Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental To Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Marine Seismic Survey in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska, 39913-39945 [2014-16010]

Download as PDF Vol. 79 Thursday, No. 132 July 10, 2014 Part V Department of Commerce mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Marine Seismic Survey in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska; Notice VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 PO 00000 Frm 00001 Fmt 4717 Sfmt 4717 E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39914 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER or visiting the internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ pr/permits/incidental.htm. The following associated documents are also available at the same internet address: Plan of Cooperation. Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address. NMFS is also preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and will consider comments submitted in response to this notice as part of that process. The EA will be posted at the foregoing internet site once it is finalized. INFORMATION CONTACT), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XD145 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental To Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Marine Seismic Survey in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments. AGENCY: SUMMARY: NMFS has received an application from SAExploration, Inc. (SAE) for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to a marine 3-dimensional (3D) ocean bottom node (OBN) seismic surveys program in the state and federal waters of the Beaufort Sea, Alaska, during the open-water season of 2014. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to SAE to incidentally take, by Level B Harassment only, marine mammals during the specified activity. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than August 11, 2014. Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Supervisor, Incidental Take Program, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email comments is itp.guan@ noaa.gov. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size. NMFS is not responsible for comments sent to addresses other than those provided here. Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm without change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. An electronic copy of the application may be obtained by writing to the address specified above, telephoning the mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 ADDRESSES: VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shane Guan, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review. An authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ‘‘an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral PO 00000 Frm 00002 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment]. Summary of Request On December 8, 2013, NMFS received an application from SAE for the taking of marine mammals incidental to a 3D OBN seismic survey program in the Beaufort Sea. After receiving NMFS comments, SAE made revision and updated its IHA application on February 14, 2014, and again on April 23, 2014. In addition, NMFS received the marine mammal mitigation and monitoring plan from SAE on May 15, 2014. NMFS determined that the application was adequate and complete on May 25, 2014. SAE proposes to conduct 3D ocean bottom node (OBN) seismic surveys in the state and federal waters of the U.S. Beaufort Sea during the 2014 Arctic open-water season. The proposed activity would occur between August 15 and October 15, 2014. The actual seismic survey is expected to take approximately 70 days, dependent of weather. The following specific aspects of the proposed activities are likely to result in the take of marine mammals: seismic airgun operations and associated navigation sonar and vessel movements. Take, by Level B Harassment only, of individuals of five species of marine mammals is anticipated to result from the specified activity. Description of the Specified Activity Overview On December 8, 2013, NMFS received an application from SAE requesting an authorization for the harassment of small numbers of marine mammals incidental to conducting an open-water 3D OBN seismic survey in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. After addressing comments from NMFS and the peerreview panel, SAE modified its application and submitted revised applications on February 14, 2014 and on April 24, 2014. SAE’s proposed activities discussed here are based on its April 24, 2014 IHA application. Dates and Duration The proposed 3D OBN seismic survey is planned for the 2014 open-water season (August 15 to October 15). The actual data acquisition is expected to take approximately 70 days, dependent of weather. Based on past similar seismic shoots in the Beaufort Sea, SAE expects that effective shooting would occur over about 70% of the 70 days (or about 49 days). E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices Specified Geographic Region SAE’s proposed 3D OBN seismic survey would occur in the nearshore waters of the Colville River Delta in the Alaska Beaufort Sea (see Figure 1–1 of the IHA application). The area represents a total area of 1,882 km2 (727 mi2). Detailed Description of Activities I. Survey Design The proposed 3D OBN seismic survey will be based on a ‘‘recording patch’’ or similar approach. Patches are groups of six receiver lines and 32 source lines. Each receiver line has submersible marine sensor nodes tethered equidistant (50 m or 165 ft) from each other along the length of the line. Each node is a multicomponent system containing three velocity sensors and a hydrophone. Each receiver line is approximately 8 km (5 mi) in length, and are spaced approximately 402 m (1,320 ft) apart. Each receiver patch is 19.4 km2 (7.5 mi2) in area. The receiver patch is oriented such that the receiver lines run parallel to the shoreline. Source lines would be 12 km (7.5 mi) long and spaced 502 m (1,650 ft) apart, run perpendicular to the receiver lines (and perpendicular to the coast) and, where possible, will extend approximately 5 km (3 mi) beyond the outside receiver lines and approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) beyond each of the ends of the receiver lines. The outside dimensions of the maximum shot area during a patch shoot will be 12 km by 16 km (7.5 mi by 10 mi) or 192 km2 (75 mi2). It is expected to take three to five days to shoot a patch, or 48 km2 (18.75 mi2) per day. All shot areas will be wholly contained within the 1,882-km2 survey box depicted in Figure 1–1 of the IHA application. Shot intervals along each source line will be 50 m (165 ft). During recording of one patch, nodes from the previously surveyed patch will be retrieved, recharged, and data downloaded prior to redeployment of the nodes to the next patch. As patches are recorded, receiver lines are moved side to side or end to end to the next patch location so that receiver lines have continuous coverage of the recording area. Autonomous recording nodes lack cables but will be tethered together using a thin rope for ease of retrieval. This rope will lay on the seabed surface, as will the nodes, and is expected to have no effect on marine traffic. Primary vessel positioning will be achieved using GPS with the antenna attached to the airgun array. Pingers deployed from the node vessels will be used for positioning of nodes. The geometry/ patch could be modified as operations progress to improve sampling and operational efficiency. II. Acoustical Sources The acoustic sources of primary concern are the airguns that will be deployed from the seismic source vessels. However, there are other noise sources to be addressed including the pingers and transponders associated with locating receiver nodes, as well as propeller noise from the vessel fleet. Seismic Source Array The seismic sources to be used will include 880 and 1,760 cubic inch (in3) sleeve airgun arrays for use in the deeper waters, and a 440 in3 array in the very shallow (<1.5 m deep) water locations. The arrays will be towed approximately 15 to 22 m (50 to 75 ft) behind the source vessel stern, at a depth of 4 m (12 ft), and towed along predetermined source lines at speeds between 4 and 5 knots. In the shallower waters the smaller arrays will be raised to shallower depths up to 1.3 m (4.3 ft). Two vessels with full arrays will be operating simultaneously in an alternating shot mode; one vessel shooting while the other is recharging. Shot intervals are expected to be about 8 to 10 seconds for each array, resulting in an overall shot interval of 4 to 5 seconds, considering the two arrays. Operations are expected to occur 24 hours a day. Based on the manufacturer’s specifications, the 440 in3 array has a 39915 peak-peak estimated source level of 239.1 dB re 1 mPa @1 m (9.0 bar-m), and root mean square (rms) at 221.1 dB re 1 mPa. The 880 in3 array produces sound levels at source estimated at peak-peak 244.86 dB re 1 mPa @1 m (17.5 bar-m), and rms at 226.86 dB re 1 mPa. The 1,760 in3 array has a peak-peak estimated sound source of 254.55 dB re 1 mPa @1 m (53.5 bar-m), with an rms sound source of 236.55 dB re 1 mPa. The 1,760 in3 array has a sound source level approximately 10 dB higher than the 880 in3 array. Pingers and Transponders An acoustical positioning (or pinger) system will be used to position and interpolate the location of the nodes. A vessel-mounted transceiver calculates the position of the nodes by measuring the range and bearing from the transceiver to a small acoustic transponder fitted to every third node. The transceiver uses sonar to interrogate the transponders, which respond with short pulses that are used in measuring the range and bearing. The system provides a precise location of every node, as needed for accurate interpretation of the seismic data. The transceiver to be used is the Sonardyne Scout USBL, while transponders will be the Sonardyne TZ/OBN Type 7815– 000–06. Because the transceiver and transponder communicate via sonar, they produce underwater sound levels. The Scout USBL transceiver has a transmission source level of 197 dB re 1 mPa @1 m and operates at frequencies between 35 and 55 kilohertz (kHz). The transponder produces short pulses of 184 to 187 dB re 1 mPa @1 m at frequencies also between 35 and 55 kHz. Vessels Several offshore vessels will be required to support recording, shooting, and housing in the marine and transition zone environments. The exact vessels that will be used have not yet been determined. However, the types of vessels that will be used to fulfill these roles are found in Table 1. TABLE 1—VESSELS TO BE USED DURING SAE’S 3D OBN SEISMIC SURVEYS mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Vessel Size (ft) Activity and frequency Source vessel 1 ........................................... Source vessel 2 ........................................... Node equipment vessel 1 ............................ Node equipment vessel 2 ............................ Housing vessel ............................................. Mitigation vessel ........................................... Crew transport vessel .................................. Bow picker 1 ................................................ 120 × 25 ............ 80 × 25 .............. 80 × 20 .............. 80 × 20 .............. 90 × 20 .............. 30 × 20 .............. 30 × 20 .............. 30 × 20 .............. Seismic data acquisition; 24 hr operation ..................................... Seismic data acquisition; 24 hr operation ..................................... Deploying and retrieving nodes; 24 hr operation ......................... Deploying and retrieving nodes; 24 hr operation ......................... House crew; 24 hr operation ........................................................ House PSOs and crew; 24 hr operation ....................................... Transport crew; intermittent 8 hrs ................................................. Deploying and retrieving nodes; intermittent operation ................ VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 PO 00000 Frm 00003 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 Source level (dB) 179 166 165 165 200 172 192 172 39916 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices TABLE 1—VESSELS TO BE USED DURING SAE’S 3D OBN SEISMIC SURVEYS—Continued Vessel Size (ft) Activity and frequency Bow picker 2 ................................................ 30 × 20 .............. Deploying and retrieving nodes; intermittent operation ................ mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Source Vessels—Source vessels will have the ability to deploy two arrays off the stern using large A-frames and winches and have a draft shallow enough to operate in waters less than 1.5 m (5 ft) deep. On the source vessels, the airgun arrays are typically mounted on the stern deck with an umbilical that allow the arrays to be deployed and towed from the stern without having to re-rig or move arrays. A large bow deck will allow for sufficient space for source compressors and additional airgun equipment to be stored. The marine vessels likely to be used will be the same or similar to those that were acoustically measured by Aerts et al. (2008). Recording Deployment and Retrieval Vessels—Jet-driven shallow draft vessels and bow pickers will be used for the deployment and retrieval of the offshore recording equipment. These VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 vessels will be rigged with hydraulically-driven deployment-andretrieval squirters allowing for automated deployment and retrieval from the bow or stern of the vessel. These vessels will also carry the recording equipment on the deck in fish totes. Housing and Transfer Vessels—The housing vessel will be larger than the recording deployment and retrieval vessels, with sufficient berthing to house crews and management. The housing vessel will have ample office and bridge space to facilitate its role as the mother ship and central operations. The crew transfer vessel will be sufficiently large to safely transfer crew between vessels as needed. The crew transfer vessel travels only infrequently, relative to other vessels, and is usually operated at different speeds. Mitigation Vessel—To facilitate marine mammal monitoring of the Level PO 00000 Frm 00004 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Source level (dB) 172 B harassment zone, one dedicated vessel will be deployed a few kilometers northeast of the active seismic source vessels to provide a survey platform for 2 or 3 Protected Species Observers (PSOs). These PSOs will work in concert with PSOs stationed aboard the source vessels, and will provide an early warning of the approach of any bowhead whale, beluga, or other marine mammal. It is assumed that the vessel will be of similar size and acoustical signature as a bow picker. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity The Beaufort Sea supports a diverse assemblage of marine mammals. Table 2 lists the 12 marine mammal species under NMFS jurisdiction with confirmed or possible occurrence in the proposed project area. E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 The highlighted (grayed out) species in Table 2 are so rarely sighted in the proposed project area that take is unlikely. Minke whales are relatively common in the Bering and southern Chukchi Seas and have recently also been sighted in the northeastern Chukchi Sea (Aerts et al., 2013; Clarke et al., 2013). Minke whales are rare in the Beaufort Sea. They have not been reported in the Beaufort Sea during the Bowhead Whale Aerial Survey Project/ Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 Mammals (BWASP/ASAMM) surveys (Clarke et al., 2011, 2012, 2013; Monnet and Treacy, 2005), and there was only one observation in 2007 during vesselbased surveys in the region (Funk et al., 2010). Humpback whales have not generally been found in the Arctic Ocean. However, subsistence hunters have spotted humpback whales in low numbers around Barrow, and there have been several confirmed sightings of humpback whales in the northeastern Chukchi Sea in recent years (Aerts et al., PO 00000 Frm 00005 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39917 2013; Clarke et al., 2013). The first confirmed sighting of a humpback whale in the Beaufort Sea was recorded in August 2007 (Hashagen et al., 2009), when a cow and calf were observed 54 mi east of Point Barrow. No additional sightings have been documented in the Beaufort Sea. Narwhal are common in the waters of northern Canada, west Greenland, and in the European Arctic, but rarely occur in the Beaufort Sea (COSEWIC, 2004). Only a handful of sightings have occurred in Alaskan E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 EN10JY14.238</GPH> mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices 39918 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 waters (Allen and Angliss, 2013). These three species are not considered further in this proposed IHA notice. Both the walrus and the polar bear could occur in the U.S. Beaufort Sea; however, these species are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and are not considered further in this Notice of Proposed IHA. The Beaufort Sea is a main corridor of the bowhead whale migration route. The main migration periods occur in spring from April to June and in fall from late August/early September through October to early November. During the fall migration, several locations in the U.S. Beaufort Sea serve as feeding grounds for bowhead whales. Small numbers of bowhead whales that remain in the U.S. Arctic Ocean during summer also feed in these areas. The U.S. Beaufort Sea is not a main feeding or calving area for any other cetacean species. Ringed seals breed and pup in the Beaufort Sea; however, this does not occur during the summer or early fall. Further information on the biology and local distribution of these species can be found in SAE’s application (see ADDRESSES) and the NMFS Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports, which are available online at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/. Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that the types of stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., seismic airgun and pinger operation, vessel movement) have been observed to or are thought to impact marine mammals. This section may include a discussion of known effects that do not rise to the level of an MMPA take (for example, with acoustics, we may include a discussion of studies that showed animals not reacting at all to sound or exhibiting barely measurable avoidance). The discussion may also include reactions that we consider to rise to the level of a take and those that we do not consider to rise to the level of a take. This section is intended as a background of potential effects and does not consider either the specific manner in which this activity will be carried out or the mitigation that will be implemented or how either of those will shape the anticipated impacts from this specific activity. The ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment’’ section later in this document will include a quantitative analysis of the number of individuals that are expected to be taken by this activity. The ‘‘Negligible Impact Analysis’’ section will include the analysis of how this specific activity will impact marine mammals and will VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 consider the content of this section, the ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment’’ section, the ‘‘Mitigation’’ section, and the ‘‘Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat’’ section to draw conclusions regarding the likely impacts of this activity on the reproductive success or survivorship of individuals and from that on the affected marine mammal populations or stocks. Background on Sound Sound is a physical phenomenon consisting of minute vibrations that travel through a medium, such as air or water, and is generally characterized by several variables. Frequency describes the sound’s pitch and is measured in hertz (Hz) or kilohertz (kHz), while sound level describes the sound’s intensity and is measured in decibels (dB). Sound level increases or decreases exponentially with each dB of change. The logarithmic nature of the scale means that each 10-dB increase is a 10fold increase in acoustic power (and a 20-dB increase is then a 100-fold increase in power). A 10-fold increase in acoustic power does not mean that the sound is perceived as being 10 times louder, however. Sound levels are compared to a reference sound pressure (micro-Pascal) to identify the medium. For air and water, these reference pressures are ‘‘re: 20 mPa’’ and ‘‘re: 1 mPa,’’ respectively. Root mean square (RMS) is the quadratic mean sound pressure over the duration of an impulse. RMS is calculated by squaring all of the sound amplitudes, averaging the squares, and then taking the square root of the average (Urick, 1975). RMS accounts for both positive and negative values; squaring the pressures makes all values positive so that they may be accounted for in the summation of pressure levels. This measurement is often used in the context of discussing behavioral effects, in part, because behavioral effects, which often result from auditory cues, may be better expressed through averaged units rather than by peak pressures. Acoustic Impacts When considering the influence of various kinds of sound on the marine environment, it is necessary to understand that different kinds of marine life are sensitive to different frequencies of sound. Based on available behavioral data, audiograms have been derived using auditory evoked potentials, anatomical modeling, and other data, Southall et al. (2007) designate ‘‘functional hearing groups’’ for marine mammals and estimate the lower and upper frequencies of PO 00000 Frm 00006 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 functional hearing of the groups. The functional groups and the associated frequencies are indicated below (though animals are less sensitive to sounds at the outer edge of their functional range and most sensitive to sounds of frequencies within a smaller range somewhere in the middle of their functional hearing range): • Low frequency cetaceans (13 species of mysticetes): Functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 7 Hz and 30 kHz; • Mid-frequency cetaceans (32 species of dolphins, six species of larger toothed whales, and 19 species of beaked and bottlenose whales): Functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 150 Hz and 160 kHz; • High frequency cetaceans (eight species of true porpoises, six species of river dolphins, Kogia, the franciscana, and four species of cephalorhynchids): Functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 200 Hz and 180 kHz; • Phocid pinnipeds in Water: Functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 75 Hz and 100 kHz; and • Otariid pinnipeds in Water: Functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 100 Hz and 40 kHz. As mentioned previously in this document, nine marine mammal species (five cetaceans and four phocid pinnipeds) may occur in the proposed seismic survey area. Of the five cetacean species likely to occur in the proposed project area and for which take is requested, two are classified as lowfrequency cetaceans (i.e., bowhead and gray whales), two are classified as midfrequency cetaceans (i.e., beluga and killer whales), and one is classified as a high-frequency cetacean (i.e., harbor porpoise) (Southall et al., 2007). A species functional hearing group is a consideration when we analyze the effects of exposure to sound on marine mammals. 1. Tolerance Numerous studies have shown that underwater sounds from industry activities are often readily detectable by marine mammals in the water at distances of many kilometers. Numerous studies have also shown that marine mammals at distances more than a few kilometers away often show no apparent response to industry activities of various types (Miller et al., 2005; Bain and Williams, 2006). This is often true even in cases when the sounds must be readily audible to the animals based on measured received levels and the E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices hearing sensitivity of that mammal group. Although various baleen whales, toothed whales, and (less frequently) pinnipeds have been shown to react behaviorally to underwater sound such as airgun pulses or vessels under some conditions, at other times mammals of all three types have shown no overt reactions (e.g., Malme et al., 1986; Richardson et al., 1995). Weir (2008) observed marine mammal responses to seismic pulses from a 24 airgun array firing a total volume of either 5,085 in3 or 3,147 in3 in Angolan waters between August 2004 and May 2005. Weir recorded a total of 207 sightings of humpback whales (n = 66), sperm whales (n = 124), and Atlantic spotted dolphins (n = 17) and reported that there were no significant differences in encounter rates (sightings/hr) for humpback and sperm whales according to the airgun array’s operational status (i.e., active versus silent). The airgun arrays used in the Weir (2008) study were much larger than the array proposed for use during this seismic survey (total discharge volumes of 620 to 1,240 in3). In general, pinnipeds and small odontocetes seem to be more tolerant of exposure to some types of underwater sound than are baleen whales. Richardson et al. (1995) found that vessel noise does not seem to strongly affect pinnipeds that are already in the water. Richardson et al. (1995) went on to explain that seals on haul-outs sometimes respond strongly to the presence of vessels and at other times appear to show considerable tolerance of vessels. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 2. Masking Masking is the obscuring of sounds of interest by other sounds, often at similar frequencies. Marine mammals use acoustic signals for a variety of purposes, which differ among species, but include communication between individuals, navigation, foraging, reproduction, avoiding predators, and learning about their environment (Erbe and Farmer, 2000). Masking, or auditory interference, generally occurs when sounds in the environment are louder than, and of a similar frequency as, auditory signals an animal is trying to receive. Masking is a phenomenon that affects animals that are trying to receive acoustic information about their environment, including sounds from other members of their species, predators, prey, and sounds that allow them to orient in their environment. Masking these acoustic signals can disturb the behavior of individual animals, groups of animals, or entire populations. VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 Masking occurs when anthropogenic sounds and signals (that the animal utilizes) overlap at both spectral and temporal scales. For the airgun sound generated from the proposed seismic survey, sound will consist of low frequency (under 500 Hz) pulses with extremely short durations (less than one second). Lower frequency man-made sounds are more likely to affect detection of communication calls and other potentially important natural sounds such as surf and prey noise. There is little concern regarding masking near the sound source due to the brief duration of these pulses and relatively longer silence between airgun shots (approximately 5–6 seconds). However, at long distances (over tens of kilometers away), due to multipath propagation and reverberation, the durations of airgun pulses can be ‘‘stretched’’ to seconds with long decays (Madsen et al., 2006), although the intensity of the sound is greatly reduced. This could affect communication signals used by low frequency mysticetes when they occur near the noise band and thus reduce the communication space of animals (e.g., Clark et al., 2009) and cause increased stress levels (e.g., Foote et al., 2004; Holt et al., 2009). Marine mammals are thought to be able to compensate for masking by adjusting their acoustic behavior by shifting call frequencies, and/or increasing call volume and vocalization rates. For example, blue whales are found to increase call rates when exposed to seismic survey noise in the St. Lawrence Estuary (Di Iorio and Clark, 2010). The North Atlantic right whales exposed to high shipping noise increase call frequency (Parks et al., 2007), while some humpback whales respond to low-frequency active sonar playbacks by increasing song length (Miller el al., 2000). Bowhead whale calls are frequently detected in the presence of seismic pulses, although the number of calls detected may sometimes be reduced (Richardson et al., 1986), possibly because animals moved away from the sound source or ceased calling (Blackwell et al., 2013). Additionally, beluga whales have been known to change their vocalizations in the presence of high background noise possibly to avoid masking calls (Lesage et al., 1999; Scheifele et al., 2005). Although some degree of masking is inevitable when high levels of manmade broadband sounds are introduced into the sea, marine mammals have evolved systems and behavior that function to reduce the impacts of masking. Structured signals, such as the PO 00000 Frm 00007 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39919 echolocation click sequences of small toothed whales, may be readily detected even in the presence of strong background noise because their frequency content and temporal features usually differ strongly from those of the background noise (Au and Moore, 1990). The components of background noise that are similar in frequency to the sound signal in question primarily determine the degree of masking of that signal. Redundancy and context can also facilitate detection of weak signals. These phenomena may help marine mammals detect weak sounds in the presence of natural or manmade noise. Most masking studies in marine mammals present the test signal and the masking noise from the same direction. The sound localization abilities of marine mammals suggest that, if signal and noise come from different directions, masking would not be as severe as the usual types of masking studies might suggest (Richardson et al., 1995). The dominant background noise may be highly directional if it comes from a particular anthropogenic source such as a ship or industrial site. Directional hearing may significantly reduce the masking effects of these sounds by improving the effective signal-to-noise ratio. In the cases of higher frequency hearing by the bottlenose dolphin, beluga whale, and killer whale, empirical evidence confirms that masking depends strongly on the relative directions of arrival of sound signals and the masking noise (Dubrovskiy, 1990; Bain and Dahlheim, 1994). Toothed whales, and probably other marine mammals as well, have additional capabilities besides directional hearing that can facilitate detection of sounds in the presence of background noise. There is evidence that some toothed whales can shift the dominant frequencies of their echolocation signals from a frequency range with a lot of ambient noise toward frequencies with less noise (Moore and Pawloski, 1990; Thomas and Turl, 1990; Romanenko and Kitain, 1992; Lesage et al., 1999). A few marine mammal species are known to increase the source levels or alter the frequency of their calls in the presence of elevated sound levels (Dahlheim, 1987; Lesage et al., 1999; Foote et al., 2004; Parks et al., 2007, 2009; Di Iorio and Clark, 2009; Holt et al., 2009). These data demonstrating adaptations for reduced masking pertain mainly to the very high frequency echolocation signals of toothed whales. There is less information about the existence of corresponding mechanisms at moderate or low frequencies or in other types of E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39920 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 marine mammals. For example, Zaitseva et al. (1980) found that, for the bottlenose dolphin, the angular separation between a sound source and a masking noise source had little effect on the degree of masking when the sound frequency was 18 kHz, in contrast to the pronounced effect at higher frequencies. Directional hearing has been demonstrated at frequencies as low as 0.5–2 kHz in several marine mammals, including killer whales (Richardson et al., 1995). This ability may be useful in reducing masking at these frequencies. In summary, high levels of sound generated by anthropogenic activities may act to mask the detection of weaker biologically important sounds by some marine mammals. This masking may be more prominent for lower frequencies. For higher frequencies, such as that used in echolocation by toothed whales, several mechanisms are available that may allow them to reduce the effects of such masking. 3. Behavioral Disturbance Marine mammals may behaviorally react when exposed to anthropogenic sound. These behavioral reactions are often shown as: Changing durations of surfacing and dives, number of blows per surfacing, or moving direction and/ or speed; reduced/increased vocal activities; changing/cessation of certain behavioral activities (such as socializing or feeding); visible startle response or aggressive behavior (such as tail/fluke slapping or jaw clapping); avoidance of areas where sound sources are located; and/or flight responses (e.g., pinnipeds flushing into water from haulouts or rookeries). The biological significance of many of these behavioral disturbances is difficult to predict, especially if the detected disturbances appear minor. However, the consequences of behavioral modification have the potential to be biologically significant if the change affects growth, survival, or reproduction. Examples of significant behavioral modifications include: • Drastic change in diving/surfacing patterns (such as those thought to be causing beaked whale stranding due to exposure to military mid-frequency tactical sonar); • Habitat abandonment due to loss of desirable acoustic environment; and • Cessation of feeding or social interaction. The onset of behavioral disturbance from anthropogenic noise depends on both external factors (characteristics of noise sources and their paths) and the receiving animals (hearing, motivation, experience, demography, current VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 activity, reproductive state) and is also difficult to predict (Gordon et al., 2004; Southall et al., 2007; Ellison et al., 2011). Mysticetes: Baleen whales generally tend to avoid operating airguns, but avoidance radii are quite variable. Whales are often reported to show no overt reactions to pulses from large arrays of airguns at distances beyond a few kilometers, even though the airgun pulses remain well above ambient noise levels out to much greater distances (Miller et al., 2005). However, baleen whales exposed to strong noise pulses often react by deviating from their normal migration route (Richardson et al., 1999). Migrating gray and bowhead whales were observed avoiding the sound source by displacing their migration route to varying degrees but within the natural boundaries of the migration corridors (Schick and Urban, 2000; Richardson et al., 1999). Baleen whale responses to pulsed sound however may depend on the type of activity in which the whales are engaged. Some evidence suggests that feeding bowhead whales may be more tolerant of underwater sound than migrating bowheads (Miller et al., 2005; Lyons et al., 2009; Christie et al., 2010). Results of studies of gray, bowhead, and humpback whales have determined that received levels of pulses in the 160–170 dB re 1 mPa rms range seem to cause obvious avoidance behavior in a substantial fraction of the animals exposed. In many areas, seismic pulses from large arrays of airguns diminish to those levels at distances ranging from 2.8–9 mi (4.5–14.5 km) from the source. For the much smaller airgun array used during BP’s proposed survey (total discharge volume of 640 in3), distances to received levels in the 160 dB re 1 mPa rms range are estimated to be 0.5–3 mi (0.8–5 km). Baleen whales within those distances may show avoidance or other strong disturbance reactions to the airgun array. Subtle behavioral changes sometimes become evident at somewhat lower received levels, and recent studies have shown that some species of baleen whales, notably bowhead and humpback whales, at times show strong avoidance at received levels lower than 160–170 dB re 1 mPa rms. Bowhead whales migrating west across the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in autumn, in particular, are unusually responsive, with avoidance occurring out to distances of 12.4–18.6 mi (20–30 km) from a medium-sized airgun source (Miller et al., 1999; Richardson et al., 1999). However, more recent research on bowhead whales (Miller et al., 2005) corroborates earlier evidence that, during the summer feeding season, PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 bowheads are not as sensitive to seismic sources. In summer, bowheads typically begin to show avoidance reactions at a received level of about 160–170 dB re 1 mPa rms (Richardson et al., 1986; Ljungblad et al., 1988; Miller et al., 2005). Malme et al. (1986) studied the responses of feeding eastern gray whales to pulses from a single 100 in3 airgun off St. Lawrence Island in the northern Bering Sea. They estimated, based on small sample sizes, that 50% of feeding gray whales ceased feeding at an average received pressure level of 173 dB re 1 mPa on an (approximate) rms basis, and that 10% of feeding whales interrupted feeding at received levels of 163 dB. Those findings were generally consistent with the results of experiments conducted on larger numbers of gray whales that were migrating along the California coast and on observations of the distribution of feeding Western Pacific gray whales off Sakhalin Island, Russia, during a seismic survey (Yazvenko et al., 2007). Data on short-term reactions (or lack of reactions) of cetaceans to impulsive noises do not necessarily provide information about long-term effects. While it is not certain whether impulsive noises affect reproductive rate or distribution and habitat use in subsequent days or years, certain species have continued to use areas ensonified by airguns and have continued to increase in number despite successive years of anthropogenic activity in the area. Gray whales continued to migrate annually along the west coast of North America despite intermittent seismic exploration and much ship traffic in that area for decades (Appendix A in Malme et al., 1984). Bowhead whales continued to travel to the eastern Beaufort Sea each summer despite seismic exploration in their summer and autumn range for many years (Richardson et al., 1987). Populations of both gray whales and bowhead whales grew substantially during this time. In any event, the proposed survey will occur in summer (July through late August) when most bowhead whales are commonly feeding in the Mackenzie River Delta, Canada. Patenaude et al. (2002) reported fewer behavioral responses to aircraft overflights by bowhead compared to beluga whales. Behaviors classified as reactions consisted of short surfacings, immediate dives or turns, changes in behavior state, vigorous swimming, and breaching. Most bowhead reaction resulted from exposure to helicopter activity and little response to fixed-wing aircraft was observed. Most reactions occurred when the helicopter was at E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices altitudes ≤492 ft (150 m) and lateral distances ≤820 ft (250 m; Nowacek et al., 2007). During their study, Patenaude et al. (2002) observed one bowhead whale cow-calf pair during four passes totaling 2.8 hours of the helicopter and two pairs during Twin Otter overflights. All of the helicopter passes were at altitudes of 49–98 ft (15–30 m). The mother dove both times she was at the surface, and the calf dove once out of the four times it was at the surface. For the cow-calf pair sightings during Twin Otter overflights, the authors did not note any behaviors specific to those pairs. Rather, the reactions of the cow-calf pairs were lumped with the reactions of other groups that did not consist of calves. Richardson et al. (1995) and Moore and Clarke (2002) reviewed a few studies that observed responses of gray whales to aircraft. Cow-calf pairs were quite sensitive to a turboprop survey flown at 1,000 ft (305 m) altitude on the Alaskan summering grounds. In that survey, adults were seen swimming over the calf, or the calf swam under the adult (Ljungblad et al., 1983, cited in Richardson et al., 1995 and Moore and Clarke, 2002). However, when the same aircraft circled for more than 10 minutes at 1,050 ft (320 m) altitude over a group of mating gray whales, no reactions were observed (Ljungblad et al., 1987, cited in Moore and Clarke, 2002). Malme et al. (1984, cited in Richardson et al., 1995 and Moore and Clarke, 2002) conducted playback experiments on migrating gray whales. They exposed the animals to underwater noise recorded from a Bell 212 helicopter (estimated altitude=328 ft [100 m]), at an average of three simulated passes per minute. The authors observed that whales changed their swimming course and sometimes slowed down in response to the playback sound but proceeded to migrate past the transducer. Migrating gray whales did not react overtly to a Bell 212 helicopter at greater than 1,394 ft (425 m) altitude, occasionally reacted when the helicopter was at 1,000–1,198 ft (305– 365 m), and usually reacted when it was below 825 ft (250 m; Southwest Research Associates, 1988, cited in Richardson et al., 1995 and Moore and Clarke, 2002). Reactions noted in that study included abrupt turns or dives or both. Greene et al. (1992, cited in Richardson et al., 1995) observed that migrating gray whales rarely exhibited noticeable reactions to a straight-line overflight by a Twin Otter at 197 ft (60 m) altitude. Odontocetes: Few systematic data are available describing reactions of toothed whales to noise pulses. However, VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 systematic work on sperm whales is underway, and there is an increasing amount of information about responses of various odontocetes to seismic surveys based on monitoring studies (e.g., Stone, 2003). Miller et al. (2009) conducted at-sea experiments where reactions of sperm whales were monitored through the use of controlled sound exposure experiments from large airgun arrays consisting of 20-guns and 31-guns. Of 8 sperm whales observed, none changed their behavior when exposed to either a ramp-up at 4–8 mi (7–13 km) or full array exposures at 0.6– 8 mi (1–13 km). Seismic operators and marine mammal observers sometimes see dolphins and other small toothed whales near operating airgun arrays, but, in general, there seems to be a tendency for most delphinids to show some limited avoidance of seismic vessels operating large airgun systems. However, some dolphins seem to be attracted to the seismic vessel and floats, and some ride the bow wave of the seismic vessel even when large arrays of airguns are firing. Nonetheless, there have been indications that small toothed whales sometimes move away or maintain a somewhat greater distance from the vessel when a large array of airguns is operating than when it is silent (e.g., 1998; Stone, 2003). The beluga may be a species that (at least in certain geographic areas) shows longdistance avoidance of seismic vessels. Aerial surveys during seismic operations in the southeastern Beaufort Sea recorded much lower sighting rates of beluga whales within 10–20 km (6.2– 12.4 mi) of an active seismic vessel. These results were consistent with the low number of beluga sightings reported by observers aboard the seismic vessel, suggesting that some belugas might have been avoiding the seismic operations at distances of 10–20 km (6.2–12.4 mi) (Miller et al., 2005). Captive bottlenose dolphins and (of more relevance in this project) beluga whales exhibit changes in behavior when exposed to strong pulsed sounds similar in duration to those typically used in seismic surveys (Finneran et al., 2002, 2005). However, the animals tolerated high received levels of sound (pk–pk level >200 dB re 1 mPa) before exhibiting aversive behaviors. Observers stationed on seismic vessels operating off the United Kingdom from 1997–2000 have provided data on the occurrence and behavior of various toothed whales exposed to seismic pulses (Stone, 2003; Gordon et al., 2004). Killer whales were found to be significantly farther from large airgun arrays during periods of PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39921 shooting compared with periods of no shooting. The displacement of the median distance from the array was approximately 0.5 km (0.3 mi) or more. Killer whales also appear to be more tolerant of seismic shooting in deeper water. Reactions of toothed whales to large arrays of airguns are variable and, at least for delphinids, seem to be confined to a smaller radius than has been observed for mysticetes. However, based on the limited existing evidence, belugas should not be grouped with delphinids in the ‘‘less responsive’’ category. Patenaude et al. (2002) reported that beluga whales appeared to be more responsive to aircraft overflights than bowhead whales. Changes were observed in diving and respiration behavior, and some whales veered away when a helicopter passed at ≤820 ft (250 m) lateral distance at altitudes up to 492 ft (150 m). However, some belugas showed no reaction to the helicopter. Belugas appeared to show less response to fixed-wing aircraft than to helicopter overflights. Pinnipeds: Pinnipeds are not likely to show a strong avoidance reaction to the airgun sources proposed for use. Visual monitoring from seismic vessels has shown only slight (if any) avoidance of airguns by pinnipeds and only slight (if any) changes in behavior. Monitoring work in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea during 1996–2001 provided considerable information regarding the behavior of Arctic ice seals exposed to seismic pulses (Harris et al., 2001; Moulton and Lawson, 2002). These seismic projects usually involved arrays of 6 to 16 airguns with total volumes of 560 to 1,500 in3. The combined results suggest that some seals avoid the immediate area around seismic vessels. In most survey years, ringed seal sightings tended to be farther away from the seismic vessel when the airguns were operating than when they were not (Moulton and Lawson, 2002). However, these avoidance movements were relatively small, on the order of 100 m (328 ft) to a few hundreds of meters, and many seals remained within 100–200 m (328–656 ft) of the trackline as the operating airgun array passed by. Seal sighting rates at the water surface were lower during airgun array operations than during no-airgun periods in each survey year except 1997. Similarly, seals are often very tolerant of pulsed sounds from seal-scaring devices (Richardson et al., 1995). However, initial telemetry work suggests that avoidance and other behavioral reactions by two other species of seals to small airgun sources may at times be stronger than evident to E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39922 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 date from visual studies of pinniped reactions to airguns (Thompson et al., 1998). Even if reactions of the species occurring in the present study area are as strong as those evident in the telemetry study, reactions are expected to be confined to relatively small distances and durations, with no longterm effects on pinniped individuals or populations. Blackwell et al. (2004) observed 12 ringed seals during low-altitude overflights of a Bell 212 helicopter at Northstar in June and July 2000 (9 observations took place concurrent with pipe-driving activities). One seal showed no reaction to the aircraft while the remaining 11 (92%) reacted, either by looking at the helicopter (n=10) or by departing from their basking site (n=1). Blackwell et al. (2004) concluded that none of the reactions to helicopters were strong or long lasting, and that seals near Northstar in June and July 2000 probably had habituated to industrial sounds and visible activities that had occurred often during the preceding winter and spring. There have been few systematic studies of pinniped reactions to aircraft overflights, and most of the available data concern pinnipeds hauled out on land or ice rather than pinnipeds in the water (Richardson et al., 1995; Born et al., 1999). 4. Threshold Shift (Noise-Induced Loss of Hearing) When animals exhibit reduced hearing sensitivity (i.e., sounds must be louder for an animal to detect them) following exposure to an intense sound or sound for long duration, it is referred to as a noise-induced threshold shift (TS). An animal can experience temporary threshold shift (TTS) or permanent threshold shift (PTS). TTS can last from minutes or hours to days (i.e., there is complete recovery), can occur in specific frequency ranges (i.e., an animal might only have a temporary loss of hearing sensitivity between the frequencies of 1 and 10 kHz), and can be of varying amounts (for example, an animal’s hearing sensitivity might be reduced initially by only 6 dB or reduced by 30 dB). PTS is permanent, but some recovery is possible. PTS can also occur in a specific frequency range and amount as mentioned above for TTS. The following physiological mechanisms are thought to play a role in inducing auditory TS: Effects to sensory hair cells in the inner ear that reduce their sensitivity, modification of the chemical environment within the sensory cells, residual muscular activity in the middle ear, displacement of certain inner ear membranes, increased VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 blood flow, and post-stimulatory reduction in both efferent and sensory neural output (Southall et al., 2007). The amplitude, duration, frequency, temporal pattern, and energy distribution of sound exposure all can affect the amount of associated TS and the frequency range in which it occurs. As amplitude and duration of sound exposure increase, so, generally, does the amount of TS, along with the recovery time. For intermittent sounds, less TS could occur than compared to a continuous exposure with the same energy (some recovery could occur between intermittent exposures depending on the duty cycle between sounds) (Ward, 1997). For example, one short but loud (higher SPL) sound exposure may induce the same impairment as one longer but softer sound, which in turn may cause more impairment than a series of several intermittent softer sounds with the same total energy (Ward, 1997). Additionally, though TTS is temporary, prolonged exposure to sounds strong enough to elicit TTS, or shorter-term exposure to sound levels well above the TTS threshold, can cause PTS, at least in terrestrial mammals. Although in the case of the proposed seismic survey, animals are not expected to be exposed to sound levels high for a long enough period to result in PTS. PTS is considered auditory injury (Southall et al., 2007). Irreparable damage to the inner or outer cochlear hair cells may cause PTS; however, other mechanisms are also involved, such as exceeding the elastic limits of certain tissues and membranes in the middle and inner ears and resultant changes in the chemical composition of the inner ear fluids (Southall et al., 2007). Although the published body of scientific literature contains numerous theoretical studies and discussion papers on hearing impairments that can occur with exposure to a loud sound, only a few studies provide empirical information on the levels at which noise-induced loss in hearing sensitivity occurs in nonhuman animals. For marine mammals, published data are limited to the captive bottlenose dolphin, beluga, harbor porpoise, and Yangtze finless porpoise (Finneran et al., 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007; Finneran and Schlundt, 2010; Lucke et al., 2009; Mooney et al., 2009; Popov et al., 2011a, 2011b; Kastelein et al., 2012a; Schlundt et al., 2006; Nachtigall et al., 2003, 2004). For pinnipeds in water, data are limited to measurements of TTS in harbor seals, an elephant seal, and California sea lions (Kastak et al., 2005; Kastelein et al., 2012b). PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Marine mammal hearing plays a critical role in communication with conspecifics, and interpretation of environmental cues for purposes such as predator avoidance and prey capture. Depending on the degree (elevation of threshold in dB), duration (i.e., recovery time), and frequency range of TTS, and the context in which it is experienced, TTS can have effects on marine mammals ranging from discountable to serious (similar to those discussed in auditory masking, below). For example, a marine mammal may be able to readily compensate for a brief, relatively small amount of TTS in a non-critical frequency range that occurs during a time where ambient noise is lower and there are not as many competing sounds present. Alternatively, a larger amount and longer duration of TTS sustained during time when communication is critical for successful mother/calf interactions could have more serious impacts. Also, depending on the degree and frequency range, the effects of PTS on an animal could range in severity, although it is considered generally more serious because it is a permanent condition. Of note, reduced hearing sensitivity as a simple function of aging has been observed in marine mammals, as well as humans and other taxa (Southall et al., 2007), so we can infer that strategies exist for coping with this condition to some degree, though likely not without cost. Marine mammals are unlikely to be exposed to received levels of seismic pulses strong enough to cause more than slight TTS, and, given the higher level of sound necessary to cause PTS, it is even less likely that PTS could occur as a result of the proposed seismic survey. 5. Non-Auditory Physical Effects Non-auditory physical effects might occur in marine mammals exposed to strong underwater sound. Possible types of non-auditory physiological effects or injuries that theoretically might occur in mammals close to a strong sound source include stress, neurological effects, bubble formation, and other types of organ or tissue damage. Some marine mammal species (i.e., beaked whales) may be especially susceptible to injury and/or stranding when exposed to strong pulsed sounds. Classic stress responses begin when an animal’s central nervous system perceives a potential threat to its homeostasis. That perception triggers stress responses regardless of whether a stimulus actually threatens the animal; the mere perception of a threat is sufficient to trigger a stress response (Moberg, 2000; Sapolsky et al., 2005; Seyle, 1950). Once an animal’s central E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices nervous system perceives a threat, it mounts a biological response or defense that consists of a combination of the four general biological defense responses: behavioral responses; autonomic nervous system responses; neuroendocrine responses; or immune responses. In the case of many stressors, an animal’s first and most economical (in terms of biotic costs) response is behavioral avoidance of the potential stressor or avoidance of continued exposure to a stressor. An animal’s second line of defense to stressors involves the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system and the classical ‘‘fight or flight’’ response, which includes the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, the exocrine glands, and the adrenal medulla to produce changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and gastrointestinal activity that humans commonly associate with ‘‘stress.’’ These responses have a relatively short duration and may or may not have significant long-term effects on an animal’s welfare. An animal’s third line of defense to stressors involves its neuroendocrine or sympathetic nervous systems; the system that has received the most study has been the hypothalmus-pituitaryadrenal system (also known as the HPA axis in mammals or the hypothalamuspituitary-interrenal axis in fish and some reptiles). Unlike stress responses associated with the autonomic nervous system, virtually all neuroendocrine functions that are affected by stress— including immune competence, reproduction, metabolism, and behavior—are regulated by pituitary hormones. Stress-induced changes in the secretion of pituitary hormones have been implicated in failed reproduction (Moberg, 1987), altered metabolism (Elasser et al., 2000), reduced immune competence (Blecha, 2000), and behavioral disturbance. Increases in the circulation of glucocorticosteroids (cortisol, corticosterone, and aldosterone in marine mammals; see Romano et al., 2004) have been equated with stress for many years. The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does not normally place an animal at risk) and distress is the biotic cost of the response. During a stress response, an animal uses glycogen stores that can be quickly replenished once the stress is alleviated. In such circumstances, the cost of the stress response would not pose a risk to the animal’s welfare. However, when an animal does not have sufficient energy reserves to satisfy the energetic costs of a stress response, energy resources must be diverted from VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 other biotic functions, which impair those functions that experience the diversion. For example, when mounting a stress response diverts energy away from growth in young animals, those animals may experience stunted growth. When mounting a stress response diverts energy from a fetus, an animal’s reproductive success and fitness will suffer. In these cases, the animals will have entered a pre-pathological or pathological state which is called ‘‘distress’’ (sensu Seyle, 1950) or ‘‘allostatic loading’’ (sensu McEwen and Wingfield, 2003). This pathological state will last until the animal replenishes its biotic reserves sufficient to restore normal function. Note that these examples involved a long-term (days or weeks) stress response exposure to stimuli. Relationships between these physiological mechanisms, animal behavior, and the costs of stress responses have also been documented fairly well through controlled experiment; because this physiology exists in every vertebrate that has been studied, it is not surprising that stress responses and their costs have been documented in both laboratory and freeliving animals (for examples see, Holberton et al., 1996; Hood et al., 1998; Jessop et al., 2003; Krausman et al., 2004; Lankford et al., 2005; Reneerkens et al., 2002; Thompson and Hamer, 2000). Although no information has been collected on the physiological responses of marine mammals to anthropogenic sound exposure, studies of other marine animals and terrestrial animals would lead us to expect some marine mammals to experience physiological stress responses and, perhaps, physiological responses that would be classified as ‘‘distress’’ upon exposure to anthropogenic sounds. For example, Jansen (1998) reported on the relationship between acoustic exposures and physiological responses that are indicative of stress responses in humans (e.g., elevated respiration and increased heart rates). Jones (1998) reported on reductions in human performance when faced with acute, repetitive exposures to acoustic disturbance. Trimper et al. (1998) reported on the physiological stress responses of osprey to low-level aircraft noise while Krausman et al. (2004) reported on the auditory and physiology stress responses of endangered Sonoran pronghorn to military overflights. Smith et al. (2004a, 2004b) identified noiseinduced physiological transient stress responses in hearing-specialist fish (i.e., goldfish) that accompanied short- and long-term hearing losses. Welch and Welch (1970) reported physiological PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39923 and behavioral stress responses that accompanied damage to the inner ears of fish and several mammals. Hearing is one of the primary senses marine mammals use to gather information about their environment and communicate with conspecifics. Although empirical information on the relationship between sensory impairment (TTS, PTS, and acoustic masking) on marine mammals remains limited, we assume that reducing a marine mammal’s ability to gather information about its environment and communicate with other members of its species would induce stress, based on data that terrestrial animals exhibit those responses under similar conditions (NRC, 2003) and because marine mammals use hearing as their primary sensory mechanism. Therefore, we assume that acoustic exposures sufficient to trigger onset PTS or TTS would be accompanied by physiological stress responses. More importantly, marine mammals might experience stress responses at received levels lower than those necessary to trigger onset TTS. Based on empirical studies of the time required to recover from stress responses (Moberg, 2000), NMFS also assumes that stress responses could persist beyond the time interval required for animals to recover from TTS and might result in pathological and pre-pathological states that would be as significant as behavioral responses to TTS. Resonance effects (Gentry, 2002) and direct noise-induced bubble formations (Crum et al., 2005) are implausible in the case of exposure to an impulsive broadband source like an airgun array. If seismic surveys disrupt diving patterns of deep-diving species, this might result in bubble formation and a form of the bends, as speculated to occur in beaked whales exposed to sonar. However, there is no specific evidence of this upon exposure to airgun pulses. Additionally, no beaked whale species occur in the proposed project area. In general, very little is known about the potential for strong, anthropogenic underwater sounds to cause nonauditory physical effects in marine mammals. Such effects, if they occur at all, would presumably be limited to short distances and to activities that extend over a prolonged period. The available data do not allow identification of a specific exposure level above which non-auditory effects can be expected (Southall et al., 2007) or any meaningful quantitative predictions of the numbers (if any) of marine mammals that might be affected in those ways. There is no definitive E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39924 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices evidence that any of these effects occur even for marine mammals in close proximity to large arrays of airguns, which are not proposed for use during this program. In addition, marine mammals that show behavioral avoidance of industry activities, including bowheads, belugas, and some pinnipeds, are especially unlikely to incur non-auditory impairment or other physical effects. 6. Stranding and Mortality Marine mammals close to underwater detonations of high explosive can be killed or severely injured, and the auditory organs are especially susceptible to injury (Ketten et al., 1993; Ketten, 1995). Airgun pulses are less energetic and their peak amplitudes have slower rise times. To date, there is no evidence that serious injury, death, or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to airgun pulses, even in the case of large airgun arrays. Additionally, SAE’s project will use small and medium sized airgun arrays in shallow water. NMFS does not expect any marine mammals will incur serious injury or mortality in the shallow waters off Beaufort Sea or strand as a result of the proposed seismic survey. