Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Shell Ice Overflight Surveys in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, Alaska, 11398-11413 [2015-04345]

Download as PDF 11398 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices merchandise will continue unless and until it is modified pursuant to the final results of this changed circumstances review. This initiation, preliminary results of review and notice are published in accordance with sections 751(b)(1) and 777(i)(1) of the Act and 19 CFR 351.216, 351.221(b)(1) and (4), and 351.222(g). Dated: February 23, 2015. Paul Piquado, Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Compliance. [FR Doc. 2015–04279 Filed 3–2–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XD739 Fisheries Off West Coast States and in the Western Pacific; Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery; Application for an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; receipt of EFP applications; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS announces the receipt of an exempted fishing permit (EFP) application for 2015 and 2016 that would continue work done in 2013 and 2014, and is considering issuance of EFPs for vessels participating in the EFP fishery. The EFPs are necessary to allow activities that are otherwise prohibited by Federal regulations. The EFPs would be effective no earlier than March 18, 2015, and would expire no later than December 31, 2016, but could be terminated earlier under terms and conditions of the EFPs and other applicable laws. DATES: Comments must be received no later than 5 p.m., local time on March 18, 2015. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by 0648–XD739, by any one of the following methods: • Email: EFPs.2015@noaa.gov. • Fax: 206–526–6736, Attn: Colby Brady. • Mail: William W. Stelle, Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, NMFS, 7600 Sand Point Way NE., Seattle, WA 98115–0070, Attn: Colby Brady. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Colby Brady (West Coast Region, NMFS), phone: 206–526–6117, fax: 206– 526–6736. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 This action is authorized by the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act provisions at 50 CFR 600.745, which states that EFPs may be used to authorize fishing activities that would otherwise be prohibited. At the June 2014 Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) meeting in Garden Grove, CA, the Council considered an EFP application from the San Francisco Community Fishing Association and Dan Platt. An opportunity for public testimony was provided during the Council meeting. For more details on this EFP application and to view a copy of the application, see the Council’s Web site at www.pcouncil.org and browse the June 2014 Briefing Book. The Council recommended that NMFS consider issuing the following EFP, and that this EFP be issued for 2 years. The 2-year duration is intended to coincide with the 2015–2016 biennial harvest specifications and management measures process. Therefore, to reduce the administrative burden of issuing annual EFPs during the 2-year management cycle, NMFS is considering issuing the EFP described below for a 2-year period. The EFP issued for this 2-year period would expire no later than December 31, 2016, but could be terminated earlier under terms and conditions of the EFP and other applicable laws. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Commercial Yellowtail EFP The San Francisco Community Fishing Association and Dan Platt submitted an application to continue their 2013–2014 EFP work for two more years. The primary purpose of the EFP is to test a commercial hook and line gear to target underutilized yellowtail rockfish, while keeping bycatch of overfished species low. During their work in 2013 and 2014, a total of approximately 3.6 mt (3,600 kg) of yellowtail rockfish was harvested with very little bycatch of co-occurring overfished species. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq., 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq., and 16 U.S.C. 7001 et seq. Dated: February 25, 2015. Emily H. Menashes, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2015–04355 Filed 3–2–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XD732 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Shell Ice Overflight Surveys in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, Alaska National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS received an application from Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. (Shell) for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to ice overflight surveys in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to Shell to take, by Level B harassment only, seven species of marine mammals during the specified activity. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than April 2, 2015. ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, 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. NMFS is not responsible for email comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 10-megabyte file size. 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. A copy of the application, which contains several attachments used in this document, including Shell’s marine mammal mitigation and monitoring plan (4MP) and Plan of Cooperation, may be obtained by writing to the address specified above, telephoning the SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ pr/permits/incidental.htm. Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shane Guan, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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 2, 2014, Shell submitted an application to NMFS for the taking of marine mammals incidental to ice overflight surveys the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska. After receiving comments and questions from NMFS, VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 Shell revised its IHA application on January 13, 2015. NMFS determined that the application was adequate and complete on January 15, 2015. The proposed activity would occur between May 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016. The following specific aspects of the proposed activities are likely to result in the take of marine mammals: Ice overflight surveys using fixed and rotate winged aircraft when flying at low altitudes. Shell has requested an authorization to take seven marine mammal species by Level B harassment. These species include: Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas); bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus); gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus); bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus); ringed seal (Phoca hispida); spotted seal (P. largha); and ribbon seal (Histriophoca fasciata). Description of the Specified Activity Overview Shell plans to conduct two periods of ice overflight surveys during May 2015– April 2016: Break-up surveys and freeze-up surveys. Shell plans to conduct the overflight surveys from fixed wing and rotary aircraft. The aircraft to be used for the surveys are not currently under contract to Shell or a contractor to Shell. Ice and weather conditions will influence when and where the surveys can be conducted. Dates and Duration For initial planning purposes, Shell proposes to conduct the overflight surveys during May 1, 2015 to April 30, 2016. Specified Geographic Region The ice overflight survey areas are the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska, as indicated in Figure 1–1 of Shell’s IHA application. Aircraft supporting these surveys will operate out of Barrow and Deadhorse, Alaska. Detailed Description of Activities (1) Proposed Break-Up Surveys The break-up surveys will occur between June and July in either the Chukchi or Beaufort Sea and will include: • Up to five fixed-wing flights of approximately 1,500 nm total for up to approximately 13 hours total; • One helicopter flight totaling of approximately 200 nm total for up to approximately 3 hours total. Flight altitudes for fixed wing surveys will range from 30 to 610 m (100 to 2,000 ft) but will mostly be at or above 152 m (500 ft). For helicopter flights, the PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 11399 altitude will range from 15 to 152 m (50 to 500 ft) but will mostly be at or above 61 m (200 ft). Flights will occur when there is daylight. Aircraft are not scheduled to fly at the same time. (2) Proposed Freeze-Up Surveys The freeze-up surveys will occur between November 2015 and March 2016 in either the Chukchi or Beaufort Sea and will include: • Up to seven fixed-wing flights of approximately 2,500 nautical miles (nm) total in early winter for up to approximately 21 hours total; • One helicopter flight in the Beaufort of approximately 200 nm that will include approximately 4 landings to collect ice measurements during late freeze-up including sampling with a battery powered ice auger for up to approximately 3 hours total. Flight altitudes for fixed wing surveys will range from 30 to 610 m (100 to 2,000 ft) but will mostly be at or above 152 m (500 ft). For helicopter flights, the altitude will range from 15 to 152 m (50 to 500 ft) but will mostly be at or above 61 m (200 ft). Helicopter flights will also include landings. Flights will occur when there is daylight. Aircraft are not scheduled to fly at the same time. Proposed Aircraft To Conduct Ice Overflight Surveys Shell plans to conduct the ice overflight surveys with an Aero Commander (or similar) fixed winged aircraft and a Bell 412, AW 139, EC 145 (or similar) helicopter. Shell will also have a dedicated helicopter for Search and Rescue (SAR) for the spring 2015 surveys. The SAR helicopter is expected to be a Sikorsky S–92 (or similar). This aircraft will stay grounded at the Barrow shorebase location except during training drills, emergencies, and other non-routine events. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity The Chukchi and Beaufort Seas support a diverse assemblage of marine mammals, including: Bowhead, gray, beluga, killer, minke, humpback, and fin whales; harbor porpoise; ringed, ribbon, spotted, and bearded seals; narwhals; polar bears; and walruses. Both the walrus and the polar bear are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and are not considered further in this proposed IHA notice. Among the rest of marine mammal species, only beluga, bowhead, and gray whales, and ringed, spotted, bearded, and ribbon seals could potentially be affected by the proposed ice overflight activity. The remaining cetacean species E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 11400 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices are rare and not likely to be encountered during Shell’s ice overflight surveys, which are planned either during winter when nearly 10/10 ice coverage is present, or during spring when sea ice also pre-dominants the study area. Therefore, these species are not further discussed. The bowhead whale is listed as ‘‘endangered’’ under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and as depleted under the MMPA. The ringed seal is listed as ‘‘threatened’’ under the ESA. Certain stocks or populations of gray and beluga whales and spotted seals are listed as endangered under the ESA; however, none of those stocks or populations occur in the proposed activity area. Shell’s application contains information on the status, distribution, seasonal distribution, abundance, and life history of each of the species under NMFS’ jurisdiction mentioned in this document. When reviewing the application, NMFS determined that the species descriptions provided by Shell correctly characterized the status, distribution, seasonal distribution, and abundance of each species. Please refer to the application for that information (see ADDRESSES). Additional information can also be found in the NMFS Stock Assessment Reports (SAR). The Alaska 2013 SAR is available at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/pdf/ ak2013_final.pdf. Table 1 lists the seven marine mammal species under NMFS’ jurisdiction with confirmed or possible occurrence in the proposed project area. TABLE 1—MARINE MAMMAL SPECIES AND STOCKS THAT COULD BE AFFECTED BY SHELL’S ICE OVERFLIGHT SURVEYS IN THE BEAUFORT AND CHUKCHI SEAS Common name Scientific name Status Occurrence Seasonality Range Abundance Odontocetes Beluga whale (Eastern Chukchi Sea stock). Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea stock). Dephinapterus leucas. ........................ Common ......... Mostly spring and fall with some in summer. Russia to Canada ................... 3,710 Delphinapterus leucas. ........................ Common ......... Mostly spring and fall with some in summer. Russia to Canada ................... 39,258 Russia to Canada ................... 19,534 Mexico to the U.S. Arctic Ocean. 19,126 Mysticetes Bowhead whale Balaena mysticetus. Endangered; Depleted. Common ......... Gray whale ...... Eschrichtius robustus. ........................ Somewhat common. Mostly spring and fall with some in summer. Mostly summer ........... Pinnipeds Bearded seal (Beringia distinct population segment). Ringed seal (Arctic stock). Spotted seal .... Ribbon seal ..... Erigathus barbatus. Candidate ....... Common ......... Spring and summer .... Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. 155,000 Phoca hispida Threatened; Depleted. ........................ Species of concern. Common ......... Year round .................. 300,000 Common ......... Occasional ..... Summer ...................... Summer ...................... Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Japan to U.S. Arctic Ocean .... Russia to U.S. Arctic Ocean ... Phoca largha .. Histriophoca fasciata. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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., aircraft overflight) 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 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’’ PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 141,479 49,000 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. The reasonably expected or reasonably likely impacts of the specified activities on marine mammals will be related primarily to localized, short-term acoustic disturbance from aircraft flying primarily over areas covered by sea ice with limited flight activity over open water and adjacent ice edges. The acoustic sense of marine mammals probably constitutes their most important distance receptor E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices system. Potential acoustic effects relate to sound produced by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Dominant tones in noise spectra from helicopters are generally below 500 Hz (Greene and Moore 1995). Harmonics of the main rotor and tail rotor usually dominate the sound from helicopters; however, many additional tones associated with the engines and other rotating parts are sometimes present. Because of Doppler shift effects, the frequencies of tones received at a stationary site diminish when an aircraft passes overhead. The apparent frequency is increased while the aircraft approaches and is reduced while it moves away. Aircraft flyovers are not heard underwater for very long, especially when compared to how long they are heard in air as the aircraft approaches an observer. Very few cetaceans, including the species in the proposed ice overflight survey areas, are expected to be encountered during ice overflights due to the low density of cetacean species in the winter survey area and small area to be flown over open water during spring. Most of these effects are expected in open-water where limited aircraft noise could penetrate into the water column. For cetaceans under the ice, the noise levels from the aircraft are expected to be dramatically reduced by floating ice. Long-term or population level effects are not expected. Evidence from flyover studies of ringed and bearded seals suggests that a reaction to helicopters is more common than to fixed wing aircraft, all else being equal (Born et al. 1999; Burns and Frost 1979). Under calm conditions, rotor and engine sounds are coupled into the water through ice within a 26° cone beneath the aircraft (Richardson et al. 1995). Scattering and absorption, however, will limit lateral propagation in the shallow water (Greene and Moore 1995). The majority of seals encountered by fixed wing aircraft are unlikely to show a notable disturbance reaction, and approximately half of the seals encountered by helicopters may react by moving from ice into the water (Born et al. 1999). Any potential disturbance from aircraft to seals in the area of ice overflights will be localized and shortterm in duration with no population level effects. Historically, there have been far greater levels of aviation activity in the offshore Chukchi and Beaufort Seas compared with that of the proposed ice overflights. None of this previous offshore aviation activity is believed to have resulted in long-term impacts to marine mammals, as demonstrated by results from a wide range of monitoring VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 programs and scientific studies. Impacts to marine mammals from aviation activities in Arctic offshore habitats have been shown to be, at most, shortterm and highly-localized in nature (e.g., Funk et al. 2013; Richardson et al. 1985a, b; Patenaude et al. 2002; Born et al. 1999). The effect of aircraft overflight on marine mammals will depend on the behavior of the animal at the time of reception of the stimulus, as well as the distance from the aircraft and received level of sound. Cetaceans (such as bowhead, gray, and beluga whales) will only be present, and thus have the potential to be disturbed, when aircraft fly over open water in between ice floes; seals may be disturbed when aircraft are over open water or over ice on which seals may be present. Disturbance reactions are likely to vary among some of the seals in the general vicinity, and not all of the seals present are expected to react to fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. Behavioral distances from marine mammals also depend on the altitudes of the aircraft overflight. Marine mammals are not likely to be affected by aircraft overflights that are above 1,000 ft. Therefore, behavioral harassments discussed above are only limited to those aircraft flying at lower altitudes. Proposed monitoring measures discussed below would further reduce potential affects from Shell’s proposed ice overflight surveys. In light of the nature of the activities, and for the reasons described below, NMFS does not expect marine mammals will be injured or killed as a result of ice overflight surveys. In addition, due to the low received noise levels from aircraft overflights, NMFS does not expect marine mammals will experience hearing impairment such as TTS or PTS. Of the seal species which may be encountered, only ringed seals are abundant in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas during the winter and early spring when the overflights are scheduled to occur. In March–April, ringed seals give birth in subnivean lairs established on shorefast and stable pack ice (Smith and Stirling 1975; Smith 1973). Ringed seals in subnivean layers have been known to react to aircraft overhead by entering the water in some instances (Kelly et al. 1986); however, there is no evidence to indicate injurious effects to adults or pups from such a response. Bearded seals spend the winter season in the Bering Sea, and then follow the ice edge as it retreats in spring (MacIntyre and Stafford 2011). Large numbers of bearded seals are unlikely to be present in the project area during the time of planned operations. However, PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 11401 some individuals may be encountered. Spotted seals are found in the Bering Sea in winter and spring where they breed, molt, and pup in large groups (Quakenbush 1988; Rugh et al. 1997). Few spotted seals are expected to be encountered in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas until July. Even then, they are rarely seen on pack ice but are commonly observed hauled out on land or swimming in open water (Lowry et al. 1998). The ice overflights are designed to maximize flying over ice, avoiding coastal and terrestrial areas. Haul outs for spotted seals are generally known, and Shell will avoid these areas during the break up surveys. Based on extensive analysis of digital imagery taken during aerial surveys in support of Shell’s 2012 operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, ice seals are very infrequently observed hauled out on the ice in groups of greater than one individual (Shell 2015). Tens of thousands of images from 17 flights that took place from July through October were reviewed in detail. Of 107 total observations of spotted or ringed seals on ice, only three of those sightings were of a group of two individuals (Shell 2015). Since seals typically are found as individuals or in very small groups when they are in the project area, the chance of a stampede event is very unlikely. Finally, ice seals are well adapted to move between ice and water without injury, including ‘‘escape reactions’’ to avoid predators. Ringed and bearded seals sometimes, but not always, dive when approached by low-flying aircraft (Burns and Frost 1979; Burns et al. 1982). Ringed and bearded seals may be more sensitive to helicopter sounds than to fixed-wing aircraft (Burns and Frost 1979). In 2000, during a study on the impacts of pipedriving sounds on pinnipeds at Northstar in the Beaufort Sea which involved helicopter, only some of the ringed seals present exhibited a reaction to an approaching helicopter (Blackwell et al. 2001). Of 23 individuals, only 11 reacted; of those 11, 10 increased alertness and only 1 moved into the water (when the helicopter was 100 m away; Blackwell et al. 2004). Reactions of ringed seals while they are in subnivean lairs vary with the characteristics of the flyover, including lateral distance and altitude of aircraft (Kelly et al. 1986). The sound of aircraft is also reduced by the snow of the lair (Cummings and Holliday 1983). Spotted seals are sensitive to aircraft, reacting erratically at considerable distances which may result in mother-pup separation or injury to pups (Frost et al. 1993, Rugh et al. 1993). However, as previously E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 11402 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES noted, few spotted seals are expected to be present in the project area during the time of planned ice overflights, and overflights will focus on offshore areas as opposed to terrestrial habitat with potential spotted seal haulouts. Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat Shell’s planned 2015/16 ice overflight surveys will not result in any permanent impact on habitats used by marine mammals, or to their prey sources. The primary potential impacts on marine mammal habitat and prey resources that are reasonably expected or reasonably likely are associated with elevated sound levels from the aircraft passing overhead. Effects on marine mammal habitat from the generation of sound from the planned surveys would be negligible and temporary, lasting only as long as the aircraft is overhead. Water column effects will be localized and ephemeral, lasting only the duration of the aircrafts presence. All effects on marine mammal habitat from the planned surveys are expected to be negligible and confined to very small areas within the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The primary effect of the sound energy generated by ice overflight survey activities on marine mammal habitat will be the ensonification of the water column and air at the surface. Sound energy can also affect invertebrates and fish that are marine mammal prey, and thereby indirectly impact the marine mammals. Levels and duration of sounds received by marine mammals underwater from a passing helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft are a function of the type of aircraft, orientation and altitude of the aircraft, depth of the animal, and water depth. Aircraft sounds are detectable underwater at greater distances when the receiver is in shallow rather than deep water. Generally, sound levels received underwater decrease as the altitude of the aircraft increases (Richardson et al. 1995a). The nature of sounds produced by aircraft activities does not pose a direct threat to the underwater marine mammal habitat or prey. Aircraft sounds are audible for much greater distances in air than in water. Under calm conditions, rotor and engine sounds are coupled into the water within a 26° cone beneath the aircraft. Some of the sound will transmit beyond the immediate area, and some sound will enter the water outside the 26 degree area when the sea surface is rough. However, scattering and absorption will limit lateral propagation in shallow water. Dominant tones in VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 noise spectra from helicopters are generally below 500 Hz (Greene and Moore 1995). Because of Doppler shift effects, the frequencies of tones received at a stationary site diminish when an aircraft passes overhead. The apparent frequency is increased while the aircraft approaches and is reduced while it moves away. Sounds generated underwater from aircraft flyovers are of short duration. Helicopters will generally maintain straight-line routes, thereby limiting the sound levels at and below the surface. Given the timing and location of the proposed ice overflight activities, as well as the mitigation measures that will be implemented as a part of the program, any impacts from aircraft traffic on marine mammal habitat or prey will be localized and temporary with no anticipated population level effects. Proposed Mitigation In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA, NMFS must, where applicable, 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). This section summarizes the contents of Shell’s Marine Mammal Monitoring and Mitigation Plan (4MP). Later in this document in the ‘‘Proposed Incidental Harassment Authorization’’ section, NMFS lays out the proposed conditions for review, as they would appear in the final IHA (if issued). Shell submitted a 4MP as part of its application (see ADDRESSES). Shell proposes a suite of mitigation measures to minimize any adverse impacts associated with the ice overflight surveys in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea. These include, among others discussed in the 4MP (See Attachment A of Shell’s IHA application), the following: (1) The timing and locations for active survey acquisition work; and (2) increasing altitude or deviating from survey tract when the protected species observers sight visually (from the aircraft) the presence of marine mammals. The mitigation measures are presented in the 4MP. To summarize: • A PSO will be aboard all flights recording all sightings/observations (e.g. including number of individuals, approximate age (when possible to determine), and any type of potential PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 reaction to the aircraft). Environmental information the observer will record includes weather, air temperature, cloud and ice cover, visibility conditions, and wind speed. • The aircraft will maintain a 1 mi radius when flying over areas where seals appear to be concentrated in groups of ≥5 individuals; • The aircraft will not land on ice within 0.5 mi of hauled out pinnipeds or polar bears; • The aircraft will avoid flying over polynyas and along adjacent ice margins as much as possible to minimize potential disturbance to cetaceans; and • Shell will routinely engage with local communities and subsistence groups to ensure no disturbance of whaling or other subsistence activities. Mitigation Conclusions NMFS has carefully evaluated the applicant’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 measure is 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 noises generated from ice overflight surveys, 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 noises generated from ice overflight surveys, or other activities expected to E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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 noises generated from ice overflight surveys, or other activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to a, 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. Shell submitted a marine mammal monitoring plan as part of the IHA application. It can be found in Appendix B of the Shell’s IHA application. The plan may be modified or supplemented based on comments or new information received from the VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 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 the probability of detecting marine mammals, both within the mitigation zone (thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation) and in general to generate more data to contribute to the analyses mentioned below; 2. An increase in our understanding of how many marine mammals are likely to be exposed to levels of noises generated from ice overflight surveys that we associate with specific adverse effects, such as behavioral harassment, TTS, or PTS; 3. An increase in our understanding of how marine mammals respond to stimuli expected to result in take and how anticipated adverse effects on individuals (in different ways and to varying degrees) may impact the population, species, or stock (specifically through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival) through any of the following methods: D Behavioral observations in the presence of stimuli compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other pertinent information); D Physiological measurements in the presence of stimuli compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other pertinent information); D Distribution and/or abundance comparisons in times or areas with concentrated stimuli versus times or areas without stimuli; 4. An increased knowledge of the affected species; and 5. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of certain mitigation and monitoring measures. Proposed Monitoring Measures (1) Protected Species Observers Aerial monitoring for marine mammals will be conducted by a trained protected species observer (PSO) aboard each flight. PSO duties will include watching for and identifying marine mammals, recording their numbers, distances from, and potential reactions to the presence of the aircraft, in addition to working with the helicopter pilots to identify areas for landings on ice that is clear of marine mammals. PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 11403 (2) Observer Qualifications and Training Observers will have previous marine mammal observation experience in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. All observers will be trained and familiar with the marine mammals of the area, data collection protocols, reporting procedures, and required mitigation measures. (3) Specialized Field Equipment The following specialized field equipment for use by the onboard PSO: Fujinon 7 X 50 binoculars for visual monitoring, a GPS unit to document the route of each ice overflight, a laptop computer for data entry, a voice recorder to capture detailed observations and data for post flight entry into the computer, and digital still cameras. (4) Field Data-Recording The observer on the aircraft will record observations directly into computers using a custom software package. The accuracy of the data entry will be verified in the field by computerized validity checks as the data are entered, and by subsequent manual checking following the flight. Additionally, observers will capture the details of sightings and other observations with a voice recorder, which will maximize observation time and the collection of data. These procedures will allow initial summaries of data to be prepared during and shortly after the surveys, and will facilitate transfer of the data to statistical, graphical or other programs for further processing. During the course of the flights, the observer will record information for each sighting including number of individuals, approximate age (when possible to determine), and any type of potential reaction to the aircraft. Environmental information the observer will record includes weather, air temperature, cloud and ice cover, visibility conditions, and wind speed. 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)). E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 11404 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices NMFS has established an independent peer review panel to review Shell’s 4MP for ice overflight survey in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The panel is scheduled to meet in early March 2015, and will provide comments to NMFS shortly after they meet. After completion of the peer review, NMFS will consider all recommendations made by the panel, incorporate appropriate changes into the monitoring requirements of the IHA (if issued), and publish the panel’s findings and recommendations in the final IHA notice of issuance or denial document. Reporting Measures (1) Final Report The results of Shell’s ice overflight monitoring report will be presented in the ‘‘90-day’’ final report, as required by NMFS under the proposed IHA. The initial final report is due to NMFS within 90 days after the expiration of the IHA (if issued). The report will include: • Summaries of monitoring effort: Total hours, total distances flown, and environmental conditions during surveys; • Summaries of occurrence, species composition, and distribution of all marine mammal sightings including date, numbers, age/size/gender categories (when discernible), group sizes, ice cover and other environmental variables; data will be visualized by plotting sightings relative to the position of the aircraft; and • Analyses of the potential effects of ice overflights on marine mammals and the number of individuals that may have been disturbed by aircraft. The ‘‘90-day’’ report will 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. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES (2) Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals Shell will be required to notify NMFS’ Office of Protected Resources and NMFS’ Stranding Network of any sighting of an injured or dead marine mammal. Based on different circumstances, Shell may or may not be required to stop operations upon such a sighting. Shell will provide NMFS with the species or description of the animal(s), the condition of the animal(s) (including carcass condition if the animal is dead), location, time of first discovery, observed behaviors (if alive), and photo or video (if available). The specific language describing what Shell must do upon sighting a dead or injured marine mammal can be found in the VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 ‘‘Proposed Incidental Harassment Authorization’’ section of this document. 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 is anticipated as a result of the proposed ice overflight surveys. As discussed earlier in this document, potential noise impacts to marine mammals from ice overflight surveys would be limited in a 26° cone under the flight path. The intensity of noise enters the water depends on the altitude of the aircraft (Richardson et al. 1995). Scattering and absorption, however, will limit lateral propagation in the shallow water (Greene and Moore 1995). Basis for Estimating ‘‘Take by Harassment’’ Exposures were calculated in the following sections for cetaceans and seals. The methods used to estimate exposure for each species group was fundamentally the same with minor differences as described below. Exposure estimates for cetaceans were calculated by multiplying the anticipated area to be flown over open water each season (winter and spring) by the expected densities of cetaceans that may occur in the survey area. Exposures of seals were calculated by multiplying the anticipated area to be flown over open water and ice in each season (winter and spring) by the expected densities of seals that may occur in the survey area by the proportion of seals on ice that may actually show a disturbance reaction to each type of aircraft (Born et al. 1999). Marine Mammal Density Estimates Marine mammal density estimates in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas have been derived for two time periods: The winter period covering November through April, and the spring period including May through early July. There is some uncertainty about the representativeness of the data and assumptions used in the calculations. To provide some allowance for PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 uncertainties, ‘‘average’’ as well as ‘‘maximum’’ estimates of the numbers of marine mammals potentially affected have been derived. For a few species, several density estimates were available. In those cases, the mean and maximum estimates were determined from the reported densities or survey data. In other cases, only one or no applicable estimate was available, so correction factors were used to arrive at ‘‘average’’ and ‘‘maximum’’ estimates. These are described in detail in the following sections. In Polar Regions, most pinnipeds are associated with sea ice and typical census methods involve counting pinnipeds when they are hauled out on ice. In the Beaufort Sea, abundance surveys typically occur in spring when ringed seals emerge from their lairs (Frost et al. 2004). Depending on the species and study, a correction factor for the proportion of animals hauled out at any one time may or may not have been applied (depending on whether an appropriate correction factor was available for the particular species, area, and time period). By applying a correction factor, the density of the pinniped species in an area can be estimated. Detectability bias, quantified in part by f(0), is associated with diminishing sightability with increasing lateral distance from the survey trackline. Availability bias, g(0), refers to the fact that there is <100 percent probability of sighting an animal that is present along the survey trackline. Some sources below included these correction factors in the reported densities (e.g. ringed seals in Bengtson et al. 2005) and the best available correction factors were applied to reported results when they had not already been included (e.g. bearded seals in Bengtson et al. 2005). (1) Cetaceans: Winter (A) Beluga Whales Beluga whale density estimates were calculated based on aerial survey data collected in October in the eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea by the NMML (as part of the BWASP program funded by BOEMRE) in 2007–2010. They reported 31 sightings of 66 individual whales during 1597 km of on-transect effort over waters 200–2000 m deep. An f(0) value of 2.326 was applied and it was calculated using beluga whale sightings data collected in the Canadian Beaufort Sea (Innes et al. 2002). A g(0) value of 0.419 was used that represents a combination of ga(0) = 0.55 (Innes et al. 2002) and gd(0) = 0.762 (Harwood et al. 1996). The resulting densities were then multiplied by 0.10 because the Beaufort E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices Sea and north-eastern Chukchi Sea is believed to be at the edge of the species’ range in by November. Belugas typically migrate into the Bering Sea for the winter (Allen and Angliss 2014) and are not expected to be present in the study area in the winter. Satellite tagging data support this and indicate belugas migrate out of the Beaufort Sea in the October–November period (Suydam et al. 2005). (B) Bowhead Whales Bowhead whale density estimates in the winter in the planned ice overflight area are expected to be quite low. Miller et al. (2002) presented a 10-day moving average of bowhead whale abundance in the eastern Beaufort Sea using data from 1979–2000 that showed a decrease of ∼90% from early to late October. Based on these data, it is expected that almost all whales that had been in the Chukchi Sea during early October would likely have migrated beyond the survey areas by November–December. In addition, kernel density estimates and animal tracklines generated from satellitetagged bowhead whales, along with acoustic monitoring data, suggest that few bowhead whales are present in the proposed survey area in November (near Point Barrow), and no whales were present in December (ADFG 2010; Moore et al. 2010). Therefore, minimal density estimates (0.0001 whales/km2) were used. (C) Gray whales Gray whales may be encountered as they have been detected near Pt. Barrow throughout the winter (Moore et al. 2006, Stafford et al. 2007), but they are expected to be very rare. Thus no density estimate is available. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES (2) Cetaceans: Spring (A) Beluga Whales Spring densities of beluga whales in offshore waters are expected to be low, with somewhat higher densities in icemargin and nearshore areas. Past aerial surveys have recorded few belugas in the offshore Chukchi Sea during the summer months and belugas are most likely encountered in offshore waters of the eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea (Moore et al. 2000). More recent aerial surveys from 2008–2012 flown by the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) as part of the Chukchi Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area (COMIDA) project, now part of the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) project, reported 10 beluga sightings (22 individuals) in offshore waters during 22,154 km of on-transect effort. Larger groups of beluga whales were recorded in nearshore areas, especially in June VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 and July during the spring migration (Clarke and Ferguson in prep; Clarke et al. 2012, 2013). Effort and sightings reported by Clarke and Ferguson (in prep.) and Clarke et al. (2012, 2013) were used to calculate the average openwater density estimate. Those aerial surveys recorded 10 ontransect beluga sightings (22 individuals) during 22,154 km of on transect effort in waters 36–50 m deep in the Chukchi Sea during July and August. The mean group size of the sightings was 2.2. An f(0) value of 2.841 and g(0) value of 0.58 from Harwood et al. (1996) were also used in the density calculation resulting in an average openwater density of 0.0024 belugas/km2. Specific data on the relative abundance of beluga whales in open-water versus ice-margin habitat during the summer in the Chukchi Sea is not available. However, belugas are commonly associated with ice, particularly ice edges and adjacent polynyas, so an inflation factor of 4 was used to estimate the ice-margin densities from the openwater densities. (B) Bowhead Whales Eastward migrating bowhead whales were recorded during industry aerial surveys of the continental shelf near Camden Bay in 2008 until 12 July (Christie et al. 2010). No bowhead sightings were recorded again, despite continued flights, until 19 August. Aerial surveys by industry operators did not begin until late August of 2006 and 2007, but in both years bowheads were also recorded in the region before the end of August (Lyons et al. 2009). The late August sightings were likely of bowheads beginning their fall migration so the densities calculated from those surveys were not used to estimate summer densities in this region. The three surveys in July of 2008 resulted in density estimates of 0.0099, 0.0717, and 0.0186 bowhead whales/km2, respectively (Christie et al. 2010). The estimate of 0.0186 whales/km2 was used as the average nearshore density and the estimate of 0 0.0717 whales/km2 was used as the maximum. Sea ice was not present during these surveys. Moore et al. (2000) reported that bowhead whales in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea were distributed uniformly relative to sea ice. (C) Gray Whales Gray whales are expected to be present in the Chukchi Sea but are unlikely in the Beaufort Sea. Moore et al. (2000) found the distribution of gray whales in Chukchi Sea was scattered and limited to nearshore areas where most whales were observed in water less than 35 m deep. The average open-water PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 11405 summer density (Table 2) was calculated from 2008–2012 aerial survey effort and sightings in Clarke and Ferguson (in prep) and Clarke et al. (2012, 2013) for water depths 36–50 m including 98 sightings (137 individuals) during 22,154 km of on-transect effort. The average group size of those sightings was 1.4. Correction factors f(0) = 2.49 (Forney and Barlow 1998) and g(0) = 0.30 (Forney and Barlow 1998, Mallonee 1991) were used to calculate and average open-water density of 0.0253 gray whales/km2 (Table 2). The highest density from the survey periods reported in Clarke and Ferguson (in prep) and Clarke et al. (2012, 2013) was 0.0268 gray whales/km2 in 2012 and this was used as the maximum openwater density. (3) Pinnipeds: Winter (A) Ringed Seals Ringed seal densities were taken from offshore aerial surveys of the pack ice zone conducted in spring 1999 and 2000 (Bengtson et al. 2005). Seal distribution and density in spring, prior to break-up, are thought to reflect distribution patterns established earlier in the year (i.e., during the winter months; Frost et al. 2004). The average density from those two years (weighted by survey effort) was 0.4892 seals/km2. This value served as the average density while the highest density from the two years (0.8100 seals/km2 in 1999) was used as the maximum density. (B) Other Seal Species Other seal species are not expected to be present in the ice overflight survey area in large numbers during the winter period of the ice overflights. Bearded, spotted, and ribbon seals would be present in the area in smaller numbers than ringed seals during spring through fall summer, but these less common seal species generally migrate into the southern Chukchi and Bering Seas during fall and remain there through the winter (Allen and Angliss 2014). Few satellite-tagging studies have been conducted on these species in the Beaufort Sea, winter surveys have not been conducted, and a few bearded seals have been reported over the continental shelf in spring prior to general break-up. However, the tracks of three bearded seals tagged in 2009 moved south into the Bering Sea along the continental shelf by November (Cameron and Boveng 2009). These species would be more common in the area during spring through fall, but it is possible that some individuals, bearded seals in particular, may be present in the area surveyed in winter. Ribbon seals E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 11406 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices are unlikely to be present in the survey area during winter as they also migrate southward from the northeastern Chukchi Sea during this period. In the absence of better information from the published literature or other sources that would indicate that significant numbers of any of these species might be present during winter, minimal density estimates were used for these species. Estimates for bearded seals were assumed to be slightly higher than those for spotted and ribbon seals. (4) Pinnipeds: Spring Three species of pinnipeds under NMFS’ jurisdiction are likely to be encountered in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas during planned ice overflights in spring of 2015: Ringed, bearded, and spotted seals. Ringed and bearded seals are associated with both the ice margin and the nearshore open water area during spring. Spotted seals are often considered to be predominantly a coastal species except in the spring when they may be found in the southern margin of the retreating sea ice. However, satellite tagging has shown that some individuals undertake long excursions into offshore waters during summer (Lowry et al. 1994, 1998). Ribbon seals have been reported in very small numbers within the Chukchi Sea by observers on industry vessels (Patterson et al. 2007, Hartin et al. 2013). (A) Ringed Seal and Bearded Seal mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Ringed seal and bearded seal ‘‘average’’ and ‘‘maximum’’ spring densities were available in Bengtson et al. (2005) from spring surveys in the offshore pack ice zone (zone 12P) of the northern Chukchi Sea. However, corrections for bearded seal availability, VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 g(0), based on haulout and diving patterns were not available. (B) Spotted Seal Little information on spotted seal densities in offshore areas of the Alaskan Arctic is available. Spotted seal densities in the spring were estimated by multiplying the ringed seal densities by 0.02. This was based on the ratio of the estimated occurrence of the two species during ice overflight surveys and the assumption that the vast majority of seals present in areas of pack ice would be ringed seals (Funk et al., 2010; 2013). (C) Ribbon Seal Four ribbon seal sightings were reported during industry vessel operations in the Chukchi Sea in 2006– 2010 (Hartin et al. 2013). The resulting density estimate of 0.0007/km2 was used as the average density and 4 times that was used as the maximum for the spring season. Estimated Areas Where Cetaceans May Be Encountered by Aircraft Encounters that may result in potential disturbance of cetaceans will likely occur only in open water. Flight paths over open water and adjacent ice edges will be minimized by the objectives of the program as an effort to reduce encounters with cetaceans. It is estimated that five to ten percent of distance flown in winter will be over open water, and ten to twenty percent of distance flown in spring will be over open water. We applied the most conservative of these percentages to the proposed tracklines in winter and spring to estimate the area of open water exposed by planned ice overflights. The potential disturbance area for each season was based on flight altitude PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 and lateral distance of cetaceans from the center trackline. Based on known air-to-water propagation paths, cetaceans may be exposed to sounds produced by the aircraft when individuals are up to 13 degrees from the aircraft’s center (Snell’s law; Urick 1972 in Richardson et al. 1995). It was assumed that cetaceans in open water could be disturbed within 13 degrees of vertical (i.e., a 26-degree cone) from the location of an aircraft when aircraft are 305 m (1,000 ft) or lower. NMFS considers aircraft above this altitude would not appreciably disturb cetaceans in open water below. This 305-m maximum disturbance altitude and Snell’s law results in a maximum potential disturbance radius of approximately 70 m. Based on Snell’s law (Richardson et al. 1995) and a 305 m flight altitude, we used a conservative radius of 75 m to calculate the potential disturbance area beneath an aircraft for cetaceans in open-water conditions. Table 2 summarizes potential disturbance radii, maximum flight distances over open water, and potential disturbance areas for cetaceans from fixed wing aircraft and helicopters during Shell’s proposed ice overflights program in winter (November through April) and spring (May through early July). Maximum percentage of total trackline over open water, as based on previous surveys, is 10% and 20% of the total trackline for winter and spring, respectively. Based on maximum flight distances, percent open water, and a potential disturbance radius of 75 m for fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, a total of 169 km2 of open-water could be disturbed. Approximately 45% of this total estimated open-water area would be surveyed in winter and the remaining 55% would be surveyed during spring. E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Fixed wing and helicopter flights over ice at ice overflight survey altitudes have the potential to disturb seals hauled out on ice, although the flight altitude and lateral distances at which seals may react to aircraft are highly variable (Born et al. 1999; Burns et al. 1982; Burns and Frost 1979). The probability of a seal hauled out on ice reacting to a fixed wing aircraft or helicopter is influenced by a combination of variables such as flight altitude, lateral distance from the aircraft, ambient conditions (e.g., wind chill), activity, and time of day (Born et al. 1999). Evidence from flyover studies of ringed and bearded seals suggests that a reaction to helicopters is more common than to fixed wing aircraft, all else being equal (Born et al. 1999; Burns and Frost 1979). Born et al. (1999) investigated the reactions of ringed seals hauled out on VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 ice to aircraft. The threshold lateral distances from the aircraft trackline out to which the vast majority of reactions were observed were 600 and 1500 m for fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, respectively. Many individual ringed seals within these distances; however, did not react (Born et al. 1999). Results indicated ∼6% and ∼49% of total seals observed reacted to fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, respectively, by entering the water when aircraft were flown over ice at altitudes similar to those proposed for Shell’s ice overflight surveys as described in the Description of the Specific Activity section. These lateral distances and reaction probabilities were used as guidelines for estimating the area of sea ice habitat within which hauled out seals may be disturbed by aircraft and the number of seals that might react. Born et al. 1999, also was used as a guideline in a similar fashion for estimating the numbers of seals that would react to helicopters during U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 polar bear tagging in 2011 and 2012, in which an IHA was issued by NMFS (NMFS 2011). Table 3 summarizes potential disturbance radii, maximum flight distances, and potential disturbance areas for seals from fixed wing aircraft and helicopters during Shell’s proposed ice overflights program in winter (November through April) and spring (May through early July). Based on maximum flight distances and potential disturbance radii of 600 and 1500 m for fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, respectively, a total of 11,112 km2 (of sea ice could be disturbed. Based on Born et al.’s (1999) observations, however, it is estimated that only ∼6 and ∼49% of seals in these areas will exhibit a notable reaction to fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, respectively, by entering the water. Approximately 60% of this total area would be surveyed in winter and the remaining 40% would be surveyed during spring. E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 EN03MR15.010</GPH> Estimated Areas Where Seals May Be Encountered by Aircraft 11407 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Potential Number of ‘‘Takes by Harassment’’ (1) Cetaceans This subsection provides estimates of the number of individual cetaceans that could potentially be disturbed by aircraft during Shell’s proposed ice overflights. The estimates are based on an estimate of the anticipated openwater area that could be subjected to disturbance from overflights, proximity of cetaceans in open water to the aircraft, and expected cetacean densities in those areas during each season. The number of individuals of each cetacean species potentially disturbed by fixed wing aircraft or helicopters was estimated by multiplying: • The potential disturbance area from each aircraft (fixed wing and helicopter) for each season (winter and spring), by • The percentage of survey area expected to be over open water as opposed to ice in each season, by • The expected cetacean density for each season. The numbers of individual cetaceans potentially disturbed were then summed for each species across the two seasons. Estimates of the average and maximum number of individual cetaceans that may be disturbed are shown by season in Table 4. Less than one individual of each cetacean species was estimated to be disturbed in winter. VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 This was due to the low density of cetaceans in the survey area in winter and extensive ice cover during this period. In spring, a few beluga whales, bowhead whales, and gray whales are estimated to potentially be disturbed during ice overflights when aircraft transit over open water for short periods. The numbers of individuals exposed represent very small proportions of their populations. (2) Pinnipeds This subsection provides estimates of the number of individual ice seals that could potentially be disturbed by aircraft during Shell’s proposed ice overflights. The estimates are based on a consideration of the proposed flight distances, proximity of seals to the aircraft trackline, and the proportion of ice seals present that might actually be disturbed appreciably (i.e. moving from the ice into the water) by flight operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and the anticipated area that could be subjected to disturbance from overflights. The number of individuals of each ice seal species potentially disturbed by fixed wing aircraft or helicopters was estimated by multiplying: • The potential disturbance area from each aircraft (fixed wing and helicopter) for each season (winter and spring), by • The expected seal density in each season, and by PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 • The expected proportion of seals expected to react to each type of aircraft in a way that could be interpreted as disturbance. The numbers of individuals potentially disturbed were then summed for each species across the two seasons. Estimates of the average number of individual seals that may be disturbed are shown by season in Table 4. The estimates shown represent proportions of the total number of seals encountered that may actually demonstrate a disturbance reaction to each type of aircraft. Estimates shown in Table 4 were based on Born et al. 1999, which assumed that ∼6 and ∼49% of seals would react within lateral distances of 600 and 1,500 m of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, respectively. Ringed seal is by far the most abundant species expected to be encountered during the planned ice overflights. The best (average) estimate of the numbers of ringed seals potentially disturbed during ice overflights is 793 individuals, which represents only a small proportion of the estimated population of ringed seals in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Fewer individuals of other pinniped species are estimated to be encountered during ice overflights, also representing very small proportions of their populations. E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 EN03MR15.011</GPH> 11408 11409 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices TABLE 4—THE TOTAL NUMBER OF POTENTIAL EXPOSURES OF MARINE MAMMALS DURING THE SHELL’S PROPOSED ICE OVERFLIGHT SURVEYS IN THE CHUKCHI AND BEAUFORT SEAS, ALASKA, 2015–2016 [Estimates are also shown as a percent of each population] Species Abundance Beluga (E. Chukchi Sea) ............................................................................................................. Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea) ...................................................................................................... Bowhead whale ........................................................................................................................... Gray whale ................................................................................................................................... Bearded seal ................................................................................................................................ Ribbon seal .................................................................................................................................. Ringed seal .................................................................................................................................. Spotted seal ................................................................................................................................. Analysis and Preliminary Determinations mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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 Shell’s proposed ice overflight surveys in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, 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. Instead, any impact that could result from Shell’s activities is most likely to be behavioral harassment and is expected to be of brief duration and the aircraft flies by. Although it is possible that some individuals may be exposed to sounds from aircraft overflight more than once, during the migratory periods it is less likely that this will occur since animals will continue to move across the VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 Chukchi Sea towards their wintering grounds. Aircraft flyovers are not heard underwater for very long, especially when compared to how long they are heard in air as the aircraft approaches an observer. Very few cetaceans are expected to be encountered during ice overflights due to the low density of cetacean species in the winter survey area and small area to be flown over open water during spring. Long-term or population level effects are not expected. The majority of seals encountered by fixed wing aircraft will unlikely show a notable disturbance reaction, and approximately half of the seals encountered by helicopters may react by moving from ice into the water. Any potential disturbance from aircraft to seals in the area of ice overflights will be localized and short-term in duration with no population level effects. Of the seven marine mammal species likely to occur in the proposed ice overflight survey area, only the bowhead whale and ringed seal are listed as endangered under the ESA. These two 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% annually for nearly a decade (Allen and Angliss, 2011), even in the face of ongoing industrial activity. 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, 2011). Certain stocks or populations of gray and beluga whales and spotted seals are listed as endangered or are proposed for listing under the ESA; however, none of those stocks or populations occur in the proposed activity area. Ringed seals were recently listed under the ESA as threatened species. On July 25, 2014 the U.S. District Court for the District of PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Number potential exposure 3,710 39,258 19,534 19,126 155,000 49,000 300,000 141,479 1 1 2 2 11 1 793 7 Estimated population (percent) 0.027 0.003 0.010 0.010 0.007 0.002 0.264 0.005 Alaska vacated the rule listing to the Beringia bearded seal DPS and remanded the rule to NMFS to correct the deficiencies identified in the opinion. None of the other species that may occur in the project area is listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. There is currently no established critical habitat in the proposed project area for any of these seven species. Potential impacts to marine mammal habitat were discussed previously in this document (see the ‘‘Anticipated Effects on Habitat’’ section). Although some disturbance is possible to food sources of marine mammals, the impacts are anticipated to be minor. Based on the vast size of the Arctic Ocean where feeding by marine mammals occurs versus the localized area of the ice overflight surveys, any missed feeding opportunities in the direct project area would be of little consequence, as marine mammals would have access to other feeding grounds. 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 Shell’s proposed 2015 ice overflight surveys in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks. Small Numbers The estimated takes proposed to be authorized represent less than 0.3% of the affected population or stock for all species in the survey area. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 11410 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices 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 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. Subsistence hunting continues to be an essential aspect of Inupiat Native life, especially in rural coastal villages. The Inupiat participate in subsistence hunting activities in and around the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The animals taken for subsistence provide a significant portion of the food that will last the community through the year. Marine mammals represent on the order of 60–80% of the total subsistence harvest. Along with the nourishment necessary for survival, the subsistence activities strengthen bonds within the culture, provide a means for educating the younger generation, provide supplies for artistic expression, and allow for important celebratory events. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Bowhead Whale Activities associated with Shell’s planned ice overflight survey program is not likely to have an un-mitigable adverse impact on the availability of bowhead whales for taking for subsistence uses. Ice overflight surveys that may occur near Point Lay, Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik would traverse bowhead subsistence areas. Most flights would take place after the date of fall and prior to spring bowhead whale hunting from the villages. The most commonly observed reactions of bowheads to aircraft traffic are hasty dives, but changes in orientation, dispersal, and changes in activity are sometimes noted. Such reactions could potentially affect subsistence hunts if the flights occurred near and at the same time as the hunt. Shell has developed and proposes to VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 implement a number of mitigation measures to avoid such impacts. These mitigation measures include minimum flight altitudes, use of Village Community Liaison Officers (CLOs), Subsistence Advisors (SAs), and Communication Centers in order to avoid conflicts with subsistence activities. SA calls will be held while subsistence activities are underway during the ice overflight survey program and are attended by operations staff, logistics staff, and CLOs. Aircraft flights are adjusted as needed and planned in a manner that avoids potential impacts to bowhead whale hunts and other subsistence activities. With these mitigation measures any effects on the bowhead whale as a subsistence resource, or effects on bowhead subsistence hunts would be minimal. Beluga Whale Activities associated with Shell’s planned ice overflight survey program will not have an un-mitigable adverse impact on the availability of beluga whales for taking for subsistence uses. Ice overflight surveys may occur near Point Lay, Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik would and traverse beluga whale hunt subsistence areas. Most flights would take place when belugas are not typically harvested. Survey activities could potentially affect subsistence hunts if the flights occurred near and at the same time as the hunt. Shell has developed and proposes to implement a number of mitigation measures to avoid such impacts. These mitigation measures include minimum flight altitudes, use of CLOs, SAs, and Communication Centers. SA calls will be held while subsistence activities are underway during the ice overflight survey program and are attended by operations staff, logistics staff, and CLOs. Aircraft flights are adjusted as needed and planned in a manner that avoids potential impacts to beluga whale hunts and other subsistence activities. With these mitigation measures any effects on the beluga whale as a subsistence resource, or effects on beluga subsistence hunts would be minimal. Seals Seals are an important subsistence resource with ringed and bearded seals making up the bulk of the seal harvest. The survey areas are far outside of areas reportedly utilized for the harvest of seals by the villages of Point Hope, thus the ice overflight surveys will not have an un-mitigable adverse impact on the availability of ice seals for taking for subsistence uses. The survey areas encompass some areas utilized by PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 residents of Point Lay, Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut and Kaktovik for the harvest of seals. Most ringed and bearded seals are harvested in the winter and a harvest of seals could possibly be affected by Shell’s planned activities. Spotted seals are harvested during the summer and may overlap briefly with Shell’s planned activities. Most seals are harvested in coastal waters, with available maps of recent and past subsistence use areas indicating that seal harvests have occurred only within 30–40 mi (48–64 km) off the coastline. Some of the planned ice overflight surveys would take place in areas used by the village residents for the harvest of seals. The survey aircraft could potentially travel over areas used by residents for seal hunting and could potentially disturb seals and, therefore, subsistence hunts for seals. Any such effects from the survey activities would be minimal due to the infrequency of the planned surveys. Shell has developed and proposes to implement a number of mitigation measures which include a proposed 4MP, use of CLOs, SAs, operation of Communication Centers, and minimum altitude requirements. SA calls will be held while subsistence activities are underway during the ice overflight survey program and are attended by operations staff, logistics staff, and CLOs. Aircraft movements and activities are adjusted as needed and planned in a manner that avoids potential impacts to subsistence activities. With these mitigation measures any effects on ringed, bearded, and spotted seals as subsistence resources, or effects on subsistence hunts for seals, would be minimal. 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. Shell is preparing to implement a POC in accordance with NMFS’ regulations. The POC relies upon the Chukchi Sea Communication Plans to identify the measures that Shell has developed in consultation with North Slope subsistence communities and will implement during its planned 2015/ 2016 ice overflight surveys to minimize any adverse effects on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses. In addition, the POC will detail Shell’s communications and consultations with E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES local subsistence communities concerning its planned 2015/2016 program, potential conflicts with subsistence activities, and means of resolving any such conflicts (50 CFR 216.104(a)(12)(i), (ii), and (iv)). Shell continues to document its contacts with the North Slope subsistence communities, as well as the substance of its communications with subsistence stakeholder groups. The POC identifies and documents potential conflicts and associated measures that will be taken to minimize any adverse effects on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence use. Outcomes of POC meetings are typically included in updates attached to the POC as addenda and distributed to federal, state, and local agencies as well as local stakeholder groups that either adjudicate or influence mitigation approaches for Shell’s activities. Shell will engage with the villages potentially impacted by the 2015/2016 ice overflight surveys in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in 2014 and early 2015. Meetings were held in Barrow and Point Lay in early November 2014 and additional engagements are scheduled with other villages in early 2015. Throughout 2015, and 2016 Shell anticipates continued engagement with the marine mammal commissions and committees active in the subsistence harvests and marine mammal research. Following the 2015/2016 season, Shell intends to have a post-season comanagement meeting with the commissioners and committee heads to discuss results of mitigation measures and outcomes of the preceding season. The goal of the post-season meeting is to build upon the knowledge base, discuss successful or unsuccessful outcomes of mitigation measures, and possibly refine plans or mitigation measures if necessary. In addition to the POC, the following subsistence mitigation measures will be implemented for Shell’s proposed ice overflight surveys. (1) Communications • Shell has developed a Communication Plan and will implement this plan before initiating ice overflight survey operations to coordinate activities with local subsistence users, as well as Village Whaling Captains’ Associations, to minimize the risk of interfering with subsistence hunting activities, and keep current as to the timing and status of the bowhead whale hunt and other subsistence hunts. • Shell will employ local CLOs and/ or SAs from the Chukchi Sea villages that are potentially impacted by Shell’s VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 ice overflight surveys. The CLOs and SAs will provide consultation and guidance regarding the whale migration and subsistence activities. There will be one per village. The CLO and/or SA will use local knowledge (Traditional Knowledge) to gather data on the subsistence lifestyle within the community and provide advice on ways to minimize and mitigate potential negative impacts to subsistence resources during the survey season. Responsibilities include reporting any subsistence concerns or conflicts; coordinating with subsistence users; reporting subsistence-related comments, concerns, and information; and advising how to avoid subsistence conflicts. (2) Aircraft Travel • The aircraft will maintain a 1 mi (1.6 km) radius when flying over areas where seals appear to be concentrated in groups of ≥5 individuals. • The aircraft will not land on ice within 0.5 mi (805 m) of hauled out pinnipeds. • The aircraft will avoid flying over polynyas and along adjacent ice margins as much as possible to minimize potential disturbance to cetaceans. • Aircraft shall not operate below 1,500 ft (457 m) in areas of active whale hunting; such areas to be identified through communications with the Com Centers and SAs. • Shell will routinely engage with local communities and subsistence groups to ensure no disturbance of whaling or other subsistence activities. Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Preliminary Determination NMFS considers that these mitigation measures including measures to reduce overall impacts to marine mammals in the vicinity of the proposed ice overflight survey area and measures to mitigate any potential adverse effects on subsistence use of marine mammals are adequate to ensure subsistence use of marine mammals in the vicinity of Shell’s proposed ice overflight surveys in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. 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 Shell’s proposed activities. Endangered Species Act (ESA) There are two marine mammal species listed as endangered under the PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 11411 ESA with confirmed or possible occurrence in the proposed project area: The bowhead whale and ringed seal. NMFS’ Permits and Conservation Division will initiate consultation with NMFS’ Endangered Species Division under section 7 of the ESA on the issuance of an IHA to Shell 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 preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA), pursuant to NEPA, to determine whether the issuance of an IHA to Shell for its 2015/2016 ice overflight surveys may have a significant impact on the human environment. NMFS has released a draft of the EA for public comment along with this proposed IHA. Proposed Authorization As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to Shell for conducting ice overflight surveys in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas during 2015/2016, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. The proposed IHA language is provided next. 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 May 1, 2015, through April 30, 2016. (2) This Authorization is valid only for activities associated with Shell’s 2015/2016 Chukchi and Beaufort Seas ice overflight surveys. The specific areas where Shell’s ice overflight surveys will be conducted are the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska, as indicated in Figure 1–1 of Shell’s IHA application. (3)(a) The incidental taking of marine mammals, by Level B harassment only, is limited to the following species: Bowhead whale; gray whale; beluga whale; ringed seal; bearded seal; spotted seal; and ribbon seal. (3)(b) The taking by injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or death of any of the species listed in Condition 3(a) or the taking of any kind of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension or revocation of this Authorization. (4) The authorization for taking by harassment is limited to the following activities: E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 11412 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices Ice overflight surveys during freezeup, winter, and break-up periods in 2015 and 2016 by aircraft. (5) The taking of any marine mammal in a manner prohibited under this Authorization must be reported immediately to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS or her designee. (6) 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 ice overflight surveys (unless constrained by the date of issuance of this Authorization in which case notification shall be made as soon as possible). (7) Ice Overflight Mitigation and Monitoring Requirements: The Holder of this Authorization is required to implement the following mitigation and monitoring requirements when conducting the specified activities to achieve the least practicable impact on affected marine mammal species or stocks: (a) A PSO will be aboard all flights recording all sightings/observations (e.g. including number of individuals, approximate age (when possible to determine)), and any type of potential reaction to the aircraft. Environmental information the observer will record includes weather, air temperature, cloud and ice cover, visibility conditions, and wind speed. (b) The aircraft will maintain a 1 mi radius when flying over areas where seals appear to be concentrated in groups of ≥5 individuals; (c) The aircraft will not land on ice within 0.5 mi of hauled out pinnipeds or polar bears; and (d) The aircraft will avoid flying over polynyas and along adjacent ice margins as much as possible to minimize potential disturbance to cetaceans. (8) Subsistence Mitigation Measures: To ensure no unmitigable adverse impact on subsistence uses of marine mammals, the Holder of this Authorization shall: (a) Develop and implement a Communication Plan before initiating ice overflight survey operations to coordinate activities with local subsistence users, as well as Village Whaling Captains’ Associations, to minimize the risk of interfering with subsistence hunting activities, and keep current as to the timing and status of the bowhead whale hunt and other subsistence hunts. (b) Employ local Community Liaison Officers (CLOs) and/or Subsistence Advisors (SAs) from the Chukchi Sea VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 villages that are potentially impacted by the ice overflight surveys. (A) The CLOs and SAs will provide consultation and guidance regarding the whale migration and subsistence activities. (B) The CLOs and SAs will also report any subsistence concerns or conflicts; coordinate with subsistence users; report subsistence-related comments, concerns, and information; and advise how to avoid subsistence conflicts. (c) Routinely engage with local communities and subsistence groups to ensure no disturbance of whaling or other subsistence activities. (9) Monitoring Measures: (a) Protected Species Observers: (A) Aerial monitoring for marine mammals will be conducted by a trained protected species observer (PSO) aboard each flight. (B) PSO duties will include watching for and identifying marine mammals, recording their numbers, distances from, and potential reactions to the presence of the aircraft, in addition to working with the helicopter pilots to identify areas for landings on ice that is clear of marine mammals. (b) Observer Qualifications and Training: (A) Observers will have previous marine mammal observation experience in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. (B) All observers will be trained and familiar with the marine mammals of the area, data collection protocols, reporting procedures, and required mitigation measures. (c) Specialized Field Equipment: (A) Fujinon 7 × 50 binoculars for visual monitoring, (B) GPS unit to document the route of each ice overflight, (C) Laptop computer for data entry, (D) Voice recorder to capture detailed observations and data for post flight entry into the computer, (E) Digital still cameras. (d) Field Data-Recording (A) The observer on the aircraft will record observations directly into computers using a custom software package. (B) The accuracy of the data entry will be verified in the field by computerized validity checks as the data are entered, and by subsequent manual checking following the flight. (C) Observers will capture the details of sightings and other observations with a voice recorder, which will maximize observation time and the collection of data. (D) During the course of the flights, the observer will record information for each sighting including: • Number of individuals, PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 • Approximate age (when possible to determine), • Any type of potential reaction to the aircraft. • Weather, air temperature, wind speed, cloud and ice cover, and • Visibility conditions. (10) Reporting Requirements: (a) Final Report: The results of Shell’s ice overflight monitoring report will be presented in the ‘‘90-day’’ final report, as required by NMFS under the proposed IHA. The initial final report is due to NMFS within 90 days after the expiration of the IHA. The report will include: (A) Summaries of monitoring effort: Total hours, total distances flown, and environmental conditions during surveys; (B) Summaries of occurrence, species composition, and distribution of all marine mammal sightings including date, numbers, age/size/gender categories (when discernible), group sizes, ice cover and other environmental variables; data will be visualized by plotting sightings relative to the position of the aircraft; and (C) Analyses of the potential effects of ice overflights on marine mammals and the number of individuals that may have been disturbed by aircraft. (b) The ‘‘90-day’’ report will 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. (11)(a) In the unanticipated event that the ice overflight surveys 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, Shell shall immediately cease operations and immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, by phone or email and the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. 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); (xi) and E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 41 / Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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 Shell to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Shell may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone. (b) In the event that Shell 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), Shell will immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, by phone or email and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. The report must include the same information identified in Condition 12(a) above. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with Shell to determine whether modifications in the activities are appropriate. (c) In the event that Shell 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 2 of this Authorization (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), Shell shall report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, by phone or email and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators, within 24 hours of the discovery. Shell shall provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. (12) The Plan of Cooperation outlining the steps that will be taken to cooperate and communicate with the VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:24 Mar 02, 2015 Jkt 235001 native communities to ensure the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses must be implemented. (13) Shell is required to comply with the Terms and Conditions of the Incidental Take Statement (ITS) corresponding to NMFS’s Biological Opinion issued to NMFS’s Office of Protected Resources. (14) A copy of this Authorization and the ITS must be in the possession of all contractors and PSOs operating under the authority of this Incidental Harassment Authorization. (15) Penalties and Permit Sanctions: Any person who violates any provision of this Incidental Harassment Authorization is subject to civil and criminal penalties, permit sanctions, and forfeiture as authorized under the MMPA. (16) 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. Request for Public Comment As noted above, NMFS requests comment on our analysis, the draft authorization, and any other aspect of the Notice of Proposed IHA for Shell’s 2015/2016 Chukchi and Beaufort Seas ice overflight surveys. Please include, with your comments, any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision on Shell’s request for an MMPA authorization. Dated: February 25, 2015. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2015–04345 Filed 3–2–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P COMMISSION OF FINE ARTS Notice of Meeting The next meeting of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts is scheduled for 19 March 2015, at 9:00 a.m. in the Commission offices at the National Building Museum, Suite 312, Judiciary PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 11413 Square, 401 F Street NW., Washington, DC 20001–2728. Items of discussion may include buildings, parks and memorials. Draft agendas and additional information regarding the Commission are available on our Web site: www.cfa.gov. Inquiries regarding the agenda and requests to submit written or oral statements should be addressed to Thomas Luebke, Secretary, U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, at the above address; by emailing staff@cfa.gov; or by calling 202–504–2200. Individuals requiring sign language interpretation for the hearing impaired should contact the Secretary at least 10 days before the meeting date. Dated: February 24, 2015, in Washington, DC. Thomas Luebke, Secretary. [FR Doc. 2015–04272 Filed 3–2–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6330–01–M DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE Office of the Secretary [Transmittal Nos. 15–09] 36(b)(1) Arms Sales Notification Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Department of Defense. ACTION: Notice. AGENCY: The Department of Defense is publishing the unclassified text of a section 36(b)(1) arms sales notification. This is published to fulfill the requirements of section 155 of Public Law 104–164 dated July 21, 1996. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. B. English, DSCA/DBO/CFM, (703) 601– 3740. The following is a copy of a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Transmittals 15–09 with attached transmittal, policy justification, and Sensitivity of Technology. SUMMARY: Dated: February 25, 2015. Aaron Siegel, Alternate OSD Federal Register Liaison Officer, Department of Defense. E:\FR\FM\03MRN1.SGM 03MRN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 41 (Tuesday, March 3, 2015)]
[Notices]
[Pages 11398-11413]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-04345]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XD732


