlled exposure experimental playbacks on pilot whales on June 
4 and June 7, 2011 as part of an ongoing behavioral response study. 
During the study, researchers conducted controlled exposure 
experimental playbacks with six pilot whales along the continental 
shelf break off Cape Hatteras. Each whale was equipped with a DTAG for 
recording data. The DTAG is a small, lightweight tag that is placed on 
a whale using a carbon-fiber pole and attaches to the animal via four 
silicon suction cups. The DTAG is equipped with a pressure sensor, 
three-axis magnetometer and accelerometers that measure depth, heading, 
pitch, and roll, at a rate of five times per second. The tag contains 
two hydrophones that record sound and a VHF antenna that allows radio 
tracking of animals while they are at the surface and facilitates re-
location of the tag upon release from the animal. Data are archived on 
the tag during deployment and later downloaded for calibration and 
analysis. In general, the duration of tag deployments vary and tags can 
either be released by a programmed release mechanism or by the animal's 
actions that result in shedding the device (i.e., breaching, coming 
into physical contact with other animals, etc.). For this study, the 
DTAG was programmed to release after a 4 hour period.
    The 4-hour experimental periods consisted of: A 1-hour pre-exposure 
period; a 1-hour experimental or control period; a second 1-hour 
experimental or control period; and a 1-hour post-exposure period. 
During the entire 4-hours, detailed, standardized behavioral 
observations of the focal (tagged) whale and its group were collected 
from one of the small vessels using a 5-minute point sampling protocol. 
During the experimental periods, the R/V Volute repeatedly approached 
the tagged whale with the Simrad EK60 scientific echo sounder turned 
on. The Volute made the same series of approaches during the control 
period, but with the echo sounder turned off. The choice of order of 
the control and experimental treatments was randomized for each whale. 
Five additional 4-hour focal follows on pilot whales were conducted 
without the echo sounder or control treatments. Data from these tagging 
efforts will be analyzed in Matlab to generate descriptive metrics for 
the diving and acoustic behavior of each whale. These include time-
depth profiles for the duration of the tag deployment.
    In addition, over the duration of the entire field project in the 
Cape Hatteras survey area, the research team was able to collect 23 
biopsy samples from bottlenose dolphins (13), Atlantic spotted dolphins 
(6), and short-finned pilot whales (4). There was one more skin sample 
from a short-finned pilot whale that was obtained from the suction cup 
of a DTAG. Researchers focus on these species to address the following: 
(1) Differentiating two forms of bottlenose dolphins (to date, all 
samples have been collected from the pelagic white-peducle form); (2) 
examining the taxonomic identity of the small-bodied, pelagic form of 
Atlantic spotted dolphins; and (3) determining the gender of tagged 
short-finned pilot whales. Each tissue sample was sub-sampled and a 
reference sample supplied to the NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science 
Center's Marine Mammal Molecular Genetics Laboratory in Lafayette, 
Louisiana.

Passive Acoustic Monitoring and Acoustic Analysis

    Two passive acoustic systems were used in conjunction with the 
AFAST monitoring projects in Onslow Bay and JAX--a multi-element towed 
array used during vessel surveys and bottom-mounted high-frequency 
acoustic recorder packages (HARPs). Passive acoustic monitoring was not 
conducted off Cape Hatteras during the reporting period (August 2, 2010 
through August 1, 2011). The towed array was deployed on one day of 
surveys during August 2010 in Onslow Bay. A total of three acoustic 
detections were made, one of which was identified to species. Two HARPs 
were deployed for over 10 months in Onslow Bay during the reporting 
period. In JAX, the towed array was deployed on one day of surveys 
during October 2010. A total of three acoustic detections were made, 
one of which was identified to species. Four HARP deployments were made 
in JAX during the reporting period. Very large datasets were collected 
and a thorough analysis of all acoustic data is currently underway.
    Since the 2010 AFAST Annual Report, data analyses have been 
underway on PAM data collected in Onslow Bay and JAX. In Onslow Bay, 
marine mammal vocalization data collected from the towed-array during 
vessel-based surveys were analyzed to identify species. For whistles, 
624 whistles from four species and 48 sightings were analyzed using 
Classification and Regression Tree (CART) analysis. Clicks from five 
species recorded in Onslow Bay and off Cape Hatteras were analyzed 
following methods similar to Soldevilla et al. (2008) to identify the 
species to which the clicks belong. Distinct clicks were only found for 
Risso's dolphins.
    Coordinated ASW exercise monitoring studies are one of the primary 
components being used to address specific monitoring questions 
presented in the AFAST monitoring plan and LOA. Both passive acoustic 
and visual monitoring methods have been employed to address before/
after (aerial surveys) and before/during/after (passive acoustics) 
monitoring requirements. During this reporting period, vessel-based 
monitoring that included towed passive acoustic array was conducted 
during December 3-5, 2010 in conjunction with an ASW exercise in the 
JAX OPAREA. Thirty acoustic detections of cetaceans were collected 
during nearly 27 hours of survey effort. Thirteen detections were 
classified as sperm whales; five detections were classified as sperm 
whales and delphinids (vocalizing simultaneously); one detection was 
classified as sperm whales and possible beaked whales; and 11 
detections were classified as delphinids. During the previous reporting 
period, two focused ASW exercise passive acoustic monitoring efforts 
were conducted in the JAX OPAREA, each included the deployment of 9 
pop-up buoys arranged in an array configuration. The goal was to 
establish intensive short-term (20-30 day) passive acoustic monitoring 
before, during, and after specific ASW exercises. Analysis of data from 
both deployments is still in progress.
    Deployment of nine pop-up units was planned and attempted in 
December 2010 to coincide with an ASW training exercise in the JAX 
OPAREA; however, weather conditions and safety concerns prevented the 
deployment of the devices.
    In September 2011, the Navy deployed 12 JASCO Autonomous Multi-
channel Acoustic Recorders (AMARs) sampling at 96 kHz for approximately 
30 days in the JAX OPAREA. The AMARs were deployed approximately 10 
days prior to the planned 5-day ASW exercise and remained active for 
approximately 10 days following the exercise. The goal of this 
monitoring effort is to establish short-term (20-30 days) PAM before, 
during, and after a specific ASW exercise. Analysis of the collected 
data will be conducted once recovery has been completed.
    Aerial surveys were coordinated before and after two ASW training 
events during the reporting period. Aerial monitoring was conducted 
August 9-10, 2010 in good to fair sighting conditions, for an ASW 
exercise in the VACAPES OPAREA. The second survey was conducted 
December 3-5, 2010 in poor sighting conditions in the JAX OPAREA. 
During the August