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 7. Potential Effects From Pingers on Marine Mammals Active acoustic sources other than the airguns have been proposed for SAE’s 2014 seismic survey in Beaufort Sea, Alaska. In general, the potential effects of this equipment on marine mammals are similar to those from the airguns, except the magnitude of the impacts is expected to be much less due to the lower intensity of the source. Vessel Impacts Vessel activity and noise associated with vessel activity will temporarily increase in the action area during SAE’s seismic survey as a result of the operation of about 8 vessels. To minimize the effects of vessels and noise associated with vessel activity, SAE will alter speed if a marine mammal gets too close to a vessel. In addition, source vessels will be operating at slow speed (4–5 knots) when conducting surveys. Marine mammal monitoring observers will alert vessel captains as animals are detected to ensure safe and effective measures are applied to avoid coming into direct contact with marine mammals. Therefore, NMFS neither anticipates nor authorizes takes of marine mammals from ship strikes. McCauley et al. (1996) reported several cases of humpback whales responding to vessels in Hervey Bay, VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 Australia. Results indicated clear avoidance at received levels between 118 to 124 dB in three cases for which response and received levels were observed/measured. Palka and Hammond (2001) analyzed line transect census data in which the orientation and distance off transect line were reported for large numbers of minke whales. The authors developed a method to account for effects of animal movement in response to sighting platforms. Minor changes in locomotion speed, direction, and/or diving profile were reported at ranges from 1,847 to 2,352 ft (563 to 717 m) at received levels of 110 to 120 dB. Odontocetes, such as beluga whales, killer whales, and harbor porpoises, often show tolerance to vessel activity; however, they may react at long distances if they are confined by ice, shallow water, or were previously harassed by vessels (Richardson et al., 1995). Beluga whale response to vessel noise varies greatly from tolerance to extreme sensitivity depending on the activity of the whale and previous experience with vessels (Richardson et al., 1995). Reactions to vessels depends on whale activities and experience, habitat, boat type, and boat behavior (Richardson et al., 1995) and may include behavioral responses, such as altered headings or avoidance (Blane and Jaakson, 1994; Erbe and Farmer, 2000); fast swimming; changes in vocalizations (Lesage et al., 1999; Scheifele et al., 2005); and changes in dive, surfacing, and respiration patterns. There are few data published on pinniped responses to vessel activity, and most of the information is anecdotal (Richardson et al., 1995). Generally, sea lions in water show tolerance to close and frequently approaching vessels and sometimes show interest in fishing vessels. They are less tolerant when hauled out on land; however, they rarely react unless the vessel approaches within 100–200 m (330–660 ft; reviewed in Richardson et al., 1995). The addition of the vessels and noise due to vessel operations associated with the seismic survey is not expected to have effects that could cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat The primary potential impacts to marine mammal habitat and other marine species are associated with elevated sound levels produced by airguns and other active acoustic sources. However, other potential impacts to the surrounding habitat from PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 physical disturbance are also possible. This section describes the potential impacts to marine mammal habitat from the specified activity. Because the marine mammals in the area feed on fish and/or invertebrates there is also information on the species typically preyed upon by the marine mammals in the area. Common Marine Mammal Prey in the Project Area All of the marine mammal species that may occur in the proposed project area prey on either marine fish or invertebrates. The ringed seal feeds on fish and a variety of benthic species, including crabs and shrimp. Bearded seals feed mainly on benthic organisms, primarily crabs, shrimp, and clams. Spotted seals feed on pelagic and demersal fish, as well as shrimp and cephalopods. They are known to feed on a variety of fish including herring, capelin, sand lance, Arctic cod, saffron cod, and sculpins. Ribbon seals feed primarily on pelagic fish and invertebrates, such as shrimp, crabs, squid, octopus, cod, sculpin, pollack, and capelin. Juveniles feed mostly on krill and shrimp. Bowhead whales feed in the eastern Beaufort Sea during summer and early autumn but continue feeding to varying degrees while on their migration through the central and western Beaufort Sea in the late summer and fall (Richardson and Thomson [eds.], 2002). When feeding in relatively shallow areas, bowheads feed throughout the water column. However, feeding is concentrated at depths where zooplankton is concentrated (Wursig et al., 1984, 1989; Richardson [ed.], 1987; Griffiths et al., 2002). Lowry and Sheffield (2002) found that copepods and euphausiids were the most common prey found in stomach samples from bowhead whales harvested in the Kaktovik area from 1979 to 2000. Areas to the east of Barter Island (which is approximately 120 mi east of BP’s proposed seismic area) appear to be used regularly for feeding as bowhead whales migrate slowly westward across the Beaufort Sea (Thomson and Richardson, 1987; Richardson and Thomson [eds.], 2002). Recent articles and reports have noted bowhead whales feeding in several areas of the U.S. Beaufort Sea. The Barrow area is commonly used as a feeding area during spring and fall, with a higher proportion of photographed individuals displaying evidence of feeding in fall rather than spring (Mocklin, 2009). A bowhead whale feeding ‘‘hotspot’’ (Okkonen et al., 2011) commonly forms on the western Beaufort Sea shelf off E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices Point Barrow in late summer and fall. Favorable conditions concentrate euphausiids and copepods, and bowhead whales congregate to exploit the dense prey (Ashjian et al., 2010, Moore et al., 2010; Okkonen et al., 2011). Surveys have also noted bowhead whales feeding in the Camden Bay area during the fall (Koski and Miller, 2009; Quakenbush et al., 2010). The 2006–2008 BWASP Final Report (Clarke et al., 2011a) and the 2009 BWASP Final Report (Clarke et al., 2011b) note sightings of feeding bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea during the fall season. During that 4 year period, the largest groups of feeding whales were sighted between Smith Bay and Point Barrow (hundreds of miles to the west of Prudhoe Bay), and none were sighted feeding in Camden Bay (Clarke et al., 2011a,b). Clarke and Ferguson (undated) examined the raw BWASP data from the years 2000–2009. They noted that feeding behavior was noted more often in September than October and that while bowheads were observed feeding throughout the study area (which includes the entire U.S. Beaufort Sea), sightings were less frequent in the central Alaskan Beaufort than they were east of Kaktovik and west of Smith Bay. Additionally, Clarke and Ferguson (undated) and Clarke et al. (2011b) refer to information from Ashjian et al. (2010), which describes the importance of wind-driven currents that produce favorable feeding conditions for bowhead whales in the area between Smith Bay and Point Barrow. Increased winds in that area may be increasing the incidence of upwelling, which in turn may be the reason for increased sightings of feeding bowheads in the area. Clarke and Ferguson (undated) also note that the incidence of feeding bowheads in the eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea has decreased since the early 1980s. Beluga whales feed on a variety of fish, shrimp, squid and octopus (Burns and Seaman, 1985). Very few beluga whales occur nearshore; their main migration route is much further offshore. Like several of the other species in the area, harbor porpoise feed on demersal and benthic species, mainly schooling fish and cephalopods. Depending on the type of killer whale (transient or resident), they feed on fish and/or marine mammals. However, harbor porpoises and killer whales are not commonly found in Prudhoe Bay. Gray whales are primarily bottom feeders, and benthic amphipods and isopods form the majority of their summer diet, at least in the main summering areas west of Alaska (Oliver VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 et al., 1983; Oliver and Slattery, 1985). Farther south, gray whales have also been observed feeding around kelp beds, presumably on mysid crustaceans, and on pelagic prey such as small schooling fish and crab larvae (Hatler and Darling, 1974). However, the central Beaufort Sea is not known to be a primary feeding ground for gray whales. Two kinds of fish inhabit marine waters in the study area: (1) True marine fish that spend all of their lives in salt water, and (2) anadromous species that reproduce in fresh water and spend parts of their life cycles in salt water. Most arctic marine fish species are small, benthic forms that do not feed high in the water column. The majority of these species are circumpolar and are found in habitats ranging from deep offshore water to water as shallow as 16.4–33 ft (5–10 m; Fechhelm et al., 1995). The most important pelagic species, and the only abundant pelagic species, is the Arctic cod. The Arctic cod is a major vector for the transfer of energy from lower to higher trophic levels (Bradstreet et al., 1986). In summer, Arctic cod can form very large schools in both nearshore and offshore waters (Craig et al., 1982; Bradstreet et al., 1986). Locations and areas frequented by large schools of Arctic cod cannot be predicted but can be almost anywhere. The Arctic cod is a major food source for beluga whales, ringed seals, and numerous species of seabirds (Frost and Lowry, 1984; Bradstreet et al., 1986). Anadromous Dolly Varden char and some species of whitefish winter in rivers and lakes, migrate to the sea in spring and summer, and return to fresh water in autumn. Anadromous fish form the basis of subsistence, commercial, and small regional sport fisheries. Dolly Varden char migrate to the sea from May through mid-June (Johnson, 1980) and spend about 1.5–2.5 months there (Craig, 1989). They return to rivers beginning in late July or early August with the peak return migration occurring between mid-August and early September (Johnson, 1980). At sea, most anadromous corregonids (whitefish) remain in nearshore waters within several kilometers of shore (Craig, 1984, 1989). They are often termed ‘‘amphidromous’’ fish in that they make repeated annual migrations into marine waters to feed, returning each fall to overwinter in fresh water. Benthic organisms are defined as bottom dwelling creatures. Infaunal organisms are benthic organisms that live within the substrate and are often sedentary or sessile (bivalves, polychaetes). Epibenthic organisms live on or near the bottom surface sediments PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39925 and are mobile (amphipods, isopods, mysids, and some polychaetes). Epifauna, which live attached to hard substrates, are rare in the Beaufort Sea because hard substrates are scarce there. A small community of epifauna, the Boulder Patch, occurs in Stefansson Sound. Many of the nearshore benthic marine invertebrates of the Arctic are circumpolar and are found over a wide range of water depths (Carey et al., 1975). Species identified include polychaetes (Spio filicornis, Chaetozone setosa, Eteone longa), bivalves (Cryrtodaria kurriana, Nucula tenuis, Liocyma fluctuosa), an isopod (Saduria entomon), and amphipods (Pontoporeia femorata, P. affinis). Nearshore benthic fauna have been studied in Beaufort Sea lagoons and near the mouth of the Colville River (Kinney et al., 1971, 1972; Crane and Cooney, 1975). The waters of Simpson Lagoon, Harrison Bay, and the nearshore region support a number of infaunal species including crustaceans, mollusks, and polychaetes. In areas influenced by river discharge, seasonal changes in salinity can greatly influence the distribution and abundance of benthic organisms. Large fluctuations in salinity and temperature that occur over a very short time period, or on a seasonal basis, allow only very adaptable, opportunistic species to survive (Alexander et al., 1974). Since shorefast ice is present for many months, the distribution and abundance of most species depends on annual (or more frequent) recolonization from deeper offshore waters (Woodward Clyde Consultants, 1995). Due to ice scouring, particularly in water depths of less than 8 ft (2.4 m), infaunal communities tend to be patchily distributed. Diversity increases with water depth until the shear zone is reached at 49–82 ft (15–25 m; Carey, 1978). Biodiversity then declines due to ice gouging between the landfast ice and the polar pack ice (Woodward Clyde Consultants, 1995). Potential Impacts From Sound Generation With regard to fish as a prey source for odontocetes and seals, fish are known to hear and react to sounds and to use sound to communicate (Tavolga et al., 1981) and possibly avoid predators (Wilson and Dill, 2002). Experiments have shown that fish can sense both the strength and direction of sound (Hawkins, 1981). Primary factors determining whether a fish can sense a sound signal, and potentially react to it, are the frequency of the signal and the strength of the signal in relation to the natural background noise level. E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 39926 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices Fishes produce sounds that are associated with behaviors that include territoriality, mate search, courtship, and aggression. It has also been speculated that sound production may provide the means for long distance communication and communication under poor underwater visibility conditions (Zelick et al., 1999), although the fact that fish communicate at lowfrequency sound levels where the masking effects of ambient noise are naturally highest suggests that very long distance communication would rarely be possible. Fishes have evolved a diversity of sound generating organs and acoustic signals of various temporal and spectral contents. Fish sounds vary in structure, depending on the mechanism used to produce them (Hawkins, 1993). Generally, fish sounds are predominantly composed of low frequencies (less than 3 kHz). Since objects in the water scatter sound, fish are able to detect these objects through monitoring the ambient noise. Therefore, fish are probably able to detect prey, predators, conspecifics, and physical features by listening to environmental sounds (Hawkins, 1981). There are two sensory systems that enable fish to monitor the vibrationbased information of their surroundings. The two sensory systems, the inner ear and the lateral line, constitute the acoustico-lateralis system. Although the hearing sensitivities of very few fish species have been studied to date, it is becoming obvious that the intra- and inter-specific variability is considerable (Coombs, 1981). Nedwell et al. (2004) compiled and published available fish audiogram information. A noninvasive electrophysiological recording method known as auditory brainstem response is now commonly used in the production of fish audiograms (Yan, 2004). Generally, most fish have their best hearing in the lowfrequency range (i.e., less than 1 kHz). Even though some fish are able to detect sounds in the ultrasonic frequency range, the thresholds at these higher frequencies tend to be considerably higher than those at the lower end of the auditory frequency range. Literature relating to the impacts of sound on marine fish species can be divided into the following categories: (1) Pathological effects; (2) physiological effects; and (3) behavioral effects. Pathological effects include lethal and sub-lethal physical damage to fish; physiological effects include primary and secondary stress responses; and behavioral effects include changes in exhibited behaviors of fish. Behavioral changes might be a direct reaction to a detected sound or a result of the VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 anthropogenic sound masking natural sounds that the fish normally detect and to which they respond. The three types of effects are often interrelated in complex ways. For example, some physiological and behavioral effects could potentially lead to the ultimate pathological effect of mortality. Hastings and Popper (2005) reviewed what is known about the effects of sound on fishes and identified studies needed to address areas of uncertainty relative to measurement of sound and the responses of fishes. Popper et al. (2003/ 2004) also published a paper that reviews the effects of anthropogenic sound on the behavior and physiology of fishes. Potential effects of exposure to sound on marine fish include TTS, physical damage to the ear region, physiological stress responses, and behavioral responses such as startle response, alarm response, avoidance, and perhaps lack of response due to masking of acoustic cues. Most of these effects appear to be either temporary or intermittent and therefore probably do not significantly impact the fish at a population level. The studies that resulted in physical damage to the fish ears used noise exposure levels and durations that were far more extreme than would be encountered under conditions similar to those expected during BP’s proposed survey. The level of sound at which a fish will react or alter its behavior is usually well above the detection level. Fish have been found to react to sounds when the sound level increased to about 20 dB above the detection level of 120 dB (Ona, 1988); however, the response threshold can depend on the time of year and the fish’s physiological condition (Engas et al., 1993). In general, fish react more strongly to pulses of sound rather than a continuous signal (Blaxter et al., 1981), such as the type of sound that will be produced by the drillship, and a quicker alarm response is elicited when the sound signal intensity rises rapidly compared to sound rising more slowly to the same level. Investigations of fish behavior in relation to vessel noise (Olsen et al., 1983; Ona, 1988; Ona and Godo, 1990) have shown that fish react when the sound from the engines and propeller exceeds a certain level. Avoidance reactions have been observed in fish such as cod and herring when vessels approached close enough that received sound levels are 110 dB to 130 dB (Nakken, 1992; Olsen, 1979; Ona and Godo, 1990; Ona and Toresen, 1988). However, other researchers have found that fish such as polar cod, herring, and PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 capeline are often attracted to vessels (apparently by the noise) and swim toward the vessel (Rostad et al., 2006). Typical sound source levels of vessel noise in the audible range for fish are 150 dB to 170 dB (Richardson et al., 1995a). In calm weather, ambient noise levels in audible parts of the spectrum lie between 60 dB to 100 dB. Short, sharp sounds can cause overt or subtle changes in fish behavior. Chapman and Hawkins (1969) tested the reactions of whiting (hake) in the field to an airgun. When the airgun was fired, the fish dove from 82 to 180 ft (25 to 55 m) depth and formed a compact layer. The whiting dove when received sound levels were higher than 178 dB re 1 mPa (Pearson et al., 1992). Pearson et al. (1992) conducted a controlled experiment to determine effects of strong noise pulses on several species of rockfish off the California coast. They used an airgun with a source level of 223 dB re 1 mPa. They noted: • Startle responses at received levels of 200–205 dB re 1 mPa and above for two sensitive species, but not for two other species exposed to levels up to 207 dB; • Alarm responses at 177–180 dB for the two sensitive species, and at 186 to 199 dB for other species; • An overall threshold for the above behavioral response at about 180 dB; • An extrapolated threshold of about 161 dB for subtle changes in the behavior of rockfish; and • A return to pre-exposure behaviors within the 20–60 minute exposure period. In summary, fish often react to sounds, especially strong and/or intermittent sounds of low frequency. Sound pulses at received levels of 160 dB re 1 mPa may cause subtle changes in behavior. Pulses at levels of 180 dB may cause noticeable changes in behavior (Chapman and Hawkins, 1969; Pearson et al., 1992; Skalski et al., 1992). It also appears that fish often habituate to repeated strong sounds rather rapidly, on time scales of minutes to an hour. However, the habituation does not endure, and resumption of the strong sound source may again elicit disturbance responses from the same fish. Some of the fish species found in the Arctic are prey sources for odontocetes and pinnipeds. A reaction by fish to sounds produced by BP’s proposed survey would only be relevant to marine mammals if it caused concentrations of fish to vacate the area. Pressure changes of sufficient magnitude to cause that type of reaction would probably occur only very close to the sound source, if E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 any would occur at all. Impacts on fish behavior are predicted to be inconsequential. Thus, feeding odontocetes and pinnipeds would not be adversely affected by this minimal loss or scattering, if any, of reduced prey abundance. Some mysticetes, including bowhead whales, feed on concentrations of zooplankton. Some feeding bowhead whales may occur in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in July and August, but feeding bowheads are more likely to occur in the area after the cessation of airgun operations. Reactions of zooplankton to sound are, for the most part, not known. Their ability to move significant distances is limited or nil, depending on the type of zooplankton. Behavior of zooplankters is not expected to be affected by the survey. These animals have exoskeletons and no air bladders. Many crustaceans can make sounds, and some crustacea and other invertebrates have some type of sound receptor. A reaction by zooplankton to sounds produced by the seismic survey would only be relevant to whales if it caused concentrations of zooplankton to scatter. Pressure changes of sufficient magnitude to cause that type of reaction would probably occur only very close to the sound source, if any would occur at all. Impacts on zooplankton behavior are predicted to be inconsequential. Thus, feeding mysticetes would not be adversely affected by this minimal loss or scattering, if any, of reduced zooplankton abundance. Based on the preceding discussion, the proposed activity is not expected to have any habitat-related effects that could cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. Proposed Mitigation In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (where relevant). For the proposed SAE open-water 3D OBN seismic surveys in the Beaufort Sea, NMFS worked with SAE to propose the following mitigation measures to minimize the potential impacts to marine mammals in the project vicinity as a result of SAE’s survey activities. The primary purpose of these mitigation measures is to detect marine mammals VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 within, or about to enter, designated exclusion zones and to initiate immediate shutdown or power down of the airgun(s). (1) Establishing Exclusion and Disturbance Zones Under current NMFS guidelines, the ‘‘exclusion zone’’ for marine mammal exposure to impulse sources is customarily defined as the area within which received sound levels are ≥180 dB (rms) re 1 mPa for cetaceans and ≥190 dB (rms) re 1 mPa for pinnipeds. These safety criteria are based on an assumption that SPL received at levels lower than these will not injure these animals or impair their hearing abilities, but at higher levels might have some such effects. Disturbance or behavioral effects to marine mammals from underwater sound may occur after exposure to sound at distances greater than the exclusion zones (Richardson et al. 1995). Currently, NMFS uses 160 dB (rms) re 1 mPa as the threshold for Level B behavioral harassment from impulse noise. As discussed above, the acoustic propagation of the proposed 440-in3, 880-in3, and 1,760-in3 airgun arrays were predicted using JASCO’s model provided in Aerts et al. (2008), corrected with the measured or manufacturer’s source levels. The resulting isopleths modeled for the 190, 180, and 160 dB (rms) re 1 mPa exclusion zones and zones of influence are listed in Table 2. These safety distances will be implemented at the commencement of 2014 airgun operations to establish marine mammal exclusion zones used for mitigation. SAE will conduct sound source measurements of the airgun array at the beginning of survey operations in 2014 to verify the size of the various marine mammal exclusion zones. The acoustic data will be analyzed in the field as quickly as reasonably practicable and used to verify and adjust, as necessary, the marine mammal exclusion zone distances. The mitigation measures to be implemented at the 190 and 180 dB (rms) sound levels will include power downs and shut downs as described below. (2) Vessel Related Mitigation Measures These mitigation measures apply to all vessels that are part of SAE’s Beaufort Sea seismic survey activities, including supporting vessels. • Avoid concentrations or groups of whales. Operators of vessels should, at all times, conduct their activities at the maximum distance possible from such concentrations or groups of whales. • If any vessel approaches within 1.6 km (1 mi) of observed bowhead whales, PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39927 except when providing emergency assistance to whalers or in other emergency situations, the vessel operator will take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with the bowhead whales by taking one or more of the following actions, as appropriate: Æ Reducing vessel speed to less than 5 knots within 300 yards (900 feet or 274 m) of the whale(s); Æ Steering around the whale(s) if possible; Æ Operating the vessel(s) in such a way as to avoid separating members of a group of whales from other members of the group; Æ Operating the vessel(s) to avoid causing a whale to make multiple changes in direction; and Æ Checking the waters immediately adjacent to the vessel(s) to ensure that no whales will be injured when the propellers are engaged. • Reduce vessel speed, not to exceed 5 knots, when weather conditions require, such as when visibility drops, to avoid the likelihood of injury to whales. (3) Mitigation Measures for Airgun Operations The primary requirements for airgun mitigation during the seismic surveys are to monitor marine mammals near the airgun array during all daylight airgun operations and during any nighttime start-up of the airguns and, if any marine mammals are observed, to adjust airgun operations, as necessary, according to the mitigation measures described below. During the seismic surveys, PSOs will monitor the preestablished exclusion zones for the presence of marine mammals. When marine mammals are observed within, or about to enter, designated safety zones, PSOs have the authority to call for immediate power down (or shutdown) of airgun operations, as required by the situation. A summary of the procedures associated with each mitigation measure is provided below. Ramp Up Procedure A ramp up of an airgun array provides a gradual increase in sound levels, and involves a step-wise increase in the number and total volume of airguns firing until the full volume is achieved. The purpose of a ramp up (or ‘‘soft start’’) is to ‘‘warn’’ cetaceans and pinnipeds in the vicinity of the airguns and to provide time for them to leave the area and thus avoid any potential injury or impairment of their hearing abilities. During the proposed open-water survey program, the seismic operator E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39928 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 will ramp up the airgun arrays slowly. Full ramp ups (i.e., from a cold start after a shutdown, when no airguns have been firing) will begin by firing a single airgun in the array (i.e., the mitigation airgun). A full ramp up, after a shutdown, will not begin until there has been a minimum of 30 minutes of observation of the safety zone by PSOs to assure that no marine mammals are present. The entire exclusion zone must be visible during the 30-minute lead-in to a full ramp up. If the entire exclusion zone is not visible, then ramp up from a cold start cannot begin. If a marine mammal is sighted within the safety zone during the 30-minute watch prior to ramp up, ramp up will be delayed until the marine mammal is sighted outside of the exclusion zone or the animal is not sighted for at least 15 minutes, for small odontocetes (harbor porpoise) and pinnipeds, or 30 minutes, for baleen whales and large odontocetes (including beluga and killer whales and narwhal). Use of a Small-Volume Airgun During Turns and Transits Throughout the seismic survey, during turning movements and short transits, SAE will employ the use of the smallest-volume airgun (i.e., ‘‘mitigation airgun’’) to deter marine mammals from being within the immediate area of the seismic operations. The mitigation airgun would be operated at approximately one shot per minute and would not be operated for longer than three hours in duration (turns may last two to three hours for the proposed project). During turns or brief transits (i.e., less than three hours) between seismic tracklines, one mitigation airgun will continue operating. The ramp up procedures described above will be followed when increasing the source levels from the one mitigation airgun to the full airgun array. However, keeping one airgun firing during turns and brief transits will allow SAE to resume seismic surveys using the full array without having to ramp up from a ‘‘cold start,’’ which requires a 30-minute observation period of the full exclusion zone and is prohibited during darkness or other periods of poor visibility. PSOs will be on duty whenever the airguns are firing during daylight and during the 30-minute periods prior to ramp-ups from a ‘‘cold start.’’ Power Down and Shut Down Procedures A power down is the immediate reduction in the number of operating energy sources from all firing to some smaller number (e.g., a single mitigation airgun). A shut down is the immediate VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 cessation of firing of all energy sources. The array will be immediately powered down whenever a marine mammal is sighted approaching close to or within the applicable exclusion zone of the full array, but is outside the applicable exclusion zone of the single mitigation airgun. If a marine mammal is sighted within or about to enter the applicable exclusion zone of the single mitigation airgun, the entire array will be shut down (i.e., no sources firing). Poor Visibility Conditions SAE plans to conduct 24-hour operations. PSOs will not be on duty during ongoing seismic operations during darkness, given the very limited effectiveness of visual observation at night (there will be no periods of darkness in the survey area until midAugust). The provisions associated with operations at night or in periods of poor visibility include the following: • If during foggy conditions, heavy snow or rain, or darkness (which may be encountered starting in late August), the full 180 dB exclusion zone is not visible, the airguns cannot commence a ramp-up procedure from a full shutdown. • If one or more airguns have been operational before nightfall or before the onset of poor visibility conditions, they can remain operational throughout the night or poor visibility conditions. In this case ramp-up procedures can be initiated, even though the exclusion zone may not be visible, on the assumption that marine mammals will be alerted by the sounds from the single airgun and have moved away. (4) Mitigation Measures for Subsistence Activities The following mitigation measures will be imposed in order to effect the least practicable adverse impact on the availability of marine mammal species for subsistence uses: (i) Establishment and Operations of Communication and Call Centers (ComCenter) Program • For the purposes of reducing or eliminating conflicts between subsistence whaling activities and SAE’s survey program, SAE will participate with other operators in the Com-Center Program. Com-Centers will be operated to facilitate communication of information between SAE and subsistence whalers. The Com-Centers will be operated 24 hours/day during the 2014 fall subsistence bowhead whale hunt. • All vessels shall report to the appropriate Com-Center at least once every six hours, commencing each day PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 with a call at approximately 06:00 hours. • The appropriate Com-Center shall be notified if there is any significant change in plans, such as an unannounced start-up of operations or significant deviations from announced course, and that Com-Center shall notify all whalers of such changes. The appropriate Com-Center also shall be called regarding any unsafe or unanticipated ice conditions. (ii) SAE shall monitor the positions of all of its vessels and exercise due care in avoiding any areas where subsistence activity is active. (iii) Routing barge and transit vessels: • Vessels transiting in the Beaufort Sea east of Bullen Point to the Canadian border shall remain at least 5 miles offshore during transit along the coast, provided ice and sea conditions allow. During transit in the Chukchi Sea, vessels shall remain as far offshore as weather and ice conditions allow, and at all times at least 5 miles offshore. • From August 31 to October 31, vessels in the Chukchi Sea or Beaufort Sea shall remain at least 20 miles offshore of the coast of Alaska from Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea to Pitt Point on the east side of Smith Bay in the Beaufort Sea, unless ice conditions or an emergency that threatens the safety of the vessel or crew prevents compliance with this requirement. This condition shall not apply to vessels actively engaged in transit to or from a coastal community to conduct crew changes or logistical support operations. • Vessels shall be operated at speeds necessary to ensure no physical contact with whales occurs, and to make any other potential conflicts with bowheads or whalers unlikely. Vessel speeds shall be less than 10 knots in the proximity of feeding whales or whale aggregations. • If any vessel inadvertently approaches within 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) of observed bowhead whales, except when providing emergency assistance to whalers or in other emergency situations, the vessel operator will take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with the bowhead whales by taking one or more of the following actions, as appropriate: Æ Reducing vessel speed to less than 5 knots within 900 feet of the whale(s); Æ steering around the whale(s) if possible; Æ operating the vessel(s) in such a way as to avoid separating members of a group of whales from other members of the group; Æ operating the vessel(s) to avoid causing a whale to make multiple changes in direction; and E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Æ checking the waters immediately adjacent to the vessel(s) to ensure that no whales will be injured when the propellers are engaged. (iv) Limitation on Seismic Surveys in the Beaufort Sea • Kaktovik: No seismic survey from the Canadian Border to the Canning River from August 25 to close of the fall bowhead whale hunt in Kaktovik and Nuiqsut. From August 10 to August 25, SAE will communicate and collaborate with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) on any planned vessel movement in and around Kaktovik and Cross Island to avoid impacts to whale hunting. • Nuiqsut: Æ Pt. Storkerson to Thetis Island: No seismic survey prior to July 25 inside the Barrier Islands. No seismic survey from August 25 to close of fall bowhead whale hunting outside the Barrier Island in Nuiqsut. Æ Canning River to Pt. Storkerson: No seismic survey from August 25 to the close of bowhead whale subsistence hunting in Nuiqsut. • Barrow: No seismic survey from Pitt Point on the east side of Smith Bay to a location about half way between Barrow and Peard Bay from September 15 to the close of the fall bowhead whale hunt in Barrow. (v) SAE shall complete operations in time to allow such vessels to complete transit through the Bering Strait to a point south of 59 degrees North latitude no later than November 15, 2014. Any vessel that encounters weather or ice that will prevent compliance with this date shall coordinate its transit through the Bering Strait to a point south of 59 degrees North latitude with the appropriate Com-Centers. SAE vessels shall, weather and ice permitting, transit east of St. Lawrence Island and no closer than 10 miles from the shore of St. Lawrence Island. In addition, SAE is conducting the planned seismic surveys in a joint partnership agreement with the Kuukpik Corporation. As a joint venture partner with Kuukpik, SAE states that it will be working closely with Kuukpik and the communities on the North Slope to plan operations that will include measures that are environmentally suitable and that do not impact local subsistence use. SAE states that it will sign a Conflict Avoidance Agreement with the Alaskan native whaling communities that will include measures to ensure its seismic activities do not adversely affect subsistence whaling. SAE will schedule and attend meetings in the villages of Nuiqsut, Barrow, Kaktovik, and any VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 other affected communities. A draft Plan of Cooperation is attached with SAE’s IHA application. Mitigation Conclusions NMFS has carefully evaluated SAE’s proposed mitigation measures and considered a range of other measures in the context of ensuring that NMFS prescribes the means of effecting the least practicable impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: • The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measures are expected to minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals; • The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; and • The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation. Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by NMFS should be able to accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of the general goals listed below: 1. Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal). 2. A reduction in the numbers of marine mammals (total number or number at biologically important time or location) exposed to received levels of seismic airguns, or other activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). 3. A reduction in the number of times (total number or number at biologically important time or location) individuals would be exposed to received levels of seismic airguns or other activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). 4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number or number at biologically important time or location) to received levels of seismic airguns or other activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing the severity of harassment takes only). 5. Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal habitat, paying special attention to the food base, activities that block or limit passage to or from biologically PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39929 important areas, permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary destruction/ disturbance of habitat during a biologically important time. 6. For monitoring directly related to mitigation—an increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation. Based on our evaluation of the applicant’s proposed measures, as well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammals species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. Proposed measures to ensure availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses are discussed later in this document (see ‘‘Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses’’ section). Proposed Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an ITA for an activity, Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth, ‘‘requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.’’ The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for ITAs must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area. SAE submitted a marine mammal monitoring plan as part of the IHA application. The plan may be modified or supplemented based on comments or new information received from the public during the public comment period or from the peer review panel (see the ‘‘Monitoring Plan Peer Review’’ section later in this document). Monitoring measures prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or more of the following general goals: 1. An increase in our understanding of the likely occurrence of marine mammal species in the vicinity of the action, i.e., presence, abundance, distribution, and/or density of species. 2. An increase in our understanding of the nature, scope, or context of the likely exposure of marine mammal species to any of the potential stressor(s) associated with the action (e.g. sound or visual stimuli), through better understanding of one or more of the following: The action itself and its E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39930 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 environment (e.g. sound source characterization, propagation, and ambient noise levels); the affected species (e.g. life history or dive pattern); the likely co-occurrence of marine mammal species with the action (in whole or part) associated with specific adverse effects; and/or the likely biological or behavioral context of exposure to the stressor for the marine mammal (e.g. age class of exposed animals or known pupping, calving or feeding areas). 3. An increase in our understanding of how individual marine mammals respond (behaviorally or physiologically) to the specific stressors associated with the action (in specific contexts, where possible, e.g., at what distance or received level). 4. An increase in our understanding of how anticipated individual responses, to individual stressors or anticipated combinations of stressors, may impact either: the long-term fitness and survival of an individual; or the population, species, or stock (e.g. through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival). 5. An increase in our understanding of how the activity affects marine mammal habitat, such as through effects on prey sources or acoustic habitat (e.g., through characterization of longer-term contributions of multiple sound sources to rising ambient noise levels and assessment of the potential chronic effects on marine mammals). 6. An increase in understanding of the impacts of the activity on marine mammals in combination with the impacts of other anthropogenic activities or natural factors occurring in the region. 7. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of mitigation and monitoring measures. 8. An increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals (through improved technology or methodology), both specifically within the safety zone (thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation) and in general, to better achieve the above goals. Proposed Monitoring Measures Monitoring will provide information on the numbers of marine mammals potentially affected by the exploration operations and facilitate real-time mitigation to prevent injury of marine mammals by industrial sounds or activities. These goals will be accomplished in the Beaufort Sea during 2014 by conducting vessel-based monitoring from both source vessels and the mitigation vessel and an acoustic monitoring program using a bottom- VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 mounted hydrophone array to document marine mammal presence and distribution in the vicinity of the survey area. Visual monitoring by Protected Species Observers (PSOs) during seismic survey operations, and periods when these surveys are not occurring, will provide information on the numbers of marine mammals potentially affected by these activities and facilitate real-time mitigation to prevent impacts to marine mammals by industrial sounds or operations. Vessel-based PSOs onboard the survey vessels and mitigation vessel will record the numbers and species of marine mammals observed in the area and any observable reaction of marine mammals to the survey activities in the Beaufort Sea. Visual-Based Protected Species Observers (PSOs) The visual-based marine mammal monitoring will be implemented by a team of experienced PSOs, including both biologists and Inupiat personnel. PSOs will be stationed aboard the survey vessels and mitigation vessel through the duration of the project. The vessel-based marine mammal monitoring will provide the basis for real-time mitigation measures as discussed in the Mitigation Measures section. In addition, monitoring results of the vessel-based monitoring program will include the estimation of the number of ‘‘takes’’ as stipulated in the IHA. (1) Protected Species Observers Vessel-based monitoring for marine mammals will be done by trained PSOs throughout the period of survey activities. The observers will monitor the occurrence of marine mammals near the survey vessel during all daylight periods during operation, and during most daylight periods when operations are not occurring. PSO duties will include watching for and identifying marine mammals; recording their numbers, distances, and reactions to the survey operations; and documenting ‘‘take by harassment.’’ A sufficient number of PSOs will be required onboard each survey vessel to meet the following criteria: • 100% monitoring coverage during all periods of survey operations in daylight; • maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per PSO; and • maximum of 12 hours of watch time per day per PSO. PSO teams will consist of Inupiat observers and experienced field biologists. Each vessel will have an PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 experienced field crew leader to supervise the PSO team. The total number of PSOs may decrease later in the season as the duration of daylight decreases. (2) Observer Qualifications and Training Crew leaders and most PSOs will be individuals with experience as observers during recent seismic, site clearance and shallow hazards, and other monitoring projects in Alaska or other offshore areas in recent years. New or inexperienced PSOs will be paired with an experienced PSO or experienced field biologist so that the quality of marine mammal observations and data recording is kept consistent. Biologist-observers will have previous marine mammal observation experience, and field crew leaders will be highly experienced with previous vessel-based marine mammal monitoring and mitigation projects. Resumes for those individuals will be provided to NMFS for review and acceptance of their qualifications. Inupiat observers will be experienced in the region and familiar with the marine mammals of the area. All observers will complete a NMFSapproved observer training course designed to familiarize individuals with monitoring and data collection procedures. PSOs will complete a two or three-day training and refresher session on marine mammal monitoring, to be conducted shortly before the anticipated start of the 2014 open-water season. Any exceptions will have or receive equivalent experience or training. The training session(s) will be conducted by qualified marine mammalogists with extensive crew-leader experience during previous vessel-based seismic monitoring programs. (3) Marine Mammal Observer Protocol Two protected species observers (PSOs) will be stationed on each source vessel. An additional 2 or 3 PSOs will be stationed on the mitigation vessel, and they will work in concert with the PSOs stationed aboard the source vessels, to provide an early warning of the approach of any bowhead whale, beluga, or other marine mammal. The mitigation vessel plans to conduct zigzag transects from 2 to 6 km ahead of the source vessel (based on water depth and weather conditions) to effectively monitor the 160 dB zone of influence and to also monitor the edge of the 180 dB isopleth. The PSOs will watch for marine mammals at the seismic operation during all periods of source operations and for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to the planned start of airgun or pinger E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices 39931 • positions of other vessel(s) in the vicinity. required 90-day report following completion of the acoustic program. Spotted Seal Haulout Monitoring (2) Passive Acoustic Monitoring Using Bottom-Mounted Hydrophones SAE proposes to conduct Passive Acoustical Monitoring (PAM) using specialized autonomous passive acoustical recorders. These recorders will be deployed on the seabed and will record continuously at 64 kHz sample rate and 24-bit samples. The recorders will be calibrated using piston phone calibrators immediately before and after each deployment. These calibrations are accurate to less than 0.5 dB absolute. The recorders will be configured with a single channel using a sensitive hydrophone and will be configured with an appropriate duty cycle to record at 64 kHz for up to 80 days. The recorders will sit directly on the seabed and will be attached to a ground line with a small weight at its end. Each recorder will be retrieved by using a grapple to catch the ground line and recover the unit. This simple deployment configuration and retrieval procedure has proven to be very effective for deployments in the Beaufort Sea. (4) Field Data-Recording mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 operations after an extended shut down. SAE vessel crew and operations personnel will also watch for marine mammals (insofar as practical) to assist and alert the PSOs for the airgun(s) to be shut down if marine mammals are observed in or about to enter the exclusion zone. The PSOs will watch for marine mammals from the best available vantage point on the survey vessels, typically the bridge. The PSOs will scan the area around the vessel systematically with reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 × 50 and 16–40 × 80) and with the naked eye. Laser range finders (Leica LRF 1200 laser rangefinder or equivalent) will be available to assist with distance estimation. The observers aboard the survey and mitigation vessels will give particular attention to the areas within the marine mammal exclusion zones around the source vessels. These zones are the maximum distances within which received levels may exceed 180 dB (rms) re 1 mPa (rms) for cetaceans, or 190 dB (rms) re 1 mPa for pinnipeds. When a marine mammal is seen approaching or within the exclusion zone applicable to that species, the seismic survey crew will be notified immediately so that mitigation measures called for in the applicable authorization(s) can be implemented. Night-vision equipment (Generation 3 binocular image intensifiers or equivalent units) will be available for use if and when needed. Past experience with night-vision devices (NVDs) in the Beaufort Sea and elsewhere has indicated that NVDs are not nearly as effective as visual observation during daylight hours (e.g., Harris et al. 1997, 1998; Moulton and Lawson 2002). (1) Sound Source Measurements The PSOs will record field observation data and information about marine mammal sightings that include: • Species, group size, age/size/sex categories (if determinable); • physical description of features that were observed or determined not to be present in the case of unknown or unidentified animals; • behavior when first sighted and after initial sighting, heading (if consistent); • bearing and distance from observer, apparent reaction to activities (e.g., none, avoidance, approach, paralleling, etc.), closest point of approach, and behavioral pace; • time, location, speed, and activity of the source and mitigation vessels, sea state, ice cover, visibility, and sun glare; and Prior to or at the beginning of the seismic survey, sound levels will be measured as a function of distance and direction from the proposed seismic source array (full array and reduced to a single mitigation airgun). Results of the acoustic characterization and SSV will be used to empirically refine the modeled distance estimates of the preseason 190 dB, 180 dB, 170 dB, and 160 dB isopleths. The refined SSV exclusion zones will be used for the remainder of the seismic survey. Distance estimates for the 120 dB isopleth will also be modeled. The results of the SSV will be submitted to NMFS within five days after completing the measurements, followed by a report to be submitted within 14 days after completion of the measurements. A more detailed report will be provided to NMFS as part of the VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 Given that information on seasonal use of haulout sites by spotted seals remains elusive, SAE is proposing a monitoring program in 2014 largely designed to identify where seals haulout in the action area and to determine whether some areas would need additional monitoring later in 2014 or whether additional mitigation measures would need to be imposed on SAE’s future schedule and shot layout. The monitoring would include a biweekly boat-based survey, with the first survey on August 1 and the last survey two weeks after the seismic survey is completed for the year. The survey would begin at the village of Nuiqsut and would initially follow the far west channel of the Colville River, survey all the outer islands of the river delta, and then return to Nuiqsut following the farthest east river channel. The survey would traverse approximately 75 mi and take about a day to complete. All seals will be identified to species, and GPS location and whether the animals were hauled out or in the water will be noted. Collected data will be combined with available traditional knowledge and historical information to determine whether there are locations of consistent seal haulout use that might be affected by proposed seismic surveys. If sites of suspected high use are found, SAE should contact NMFS and the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife to identify additional mitigation measures to minimize impacts to these sites. Passive Acoustic Monitoring PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 PAM Deployment Four recorders will be deployed in an arrangement surrounding the survey area for the purposes of PAM. The data collected will be used for post-season analysis of marine mammal vocalization detections to help inform an assessment of potential disturbance effects. The PAM data will also provide information about the long-range propagation of the airgun noise. Recorder Arrangement The proposed arrangement of recorders would be to place one recorder to the east of the survey region, one to the west, and two in the offshore direction. The exact arrangement will be defined based on the specific survey line configuration and will encompass the boundaries of the survey area. The recorders will be positioned at ranges where the sound levels are expected to have decayed to levels at or below 120 dB re 1 mPa, to be determined following analysis of the SSV data. Data Analysis PAM recordings will be processed at the end of the season using marine mammal detection and classification software capable of detecting vocalizations from marine mammals. Particular attention will be given to the detection of bowhead whale vocalizations since this is a species of particular concern due to its importance for local subsistence hunting. E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39932 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 PAM recordings will also be used to detect and quantify airgun pulses from the survey as recorded on the PAM recorders, to provide information about the long-range propagation of the survey noise. Monitoring Plan Peer Review The MMPA requires that monitoring plans be independently peer reviewed ‘‘where the proposed activity may affect the availability of a species or stock for taking for subsistence uses’’ (16 U.S.C. 1371(a)(5)(D)(ii)(III)). Regarding this requirement, NMFS’ implementing regulations state, ‘‘Upon receipt of a complete monitoring plan, and at its discretion, [NMFS] will either submit the plan to members of a peer review panel for review or within 60 days of receipt of the proposed monitoring plan, schedule a workshop to review the plan’’ (50 CFR 216.108(d)). NMFS has established an independent peer review panel to review SAE’s marine mammal monitoring plan. The panel met in March 2014 via video and teleconferencing, and provided comments to NMFS in April. The full panel report can be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm. NMFS provided the panel with SAE’s IHA application and monitoring plan and asked the panel to answer the following questions: 1. Will the applicant’s stated objectives effectively further the understanding of the impacts of their activities on marine mammals and otherwise accomplish the goals stated above? If not, how should the objectives be modified to better accomplish the goals above? 2. Can the applicant achieve the stated objectives based on the methods described in the plan? 3. Are there technical modifications to the proposed monitoring techniques and methodologies proposed by the applicant that should be considered to better accomplish their stated objectives? 4. Are there techniques not proposed by the applicant (i.e., additional monitoring techniques or methodologies) that should be considered for inclusion in the applicant’s monitoring program to better accomplish their stated objectives? 5. What is the best way for an applicant to present their data and results (formatting, metrics, graphics, etc.) in the required reports that are to be submitted to NMFS (i.e., 90-day report and comprehensive report)? The panel raised particular questions and concerns about three aspects of VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 SAE’s original proposed monitoring plan. First, SAE proposed having one PSO conducting marine mammal monitoring from the survey vessel during operations. Citing a 2013 90-day marine mammal monitoring report from TGS (Cate et al. 2014), the panel raised concerns that a single PSO would not be able to effectively monitor the entire safety zone. Second, SAE proposed conducting passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) as part of its monitoring program. The panel report stated that SAE’s IHA application and its marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan lacked sufficient detail on the PAM SAE proposed. Third, SAE proposed conducting a pinniped aerial monitoring survey. The panel report stated that SAE’s IHA application and proposed plan also lacked sufficient detail on the pinniped aerial survey. The panel further stated that an aerial survey is not an effective way to study pinnipeds, with the possible exception of spotted seal use of land haulouts. In addition, the panel stated that it is nearly impossible to use aerial surveys to make inferences into ice seal density or abundance during the open-water season, when seals are likely to be in the water, because such surveys have extremely high availability bias that cannot be reliably estimated. Finally, the panel stated that the residents of Nuiqsut, located near the Colville River delta, had expressed considerable concerns about the frequency of aerial overflights in the area. The panel determined that the cultural impacts of excessive aerial surveys in this region largely outweighed the value of the ice seal data that could be collected using this methodology. Instead, the panel recommended SAE conduct surveys of the spotted seal coastal haulouts from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which are considerably quieter than manned aircraft. Other recommendations from the panel included: (1) Requiring a minimum of two PSOs to be on watch throughout all daylight hours, regardless of whether airguns are firing; (2) documenting marine mammal occurrence, density, and behavior during times when airguns are not operating; (3) submitting summary reports with an initial summary or interpretation of the efficacy, measurements, and observations, rather than raw data, fully processed analyses that include a summary of timeline and spatial representation (e.g., a map, with latitude and longitude clearly shown), or a summary of operations and important observations; (4) providing a complete characterization of the PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 acoustic footprint resulting from various activity states; (5) providing a summary of any and all mitigation measures (e.g., operational shutdowns if they occur) and an assessment of the efficacy of the monitoring methods; and (6) collaborating with other industrial operators in the area to integrate and synthesize monitoring results as much as possible (such as submitting ‘‘sightings’’ from their monitoring projects to an online data archive, such as OBIS–SEAMAP) and archiving and making the complete databases available upon request. Based on the recommendations provided by the panel, NMFS worked with SAE and requested detailed information on the monitoring methodology and survey design. On April 25, 2014, SAE provided an updated IHA application, and on May 15, 2014, an updated Marine Mammal Monitoring and Mitigation Plan (4MP). In the updated 4MP, SAE provided a detailed description of its plan for using a drift buoy equipped with acoustic sensors for sound source verification (SSV) and a detailed deployment plan for the bottom-mounted hydrophone array for passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) during the seismic survey. In response to the concerns raised by the panel about the pinniped aerial survey, SAE modified the survey protocol to replace the aerial survey with a vesselbased visual survey of spotted seal haulout instead. NMFS provided the panel with the updated 4MP, for an additional voluntary review. Two of the panel members provided additional comments on SAE’s updated 4MP. These panelists again raised concern that the use of a single onboard PSO for marine mammal monitoring would not be adequate to cover the safety zone monitoring. In addition, the panel members raised questions about the use of a drifting buoy for SSV and the marine mammal passive acoustic detection and classification, and requested NMFS to require SAE to consult with NMFS and North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management (NSB–DWM) on spotted seal haulout usage prior to issuance of the IHA. As a result of the independent peer review, NMFS worked with SAE and proposed the following mitigation and monitoring measures based on the panel’s recommendations: (1) PSOs shall monitor and document marine mammal occurrence, density, and behavior for at least some periods when airguns are not operating; (2) Summaries that represent an initial level of interpretation of the efficacy, measurements, and E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices observations, rather than raw data, fully processed analyses, or a summary of operations and important observations, shall be given in the final report; (3) Summaries of all mitigation measures (e.g., operational shutdowns if they occur) and an assessment of the efficacy of the monitoring methods shall be provided in the final report; (4) A complete characterization of the acoustic footprint resulting from various activity states shall be provided in the final report; (5) Collaborating with other industrial operators in the area to integrate and synthesize monitoring results as much as possible (such as submitting ‘‘sightings’’ from their monitoring projects to an online data archive, such as OBIS–SEAMAP) and archiving and making the complete databases available upon request; and (6) Spotted Seal Haulout Monitoring: SAE will conduct a biweekly boat survey of spotted seals, before, during, and after the seismic survey, to identify where seals haulout in the action area. The survey will begin at the village of Nuiqsut and follow the far west channel of the Colville River, survey all the outer islands of the river delta, and then return to Nuiqsut following the farthest east river channel. All seals will be identified to species, and GPS location and whether the animals were hauled out or in the water will be noted. Collected data will be combined with available traditional knowledge and historical information to determine whether there are locations of consistent seal haulout use that might be affected by the seismic survey. If sites of suspected high use are found, SAE shall contact NMFS and the NSB–DWM to identify additional mitigation measures to minimize impacts to these sites. Regarding the panel’s recommendation that NMFS require a minimum of two PSOs to be on watch throughout all daylight hours, regardless of whether airguns are firing, NMFS discussed the matter with SAE and SAE reported that its source vessel is small and cannot support extra PSOs, for safety reasons. To address the panel’s concerns and to compensate for any potential monitoring inadequacy resulting from having only a single PSO on the source vessel, SAE revised its monitoring plan, so that it will also mobilize a mitigation vessel dedicated to marine mammal monitoring. There will be 2–3 PSOs onboard the mitigation vessel. At any given time, there will be 1–2 PSOs monitoring from the mitigation vessel, in addition to the PSO monitoring from the source vessel. The mitigation vessel will be positioned north and east of the source vessel, or VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 essentially upstream of the bowhead and beluga migration route. The panel’s concern that monitoring by a single PSO was potentially inadequate was based largely on a 90day monitoring report submitted by TGS (Cate et al. 2014), in which a sighting curve was provided showing that during dual-PSO effort from an observation height of 6.5 m, using unaided eye, Fujinon 7 x 50 reticle binoculars, or 25 x 150 Fujinon ‘‘Big-eyes,’’ the detection probability dropped by 50% within 150 m of the ship, meaning there could be whales within the exclusion zone that may not be detected. However, the sighting curve developed for that 90-day report was solely based on observations obtained on a 2D seismic survey by TGS in offshore water. SAE plans to survey in relatively calmer coastal shallow waters, and therefore, marine mammal detection rates should be higher for SAE’s survey. In addition, the TGS sighting curve does not separate marine mammals by species, but rather combines all sightings from large bowhead whales to small pinnipeds and harbor porpoises. Therefore, NMFS does not believe the sighting curve provided by TGS provides an accurate assessment of species-specific marine mammal detection as a function of distance, particularly for large mysticetes. As the ultimate goal of adequate monitoring is to provide robust protective measures to prevent marine mammals from being exposed to noise levels that could cause injury (Level A harassment), NMFS analyzed the effectiveness of the monitoring protocol proposed by SAE to make a determination whether the protocol provides adequate measures for protecting marine mammals. One factor that NMFS took into consideration is that the airgun array proposed to be used by SAE for its survey is much smaller than the one used by TGS. Therefore, the ensonified zones from the SAE seismic survey will be much smaller. In addition, marine mammals are known to avoid intense sound and most likely will move out of the area as the seismic vessel approaches. SAE also will have a separate mitigation vessel with additional PSOs to provide additional monitoring of the ensonified zones. Therefore, for this proposed seismic survey, NMFS considers the proposed vessel-based marine mammal monitoring to be adequate. Reporting Measures (1) Sound Source Verification Report A report on the preliminary results of the sound source verification measurements, including the measured PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39933 190, 180, 170, and 160 dB (rms) radii of the airgun sources, would be submitted within 14 days after collection of those measurements at the start of the field season. This report will specify the distances of the exclusion zones that were adopted for the survey. (2) Technical Report If the IHA is issued, the results of SAE’s 2014 vessel-based monitoring, including estimates of ‘‘take’’ by harassment, would be presented first in a ‘‘90-day’’ draft Technical Report, to be submitted to NMFS within 90 days after the end of the seismic survey, and then in a final Technical Report, which would address any comments NMFS had on the draft. The Technical Report will include: (a) Summaries of monitoring effort (e.g., total hours, total distances, and marine mammal distribution through the study period, accounting for sea state and other factors affecting visibility and detectability of marine mammals); (b) Analyses of the effects of various factors influencing detectability of marine mammals (e.g., sea state, number of observers, and fog/glare); (c) Species composition, occurrence, and distribution of marine mammal sightings, including date, water depth, numbers, age/size/gender categories (if determinable), group sizes, and ice cover; (d) Data analysis separated into periods when a seismic airgun array (or a single mitigation airgun) is operating and when it is not, to better assess impacts to marine mammals—the final and comprehensive report to NMFS should summarize and plot: • Data for periods when a seismic array is active and when it is not; and • The respective predicted received sound conditions over fairly large areas (tens of km) around operations; (e) Sighting rates of marine mammals during periods with and without airgun activities (and other variables that could affect detectability), such as: • Initial sighting distances versus airgun activity state; • closest point of approach versus airgun activity state; • observed behaviors and types of movements versus airgun activity state; • numbers of sightings/individuals seen versus airgun activity state; • distribution around the survey vessel versus airgun activity state; and • estimates of take by harassment; (f) Results from all hypothesis tests, including estimates of the associated statistical power, when practicable; (g) Estimates of uncertainty in all take estimates, with uncertainty expressed E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39934 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 by the presentation of confidence limits, a minimum-maximum, posterior probability distribution, or another applicable method, with the exact approach to be selected based on the sampling method and data available; (h) A clear comparison of authorized takes and the level of actual estimated takes; and (i) The methodology used to estimate marine mammal takes and relative abundance from the towed PAM. (3) Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by the IHA (if issued), such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality (e.g., shipstrike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), SAE would immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. The report would include the following information: • Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; • Name and type of vessel involved; • Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; • Description of the incident; • Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; • Water depth; • Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); • Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; • Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; • Fate of the animal(s); and • Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if equipment is available). Activities would not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS would work with SAE to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. SAE would not be able to resume their activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone. In the event that SAE discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a moderate state of decomposition as described in the next paragraph), SAE would immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. The report would include the same information identified in the paragraph above. Activities would be able to continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work with SAE to determine whether modifications in the activities are appropriate. In the event that SAE discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), SAE would report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators, within 24 hours of the discovery. SAE would provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. SAE can continue its operations under such a case. Monitoring Results From Previously Authorized Activities SAE requested an IHA for a 3D OBN seismic survey in the Beaufort Sea in 2013, but the IHA application was withdrawn before an IHA was issued. Therefore, there are no previous monitoring results from this project. Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment]. PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Only take by Level B behavioral harassment of some species is anticipated as a result of SAE’s proposed 3D OBN seismic survey. NMFS expects marine mammal takes could result from noise propagation from operation of seismic airguns. NMFS does not expect marine mammals would be taken by collision with seismic and support vessels, because the vessels will be moving at low speeds, and PSOs on the survey vessels and the mitigation vessel will be monitoring for marine mammals and will be able to alert the vessels to avoid any marine mammals in the area. For impulse sounds, such as those produced by the airguns proposed to be used in SAE’s 3D OBN seismic surveys, NMFS uses the 160 dB (rms) re 1 mPa isopleth to indicate the onset of Level B harassment. SAE provided calculations of the 160-dB isopleths expected to be produced by the proposed seismic surveys and then used those isopleths to estimate takes by harassment. NMFS used those calculations to make the necessary MMPA findings. SAE provided a full description of the methodology used to estimate takes by harassment in its IHA application, which is also provided in the following sections. Acoustic Footprint The areas ensonified by seismic airgun noise that could cause marine mammal takes under MMPA was determined by assuming that the entire survey area is ensonified (given that the distance to the 160 dB isopleth during seismic survey is greater than the distance between seismic source lines), and adding a buffer area around the survey box corresponding to the distance to the 160 dB isopleth. The estimated distance to the 160 dB isopleth is 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) (Table 1) based on a sound source of 236.55 dB re 1 mPa (rms) for the 1,760 in3 seismic array and a spreading model of 18 LogR—0.0047R estimated for similar Beaufort nearshore waters (BP Liberty) by Aerts et al. (2008). Placing a 3-kilometer buffer around the 1,882-km2 (727-mi2) seismic source area expands the ensonification (or Zone of Influence [ZOI]) area to approximately 2,295 km2 (886 mi2), and represents the ZOI for pinnipeds. (The distance to the 160 dB isopleth when operating the 880 in3 airgun array is 1.5 km (0.9 mi).) E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39935 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices TABLE 1—MODELED AIRGUN ARRAY SOURCE LEVELS AND EXCLUSION ZONE AND ZONES OF INFLUENCE RADII Array size (in3) Source level (dB) 440 ................................................................................................................................... 880 ................................................................................................................................... 