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Shell Ice Overflight Surveys in the 
Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, 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 received an application from Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. 
(Shell) for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take marine 
mammals, by harassment, incidental to ice overflight surveys in the 
Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to 
issue an IHA to Shell to take, by Level B harassment only, seven 
species of marine mammals during the specified activity.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than April 2, 
2015.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie 
Harrison, Chief, 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. NMFS is not responsible for email 
comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments 
sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 10-
megabyte file size.
    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.
    A copy of the application, which contains several attachments used 
in this document, including Shell's marine mammal mitigation and 
monitoring plan (4MP) and Plan of Cooperation, may be obtained by 
writing to the address specified above, telephoning the

[[Page 11399]]

contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting 
the internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. 
Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, 
during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address.

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 2, 2014, Shell submitted an application to NMFS for the 
taking of marine mammals incidental to ice overflight surveys the 
Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska. After receiving comments and 
questions from NMFS, Shell revised its IHA application on January 13, 
2015. NMFS determined that the application was adequate and complete on 
January 15, 2015.
    The proposed activity would occur between May 1, 2015 and April 30, 
2016. The following specific aspects of the proposed activities are 
likely to result in the take of marine mammals: Ice overflight surveys 
using fixed and rotate winged aircraft when flying at low altitudes.
    Shell has requested an authorization to take seven marine mammal 
species by Level B harassment. These species include: Beluga whale 
(Delphinapterus leucas); bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus); gray whale 
(Eschrichtius robustus); bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus); ringed 
seal (Phoca hispida); spotted seal (P. largha); and ribbon seal 
(Histriophoca fasciata).

Description of the Specified Activity

Overview

    Shell plans to conduct two periods of ice overflight surveys during 
May 2015-April 2016: Break-up surveys and freeze-up surveys.
    Shell plans to conduct the overflight surveys from fixed wing and 
rotary aircraft. The aircraft to be used for the surveys are not 
currently under contract to Shell or a contractor to Shell. Ice and 
weather conditions will influence when and where the surveys can be 
conducted.

Dates and Duration

    For initial planning purposes, Shell proposes to conduct the 
overflight surveys during May 1, 2015 to April 30, 2016.

Specified Geographic Region

    The ice overflight survey areas are the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, 
Alaska, as indicated in Figure 1-1 of Shell's IHA application. Aircraft 
supporting these surveys will operate out of Barrow and Deadhorse, 
Alaska.