[[Page 6083]]

2010 survey, there were a total of seven sightings recorded: one group 
of bottlenose dolphins; two groups of short-finned pilot whales; one 
group of sperm whales; two groups of pantropical spotted dolphins; and 
one group of unidentified dolphins. During the December 2010 survey, 
there were two sightings of cetaceans (unidentified species).

Marine Mammal Observations and Lookout Effectiveness Study

    During the reporting period, coordination of Navy marine mammal 
observers (MMOs) for ASW exercise was not possible because of logistic 
constraints and training exercise schedules. The remainder of this 
section will focus on the progress made to date on the Navy

Lookout Effectiveness Study

    To date, the Navy has successfully completed four Lookout 
Effectiveness data collection trials. The primary functions of these 
efforts were to test and refine lookout observation methodology. Of the 
four studies, one was completed in Hawaii, one was completed in 
Southern California, and two were completed off the coast of 
Jacksonville, FL. Each study had four trained biologists acting as 
MMOs, observing from sunrise to sunset each day while underway, to 
assess the effectiveness of the Navy lookout team and to obtain data to 
characterize the possible exposure of marine species to MFAS.
    On a parallel track with the field protocol development process, 
methods are being developed for using the data generated by these 
experiments to estimate the probability of animals entering the 
harassment zone undetected. An analysis method to allow for 
intermittent availability is also being developed because many marine 
mammal species remain at (or close to) the surface for significant 
periods between dives, and are ``intermittently available'' for 
detection. As a proof of concept, both the instantaneous and 
intermittent availability models to data collection will be applied and 
the Navy will provide results in next year's annual monitoring report.
    In conclusion, the Navy's implementation of the monitoring plan 
accomplished several goals, which contribute to a larger body of data 
intended to better characterize the abundance, distribution, life 
history, and behaviors of the species in the AFAST study area. In 
general, the monitoring conducted in 2010-2011 satisfied the objectives 
of the monitoring plan and specifically contributed to the following: 
(1) A greater knowledge and understanding of the density and 
distribution of species within the AFAST study area; (2) the 
vocalizations of different species, which advances the development of 
automated classification software; (3) the movement patterns of 
individual (both vertically in the water column as well as horizontally 
for the duration of a DTAG deployment); and (4) observable behavioral 
patterns of marine mammals, before, during, and after exposure to Navy 
training activities.
    Except as described below in the Adaptive Management section, NMFS 
concludes that the results of these monitoring efforts when taken 
together with the findings presented in the 2011 exercise report (see 
Annual Exercise Report section) do not warrant making changes to the 
current monitoring/mitigation requirements identified in the LOA. While 
the data collected by the Navy through monitoring and reporting builds 
upon the existing body of information in a valuable way, none of the 
new data contradict, or amend, the assumptions that underlie the 
findings in the 2009 rule in a manner that would suggest changing the 
current mitigation or monitoring.