1,760 ................................................................................................................................ Within the 2,295 km2 ensonified area, 19% (431 km2) falls within the 0 to 1.5 m depth range, 14% (326 km2) falls within the 1.5 to 5 m range, 39% (903 km2) with the 5 to 15 m range, and 28% (635 km2) within waters greater than 15 m deep (bowhead migration corridor). The distribution of these depth ranges is 190 dB radius (m) 221.08 226.86 236.55 found in Figure 6–1 of the IHA application. Marine Mammal Densities Density estimates were derived for bowhead whales, beluga whales, ringed seals, spotted seals, and bearded seals as described below and shown in Table 2. There are no available Beaufort Sea 180 dB radius (m) 126 167 321 160 dB radius (m) 325 494 842 1,330 1,500 2,990 density estimates for gray whales, or extralimital species such as killer whales, harbor porpoises, humpback whales, narwhals, and ribbon seals. Encountering these animals during the seismic program would be unexpected. The density derivations for the five species presented in Table 2 are provided in the discussions below. TABLE 2—MARINE MAMMAL DENSITIES (#/km2) IN THE BEAUFORT SEA Species Summer mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Bowhead whale ....................................................................................................................................................... Beluga whale ........................................................................................................................................................... Ringed seal .............................................................................................................................................................. Spotted seal ............................................................................................................................................................. Bearded seal ............................................................................................................................................................ Bowhead Whale: The summer density estimate for bowhead whales was derived from July and August aerial survey data collected in the Beaufort Sea during the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) program in 2012 and 2013. During this period, 276 bowhead whales were record along 24,560 km of transect line, or 0.0112 whales per km of transect line. Applying an effective strip half-width (ESW) of 1.15 (Ferguson and Clarke 2013), results in an uncorrected density of 0.0049. Thomas et al.’s (2002) correction factors (g(0)) for availability (0.144) and observer (0.505) bias were applied producing an estimated density of 0.0672 whales per km2. This is a much higher density than previous estimates (e.g., Brandon et al. 2011) due to relatively high numbers of whales recorded in the Beaufort Sea in August 2013. In 2013, 205 whales were recorded along 9,758 km of transect line (corrected density = 0.1251), with 78% of the sightings (160 whales) recorded in the easternmost blocks, Blocks 4, 5, 6, and 7. In contrast, 26 of the 71 whales (37%) recorded on-transect during summer 2012 were at or near Barrow Canyon (Block 12), or the western extreme of the Alaskan Beaufort Sea, while another 26 (37%) were recorded at the eastern extreme (Blocks 4, 5, 6, and 7). For both years combined, only 8 of the 276 (2.9%) recorded during the VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 summer were found in Block 3 where the seismic survey is planned. Fall density estimate was determined from September and October ASAMM data collected from 2006 to 2013. The Western Arctic stock of bowhead whale has grown considerably since the late 1970s; thus, data collected prior to 2006 probably does not well represent current whale densities. From 2006 to 2013, 1,286 bowhead whales were recorded along 84,400 km of transect line, or 0.1524 per km. Using an ESW of 1.15 results in an uncorrected density of 0.0066. Applying the availability and observer bias correction factors from Thomas et al. (2002) derives a corrected fall density estimate of 0.0910. Beluga Whale: There is little information on summer use by beluga whales in the Beaufort Sea. Moore et al. (2000) reported that only 9 beluga whales were recorded in waters less than 50 m deep during 11,985 km of transect survey effort, or about 0.00057 whales per km. Assuming an ESW of 0.614 and a 2.62 (Lloyd and Frost 1995) correction factor for whales missed (availability and observer bias of adults) and a 1.18 (Brodie 1971) correction factor for dark juveniles, both correction factors used by NMFS for the annual Alaska Stock Assessment Reports, the derived corrected density would be 0.0014 whales per mi2. The same data showed much higher beluga numbers in deeper waters. PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 0.0672 0.0327 0.3547 0.0177 0.0177 Fall 0.0910 0.0175 0.2510 0.0125 0.0125 During the summer aerial surveys conducted during the 2012 ASAMM program (Clarke et al. 2013), 5 beluga whales were observed along 1,431 km of transect in waters less than 20 m deep and between longitudes 140°W and 154°W (the area within which the seismic survey would fall). This equates to 0.0035 whales per km of trackline and an uncorrected density of 0.0028, assuming an ESW of 0.614. Applying correction factors for animals missed (2.62 for adults and 1.18 for juveniles) results in a corrected summer density estimate of 0.0088. Summer beluga data was also collected in 2013. This data, currently available in posted daily reports, does not parse the data by depth or longitude and, therefore, is not yet directly comparable to the 2012 data. Fourteen whales were observed along 340 km of survey in block 3 in 2013, which is the survey block in which the proposed seismic survey area falls. Adding the Block 3 data to the 2012 data results in 23 whales observed over 1,771 km of transect effort, or 0.0130 whales per km and 0.0107 per km2. Applying the correction factors described above, the summer density estimate would increase to 0.0327. This density value is probably inflated due to the limited survey effort in 2013, but it represents a conservative estimate and is the value used in the take estimate. Calculated fall beluga densities are approximately twice as high as summer E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39936 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices densities. Between 2006 and 2012, 2,210 beluga were recorded along 79,586 km of transect line flown during September and October, or 0.0278 beluga per km of transect. Assuming an ESW of 0.614 gives an uncorrected density of 0.0226, and a corrected density of 0.0699. However, unlike in summer, almost none of the fall migrating belugas were recorded in waters less than 20 meters deep. For years where depth data is available (2006, 2009–2012), only 11 of 1,605 (1%) recorded belugas were found in waters less than 20 m during the fall. To take into account this bias in distribution, but to remain conservative, the corrected density estimate is reduced to 25%, or 0.0175. Ringed Seal: Surveys for ringed seals have been recently conducted in the Beaufort Sea by Kingsley (1986), Frost et al. (2002), Moulton and Lawson (2002), Green and Negri (2005), and Green et al. (2006, 2007). The shipboard monitoring surveys by Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) were not systematically based, but are useful in estimating the general composition of pinnipeds in the Beaufort nearshore, including the Colville River Delta. Frost et al.’s aerial surveys were conducted during ice coverage and don’t fully represent the summer and fall conditions under which the Beaufort surveys will occur. Moulton and Lawson (2002) conducted summer shipboard-based surveys for pinnipeds along the nearshore Beaufort Sea coast and developed seasonal average and maximum densities representative of SAE’s Beaufort summer seismic project, while Kingsley (1986) conducted surveys along the ice margin representing fall conditions. Therefore, the Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) ringed seal densities were used as the estimated densities of ringed seals in the survey area. Spotted Seal: Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) recorded pinnipeds during barging activity between West Dock and Cape Simpson, and found high numbers of ringed seal in Harrison Bay, and peaks in spotted seal numbers off the Colville River Delta where a haulout site is located. Approximately 5% of all phocid sightings recorded by Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) were spotted seals, which provide a suitable estimate of the proportion of ringed seals versus spotted seals in the Colville River Delta and Harrison Bay. Thus, the estimated densities of spotted seals in the seismic survey area were derived by multiplying the ringed seal densities from Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) by 0.05. Bearded Seal: Bearded seals were also recorded in Harrison Bay and the Colville River Delta by Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007), but at lower proportions than spotted seals, when both were compared to ringed seals. However, estimating bearded seal densities based on the proportion of bearded seals observed during the bargebased surveys results in density estimates that appear unrealistically low given density estimates from other studies, and especially given that nearby Thetis Island is used as a base for annually hunting this seal (densities are seasonally high enough for focused hunting). To be conservative, the bearded seal density values used in this application are derived from Stirling et al.’s (1982) observations that the proportion of eastern Beaufort Sea bearded seals is 5% that of ringed seals, which is similar to the calculations done for spotted seals. Exposure Calculations The estimated potential harassment take of local marine mammals by SAE’s Beaufort seismic survey project was determined by multiplying the animal densities in Table 2 by the area ensonified by seismic airgun noise greater than 160 dB re 1 mPa (rms) that constitutes habitat for each respective species. For pinnipeds, which occupy all water depths, this includes the entire seismic survey area, plus the additional 3-km (1.86-mi) buffer of noise exceeding 160 dB, or 2,295 km2 (886 mi2). Although the vast majority of bowhead whales migrate through the Beaufort Sea in waters greater than 15 m (50 ft) deep (Miller et al. 2002), feeding and migrating bowheads have been found in waters as shallow as 5 m (16 ft) (Clarke et al. 2011). Thus, the seismic survey area potentially inhabitable by bowhead whales is all waters greater than 5 m deep. This area, including the 3-km buffer, is 1,538 km2 (594 mi2). Beluga whales have been observed inside the barrier islands, where they would have to traverse water depths as low as 1.8 m, but these whales are unlikely to inhabit the shallowest water (<1.5 m deep) inside the barrier islands, where stranding risk can be high. For the proposed seismic survey, the area of beluga habitat potentially ensonified (>160 dB) by the seismic operations is the waters greater than 1.5 m (5 ft) deep, plus the 3-km buffer, or approximately 1,864 km2 (720 mi2). The resulting exposure calculations are found in Table 3. TABLE 3—THE AVERAGE NUMBER OF ANIMALS POTENTIALLY EXPOSED TO RECEIVED SOUND LEVELS > 160 dB Species Summer mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Bowhead whale .................................................................... Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea stock) ..................................... Beluga whale (E. Chukchi Sea stock) ................................. Ringed seal .......................................................................... Spotted seal ......................................................................... Bearded seal ........................................................................ The estimated number of marine mammal exposures was based on the average density in the area of summer or fall habitat that could be ensonified by SAE’s proposed activities. Given that the estimated densities are overestimates of the expected densities in Block 3 (based on ASAMM survey data), especially for bowhead and beluga whales, no adjustments were made to account for variability. Most of VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 Fall 103 60 60 814 41 41 Total 140 33 33 576 29 29 the summer sightings are well east or west of Block 3, and the great majority of the fall sightings are in deeper water than Block 3. The take estimates do not account for mitigation measures that will be implemented. These mitigation measures include shutting down operations during the fall bowhead hunt (thereby avoiding any noise exposure during the peak of fall bowhead whale PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 243 93 93 1,390 70 70 Population 12,631 39,258 3,710 249,000 101,568 155,000 % Affected 1.9 0.2 2.5 0.6 0.1 0.1 and beluga migration) and plans for conducting the seismic survey in August in waters greater than 15 m (50 ft) deep (thereby avoiding seismic survey within the bowhead whale migration corridor after the fall hunt). These measures, coupled with the ramp up procedures for airguns, should reduce the estimated take from seismic survey operations. E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices The estimated take as a percentage of the marine mammal stock is 2.5% or less in all cases (Table 3). The highest percent of population estimated to be taken is 2.5% for the East Chukchi Sea stock of beluga whale. However, that percentage assumes that all 93 beluga whales taken are from that population. Similarly, the 0.2% potential take percentage for the Beaufort Sea stock of beluga whale assumes that all 93 beluga whales are taken from the Beaufort Sea stock. Most likely, some beluga whales would be taken from each stock, meaning fewer than 93 beluga whales would be taken from either individual stock. Therefore, the take of beluga whales as a percentage of populations would likely be below 0.2 and 2.5% for the Beaufort Sea and East Chukchi Sea stocks, respectively. In addition, the estimated take for the East Chukchi Sea stock does not take into account mitigation measures, such as curtailing survey activities during the fall bowhead whale hunt, shutdowns within the harassment zone for cow/calf pairs, and possibly completing the survey of the more offshore waters in the summer. These actions would reduce the potential encounters with bowhead and beluga whales in the fall. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Analysis and Preliminary Determinations Negligible Impact Negligible impact is ‘‘an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival’’ (50 CFR 216.103). A negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., populationlevel effects). An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes, alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be ‘‘taken’’ through behavioral harassment, NMFS must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any responses (critical reproductive time or location, migration, etc.), as well as the number and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes, the number of estimated mortalities, effects on habitat, and the status of the species. No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of SAE’s proposed 3D OBS seismic survey, and none are proposed to be authorized. Additionally, animals in the area are not VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 expected to incur hearing impairment (i.e., TTS or PTS) or non-auditory physiological effects. The takes that are anticipated and authorized are expected to be limited to short-term Level B behavioral harassment. While the airguns are expected to be operated for approximately 49 days within a 70-day period, the project timeframe will occur when cetacean species are typically not found in the project area or are found only in low numbers. While pinnipeds are likely to be found in the proposed project area more frequently, their distribution is dispersed enough that they likely will not be in the Level B harassment zone continuously. As mentioned previously in this document, pinnipeds appear to be more tolerant of anthropogenic sound than mysticetes. Most of the bowhead whales encountered will likely show overt disturbance (avoidance) only if they receive airgun sounds with levels ≥ 160 dB re 1 mPa. Odontocete reactions to seismic airgun pulses are generally assumed to be limited to shorter distances from the airgun than are those of mysticetes, in part because odontocete low-frequency hearing is assumed to be less sensitive than that of mysticetes. However, at least when in the Canadian Beaufort Sea in summer, belugas appear to be fairly responsive to seismic energy, with few being sighted within 6–12 mi (10–20 km) of seismic vessels during aerial surveys (Miller et al. 2005). Belugas will likely occur in small numbers in the Beaufort Sea during the survey period and few will likely be affected by the survey activity. As noted, elevated background noise level from the seismic airgun reverberant field could cause acoustic masking to marine mammals and reduce their communication space. However, even though the decay of the signal is extended, the fact that pulses are separated by approximately 8 to 10 seconds for each individual source vessel (or 4 to 5 seconds when taking into account the two separate source vessels stationed 300 to 335 m (990 to 1,100 ft) apart) means that overall received levels at distance are expected to be much lower, thus resulting in less acoustic masking. Taking into account the mitigation measures that are planned, effects on marine mammals are generally expected to be restricted to avoidance of a limited area around SAE’s proposed open-water activities and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ‘‘Level B harassment.’’ The many reported cases of apparent tolerance by cetaceans to seismic exploration, vessel traffic, and some other human activities show that co- PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39937 existence is possible. Mitigation measures, such as controlled vessel speed, dedicated marine mammal observers, non-pursuit, ramp up procedures, and shut downs or power downs when marine mammals are seen within defined ranges, will further reduce short-term reactions and minimize any effects on hearing sensitivity. In all cases, the effects are expected to be short-term, with no lasting biological consequence. Of the five marine mammal species likely to occur in the proposed marine survey area, bowhead whales and ringed and bearded seals are listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA. These species are also designated as ‘‘depleted’’ under the MMPA. Despite these designations, the Bering-ChukchiBeaufort stock of bowheads has been increasing at a rate of 3.4 percent annually for nearly a decade (Allen and Angliss 2010). Additionally, during the 2001 census, 121 calves were counted, which was the highest yet recorded. The calf count provides corroborating evidence for a healthy and increasing population (Allen and Angliss 2010). There is no critical habitat designated in the U.S. Arctic for the bowhead whales. The Alaska stock of bearded seals, part of the Beringia distinct population segment (DPS), and the Arctic stock of ringed seals have recently been listed by NMFS as threatened under the ESA. The only other species that may occur in the project area that is listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA is the humpback whale, which is also listed as depleted under the MMPA, but the occurrence of humpback whales in the proposed marine survey area is considered very rare. None of the other species that may occur in the project area are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. Potential impacts to marine mammal habitat were discussed previously in this document (see the ‘‘Anticipated Effects on Habitat’’ section). Although some disturbance of food sources of marine mammals is possible, any impacts are anticipated to be minor enough as to not affect rates of recruitment or survival of marine mammals in the area. The marine survey activities would occur in a localized area, and given the vast area of the Arctic Ocean where feeding by marine mammals occurs, any missed feeding opportunities in the direct project area could be offset by feeding opportunities in other available feeding areas. In addition, no important feeding or reproductive areas are known in the E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 39938 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices vicinity of SAE’s proposed seismic surveys at the time the proposed surveys are to take place. No critical habitat of ESA-listed marine mammal species occurs in the Beaufort Sea. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine mammal take from SAE’s proposed 3D OBS seismic survey in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska, will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks. Small Numbers The requested takes proposed to be authorized represent less than 2.5% of all populations or stocks potentially impacted (see Table 3 in this document). These take estimates represent the percentage of each species or stock that could be taken by Level B behavioral harassment if each animal is taken only once. The numbers of marine mammals estimated to be taken are small proportions of the total populations of the affected species or stocks. In addition, the mitigation and monitoring measures (described previously in this document) proposed for inclusion in the IHA (if issued) are expected to reduce even further any potential disturbance to marine mammals. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the populations of the affected species or stocks. Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Relevant Subsistence Uses The proposed seismic activities will occur within the marine subsistence area used by the village of Nuiqsut. Nuiqsut was established in 1973 at a traditional location on the Colville River providing equal access to upland (e.g., caribou, Dall sheep) and marine (e.g., whales, seals, and eiders) resources (Brown 1979). Although Nuiqsut is located 40 km (25 mi) inland, bowhead whales are still a major fall subsistence resource. Although bowhead whales have been harvested in the past all along the barrier islands, Cross Island is the site currently used as the fall whaling VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 base, as it includes cabins and equipment for butchering whales. However, whalers must travel about 160 km (100 mi) to annually reach the Cross Island whaling camp, which is located in a direct line over 110 direct km (70 mi) from Nuiqsut. Whaling activity usually begins in late August with the arrival whales migrating from the Canadian Beaufort Sea, and may occur as late as early October, depending on ice conditions and quota fulfillment. Most whaling occurs relatively near (<16 km or <10 mi) the island, largely to prevent meat spoilage that can occur with a longer tow back to Cross Island. Since 1993, Cross Island hunters have harvested one to four whales annually, averaging three. Cross Island is located 70 km (44 mi) east of the eastern boundary of the seismic survey box. (Point Barrow is over 180 km [110 mi] outside the potential survey box.) Seismic activities are unlikely to affect Barrow or Cross Island based whaling, especially if the seismic operations temporarily cease during the fall bowhead whale hunt. Although Nuiqsut whalers may incidentally harvest beluga whales while hunting bowheads, these whales are rarely seen and are not actively pursued. Any harvest that would occur would most likely be in association with Cross Island. The potential seismic survey area is also used by Nuiqsut villagers for hunting seals. All three seal species that are likely to be taken—ringed, spotted, and bearded—are hunted. Sealing begins in April and May when villagers hunt seals at breathing holes in Harrison Bay. In early June, hunting is concentrated at the mouth of the Colville River, where ice breakup flooding results in the ice thinning and seals becoming more visible. Once the ice is clear of the Delta (late June), hunters will hunt in open boats along the ice edge from Harrison Bay to Thetis Island in a route called ‘‘round the world.’’ Thetis Island is important as it provides a weather refuge and a base for hunting bearded seals. During July and August, ringed and spotted seals are hunted in the lower 65 km (40 mi) of the Colville River proper. In terms of pounds, approximately one-third of the village of Nuiqsut’s annual subsistence harvest is marine mammals (fish and caribou dominate the rest), of which bowhead whales contribute by far the most (Fuller and George 1999). Seals contribute only 2 to 3% of annual subsistence harvest (Brower and Opie 1997, Brower and Hepa 1998, Fuller and George 1999). Fuller and George (1999) estimated that 46 seals were harvested in 1992. The PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 more common ringed seals appear to dominate the harvest, although the larger and thicker-skinned bearded seals are probably preferred. Spotted seals occur in the Colville River Delta in small numbers, which is reflected in the harvest. Available harvest records suggest that most seal harvest occurs in the months preceding the proposed August start of the seismic survey, when waning ice conditions provide the best opportunity to approach and kill hauled out seals. Much of the late summer seal harvest occurs in the Colville River as the seals follow fish runs upstream. Still, openwater seal hunting could occur coincident with the seismic surveys, especially bearded seal hunts based from Thetis Island. In general, however, given the relatively low contribution of seals to the Nuiqsut subsistence, and the greater opportunity to hunt seals earlier in the season, any potential impact by the seismic survey on seal hunting is likely remote. Potential Impacts to Subsistence Uses NMFS has defined ‘‘unmitigable adverse impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as: ‘‘An impact resulting from the specified activity: (1) That is likely to reduce the availability of the species to a level insufficient for a harvest to meet subsistence needs by: (i) Causing the marine mammals to abandon or avoid hunting areas; (ii) Directly displacing subsistence users; or (iii) Placing physical barriers between the marine mammals and the subsistence hunters; and (2) That cannot be sufficiently mitigated by other measures to increase the availability of marine mammals to allow subsistence needs to be met. Noise and general activity during SAE’s proposed 3D OBS seismic survey have the potential to impact marine mammals hunted by Native Alaskans. In the case of cetaceans, the most common reaction to anthropogenic sounds (as noted previously) is avoidance of the ensonified area. In the case of bowhead whales, this often means that the animals divert from their normal migratory path by several kilometers. Additionally, general vessel presence in the vicinity of traditional hunting areas could negatively impact a hunt. Native knowledge indicates that bowhead whales become increasingly ‘‘skittish’’ in the presence of seismic noise. Whales are more wary around the hunters and tend to expose a much smaller portion of their back when surfacing, which makes harvesting more difficult. Additionally, natives report that bowheads exhibit angry behaviors, such as tail-slapping, in the presence of seismic activity, which translate to E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 danger for nearby subsistence harvesters. Responses of seals to seismic airguns are expected to be negligible. Bain and Williams (2006) studied the responses of harbor seals, California sea lions, and Steller sea lions to seismic airguns and found that seals at exposure levels above 170 dB re 1 mPa (peak-peak) often showed avoidance behavior, including generally staying at the surface and keeping their heads out of the water, but that the responses were not overt, and there were no detectable responses at low exposure levels. Plan of Cooperation or Measures To Minimize Impacts to Subsistence Hunts Regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(12) require IHA applicants for activities that take place in Arctic waters to provide a Plan of Cooperation (POC) or information that identifies what measures have been taken and/or will be taken to minimize adverse effects on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence purposes. SAE has prepared a draft POC, which was developed by identifying and evaluating any potential effects the proposed seismic survey might have on seasonal abundance that is relied upon for subsistence use. For the proposed project, SAE states that it is working closely with the North Slope Borough (NSB) and its partner Kuukpik Corporation, to identify subsistence communities and activities that may take place within or near the project area. SAE adopted a three-stage process to develop its POC: Stage 1: SAE attended the AEWC’s mini-convention in December 2013, in Anchorage, and presented a description of the seismic survey program to the AEWC. Collaboration meetings were also held in March and April 2014 with Kuukpik Corporation leaders. Kuukpik Corporation is SAE’s joint venture partner in the project and on the North Slope of Alaska. In addition, SAE has been meeting and consulting with nearby communities, namely the NSB planning department and the Fish and Wildlife division. SAE also presented its proposed project and discussed planned activities during community meetings in the villages of Nuiqsut and Kaktovik. The meetings included discussions of SAE’s project description, potential ways to resolve potential conflicts, and the proposed operational timeframe. These meetings help to identify any subsistence conflicts and allow SAE to understand community concerns, and requests for communication or mitigation. The following community VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 and stakeholder meetings were conducted: • December 13, 2013—AEWC • February 27, 2014—Barrow (NSB) • February, 10, 11, 12, 2014—AEWC • January, 15 2014—Nuiqsut • April 22, 2014—Nuqsut (seals) • May 14, 2014—Kaktovik Stage 2: SAE will document results of all meetings and incorporate them into the POC, as applicable, to mitigate concerns. SAE will also review permit stipulations and develop a permit matrix for the crews. SAE will develop appropriate means of communication and a contact list to communicate with appropriate stakeholders, and these will be incorporated into operations. The use of scientific and Inupiat PSOs/ Communicators on board the vessels will ensure that appropriate precautions are taken to avoid harassment of marine mammals, including whales, seals, walruses or polar bears. SAE will coordinate the timing and location of operations with the Com-Centers in Deadhorse and Kaktovik to minimize impact to the subsistence activities or the Nuiqsut/Kaktovik bowhead whale hunt. Stage 3: If a conflict between project activities and subsistence hunting does occur, SAE states that it will immediately contact the project manager and the Com-Center. If avoidance is not possible, the project manager will initiate communication with a representative from the impacted subsistence hunter group(s) to resolve the issue and to plan an alternative course of action. In addition, SAE and its contractors will work with local villages and Kuukpik Cooperation to identify qualified individuals that are interested in working on its program and provide employment opportunities. Finally, SAE has signed a Conflict Avoidance Agreement (CAA) with the Alaska whaling communities to further ensure that its proposed open-water seismic survey activities in the Beaufort Sea will not have unmitigable impacts to subsistence activities. NMFS has included appropriate measures identified in the CAA in the proposed IHA. Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Preliminary Determination SAE has adopted a spatial and temporal strategy for its 3D OBN seismic survey that should minimize impacts to subsistence hunters and ensure the sufficient availability of species for hunters to meet subsistence needs. SAE will temporarily cease seismic activities during the fall bowhead whale hunt, PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39939 which will allow the hunt to occur without any adverse impact from SAE’s activities. Although some seal hunting co-occurs temporally with SAE’s proposed seismic survey, the locations do not overlap, so SAE’s activities will not impact the hunting areas and will not directly displace sealers or place physical barriers between the sealers and the seals. In addition, SAE is conducting the seismic surveys in a joint partnership agreement with Kuukpik Corporation, which allows SAE to work closely with the native communities on the North Slope to plan operations that include measures that are environmentally suitable and that do not impact local subsistence use, and to adjust the operations, if necessary, to minimize any potential impacts that might arise. Based on the description of the specified activity, the measures described to minimize adverse effects on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence purposes, and the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures, NMFS has preliminarily determined that there will not be an unmitigable adverse impact on subsistence uses from SAE’s proposed activities. Endangered Species Act (ESA) Within the project area, the bowhead whale is listed as endangered and the ringed and bearded seals are listed as threatened under the ESA. NMFS’ Permits and Conservation Division has initiated consultation with staff in NMFS’ Alaska Region Protected Resources Division under section 7 of the ESA on the issuance of an IHA to SAE under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for this activity. Consultation will be concluded prior to a determination on the issuance of an IHA. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) NMFS is currently conducting an analysis, pursuant to NEPA, to determine whether this proposed IHA may have a significant effect on the human environment. This analysis will be completed prior to the issuance or denial of this proposed IHA. Proposed Authorization As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to SAE for conducting a 3D OBN seismic survey in Beaufort Sea during the 2014 Arctic open-water season, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. The proposed IHA language is provided next. E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 39940 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices This section contains a draft of the IHA itself. The wording contained in this section is proposed for inclusion in the IHA (if issued). (1) This Authorization is valid from August 15, 2014, through October 15, 2014. (2) This Authorization is valid only for activities associated with open-water 3D seismic surveys and related activities in the Beaufort Sea. The specific areas where SAE’s surveys will be conducted are within the Beaufort Sea, Alaska, as shown in Figure 1–1 of SAE’s IHA application. (3)(a) The species authorized for incidental harassment takings, Level B harassment only, are: beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas); bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus); bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus); spotted seals (Phoca largha); and ringed seals (P. hispida). (3)(b) The authorization for taking by harassment is limited to the following acoustic sources and from the following activities: (i) 440-in3, 880-in3, and 1,760-in3 airgun arrays and other acoustic sources for 3D open-water seismic surveys; and (ii) Vessel activities related to openwater seismic surveys listed in (i). (3)(c) The taking of any marine mammal in a manner prohibited under this Authorization must be reported within 24 hours of the taking to the Alaska Regional Administrator (907– 586–7221) or his designee in Anchorage (907–271–3023), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at (301) 427–8401, or his designee (301–427–8418). (4) The holder of this Authorization must notify the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, at least 48 hours prior to the start of collecting seismic data (unless constrained by the date of issuance of this Authorization in which case notification shall be made as soon as possible). (5) Prohibitions (a) The taking, by incidental harassment only, is limited to the species listed under condition 3(a) above and by the numbers listed in Table 3. The taking by Level A harassment, injury or death of these species or the taking by harassment, injury or death of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this Authorization. (b) The taking of any marine mammal is prohibited whenever the required source vessel protected species observers (PSOs), required by condition VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 7(a)(i), are not onboard in conformance with condition 7(a)(i) of this Authorization. (6) Mitigation (a) Establishing Exclusion and Disturbance Zones (i) Establish and monitor with trained PSOs preliminary exclusion zones for cetaceans surrounding the airgun array on the source vessel where the received level would be 180 dB (rms) re 1 mPa. For purposes of the field verification test, described in condition 7(e)(i), these radii are estimated to be 325, 494, and 842 m from the seismic source for the 440-in3, 880-in3, and 1,760-in3 airgun arrays, respectively. (ii) Establish and monitor with trained PSOs preliminary exclusion zones for pinnipeds surrounding the airgun array on the source vessel where the received level would be 190 dB (rms) re 1 mPa. For purposes of the field verification test, described in condition 7(e)(i), these radii are estimated to be 126, 167, and 321 m from the seismic source for the 440-in3, 880-in3, and 1,760-in3 airgun arrays, respectively. (iii) Establish zones of influence (ZOIs) for cetaceans and pinnipeds surrounding the airgun array on the source vessel where the received level would be 160 dB (rms) re 1 mPa. For purposes of the field verification test described in condition 7(e)(i), these radii are estimated to be 1,330, 1,500, and 2,990 m from the seismic source for the 440-in3, 880-in3, and 1,760-in3 airgun arrays, respectively. (iv) Immediately upon completion of data analysis of the field verification measurements required under condition 7(e)(i) below, the new 160-dB, 180-dB, and 190-dB marine mammal ZOIs and exclusion zones shall be established based on the sound source verification. (b) Vessel Movement Mitigation: (i) Avoid concentrations or groups of whales by all vessels under the direction of SAE. Operators of support vessels should, at all times, conduct their activities at the maximum distance possible from such concentrations or groups of whales. (ii) If any vessel approaches within 1.6 km (1 mi) of observed bowhead whales, except when providing emergency assistance to whalers or in other emergency situations, the vessel operator will take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with the bowhead whales by taking one or more of the following actions, as appropriate: (A) Reducing vessel speed to less than 5 knots within 300 yards (900 feet or 274 m) of the whale(s); (B) Steering around the whale(s) if possible; PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 (C) Operating the vessel(s) in such a way as to avoid separating members of a group of whales from other members of the group; (D) Operating the vessel(s) to avoid causing a whale to make multiple changes in direction; and (E) Checking the waters immediately adjacent to the vessel(s) to ensure that no whales will be injured when the propellers are engaged. (iii) When weather conditions require, such as when visibility drops, adjust vessel speed accordingly, but not to exceed 5 knots, to avoid the likelihood of injury to whales. (c) Mitigation Measures for Airgun Operations (i) Ramp-up: (A) A ramp up, following a cold start, can be applied if the exclusion zone has been free of marine mammals for a consecutive 30-minute period. The entire exclusion zone must have been visible during these 30 minutes. If the entire exclusion zone is not visible, then ramp up from a cold start cannot begin. (B) If a marine mammal(s) is sighted within the exclusion zone during the 30-minute watch prior to ramp up, ramp up will be delayed until the marine mammal(s) is sighted outside of the exclusion zone or the animal(s) is not sighted for at least 15 minutes for pinnipeds, or 30 minutes for cetaceans. (C) If, for any reason, electrical power to the airgun array has been discontinued for a period of 10 minutes or more, ramp-up procedures shall be implemented. If the PSO watch has been suspended during that time, a 30minute clearance of the exclusion zone is required prior to commencing rampup. Discontinuation of airgun activity for less than 10 minutes does not require a ramp-up. (D) The seismic operator and PSOs shall maintain records of the times when ramp-ups start and when the airgun arrays reach full power. (ii) Power-down/Shutdown: (A) The airgun array shall be immediately powered down whenever a marine mammal is sighted approaching close to or within the applicable exclusion zone of the full array, but is outside the applicable exclusion zone of the single mitigation airgun. (B) If a marine mammal is already within or is about to enter the exclusion zone when first detected, the airguns shall be powered down immediately. (C) Following a power-down, firing of the full airgun array shall not resume until the marine mammal has cleared the exclusion zone. The animal will be considered to have cleared the exclusion zone if it is visually observed to have left the exclusion zone of the E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices full array, or has not been seen within the zone for 15 minutes for pinnipeds, or 30 minutes for cetaceans. (D) If a marine mammal is sighted within or about to enter the 190 or 180 dB (rms) applicable exclusion zone of the single mitigation airgun, the airgun array shall be shutdown. (E) Firing of the full airgun array or the mitigation gun shall not resume until the marine mammal has cleared the exclusion zone of the full array or mitigation gun, respectively. The animal will be considered to have cleared the exclusion zone as described above under ramp up procedures. (iii) Poor Visibility Conditions: (A) If during foggy conditions, heavy snow or rain, or darkness, the full 180 dB exclusion zone is not visible, the airguns cannot commence a ramp-up procedure from a full shut-down. (B) If one or more airguns have been operational before nightfall or before the onset of poor visibility conditions, they can remain operational throughout the night or poor visibility conditions. In this case ramp-up procedures can be initiated, even though the exclusion zone may not be visible, on the assumption that marine mammals will be alerted by the sounds from the single airgun and have moved away. (iv) Use of a Small-volume Airgun During Turns and Transits. (A) Throughout the seismic survey, during turning movements and short transits, SAE will employ the use of the smallest-volume airgun (i.e., ‘‘mitigation airgun’’) to deter marine mammals from being within the immediate area of the seismic operations. The mitigation airgun would be operated at approximately one shot per minute and would not be operated for longer than three hours in duration (turns may last two to three hours for the proposed project). (B) During turns or brief transits (i.e., less than three hours) between seismic tracklines, one mitigation airgun will continue operating. The ramp up procedures described above will be followed when increasing the source levels from the one mitigation airgun to the full airgun array. However, keeping one airgun firing during turns and brief transits allow SAE to resume seismic surveys using the full array without having to ramp up from a ‘‘cold start,’’ which requires a 30-minute observation period of the full exclusion zone and is prohibited during darkness or other periods of poor visibility. PSOs will be on duty whenever the airguns are firing during daylight and during the 30minute periods prior to ramp-ups from a ‘‘cold start.’’ VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 (d) Mitigation Measures for Subsistence Activities: (i) For the purposes of reducing or eliminating conflicts between subsistence whaling activities and SAE’s survey program, the holder of this Authorization will participate with other operators in the Communication and Call Centers (Com-Center) Program. Com-Centers will be operated to facilitate communication of information between SAE and subsistence whalers. The Com-Centers will be operated 24 hours/day during the 2014 fall subsistence bowhead whale hunt. (ii) All vessels shall report to the appropriate Com-Center at least once every six hours, commencing each day with a call at approximately 06:00 hours. (iii) The appropriate Com-Center shall be notified if there is any significant change in plans. The appropriate ComCenter also shall be called regarding any unsafe or unanticipated ice conditions. (iv) Upon notification by a ComCenter operator of an at-sea emergency, the holder of this Authorization shall provide such assistance as necessary to prevent the loss of life, if conditions allow the holder of this Authorization to safely do so. (v) SAE shall monitor the positions of all of its vessels and exercise due care in avoiding any areas where subsistence activity is active. (vi) Routing barge and transit vessels: (A) Vessels transiting in the Beaufort Sea east of Bullen Point to the Canadian border shall remain at least 5 miles offshore during transit along the coast, provided ice and sea conditions allow. During transit in the Chukchi Sea, vessels shall remain as far offshore as weather and ice conditions allow, and at all times at least 5 miles offshore. (B) From August 31 to October 31, vessels in the Chukchi Sea or Beaufort Sea shall remain at least 20 miles offshore of the coast of Alaska from Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea to Pitt Point on the east side of Smith Bay in the Beaufort Sea, unless ice conditions or an emergency that threatens the safety of the vessel or crew prevents compliance with this requirement. This condition shall not apply to vessels actively engaged in transit to or from a coastal community to conduct crew changes or logistical support operations. (C) Vessels shall be operated at speeds necessary to ensure no physical contact with whales occurs, and to make any other potential conflicts with bowheads or whalers unlikely. Vessel speeds shall be less than 10 knots in the proximity of feeding whales or whale aggregations. (D) If any vessel inadvertently approaches within 1.6 kilometers (1 PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39941 mile) of observed bowhead whales, except when providing emergency assistance to whalers or in other emergency situations, the vessel operator will take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with the bowhead whales by taking one or more of the following actions, as appropriate: Æ reducing vessel speed to less than 5 knots within 900 feet of the whale(s); Æ steering around the whale(s) if possible; Æ operating the vessel(s) in such a way as to avoid separating members of a group of whales from other members of the group; Æ operating the vessel(s) to avoid causing a whale to make multiple changes in direction; and Æ checking the waters immediately adjacent to the vessel(s) to ensure that no whales will be injured when the propellers are engaged. (vii) Limitation on seismic surveys in the Beaufort Sea. (A) Kaktovik: No seismic survey from the Canadian Border to the Canning River from August 25 to close of the fall bowhead whale hunt in Kaktovik and Nuiqsut. From August 10 to August 25, SAE will communicate and collaborate with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) on any planned vessel movement in and around Kaktovik and Cross Island to avoid impacts to whale hunting. (B) Nuiqsut: Æ Pt. Storkerson to Thetis Island: No seismic survey prior to July 25 inside the Barrier Islands. No seismic survey from August 25 to close of fall bowhead whale hunting outside the Barrier Island in Nuiqsut. Æ Canning River to Pt. Storkerson: No seismic survey from August 25 to the close of bowhead whale subsistence hunting in Nuiqsut. (C) Barrow: No seismic survey from Pitt Point on the east side of Smith Bay to a location about half way between Barrow and Peard Bay from September 15 to the close of the fall bowhead whale hunt in Barrow. (viii) SAE shall complete operations in time to allow such vessels to complete transit through the Bering Strait to a point south of 59 degrees North latitude no later than November 15, 2014. Any vessel that encounters weather or ice that will prevent compliance with this date shall coordinate its transit through the Bering Strait to a point south of 59 degrees North latitude with the appropriate Com-Centers. SAE vessels shall, weather and ice permitting, transit east of St. Lawrence Island and no closer than 10 E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 39942 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices miles from the shore of St. Lawrence Island. (7) Monitoring: (a) Vessel-based Visual Monitoring: (i) Vessel-based visual monitoring for marine mammals shall be conducted by NMFS-approved protected species observers (PSOs) throughout the period of survey activities. (ii) PSOs shall be stationed aboard the seismic survey vessels and mitigation vessel through the duration of the surveys. (iii) A sufficient number of PSOs shall be onboard the survey vessel to meet the following criteria: (A) 100% monitoring coverage during all periods of survey operations in daylight; (B) maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per PSO; and (C) maximum of 12 hours of watch time per day per PSO. (iv) The vessel-based marine mammal monitoring shall provide the basis for real-time mitigation measures as described in (6)(c) above. (v) Results of the vessel-based marine mammal monitoring shall be used to calculate the estimation of the number of ‘‘takes’’ from the marine surveys and equipment recovery and maintenance program. (b) Protected Species Observers and Training. (i) PSO teams shall consist of Inupiat observers and NMFS-approved field biologists. (ii) Experienced field crew leaders shall supervise the PSO teams in the field. New PSOs shall be paired with experienced observers to avoid situations where lack of experience impairs the quality of observations. (iii) Crew leaders and most other biologists serving as observers in 2014 shall be individuals with experience as observers during recent seismic or shallow hazards monitoring projects in Alaska, the Canadian Beaufort, or other offshore areas in recent years. (iv) Resumes for PSO candidates shall be provided to NMFS for review and acceptance of their qualifications. Inupiat observers shall be experienced in the region and familiar with the marine mammals of the area. (v) All observers shall complete a NMFS-approved observer training course designed to familiarize individuals with monitoring and data collection procedures. The training course shall be completed before the anticipated start of the 2014 open-water season. The training session(s) shall be conducted by qualified marine mammalogists with extensive crewleader experience during previous vessel-based monitoring programs. VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 (vi) Training for both Alaska native PSOs and biologist PSOs shall be conducted at the same time in the same room. There shall not be separate training courses for the different PSOs. (vii) Crew members should not be used as primary PSOs because they have other duties and generally do not have the same level of expertise, experience, or training as PSOs, but they could be stationed on the fantail of the vessel to observe the near field, especially the area around the airgun array, and implement a power down or shutdown if a marine mammal enters the safety zone (or exclusion zone). (viii) If crew members are to be used as PSOs, they shall go through some basic training consistent with the functions they will be asked to perform. The best approach would be for crew members and PSOs to go through the same training together. (ix) PSOs shall be trained using visual aids (e.g., videos, photos), to help them identify the species that they are likely to encounter in the conditions under which the animals will likely be seen. (x) SAE shall train its PSOs to follow a scanning schedule that consistently distributes scanning effort according to the purpose and need for observations. All PSOs should follow the same schedule to ensure consistency in their scanning efforts. (xi) PSOs shall be trained in documenting the behaviors of marine mammals. PSOs should record the primary behavioral state (i.e., traveling, socializing, feeding, resting, approaching or moving away from vessels) and relative location of the observed marine mammals. (c) Marine Mammal Observation Protocol (i) PSOs shall watch for marine mammals from the best available vantage point on the survey vessels, typically the bridge. (ii) Observations by the PSOs on marine mammal presence and activity shall begin a minimum of 30 minutes prior to the estimated time that the seismic source is to be turned on and/ or ramped-up. (iii) For comparison purposes, PSOs shall also document marine mammal occurrence, density, and behavior during at least some periods when airguns are not operating (iv) PSOs shall scan systematically with the unaided eye and 7 x 50 reticle binoculars, supplemented with 20 x 60 image-stabilized binoculars or 25 x 150 binoculars, and night-vision equipment when needed. (v) Personnel on the bridge shall assist the marine mammal observer(s) in watching for marine mammals. PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 (vi) PSOs aboard the marine survey vessel shall give particular attention to the areas within the marine mammal exclusion zones around the source vessel, as noted in (6)(a)(i) and (ii). They shall avoid the tendency to spend too much time evaluating animal behavior or entering data on forms, both of which detract from their primary purpose of monitoring the exclusion zone. (vii) Monitoring shall consist of recording of the following information: (A) The species, group size, age/size/ sex categories (if determinable), the general behavioral activity, heading (if consistent), bearing and distance from seismic vessel, sighting cue, behavioral pace, and apparent reaction of all marine mammals seen near the seismic vessel and/or its airgun array (e.g., none, avoidance, approach, paralleling, etc); (B) the time, location, heading, speed, and activity of the vessel (shooting or not), along with sea state, visibility, cloud cover and sun glare at (I) any time a marine mammal is sighted (including pinnipeds hauled out on barrier islands), (II) at the start and end of each watch, and (III) during a watch (whenever there is a change in one or more variable); (C) the identification of all vessels that are visible within 5 km of the seismic vessel whenever a marine mammal is sighted and the time observed; (D) any identifiable marine mammal behavioral response (sighting data should be collected in a manner that will not detract from the PSO’s ability to detect marine mammals); (E) any adjustments made to operating procedures; and (F) visibility during observation periods so that total estimates of take can be corrected accordingly. (vii) Distances to nearby marine mammals will be estimated with binoculars (7 x 50 binoculars) containing a reticle to measure the vertical angle of the line of sight to the animal relative to the horizon. Observers may use a laser rangefinder to test and improve their abilities for visually estimating distances to objects in the water. (viii) PSOs shall understand the importance of classifying marine mammals as ‘‘unknown’’ or ‘‘unidentified’’ if they cannot identify the animals to species with confidence. In those cases, they shall note any information that might aid in the identification of the marine mammal sighted. For example, for an unidentified mysticete whale, the observers should record whether the animal had a dorsal fin. E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices (ix) Additional details about unidentified marine mammal sightings, such as ‘‘blow only,’’ mysticete with (or without) a dorsal fin, ‘‘seal splash,’’ etc., shall be recorded. (x) When a marine mammal is seen approaching or within the exclusion zone applicable to that species, the marine survey crew shall be notified immediately so that mitigation measures described in (6) can be promptly implemented. (xi) SAE shall use the best available technology to improve detection capability during periods of fog and other types of inclement weather. Such technology might include night-vision goggles or binoculars as well as other instruments that incorporate infrared technology. (d) Field Data-Recording and Verification (A) PSOs aboard the vessels shall maintain a digital log of seismic surveys, noting the date and time of all changes in seismic activity (ramp-up, power-down, changes in the active seismic source, shutdowns, etc.) and any corresponding changes in monitoring radii in a software spreadsheet. (B) PSOs shall utilize a standardized format to record all marine mammal observations and mitigation actions (seismic source power-downs, shutdowns, and ramp-ups). (C) Information collected during marine mammal observations shall include the following: (I) Vessel speed, position, and activity (II) Date, time, and location of each marine mammal sighting (III) Number of marine mammals observed, and group size, sex, and age categories (IV) Observer’s name and contact information (V) Weather, visibility, and ice conditions at the time of observation (VI) Estimated distance of marine mammals at closest approach (VII) Activity at the time of observation, including possible attractants present (VIII) Animal behavior (IX) Description of the encounter (X) Duration of encounter (XI) Mitigation action taken (D) Data shall be recorded directly into handheld computers or as a backup, transferred from hard-copy data sheets into an electronic database. (E) A system for quality control and verification of data shall be facilitated by the pre-season training, supervision by the lead PSOs, and in-season data checks, and shall be built into the software. (F) Computerized data validity checks shall also be conducted, and the data VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 shall be managed in such a way that it is easily summarized during and after the field program and transferred into statistical, graphical, or other programs for further processing. (e) Passive Acoustic Monitoring (i) Sound Source Measurements: Using a hydrophone system, the holder of this Authorization is required to conduct sound source verification tests for seismic airgun array(s) and other marine survey equipment that are involved in the open-water seismic surveys. (A) Sound source verification shall consist of distances where broadside and endfire directions at which broadband received levels reach 190, 180, 170, 160, and 120 dB (rms) re 1 mPa for the airgun array(s). The configurations of airgun arrays shall include at least the full array and the operation of a single source that will be used during power downs. (B) The test results shall be reported to NMFS within 5 days of completing the test. (ii) Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) (A) SAE shall conduct passive acoustic monitoring using fixed hydrophone(s) to (I) collect information on the occurrence and distribution of marine mammals (including beluga whale, bowhead whale, walrus and other species) that may be available to subsistence hunters near villages located on the Beaufort Sea coast and to document their relative abundance, habitat use, and migratory patterns; and (II) measure the ambient soundscape throughout the Beaufort Sea coast and to record received levels of sounds from industry and other activities. (f) Spotted Seal Haulout Monitoring (i) SAE shall conduct a biweekly boatbased survey of spotted seals before, during, and after the seismic survey, to identify where seals haulout in the action area. (ii) The survey will begin at the village of Nuiqsut and follow the far west channel of the Colville River, survey all the outer islands of the river delta, and then return to Nuiqsut following the farthest east river channel. (iii) All seals will be identified to species, and GPS location and whether the animals were hauled out or in the water will be noted. Collected data will be combined with available traditional knowledge and historical information to determine whether there are locations of consistent seal haulout use that might be affected by the seismic survey. (iv) If sites of suspected high use are found, SAE shall contact NMFS and the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife to identify additional PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 39943 mitigation measures to minimize impacts to these sites. (g) SAE shall engage in consultation and coordination with other oil and gas companies and with federal, state, and borough agencies to ensure that they have the most up-to-date information and can take advantage of other monitoring efforts. (8) Data Analysis and Presentation in Reports: (a) Estimation of potential takes or exposures shall be improved for times with low visibility (such as during fog or darkness) through interpolation or possibly using a probability approach. Those data could be used to interpolate possible takes during periods of restricted visibility. (b) SAE shall provide a database of the information collected, plus a number of summary analyses and graphics to help NMFS assess the potential impacts of SAE’s survey. Specific summaries/analyses/graphics would include: (i) Sound verification results including isopleths of sound pressure levels plotted geographically; (ii) a table or other summary of survey activities (i.e., did the survey proceed as planned); (iii) a table of sightings by time, location, species, and distance from the survey vessel; (iv) a geographic depiction of sightings for each species by area and month; (v) a table and/or graphic summarizing behaviors observed by species; (vi) a table and/or graphic summarizing observed responses to the survey by species; (vii) a table of mitigation measures (e.g., power downs, shut downs) taken by date, location, and species; (viii) a graphic of sightings by distance for each species and location; (ix) a table or graphic illustrating sightings during the survey versus sightings when the airguns were silent; and (x) a summary of times when the survey was interrupted because of interactions with marine mammals. (c) To help evaluate the effectiveness of PSOs and more effectively estimate take, if appropriate data are available, SAE shall perform analysis of sightability curves (detection functions) for distance-based analyses. (d) SAE shall collaborate with other industrial operators in the area to integrate and synthesize monitoring results as much as possible (such as submitting ‘‘sightings’’ from their monitoring projects to an online data archive, such as OBIS–SEAMAP) and E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 39944 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices archive and make the complete databases available upon request. (9) Reporting: (a) Sound Source Verification Report: A report on the preliminary results of the sound source verification measurements, including the measured 190, 180, 160, and 120 dB (rms) radii of the airgun sources and other acoustic survey equipment, shall be submitted within 14 days after collection of those measurements at the start of the field season. This report will specify the distances of the exclusion zones that were adopted for the survey. (b) Throughout the survey program, PSOs shall prepare a report each day, or at such other interval as is necessary, summarizing the recent results of the monitoring program. The reports shall summarize the species and numbers of marine mammals sighted. These reports shall be provided to NMFS. (c) Seismic Vessel Monitoring Program: A draft report will be submitted to the Director, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, within 90 days after the end of SAE’s 2014 openwater seismic surveys in the Beaufort Sea. The report will describe in detail: (i) Summaries of monitoring effort (e.g., total hours, total distances, and marine mammal distribution through the study period, accounting for sea state and other factors affecting visibility and detectability of marine mammals); (ii) summaries that represent an initial level of interpretation of the efficacy, measurements, and observations, rather than raw data, fully processed analyses, or summary of operations and important observations; (iii) summaries of all mitigation measures (e.g., operational shutdowns if they occur) and an assessment of the efficacy of the monitoring methods; (iv) analyses of the effects of various factors influencing detectability of marine mammals (e.g., sea state, number of observers, and fog/glare); (v) species composition, occurrence, and distribution of marine mammal sightings, including date, water depth, numbers, age/size/gender categories (if determinable), group sizes, and ice cover; (vi) Data analysis separated into periods when an airgun array (or a single airgun) is operating and when it is not, to better assess impacts to marine mammals—the final and comprehensive report to NMFS should summarize and plot: (A) Data for periods when a seismic array is active and when it is not; and (B) the respective predicted received sound conditions over fairly large areas (tens of km) around operations; VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 (vii) sighting rates of marine mammals during periods with and without airgun activities (and other variables that could affect detectability), such as: (A) Initial sighting distances versus airgun activity state; (B) closest point of approach versus airgun activity state; (C) observed behaviors and types of movements versus airgun activity state; (D) numbers of sightings/individuals seen versus airgun activity state; (E) distribution around the survey vessel versus airgun activity state; and (F) estimates of take by harassment; (viii) reported results from all hypothesis tests, including estimates of the associated statistical power, when practicable; (ix) estimates of uncertainty in all take estimates, with uncertainty expressed by the presentation of confidence limits, a minimum-maximum, posterior probability distribution, or another applicable method, with the exact approach to be selected based on the sampling method and data available; (x) A clear comparison of authorized takes and the level of actual estimated takes; and (xi) A complete characterization of the acoustic footprint resulting from various activity states. (d) The draft report shall be subject to review and comment by NMFS. Any recommendations made by NMFS must be addressed in the final report prior to acceptance by NMFS. The draft report will be considered the final report for this activity under this Authorization if NMFS has not provided comments and recommendations within 90 days of receipt of the draft report. (10)(a) In the unanticipated event that survey operations clearly cause the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this Authorization, such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality (e.g., shipstrike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), SAE shall immediately cease survey operations and immediately report the incident to the Supervisor of the Incidental Take Program, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301–427–8401 and/or by email to Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and Shane.Guan@noaa.gov and the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators (Aleria.Jensen@noaa.gov and Barbara.Mahoney@noaa.gov). The report must include the following information: (i) Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; (ii) the name and type of vessel involved; (iii) the vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 (iv) description of the incident; (v) status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (vi) water depth; (vii) environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); (viii) description of marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (ix) species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (x) the fate of the animal(s); and (xi) photographs or video footage of the animal (if equipment is available). Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS shall work with SAE to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. SAE may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone. (b) In the event that SAE discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a moderate state of decomposition as described in the next paragraph), SAE will immediately report the incident to the Supervisor of the Incidental Take Program, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301–427–8401, and/or by email to Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and Shane.Guan@noaa.gov and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline (1–877–925– 7773) and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators (Aleria.Jensen@noaa.gov and Barabara.Mahoney@noaa.gov). The report must include the same information identified in Condition 10(a) above. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with SAE to determine whether modifications in the activities are appropriate. (c) In the event that SAE discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in Condition 3 of this Authorization (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), SAE shall report the incident to the Supervisor of the Incidental Take Program, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301– 427–8401, and/or by email to Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and Shane.Guan@noaa.gov and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline (1–877–925– E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES2 7773) and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators (Aleria.Jensen@noaa.gov and Barbara.Mahoney@noaa.gov), within 24 hours of the discovery. SAE shall provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. SAE can continue its operations under such a case. (11) Activities related to the monitoring described in this Authorization do not require a separate scientific research permit issued under section 104 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. (12) The Plan of Cooperation outlining the steps that will be taken to cooperate and communicate with the native communities to ensure the VerDate Mar<15>2010 19:26 Jul 09, 2014 Jkt 232001 availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses, must be implemented. (13) This Authorization may be modified, suspended, or withdrawn if the holder fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein or if the authorized taking is having more than a negligible impact on the species or stock of affected marine mammals, or if there is an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for subsistence uses. (14) A copy of this Authorization and the Incidental Take Statement must be in the possession of each seismic vessel operator taking marine mammals under the authority of this Incidental Harassment Authorization. (15) SAE is required to comply with the Terms and Conditions of the Incidental Take Statement PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 9990 39945 corresponding to NMFS’ Biological Opinion. Request for Public Comments NMFS requests comment on our analysis, the draft authorization, and any other aspect of the Notice of Proposed IHA for SAE’s proposed 3D seismic survey in the Beaufort Sea. Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision on SAE’s request for an MMPA authorization. Dated: July 2, 2014. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2014–16010 Filed 7–9–14; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\10JYN2.SGM 10JYN2