Detailed Description of Activities

(1) Proposed Break-Up Surveys
    The break-up surveys will occur between June and July in either the 
Chukchi or Beaufort Sea and will include:
     Up to five fixed-wing flights of approximately 1,500 nm 
total for up to approximately 13 hours total;
     One helicopter flight totaling of approximately 200 nm 
total for up to approximately 3 hours total.
    Flight altitudes for fixed wing surveys will range from 30 to 610 m 
(100 to 2,000 ft) but will mostly be at or above 152 m (500 ft). For 
helicopter flights, the altitude will range from 15 to 152 m (50 to 500 
ft) but will mostly be at or above 61 m (200 ft). Flights will occur 
when there is daylight. Aircraft are not scheduled to fly at the same 
time.
(2) Proposed Freeze-Up Surveys
    The freeze-up surveys will occur between November 2015 and March 
2016 in either the Chukchi or Beaufort Sea and will include:
     Up to seven fixed-wing flights of approximately 2,500 
nautical miles (nm) total in early winter for up to approximately 21 
hours total;
     One helicopter flight in the Beaufort of approximately 200 
nm that will include approximately 4 landings to collect ice 
measurements during late freeze-up including sampling with a battery 
powered ice auger for up to approximately 3 hours total.
    Flight altitudes for fixed wing surveys will range from 30 to 610 m 
(100 to 2,000 ft) but will mostly be at or above 152 m (500 ft). For 
helicopter flights, the altitude will range from 15 to 152 m (50 to 500 
ft) but will mostly be at or above 61 m (200 ft). Helicopter flights 
will also include landings. Flights will occur when there is daylight. 
Aircraft are not scheduled to fly at the same time.

Proposed Aircraft To Conduct Ice Overflight Surveys

    Shell plans to conduct the ice overflight surveys with an Aero 
Commander (or similar) fixed winged aircraft and a Bell 412, AW 139, EC 
145 (or similar) helicopter.
    Shell will also have a dedicated helicopter for Search and Rescue 
(SAR) for the spring 2015 surveys. The SAR helicopter is expected to be 
a Sikorsky S-92 (or similar). This aircraft will stay grounded at the 
Barrow shorebase location except during training drills, emergencies, 
and other non-routine events.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    The Chukchi and Beaufort Seas support a diverse assemblage of 
marine mammals, including: Bowhead, gray, beluga, killer, minke, 
humpback, and fin whales; harbor porpoise; ringed, ribbon, spotted, and 
bearded seals; narwhals; polar bears; and walruses. Both the walrus and 
the polar bear are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(USFWS) and are not considered further in this proposed IHA notice.
    Among the rest of marine mammal species, only beluga, bowhead, and 
gray whales, and ringed, spotted, bearded, and ribbon seals could 
potentially be affected by the proposed ice overflight activity. The 
remaining cetacean species

[[Page 11400]]

are rare and not likely to be encountered during Shell's ice overflight 
surveys, which are planned either during winter when nearly 10/10 ice 
coverage is present, or during spring when sea ice also pre-dominants 
the study area. Therefore, these species are not further discussed.
    The bowhead whale is listed as ``endangered'' under the Endangered 
Species Act (ESA) and as depleted under the MMPA. The ringed seal is 
listed as ``threatened'' under the ESA. Certain stocks or populations 
of gray and beluga whales and spotted seals are listed as endangered 
under the ESA; however, none of those stocks or populations occur in 
the proposed activity area.
    Shell's application contains information on the status, 
distribution, seasonal distribution, abundance, and life history of 
each of the species under NMFS' jurisdiction mentioned in this 
document. When reviewing the application, NMFS determined that the 
species descriptions provided by Shell correctly characterized the 
status, distribution, seasonal distribution, and abundance of each 
species. Please refer to the application for that information (see 
ADDRESSES). Additional information can also be found in the NMFS Stock 
Assessment Reports (SAR). The Alaska 2013 SAR is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/pdf/ak2013_final.pdf.
    Table 1 lists the seven marine mammal species under NMFS' 
jurisdiction with confirmed or possible occurrence in the proposed 
project area.

           Table 1--Marine Mammal Species and Stocks That Could Be Affected by Shell's Ice Overflight Surveys in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
          Common name              Scientific name         Status            Occurrence          Seasonality              Range              Abundance
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                       Odontocetes
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Beluga whale (Eastern Chukchi    Dephinapterus       ..................  Common............  Mostly spring and   Russia to Canada.......           3,710
 Sea stock).                      leucas.                                                     fall with some in
                                                                                              summer.
Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea       Delphinapterus      ..................  Common............  Mostly spring and   Russia to Canada.......          39,258
 stock).                          leucas.                                                     fall with some in
                                                                                              summer.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                       Mysticetes
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead whale..................  Balaena mysticetus  Endangered;         Common............  Mostly spring and   Russia to Canada.......          19,534
                                                      Depleted.                               fall with some in
                                                                                              summer.
Gray whale.....................  Eschrichtius        ..................  Somewhat common...  Mostly summer.....  Mexico to the U.S.               19,126
                                  robustus.                                                                       Arctic Ocean.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                        Pinnipeds
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bearded seal (Beringia distinct  Erigathus barbatus  Candidate.........  Common............  Spring and summer.  Bering, Chukchi, and            155,000
 population segment).                                                                                             Beaufort Seas.
Ringed seal (Arctic stock).....  Phoca hispida.....  Threatened;         Common............  Year round........  Bering, Chukchi, and            300,000
                                                      Depleted.                                                   Beaufort Seas.
Spotted seal...................  Phoca largha......  ..................  Common............  Summer............  Japan to U.S. Arctic            141,479
                                                                                                                  Ocean.
Ribbon seal....................  Histriophoca        Species of concern  Occasional........  Summer............  Russia to U.S. Arctic            49,000
                                  fasciata.                                                                       Ocean.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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., 
aircraft overflight) 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.
    The reasonably expected or reasonably likely impacts of the 
specified activities on marine mammals will be related primarily to 
localized, short-term acoustic disturbance from aircraft flying 
primarily over areas covered by sea ice with limited flight activity 
over open water and adjacent ice edges. The acoustic sense of marine 
mammals probably constitutes their most important distance receptor

[[Page 11401]]

system. Potential acoustic effects relate to sound produced by 
helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
    Dominant tones in noise spectra from helicopters are generally 
below 500 Hz (Greene and Moore 1995). Harmonics of the main rotor and 
tail rotor usually dominate the sound from helicopters; however, many 
additional tones associated with the engines and other rotating parts 
are sometimes present. Because of Doppler shift effects, the 
frequencies of tones received at a stationary site diminish when an 
aircraft passes overhead. The apparent frequency is increased while the 
aircraft approaches and is reduced while it moves away.
    Aircraft flyovers are not heard underwater for very long, 
especially when compared to how long they are heard in air as the 
aircraft approaches an observer. Very few cetaceans, including the 
species in the proposed ice overflight survey areas, are expected to be 
encountered during ice overflights due to the low density of cetacean 
species in the winter survey area and small area to be flown over open 
water during spring. Most of these effects are expected in open-water 
where limited aircraft noise could penetrate into the water column. For 
cetaceans under the ice, the noise levels from the aircraft are 
expected to be dramatically reduced by floating ice. Long-term or 
population level effects are not expected.
    Evidence from flyover studies of ringed and bearded seals suggests 
that a reaction to helicopters is more common than to fixed wing 
aircraft, all else being equal (Born et al. 1999; Burns and Frost 
1979). Under calm conditions, rotor and engine sounds are coupled into 
the water through ice within a 26[deg] cone beneath the aircraft 
(Richardson et al. 1995). Scattering and absorption, however, will 
limit lateral propagation in the shallow water (Greene and Moore 1995). 
The majority of seals encountered by fixed wing aircraft are unlikely 
to show a notable disturbance reaction, and approximately half of the 
seals encountered by helicopters may react by moving from ice into the 
water (Born et al. 1999). Any potential disturbance from aircraft to 
seals in the area of ice overflights will be localized and short-term 
in duration with no population level effects.
    Historically, there have been far greater levels of aviation 
activity in the offshore Chukchi and Beaufort Seas compared with that 
of the proposed ice overflights. None of this previous offshore 
aviation activity is believed to have resulted in long-term impacts to 
marine mammals, as demonstrated by results from a wide range of 
monitoring programs and scientific studies. Impacts to marine mammals 
from aviation activities in Arctic offshore habitats have been shown to 
be, at most, short-term and highly-localized in nature (e.g., Funk et 
al. 2013; Richardson et al. 1985a, b; Patenaude et al. 2002; Born et 
al. 1999).
    The effect of aircraft overflight on marine mammals will depend on 
the behavior of the animal at the time of reception of the stimulus, as 
well as the distance from the aircraft and received level of sound. 
Cetaceans (such as bowhead, gray, and beluga whales) will only be 
present, and thus have the potential to be disturbed, when aircraft fly 
over open water in between ice floes; seals may be disturbed when 
aircraft are over open water or over ice on which seals may be present. 
Disturbance reactions are likely to vary among some of the seals in the 
general vicinity, and not all of the seals present are expected to 
react to fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.
    Behavioral distances from marine mammals also depend on the 
altitudes of the aircraft overflight. Marine mammals are not likely to 
be affected by aircraft overflights that are above 1,000 ft. Therefore, 
behavioral harassments discussed above are only limited to those 
aircraft flying at lower altitudes. Proposed monitoring measures 
discussed below would further reduce potential affects from Shell's 
proposed ice overflight surveys.
    In light of the nature of the activities, and for the reasons 
described below, NMFS does not expect marine mammals will be injured or 
killed as a result of ice overflight surveys. In addition, due to the 
low received noise levels from aircraft overflights, NMFS does not 
expect marine mammals will experience hearing impairment such as TTS or 
PTS.
    Of the seal species which may be encountered, only ringed seals are 
abundant in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas during the winter and early 
spring when the overflights are scheduled to occur. In March-April, 
ringed seals give birth in subnivean lairs established on shorefast and 
stable pack ice (Smith and Stirling 1975; Smith 1973). Ringed seals in 
subnivean layers have been known to react to aircraft overhead by 
entering the water in some instances (Kelly et al. 1986); however, 
there is no evidence to indicate injurious effects to adults or pups 
from such a response.
    Bearded seals spend the winter season in the Bering Sea, and then 
follow the ice edge as it retreats in spring (MacIntyre and Stafford 
2011). Large numbers of bearded seals are unlikely to be present in the 
project area during the time of planned operations. However, some 
individuals may be encountered. Spotted seals are found in the Bering 
Sea in winter and spring where they breed, molt, and pup in large 
groups (Quakenbush 1988; Rugh et al. 1997). Few spotted seals are 
expected to be encountered in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas until July. 
Even then, they are rarely seen on pack ice but are commonly observed 
hauled out on land or swimming in open water (Lowry et al. 1998). The 
ice overflights are designed to maximize flying over ice, avoiding 
coastal and terrestrial areas. Haul outs for spotted seals are 
generally known, and Shell will avoid these areas during the break up 
surveys.
    Based on extensive analysis of digital imagery taken during aerial 
surveys in support of Shell's 2012 operations in the Chukchi and 
Beaufort Seas, ice seals are very infrequently observed hauled out on 
the ice in groups of greater than one individual (Shell 2015). Tens of 
thousands of images from 17 flights that took place from July through 
October were reviewed in detail. Of 107 total observations of spotted 
or ringed seals on ice, only three of those sightings were of a group 
of two individuals (Shell 2015). Since seals typically are found as 
individuals or in very small groups when they are in the project area, 
the chance of a stampede event is very unlikely. Finally, ice seals are 
well adapted to move between ice and water without injury, including 
``escape reactions'' to avoid predators.
    Ringed and bearded seals sometimes, but not always, dive when 
approached by low-flying aircraft (Burns and Frost 1979; Burns et al. 
1982). Ringed and bearded seals may be more sensitive to helicopter 
sounds than to fixed-wing aircraft (Burns and Frost 1979). In 2000, 
during a study on the impacts of pipe-driving sounds on pinnipeds at 
Northstar in the Beaufort Sea which involved helicopter, only some of 
the ringed seals present exhibited a reaction to an approaching 
helicopter (Blackwell et al. 2001). Of 23 individuals, only 11 reacted; 
of those 11, 10 increased alertness and only 1 moved into the water 
(when the helicopter was 100 m away; Blackwell et al. 2004). Reactions 
of ringed seals while they are in subnivean lairs vary with the 
characteristics of the flyover, including lateral distance and altitude 
of aircraft (Kelly et al. 1986).
    The sound of aircraft is also reduced by the snow of the lair 
(Cummings and Holliday 1983). Spotted seals are sensitive to aircraft, 
reacting erratically at considerable distances which may result in 
mother-pup separation or injury to pups (Frost et al. 1993, Rugh et al. 
1993). However, as previously

[[Page 11402]]

noted, few spotted seals are expected to be present in the project area 
during the time of planned ice overflights, and overflights will focus 
on offshore areas as opposed to terrestrial habitat with potential 
spotted seal haulouts.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    Shell's planned 2015/16 ice overflight surveys will not result in 
any permanent impact on habitats used by marine mammals, or to their 
prey sources. The primary potential impacts on marine mammal habitat 
and prey resources that are reasonably expected or reasonably likely 
are associated with elevated sound levels from the aircraft passing 
overhead. Effects on marine mammal habitat from the generation of sound 
from the planned surveys would be negligible and temporary, lasting 
only as long as the aircraft is overhead. Water column effects will be 
localized and ephemeral, lasting only the duration of the aircrafts 
presence. All effects on marine mammal habitat from the planned surveys 
are expected to be negligible and confined to very small areas within 
the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
    The primary effect of the sound energy generated by ice overflight 
survey activities on marine mammal habitat will be the ensonification 
of the water column and air at the surface. Sound energy can also 
affect invertebrates and fish that are marine mammal prey, and thereby 
indirectly impact the marine mammals.
    Levels and duration of sounds received by marine mammals underwater 
from a passing helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft are a function of the 
type of aircraft, orientation and altitude of the aircraft, depth of 
the animal, and water depth. Aircraft sounds are detectable underwater 
at greater distances when the receiver is in shallow rather than deep 
water. Generally, sound levels received underwater decrease as the 
altitude of the aircraft increases (Richardson et al. 1995a). The 
nature of sounds produced by aircraft activities does not pose a direct 
threat to the underwater marine mammal habitat or prey.
    Aircraft sounds are audible for much greater distances in air than 
in water. Under calm conditions, rotor and engine sounds are coupled 
into the water within a 26[deg] cone beneath the aircraft. Some of the 
sound will transmit beyond the immediate area, and some sound will 
enter the water outside the 26 degree area when the sea surface is 
rough. However, scattering and absorption will limit lateral 
propagation in shallow water. Dominant tones in noise spectra from 
helicopters are generally below 500 Hz (Greene and Moore 1995). Because 
of Doppler shift effects, the frequencies of tones received at a 
stationary site diminish when an aircraft passes overhead. The apparent 
frequency is increased while the aircraft approaches and is reduced 
while it moves away. Sounds generated underwater from aircraft flyovers 
are of short duration.
    Helicopters will generally maintain straight-line routes, thereby 
limiting the sound levels at and below the surface. Given the timing 
and location of the proposed ice overflight activities, as well as the 
mitigation measures that will be implemented as a part of the program, 
any impacts from aircraft traffic on marine mammal habitat or prey will 
be localized and temporary with no anticipated population level 
effects.