Adaptive Management

    In general, adaptive management allows NMFS to consider new 
information from different sources to determine (with input from the 
Navy regarding practicability) if monitoring efforts should be modified 
if new information suggests that such modifications are appropriate. 
All of the 5-year rules and LOAs issued to the Navy include an adaptive 
management component, which includes an annual meeting between NMFS and 
the Navy. NMFS and the Navy conducted an adaptive management meeting in 
October, 2011, which representatives from the Marine Mammal Commission 
participated in, wherein we reviewed the Navy monitoring results 
through August 1, 2011, discussed other Navy research and development 
efforts, and discussed other new information that could potentially 
inform decisions regarding Navy mitigation and monitoring. Based on the 
implementation of the 2011 monitoring, the Navy proposed some minor 
modifications to their monitoring plan for 2012, which NMFS agreed were 
appropriate. Additional details regarding these minor modifications are 
provided in Section 13 of the Navy's 2011 LOA Application, which may be 
viewed at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm.

Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Report

    The 2010 LOA required that the Navy update the ICMP Plan to reflect 
development in three areas, specifically: (1) Identifying more specific 
monitoring sub-goals under the major goals that have been identified; 
(2) characterizing Navy Range Complexes and study areas within the 
context of the prioritization guidelines described in the ICMP Plan; 
and (3) continuing to develop data management, organization and access 
procedures. The Navy has updated the ICMP Plan as required. Because the 
ICMP is an evolving Program, we posted the ICMP on NMFS Web site: 
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm and specifically 
requested input when the 2011 LOA notice published (76 FR 4637, January 
26, 2011), which the Navy and NMFS have considered and applied as 
appropriate.

2011 Monitoring Meeting

    The regulations that established the framework for authorizing the 
taking of marine mammals incidental to Navy training activities 
required the Navy, with guidance and support from NMFS, to convene a 
Monitoring Workshop in 2011 (50 CFR 216.245(k)). The Marine Mammal 
Monitoring Workshop, which included scientists, representatives from 
non-governmental organization, and Marine Mammal Commission staff, took 
place in June 2011. Pursuant to the regulations, this workshop 
presented a consolidated overview of monitoring activities conducted in 
2009 and 2010, as well as the outcomes of selected monitoring-related 
research. In 2010, the Navy convened a Scientific Advisory Group (SAG), 
comprised of experts in the fields of marine mammals and underwater 
acoustics, to review the Navy's current monitoring plans and make 
recommendations. The results of the SAG's review were also presented at 
the meeting. Participants engaged in open discussion of the lessons 
learned, and discussed how to improve the Navy's monitoring plan moving 
forward.

NOAA Workshops

    In a January 19, 2010, letter to the Council on Environmental 
Quality, NOAA identified the need for two interrelated workshops on 
marine mammals and sound in the ocean. To address this commitment, NOAA 
is convening two parallel, focused, relatively small, and product-
driven working groups. One will identify and map cetacean ``hot 
spots'', defined as areas of known, or reasonably

[[Page 6084]]

predictable, biological importance (i.e., for reproduction, feeding, 
migration) and/or high densities. The second working group will be 
directed toward developing a comprehensive data collection and analysis 
plan for describing and predicting underwater sound fields in different 
areas. The outcomes of these working groups will be integrated and 
analyzed in a broader symposium to include a larger audience of 
scientists, industries, federal agencies, conservation managers, and 
environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The final products 
and analyses will provide a more robust, comprehensive, and context-
specific biological and acoustic basis by which to inform subsequent 
management decisions regarding human-generated noise in our oceans. The 
steering committee has been convened and met for the first time in 
October, 2010. The working group efforts should take about a year to 
complete, and both working groups met twice in 2011 to plan and discuss 
the final products. The final symposium is planned to be held in late 
spring or early summer in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2012. The results 
of these working groups will be analyzed by NMFS in an adaptive 
management context, as related to the AFAST final rule (74 FR 4844, 
January 27, 2009), and mitigation or monitoring measures may be 
modified, as appropriate.

Authorization

    The Navy complied with the requirements of the 2011 LOA. Based on 
our review of the record, NMFS has determined that the marine mammal 
take resulting from the 2011 military readiness training and research 
activities falls within the levels previously anticipated, analyzed, 
and authorized. Further, the level of taking authorized in 2012 and 
2013 for the Navy's AFAST activities is consistent with our previous 
findings made for the total taking allowed under the AFAST regulations. 
Finally, the record supports NMFS' conclusion that the total number of 
marine mammals taken by the 2012 and 2013 AFAST activities will have no 
more than a negligible impact on the affected species or stock of 
marine mammals and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of these species or stocks for taking for subsistence 
uses. Accordingly, NMFS has issued a two-year LOA for Navy training 
exercises conducted in the AFAST Study Area from January 22, 2012, 
through January 22, 2014.

    Dated: February 1, 2012.
Helen M. Golde,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-2746 Filed 2-6-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P