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 132 (Thursday, July 10, 2014)]
[Notices]
[Pages 39913-39945]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-16010]



[[Page 39913]]

Vol. 79

Thursday,

No. 132

July 10, 2014

Part V





 Department of Commerce





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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration





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Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking 
Marine Mammals Incidental to Marine Seismic Survey in the Beaufort Sea, 
Alaska; Notice

Federal Register / Vol. 79 , No. 132 / Thursday, July 10, 2014 / 
Notices

[[Page 39914]]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XD145


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental To Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Marine Seismic Survey in the 
Beaufort Sea, Alaska

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

ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request 
for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS has received an application from SAExploration, Inc. 
(SAE) for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take marine 
mammals, by harassment, incidental to a marine 3-dimensional (3D) ocean 
bottom node (OBN) seismic surveys program in the state and federal 
waters of the Beaufort Sea, Alaska, during the open-water season of 
2014. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is 
requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to SAE to 
incidentally take, by Level B Harassment only, marine mammals during 
the specified activity.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than August 
11, 2014.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie 
Harrison, Supervisor, Incidental Take Program, Permits and Conservation 
Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox 
address for providing email comments is itp.guan@noaa.gov. Comments 
sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-
megabyte file size. NMFS is not responsible for comments sent to 
addresses other than those provided here.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm without change. All Personal Identifying Information 
(for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the 
commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential 
Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    An electronic copy of the application may be obtained by writing to 
the address specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see 
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. The following associated 
documents are also available at the same internet address: Plan of 
Cooperation. Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by 
appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned 
address.
    NMFS is also preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) in 
accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and will 
consider comments submitted in response to this notice as part of that 
process. The EA will be posted at the foregoing internet site once it 
is finalized.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shane Guan, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) 
direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the 
incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine 
mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than 
commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain 
findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking 
is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is 
provided to the public for review.
    An authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS 
finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or 
stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where 
relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements 
pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings 
are set forth. NMFS has defined ``negligible impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 
as ``an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be 
reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely 
affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of 
recruitment or survival.''
    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering [Level B harassment].

Summary of Request

    On December 8, 2013, NMFS received an application from SAE for the 
taking of marine mammals incidental to a 3D OBN seismic survey program 
in the Beaufort Sea. After receiving NMFS comments, SAE made revision 
and updated its IHA application on February 14, 2014, and again on 
April 23, 2014. In addition, NMFS received the marine mammal mitigation 
and monitoring plan from SAE on May 15, 2014. NMFS determined that the 
application was adequate and complete on May 25, 2014.
    SAE proposes to conduct 3D ocean bottom node (OBN) seismic surveys 
in the state and federal waters of the U.S. Beaufort Sea during the 
2014 Arctic open-water season. The proposed activity would occur 
between August 15 and October 15, 2014. The actual seismic survey is 
expected to take approximately 70 days, dependent of weather. The 
following specific aspects of the proposed activities are likely to 
result in the take of marine mammals: seismic airgun operations and 
associated navigation sonar and vessel movements. Take, by Level B 
Harassment only, of individuals of five species of marine mammals is 
anticipated to result from the specified activity.

Description of the Specified Activity

Overview

    On December 8, 2013, NMFS received an application from SAE 
requesting an authorization for the harassment of small numbers of 
marine mammals incidental to conducting an open-water 3D OBN seismic 
survey in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. After addressing comments from 
NMFS and the peer-review panel, SAE modified its application and 
submitted revised applications on February 14, 2014 and on April 24, 
2014. SAE's proposed activities discussed here are based on its April 
24, 2014 IHA application.

Dates and Duration

    The proposed 3D OBN seismic survey is planned for the 2014 open-
water season (August 15 to October 15). The actual data acquisition is 
expected to take approximately 70 days, dependent of weather. Based on 
past similar seismic shoots in the Beaufort Sea, SAE expects that 
effective shooting would occur over about 70% of the 70 days (or about 
49 days).

[[Page 39915]]

Specified Geographic Region

    SAE's proposed 3D OBN seismic survey would occur in the nearshore 
waters of the Colville River Delta in the Alaska Beaufort Sea (see 
Figure 1-1 of the IHA application). The area represents a total area of 
1,882 km\2\ (727 mi\2\).

Detailed Description of Activities

I. Survey Design

    The proposed 3D OBN seismic survey will be based on a ``recording 
patch'' or similar approach. Patches are groups of six receiver lines 
and 32 source lines. Each receiver line has submersible marine sensor 
nodes tethered equidistant (50 m or 165 ft) from each other along the 
length of the line. Each node is a multicomponent system containing 
three velocity sensors and a hydrophone. Each receiver line is 
approximately 8 km (5 mi) in length, and are spaced approximately 402 m 
(1,320 ft) apart. Each receiver patch is 19.4 km\2\ (7.5 mi\2\) in 
area. The receiver patch is oriented such that the receiver lines run 
parallel to the shoreline.
    Source lines would be 12 km (7.5 mi) long and spaced 502 m (1,650 
ft) apart, run perpendicular to the receiver lines (and perpendicular 
to the coast) and, where possible, will extend approximately 5 km (3 
mi) beyond the outside receiver lines and approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) 
beyond each of the ends of the receiver lines. The outside dimensions 
of the maximum shot area during a patch shoot will be 12 km by 16 km 
(7.5 mi by 10 mi) or 192 km\2\ (75 mi\2\). It is expected to take three 
to five days to shoot a patch, or 48 km\2\ (18.75 mi\2\) per day. All 
shot areas will be wholly contained within the 1,882-km\2\ survey box 
depicted in Figure 1-1 of the IHA application. Shot intervals along 
each source line will be 50 m (165 ft).
    During recording of one patch, nodes from the previously surveyed 
patch will be retrieved, recharged, and data downloaded prior to 
redeployment of the nodes to the next patch. As patches are recorded, 
receiver lines are moved side to side or end to end to the next patch 
location so that receiver lines have continuous coverage of the 
recording area.
    Autonomous recording nodes lack cables but will be tethered 
together using a thin rope for ease of retrieval. This rope will lay on 
the seabed surface, as will the nodes, and is expected to have no 
effect on marine traffic. Primary vessel positioning will be achieved 
using GPS with the antenna attached to the airgun array. Pingers 
deployed from the node vessels will be used for positioning of nodes. 
The geometry/patch could be modified as operations progress to improve 
sampling and operational efficiency.

II. Acoustical Sources

    The acoustic sources of primary concern are the airguns that will 
be deployed from the seismic source vessels. However, there are other 
noise sources to be addressed including the pingers and transponders 
associated with locating receiver nodes, as well as propeller noise 
from the vessel fleet.

Seismic Source Array

    The seismic sources to be used will include 880 and 1,760 cubic 
inch (in\3\) sleeve airgun arrays for use in the deeper waters, and a 
440 in\3\ array in the very shallow (<1.5 m deep) water locations. The 
arrays will be towed approximately 15 to 22 m (50 to 75 ft) behind the 
source vessel stern, at a depth of 4 m (12 ft), and towed along 
predetermined source lines at speeds between 4 and 5 knots. In the 
shallower waters the smaller arrays will be raised to shallower depths 
up to 1.3 m (4.3 ft). Two vessels with full arrays will be operating 
simultaneously in an alternating shot mode; one vessel shooting while 
the other is recharging. Shot intervals are expected to be about 8 to 
10 seconds for each array, resulting in an overall shot interval of 4 
to 5 seconds, considering the two arrays. Operations are expected to 
occur 24 hours a day.
    Based on the manufacturer's specifications, the 440 in\3\ array has 
a peak-peak estimated source level of 239.1 dB re 1 [mu]Pa @1 m (9.0 
bar-m), and root mean square (rms) at 221.1 dB re 1 [mu]Pa. The 880 
in\3\ array produces sound levels at source estimated at peak-peak 
244.86 dB re 1 [mu]Pa @1 m (17.5 bar-m), and rms at 226.86 dB re 1 
[mu]Pa. The 1,760 in\3\ array has a peak-peak estimated sound source of 
254.55 dB re 1 [mu]Pa @1 m (53.5 bar-m), with an rms sound source of 
236.55 dB re 1 [mu]Pa. The 1,760 in\3\ array has a sound source level 
approximately 10 dB higher than the 880 in\3\ array.