Proposed Mitigation

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under 
sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA, NMFS must, where applicable, 
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). This section summarizes the contents 
of Shell's Marine Mammal Monitoring and Mitigation Plan (4MP). Later in 
this document in the ``Proposed Incidental Harassment Authorization'' 
section, NMFS lays out the proposed conditions for review, as they 
would appear in the final IHA (if issued).
    Shell submitted a 4MP as part of its application (see ADDRESSES). 
Shell proposes a suite of mitigation measures to minimize any adverse 
impacts associated with the ice overflight surveys in the Chukchi and 
Beaufort Sea. These include, among others discussed in the 4MP (See 
Attachment A of Shell's IHA application), the following: (1) The timing 
and locations for active survey acquisition work; and (2) increasing 
altitude or deviating from survey tract when the protected species 
observers sight visually (from the aircraft) the presence of marine 
mammals. The mitigation measures are presented in the 4MP. To 
summarize:
     A PSO will be aboard all flights recording all sightings/
observations (e.g. including number of individuals, approximate age 
(when possible to determine), and any type of potential reaction to the 
aircraft). Environmental information the observer will record includes 
weather, air temperature, cloud and ice cover, visibility conditions, 
and wind speed.
     The aircraft will maintain a 1 mi radius when flying over 
areas where seals appear to be concentrated in groups of >=5 
individuals;
     The aircraft will not land on ice within 0.5 mi of hauled 
out pinnipeds or polar bears;
     The aircraft will avoid flying over polynyas and along 
adjacent ice margins as much as possible to minimize potential 
disturbance to cetaceans; and
     Shell will routinely engage with local communities and 
subsistence groups to ensure no disturbance of whaling or other 
subsistence activities.

Mitigation Conclusions

    NMFS has carefully evaluated the applicant'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 measure is 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 noises generated from ice overflight surveys, 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 noises generated from ice overflight surveys, or 
other activities expected to

[[Page 11403]]

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 noises generated from ice overflight surveys, or other 
activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal 
may contribute to a, 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. 
Shell submitted a marine mammal monitoring plan as part of the IHA 
application. It can be found in Appendix B of the Shell's 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 the probability of detecting marine mammals, both 
within the mitigation zone (thus allowing for more effective 
implementation of the mitigation) and in general to generate more data 
to contribute to the analyses mentioned below;
    2. An increase in our understanding of how many marine mammals are 
likely to be exposed to levels of noises generated from ice overflight 
surveys that we associate with specific adverse effects, such as 
behavioral harassment, TTS, or PTS;
    3. An increase in our understanding of how marine mammals respond 
to stimuli expected to result in take and how anticipated adverse 
effects on individuals (in different ways and to varying degrees) may 
impact the population, species, or stock (specifically through effects 
on annual rates of recruitment or survival) through any of the 
following methods:
    [ssquf] Behavioral observations in the presence of stimuli compared 
to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to 
accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other 
pertinent information);
    [ssquf] Physiological measurements in the presence of stimuli 
compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to 
accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other 
pertinent information);
    [ssquf] Distribution and/or abundance comparisons in times or areas 
with concentrated stimuli versus times or areas without stimuli;
    4. An increased knowledge of the affected species; and
    5. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of certain 
mitigation and monitoring measures.

Proposed Monitoring Measures

(1) Protected Species Observers
    Aerial monitoring for marine mammals will be conducted by a trained 
protected species observer (PSO) aboard each flight. PSO duties will 
include watching for and identifying marine mammals, recording their 
numbers, distances from, and potential reactions to the presence of the 
aircraft, in addition to working with the helicopter pilots to identify 
areas for landings on ice that is clear of marine mammals.
(2) Observer Qualifications and Training
    Observers will have previous marine mammal observation experience 
in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. All observers will be trained and 
familiar with the marine mammals of the area, data collection 
protocols, reporting procedures, and required mitigation measures.
(3) Specialized Field Equipment
    The following specialized field equipment for use by the onboard 
PSO: Fujinon 7 X 50 binoculars for visual monitoring, a GPS unit to 
document the route of each ice overflight, a laptop computer for data 
entry, a voice recorder to capture detailed observations and data for 
post flight entry into the computer, and digital still cameras.
(4) Field Data-Recording
    The observer on the aircraft will record observations directly into 
computers using a custom software package. The accuracy of the data 
entry will be verified in the field by computerized validity checks as 
the data are entered, and by subsequent manual checking following the 
flight. Additionally, observers will capture the details of sightings 
and other observations with a voice recorder, which will maximize 
observation time and the collection of data. These procedures will 
allow initial summaries of data to be prepared during and shortly after 
the surveys, and will facilitate transfer of the data to statistical, 
graphical or other programs for further processing.
    During the course of the flights, the observer will record 
information for each sighting including number of individuals, 
approximate age (when possible to determine), and any type of potential 
reaction to the aircraft. Environmental information the observer will 
record includes weather, air temperature, cloud and ice cover, 
visibility conditions, and wind speed.

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)).

[[Page 11404]]

    NMFS has established an independent peer review panel to review 
Shell's 4MP for ice overflight survey in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. 
The panel is scheduled to meet in early March 2015, and will provide 
comments to NMFS shortly after they meet. After completion of the peer 
review, NMFS will consider all recommendations made by the panel, 
incorporate appropriate changes into the monitoring requirements of the 
IHA (if issued), and publish the panel's findings and recommendations 
in the final IHA notice of issuance or denial document.

Reporting Measures

(1) Final Report
    The results of Shell's ice overflight monitoring report will be 
presented in the ``90-day'' final report, as required by NMFS under the 
proposed IHA. The initial final report is due to NMFS within 90 days 
after the expiration of the IHA (if issued). The report will include:
     Summaries of monitoring effort: Total hours, total 
distances flown, and environmental conditions during surveys;
     Summaries of occurrence, species composition, and 
distribution of all marine mammal sightings including date, numbers, 
age/size/gender categories (when discernible), group sizes, ice cover 
and other environmental variables; data will be visualized by plotting 
sightings relative to the position of the aircraft; and
     Analyses of the potential effects of ice overflights on 
marine mammals and the number of individuals that may have been 
disturbed by aircraft.
    The ``90-day'' report will 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.
(2) Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals
    Shell will be required to notify NMFS' Office of Protected 
Resources and NMFS' Stranding Network of any sighting of an injured or 
dead marine mammal. Based on different circumstances, Shell may or may 
not be required to stop operations upon such a sighting. Shell will 
provide NMFS with the species or description of the animal(s), the 
condition of the animal(s) (including carcass condition if the animal 
is dead), location, time of first discovery, observed behaviors (if 
alive), and photo or video (if available). The specific language 
describing what Shell must do upon sighting a dead or injured marine 
mammal can be found in the ``Proposed Incidental Harassment 
Authorization'' section of this document.

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 is anticipated as a result of the proposed ice overflight 
surveys.
    As discussed earlier in this document, potential noise impacts to 
marine mammals from ice overflight surveys would be limited in a 
26[deg] cone under the flight path. The intensity of noise enters the 
water depends on the altitude of the aircraft (Richardson et al. 1995). 
Scattering and absorption, however, will limit lateral propagation in 
the shallow water (Greene and Moore 1995).

Basis for Estimating ``Take by Harassment''

    Exposures were calculated in the following sections for cetaceans 
and seals. The methods used to estimate exposure for each species group 
was fundamentally the same with minor differences as described below. 
Exposure estimates for cetaceans were calculated by multiplying the 
anticipated area to be flown over open water each season (winter and 
spring) by the expected densities of cetaceans that may occur in the 
survey area.
    Exposures of seals were calculated by multiplying the anticipated 
area to be flown over open water and ice in each season (winter and 
spring) by the expected densities of seals that may occur in the survey 
area by the proportion of seals on ice that may actually show a 
disturbance reaction to each type of aircraft (Born et al. 1999).

Marine Mammal Density Estimates

    Marine mammal density estimates in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas 
have been derived for two time periods: The winter period covering 
November through April, and the spring period including May through 
early July.
    There is some uncertainty about the representativeness of the data 
and assumptions used in the calculations. To provide some allowance for 
uncertainties, ``average'' as well as ``maximum'' estimates of the 
numbers of marine mammals potentially affected have been derived. For a 
few species, several density estimates were available. In those cases, 
the mean and maximum estimates were determined from the reported 
densities or survey data. In other cases, only one or no applicable 
estimate was available, so correction factors were used to arrive at 
``average'' and ``maximum'' estimates. These are described in detail in 
the following sections.
    In Polar Regions, most pinnipeds are associated with sea ice and 
typical census methods involve counting pinnipeds when they are hauled 
out on ice. In the Beaufort Sea, abundance surveys typically occur in 
spring when ringed seals emerge from their lairs (Frost et al. 2004). 
Depending on the species and study, a correction factor for the 
proportion of animals hauled out at any one time may or may not have 
been applied (depending on whether an appropriate correction factor was 
available for the particular species, area, and time period). By 
applying a correction factor, the density of the pinniped species in an 
area can be estimated.
    Detectability bias, quantified in part by f(0), is associated with 
diminishing sightability with increasing lateral distance from the 
survey trackline. Availability bias, g(0), refers to the fact that 
there is <100 percent probability of sighting an animal that is present 
along the survey trackline. Some sources below included these 
correction factors in the reported densities (e.g. ringed seals in 
Bengtson et al. 2005) and the best available correction factors were 
applied to reported results when they had not already been included 
(e.g. bearded seals in Bengtson et al. 2005).
(1) Cetaceans: Winter
(A) Beluga Whales
    Beluga whale density estimates were calculated based on aerial 
survey data collected in October in the eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea by 
the NMML (as part of the BWASP program funded by BOEMRE) in 2007-2010. 
They reported 31 sightings of 66 individual whales during 1597 km of 
on-transect effort over waters 200-2000 m deep. An f(0) value of 2.326 
was applied and it was calculated using beluga whale sightings data 
collected in the Canadian Beaufort Sea (Innes et al. 2002). A g(0) 
value of 0.419 was used that represents a combination of ga(0) = 0.55 
(Innes et al. 2002) and gd(0) = 0.762 (Harwood et al. 1996). The 
resulting densities were then multiplied by 0.10 because the Beaufort

[[Page 11405]]