Pingers and Transponders

    An acoustical positioning (or pinger) system will be used to 
position and interpolate the location of the nodes. A vessel-mounted 
transceiver calculates the position of the nodes by measuring the range 
and bearing from the transceiver to a small acoustic transponder fitted 
to every third node. The transceiver uses sonar to interrogate the 
transponders, which respond with short pulses that are used in 
measuring the range and bearing. The system provides a precise location 
of every node, as needed for accurate interpretation of the seismic 
data. The transceiver to be used is the Sonardyne Scout USBL, while 
transponders will be the Sonardyne TZ/OBN Type 7815-000-06. Because the 
transceiver and transponder communicate via sonar, they produce 
underwater sound levels. The Scout USBL transceiver has a transmission 
source level of 197 dB re 1 [mu]Pa @1 m and operates at frequencies 
between 35 and 55 kilohertz (kHz). The transponder produces short 
pulses of 184 to 187 dB re 1 [mu]Pa @1 m at frequencies also between 35 
and 55 kHz.

Vessels

    Several offshore vessels will be required to support recording, 
shooting, and housing in the marine and transition zone environments. 
The exact vessels that will be used have not yet been determined. 
However, the types of vessels that will be used to fulfill these roles 
are found in Table 1.

                         Table 1--Vessels To Be Used During SAE's 3D OBN Seismic Surveys
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                        Source
               Vessel                        Size (ft)                Activity and frequency          level (dB)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Source vessel 1.....................  120 x 25..............  Seismic data acquisition; 24 hr                179
                                                               operation.
Source vessel 2.....................  80 x 25...............  Seismic data acquisition; 24 hr                166
                                                               operation.
Node equipment vessel 1.............  80 x 20...............  Deploying and retrieving nodes; 24 hr          165
                                                               operation.
Node equipment vessel 2.............  80 x 20...............  Deploying and retrieving nodes; 24 hr          165
                                                               operation.
Housing vessel......................  90 x 20...............  House crew; 24 hr operation..........          200
Mitigation vessel...................  30 x 20...............  House PSOs and crew; 24 hr operation.          172
Crew transport vessel...............  30 x 20...............  Transport crew; intermittent 8 hrs...          192
Bow picker 1........................  30 x 20...............  Deploying and retrieving nodes;                172
                                                               intermittent operation.

[[Page 39916]]

 
Bow picker 2........................  30 x 20...............  Deploying and retrieving nodes;                172
                                                               intermittent operation.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Source Vessels--Source vessels will have the ability to deploy two 
arrays off the stern using large A-frames and winches and have a draft 
shallow enough to operate in waters less than 1.5 m (5 ft) deep. On the 
source vessels, the airgun arrays are typically mounted on the stern 
deck with an umbilical that allow the arrays to be deployed and towed 
from the stern without having to re-rig or move arrays. A large bow 
deck will allow for sufficient space for source compressors and 
additional airgun equipment to be stored. The marine vessels likely to 
be used will be the same or similar to those that were acoustically 
measured by Aerts et al. (2008).
    Recording Deployment and Retrieval Vessels--Jet-driven shallow 
draft vessels and bow pickers will be used for the deployment and 
retrieval of the offshore recording equipment. These vessels will be 
rigged with hydraulically-driven deployment-and-retrieval squirters 
allowing for automated deployment and retrieval from the bow or stern 
of the vessel. These vessels will also carry the recording equipment on 
the deck in fish totes.
    Housing and Transfer Vessels--The housing vessel will be larger 
than the recording deployment and retrieval vessels, with sufficient 
berthing to house crews and management. The housing vessel will have 
ample office and bridge space to facilitate its role as the mother ship 
and central operations. The crew transfer vessel will be sufficiently 
large to safely transfer crew between vessels as needed. The crew 
transfer vessel travels only infrequently, relative to other vessels, 
and is usually operated at different speeds.
    Mitigation Vessel--To facilitate marine mammal monitoring of the 
Level B harassment zone, one dedicated vessel will be deployed a few 
kilometers northeast of the active seismic source vessels to provide a 
survey platform for 2 or 3 Protected Species Observers (PSOs). These 
PSOs will work in concert with PSOs stationed aboard the source 
vessels, and will provide an early warning of the approach of any 
bowhead whale, beluga, or other marine mammal. It is assumed that the 
vessel will be of similar size and acoustical signature as a bow 
picker.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    The Beaufort Sea supports a diverse assemblage of marine mammals. 
Table 2 lists the 12 marine mammal species under NMFS jurisdiction with 
confirmed or possible occurrence in the proposed project area.

[[Page 39917]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TN10JY14.238

    The highlighted (grayed out) species in Table 2 are so rarely 
sighted in the proposed project area that take is unlikely. Minke 
whales are relatively common in the Bering and southern Chukchi Seas 
and have recently also been sighted in the northeastern Chukchi Sea 
(Aerts et al., 2013; Clarke et al., 2013). Minke whales are rare in the 
Beaufort Sea. They have not been reported in the Beaufort Sea during 
the Bowhead Whale Aerial Survey Project/Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine 
Mammals (BWASP/ASAMM) surveys (Clarke et al., 2011, 2012, 2013; Monnet 
and Treacy, 2005), and there was only one observation in 2007 during 
vessel-based surveys in the region (Funk et al., 2010). Humpback whales 
have not generally been found in the Arctic Ocean. However, subsistence 
hunters have spotted humpback whales in low numbers around Barrow, and 
there have been several confirmed sightings of humpback whales in the 
northeastern Chukchi Sea in recent years (Aerts et al., 2013; Clarke et 
al., 2013). The first confirmed sighting of a humpback whale in the 
Beaufort Sea was recorded in August 2007 (Hashagen et al., 2009), when 
a cow and calf were observed 54 mi east of Point Barrow. No additional 
sightings have been documented in the Beaufort Sea. Narwhal are common 
in the waters of northern Canada, west Greenland, and in the European 
Arctic, but rarely occur in the Beaufort Sea (COSEWIC, 2004). Only a 
handful of sightings have occurred in Alaskan

[[Page 39918]]

waters (Allen and Angliss, 2013). These three species are not 
considered further in this proposed IHA notice. Both the walrus and the 
polar bear could occur in the U.S. Beaufort Sea; however, these species 
are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and are not 
considered further in this Notice of Proposed IHA.
    The Beaufort Sea is a main corridor of the bowhead whale migration 
route. The main migration periods occur in spring from April to June 
and in fall from late August/early September through October to early 
November. During the fall migration, several locations in the U.S. 
Beaufort Sea serve as feeding grounds for bowhead whales. Small numbers 
of bowhead whales that remain in the U.S. Arctic Ocean during summer 
also feed in these areas. The U.S. Beaufort Sea is not a main feeding 
or calving area for any other cetacean species. Ringed seals breed and 
pup in the Beaufort Sea; however, this does not occur during the summer 
or early fall. Further information on the biology and local 
distribution of these species can be found in SAE's application (see 
ADDRESSES) and the NMFS Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports, which 
are available online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/.

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals

    This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that the 
types of stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., 
seismic airgun and pinger operation, vessel movement) have been 
observed to or are thought to impact marine mammals. This section may 
include a discussion of known effects that do not rise to the level of 
an MMPA take (for example, with acoustics, we may include a discussion 
of studies that showed animals not reacting at all to sound or 
exhibiting barely measurable avoidance). The discussion may also 
include reactions that we consider to rise to the level of a take and 
those that we do not consider to rise to the level of a take. This 
section is intended as a background of potential effects and does not 
consider either the specific manner in which this activity will be 
carried out or the mitigation that will be implemented or how either of 
those will shape the anticipated impacts from this specific activity. 
The ``Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment'' section later in this 
document will include a quantitative analysis of the number of 
individuals that are expected to be taken by this activity. The 
``Negligible Impact Analysis'' section will include the analysis of how 
this specific activity will impact marine mammals and will consider the 
content of this section, the ``Estimated Take by Incidental 
Harassment'' section, the ``Mitigation'' section, and the ``Anticipated 
Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat'' section to draw conclusions 
regarding the likely impacts of this activity on the reproductive 
success or survivorship of individuals and from that on the affected 
marine mammal populations or stocks.

Background on Sound

    Sound is a physical phenomenon consisting of minute vibrations that 
travel through a medium, such as air or water, and is generally 
characterized by several variables. Frequency describes the sound's 
pitch and is measured in hertz (Hz) or kilohertz (kHz), while sound 
level describes the sound's intensity and is measured in decibels (dB). 
Sound level increases or decreases exponentially with each dB of 
change. The logarithmic nature of the scale means that each 10-dB 
increase is a 10-fold increase in acoustic power (and a 20-dB increase 
is then a 100-fold increase in power). A 10-fold increase in acoustic 
power does not mean that the sound is perceived as being 10 times 
louder, however. Sound levels are compared to a reference sound 
pressure (micro-Pascal) to identify the medium. For air and water, 
these reference pressures are ``re: 20 [micro]Pa'' and ``re: 1 
[micro]Pa,'' respectively. Root mean square (RMS) is the quadratic mean 
sound pressure over the duration of an impulse. RMS is calculated by 
squaring all of the sound amplitudes, averaging the squares, and then 
taking the square root of the average (Urick, 1975). RMS accounts for 
both positive and negative values; squaring the pressures makes all 
values positive so that they may be accounted for in the summation of 
pressure levels. This measurement is often used in the context of 
discussing behavioral effects, in part, because behavioral effects, 
which often result from auditory cues, may be better expressed through 
averaged units rather than by peak pressures.

Acoustic Impacts

    When considering the influence of various kinds of sound on the 
marine environment, it is necessary to understand that different kinds 
of marine life are sensitive to different frequencies of sound. Based 
on available behavioral data, audiograms have been derived using 
auditory evoked potentials, anatomical modeling, and other data, 
Southall et al. (2007) designate ``functional hearing groups'' for 
marine mammals and estimate the lower and upper frequencies of 
functional hearing of the groups. The functional groups and the 
associated frequencies are indicated below (though animals are less 
sensitive to sounds at the outer edge of their functional range and 
most sensitive to sounds of frequencies within a smaller range 
somewhere in the middle of their functional hearing range):
     Low frequency cetaceans (13 species of mysticetes): 
Functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 7 Hz and 
30 kHz;
     Mid-frequency cetaceans (32 species of dolphins, six 
species of larger toothed whales, and 19 species of beaked and 
bottlenose whales): Functional hearing is estimated to occur between 
approximately 150 Hz and 160 kHz;
     High frequency cetaceans (eight species of true porpoises, 
six species of river dolphins, Kogia, the franciscana, and four species 
of cephalorhynchids): Functional hearing is estimated to occur between 
approximately 200 Hz and 180 kHz;
     Phocid pinnipeds in Water: Functional hearing is estimated 
to occur between approximately 75 Hz and 100 kHz; and
     Otariid pinnipeds in Water: Functional hearing is 
estimated to occur between approximately 100 Hz and 40 kHz.
    As mentioned previously in this document, nine marine mammal 
species (five cetaceans and four phocid pinnipeds) may occur in the 
proposed seismic survey area. Of the five cetacean species likely to 
occur in the proposed project area and for which take is requested, two 
are classified as low-frequency cetaceans (i.e., bowhead and gray 
whales), two are classified as mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., beluga 
and killer whales), and one is classified as a high-frequency cetacean 
(i.e., harbor porpoise) (Southall et al., 2007). A species functional 
hearing group is a consideration when we analyze the effects of 
exposure to sound on marine mammals.
1. Tolerance
    Numerous studies have shown that underwater sounds from industry 
activities are often readily detectable by marine mammals in the water 
at distances of many kilometers. Numerous studies have also shown that 
marine mammals at distances more than a few kilometers away often show 
no apparent response to industry activities of various types (Miller et 
al., 2005; Bain and Williams, 2006). This is often true even in cases 
when the sounds must be readily audible to the animals based on 
measured received levels and the

[[Page 39919]]

hearing sensitivity of that mammal group. Although various baleen 
whales, toothed whales, and (less frequently) pinnipeds have been shown 
to react behaviorally to underwater sound such as airgun pulses or 
vessels under some conditions, at other times mammals of all three 
types have shown no overt reactions (e.g., Malme et al., 1986; 
Richardson et al., 1995). Weir (2008) observed marine mammal responses 
to seismic pulses from a 24 airgun array firing a total volume of 
either 5,085 in\3\ or 3,147 in\3\ in Angolan waters between August 2004 
and May 2005. Weir recorded a total of 207 sightings of humpback whales 
(n = 66), sperm whales (n = 124), and Atlantic spotted dolphins (n = 
17) and reported that there were no significant differences in 
encounter rates (sightings/hr) for humpback and sperm whales according 
to the airgun array's operational status (i.e., active versus silent). 
The airgun arrays used in the Weir (2008) study were much larger than 
the array proposed for use during this seismic survey (total discharge 
volumes of 620 to 1,240 in\3\). In general, pinnipeds and small 
odontocetes seem to be more tolerant of exposure to some types of 
underwater sound than are baleen whales. Richardson et al. (1995) found 
that vessel noise does not seem to strongly affect pinnipeds that are 
already in the water. Richardson et al. (1995) went on to explain that 
seals on haul-outs sometimes respond strongly to the presence of 
vessels and at other times appear to show considerable tolerance of 
vessels.
2. Masking
    Masking is the obscuring of sounds of interest by other sounds, 
often at similar frequencies. Marine mammals use acoustic signals for a 
variety of purposes, which differ among species, but include 
communication between individuals, navigation, foraging, reproduction, 
avoiding predators, and learning about their environment (Erbe and 
Farmer, 2000). Masking, or auditory interference, generally occurs when 
sounds in the environment are louder than, and of a similar frequency 
as, auditory signals an animal is trying to receive. Masking is a 
phenomenon that affects animals that are trying to receive acoustic 
information about their environment, including sounds from other 
members of their species, predators, prey, and sounds that allow them 
to orient in their environment. Masking these acoustic signals can 
disturb the behavior of individual animals, groups of animals, or 
entire populations.
    Masking occurs when anthropogenic sounds and signals (that the 
animal utilizes) overlap at both spectral and temporal scales. For the 
airgun sound generated from the proposed seismic survey, sound will 
consist of low frequency (under 500 Hz) pulses with extremely short 
durations (less than one second). Lower frequency man-made sounds are 
more likely to affect detection of communication calls and other 
potentially important natural sounds such as surf and prey noise. There 
is little concern regarding masking near the sound source due to the 
brief duration of these pulses and relatively longer silence between 
airgun shots (approximately 5-6 seconds). However, at long distances 
(over tens of kilometers away), due to multipath propagation and 
reverberation, the durations of airgun pulses can be ``stretched'' to 
seconds with long decays (Madsen et al., 2006), although the intensity 
of the sound is greatly reduced.
    This could affect communication signals used by low frequency 
mysticetes when they occur near the noise band and thus reduce the 
communication space of animals (e.g., Clark et al., 2009) and cause 
increased stress levels (e.g., Foote et al., 2004; Holt et al., 2009). 
Marine mammals are thought to be able to compensate for masking by 
adjusting their acoustic behavior by shifting call frequencies, and/or 
increasing call volume and vocalization rates. For example, blue whales 
are found to increase call rates when exposed to seismic survey noise 
in the St. Lawrence Estuary (Di Iorio and Clark, 2010). The North 
Atlantic right whales exposed to high shipping noise increase call 
frequency (Parks et al., 2007), while some humpback whales respond to 
low-frequency active sonar playbacks by increasing song length (Miller 
el al., 2000). Bowhead whale calls are frequently detected in the 
presence of seismic pulses, although the number of calls detected may 
sometimes be reduced (Richardson et al., 1986), possibly because 
animals moved away from the sound source or ceased calling (Blackwell 
et al., 2013). Additionally, beluga whales have been known to change 
their vocalizations in the presence of high background noise possibly 
to avoid masking calls (Lesage et al., 1999; Scheifele et al., 2005). 
Although some degree of masking is inevitable when high levels of 
manmade broadband sounds are introduced into the sea, marine mammals 
have evolved systems and behavior that function to reduce the impacts 
of masking. Structured signals, such as the echolocation click 
sequences of small toothed whales, may be readily detected even in the 
presence of strong background noise because their frequency content and 
temporal features usually differ strongly from those of the background 
noise (Au and Moore, 1990). The components of background noise that are 
similar in frequency to the sound signal in question primarily 
determine the degree of masking of that signal.
    Redundancy and context can also facilitate detection of weak 
signals. These phenomena may help marine mammals detect weak sounds in 
the presence of natural or manmade noise. Most masking studies in 
marine mammals present the test signal and the masking noise from the 
same direction. The sound localization abilities of marine mammals 
suggest that, if signal and noise come from different directions, 
masking would not be as severe as the usual types of masking studies 
might suggest (Richardson et al., 1995). The dominant background noise 
may be highly directional if it comes from a particular anthropogenic 
source such as a ship or industrial site. Directional hearing may 
significantly reduce the masking effects of these sounds by improving 
the effective signal-to-noise ratio. In the cases of higher frequency 
hearing by the bottlenose dolphin, beluga whale, and killer whale, 
empirical evidence confirms that masking depends strongly on the 
relative directions of arrival of sound signals and the masking noise 
(Dubrovskiy, 1990; Bain and Dahlheim, 1994). Toothed whales, and 
probably other marine mammals as well, have additional capabilities 
besides directional hearing that can facilitate detection of sounds in 
the presence of background noise. There is evidence that some toothed 
whales can shift the dominant frequencies of their echolocation signals 
from a frequency range with a lot of ambient noise toward frequencies 
with less noise (Moore and Pawloski, 1990; Thomas and Turl, 1990; 
Romanenko and Kitain, 1992; Lesage et al., 1999). A few marine mammal 
species are known to increase the source levels or alter the frequency 
of their calls in the presence of elevated sound levels (Dahlheim, 
1987; Lesage et al., 1999; Foote et al., 2004; Parks et al., 2007, 
2009; Di Iorio and Clark, 2009; Holt et al., 2009).
    These data demonstrating adaptations for reduced masking pertain 
mainly to the very high frequency echolocation signals of toothed 
whales. There is less information about the existence of corresponding 
mechanisms at moderate or low frequencies or in other types of

[[Page 39920]]

marine mammals. For example, Zaitseva et al. (1980) found that, for the 
bottlenose dolphin, the angular separation between a sound source and a 
masking noise source had little effect on the degree of masking when 
the sound frequency was 18 kHz, in contrast to the pronounced effect at 
higher frequencies. Directional hearing has been demonstrated at 
frequencies as low as 0.5-2 kHz in several marine mammals, including 
killer whales (Richardson et al., 1995). This ability may be useful in 
reducing masking at these frequencies. In summary, high levels of sound 
generated by anthropogenic activities may act to mask the detection of 
weaker biologically important sounds by some marine mammals. This 
masking may be more prominent for lower frequencies. For higher 
frequencies, such as that used in echolocation by toothed whales, 
several mechanisms are available that may allow them to reduce the 
effects of such masking.
3. Behavioral Disturbance
    Marine mammals may behaviorally react when exposed to anthropogenic 
sound. These behavioral reactions are often shown as: Changing 
durations of surfacing and dives, number of blows per surfacing, or 
moving direction and/or speed; reduced/increased vocal activities; 
changing/cessation of certain behavioral activities (such as 
socializing or feeding); visible startle response or aggressive 
behavior (such as tail/fluke slapping or jaw clapping); avoidance of 
areas where sound sources are located; and/or flight responses (e.g., 
pinnipeds flushing into water from haulouts or rookeries).
    The biological significance of many of these behavioral 
disturbances is difficult to predict, especially if the detected 
disturbances appear minor. However, the consequences of behavioral 
modification have the potential to be biologically significant if the 
change affects growth, survival, or reproduction. Examples of 
significant behavioral modifications include:
     Drastic change in diving/surfacing patterns (such as those 
thought to be causing beaked whale stranding due to exposure to 
military mid-frequency tactical sonar);
     Habitat abandonment due to loss of desirable acoustic 
environment; and
     Cessation of feeding or social interaction.
    The onset of behavioral disturbance from anthropogenic noise 
depends on both external factors (characteristics of noise sources and 
their paths) and the receiving animals (hearing, motivation, 
experience, demography, current activity, reproductive state) and is 
also difficult to predict (Gordon et al., 2004; Southall et al., 2007; 
Ellison et al., 2011).
    Mysticetes: Baleen whales generally tend to avoid operating 
airguns, but avoidance radii are quite variable. Whales are often 
reported to show no overt reactions to pulses from large arrays of 
airguns at distances beyond a few kilometers, even though the airgun 
pulses remain well above ambient noise levels out to much greater 
distances (Miller et al., 2005). However, baleen whales exposed to 
strong noise pulses often react by deviating from their normal 
migration route (Richardson et al., 1999). Migrating gray and bowhead 
whales were observed avoiding the sound source by displacing their 
migration route to varying degrees but within the natural boundaries of 
the migration corridors (Schick and Urban, 2000; Richardson et al., 
1999). Baleen whale responses to pulsed sound however may depend on the 
type of activity in which the whales are engaged. Some evidence 
suggests that feeding bowhead whales may be more tolerant of underwater 
sound than migrating bowheads (Miller et al., 2005; Lyons et al., 2009; 
Christie et al., 2010).
    Results of studies of gray, bowhead, and humpback whales have 
determined that received levels of pulses in the 160-170 dB re 1 
[micro]Pa rms range seem to cause obvious avoidance behavior in a 
substantial fraction of the animals exposed. In many areas, seismic 
pulses from large arrays of airguns diminish to those levels at 
distances ranging from 2.8-9 mi (4.5-14.5 km) from the source. For the 
much smaller airgun array used during BP's proposed survey (total 
discharge volume of 640 in\3\), distances to received levels in the 160 
dB re 1 [micro]Pa rms range are estimated to be 0.5-3 mi (0.8-5 km). 
Baleen whales within those distances may show avoidance or other strong 
disturbance reactions to the airgun array. Subtle behavioral changes 
sometimes become evident at somewhat lower received levels, and recent 
studies have shown that some species of baleen whales, notably bowhead 
and humpback whales, at times show strong avoidance at received levels 
lower than 160-170 dB re 1 [mu]Pa rms. Bowhead whales migrating west 
across the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in autumn, in particular, are unusually 
responsive, with avoidance occurring out to distances of 12.4-18.6 mi 
(20-30 km) from a medium-sized airgun source (Miller et al., 1999; 
Richardson et al., 1999). However, more recent research on bowhead 
whales (Miller et al., 2005) corroborates earlier evidence that, during 
the summer feeding season, bowheads are not as sensitive to seismic 
sources. In summer, bowheads typically begin to show avoidance 
reactions at a received level of about 160-170 dB re 1 [micro]Pa rms 
(Richardson et al., 1986; Ljungblad et al., 1988; Miller et al., 2005).
    Malme et al. (1986) studied the responses of feeding eastern gray 
whales to pulses from a single 100 in\3\ airgun off St. Lawrence Island 
in the northern Bering Sea. They estimated, based on small sample 
sizes, that 50% of feeding gray whales ceased feeding at an average 
received pressure level of 173 dB re 1 [micro]Pa on an (approximate) 
rms basis, and that 10% of feeding whales interrupted feeding at 
received levels of 163 dB. Those findings were generally consistent 
with the results of experiments conducted on larger numbers of gray 
whales that were migrating along the California coast and on 
observations of the distribution of feeding Western Pacific gray whales 
off Sakhalin Island, Russia, during a seismic survey (Yazvenko et al., 
2007). Data on short-term reactions (or lack of reactions) of cetaceans 
to impulsive noises do not necessarily provide information about long-
term effects. While it is not certain whether impulsive noises affect 
reproductive rate or distribution and habitat use in subsequent days or 
years, certain species have continued to use areas ensonified by 
airguns and have continued to increase in number despite successive 
years of anthropogenic activity in the area. Gray whales continued to 
migrate annually along the west coast of North America despite 
intermittent seismic exploration and much ship traffic in that area for 
decades (Appendix A in Malme et al., 1984). Bowhead whales continued to 
travel to the eastern Beaufort Sea each summer despite seismic 
exploration in their summer and autumn range for many years (Richardson 
et al., 1987). Populations of both gray whales and bowhead whales grew 
substantially during this time. In any event, the proposed survey will 
occur in summer (July through late August) when most bowhead whales are 
commonly feeding in the Mackenzie River Delta, Canada.
    Patenaude et al. (2002) reported fewer behavioral responses to 
aircraft overflights by bowhead compared to beluga whales. Behaviors 
classified as reactions consisted of short surfacings, immediate dives 
or turns, changes in behavior state, vigorous swimming, and breaching. 
Most bowhead reaction resulted from exposure to helicopter activity and 
little response to fixed-wing aircraft was observed. Most reactions 
occurred when the helicopter was at

[[Page 39921]]

altitudes <=492 ft (150 m) and lateral distances <=820 ft (250 m; 
Nowacek et al., 2007).
    During their study, Patenaude et al. (2002) observed one bowhead 
whale cow-calf pair during four passes totaling 2.8 hours of the 
helicopter and two pairs during Twin Otter overflights. All of the 
helicopter passes were at altitudes of 49-98 ft (15-30 m). The mother 
dove both times she was at the surface, and the calf dove once out of 
the four times it was at the surface. For the cow-calf pair sightings 
during Twin Otter overflights, the authors did not note any behaviors 
specific to those pairs. Rather, the reactions of the cow-calf pairs 
were lumped with the reactions of other groups that did not consist of 
calves.
    Richardson et al. (1995) and Moore and Clarke (2002) reviewed a few 
studies that observed responses of gray whales to aircraft. Cow-calf 
pairs were quite sensitive to a turboprop survey flown at 1,000 ft (305 
m) altitude on the Alaskan summering grounds. In that survey, adults 
were seen swimming over the calf, or the calf swam under the adult 
(Ljungblad et al., 1983, cited in Richardson et al., 1995 and Moore and 
Clarke, 2002). However, when the same aircraft circled for more than 10 
minutes at 1,050 ft (320 m) altitude over a group of mating gray 
whales, no reactions were observed (Ljungblad et al., 1987, cited in 
Moore and Clarke, 2002). Malme et al. (1984, cited in Richardson et 
al., 1995 and Moore and Clarke, 2002) conducted playback experiments on 
migrating gray whales. They exposed the animals to underwater noise 
recorded from a Bell 212 helicopter (estimated altitude=328 ft [100 
m]), at an average of three simulated passes per minute. The authors 
observed that whales changed their swimming course and sometimes slowed 
down in response to the playback sound but proceeded to migrate past 
the transducer. Migrating gray whales did not react overtly to a Bell 
212 helicopter at greater than 1,394 ft (425 m) altitude, occasionally 
reacted when the helicopter was at 1,000-1,198 ft (305-365 m), and 
usually reacted when it was below 825 ft (250 m; Southwest Research 
Associates, 1988, cited in Richardson et al., 1995 and Moore and 
Clarke, 2002). Reactions noted in that study included abrupt turns or 
dives or both. Greene et al. (1992, cited in Richardson et al., 1995) 
observed that migrating gray whales rarely exhibited noticeable 
reactions to a straight-line overflight by a Twin Otter at 197 ft (60 
m) altitude.
    Odontocetes: Few systematic data are available describing reactions 
of toothed whales to noise pulses. However, systematic work on sperm 
whales is underway, and there is an increasing amount of information 
about responses of various odontocetes to seismic surveys based on 
monitoring studies (e.g., Stone, 2003). Miller et al. (2009) conducted 
at-sea experiments where reactions of sperm whales were monitored 
through the use of controlled sound exposure experiments from large 
airgun arrays consisting of 20-guns and 31-guns. Of 8 sperm whales 
observed, none changed their behavior when exposed to either a ramp-up 
at 4-8 mi (7-13 km) or full array exposures at 0.6-8 mi (1-13 km).
    Seismic operators and marine mammal observers sometimes see 
dolphins and other small toothed whales near operating airgun arrays, 
but, in general, there seems to be a tendency for most delphinids to 
show some limited avoidance of seismic vessels operating large airgun 
systems. However, some dolphins seem to be attracted to the seismic 
vessel and floats, and some ride the bow wave of the seismic vessel 
even when large arrays of airguns are firing. Nonetheless, there have 
been indications that small toothed whales sometimes move away or 
maintain a somewhat greater distance from the vessel when a large array 
of airguns is operating than when it is silent (e.g., 1998; Stone, 
2003). The beluga may be a species that (at least in certain geographic 
areas) shows long-distance avoidance of seismic vessels. Aerial surveys 
during seismic operations in the southeastern Beaufort Sea recorded 
much lower sighting rates of beluga whales within 10-20 km (6.2-12.4 
mi) of an active seismic vessel. These results were consistent with the 
low number of beluga sightings reported by observers aboard the seismic 
vessel, suggesting that some belugas might have been avoiding the 
seismic operations at distances of 10-20 km (6.2-12.4 mi) (Miller et 
al., 2005).
    Captive bottlenose dolphins and (of more relevance in this project) 
beluga whales exhibit changes in behavior when exposed to strong pulsed 
sounds similar in duration to those typically used in seismic surveys 
(Finneran et al., 2002, 2005). However, the animals tolerated high 
received levels of sound (pk-pk level >200 dB re 1 [mu]Pa) before 
exhibiting aversive behaviors.
    Observers stationed on seismic vessels operating off the United 
Kingdom from 1997-2000 have provided data on the occurrence and 
behavior of various toothed whales exposed to seismic pulses (Stone, 
2003; Gordon et al., 2004). Killer whales were found to be 
significantly farther from large airgun arrays during periods of 
shooting compared with periods of no shooting. The displacement of the 
median distance from the array was approximately 0.5 km (0.3 mi) or 
more. Killer whales also appear to be more tolerant of seismic shooting 
in deeper water.
    Reactions of toothed whales to large arrays of airguns are variable 
and, at least for delphinids, seem to be confined to a smaller radius 
than has been observed for mysticetes. However, based on the limited 
existing evidence, belugas should not be grouped with delphinids in the 
``less responsive'' category.
    Patenaude et al. (2002) reported that beluga whales appeared to be 
more responsive to aircraft overflights than bowhead whales. Changes 
were observed in diving and respiration behavior, and some whales 
veered away when a helicopter passed at <=820 ft (250 m) lateral 
distance at altitudes up to 492 ft (150 m). However, some belugas 
showed no reaction to the helicopter. Belugas appeared to show less 
response to fixed-wing aircraft than to helicopter overflights.
    Pinnipeds: Pinnipeds are not likely to show a strong avoidance 
reaction to the airgun sources proposed for use. Visual monitoring from 
seismic vessels has shown only slight (if any) avoidance of airguns by 
pinnipeds and only slight (if any) changes in behavior. Monitoring work 
in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea during 1996-2001 provided considerable 
information regarding the behavior of Arctic ice seals exposed to 
seismic pulses (Harris et al., 2001; Moulton and Lawson, 2002). These 
seismic projects usually involved arrays of 6 to 16 airguns with total 
volumes of 560 to 1,500 in\3\. The combined results suggest that some 
seals avoid the immediate area around seismic vessels. In most survey 
years, ringed seal sightings tended to be farther away from the seismic 
vessel when the airguns were operating than when they were not (Moulton 
and Lawson, 2002). However, these avoidance movements were relatively 
small, on the order of 100 m (328 ft) to a few hundreds of meters, and 
many seals remained within 100-200 m (328-656 ft) of the trackline as 
the operating airgun array passed by. Seal sighting rates at the water 
surface were lower during airgun array operations than during no-airgun 
periods in each survey year except 1997. Similarly, seals are often 
very tolerant of pulsed sounds from seal-scaring devices (Richardson et 
al., 1995). However, initial telemetry work suggests that avoidance and 
other behavioral reactions by two other species of seals to small 
airgun sources may at times be stronger than evident to

[[Page 39922]]

date from visual studies of pinniped reactions to airguns (Thompson et 
al., 1998). Even if reactions of the species occurring in the present 
study area are as strong as those evident in the telemetry study, 
reactions are expected to be confined to relatively small distances and 
durations, with no long-term effects on pinniped individuals or 
populations.
    Blackwell et al. (2004) observed 12 ringed seals during low-
altitude overflights of a Bell 212 helicopter at Northstar in June and 
July 2000 (9 observations took place concurrent with pipe-driving 
activities). One seal showed no reaction to the aircraft while the 
remaining 11 (92%) reacted, either by looking at the helicopter (n=10) 
or by departing from their basking site (n=1). Blackwell et al. (2004) 
concluded that none of the reactions to helicopters were strong or long 
lasting, and that seals near Northstar in June and July 2000 probably 
had habituated to industrial sounds and visible activities that had 
occurred often during the preceding winter and spring. There have been 
few systematic studies of pinniped reactions to aircraft overflights, 
and most of the available data concern pinnipeds hauled out on land or 
ice rather than pinnipeds in the water (Richardson et al., 1995; Born 
et al., 1999).
4. Threshold Shift (Noise-Induced Loss of Hearing)
    When animals exhibit reduced hearing sensitivity (i.e., sounds must 
be louder for an animal to detect them) following exposure to an 
intense sound or sound for long duration, it is referred to as a noise-
induced threshold shift (TS). An animal can experience temporary 
threshold shift (TTS) or permanent threshold shift (PTS). TTS can last 
from minutes or hours to days (i.e., there is complete recovery), can 
occur in specific frequency ranges (i.e., an animal might only have a 
temporary loss of hearing sensitivity between the frequencies of 1 and 
10 kHz), and can be of varying amounts (for example, an animal's 
hearing sensitivity might be reduced initially by only 6 dB or reduced 
by 30 dB). PTS is permanent, but some recovery is possible. PTS can 
also occur in a specific frequency range and amount as mentioned above 
for TTS.
    The following physiological mechanisms are thought to play a role 
in inducing auditory TS: Effects to sensory hair cells in the inner ear 
that reduce their sensitivity, modification of the chemical environment 
within the sensory cells, residual muscular activity in the middle ear, 
displacement of certain inner ear membranes, increased blood flow, and 
post-stimulatory reduction in both efferent and sensory neural output 
(Southall et al., 2007). The amplitude, duration, frequency, temporal 
pattern, and energy distribution of sound exposure all can affect the 
amount of associated TS and the frequency range in which it occurs. As 
amplitude and duration of sound exposure increase, so, generally, does 
the amount of TS, along with the recovery time. For intermittent 
sounds, less TS could occur than compared to a continuous exposure with 
the same energy (some recovery could occur between intermittent 
exposures depending on the duty cycle between sounds) (Ward, 1997). For 
example, one short but loud (higher SPL) sound exposure may induce the 
same impairment as one longer but softer sound, which in turn may cause 
more impairment than a series of several intermittent softer sounds 
with the same total energy (Ward, 1997). Additionally, though TTS is 
temporary, prolonged exposure to sounds strong enough to elicit TTS, or 
shorter-term exposure to sound levels well above the TTS threshold, can 
cause PTS, at least in terrestrial mammals. Although in the case of the 
proposed seismic survey, animals are not expected to be exposed to 
sound levels high for a long enough period to result in PTS.
    PTS is considered auditory injury (Southall et al., 2007). 
Irreparable damage to the inner or outer cochlear hair cells may cause 
PTS; however, other mechanisms are also involved, such as exceeding the 
elastic limits of certain tissues and membranes in the middle and inner 
ears and resultant changes in the chemical composition of the inner ear 
fluids (Southall et al., 2007).
    Although the published body of scientific literature contains 
numerous theoretical studies and discussion papers on hearing 
impairments that can occur with exposure to a loud sound, only a few 
studies provide empirical information on the levels at which noise-
induced loss in hearing sensitivity occurs in nonhuman animals. For 
marine mammals, published data are limited to the captive bottlenose 
dolphin, beluga, harbor porpoise, and Yangtze finless porpoise 
(Finneran et al., 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007; Finneran and Schlundt, 
2010; Lucke et al., 2009; Mooney et al., 2009; Popov et al., 2011a, 
2011b; Kastelein et al., 2012a; Schlundt et al., 2006; Nachtigall et 
al., 2003, 2004). For pinnipeds in water, data are limited to 
measurements of TTS in harbor seals, an elephant seal, and California 
sea lions (Kastak et al., 2005; Kastelein et al., 2012b).
    Marine mammal hearing plays a critical role in communication with 
conspecifics, and interpretation of environmental cues for purposes 
such as predator avoidance and prey capture. Depending on the degree 
(elevation of threshold in dB), duration (i.e., recovery time), and 
frequency range of TTS, and the context in which it is experienced, TTS 
can have effects on marine mammals ranging from discountable to serious 
(similar to those discussed in auditory masking, below). For example, a 
marine mammal may be able to readily compensate for a brief, relatively 
small amount of TTS in a non-critical frequency range that occurs 
during a time where ambient noise is lower and there are not as many 
competing sounds present. Alternatively, a larger amount and longer 
duration of TTS sustained during time when communication is critical 
for successful mother/calf interactions could have more serious 
impacts. Also, depending on the degree and frequency range, the effects 
of PTS on an animal could range in severity, although it is considered 
generally more serious because it is a permanent condition. Of note, 
reduced hearing sensitivity as a simple function of aging has been 
observed in marine mammals, as well as humans and other taxa (Southall 
et al., 2007), so we can infer that strategies exist for coping with 
this condition to some degree, though likely not without cost.
    Marine mammals are unlikely to be exposed to received levels of 
seismic pulses strong enough to cause more than slight TTS, and, given 
the higher level of sound necessary to cause PTS, it is even less 
likely that PTS could occur as a result of the proposed seismic survey.
5. Non-Auditory Physical Effects
    Non-auditory physical effects might occur in marine mammals exposed 
to strong underwater sound. Possible types of non-auditory 
physiological effects or injuries that theoretically might occur in 
mammals close to a strong sound source include stress, neurological 
effects, bubble formation, and other types of organ or tissue damage. 
Some marine mammal species (i.e., beaked whales) may be especially 
susceptible to injury and/or stranding when exposed to strong pulsed 
sounds.
    Classic stress responses begin when an animal's central nervous 
system perceives a potential threat to its homeostasis. That perception 
triggers stress responses regardless of whether a stimulus actually 
threatens the animal; the mere perception of a threat is sufficient to 
trigger a stress response (Moberg, 2000; Sapolsky et al., 2005; Seyle, 
1950). Once an animal's central

[[Page 39923]]

nervous system perceives a threat, it mounts a biological response or 
defense that consists of a combination of the four general biological 
defense responses: behavioral responses; autonomic nervous system 
responses; neuroendocrine responses; or immune responses.
    In the case of many stressors, an animal's first and most 
economical (in terms of biotic costs) response is behavioral avoidance 
of the potential stressor or avoidance of continued exposure to a 
stressor. An animal's second line of defense to stressors involves the 
sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system and the classical 
``fight or flight'' response, which includes the cardiovascular system, 
the gastrointestinal system, the exocrine glands, and the adrenal 
medulla to produce changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and 
gastrointestinal activity that humans commonly associate with 
``stress.'' These responses have a relatively short duration and may or 
may not have significant long-term effects on an animal's welfare.
    An animal's third line of defense to stressors involves its 
neuroendocrine or sympathetic nervous systems; the system that has 
received the most study has been the hypothalmus-pituitary-adrenal 
system (also known as the HPA axis in mammals or the hypothalamus-
pituitary-interrenal axis in fish and some reptiles). Unlike stress 
responses associated with the autonomic nervous system, virtually all 
neuroendocrine functions that are affected by stress--including immune 
competence, reproduction, metabolism, and behavior--are regulated by 
pituitary hormones. Stress-induced changes in the secretion of 
pituitary hormones have been implicated in failed reproduction (Moberg, 
1987), altered metabolism (Elasser et al., 2000), reduced immune 
competence (Blecha, 2000), and behavioral disturbance. Increases in the 
circulation of glucocorticosteroids (cortisol, corticosterone, and 
aldosterone in marine mammals; see Romano et al., 2004) have been 
equated with stress for many years.
    The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does 
not normally place an animal at risk) and distress is the biotic cost 
of the response. During a stress response, an animal uses glycogen 
stores that can be quickly replenished once the stress is alleviated. 
In such circumstances, the cost of the stress response would not pose a 
risk to the animal's welfare. However, when an animal does not have 
sufficient energy reserves to satisfy the energetic costs of a stress 
response, energy resources must be diverted from other biotic 
functions, which impair those functions that experience the diversion. 
For example, when mounting a stress response diverts energy away from 
growth in young animals, those animals may experience stunted growth. 
When mounting a stress response diverts energy from a fetus, an 
animal's reproductive success and fitness will suffer. In these cases, 
the animals will have entered a pre-pathological or pathological state 
which is called ``distress'' (sensu Seyle, 1950) or ``allostatic 
loading'' (sensu McEwen and Wingfield, 2003). This pathological state 
will last until the animal replenishes its biotic reserves sufficient 
to restore normal function. Note that these examples involved a long-
term (days or weeks) stress response exposure to stimuli.
    Relationships between these physiological mechanisms, animal 
behavior, and the costs of stress responses have also been documented 
fairly well through controlled experiment; because this physiology 
exists in every vertebrate that has been studied, it is not surprising 
that stress responses and their costs have been documented in both 
laboratory and free-living animals (for examples see, Holberton et al., 
1996; Hood et al., 1998; Jessop et al., 2003; Krausman et al., 2004; 
Lankford et al., 2005; Reneerkens et al., 2002; Thompson and Hamer, 
2000). Although no information has been collected on the physiological 
responses of marine mammals to anthropogenic sound exposure, studies of 
other marine animals and terrestrial animals would lead us to expect 
some marine mammals to experience physiological stress responses and, 
perhaps, physiological responses that would be classified as 
``distress'' upon exposure to anthropogenic sounds.
    For example, Jansen (1998) reported on the relationship between 
acoustic exposures and physiological responses that are indicative of 
stress responses in humans (e.g., elevated respiration and increased 
heart rates). Jones (1998) reported on reductions in human performance 
when faced with acute, repetitive exposures to acoustic disturbance. 
Trimper et al. (1998) reported on the physiological stress responses of 
osprey to low-level aircraft noise while Krausman et al. (2004) 
reported on the auditory and physiology stress responses of endangered 
Sonoran pronghorn to military overflights. Smith et al. (2004a, 2004b) 
identified noise-induced physiological transient stress responses in 
hearing-specialist fish (i.e., goldfish) that accompanied short- and 
long-term hearing losses. Welch and Welch (1970) reported physiological 
and behavioral stress responses that accompanied damage to the inner 
ears of fish and several mammals.
    Hearing is one of the primary senses marine mammals use to gather 
information about their environment and communicate with conspecifics. 
Although empirical information on the relationship between sensory 
impairment (TTS, PTS, and acoustic masking) on marine mammals remains 
limited, we assume that reducing a marine mammal's ability to gather 
information about its environment and communicate with other members of 
its species would induce stress, based on data that terrestrial animals 
exhibit those responses under similar conditions (NRC, 2003) and 
because marine mammals use hearing as their primary sensory mechanism. 
Therefore, we assume that acoustic exposures sufficient to trigger 
onset PTS or TTS would be accompanied by physiological stress 
responses. More importantly, marine mammals might experience stress 
responses at received levels lower than those necessary to trigger 
onset TTS. Based on empirical studies of the time required to recover 
from stress responses (Moberg, 2000), NMFS also assumes that stress 
responses could persist beyond the time interval required for animals 
to recover from TTS and might result in pathological and pre-
pathological states that would be as significant as behavioral 
responses to TTS.
    Resonance effects (Gentry, 2002) and direct noise-induced bubble 
formations (Crum et al., 2005) are implausible in the case of exposure 
to an impulsive broadband source like an airgun array. If seismic 
surveys disrupt diving patterns of deep-diving species, this might 
result in bubble formation and a form of the bends, as speculated to 
occur in beaked whales exposed to sonar. However, there is no specific 
evidence of this upon exposure to airgun pulses. Additionally, no 
beaked whale species occur in the proposed project area.
    In general, very little is known about the potential for strong, 
anthropogenic underwater sounds to cause non-auditory physical effects 
in marine mammals. Such effects, if they occur at all, would presumably 
be limited to short distances and to activities that extend over a 
prolonged period. The available data do not allow identification of a 
specific exposure level above which non-auditory effects can be 
expected (Southall et al., 2007) or any meaningful quantitative 
predictions of the numbers (if any) of marine mammals that might be 
affected in those ways. There is no definitive

[[Page 39924]]

evidence that any of these effects occur even for marine mammals in 
close proximity to large arrays of airguns, which are not proposed for 
use during this program. In addition, marine mammals that show 
behavioral avoidance of industry activities, including bowheads, 
belugas, and some pinnipeds, are especially unlikely to incur non-
auditory impairment or other physical effects.
6. Stranding and Mortality
    Marine mammals close to underwater detonations of high explosive 
can be killed or severely injured, and the auditory organs are 
especially susceptible to injury (Ketten et al., 1993; Ketten, 1995). 
Airgun pulses are less energetic and their peak amplitudes have slower 
rise times. To date, there is no evidence that serious injury, death, 
or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to airgun 
pulses, even in the case of large airgun arrays. Additionally, SAE's 
project will use small and medium sized airgun arrays in shallow water. 
NMFS does not expect any marine mammals will incur serious injury or 
mortality in the shallow waters off Beaufort Sea or strand as a result 
of the proposed seismic survey.
7. Potential Effects From Pingers on Marine Mammals
    Active acoustic sources other than the airguns have been proposed 
for SAE's 2014 seismic survey in Beaufort Sea, Alaska. In general, the 
potential effects of this equipment on marine mammals are similar to 
those from the airguns, except the magnitude of the impacts is expected 
to be much less due to the lower intensity of the source.

Vessel Impacts

    Vessel activity and noise associated with vessel activity will 
temporarily increase in the action area during SAE's seismic survey as 
a result of the operation of about 8 vessels. To minimize the effects 
of vessels and noise associated with vessel activity, SAE will alter 
speed if a marine mammal gets too close to a vessel. In addition, 
source vessels will be operating at slow speed (4-5 knots) when 
conducting surveys. Marine mammal monitoring observers will alert 
vessel captains as animals are detected to ensure safe and effective 
measures are applied to avoid coming into direct contact with marine 
mammals. Therefore, NMFS neither anticipates nor authorizes takes of 
marine mammals from ship strikes.
    McCauley et al. (1996) reported several cases of humpback whales 
responding to vessels in Hervey Bay, Australia. Results indicated clear 
avoidance at received levels between 118 to 124 dB in three cases for 
which response and received levels were observed/measured.
    Palka and Hammond (2001) analyzed line transect census data in 
which the orientation and distance off transect line were reported for 
large numbers of minke whales. The authors developed a method to 
account for effects of animal movement in response to sighting 
platforms. Minor changes in locomotion speed, direction, and/or diving 
profile were reported at ranges from 1,847 to 2,352 ft (563 to 717 m) 
at received levels of 110 to 120 dB.
    Odontocetes, such as beluga whales, killer whales, and harbor 
porpoises, often show tolerance to vessel activity; however, they may 
react at long distances if they are confined by ice, shallow water, or 
were previously harassed by vessels (Richardson et al., 1995). Beluga 
whale response to vessel noise varies greatly from tolerance to extreme 
sensitivity depending on the activity of the whale and previous 
experience with vessels (Richardson et al., 1995). Reactions to vessels 
depends on whale activities and experience, habitat, boat type, and 
boat behavior (Richardson et al., 1995) and may include behavioral 
responses, such as altered headings or avoidance (Blane and Jaakson, 
1994; Erbe and Farmer, 2000); fast swimming; changes in vocalizations 
(Lesage et al., 1999; Scheifele et al., 2005); and changes in dive, 
surfacing, and respiration patterns.
    There are few data published on pinniped responses to vessel 
activity, and most of the information is anecdotal (Richardson et al., 
1995). Generally, sea lions in water show tolerance to close and 
frequently approaching vessels and sometimes show interest in fishing 
vessels. They are less tolerant when hauled out on land; however, they 
rarely react unless the vessel approaches within 100-200 m (330-660 ft; 
reviewed in Richardson et al., 1995).
    The addition of the vessels and noise due to vessel operations 
associated with the seismic survey is not expected to have effects that 
could cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine 
mammals or their populations.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    The primary potential impacts to marine mammal habitat and other 
marine species are associated with elevated sound levels produced by 
airguns and other active acoustic sources. However, other potential 
impacts to the surrounding habitat from physical disturbance are also 
possible. This section describes the potential impacts to marine mammal 
habitat from the specified activity. Because the marine mammals in the 
area feed on fish and/or invertebrates there is also information on the 
species typically preyed upon by the marine mammals in the area.

Common Marine Mammal Prey in the Project Area

    All of the marine mammal species that may occur in the proposed 
project area prey on either marine fish or invertebrates. The ringed 
seal feeds on fish and a variety of benthic species, including crabs 
and shrimp. Bearded seals feed mainly on benthic organisms, primarily 
crabs, shrimp, and clams. Spotted seals feed on pelagic and demersal 
fish, as well as shrimp and cephalopods. They are known to feed on a 
variety of fish including herring, capelin, sand lance, Arctic cod, 
saffron cod, and sculpins. Ribbon seals feed primarily on pelagic fish 
and invertebrates, such as shrimp, crabs, squid, octopus, cod, sculpin, 
pollack, and capelin. Juveniles feed mostly on krill and shrimp.
    Bowhead whales feed in the eastern Beaufort Sea during summer and 
early autumn but continue feeding to varying degrees while on their 
migration through the central and western Beaufort Sea in the late 
summer and fall (Richardson and Thomson [eds.], 2002). When feeding in 
relatively shallow areas, bowheads feed throughout the water column. 
However, feeding is concentrated at depths where zooplankton is 
concentrated (Wursig et al., 1984, 1989; Richardson [ed.], 1987; 
Griffiths et al., 2002). Lowry and Sheffield (2002) found that copepods 
and euphausiids were the most common prey found in stomach samples from 
bowhead whales harvested in the Kaktovik area from 1979 to 2000. Areas 
to the east of Barter Island (which is approximately 120 mi east of 
BP's proposed seismic area) appear to be used regularly for feeding as 
bowhead whales migrate slowly westward across the Beaufort Sea (Thomson 
and Richardson, 1987; Richardson and Thomson [eds.], 2002).
    Recent articles and reports have noted bowhead whales feeding in 
several areas of the U.S. Beaufort Sea. The Barrow area is commonly 
used as a feeding area during spring and fall, with a higher proportion 
of photographed individuals displaying evidence of feeding in fall 
rather than spring (Mocklin, 2009). A bowhead whale feeding ``hotspot'' 
(Okkonen et al., 2011) commonly forms on the western Beaufort Sea shelf 
off

[[Page 39925]]

Point Barrow in late summer and fall. Favorable conditions concentrate 
euphausiids and copepods, and bowhead whales congregate to exploit the 
dense prey (Ashjian et al., 2010, Moore et al., 2010; Okkonen et al., 
2011). Surveys have also noted bowhead whales feeding in the Camden Bay 
area during the fall (Koski and Miller, 2009; Quakenbush et al., 2010).
    The 2006-2008 BWASP Final Report (Clarke et al., 2011a) and the 
2009 BWASP Final Report (Clarke et al., 2011b) note sightings of 
feeding bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea during the fall season. 
During that 4 year period, the largest groups of feeding whales were 
sighted between Smith Bay and Point Barrow (hundreds of miles to the 
west of Prudhoe Bay), and none were sighted feeding in Camden Bay 
(Clarke et al., 2011a,b). Clarke and Ferguson (undated) examined the 
raw BWASP data from the years 2000-2009. They noted that feeding 
behavior was noted more often in September than October and that while 
bowheads were observed feeding throughout the study area (which 
includes the entire U.S. Beaufort Sea), sightings were less frequent in 
the central Alaskan Beaufort than they were east of Kaktovik and west 
of Smith Bay. Additionally, Clarke and Ferguson (undated) and Clarke et 
al. (2011b) refer to information from Ashjian et al. (2010), which 
describes the importance of wind-driven currents that produce favorable 
feeding conditions for bowhead whales in the area between Smith Bay and 
Point Barrow. Increased winds in that area may be increasing the 
incidence of upwelling, which in turn may be the reason for increased 
sightings of feeding bowheads in the area. Clarke and Ferguson 
(undated) also note that the incidence of feeding bowheads in the 
eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea has decreased since the early 1980s.
    Beluga whales feed on a variety of fish, shrimp, squid and octopus 
(Burns and Seaman, 1985). Very few beluga whales occur nearshore; their 
main migration route is much further offshore. Like several of the 
other species in the area, harbor porpoise feed on demersal and benthic 
species, mainly schooling fish and cephalopods. Depending on the type 
of killer whale (transient or resident), they feed on fish and/or 
marine mammals. However, harbor porpoises and killer whales are not 
commonly found in Prudhoe Bay.
    Gray whales are primarily bottom feeders, and benthic amphipods and 
isopods form the majority of their summer diet, at least in the main 
summering areas west of Alaska (Oliver et al., 1983; Oliver and 
Slattery, 1985). Farther south, gray whales have also been observed 
feeding around kelp beds, presumably on mysid crustaceans, and on 
pelagic prey such as small schooling fish and crab larvae (Hatler and 
Darling, 1974). However, the central Beaufort Sea is not known to be a 
primary feeding ground for gray whales.
    Two kinds of fish inhabit marine waters in the study area: (1) True 
marine fish that spend all of their lives in salt water, and (2) 
anadromous species that reproduce in fresh water and spend parts of 
their life cycles in salt water.
    Most arctic marine fish species are small, benthic forms that do 
not feed high in the water column. The majority of these species are 
circumpolar and are found in habitats ranging from deep offshore water 
to water as shallow as 16.4-33 ft (5-10 m; Fechhelm et al., 1995). The 
most important pelagic species, and the only abundant pelagic species, 
is the Arctic cod. The Arctic cod is a major vector for the transfer of 
energy from lower to higher trophic levels (Bradstreet et al., 1986). 
In summer, Arctic cod can form very large schools in both nearshore and 
offshore waters (Craig et al., 1982; Bradstreet et al., 1986). 
Locations and areas frequented by large schools of Arctic cod cannot be 
predicted but can be almost anywhere. The Arctic cod is a major food 
source for beluga whales, ringed seals, and numerous species of 
seabirds (Frost and Lowry, 1984; Bradstreet et al., 1986).
    Anadromous Dolly Varden char and some species of whitefish winter 
in rivers and lakes, migrate to the sea in spring and summer, and 
return to fresh water in autumn. Anadromous fish form the basis of 
subsistence, commercial, and small regional sport fisheries. Dolly 
Varden char migrate to the sea from May through mid-June (Johnson, 
1980) and spend about 1.5-2.5 months there (Craig, 1989). They return 
to rivers beginning in late July or early August with the peak return 
migration occurring between mid-August and early September (Johnson, 
1980). At sea, most anadromous corregonids (whitefish) remain in 
nearshore waters within several kilometers of shore (Craig, 1984, 
1989). They are often termed ``amphidromous'' fish in that they make 
repeated annual migrations into marine waters to feed, returning each 
fall to overwinter in fresh water.
    Benthic organisms are defined as bottom dwelling creatures. 
Infaunal organisms are benthic organisms that live within the substrate 
and are often sedentary or sessile (bivalves, polychaetes). Epibenthic 
organisms live on or near the bottom surface sediments and are mobile 
(amphipods, isopods, mysids, and some polychaetes). Epifauna, which 
live attached to hard substrates, are rare in the Beaufort Sea because 
hard substrates are scarce there. A small community of epifauna, the 
Boulder Patch, occurs in Stefansson Sound.
    Many of the nearshore benthic marine invertebrates of the Arctic 
are circumpolar and are found over a wide range of water depths (Carey 
et al., 1975). Species identified include polychaetes (Spio filicornis, 
Chaetozone setosa, Eteone longa), bivalves (Cryrtodaria kurriana, 
Nucula tenuis, Liocyma fluctuosa), an isopod (Saduria entomon), and 
amphipods (Pontoporeia femorata, P. affinis).
    Nearshore benthic fauna have been studied in Beaufort Sea lagoons 
and near the mouth of the Colville River (Kinney et al., 1971, 1972; 
Crane and Cooney, 1975). The waters of Simpson Lagoon, Harrison Bay, 
and the nearshore region support a number of infaunal species including 
crustaceans, mollusks, and polychaetes. In areas influenced by river 
discharge, seasonal changes in salinity can greatly influence the 
distribution and abundance of benthic organisms. Large fluctuations in 
salinity and temperature that occur over a very short time period, or 
on a seasonal basis, allow only very adaptable, opportunistic species 
to survive (Alexander et al., 1974). Since shorefast ice is present for 
many months, the distribution and abundance of most species depends on 
annual (or more frequent) recolonization from deeper offshore waters 
(Woodward Clyde Consultants, 1995). Due to ice scouring, particularly 
in water depths of less than 8 ft (2.4 m), infaunal communities tend to 
be patchily distributed. Diversity increases with water depth until the 
shear zone is reached at 49-82 ft (15-25 m; Carey, 1978). Biodiversity 
then declines due to ice gouging between the landfast ice and the polar 
pack ice (Woodward Clyde Consultants, 1995).

Potential Impacts From Sound Generation

    With regard to fish as a prey source for odontocetes and seals, 
fish are known to hear and react to sounds and to use sound to 
communicate (Tavolga et al., 1981) and possibly avoid predators (Wilson 
and Dill, 2002). Experiments have shown that fish can sense both the 
strength and direction of sound (Hawkins, 1981). Primary factors 
determining whether a fish can sense a sound signal, and potentially 
react to it, are the frequency of the signal and the strength of the 
signal in relation to the natural background noise level.

[[Page 39926]]

    Fishes produce sounds that are associated with behaviors that 
include territoriality, mate search, courtship, and aggression. It has 
also been speculated that sound production may provide the means for 
long distance communication and communication under poor underwater 
visibility conditions (Zelick et al., 1999), although the fact that 
fish communicate at low-frequency sound levels where the masking 
effects of ambient noise are naturally highest suggests that very long 
distance communication would rarely be possible. Fishes have evolved a 
diversity of sound generating organs and acoustic signals of various 
temporal and spectral contents. Fish sounds vary in structure, 
depending on the mechanism used to produce them (Hawkins, 1993). 
Generally, fish sounds are predominantly composed of low frequencies 
(less than 3 kHz).
    Since objects in the water scatter sound, fish are able to detect 
these objects through monitoring the ambient noise. Therefore, fish are 
probably able to detect prey, predators, conspecifics, and physical 
features by listening to environmental sounds (Hawkins, 1981). There 
are two sensory systems that enable fish to monitor the vibration-based 
information of their surroundings. The two sensory systems, the inner 
ear and the lateral line, constitute the acoustico-lateralis system.
    Although the hearing sensitivities of very few fish species have 
been studied to date, it is becoming obvious that the intra- and inter-
specific variability is considerable (Coombs, 1981). Nedwell et al. 
(2004) compiled and published available fish audiogram information. A 
noninvasive electrophysiological recording method known as auditory 
brainstem response is now commonly used in the production of fish 
audiograms (Yan, 2004). Generally, most fish have their best hearing in 
the low-frequency range (i.e., less than 1 kHz). Even though some fish 
are able to detect sounds in the ultrasonic frequency range, the 
thresholds at these higher frequencies tend to be considerably higher 
than those at the lower end of the auditory frequency range.
    Literature relating to the impacts of sound on marine fish species 
can be divided into the following categories: (1) Pathological effects; 
(2) physiological effects; and (3) behavioral effects. Pathological 
effects include lethal and sub-lethal physical damage to fish; 
physiological effects include primary and secondary stress responses; 
and behavioral effects include changes in exhibited behaviors of fish. 
Behavioral changes might be a direct reaction to a detected sound or a 
result of the anthropogenic sound masking natural sounds that the fish 
normally detect and to which they respond. The three types of effects 
are often interrelated in complex ways. For example, some physiological 
and behavioral effects could potentially lead to the ultimate 
pathological effect of mortality. Hastings and Popper (2005) reviewed 
what is known about the effects of sound on fishes and identified 
studies needed to address areas of uncertainty relative to measurement 
of sound and the responses of fishes. Popper et al. (2003/2004) also 
published a paper that reviews the effects of anthropogenic sound on 
the behavior and physiology of fishes.
    Potential effects of exposure to sound on marine fish include TTS, 
physical damage to the ear region, physiological stress responses, and 
behavioral responses such as startle response, alarm response, 
avoidance, and perhaps lack of response due to masking of acoustic 
cues. Most of these effects appear to be either temporary or 
intermittent and therefore probably do not significantly impact the 
fish at a population level. The studies that resulted in physical 
damage to the fish ears used noise exposure levels and durations that 
were far more extreme than would be encountered under conditions 
similar to those expected during BP's proposed survey.
    The level of sound at which a fish will react or alter its behavior 
is usually well above the detection level. Fish have been found to 
react to sounds when the sound level increased to about 20 dB above the 
detection level of 120 dB (Ona, 1988); however, the response threshold 
can depend on the time of year and the fish's physiological condition 
(Engas et al., 1993). In general, fish react more strongly to pulses of 
sound rather than a continuous signal (Blaxter et al., 1981), such as 
the type of sound that will be produced by the drillship, and a quicker 
alarm response is elicited when the sound signal intensity rises 
rapidly compared to sound rising more slowly to the same level.
    Investigations of fish behavior in relation to vessel noise (Olsen 
et al., 1983; Ona, 1988; Ona and Godo, 1990) have shown that fish react 
when the sound from the engines and propeller exceeds a certain level. 
Avoidance reactions have been observed in fish such as cod and herring 
when vessels approached close enough that received sound levels are 110 
dB to 130 dB (Nakken, 1992; Olsen, 1979; Ona and Godo, 1990; Ona and 
Toresen, 1988). However, other researchers have found that fish such as 
polar cod, herring, and capeline are often attracted to vessels 
(apparently by the noise) and swim toward the vessel (Rostad et al., 
2006). Typical sound source levels of vessel noise in the audible range 
for fish are 150 dB to 170 dB (Richardson et al., 1995a). In calm 
weather, ambient noise levels in audible parts of the spectrum lie 
between 60 dB to 100 dB.
    Short, sharp sounds can cause overt or subtle changes in fish 
behavior. Chapman and Hawkins (1969) tested the reactions of whiting 
(hake) in the field to an airgun. When the airgun was fired, the fish 
dove from 82 to 180 ft (25 to 55 m) depth and formed a compact layer. 
The whiting dove when received sound levels were higher than 178 dB re 
1 [micro]Pa (Pearson et al., 1992).
    Pearson et al. (1992) conducted a controlled experiment to 
determine effects of strong noise pulses on several species of rockfish 
off the California coast. They used an airgun with a source level of 
223 dB re 1 [micro]Pa. They noted:
     Startle responses at received levels of 200-205 dB re 1 
[micro]Pa and above for two sensitive species, but not for two other 
species exposed to levels up to 207 dB;
     Alarm responses at 177-180 dB for the two sensitive 
species, and at 186 to 199 dB for other species;
     An overall threshold for the above behavioral response at 
about 180 dB;
     An extrapolated threshold of about 161 dB for subtle 
changes in the behavior of rockfish; and
     A return to pre-exposure behaviors within the 20-60 minute 
exposure period.
    In summary, fish often react to sounds, especially strong and/or 
intermittent sounds of low frequency. Sound pulses at received levels 
of 160 dB re 1 [micro]Pa may cause subtle changes in behavior. Pulses 
at levels of 180 dB may cause noticeable changes in behavior (Chapman 
and Hawkins, 1969; Pearson et al., 1992; Skalski et al., 1992). It also 
appears that fish often habituate to repeated strong sounds rather 
rapidly, on time scales of minutes to an hour. However, the habituation 
does not endure, and resumption of the strong sound source may again 
elicit disturbance responses from the same fish.
    Some of the fish species found in the Arctic are prey sources for 
odontocetes and pinnipeds. A reaction by fish to sounds produced by 
BP's proposed survey would only be relevant to marine mammals if it 
caused concentrations of fish to vacate the area. Pressure changes of 
sufficient magnitude to cause that type of reaction would probably 
occur only very close to the sound source, if

[[Page 39927]]

any would occur at all. Impacts on fish behavior are predicted to be 
inconsequential. Thus, feeding odontocetes and pinnipeds would not be 
adversely affected by this minimal loss or scattering, if any, of 
reduced prey abundance.
    Some mysticetes, including bowhead whales, feed on concentrations 
of zooplankton. Some feeding bowhead whales may occur in the Alaskan 
Beaufort Sea in July and August, but feeding bowheads are more likely 
to occur in the area after the cessation of airgun operations. 
Reactions of zooplankton to sound are, for the most part, not known. 
Their ability to move significant distances is limited or nil, 
depending on the type of zooplankton. Behavior of zooplankters is not 
expected to be affected by the survey. These animals have exoskeletons 
and no air bladders. Many crustaceans can make sounds, and some 
crustacea and other invertebrates have some type of sound receptor. A 
reaction by zooplankton to sounds produced by the seismic survey would 
only be relevant to whales if it caused concentrations of zooplankton 
to scatter. Pressure changes of sufficient magnitude to cause that type 
of reaction would probably occur only very close to the sound source, 
if any would occur at all. Impacts on zooplankton behavior are 
predicted to be inconsequential. Thus, feeding mysticetes would not be 
adversely affected by this minimal loss or scattering, if any, of 
reduced zooplankton abundance.
    Based on the preceding discussion, the proposed activity is not 
expected to have any habitat-related effects that could cause 
significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or 
their populations.

Proposed Mitigation

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under 
section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible 
methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of 
effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its 
habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and 
areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species 
or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (where relevant).
    For the proposed SAE open-water 3D OBN seismic surveys in the 
Beaufort Sea, NMFS worked with SAE to propose the following mitigation 
measures to minimize the potential impacts to marine mammals in the 
project vicinity as a result of SAE's survey activities. The primary 
purpose of these mitigation measures is to detect marine mammals 
within, or about to enter, designated exclusion zones and to initiate 
immediate shutdown or power down of the airgun(s).
(1) Establishing Exclusion and Disturbance Zones
    Under current NMFS guidelines, the ``exclusion zone'' for marine 
mammal exposure to impulse sources is customarily defined as the area 
within which received sound levels are >=180 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa for 
cetaceans and >=190 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa for pinnipeds. These safety 
criteria are based on an assumption that SPL received at levels lower 
than these will not injure these animals or impair their hearing 
abilities, but at higher levels might have some such effects. 
Disturbance or behavioral effects to marine mammals from underwater 
sound may occur after exposure to sound at distances greater than the 
exclusion zones (Richardson et al. 1995). Currently, NMFS uses 160 dB 
(rms) re 1 [mu]Pa as the threshold for Level B behavioral harassment 
from impulse noise.
    As discussed above, the acoustic propagation of the proposed 440-
in\3\, 880-in\3\, and 1,760-in\3\ airgun arrays were predicted using 
JASCO's model provided in Aerts et al. (2008), corrected with the 
measured or manufacturer's source levels. The resulting isopleths 
modeled for the 190, 180, and 160 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa exclusion zones 
and zones of influence are listed in Table 2.
    These safety distances will be implemented at the commencement of 
2014 airgun operations to establish marine mammal exclusion zones used 
for mitigation. SAE will conduct sound source measurements of the 
airgun array at the beginning of survey operations in 2014 to verify 
the size of the various marine mammal exclusion zones. The acoustic 
data will be analyzed in the field as quickly as reasonably practicable 
and used to verify and adjust, as necessary, the marine mammal 
exclusion zone distances. The mitigation measures to be implemented at 
the 190 and 180 dB (rms) sound levels will include power downs and shut 
downs as described below.
(2) Vessel Related Mitigation Measures
    These mitigation measures apply to all vessels that are part of 
SAE's Beaufort Sea seismic survey activities, including supporting 
vessels.
     Avoid concentrations or groups of whales. Operators of 
vessels should, at all times, conduct their activities at the maximum 
distance possible from such concentrations or groups of whales.
     If any vessel approaches within 1.6 km (1 mi) of observed 
bowhead whales, except when providing emergency assistance to whalers 
or in other emergency situations, the vessel operator will take 
reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with the bowhead 
whales by taking one or more of the following actions, as appropriate:
    [cir] Reducing vessel speed to less than 5 knots within 300 yards 
(900 feet or 274 m) of the whale(s);
    [cir] Steering around the whale(s) if possible;
    [cir] Operating the vessel(s) in such a way as to avoid separating 
members of a group of whales from other members of the group;
    [cir] Operating the vessel(s) to avoid causing a whale to make 
multiple changes in direction; and
    [cir] Checking the waters immediately adjacent to the vessel(s) to 
ensure that no whales will be injured when the propellers are engaged.
     Reduce vessel speed, not to exceed 5 knots, when weather 
conditions require, such as when visibility drops, to avoid the 
likelihood of injury to whales.
(3) Mitigation Measures for Airgun Operations
    The primary requirements for airgun mitigation during the seismic 
surveys are to monitor marine mammals near the airgun array during all 
daylight airgun operations and during any nighttime start-up of the 
airguns and, if any marine mammals are observed, to adjust airgun 
operations, as necessary, according to the mitigation measures 
described below. During the seismic surveys, PSOs will monitor the pre-
established exclusion zones for the presence of marine mammals. When 
marine mammals are observed within, or about to enter, designated 
safety zones, PSOs have the authority to call for immediate power down 
(or shutdown) of airgun operations, as required by the situation. A 
summary of the procedures associated with each mitigation measure is 
provided below.

Ramp Up Procedure

    A ramp up of an airgun array provides a gradual increase in sound 
levels, and involves a step-wise increase in the number and total 
volume of airguns firing until the full volume is achieved. The purpose 
of a ramp up (or ``soft start'') is to ``warn'' cetaceans and pinnipeds 
in the vicinity of the airguns and to provide time for them to leave 
the area and thus avoid any potential injury or impairment of their 
hearing abilities.
    During the proposed open-water survey program, the seismic operator

[[Page 39928]]

will ramp up the airgun arrays slowly. Full ramp ups (i.e., from a cold 
start after a shutdown, when no airguns have been firing) will begin by 
firing a single airgun in the array (i.e., the mitigation airgun). A 
full ramp up, after a shutdown, will not begin until there has been a 
minimum of 30 minutes of observation of the safety zone by PSOs to 
assure that no marine mammals are present. The entire exclusion zone 
must be visible during the 30-minute lead-in to a full ramp up. If the 
entire exclusion zone is not visible, then ramp up from a cold start 
cannot begin. If a marine mammal is sighted within the safety zone 
during the 30-minute watch prior to ramp up, ramp up will be delayed 
until the marine mammal is sighted outside of the exclusion zone or the 
animal is not sighted for at least 15 minutes, for small odontocetes 
(harbor porpoise) and pinnipeds, or 30 minutes, for baleen whales and 
large odontocetes (including beluga and killer whales and narwhal).

Use of a Small-Volume Airgun During Turns and Transits

    Throughout the seismic survey, during turning movements and short 
transits, SAE will employ the use of the smallest-volume airgun (i.e., 
``mitigation airgun'') to deter marine mammals from being within the 
immediate area of the seismic operations. The mitigation airgun would 
be operated at approximately one shot per minute and would not be 
operated for longer than three hours in duration (turns may last two to 
three hours for the proposed project).
    During turns or brief transits (i.e., less than three hours) 
between seismic tracklines, one mitigation airgun will continue 
operating. The ramp up procedures described above will be followed when 
increasing the source levels from the one mitigation airgun to the full 
airgun array. However, keeping one airgun firing during turns and brief 
transits will allow SAE to resume seismic surveys using the full array 
without having to ramp up from a ``cold start,'' which requires a 30-
minute observation period of the full exclusion zone and is prohibited 
during darkness or other periods of poor visibility. PSOs will be on 
duty whenever the airguns are firing during daylight and during the 30-
minute periods prior to ramp-ups from a ``cold start.''

Power Down and Shut Down Procedures

    A power down is the immediate reduction in the number of operating 
energy sources from all firing to some smaller number (e.g., a single 
mitigation airgun). A shut down is the immediate cessation of firing of 
all energy sources. The array will be immediately powered down whenever 
a marine mammal is sighted approaching close to or within the 
applicable exclusion zone of the full array, but is outside the 
applicable exclusion zone of the single mitigation airgun. If a marine 
mammal is sighted within or about to enter the applicable exclusion 
zone of the single mitigation airgun, the entire array will be shut 
down (i.e., no sources firing).

Poor Visibility Conditions

    SAE plans to conduct 24-hour operations. PSOs will not be on duty 
during ongoing seismic operations during darkness, given the very 
limited effectiveness of visual observation at night (there will be no 
periods of darkness in the survey area until mid-August). The 
provisions associated with operations at night or in periods of poor 
visibility include the following:
     If during foggy conditions, heavy snow or rain, or 
darkness (which may be encountered starting in late August), the full 
180 dB exclusion zone is not visible, the airguns cannot commence a 
ramp-up procedure from a full shut-down.
     If one or more airguns have been operational before 
nightfall or before the onset of poor visibility conditions, they can 
remain operational throughout the night or poor visibility conditions. 
In this case ramp-up procedures can be initiated, even though the 
exclusion zone may not be visible, on the assumption that marine 
mammals will be alerted by the sounds from the single airgun and have 
moved away.
(4) Mitigation Measures for Subsistence Activities
    The following mitigation measures will be imposed in order to 
effect the least practicable adverse impact on the availability of 
marine mammal species for subsistence uses:
(i) Establishment and Operations of Communication and Call Centers 
(Com-Center) Program
     For the purposes of reducing or eliminating conflicts 
between subsistence whaling activities and SAE's survey program, SAE 
will participate with other operators in the Com-Center Program. Com-
Centers will be operated to facilitate communication of information 
between SAE and subsistence whalers. The Com-Centers will be operated 
24 hours/day during the 2014 fall subsistence bowhead whale hunt.
     All vessels shall report to the appropriate Com-Center at 
least once every six hours, commencing each day with a call at 
approximately 06:00 hours.
     The appropriate Com-Center shall be notified if there is 
any significant change in plans, such as an unannounced start-up of 
operations or significant deviations from announced course, and that 
Com-Center shall notify all whalers of such changes. The appropriate 
Com-Center also shall be called regarding any unsafe or unanticipated 
ice conditions.
    (ii) SAE shall monitor the positions of all of its vessels and 
exercise due care in avoiding any areas where subsistence activity is 
active.
    (iii) Routing barge and transit vessels:
     Vessels transiting in the Beaufort Sea east of Bullen 
Point to the Canadian border shall remain at least 5 miles offshore 
during transit along the coast, provided ice and sea conditions allow. 
During transit in the Chukchi Sea, vessels shall remain as far offshore 
as weather and ice conditions allow, and at all times at least 5 miles 
offshore.
     From August 31 to October 31, vessels in the Chukchi Sea 
or Beaufort Sea shall remain at least 20 miles offshore of the coast of 
Alaska from Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea to Pitt Point on the east side 
of Smith Bay in the Beaufort Sea, unless ice conditions or an emergency 
that threatens the safety of the vessel or crew prevents compliance 
with this requirement. This condition shall not apply to vessels 
actively engaged in transit to or from a coastal community to conduct 
crew changes or logistical support operations.
     Vessels shall be operated at speeds necessary to ensure no 
physical contact with whales occurs, and to make any other potential 
conflicts with bowheads or whalers unlikely. Vessel speeds shall be 
less than 10 knots in the proximity of feeding whales or whale 
aggregations.
     If any vessel inadvertently approaches within 1.6 
kilometers (1 mile) of observed bowhead whales, except when providing 
emergency assistance to whalers or in other emergency situations, the 
vessel operator will take reasonable precautions to avoid potential 
interaction with the bowhead whales by taking one or more of the 
following actions, as appropriate:
    [cir] Reducing vessel speed to less than 5 knots within 900 feet of 
the whale(s);
    [cir] steering around the whale(s) if possible;
    [cir] operating the vessel(s) in such a way as to avoid separating 
members of a group of whales from other members of the group;
    [cir] operating the vessel(s) to avoid causing a whale to make 
multiple changes in direction; and

[[Page 39929]]

    [cir] checking the waters immediately adjacent to the vessel(s) to 
ensure that no whales will be injured when the propellers are engaged.
(iv) Limitation on Seismic Surveys in the Beaufort Sea
     Kaktovik: No seismic survey from the Canadian Border to 
the Canning River from August 25 to close of the fall bowhead whale 
hunt in Kaktovik and Nuiqsut. From August 10 to August 25, SAE will 
communicate and collaborate with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission 
(AEWC) on any planned vessel movement in and around Kaktovik and Cross 
Island to avoid impacts to whale hunting.
     Nuiqsut:
    [cir] Pt. Storkerson to Thetis Island: No seismic survey prior to 
July 25 inside the Barrier Islands. No seismic survey from August 25 to 
close of fall bowhead whale hunting outside the Barrier Island in 
Nuiqsut.
    [cir] Canning River to Pt. Storkerson: No seismic survey from 
August 25 to the close of bowhead whale subsistence hunting in Nuiqsut.
     Barrow: No seismic survey from Pitt Point on the east side 
of Smith Bay to a location about half way between Barrow and Peard Bay 
from September 15 to the close of the fall bowhead whale hunt in 
Barrow.
    (v) SAE shall complete operations in time to allow such vessels to 
complete transit through the Bering Strait to a point south of 59 
degrees North latitude no later than November 15, 2014. Any vessel that 
encounters weather or ice that will prevent compliance with this date 
shall coordinate its transit through the Bering Strait to a point south 
of 59 degrees North latitude with the appropriate Com-Centers. SAE 
vessels shall, weather and ice permitting, transit east of St. Lawrence 
Island and no closer than 10 miles from the shore of St. Lawrence 
Island.
    In addition, SAE is conducting the planned seismic surveys in a 
joint partnership agreement with the Kuukpik Corporation. As a joint 
venture partner with Kuukpik, SAE states that it will be working 
closely with Kuukpik and the communities on the North Slope to plan 
operations that will include measures that are environmentally suitable 
and that do not impact local subsistence use. SAE states that it will 
sign a Conflict Avoidance Agreement with the Alaskan native whaling 
communities that will include measures to ensure its seismic activities 
do not adversely affect subsistence whaling. SAE will schedule and 
attend meetings in the villages of Nuiqsut, Barrow, Kaktovik, and any 
other affected communities. A draft Plan of Cooperation is attached 
with SAE's IHA application.

Mitigation Conclusions

    NMFS has carefully evaluated SAE's proposed mitigation measures and 
considered a range of other measures in the context of ensuring that 
NMFS prescribes the means of effecting the least practicable impact on 
the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our 
evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the 
following factors in relation to one another:
     The manner in which, and the degree to which, the 
successful implementation of the measures are expected to minimize 
adverse impacts to marine mammals;
     The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to 
minimize adverse impacts as planned; and
     The practicability of the measure for applicant 
implementation.
    Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by NMFS should be able to 
accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on 
current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of 
the general goals listed below:
    1. Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals 
wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal).
    2. A reduction in the numbers of marine mammals (total number or 
number at biologically important time or location) exposed to received 
levels of seismic airguns, or other activities expected to result in 
the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to 
reducing harassment takes only).
    3. A reduction in the number of times (total number or number at 
biologically important time or location) individuals would be exposed 
to received levels of seismic airguns or other activities expected to 
result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, 
above, or to reducing harassment takes only).
    4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number 
or number at biologically important time or location) to received 
levels of seismic airguns or other activities expected to result in the 
take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to 
reducing the severity of harassment takes only).
    5. Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal 
habitat, paying special attention to the food base, activities that 
block or limit passage to or from biologically important areas, 
permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary destruction/disturbance 
of habitat during a biologically important time.
    6. For monitoring directly related to mitigation--an increase in 
the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more 
effective implementation of the mitigation.
    Based on our evaluation of the applicant's proposed measures, as 
well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily 
determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means of 
effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammals species or 
stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, 
mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. Proposed measures to 
ensure availability of such species or stock for taking for certain 
subsistence uses are discussed later in this document (see ``Impact on 
Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence 
Uses'' section).

Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an ITA for an activity, Section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth, ``requirements pertaining to 
the monitoring and reporting of such taking.'' The MMPA implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for ITAs 
must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary 
monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the 
species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine 
mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area. 
SAE submitted a marine mammal monitoring plan as part of the IHA 
application. The plan may be modified or supplemented based on comments 
or new information received from the public during the public comment 
period or from the peer review panel (see the ``Monitoring Plan Peer 
Review'' section later in this document).
    Monitoring measures prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or 
more of the following general goals:
    1. An increase in our understanding of the likely occurrence of 
marine mammal species in the vicinity of the action, i.e., presence, 
abundance, distribution, and/or density of species.
    2. An increase in our understanding of the nature, scope, or 
context of the likely exposure of marine mammal species to any of the 
potential stressor(s) associated with the action (e.g. sound or visual 
stimuli), through better understanding of one or more of the following: 
The action itself and its

[[Page 39930]]

environment (e.g. sound source characterization, propagation, and 
ambient noise levels); the affected species (e.g. life history or dive 
pattern); the likely co-occurrence of marine mammal species with the 
action (in whole or part) associated with specific adverse effects; 
and/or the likely biological or behavioral context of exposure to the 
stressor for the marine mammal (e.g. age class of exposed animals or 
known pupping, calving or feeding areas).
    3. An increase in our understanding of how individual marine 
mammals respond (behaviorally or physiologically) to the specific 
stressors associated with the action (in specific contexts, where 
possible, e.g., at what distance or received level).
    4. An increase in our understanding of how anticipated individual 
responses, to individual stressors or anticipated combinations of 
stressors, may impact either: the long-term fitness and survival of an 
individual; or the population, species, or stock (e.g. through effects 
on annual rates of recruitment or survival).
    5. An increase in our understanding of how the activity affects 
marine mammal habitat, such as through effects on prey sources or 
acoustic habitat (e.g., through characterization of longer-term 
contributions of multiple sound sources to rising ambient noise levels 
and assessment of the potential chronic effects on marine mammals).
    6. An increase in understanding of the impacts of the activity on 
marine mammals in combination with the impacts of other anthropogenic 
activities or natural factors occurring in the region.
    7. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of 
mitigation and monitoring measures.
    8. An increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals 
(through improved technology or methodology), both specifically within 
the safety zone (thus allowing for more effective implementation of the 
mitigation) and in general, to better achieve the above goals.

Proposed Monitoring Measures

    Monitoring will provide information on the numbers of marine 
mammals potentially affected by the exploration operations and 
facilitate real-time mitigation to prevent injury of marine mammals by 
industrial sounds or activities. These goals will be accomplished in 
the Beaufort Sea during 2014 by conducting vessel-based monitoring from 
both source vessels and the mitigation vessel and an acoustic 
monitoring program using a bottom-mounted hydrophone array to document 
marine mammal presence and distribution in the vicinity of the survey 
area.
    Visual monitoring by Protected Species Observers (PSOs) during 
seismic survey operations, and periods when these surveys are not 
occurring, will provide information on the numbers of marine mammals 
potentially affected by these activities and facilitate real-time 
mitigation to prevent impacts to marine mammals by industrial sounds or 
operations. Vessel-based PSOs onboard the survey vessels and mitigation 
vessel will record the numbers and species of marine mammals observed 
in the area and any observable reaction of marine mammals to the survey 
activities in the Beaufort Sea.

Visual-Based Protected Species Observers (PSOs)

    The visual-based marine mammal monitoring will be implemented by a 
team of experienced PSOs, including both biologists and Inupiat 
personnel. PSOs will be stationed aboard the survey vessels and 
mitigation vessel through the duration of the project. The vessel-based 
marine mammal monitoring will provide the basis for real-time 
mitigation measures as discussed in the Mitigation Measures section. In 
addition, monitoring results of the vessel-based monitoring program 
will include the estimation of the number of ``takes'' as stipulated in 
the IHA.
(1) Protected Species Observers
    Vessel-based monitoring for marine mammals will be done by trained 
PSOs throughout the period of survey activities. The observers will 
monitor the occurrence of marine mammals near the survey vessel during 
all daylight periods during operation, and during most daylight periods 
when operations are not occurring. PSO duties will include watching for 
and identifying marine mammals; recording their numbers, distances, and 
reactions to the survey operations; and documenting ``take by 
harassment.''
    A sufficient number of PSOs will be required onboard each survey 
vessel to meet the following criteria:
     100% monitoring coverage during all periods of survey 
operations in daylight;
     maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per PSO; and
     maximum of 12 hours of watch time per day per PSO.
    PSO teams will consist of Inupiat observers and experienced field 
biologists. Each vessel will have an experienced field crew leader to 
supervise the PSO team. The total number of PSOs may decrease later in 
the season as the duration of daylight decreases.
(2) Observer Qualifications and Training
    Crew leaders and most PSOs will be individuals with experience as 
observers during recent seismic, site clearance and shallow hazards, 
and other monitoring projects in Alaska or other offshore areas in 
recent years. New or inexperienced PSOs will be paired with an 
experienced PSO or experienced field biologist so that the quality of 
marine mammal observations and data recording is kept consistent.
    Biologist-observers will have previous marine mammal observation 
experience, and field crew leaders will be highly experienced with 
previous vessel-based marine mammal monitoring and mitigation projects. 
Resumes for those individuals will be provided to NMFS for review and 
acceptance of their qualifications. Inupiat observers will be 
experienced in the region and familiar with the marine mammals of the 
area. All observers will complete a NMFS-approved observer training 
course designed to familiarize individuals with monitoring and data 
collection procedures.
    PSOs will complete a two or three-day training and refresher 
session on marine mammal monitoring, to be conducted shortly before the 
anticipated start of the 2014 open-water season. Any exceptions will 
have or receive equivalent experience or training. The training 
session(s) will be conducted by qualified marine mammalogists with 
extensive crew-leader experience during previous vessel-based seismic 
monitoring programs.
(3) Marine Mammal Observer Protocol
    Two protected species observers (PSOs) will be stationed on each 
source vessel. An additional 2 or 3 PSOs will be stationed on the 
mitigation vessel, and they will work in concert with the PSOs 
stationed aboard the source vessels, to provide an early warning of the 
approach of any bowhead whale, beluga, or other marine mammal. The 
mitigation vessel plans to conduct zig-zag transects from 2 to 6 km 
ahead of the source vessel (based on water depth and weather 
conditions) to effectively monitor the 160 dB zone of influence and to 
also monitor the edge of the 180 dB isopleth.
    The PSOs will watch for marine mammals at the seismic operation 
during all periods of source operations and for a minimum of 30 minutes 
prior to the planned start of airgun or pinger

[[Page 39931]]

operations after an extended shut down. SAE vessel crew and operations 
personnel will also watch for marine mammals (insofar as practical) to 
assist and alert the PSOs for the airgun(s) to be shut down if marine 
mammals are observed in or about to enter the exclusion zone.
    The PSOs will watch for marine mammals from the best available 
vantage point on the survey vessels, typically the bridge. The PSOs 
will scan the area around the vessel systematically with reticle 
binoculars (e.g., 7 x 50 and 16-40 x 80) and with the naked eye. Laser 
range finders (Leica LRF 1200 laser rangefinder or equivalent) will be 
available to assist with distance estimation.
    The observers aboard the survey and mitigation vessels will give 
particular attention to the areas within the marine mammal exclusion 
zones around the source vessels. These zones are the maximum distances 
within which received levels may exceed 180 dB (rms) re 1 [micro]Pa 
(rms) for cetaceans, or 190 dB (rms) re 1 [micro]Pa for pinnipeds.
    When a marine mammal is seen approaching or within the exclusion 
zone applicable to that species, the seismic survey crew will be 
notified immediately so that mitigation measures called for in the 
applicable authorization(s) can be implemented.
    Night-vision equipment (Generation 3 binocular image intensifiers 
or equivalent units) will be available for use if and when needed. Past 
experience with night-vision devices (NVDs) in the Beaufort Sea and 
elsewhere has indicated that NVDs are not nearly as effective as visual 
observation during daylight hours (e.g., Harris et al. 1997, 1998; 
Moulton and Lawson 2002).
(4) Field Data-Recording
    The PSOs will record field observation data and information about 
marine mammal sightings that include:
     Species, group size, age/size/sex categories (if 
determinable);
     physical description of features that were observed or 
determined not to be present in the case of unknown or unidentified 
animals;
     behavior when first sighted and after initial sighting, 
heading (if consistent);
     bearing and distance from observer, apparent reaction to 
activities (e.g., none, avoidance, approach, paralleling, etc.), 
closest point of approach, and behavioral pace;
     time, location, speed, and activity of the source and 
mitigation vessels, sea state, ice cover, visibility, and sun glare; 
and
     positions of other vessel(s) in the vicinity.

Spotted Seal Haulout Monitoring

    Given that information on seasonal use of haulout sites by spotted 
seals remains elusive, SAE is proposing a monitoring program in 2014 
largely designed to identify where seals haulout in the action area and 
to determine whether some areas would need additional monitoring later 
in 2014 or whether additional mitigation measures would need to be 
imposed on SAE's future schedule and shot layout. The monitoring would 
include a biweekly boat-based survey, with the first survey on August 1 
and the last survey two weeks after the seismic survey is completed for 
the year. The survey would begin at the village of Nuiqsut and would 
initially follow the far west channel of the Colville River, survey all 
the outer islands of the river delta, and then return to Nuiqsut 
following the farthest east river channel. The survey would traverse 
approximately 75 mi and take about a day to complete. All seals will be 
identified to species, and GPS location and whether the animals were 
hauled out or in the water will be noted. Collected data will be 
combined with available traditional knowledge and historical 
information to determine whether there are locations of consistent seal 
haulout use that might be affected by proposed seismic surveys. If 
sites of suspected high use are found, SAE should contact NMFS and the 
North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife to identify additional 
mitigation measures to minimize impacts to these sites.

Passive Acoustic Monitoring

(1) Sound Source Measurements
    Prior to or at the beginning of the seismic survey, sound levels 
will be measured as a function of distance and direction from the 
proposed seismic source array (full array and reduced to a single 
mitigation airgun). Results of the acoustic characterization and SSV 
will be used to empirically refine the modeled distance estimates of 
the pre-season 190 dB, 180 dB, 170 dB, and 160 dB isopleths. The 
refined SSV exclusion zones will be used for the remainder of the 
seismic survey. Distance estimates for the 120 dB isopleth will also be 
modeled. The results of the SSV will be submitted to NMFS within five 
days after completing the measurements, followed by a report to be 
submitted within 14 days after completion of the measurements. A more 
detailed report will be provided to NMFS as part of the required 90-day 
report following completion of the acoustic program.
(2) Passive Acoustic Monitoring Using Bottom-Mounted Hydrophones
    SAE proposes to conduct Passive Acoustical Monitoring (PAM) using 
specialized autonomous passive acoustical recorders. These recorders 
will be deployed on the seabed and will record continuously at 64 kHz 
sample rate and 24-bit samples. The recorders will be calibrated using 
piston phone calibrators immediately before and after each deployment. 
These calibrations are accurate to less than 0.5 dB absolute.
    The recorders will be configured with a single channel using a 
sensitive hydrophone and will be configured with an appropriate duty 
cycle to record at 64 kHz for up to 80 days. The recorders will sit 
directly on the seabed and will be attached to a ground line with a 
small weight at its end. Each recorder will be retrieved by using a 
grapple to catch the ground line and recover the unit. This simple 
deployment configuration and retrieval procedure has proven to be very 
effective for deployments in the Beaufort Sea.

PAM Deployment

    Four recorders will be deployed in an arrangement surrounding the 
survey area for the purposes of PAM. The data collected will be used 
for post-season analysis of marine mammal vocalization detections to 
help inform an assessment of potential disturbance effects. The PAM 
data will also provide information about the long-range propagation of 
the airgun noise.

Recorder Arrangement

    The proposed arrangement of recorders would be to place one 
recorder to the east of the survey region, one to the west, and two in 
the offshore direction. The exact arrangement will be defined based on 
the specific survey line configuration and will encompass the 
boundaries of the survey area. The recorders will be positioned at 
ranges where the sound levels are expected to have decayed to levels at 
or below 120 dB re 1 [micro]Pa, to be determined following analysis of 
the SSV data.

Data Analysis

    PAM recordings will be processed at the end of the season using 
marine mammal detection and classification software capable of 
detecting vocalizations from marine mammals. Particular attention will 
be given to the detection of bowhead whale vocalizations since this is 
a species of particular concern due to its importance for local 
subsistence hunting.

[[Page 39932]]

    PAM recordings will also be used to detect and quantify airgun 
pulses from the survey as recorded on the PAM recorders, to provide 
information about the long-range propagation of the survey noise.

Monitoring Plan Peer Review

    The MMPA requires that monitoring plans be independently peer 
reviewed ``where the proposed activity may affect the availability of a 
species or stock for taking for subsistence uses'' (16 U.S.C. 
1371(a)(5)(D)(ii)(III)). Regarding this requirement, NMFS' implementing 
regulations state, ``Upon receipt of a complete monitoring plan, and at 
its discretion, [NMFS] will either submit the plan to members of a peer 
review panel for review or within 60 days of receipt of the proposed 
monitoring plan, schedule a workshop to review the plan'' (50 CFR 
216.108(d)).
    NMFS has established an independent peer review panel to review 
SAE's marine mammal monitoring plan. The panel met in March 2014 via 
video and tele-conferencing, and provided comments to NMFS in April. 
The full panel report can be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm.
    NMFS provided the panel with SAE's IHA application and monitoring 
plan and asked the panel to answer the following questions:
    1. Will the applicant's stated objectives effectively further the 
understanding of the impacts of their activities on marine mammals and 
otherwise accomplish the goals stated above? If not, how should the 
objectives be modified to better accomplish the goals above?
    2. Can the applicant achieve the stated objectives based on the 
methods described in the plan?
    3. Are there technical modifications to the proposed monitoring 
techniques and methodologies proposed by the applicant that should be 
considered to better accomplish their stated objectives?
    4. Are there techniques not proposed by the applicant (i.e., 
additional monitoring techniques or methodologies) that should be 
considered for inclusion in the applicant's monitoring program to 
better accomplish their stated objectives?
    5. What is the best way for an applicant to present their data and 
results (formatting, metrics, graphics, etc.) in the required reports 
that are to be submitted to NMFS (i.e., 90-day report and comprehensive 
report)?
    The panel raised particular questions and concerns about three 
aspects of SAE's original proposed monitoring plan. First, SAE proposed 
having one PSO conducting marine mammal monitoring from the survey 
vessel during operations. Citing a 2013 90-day marine mammal monitoring 
report from TGS (Cate et al. 2014), the panel raised concerns that a 
single PSO would not be able to effectively monitor the entire safety 
zone. Second, SAE proposed conducting passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) 
as part of its monitoring program. The panel report stated that SAE's 
IHA application and its marine mammal monitoring and mitigation plan 
lacked sufficient detail on the PAM SAE proposed. Third, SAE proposed 
conducting a pinniped aerial monitoring survey. The panel report stated 
that SAE's IHA application and proposed plan also lacked sufficient 
detail on the pinniped aerial survey. The panel further stated that an 
aerial survey is not an effective way to study pinnipeds, with the 
possible exception of spotted seal use of land haulouts. In addition, 
the panel stated that it is nearly impossible to use aerial surveys to 
make inferences into ice seal density or abundance during the open-
water season, when seals are likely to be in the water, because such 
surveys have extremely high availability bias that cannot be reliably 
estimated. Finally, the panel stated that the residents of Nuiqsut, 
located near the Colville River delta, had expressed considerable 
concerns about the frequency of aerial overflights in the area. The 
panel determined that the cultural impacts of excessive aerial surveys 
in this region largely outweighed the value of the ice seal data that 
could be collected using this methodology. Instead, the panel 
recommended SAE conduct surveys of the spotted seal coastal haulouts 
from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which are considerably quieter 
than manned aircraft.
    Other recommendations from the panel included: (1) Requiring a 
minimum of two PSOs to be on watch throughout all daylight hours, 
regardless of whether airguns are firing; (2) documenting marine mammal 
occurrence, density, and behavior during times when airguns are not 
operating; (3) submitting summary reports with an initial summary or 
interpretation of the efficacy, measurements, and observations, rather 
than raw data, fully processed analyses that include a summary of 
timeline and spatial representation (e.g., a map, with latitude and 
longitude clearly shown), or a summary of operations and important 
observations; (4) providing a complete characterization of the acoustic 
footprint resulting from various activity states; (5) providing a 
summary of any and all mitigation measures (e.g., operational shutdowns 
if they occur) and an assessment of the efficacy of the monitoring 
methods; and (6) collaborating with other industrial operators in the 
area to integrate and synthesize monitoring results as much as possible 
(such as submitting ``sightings'' from their monitoring projects to an 
online data archive, such as OBIS-SEAMAP) and archiving and making the 
complete databases available upon request.
    Based on the recommendations provided by the panel, NMFS worked 
with SAE and requested detailed information on the monitoring 
methodology and survey design. On April 25, 2014, SAE provided an 
updated IHA application, and on May 15, 2014, an updated Marine Mammal 
Monitoring and Mitigation Plan (4MP).
    In the updated 4MP, SAE provided a detailed description of its plan 
for using a drift buoy equipped with acoustic sensors for sound source 
verification (SSV) and a detailed deployment plan for the bottom-
mounted hydrophone array for passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) during 
the seismic survey. In response to the concerns raised by the panel 
about the pinniped aerial survey, SAE modified the survey protocol to 
replace the aerial survey with a vessel-based visual survey of spotted 
seal haulout instead.
    NMFS provided the panel with the updated 4MP, for an additional 
voluntary review. Two of the panel members provided additional comments 
on SAE's updated 4MP. These panelists again raised concern that the use 
of a single onboard PSO for marine mammal monitoring would not be 
adequate to cover the safety zone monitoring. In addition, the panel 
members raised questions about the use of a drifting buoy for SSV and 
the marine mammal passive acoustic detection and classification, and 
requested NMFS to require SAE to consult with NMFS and North Slope 
Borough Department of Wildlife Management (NSB-DWM) on spotted seal 
haulout usage prior to issuance of the IHA.
    As a result of the independent peer review, NMFS worked with SAE 
and proposed the following mitigation and monitoring measures based on 
the panel's recommendations:
    (1) PSOs shall monitor and document marine mammal occurrence, 
density, and behavior for at least some periods when airguns are not 
operating;
    (2) Summaries that represent an initial level of interpretation of 
the efficacy, measurements, and

[[Page 39933]]

observations, rather than raw data, fully processed analyses, or a 
summary of operations and important observations, shall be given in the 
final report;
    (3) Summaries of all mitigation measures (e.g., operational 
shutdowns if they occur) and an assessment of the efficacy of the 
monitoring methods shall be provided in the final report;
    (4) A complete characterization of the acoustic footprint resulting 
from various activity states shall be provided in the final report;
    (5) Collaborating with other industrial operators in the area to 
integrate and synthesize monitoring results as much as possible (such 
as submitting ``sightings'' from their monitoring projects to an online 
data archive, such as OBIS-SEAMAP) and archiving and making the 
complete databases available upon request; and
    (6) Spotted Seal Haulout Monitoring: SAE will conduct a biweekly 
boat survey of spotted seals, before, during, and after the seismic 
survey, to identify where seals haulout in the action area. The survey 
will begin at the village of Nuiqsut and follow the far west channel of 
the Colville River, survey all the outer islands of the river delta, 
and then return to Nuiqsut following the farthest east river channel. 
All seals will be identified to species, and GPS location and whether 
the animals were hauled out or in the water will be noted. Collected 
data will be combined with available traditional knowledge and 
historical information to determine whether there are locations of 
consistent seal haulout use that might be affected by the seismic 
survey. If sites of suspected high use are found, SAE shall contact 
NMFS and the NSB-DWM to identify additional mitigation measures to 
minimize impacts to these sites.
    Regarding the panel's recommendation that NMFS require a minimum of 
two PSOs to be on watch throughout all daylight hours, regardless of 
whether airguns are firing, NMFS discussed the matter with SAE and SAE 
reported that its source vessel is small and cannot support extra PSOs, 
for safety reasons. To address the panel's concerns and to compensate 
for any potential monitoring inadequacy resulting from having only a 
single PSO on the source vessel, SAE revised its monitoring plan, so 
that it will also mobilize a mitigation vessel dedicated to marine 
mammal monitoring. There will be 2-3 PSOs onboard the mitigation 
vessel. At any given time, there will be 1-2 PSOs monitoring from the 
mitigation vessel, in addition to the PSO monitoring from the source 
vessel. The mitigation vessel will be positioned north and east of the 
source vessel, or essentially upstream of the bowhead and beluga 
migration route.
    The panel's concern that monitoring by a single PSO was potentially 
inadequate was based largely on a 90-day monitoring report submitted by 
TGS (Cate et al. 2014), in which a sighting curve was provided showing 
that during dual-PSO effort from an observation height of 6.5 m, using 
unaided eye, Fujinon 7 x 50 reticle binoculars, or 25 x 150 Fujinon 
``Big-eyes,'' the detection probability dropped by 50% within 150 m of 
the ship, meaning there could be whales within the exclusion zone that 
may not be detected. However, the sighting curve developed for that 90-
day report was solely based on observations obtained on a 2D seismic 
survey by TGS in offshore water. SAE plans to survey in relatively 
calmer coastal shallow waters, and therefore, marine mammal detection 
rates should be higher for SAE's survey. In addition, the TGS sighting 
curve does not separate marine mammals by species, but rather combines 
all sightings from large bowhead whales to small pinnipeds and harbor 
porpoises. Therefore, NMFS does not believe the sighting curve provided 
by TGS provides an accurate assessment of species-specific marine 
mammal detection as a function of distance, particularly for large 
mysticetes.
    As the ultimate goal of adequate monitoring is to provide robust 
protective measures to prevent marine mammals from being exposed to 
noise levels that could cause injury (Level A harassment), NMFS 
analyzed the effectiveness of the monitoring protocol proposed by SAE 
to make a determination whether the protocol provides adequate measures 
for protecting marine mammals. One factor that NMFS took into 
consideration is that the airgun array proposed to be used by SAE for 
its survey is much smaller than the one used by TGS. Therefore, the 
ensonified zones from the SAE seismic survey will be much smaller. In 
addition, marine mammals are known to avoid intense sound and most 
likely will move out of the area as the seismic vessel approaches. SAE 
also will have a separate mitigation vessel with additional PSOs to 
provide additional monitoring of the ensonified zones. Therefore, for 
this proposed seismic survey, NMFS considers the proposed vessel-based 
marine mammal monitoring to be adequate.

Reporting Measures

(1) Sound Source Verification Report
    A report on the preliminary results of the sound source 
verification measurements, including the measured 190, 180, 170, and 
160 dB (rms) radii of the airgun sources, would be submitted within 14 
days after collection of those measurements at the start of the field 
season. This report will specify the distances of the exclusion zones 
that were adopted for the survey.
(2) Technical Report
    If the IHA is issued, the results of SAE's 2014 vessel-based 
monitoring, including estimates of ``take'' by harassment, would be 
presented first in a ``90-day'' draft Technical Report, to be submitted 
to NMFS within 90 days after the end of the seismic survey, and then in 
a final Technical Report, which would address any comments NMFS had on 
the draft. The Technical Report will include:
    (a) Summaries of monitoring effort (e.g., total hours, total 
distances, and marine mammal distribution through the study period, 
accounting for sea state and other factors affecting visibility and 
detectability of marine mammals);
    (b) Analyses of the effects of various factors influencing 
detectability of marine mammals (e.g., sea state, number of observers, 
and fog/glare);
    (c) Species composition, occurrence, and distribution of marine 
mammal sightings, including date, water depth, numbers, age/size/gender 
categories (if determinable), group sizes, and ice cover;
    (d) Data analysis separated into periods when a seismic airgun 
array (or a single mitigation airgun) is operating and when it is not, 
to better assess impacts to marine mammals--the final and comprehensive 
report to NMFS should summarize and plot:
     Data for periods when a seismic array is active and when 
it is not; and
     The respective predicted received sound conditions over 
fairly large areas (tens of km) around operations;
    (e) Sighting rates of marine mammals during periods with and 
without airgun activities (and other variables that could affect 
detectability), such as:
     Initial sighting distances versus airgun activity state;
     closest point of approach versus airgun activity state;
     observed behaviors and types of movements versus airgun 
activity state;
     numbers of sightings/individuals seen versus airgun 
activity state;
     distribution around the survey vessel versus airgun 
activity state; and
     estimates of take by harassment;
    (f) Results from all hypothesis tests, including estimates of the 
associated statistical power, when practicable;
    (g) Estimates of uncertainty in all take estimates, with 
uncertainty expressed

[[Page 39934]]

by the presentation of confidence limits, a minimum-maximum, posterior 
probability distribution, or another applicable method, with the exact 
approach to be selected based on the sampling method and data 
available;
    (h) A clear comparison of authorized takes and the level of actual 
estimated takes; and
    (i) The methodology used to estimate marine mammal takes and 
relative abundance from the towed PAM.
(3) Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals
    In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly 
causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by the IHA 
(if issued), such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or 
mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), 
SAE would immediately cease the specified activities and immediately 
report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation 
Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Alaska Regional 
Stranding Coordinators. The report would include the following 
information:
     Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the 
incident;
     Name and type of vessel involved;
     Vessel's speed during and leading up to the incident;
     Description of the incident;
     Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding 
the incident;
     Water depth;
     Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
     Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 
hours preceding the incident;
     Species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
     Fate of the animal(s); and
     Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if 
equipment is available).
    Activities would not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS would work with SAE to 
determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further 
prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. SAE would not be able to 
resume their activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or 
telephone.
    In the event that SAE discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, 
and the lead PSO determines that the cause of the injury or death is 
unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a 
moderate state of decomposition as described in the next paragraph), 
SAE would immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits 
and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the 
NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional 
Stranding Coordinators. The report would include the same information 
identified in the paragraph above. Activities would be able to continue 
while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work 
with SAE to determine whether modifications in the activities are 
appropriate.
    In the event that SAE discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, 
and the lead PSO determines that the injury or death is not associated 
with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., 
previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced 
decomposition, or scavenger damage), SAE would report the incident to 
the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email 
to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators, within 24 hours of the 
discovery. SAE would provide photographs or video footage (if 
available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to 
NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. SAE can continue its 
operations under such a case.

Monitoring Results From Previously Authorized Activities

    SAE requested an IHA for a 3D OBN seismic survey in the Beaufort 
Sea in 2013, but the IHA application was withdrawn before an IHA was 
issued. Therefore, there are no previous monitoring results from this 
project.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering [Level B harassment].
    Only take by Level B behavioral harassment of some species is 
anticipated as a result of SAE's proposed 3D OBN seismic survey. NMFS 
expects marine mammal takes could result from noise propagation from 
operation of seismic airguns. NMFS does not expect marine mammals would 
be taken by collision with seismic and support vessels, because the 
vessels will be moving at low speeds, and PSOs on the survey vessels 
and the mitigation vessel will be monitoring for marine mammals and 
will be able to alert the vessels to avoid any marine mammals in the 
area.
    For impulse sounds, such as those produced by the airguns proposed 
to be used in SAE's 3D OBN seismic surveys, NMFS uses the 160 dB (rms) 
re 1 [mu]Pa isopleth to indicate the onset of Level B harassment. SAE 
provided calculations of the 160-dB isopleths expected to be produced 
by the proposed seismic surveys and then used those isopleths to 
estimate takes by harassment. NMFS used those calculations to make the 
necessary MMPA findings. SAE provided a full description of the 
methodology used to estimate takes by harassment in its IHA 
application, which is also provided in the following sections.

Acoustic Footprint

    The areas ensonified by seismic airgun noise that could cause 
marine mammal takes under MMPA was determined by assuming that the 
entire survey area is ensonified (given that the distance to the 160 dB 
isopleth during seismic survey is greater than the distance between 
seismic source lines), and adding a buffer area around the survey box 
corresponding to the distance to the 160 dB isopleth. The estimated 
distance to the 160 dB isopleth is 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) (Table 1) 
based on a sound source of 236.55 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) for the 1,760 
in\3\ seismic array and a spreading model of 18 LogR--0.0047R estimated 
for similar Beaufort nearshore waters (BP Liberty) by Aerts et al. 
(2008). Placing a 3-kilometer buffer around the 1,882-km\2\ (727-mi\2\) 
seismic source area expands the ensonification (or Zone of Influence 
[ZOI]) area to approximately 2,295 km\2\ (886 mi\2\), and represents 
the ZOI for pinnipeds. (The distance to the 160 dB isopleth when 
operating the 880 in\3\ airgun array is 1.5 km (0.9 mi).)

[[Page 39935]]



           Table 1--Modeled Airgun Array Source Levels and Exclusion Zone and Zones of Influence Radii
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                 Source       190 dB       180 dB       160 dB
                     Array size  (in\3\)                      level  (dB)  radius  (m)  radius  (m)  radius  (m)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
440.........................................................       221.08          126          325        1,330
880.........................................................       226.86          167          494        1,500
1,760.......................................................       236.55          321          842        2,990
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Within the 2,295 km\2\ ensonified area, 19% (431 km\2\) falls 
within the 0 to 1.5 m depth range, 14% (326 km\2\) falls within the 1.5 
to 5 m range, 39% (903 km\2\) with the 5 to 15 m range, and 28% (635 
km\2\) within waters greater than 15 m deep (bowhead migration 
corridor). The distribution of these depth ranges is found in Figure 6-
1 of the IHA application.

Marine Mammal Densities

    Density estimates were derived for bowhead whales, beluga whales, 
ringed seals, spotted seals, and bearded seals as described below and 
shown in Table 2. There are no available Beaufort Sea density estimates 
for gray whales, or extralimital species such as killer whales, harbor 
porpoises, humpback whales, narwhals, and ribbon seals. Encountering 
these animals during the seismic program would be unexpected. The 
density derivations for the five species presented in Table 2 are 
provided in the discussions below.

 Table 2--Marine Mammal Densities (/km\2\) in the Beaufort Sea
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 Species                      Summer           Fall
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead whale...........................          0.0672          0.0910
Beluga whale............................          0.0327          0.0175
Ringed seal.............................          0.3547          0.2510
Spotted seal............................          0.0177          0.0125
Bearded seal............................          0.0177          0.0125
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Bowhead Whale: The summer density estimate for bowhead whales was 
derived from July and August aerial survey data collected in the 
Beaufort Sea during the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) 
program in 2012 and 2013. During this period, 276 bowhead whales were 
record along 24,560 km of transect line, or 0.0112 whales per km of 
transect line. Applying an effective strip half-width (ESW) of 1.15 
(Ferguson and Clarke 2013), results in an uncorrected density of 
0.0049. Thomas et al.'s (2002) correction factors (g(0)) for 
availability (0.144) and observer (0.505) bias were applied producing 
an estimated density of 0.0672 whales per km\2\. This is a much higher 
density than previous estimates (e.g., Brandon et al. 2011) due to 
relatively high numbers of whales recorded in the Beaufort Sea in 
August 2013. In 2013, 205 whales were recorded along 9,758 km of 
transect line (corrected density = 0.1251), with 78% of the sightings 
(160 whales) recorded in the easternmost blocks, Blocks 4, 5, 6, and 7. 
In contrast, 26 of the 71 whales (37%) recorded on-transect during 
summer 2012 were at or near Barrow Canyon (Block 12), or the western 
extreme of the Alaskan Beaufort Sea, while another 26 (37%) were 
recorded at the eastern extreme (Blocks 4, 5, 6, and 7). For both years 
combined, only 8 of the 276 (2.9%) recorded during the summer were 
found in Block 3 where the seismic survey is planned.
    Fall density estimate was determined from September and October 
ASAMM data collected from 2006 to 2013. The Western Arctic stock of 
bowhead whale has grown considerably since the late 1970s; thus, data 
collected prior to 2006 probably does not well represent current whale 
densities. From 2006 to 2013, 1,286 bowhead whales were recorded along 
84,400 km of transect line, or 0.1524 per km. Using an ESW of 1.15 
results in an uncorrected density of 0.0066. Applying the availability 
and observer bias correction factors from Thomas et al. (2002) derives 
a corrected fall density estimate of 0.0910.
    Beluga Whale: There is little information on summer use by beluga 
whales in the Beaufort Sea. Moore et al. (2000) reported that only 9 
beluga whales were recorded in waters less than 50 m deep during 11,985 
km of transect survey effort, or about 0.00057 whales per km. Assuming 
an ESW of 0.614 and a 2.62 (Lloyd and Frost 1995) correction factor for 
whales missed (availability and observer bias of adults) and a 1.18 
(Brodie 1971) correction factor for dark juveniles, both correction 
factors used by NMFS for the annual Alaska Stock Assessment Reports, 
the derived corrected density would be 0.0014 whales per mi\2\. The 
same data showed much higher beluga numbers in deeper waters.
    During the summer aerial surveys conducted during the 2012 ASAMM 
program (Clarke et al. 2013), 5 beluga whales were observed along 1,431 
km of transect in waters less than 20 m deep and between longitudes 
140[deg]W and 154[deg]W (the area within which the seismic survey would 
fall). This equates to 0.0035 whales per km of trackline and an 
uncorrected density of 0.0028, assuming an ESW of 0.614. Applying 
correction factors for animals missed (2.62 for adults and 1.18 for 
juveniles) results in a corrected summer density estimate of 0.0088. 
Summer beluga data was also collected in 2013. This data, currently 
available in posted daily reports, does not parse the data by depth or 
longitude and, therefore, is not yet directly comparable to the 2012 
data. Fourteen whales were observed along 340 km of survey in block 3 
in 2013, which is the survey block in which the proposed seismic survey 
area falls. Adding the Block 3 data to the 2012 data results in 23 
whales observed over 1,771 km of transect effort, or 0.0130 whales per 
km and 0.0107 per km\2\. Applying the correction factors described 
above, the summer density estimate would increase to 0.0327. This 
density value is probably inflated due to the limited survey effort in 
2013, but it represents a conservative estimate and is the value used 
in the take estimate.
    Calculated fall beluga densities are approximately twice as high as 
summer

[[Page 39936]]

densities. Between 2006 and 2012, 2,210 beluga were recorded along 
79,586 km of transect line flown during September and October, or 
0.0278 beluga per km of transect. Assuming an ESW of 0.614 gives an 
uncorrected density of 0.0226, and a corrected density of 0.0699. 
However, unlike in summer, almost none of the fall migrating belugas 
were recorded in waters less than 20 meters deep. For years where depth 
data is available (2006, 2009-2012), only 11 of 1,605 (1%) recorded 
belugas were found in waters less than 20 m during the fall. To take 
into account this bias in distribution, but to remain conservative, the 
corrected density estimate is reduced to 25%, or 0.0175.
    Ringed Seal: Surveys for ringed seals have been recently conducted 
in the Beaufort Sea by Kingsley (1986), Frost et al. (2002), Moulton 
and Lawson (2002), Green and Negri (2005), and Green et al. (2006, 
2007). The shipboard monitoring surveys by Green and Negri (2005) and 
Green et al. (2006, 2007) were not systematically based, but are useful 
in estimating the general composition of pinnipeds in the Beaufort 
nearshore, including the Colville River Delta. Frost et al.'s aerial 
surveys were conducted during ice coverage and don't fully represent 
the summer and fall conditions under which the Beaufort surveys will 
occur. Moulton and Lawson (2002) conducted summer shipboard-based 
surveys for pinnipeds along the nearshore Beaufort Sea coast and 
developed seasonal average and maximum densities representative of 
SAE's Beaufort summer seismic project, while Kingsley (1986) conducted 
surveys along the ice margin representing fall conditions. Therefore, 
the Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) ringed seal densities 
were used as the estimated densities of ringed seals in the survey 
area.
    Spotted Seal: Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) 
recorded pinnipeds during barging activity between West Dock and Cape 
Simpson, and found high numbers of ringed seal in Harrison Bay, and 
peaks in spotted seal numbers off the Colville River Delta where a 
haulout site is located. Approximately 5% of all phocid sightings 
recorded by Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) were 
spotted seals, which provide a suitable estimate of the proportion of 
ringed seals versus spotted seals in the Colville River Delta and 
Harrison Bay. Thus, the estimated densities of spotted seals in the 
seismic survey area were derived by multiplying the ringed seal 
densities from Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) by 0.05.
    Bearded Seal: Bearded seals were also recorded in Harrison Bay and 
the Colville River Delta by Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. 
(2006, 2007), but at lower proportions than spotted seals, when both 
were compared to ringed seals. However, estimating bearded seal 
densities based on the proportion of bearded seals observed during the 
barge-based surveys results in density estimates that appear 
unrealistically low given density estimates from other studies, and 
especially given that nearby Thetis Island is used as a base for 
annually hunting this seal (densities are seasonally high enough for 
focused hunting). To be conservative, the bearded seal density values 
used in this application are derived from Stirling et al.'s (1982) 
observations that the proportion of eastern Beaufort Sea bearded seals 
is 5% that of ringed seals, which is similar to the calculations done 
for spotted seals.

Exposure Calculations

    The estimated potential harassment take of local marine mammals by 
SAE's Beaufort seismic survey project was determined by multiplying the 
animal densities in Table 2 by the area ensonified by seismic airgun 
noise greater than 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) that constitutes habitat 
for each respective species. For pinnipeds, which occupy all water 
depths, this includes the entire seismic survey area, plus the 
additional 3-km (1.86-mi) buffer of noise exceeding 160 dB, or 2,295 
km\2\ (886 mi\2\).
    Although the vast majority of bowhead whales migrate through the 
Beaufort Sea in waters greater than 15 m (50 ft) deep (Miller et al. 
2002), feeding and migrating bowheads have been found in waters as 
shallow as 5 m (16 ft) (Clarke et al. 2011). Thus, the seismic survey 
area potentially inhabitable by bowhead whales is all waters greater 
than 5 m deep. This area, including the 3-km buffer, is 1,538 km\2\ 
(594 mi\2\).
    Beluga whales have been observed inside the barrier islands, where 
they would have to traverse water depths as low as 1.8 m, but these 
whales are unlikely to inhabit the shallowest water (<1.5 m deep) 
inside the barrier islands, where stranding risk can be high. For the 
proposed seismic survey, the area of beluga habitat potentially 
ensonified (>160 dB) by the seismic operations is the waters greater 
than 1.5 m (5 ft) deep, plus the 3-km buffer, or approximately 1,864 
km\2\ (720 mi\2\). The resulting exposure calculations are found in 
Table 3.

          Table 3--The Average Number of Animals Potentially Exposed to Received Sound Levels > 160 dB
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Species                  Summer           Fall            Total        Population      % Affected
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead whale...................             103             140             243          12,631             1.9
Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea                    60              33              93          39,258             0.2
 stock).........................
Beluga whale (E. Chukchi Sea                  60              33              93           3,710             2.5
 stock).........................
Ringed seal.....................             814             576           1,390         249,000             0.6
Spotted seal....................              41              29              70         101,568             0.1
Bearded seal....................              41              29              70         155,000             0.1
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The estimated number of marine mammal exposures was based on the 
average density in the area of summer or fall habitat that could be 
ensonified by SAE's proposed activities. Given that the estimated 
densities are overestimates of the expected densities in Block 3 (based 
on ASAMM survey data), especially for bowhead and beluga whales, no 
adjustments were made to account for variability. Most of the summer 
sightings are well east or west of Block 3, and the great majority of 
the fall sightings are in deeper water than Block 3.
    The take estimates do not account for mitigation measures that will 
be implemented. These mitigation measures include shutting down 
operations during the fall bowhead hunt (thereby avoiding any noise 
exposure during the peak of fall bowhead whale and beluga migration) 
and plans for conducting the seismic survey in August in waters greater 
than 15 m (50 ft) deep (thereby avoiding seismic survey within the 
bowhead whale migration corridor after the fall hunt). These measures, 
coupled with the ramp up procedures for airguns, should reduce the 
estimated take from seismic survey operations.

[[Page 39937]]

    The estimated take as a percentage of the marine mammal stock is 
2.5% or less in all cases (Table 3). The highest percent of population 
estimated to be taken is 2.5% for the East Chukchi Sea stock of beluga 
whale. However, that percentage assumes that all 93 beluga whales taken 
are from that population. Similarly, the 0.2% potential take percentage 
for the Beaufort Sea stock of beluga whale assumes that all 93 beluga 
whales are taken from the Beaufort Sea stock. Most likely, some beluga 
whales would be taken from each stock, meaning fewer than 93 beluga 
whales would be taken from either individual stock. Therefore, the take 
of beluga whales as a percentage of populations would likely be below 
0.2 and 2.5% for the Beaufort Sea and East Chukchi Sea stocks, 
respectively. In addition, the estimated take for the East Chukchi Sea 
stock does not take into account mitigation measures, such as 
curtailing survey activities during the fall bowhead whale hunt, 
shutdowns within the harassment zone for cow/calf pairs, and possibly 
completing the survey of the more offshore waters in the summer. These 
actions would reduce the potential encounters with bowhead and beluga 
whales in the fall.

Analysis and Preliminary Determinations

Negligible Impact

    Negligible impact is ``an impact resulting from the specified 
activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably 
likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on 
annual rates of recruitment or survival'' (50 CFR 216.103). A 
negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population-
level effects). An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes, 
alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact 
determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of 
marine mammals that might be ``taken'' through behavioral harassment, 
NMFS must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any 
responses (their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any 
responses (critical reproductive time or location, migration, etc.), as 
well as the number and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes, 
the number of estimated mortalities, effects on habitat, and the status 
of the species.
    No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of 
SAE's proposed 3D OBS seismic survey, and none are proposed to be 
authorized. Additionally, animals in the area are not expected to incur 
hearing impairment (i.e., TTS or PTS) or non-auditory physiological 
effects. The takes that are anticipated and authorized are expected to 
be limited to short-term Level B behavioral harassment. While the 
airguns are expected to be operated for approximately 49 days within a 
70-day period, the project timeframe will occur when cetacean species 
are typically not found in the project area or are found only in low 
numbers. While pinnipeds are likely to be found in the proposed project 
area more frequently, their distribution is dispersed enough that they 
likely will not be in the Level B harassment zone continuously. As 
mentioned previously in this document, pinnipeds appear to be more 
tolerant of anthropogenic sound than mysticetes.
    Most of the bowhead whales encountered will likely show overt 
disturbance (avoidance) only if they receive airgun sounds with levels 
>= 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa. Odontocete reactions to seismic airgun pulses 
are generally assumed to be limited to shorter distances from the 
airgun than are those of mysticetes, in part because odontocete low-
frequency hearing is assumed to be less sensitive than that of 
mysticetes. However, at least when in the Canadian Beaufort Sea in 
summer, belugas appear to be fairly responsive to seismic energy, with 
few being sighted within 6-12 mi (10-20 km) of seismic vessels during 
aerial surveys (Miller et al. 2005). Belugas will likely occur in small 
numbers in the Beaufort Sea during the survey period and few will 
likely be affected by the survey activity.
    As noted, elevated background noise level from the seismic airgun 
reverberant field could cause acoustic masking to marine mammals and 
reduce their communication space. However, even though the decay of the 
signal is extended, the fact that pulses are separated by approximately 
8 to 10 seconds for each individual source vessel (or 4 to 5 seconds 
when taking into account the two separate source vessels stationed 300 
to 335 m (990 to 1,100 ft) apart) means that overall received levels at 
distance are expected to be much lower, thus resulting in less acoustic 
masking.
    Taking into account the mitigation measures that are planned, 
effects on marine mammals are generally expected to be restricted to 
avoidance of a limited area around SAE's proposed open-water activities 
and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition 
of ``Level B harassment.'' The many reported cases of apparent 
tolerance by cetaceans to seismic exploration, vessel traffic, and some 
other human activities show that co-existence is possible. Mitigation 
measures, such as controlled vessel speed, dedicated marine mammal 
observers, non-pursuit, ramp up procedures, and shut downs or power 
downs when marine mammals are seen within defined ranges, will further 
reduce short-term reactions and minimize any effects on hearing 
sensitivity. In all cases, the effects are expected to be short-term, 
with no lasting biological consequence.
    Of the five marine mammal species likely to occur in the proposed 
marine survey area, bowhead whales and ringed and bearded seals are 
listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA. These species are 
also designated as ``depleted'' under the MMPA. Despite these 
designations, the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort stock of bowheads has been 
increasing at a rate of 3.4 percent annually for nearly a decade (Allen 
and Angliss 2010). Additionally, during the 2001 census, 121 calves 
were counted, which was the highest yet recorded. The calf count 
provides corroborating evidence for a healthy and increasing population 
(Allen and Angliss 2010). There is no critical habitat designated in 
the U.S. Arctic for the bowhead whales. The Alaska stock of bearded 
seals, part of the Beringia distinct population segment (DPS), and the 
Arctic stock of ringed seals have recently been listed by NMFS as 
threatened under the ESA. The only other species that may occur in the 
project area that is listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA 
is the humpback whale, which is also listed as depleted under the MMPA, 
but the occurrence of humpback whales in the proposed marine survey 
area is considered very rare. None of the other species that may occur 
in the project area are listed as threatened or endangered under the 
ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA.
    Potential impacts to marine mammal habitat were discussed 
previously in this document (see the ``Anticipated Effects on Habitat'' 
section). Although some disturbance of food sources of marine mammals 
is possible, any impacts are anticipated to be minor enough as to not 
affect rates of recruitment or survival of marine mammals in the area. 
The marine survey activities would occur in a localized area, and given 
the vast area of the Arctic Ocean where feeding by marine mammals 
occurs, any missed feeding opportunities in the direct project area 
could be offset by feeding opportunities in other available feeding 
areas.
    In addition, no important feeding or reproductive areas are known 
in the

[[Page 39938]]

vicinity of SAE's proposed seismic surveys at the time the proposed 
surveys are to take place. No critical habitat of ESA-listed marine 
mammal species occurs in the Beaufort Sea.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and 
mitigation measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine 
mammal take from SAE's proposed 3D OBS seismic survey in the Beaufort 
Sea, Alaska, will have a negligible impact on the affected marine 
mammal species or stocks.

Small Numbers

    The requested takes proposed to be authorized represent less than 
2.5% of all populations or stocks potentially impacted (see Table 3 in 
this document). These take estimates represent the percentage of each 
species or stock that could be taken by Level B behavioral harassment 
if each animal is taken only once. The numbers of marine mammals 
estimated to be taken are small proportions of the total populations of 
the affected species or stocks. In addition, the mitigation and 
monitoring measures (described previously in this document) proposed 
for inclusion in the IHA (if issued) are expected to reduce even 
further any potential disturbance to marine mammals.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring 
measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that small numbers of marine mammals 
will be taken relative to the populations of the affected species or 
stocks.

Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for 
Subsistence Uses

Relevant Subsistence Uses

    The proposed seismic activities will occur within the marine 
subsistence area used by the village of Nuiqsut. Nuiqsut was 
established in 1973 at a traditional location on the Colville River 
providing equal access to upland (e.g., caribou, Dall sheep) and marine 
(e.g., whales, seals, and eiders) resources (Brown 1979). Although 
Nuiqsut is located 40 km (25 mi) inland, bowhead whales are still a 
major fall subsistence resource. Although bowhead whales have been 
harvested in the past all along the barrier islands, Cross Island is 
the site currently used as the fall whaling base, as it includes cabins 
and equipment for butchering whales. However, whalers must travel about 
160 km (100 mi) to annually reach the Cross Island whaling camp, which 
is located in a direct line over 110 direct km (70 mi) from Nuiqsut. 
Whaling activity usually begins in late August with the arrival whales 
migrating from the Canadian Beaufort Sea, and may occur as late as 
early October, depending on ice conditions and quota fulfillment. Most 
whaling occurs relatively near (<16 km or <10 mi) the island, largely 
to prevent meat spoilage that can occur with a longer tow back to Cross 
Island. Since 1993, Cross Island hunters have harvested one to four 
whales annually, averaging three.
    Cross Island is located 70 km (44 mi) east of the eastern boundary 
of the seismic survey box. (Point Barrow is over 180 km [110 mi] 
outside the potential survey box.) Seismic activities are unlikely to 
affect Barrow or Cross Island based whaling, especially if the seismic 
operations temporarily cease during the fall bowhead whale hunt.
    Although Nuiqsut whalers may incidentally harvest beluga whales 
while hunting bowheads, these whales are rarely seen and are not 
actively pursued. Any harvest that would occur would most likely be in 
association with Cross Island.
    The potential seismic survey area is also used by Nuiqsut villagers 
for hunting seals. All three seal species that are likely to be taken--
ringed, spotted, and bearded--are hunted. Sealing begins in April and 
May when villagers hunt seals at breathing holes in Harrison Bay. In 
early June, hunting is concentrated at the mouth of the Colville River, 
where ice breakup flooding results in the ice thinning and seals 
becoming more visible.
    Once the ice is clear of the Delta (late June), hunters will hunt 
in open boats along the ice edge from Harrison Bay to Thetis Island in 
a route called ``round the world.'' Thetis Island is important as it 
provides a weather refuge and a base for hunting bearded seals. During 
July and August, ringed and spotted seals are hunted in the lower 65 km 
(40 mi) of the Colville River proper.
    In terms of pounds, approximately one-third of the village of 
Nuiqsut's annual subsistence harvest is marine mammals (fish and 
caribou dominate the rest), of which bowhead whales contribute by far 
the most (Fuller and George 1999). Seals contribute only 2 to 3% of 
annual subsistence harvest (Brower and Opie 1997, Brower and Hepa 1998, 
Fuller and George 1999). Fuller and George (1999) estimated that 46 
seals were harvested in 1992. The more common ringed seals appear to 
dominate the harvest, although the larger and thicker-skinned bearded 
seals are probably preferred. Spotted seals occur in the Colville River 
Delta in small numbers, which is reflected in the harvest.
    Available harvest records suggest that most seal harvest occurs in 
the months preceding the proposed August start of the seismic survey, 
when waning ice conditions provide the best opportunity to approach and 
kill hauled out seals. Much of the late summer seal harvest occurs in 
the Colville River as the seals follow fish runs upstream. Still, open-
water seal hunting could occur coincident with the seismic surveys, 
especially bearded seal hunts based from Thetis Island. In general, 
however, given the relatively low contribution of seals to the Nuiqsut 
subsistence, and the greater opportunity to hunt seals earlier in the 
season, any potential impact by the seismic survey on seal hunting is 
likely remote.

Potential Impacts to Subsistence Uses

    NMFS has defined ``unmitigable adverse impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 
as: ``An impact resulting from the specified activity: (1) That is 
likely to reduce the availability of the species to a level 
insufficient for a harvest to meet subsistence needs by: (i) Causing 
the marine mammals to abandon or avoid hunting areas; (ii) Directly 
displacing subsistence users; or (iii) Placing physical barriers 
between the marine mammals and the subsistence hunters; and (2) That 
cannot be sufficiently mitigated by other measures to increase the 
availability of marine mammals to allow subsistence needs to be met.
    Noise and general activity during SAE's proposed 3D OBS seismic 
survey have the potential to impact marine mammals hunted by Native 
Alaskans. In the case of cetaceans, the most common reaction to 
anthropogenic sounds (as noted previously) is avoidance of the 
ensonified area. In the case of bowhead whales, this often means that 
the animals divert from their normal migratory path by several 
kilometers. Additionally, general vessel presence in the vicinity of 
traditional hunting areas could negatively impact a hunt. Native 
knowledge indicates that bowhead whales become increasingly 
``skittish'' in the presence of seismic noise. Whales are more wary 
around the hunters and tend to expose a much smaller portion of their 
back when surfacing, which makes harvesting more difficult. 
Additionally, natives report that bowheads exhibit angry behaviors, 
such as tail-slapping, in the presence of seismic activity, which 
translate to

[[Page 39939]]

danger for nearby subsistence harvesters.
    Responses of seals to seismic airguns are expected to be 
negligible. Bain and Williams (2006) studied the responses of harbor 
seals, California sea lions, and Steller sea lions to seismic airguns 
and found that seals at exposure levels above 170 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (peak-
peak) often showed avoidance behavior, including generally staying at 
the surface and keeping their heads out of the water, but that the 
responses were not overt, and there were no detectable responses at low 
exposure levels.

Plan of Cooperation or Measures To Minimize Impacts to Subsistence 
Hunts

    Regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(12) require IHA applicants for 
activities that take place in Arctic waters to provide a Plan of 
Cooperation (POC) or information that identifies what measures have 
been taken and/or will be taken to minimize adverse effects on the 
availability of marine mammals for subsistence purposes.
    SAE has prepared a draft POC, which was developed by identifying 
and evaluating any potential effects the proposed seismic survey might 
have on seasonal abundance that is relied upon for subsistence use. For 
the proposed project, SAE states that it is working closely with the 
North Slope Borough (NSB) and its partner Kuukpik Corporation, to 
identify subsistence communities and activities that may take place 
within or near the project area.
    SAE adopted a three-stage process to develop its POC:
    Stage 1: SAE attended the AEWC's mini-convention in December 2013, 
in Anchorage, and presented a description of the seismic survey program 
to the AEWC. Collaboration meetings were also held in March and April 
2014 with Kuukpik Corporation leaders. Kuukpik Corporation is SAE's 
joint venture partner in the project and on the North Slope of Alaska.
    In addition, SAE has been meeting and consulting with nearby 
communities, namely the NSB planning department and the Fish and 
Wildlife division. SAE also presented its proposed project and 
discussed planned activities during community meetings in the villages 
of Nuiqsut and Kaktovik. The meetings included discussions of SAE's 
project description, potential ways to resolve potential conflicts, and 
the proposed operational timeframe. These meetings help to identify any 
subsistence conflicts and allow SAE to understand community concerns, 
and requests for communication or mitigation. The following community 
and stakeholder meetings were conducted:

 December 13, 2013--AEWC
 February 27, 2014--Barrow (NSB)
 February, 10, 11, 12, 2014--AEWC
 January, 15 2014--Nuiqsut
 April 22, 2014--Nuqsut (seals)
 May 14, 2014--Kaktovik

    Stage 2: SAE will document results of all meetings and incorporate 
them into the POC, as applicable, to mitigate concerns. SAE will also 
review permit stipulations and develop a permit matrix for the crews. 
SAE will develop appropriate means of communication and a contact list 
to communicate with appropriate stakeholders, and these will be 
incorporated into operations. The use of scientific and Inupiat PSOs/
Communicators on board the vessels will ensure that appropriate 
precautions are taken to avoid harassment of marine mammals, including 
whales, seals, walruses or polar bears. SAE will coordinate the timing 
and location of operations with the Com-Centers in Deadhorse and 
Kaktovik to minimize impact to the subsistence activities or the 
Nuiqsut/Kaktovik bowhead whale hunt.
    Stage 3: If a conflict between project activities and subsistence 
hunting does occur, SAE states that it will immediately contact the 
project manager and the Com-Center. If avoidance is not possible, the 
project manager will initiate communication with a representative from 
the impacted subsistence hunter group(s) to resolve the issue and to 
plan an alternative course of action.
    In addition, SAE and its contractors will work with local villages 
and Kuukpik Cooperation to identify qualified individuals that are 
interested in working on its program and provide employment 
opportunities.
    Finally, SAE has signed a Conflict Avoidance Agreement (CAA) with 
the Alaska whaling communities to further ensure that its proposed 
open-water seismic survey activities in the Beaufort Sea will not have 
unmitigable impacts to subsistence activities. NMFS has included 
appropriate measures identified in the CAA in the proposed IHA.

Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Preliminary Determination

    SAE has adopted a spatial and temporal strategy for its 3D OBN 
seismic survey that should minimize impacts to subsistence hunters and 
ensure the sufficient availability of species for hunters to meet 
subsistence needs. SAE will temporarily cease seismic activities during 
the fall bowhead whale hunt, which will allow the hunt to occur without 
any adverse impact from SAE's activities. Although some seal hunting 
co-occurs temporally with SAE's proposed seismic survey, the locations 
do not overlap, so SAE's activities will not impact the hunting areas 
and will not directly displace sealers or place physical barriers 
between the sealers and the seals. In addition, SAE is conducting the 
seismic surveys in a joint partnership agreement with Kuukpik 
Corporation, which allows SAE to work closely with the native 
communities on the North Slope to plan operations that include measures 
that are environmentally suitable and that do not impact local 
subsistence use, and to adjust the operations, if necessary, to 
minimize any potential impacts that might arise. Based on the 
description of the specified activity, the measures described to 
minimize adverse effects on the availability of marine mammals for 
subsistence purposes, and the proposed mitigation and monitoring 
measures, NMFS has preliminarily determined that there will not be an 
unmitigable adverse impact on subsistence uses from SAE's proposed 
activities.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    Within the project area, the bowhead whale is listed as endangered 
and the ringed and bearded seals are listed as threatened under the 
ESA. NMFS' Permits and Conservation Division has initiated consultation 
with staff in NMFS' Alaska Region Protected Resources Division under 
section 7 of the ESA on the issuance of an IHA to SAE under section 
101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for this activity. Consultation will be 
concluded prior to a determination on the issuance of an IHA.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    NMFS is currently conducting an analysis, pursuant to NEPA, to 
determine whether this proposed IHA may have a significant effect on 
the human environment. This analysis will be completed prior to the 
issuance or denial of this proposed IHA.

Proposed Authorization

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
issue an IHA to SAE for conducting a 3D OBN seismic survey in Beaufort 
Sea during the 2014 Arctic open-water season, provided the previously 
mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are 
incorporated. The proposed IHA language is provided next.

[[Page 39940]]

    This section contains a draft of the IHA itself. The wording 
contained in this section is proposed for inclusion in the IHA (if 
issued).
    (1) This Authorization is valid from August 15, 2014, through 
October 15, 2014.
    (2) This Authorization is valid only for activities associated with 
open-water 3D seismic surveys and related activities in the Beaufort 
Sea. The specific areas where SAE's surveys will be conducted are 
within the Beaufort Sea, Alaska, as shown in Figure 1-1 of SAE's IHA 
application.
    (3)(a) The species authorized for incidental harassment takings, 
Level B harassment only, are: beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas); 
bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus); bearded seals (Erignathus 
barbatus); spotted seals (Phoca largha); and ringed seals (P. hispida).
    (3)(b) The authorization for taking by harassment is limited to the 
following acoustic sources and from the following activities:
    (i) 440-in\3\, 880-in\3\, and 1,760-in\3\ airgun arrays and other 
acoustic sources for 3D open-water seismic surveys; and
    (ii) Vessel activities related to open-water seismic surveys listed 
in (i).
    (3)(c) The taking of any marine mammal in a manner prohibited under 
this Authorization must be reported within 24 hours of the taking to 
the Alaska Regional Administrator (907-586-7221) or his designee in 
Anchorage (907-271-3023), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and 
the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, at (301) 427-8401, or his designee (301-427-8418).
    (4) The holder of this Authorization must notify the Chief of the 
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, at 
least 48 hours prior to the start of collecting seismic data (unless 
constrained by the date of issuance of this Authorization in which case 
notification shall be made as soon as possible).
    (5) Prohibitions
    (a) The taking, by incidental harassment only, is limited to the 
species listed under condition 3(a) above and by the numbers listed in 
Table 3. The taking by Level A harassment, injury or death of these 
species or the taking by harassment, injury or death of any other 
species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the 
modification, suspension, or revocation of this Authorization.
    (b) The taking of any marine mammal is prohibited whenever the 
required source vessel protected species observers (PSOs), required by 
condition 7(a)(i), are not onboard in conformance with condition 
7(a)(i) of this Authorization.
    (6) Mitigation
    (a) Establishing Exclusion and Disturbance Zones
    (i) Establish and monitor with trained PSOs preliminary exclusion 
zones for cetaceans surrounding the airgun array on the source vessel 
where the received level would be 180 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa. For 
purposes of the field verification test, described in condition 
7(e)(i), these radii are estimated to be 325, 494, and 842 m from the 
seismic source for the 440-in\3\, 880-in\3\, and 1,760-in\3\ airgun 
arrays, respectively.
    (ii) Establish and monitor with trained PSOs preliminary exclusion 
zones for pinnipeds surrounding the airgun array on the source vessel 
where the received level would be 190 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa. For 
purposes of the field verification test, described in condition 
7(e)(i), these radii are estimated to be 126, 167, and 321 m from the 
seismic source for the 440-in\3\, 880-in\3\, and 1,760-in\3\ airgun 
arrays, respectively.
    (iii) Establish zones of influence (ZOIs) for cetaceans and 
pinnipeds surrounding the airgun array on the source vessel where the 
received level would be 160 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa. For purposes of the 
field verification test described in condition 7(e)(i), these radii are 
estimated to be 1,330, 1,500, and 2,990 m from the seismic source for 
the 440-in\3\, 880-in\3\, and 1,760-in\3\ airgun arrays, respectively.
    (iv) Immediately upon completion of data analysis of the field 
verification measurements required under condition 7(e)(i) below, the 
new 160-dB, 180-dB, and 190-dB marine mammal ZOIs and exclusion zones 
shall be established based on the sound source verification.
    (b) Vessel Movement Mitigation:
    (i) Avoid concentrations or groups of whales by all vessels under 
the direction of SAE. Operators of support vessels should, at all 
times, conduct their activities at the maximum distance possible from 
such concentrations or groups of whales.
    (ii) If any vessel approaches within 1.6 km (1 mi) of observed 
bowhead whales, except when providing emergency assistance to whalers 
or in other emergency situations, the vessel operator will take 
reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with the bowhead 
whales by taking one or more of the following actions, as appropriate:
    (A) Reducing vessel speed to less than 5 knots within 300 yards 
(900 feet or 274 m) of the whale(s);
    (B) Steering around the whale(s) if possible;
    (C) Operating the vessel(s) in such a way as to avoid separating 
members of a group of whales from other members of the group;
    (D) Operating the vessel(s) to avoid causing a whale to make 
multiple changes in direction; and
    (E) Checking the waters immediately adjacent to the vessel(s) to 
ensure that no whales will be injured when the propellers are engaged.
    (iii) When weather conditions require, such as when visibility 
drops, adjust vessel speed accordingly, but not to exceed 5 knots, to 
avoid the likelihood of injury to whales.
    (c) Mitigation Measures for Airgun Operations
    (i) Ramp-up:
    (A) A ramp up, following a cold start, can be applied if the 
exclusion zone has been free of marine mammals for a consecutive 30-
minute period. The entire exclusion zone must have been visible during 
these 30 minutes. If the entire exclusion zone is not visible, then 
ramp up from a cold start cannot begin.
    (B) If a marine mammal(s) is sighted within the exclusion zone 
during the 30-minute watch prior to ramp up, ramp up will be delayed 
until the marine mammal(s) is sighted outside of the exclusion zone or 
the animal(s) is not sighted for at least 15 minutes for pinnipeds, or 
30 minutes for cetaceans.
    (C) If, for any reason, electrical power to the airgun array has 
been discontinued for a period of 10 minutes or more, ramp-up 
procedures shall be implemented. If the PSO watch has been suspended 
during that time, a 30-minute clearance of the exclusion zone is 
required prior to commencing ramp-up. Discontinuation of airgun 
activity for less than 10 minutes does not require a ramp-up.
    (D) The seismic operator and PSOs shall maintain records of the 
times when ramp-ups start and when the airgun arrays reach full power.
    (ii) Power-down/Shutdown:
    (A) The airgun array shall be immediately powered down whenever a 
marine mammal is sighted approaching close to or within the applicable 
exclusion zone of the full array, but is outside the applicable 
exclusion zone of the single mitigation airgun.
    (B) If a marine mammal is already within or is about to enter the 
exclusion zone when first detected, the airguns shall be powered down 
immediately.
    (C) Following a power-down, firing of the full airgun array shall 
not resume until the marine mammal has cleared the exclusion zone. The 
animal will be considered to have cleared the exclusion zone if it is 
visually observed to have left the exclusion zone of the

[[Page 39941]]

full array, or has not been seen within the zone for 15 minutes for 
pinnipeds, or 30 minutes for cetaceans.
    (D) If a marine mammal is sighted within or about to enter the 190 
or 180 dB (rms) applicable exclusion zone of the single mitigation 
airgun, the airgun array shall be shutdown.
    (E) Firing of the full airgun array or the mitigation gun shall not 
resume until the marine mammal has cleared the exclusion zone of the 
full array or mitigation gun, respectively. The animal will be 
considered to have cleared the exclusion zone as described above under 
ramp up procedures.
    (iii) Poor Visibility Conditions:
    (A) If during foggy conditions, heavy snow or rain, or darkness, 
the full 180 dB exclusion zone is not visible, the airguns cannot 
commence a ramp-up procedure from a full shut-down.
    (B) If one or more airguns have been operational before nightfall 
or before the onset of poor visibility conditions, they can remain 
operational throughout the night or poor visibility conditions. In this 
case ramp-up procedures can be initiated, even though the exclusion 
zone may not be visible, on the assumption that marine mammals will be 
alerted by the sounds from the single airgun and have moved away.
    (iv) Use of a Small-volume Airgun During Turns and Transits.
    (A) Throughout the seismic survey, during turning movements and 
short transits, SAE will employ the use of the smallest-volume airgun 
(i.e., ``mitigation airgun'') to deter marine mammals from being within 
the immediate area of the seismic operations. The mitigation airgun 
would be operated at approximately one shot per minute and would not be 
operated for longer than three hours in duration (turns may last two to 
three hours for the proposed project).
    (B) During turns or brief transits (i.e., less than three hours) 
between seismic tracklines, one mitigation airgun will continue 
operating. The ramp up procedures described above will be followed when 
increasing the source levels from the one mitigation airgun to the full 
airgun array. However, keeping one airgun firing during turns and brief 
transits allow SAE to resume seismic surveys using the full array 
without having to ramp up from a ``cold start,'' which requires a 30-
minute observation period of the full exclusion zone and is prohibited 
during darkness or other periods of poor visibility. PSOs will be on 
duty whenever the airguns are firing during daylight and during the 30-
minute periods prior to ramp-ups from a ``cold start.''
    (d) Mitigation Measures for Subsistence Activities:
    (i) For the purposes of reducing or eliminating conflicts between 
subsistence whaling activities and SAE's survey program, the holder of 
this Authorization will participate with other operators in the 
Communication and Call Centers (Com-Center) Program. Com-Centers will 
be operated to facilitate communication of information between SAE and 
subsistence whalers. The Com-Centers will be operated 24 hours/day 
during the 2014 fall subsistence bowhead whale hunt.
    (ii) All vessels shall report to the appropriate Com-Center at 
least once every six hours, commencing each day with a call at 
approximately 06:00 hours.
    (iii) The appropriate Com-Center shall be notified if there is any 
significant change in plans. The appropriate Com-Center also shall be 
called regarding any unsafe or unanticipated ice conditions.
    (iv) Upon notification by a Com-Center operator of an at-sea 
emergency, the holder of this Authorization shall provide such 
assistance as necessary to prevent the loss of life, if conditions 
allow the holder of this Authorization to safely do so.
    (v) SAE shall monitor the positions of all of its vessels and 
exercise due care in avoiding any areas where subsistence activity is 
active.
    (vi) Routing barge and transit vessels:
    (A) Vessels transiting in the Beaufort Sea east of Bullen Point to 
the Canadian border shall remain at least 5 miles offshore during 
transit along the coast, provided ice and sea conditions allow. During 
transit in the Chukchi Sea, vessels shall remain as far offshore as 
weather and ice conditions allow, and at all times at least 5 miles 
offshore.
    (B) From August 31 to October 31, vessels in the Chukchi Sea or 
Beaufort Sea shall remain at least 20 miles offshore of the coast of 
Alaska from Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea to Pitt Point on the east side 
of Smith Bay in the Beaufort Sea, unless ice conditions or an emergency 
that threatens the safety of the vessel or crew prevents compliance 
with this requirement. This condition shall not apply to vessels 
actively engaged in transit to or from a coastal community to conduct 
crew changes or logistical support operations.
    (C) Vessels shall be operated at speeds necessary to ensure no 
physical contact with whales occurs, and to make any other potential 
conflicts with bowheads or whalers unlikely. Vessel speeds shall be 
less than 10 knots in the proximity of feeding whales or whale 
aggregations.
    (D) If any vessel inadvertently approaches within 1.6 kilometers (1 
mile) of observed bowhead whales, except when providing emergency 
assistance to whalers or in other emergency situations, the vessel 
operator will take reasonable precautions to avoid potential 
interaction with the bowhead whales by taking one or more of the 
following actions, as appropriate:
    [cir] reducing vessel speed to less than 5 knots within 900 feet of 
the whale(s);
    [cir] steering around the whale(s) if possible;
    [cir] operating the vessel(s) in such a way as to avoid separating 
members of a group of whales from other members of the group;
    [cir] operating the vessel(s) to avoid causing a whale to make 
multiple changes in direction; and
    [cir] checking the waters immediately adjacent to the vessel(s) to 
ensure that no whales will be injured when the propellers are engaged.
    (vii) Limitation on seismic surveys in the Beaufort Sea.
    (A) Kaktovik: No seismic survey from the Canadian Border to the 
Canning River from August 25 to close of the fall bowhead whale hunt in 
Kaktovik and Nuiqsut. From August 10 to August 25, SAE will communicate 
and collaborate with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) on any 
planned vessel movement in and around Kaktovik and Cross Island to 
avoid impacts to whale hunting.
    (B) Nuiqsut:
    [cir] Pt. Storkerson to Thetis Island: No seismic survey prior to 
July 25 inside the Barrier Islands. No seismic survey from August 25 to 
close of fall bowhead whale hunting outside the Barrier Island in 
Nuiqsut.
    [cir] Canning River to Pt. Storkerson: No seismic survey from 
August 25 to the close of bowhead whale subsistence hunting in Nuiqsut.
    (C) Barrow: No seismic survey from Pitt Point on the east side of 
Smith Bay to a location about half way between Barrow and Peard Bay 
from September 15 to the close of the fall bowhead whale hunt in 
Barrow.
    (viii) SAE shall complete operations in time to allow such vessels 
to complete transit through the Bering Strait to a point south of 59 
degrees North latitude no later than November 15, 2014. Any vessel that 
encounters weather or ice that will prevent compliance with this date 
shall coordinate its transit through the Bering Strait to a point south 
of 59 degrees North latitude with the appropriate Com-Centers. SAE 
vessels shall, weather and ice permitting, transit east of St. Lawrence 
Island and no closer than 10

[[Page 39942]]

miles from the shore of St. Lawrence Island.
    (7) Monitoring:
    (a) Vessel-based Visual Monitoring:
    (i) Vessel-based visual monitoring for marine mammals shall be 
conducted by NMFS-approved protected species observers (PSOs) 
throughout the period of survey activities.
    (ii) PSOs shall be stationed aboard the seismic survey vessels and 
mitigation vessel through the duration of the surveys.
    (iii) A sufficient number of PSOs shall be onboard the survey 
vessel to meet the following criteria:
    (A) 100% monitoring coverage during all periods of survey 
operations in daylight;
    (B) maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per PSO; and
    (C) maximum of 12 hours of watch time per day per PSO.
    (iv) The vessel-based marine mammal monitoring shall provide the 
basis for real-time mitigation measures as described in (6)(c) above.
    (v) Results of the vessel-based marine mammal monitoring shall be 
used to calculate the estimation of the number of ``takes'' from the 
marine surveys and equipment recovery and maintenance program.
    (b) Protected Species Observers and Training.
    (i) PSO teams shall consist of Inupiat observers and NMFS-approved 
field biologists.
    (ii) Experienced field crew leaders shall supervise the PSO teams 
in the field. New PSOs shall be paired with experienced observers to 
avoid situations where lack of experience impairs the quality of 
observations.
    (iii) Crew leaders and most other biologists serving as observers 
in 2014 shall be individuals with experience as observers during recent 
seismic or shallow hazards monitoring projects in Alaska, the Canadian 
Beaufort, or other offshore areas in recent years.
    (iv) Resumes for PSO candidates shall be provided to NMFS for 
review and acceptance of their qualifications. Inupiat observers shall 
be experienced in the region and familiar with the marine mammals of 
the area.
    (v) All observers shall complete a NMFS-approved observer training 
course designed to familiarize individuals with monitoring and data 
collection procedures. The training course shall be completed before 
the anticipated start of the 2014 open-water season. The training 
session(s) shall be conducted by qualified marine mammalogists with 
extensive crew-leader experience during previous vessel-based 
monitoring programs.
    (vi) Training for both Alaska native PSOs and biologist PSOs shall 
be conducted at the same time in the same room. There shall not be 
separate training courses for the different PSOs.
    (vii) Crew members should not be used as primary PSOs because they 
have other duties and generally do not have the same level of 
expertise, experience, or training as PSOs, but they could be stationed 
on the fantail of the vessel to observe the near field, especially the 
area around the airgun array, and implement a power down or shutdown if 
a marine mammal enters the safety zone (or exclusion zone).
    (viii) If crew members are to be used as PSOs, they shall go 
through some basic training consistent with the functions they will be 
asked to perform. The best approach would be for crew members and PSOs 
to go through the same training together.
    (ix) PSOs shall be trained using visual aids (e.g., videos, 
photos), to help them identify the species that they are likely to 
encounter in the conditions under which the animals will likely be 
seen.
    (x) SAE shall train its PSOs to follow a scanning schedule that 
consistently distributes scanning effort according to the purpose and 
need for observations. All PSOs should follow the same schedule to 
ensure consistency in their scanning efforts.
    (xi) PSOs shall be trained in documenting the behaviors of marine 
mammals. PSOs should record the primary behavioral state (i.e., 
traveling, socializing, feeding, resting, approaching or moving away 
from vessels) and relative location of the observed marine mammals.
    (c) Marine Mammal Observation Protocol
    (i) PSOs shall watch for marine mammals from the best available 
vantage point on the survey vessels, typically the bridge.
    (ii) Observations by the PSOs on marine mammal presence and 
activity shall begin a minimum of 30 minutes prior to the estimated 
time that the seismic source is to be turned on and/or ramped-up.
    (iii) For comparison purposes, PSOs shall also document marine 
mammal occurrence, density, and behavior during at least some periods 
when airguns are not operating
    (iv) PSOs shall scan systematically with the unaided eye and 7 x 50 
reticle binoculars, supplemented with 20 x 60 image-stabilized 
binoculars or 25 x 150 binoculars, and night-vision equipment when 
needed.
    (v) Personnel on the bridge shall assist the marine mammal 
observer(s) in watching for marine mammals.
    (vi) PSOs aboard the marine survey vessel shall give particular 
attention to the areas within the marine mammal exclusion zones around 
the source vessel, as noted in (6)(a)(i) and (ii). They shall avoid the 
tendency to spend too much time evaluating animal behavior or entering 
data on forms, both of which detract from their primary purpose of 
monitoring the exclusion zone.
    (vii) Monitoring shall consist of recording of the following 
information:
    (A) The species, group size, age/size/sex categories (if 
determinable), the general behavioral activity, heading (if 
consistent), bearing and distance from seismic vessel, sighting cue, 
behavioral pace, and apparent reaction of all marine mammals seen near 
the seismic vessel and/or its airgun array (e.g., none, avoidance, 
approach, paralleling, etc);
    (B) the time, location, heading, speed, and activity of the vessel 
(shooting or not), along with sea state, visibility, cloud cover and 
sun glare at (I) any time a marine mammal is sighted (including 
pinnipeds hauled out on barrier islands), (II) at the start and end of 
each watch, and (III) during a watch (whenever there is a change in one 
or more variable);
    (C) the identification of all vessels that are visible within 5 km 
of the seismic vessel whenever a marine mammal is sighted and the time 
observed;
    (D) any identifiable marine mammal behavioral response (sighting 
data should be collected in a manner that will not detract from the 
PSO's ability to detect marine mammals);
    (E) any adjustments made to operating procedures; and
    (F) visibility during observation periods so that total estimates 
of take can be corrected accordingly.
    (vii) Distances to nearby marine mammals will be estimated with 
binoculars (7 x 50 binoculars) containing a reticle to measure the 
vertical angle of the line of sight to the animal relative to the 
horizon. Observers may use a laser rangefinder to test and improve 
their abilities for visually estimating distances to objects in the 
water.
    (viii) PSOs shall understand the importance of classifying marine 
mammals as ``unknown'' or ``unidentified'' if they cannot identify the 
animals to species with confidence. In those cases, they shall note any 
information that might aid in the identification of the marine mammal 
sighted. For example, for an unidentified mysticete whale, the 
observers should record whether the animal had a dorsal fin.

[[Page 39943]]

    (ix) Additional details about unidentified marine mammal sightings, 
such as ``blow only,'' mysticete with (or without) a dorsal fin, ``seal 
splash,'' etc., shall be recorded.
    (x) When a marine mammal is seen approaching or within the 
exclusion zone applicable to that species, the marine survey crew shall 
be notified immediately so that mitigation measures described in (6) 
can be promptly implemented.
    (xi) SAE shall use the best available technology to improve 
detection capability during periods of fog and other types of inclement 
weather. Such technology might include night-vision goggles or 
binoculars as well as other instruments that incorporate infrared 
technology.
    (d) Field Data-Recording and Verification
    (A) PSOs aboard the vessels shall maintain a digital log of seismic 
surveys, noting the date and time of all changes in seismic activity 
(ramp-up, power-down, changes in the active seismic source, shutdowns, 
etc.) and any corresponding changes in monitoring radii in a software 
spreadsheet.
    (B) PSOs shall utilize a standardized format to record all marine 
mammal observations and mitigation actions (seismic source power-downs, 
shut-downs, and ramp-ups).
    (C) Information collected during marine mammal observations shall 
include the following:

(I) Vessel speed, position, and activity
(II) Date, time, and location of each marine mammal sighting
(III) Number of marine mammals observed, and group size, sex, and age 
categories
(IV) Observer's name and contact information
(V) Weather, visibility, and ice conditions at the time of observation
(VI) Estimated distance of marine mammals at closest approach
(VII) Activity at the time of observation, including possible 
attractants present
(VIII) Animal behavior
(IX) Description of the encounter
(X) Duration of encounter
(XI) Mitigation action taken

    (D) Data shall be recorded directly into handheld computers or as a 
back-up, transferred from hard-copy data sheets into an electronic 
database.
    (E) A system for quality control and verification of data shall be 
facilitated by the pre-season training, supervision by the lead PSOs, 
and in-season data checks, and shall be built into the software.
    (F) Computerized data validity checks shall also be conducted, and 
the data shall be managed in such a way that it is easily summarized 
during and after the field program and transferred into statistical, 
graphical, or other programs for further processing.
    (e) Passive Acoustic Monitoring
    (i) Sound Source Measurements: Using a hydrophone system, the 
holder of this Authorization is required to conduct sound source 
verification tests for seismic airgun array(s) and other marine survey 
equipment that are involved in the open-water seismic surveys.
    (A) Sound source verification shall consist of distances where 
broadside and endfire directions at which broadband received levels 
reach 190, 180, 170, 160, and 120 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa for the airgun 
array(s). The configurations of airgun arrays shall include at least 
the full array and the operation of a single source that will be used 
during power downs.
    (B) The test results shall be reported to NMFS within 5 days of 
completing the test.
    (ii) Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM)
    (A) SAE shall conduct passive acoustic monitoring using fixed 
hydrophone(s) to (I) collect information on the occurrence and 
distribution of marine mammals (including beluga whale, bowhead whale, 
walrus and other species) that may be available to subsistence hunters 
near villages located on the Beaufort Sea coast and to document their 
relative abundance, habitat use, and migratory patterns; and (II) 
measure the ambient soundscape throughout the Beaufort Sea coast and to 
record received levels of sounds from industry and other activities.
    (f) Spotted Seal Haulout Monitoring
    (i) SAE shall conduct a biweekly boat-based survey of spotted seals 
before, during, and after the seismic survey, to identify where seals 
haulout in the action area.
    (ii) The survey will begin at the village of Nuiqsut and follow the 
far west channel of the Colville River, survey all the outer islands of 
the river delta, and then return to Nuiqsut following the farthest east 
river channel.
    (iii) All seals will be identified to species, and GPS location and 
whether the animals were hauled out or in the water will be noted. 
Collected data will be combined with available traditional knowledge 
and historical information to determine whether there are locations of 
consistent seal haulout use that might be affected by the seismic 
survey.
    (iv) If sites of suspected high use are found, SAE shall contact 
NMFS and the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife to identify 
additional mitigation measures to minimize impacts to these sites.
    (g) SAE shall engage in consultation and coordination with other 
oil and gas companies and with federal, state, and borough agencies to 
ensure that they have the most up-to-date information and can take 
advantage of other monitoring efforts.
    (8) Data Analysis and Presentation in Reports:
    (a) Estimation of potential takes or exposures shall be improved 
for times with low visibility (such as during fog or darkness) through 
interpolation or possibly using a probability approach. Those data 
could be used to interpolate possible takes during periods of 
restricted visibility.
    (b) SAE shall provide a database of the information collected, plus 
a number of summary analyses and graphics to help NMFS assess the 
potential impacts of SAE's survey. Specific summaries/analyses/graphics 
would include:
    (i) Sound verification results including isopleths of sound 
pressure levels plotted geographically;
    (ii) a table or other summary of survey activities (i.e., did the 
survey proceed as planned);
    (iii) a table of sightings by time, location, species, and distance 
from the survey vessel;
    (iv) a geographic depiction of sightings for each species by area 
and month;
    (v) a table and/or graphic summarizing behaviors observed by 
species;
    (vi) a table and/or graphic summarizing observed responses to the 
survey by species;
    (vii) a table of mitigation measures (e.g., power downs, shut 
downs) taken by date, location, and species;
    (viii) a graphic of sightings by distance for each species and 
location;
    (ix) a table or graphic illustrating sightings during the survey 
versus sightings when the airguns were silent; and
    (x) a summary of times when the survey was interrupted because of 
interactions with marine mammals.
    (c) To help evaluate the effectiveness of PSOs and more effectively 
estimate take, if appropriate data are available, SAE shall perform 
analysis of sightability curves (detection functions) for distance-
based analyses.
    (d) SAE shall collaborate with other industrial operators in the 
area to integrate and synthesize monitoring results as much as possible 
(such as submitting ``sightings'' from their monitoring projects to an 
online data archive, such as OBIS-SEAMAP) and

[[Page 39944]]

archive and make the complete databases available upon request.
    (9) Reporting:
    (a) Sound Source Verification Report: A report on the preliminary 
results of the sound source verification measurements, including the 
measured 190, 180, 160, and 120 dB (rms) radii of the airgun sources 
and other acoustic survey equipment, shall be submitted within 14 days 
after collection of those measurements at the start of the field 
season. This report will specify the distances of the exclusion zones 
that were adopted for the survey.
    (b) Throughout the survey program, PSOs shall prepare a report each 
day, or at such other interval as is necessary, summarizing the recent 
results of the monitoring program. The reports shall summarize the 
species and numbers of marine mammals sighted. These reports shall be 
provided to NMFS.
    (c) Seismic Vessel Monitoring Program: A draft report will be 
submitted to the Director, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, within 
90 days after the end of SAE's 2014 open-water seismic surveys in the 
Beaufort Sea. The report will describe in detail:
    (i) Summaries of monitoring effort (e.g., total hours, total 
distances, and marine mammal distribution through the study period, 
accounting for sea state and other factors affecting visibility and 
detectability of marine mammals);
    (ii) summaries that represent an initial level of interpretation of 
the efficacy, measurements, and observations, rather than raw data, 
fully processed analyses, or summary of operations and important 
observations;
    (iii) summaries of all mitigation measures (e.g., operational 
shutdowns if they occur) and an assessment of the efficacy of the 
monitoring methods;
    (iv) analyses of the effects of various factors influencing 
detectability of marine mammals (e.g., sea state, number of observers, 
and fog/glare);
    (v) species composition, occurrence, and distribution of marine 
mammal sightings, including date, water depth, numbers, age/size/gender 
categories (if determinable), group sizes, and ice cover;
    (vi) Data analysis separated into periods when an airgun array (or 
a single airgun) is operating and when it is not, to better assess 
impacts to marine mammals--the final and comprehensive report to NMFS 
should summarize and plot: (A) Data for periods when a seismic array is 
active and when it is not; and (B) the respective predicted received 
sound conditions over fairly large areas (tens of km) around 
operations;
    (vii) sighting rates of marine mammals during periods with and 
without airgun activities (and other variables that could affect 
detectability), such as: (A) Initial sighting distances versus airgun 
activity state; (B) closest point of approach versus airgun activity 
state; (C) observed behaviors and types of movements versus airgun 
activity state; (D) numbers of sightings/individuals seen versus airgun 
activity state; (E) distribution around the survey vessel versus airgun 
activity state; and (F) estimates of take by harassment;
    (viii) reported results from all hypothesis tests, including 
estimates of the associated statistical power, when practicable;
    (ix) estimates of uncertainty in all take estimates, with 
uncertainty expressed by the presentation of confidence limits, a 
minimum-maximum, posterior probability distribution, or another 
applicable method, with the exact approach to be selected based on the 
sampling method and data available;
    (x) A clear comparison of authorized takes and the level of actual 
estimated takes; and
    (xi) A complete characterization of the acoustic footprint 
resulting from various activity states.
    (d) The draft report shall be subject to review and comment by 
NMFS. Any recommendations made by NMFS must be addressed in the final 
report prior to acceptance by NMFS. The draft report will be considered 
the final report for this activity under this Authorization if NMFS has 
not provided comments and recommendations within 90 days of receipt of 
the draft report.
    (10)(a) In the unanticipated event that survey operations clearly 
cause the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this 
Authorization, such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, 
or mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or 
entanglement), SAE shall immediately cease survey operations and 
immediately report the incident to the Supervisor of the Incidental 
Take Program, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401 and/or by email to 
Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and Shane.Guan@noaa.gov and the Alaska Regional 
Stranding Coordinators (Aleria.Jensen@noaa.gov and 
Barbara.Mahoney@noaa.gov). The report must include the following 
information:
    (i) Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the incident;
    (ii) the name and type of vessel involved;
    (iii) the vessel's speed during and leading up to the incident;
    (iv) description of the incident;
    (v) status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the 
incident;
    (vi) water depth;
    (vii) environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
    (viii) description of marine mammal observations in the 24 hours 
preceding the incident;
    (ix) species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
    (x) the fate of the animal(s); and
    (xi) photographs or video footage of the animal (if equipment is 
available).
    Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS shall work with SAE to 
determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further 
prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. SAE may not resume their 
activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone.
    (b) In the event that SAE discovers an injured or dead marine 
mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the cause of the injury or 
death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than 
a moderate state of decomposition as described in the next paragraph), 
SAE will immediately report the incident to the Supervisor of the 
Incidental Take Program, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401, and/or by email to 
Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and Shane.Guan@noaa.gov and the NMFS Alaska 
Stranding Hotline (1-877-925-7773) and/or by email to the Alaska 
Regional Stranding Coordinators (Aleria.Jensen@noaa.gov and 
Barabara.Mahoney@noaa.gov). The report must include the same 
information identified in Condition 10(a) above. Activities may 
continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS 
will work with SAE to determine whether modifications in the activities 
are appropriate.
    (c) In the event that SAE discovers an injured or dead marine 
mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the injury or death is not 
associated with or related to the activities authorized in Condition 3 
of this Authorization (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with 
moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), SAE shall 
report the incident to the Supervisor of the Incidental Take Program, 
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 
at 301-427-8401, and/or by email to Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and 
Shane.Guan@noaa.gov and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline (1-877-925-

[[Page 39945]]

7773) and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators 
(Aleria.Jensen@noaa.gov and Barbara.Mahoney@noaa.gov), within 24 hours 
of the discovery. SAE shall provide photographs or video footage (if 
available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to 
NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. SAE can continue its 
operations under such a case.
    (11) Activities related to the monitoring described in this 
Authorization do not require a separate scientific research permit 
issued under section 104 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
    (12) The Plan of Cooperation outlining the steps that will be taken 
to cooperate and communicate with the native communities to ensure the 
availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses, must be 
implemented.
    (13) This Authorization may be modified, suspended, or withdrawn if 
the holder fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein or if the 
authorized taking is having more than a negligible impact on the 
species or stock of affected marine mammals, or if there is an 
unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or 
stocks for subsistence uses.
    (14) A copy of this Authorization and the Incidental Take Statement 
must be in the possession of each seismic vessel operator taking marine 
mammals under the authority of this Incidental Harassment 
Authorization.
    (15) SAE is required to comply with the Terms and Conditions of the 
Incidental Take Statement corresponding to NMFS' Biological Opinion.
Request for Public Comments
    NMFS requests comment on our analysis, the draft authorization, and 
any other aspect of the Notice of Proposed IHA for SAE's proposed 3D 
seismic survey in the Beaufort Sea. Please include with your comments 
any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final 
decision on SAE's request for an MMPA authorization.

    Dated: July 2, 2014.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-16010 Filed 7-9-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P