Sea and north-eastern Chukchi Sea is believed to be at the edge of the 
species' range in by November. Belugas typically migrate into the 
Bering Sea for the winter (Allen and Angliss 2014) and are not expected 
to be present in the study area in the winter. Satellite tagging data 
support this and indicate belugas migrate out of the Beaufort Sea in 
the October-November period (Suydam et al. 2005).
(B) Bowhead Whales
    Bowhead whale density estimates in the winter in the planned ice 
overflight area are expected to be quite low. Miller et al. (2002) 
presented a 10-day moving average of bowhead whale abundance in the 
eastern Beaufort Sea using data from 1979-2000 that showed a decrease 
of ~90% from early to late October. Based on these data, it is expected 
that almost all whales that had been in the Chukchi Sea during early 
October would likely have migrated beyond the survey areas by November-
December. In addition, kernel density estimates and animal tracklines 
generated from satellite-tagged bowhead whales, along with acoustic 
monitoring data, suggest that few bowhead whales are present in the 
proposed survey area in November (near Point Barrow), and no whales 
were present in December (ADFG 2010; Moore et al. 2010). Therefore, 
minimal density estimates (0.0001 whales/km\2\) were used.
(C) Gray whales
    Gray whales may be encountered as they have been detected near Pt. 
Barrow throughout the winter (Moore et al. 2006, Stafford et al. 2007), 
but they are expected to be very rare. Thus no density estimate is 
available.
(2) Cetaceans: Spring
(A) Beluga Whales
    Spring densities of beluga whales in offshore waters are expected 
to be low, with somewhat higher densities in ice-margin and nearshore 
areas. Past aerial surveys have recorded few belugas in the offshore 
Chukchi Sea during the summer months and belugas are most likely 
encountered in offshore waters of the eastern Alaskan Beaufort Sea 
(Moore et al. 2000). More recent aerial surveys from 2008-2012 flown by 
the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) as part of the Chukchi 
Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area (COMIDA) project, now part of the 
Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) project, reported 10 
beluga sightings (22 individuals) in offshore waters during 22,154 km 
of on-transect effort. Larger groups of beluga whales were recorded in 
nearshore areas, especially in June and July during the spring 
migration (Clarke and Ferguson in prep; Clarke et al. 2012, 2013). 
Effort and sightings reported by Clarke and Ferguson (in prep.) and 
Clarke et al. (2012, 2013) were used to calculate the average open-
water density estimate.
    Those aerial surveys recorded 10 on-transect beluga sightings (22 
individuals) during 22,154 km of on transect effort in waters 36-50 m 
deep in the Chukchi Sea during July and August. The mean group size of 
the sightings was 2.2. An f(0) value of 2.841 and g(0) value of 0.58 
from Harwood et al. (1996) were also used in the density calculation 
resulting in an average open-water density of 0.0024 belugas/km\2\. 
Specific data on the relative abundance of beluga whales in open-water 
versus ice-margin habitat during the summer in the Chukchi Sea is not 
available. However, belugas are commonly associated with ice, 
particularly ice edges and adjacent polynyas, so an inflation factor of 
4 was used to estimate the ice-margin densities from the open-water 
densities.
(B) Bowhead Whales
    Eastward migrating bowhead whales were recorded during industry 
aerial surveys of the continental shelf near Camden Bay in 2008 until 
12 July (Christie et al. 2010). No bowhead sightings were recorded 
again, despite continued flights, until 19 August. Aerial surveys by 
industry operators did not begin until late August of 2006 and 2007, 
but in both years bowheads were also recorded in the region before the 
end of August (Lyons et al. 2009). The late August sightings were 
likely of bowheads beginning their fall migration so the densities 
calculated from those surveys were not used to estimate summer 
densities in this region. The three surveys in July of 2008 resulted in 
density estimates of 0.0099, 0.0717, and 0.0186 bowhead whales/km\2\, 
respectively (Christie et al. 2010). The estimate of 0.0186 whales/
km\2\ was used as the average nearshore density and the estimate of 0 
0.0717 whales/km2 was used as the maximum. Sea ice was not present 
during these surveys. Moore et al. (2000) reported that bowhead whales 
in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea were distributed uniformly relative to sea 
ice.
(C) Gray Whales
    Gray whales are expected to be present in the Chukchi Sea but are 
unlikely in the Beaufort Sea. Moore et al. (2000) found the 
distribution of gray whales in Chukchi Sea was scattered and limited to 
nearshore areas where most whales were observed in water less than 35 m 
deep. The average open-water summer density (Table 2) was calculated 
from 2008-2012 aerial survey effort and sightings in Clarke and 
Ferguson (in prep) and Clarke et al. (2012, 2013) for water depths 36-
50 m including 98 sightings (137 individuals) during 22,154 km of on-
transect effort. The average group size of those sightings was 1.4. 
Correction factors f(0) = 2.49 (Forney and Barlow 1998) and g(0) = 0.30 
(Forney and Barlow 1998, Mallonee 1991) were used to calculate and 
average open-water density of 0.0253 gray whales/km\2\ (Table 2). The 
highest density from the survey periods reported in Clarke and Ferguson 
(in prep) and Clarke et al. (2012, 2013) was 0.0268 gray whales/km\2\ 
in 2012 and this was used as the maximum open-water density.
(3) Pinnipeds: Winter
(A) Ringed Seals
    Ringed seal densities were taken from offshore aerial surveys of 
the pack ice zone conducted in spring 1999 and 2000 (Bengtson et al. 
2005). Seal distribution and density in spring, prior to break-up, are 
thought to reflect distribution patterns established earlier in the 
year (i.e., during the winter months; Frost et al. 2004). The average 
density from those two years (weighted by survey effort) was 0.4892 
seals/km\2\. This value served as the average density while the highest 
density from the two years (0.8100 seals/km\2\ in 1999) was used as the 
maximum density.
(B) Other Seal Species
    Other seal species are not expected to be present in the ice 
overflight survey area in large numbers during the winter period of the 
ice overflights. Bearded, spotted, and ribbon seals would be present in 
the area in smaller numbers than ringed seals during spring through 
fall summer, but these less common seal species generally migrate into 
the southern Chukchi and Bering Seas during fall and remain there 
through the winter (Allen and Angliss 2014). Few satellite-tagging 
studies have been conducted on these species in the Beaufort Sea, 
winter surveys have not been conducted, and a few bearded seals have 
been reported over the continental shelf in spring prior to general 
break-up. However, the tracks of three bearded seals tagged in 2009 
moved south into the Bering Sea along the continental shelf by November 
(Cameron and Boveng 2009). These species would be more common in the 
area during spring through fall, but it is possible that some 
individuals, bearded seals in particular, may be present in the area 
surveyed in winter. Ribbon seals

[[Page 11406]]

are unlikely to be present in the survey area during winter as they 
also migrate southward from the northeastern Chukchi Sea during this 
period. In the absence of better information from the published 
literature or other sources that would indicate that significant 
numbers of any of these species might be present during winter, minimal 
density estimates were used for these species. Estimates for bearded 
seals were assumed to be slightly higher than those for spotted and 
ribbon seals.
(4) Pinnipeds: Spring
    Three species of pinnipeds under NMFS' jurisdiction are likely to 
be encountered in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas during planned ice 
overflights in spring of 2015: Ringed, bearded, and spotted seals. 
Ringed and bearded seals are associated with both the ice margin and 
the nearshore open water area during spring. Spotted seals are often 
considered to be predominantly a coastal species except in the spring 
when they may be found in the southern margin of the retreating sea 
ice. However, satellite tagging has shown that some individuals 
undertake long excursions into offshore waters during summer (Lowry et 
al. 1994, 1998). Ribbon seals have been reported in very small numbers 
within the Chukchi Sea by observers on industry vessels (Patterson et 
al. 2007, Hartin et al. 2013).
(A) Ringed Seal and Bearded Seal
    Ringed seal and bearded seal ``average'' and ``maximum'' spring 
densities were available in Bengtson et al. (2005) from spring surveys 
in the offshore pack ice zone (zone 12P) of the northern Chukchi Sea. 
However, corrections for bearded seal availability, g(0), based on 
haulout and diving patterns were not available.
(B) Spotted Seal
    Little information on spotted seal densities in offshore areas of 
the Alaskan Arctic is available. Spotted seal densities in the spring 
were estimated by multiplying the ringed seal densities by 0.02. This 
was based on the ratio of the estimated occurrence of the two species 
during ice overflight surveys and the assumption that the vast majority 
of seals present in areas of pack ice would be ringed seals (Funk et 
al., 2010; 2013).
(C) Ribbon Seal
    Four ribbon seal sightings were reported during industry vessel 
operations in the Chukchi Sea in 2006-2010 (Hartin et al. 2013). The 
resulting density estimate of 0.0007/km\2\ was used as the average 
density and 4 times that was used as the maximum for the spring season.

Estimated Areas Where Cetaceans May Be Encountered by Aircraft

    Encounters that may result in potential disturbance of cetaceans 
will likely occur only in open water. Flight paths over open water and 
adjacent ice edges will be minimized by the objectives of the program 
as an effort to reduce encounters with cetaceans. It is estimated that 
five to ten percent of distance flown in winter will be over open 
water, and ten to twenty percent of distance flown in spring will be 
over open water. We applied the most conservative of these percentages 
to the proposed tracklines in winter and spring to estimate the area of 
open water exposed by planned ice overflights.
    The potential disturbance area for each season was based on flight 
altitude and lateral distance of cetaceans from the center trackline. 
Based on known air-to-water propagation paths, cetaceans may be exposed 
to sounds produced by the aircraft when individuals are up to 13 
degrees from the aircraft's center (Snell's law; Urick 1972 in 
Richardson et al. 1995). It was assumed that cetaceans in open water 
could be disturbed within 13 degrees of vertical (i.e., a 26-degree 
cone) from the location of an aircraft when aircraft are 305 m (1,000 
ft) or lower. NMFS considers aircraft above this altitude would not 
appreciably disturb cetaceans in open water below. This 305-m maximum 
disturbance altitude and Snell's law results in a maximum potential 
disturbance radius of approximately 70 m. Based on Snell's law 
(Richardson et al. 1995) and a 305 m flight altitude, we used a 
conservative radius of 75 m to calculate the potential disturbance area 
beneath an aircraft for cetaceans in open-water conditions.
    Table 2 summarizes potential disturbance radii, maximum flight 
distances over open water, and potential disturbance areas for 
cetaceans from fixed wing aircraft and helicopters during Shell's 
proposed ice overflights program in winter (November through April) and 
spring (May through early July). Maximum percentage of total trackline 
over open water, as based on previous surveys, is 10% and 20% of the 
total trackline for winter and spring, respectively. Based on maximum 
flight distances, percent open water, and a potential disturbance 
radius of 75 m for fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, a total of 169 
km2 of open-water could be disturbed. Approximately 45% of 
this total estimated open-water area would be surveyed in winter and 
the remaining 55% would be surveyed during spring.

[[Page 11407]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TN03MR15.010

Estimated Areas Where Seals May Be Encountered by Aircraft
    Fixed wing and helicopter flights over ice at ice overflight survey 
altitudes have the potential to disturb seals hauled out on ice, 
although the flight altitude and lateral distances at which seals may 
react to aircraft are highly variable (Born et al. 1999; Burns et al. 
1982; Burns and Frost 1979). The probability of a seal hauled out on 
ice reacting to a fixed wing aircraft or helicopter is influenced by a 
combination of variables such as flight altitude, lateral distance from 
the aircraft, ambient conditions (e.g., wind chill), activity, and time 
of day (Born et al. 1999). Evidence from flyover studies of ringed and 
bearded seals suggests that a reaction to helicopters is more common 
than to fixed wing aircraft, all else being equal (Born et al. 1999; 
Burns and Frost 1979).
    Born et al. (1999) investigated the reactions of ringed seals 
hauled out on ice to aircraft. The threshold lateral distances from the 
aircraft trackline out to which the vast majority of reactions were 
observed were 600 and 1500 m for fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, 
respectively. Many individual ringed seals within these distances; 
however, did not react (Born et al. 1999). Results indicated ~6% and 
~49% of total seals observed reacted to fixed wing aircraft and 
helicopters, respectively, by entering the water when aircraft were 
flown over ice at altitudes similar to those proposed for Shell's ice 
overflight surveys as described in the Description of the Specific 
Activity section. These lateral distances and reaction probabilities 
were used as guidelines for estimating the area of sea ice habitat 
within which hauled out seals may be disturbed by aircraft and the 
number of seals that might react. Born et al. 1999, also was used as a 
guideline in a similar fashion for estimating the numbers of seals that 
would react to helicopters during U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service polar 
bear tagging in 2011 and 2012, in which an IHA was issued by NMFS (NMFS 
2011).
    Table 3 summarizes potential disturbance radii, maximum flight 
distances, and potential disturbance areas for seals from fixed wing 
aircraft and helicopters during Shell's proposed ice overflights 
program in winter (November through April) and spring (May through 
early July). Based on maximum flight distances and potential 
disturbance radii of 600 and 1500 m for fixed wing aircraft and 
helicopters, respectively, a total of 11,112 km\2\ (of sea ice could be 
disturbed. Based on Born et al.'s (1999) observations, however, it is 
estimated that only ~6 and ~49% of seals in these areas will exhibit a 
notable reaction to fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, respectively, 
by entering the water. Approximately 60% of this total area would be 
surveyed in winter and the remaining 40% would be surveyed during 
spring.

[[Page 11408]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TN03MR15.011

Potential Number of ``Takes by Harassment''

(1) Cetaceans
    This subsection provides estimates of the number of individual 
cetaceans that could potentially be disturbed by aircraft during 
Shell's proposed ice overflights. The estimates are based on an 
estimate of the anticipated open-water area that could be subjected to 
disturbance from overflights, proximity of cetaceans in open water to 
the aircraft, and expected cetacean densities in those areas during 
each season.
    The number of individuals of each cetacean species potentially 
disturbed by fixed wing aircraft or helicopters was estimated by 
multiplying:

 The potential disturbance area from each aircraft (fixed wing 
and helicopter) for each season (winter and spring), by
 The percentage of survey area expected to be over open water 
as opposed to ice in each season, by
 The expected cetacean density for each season.

    The numbers of individual cetaceans potentially disturbed were then 
summed for each species across the two seasons.
    Estimates of the average and maximum number of individual cetaceans 
that may be disturbed are shown by season in Table 4. Less than one 
individual of each cetacean species was estimated to be disturbed in 
winter. This was due to the low density of cetaceans in the survey area 
in winter and extensive ice cover during this period. In spring, a few 
beluga whales, bowhead whales, and gray whales are estimated to 
potentially be disturbed during ice overflights when aircraft transit 
over open water for short periods. The numbers of individuals exposed 
represent very small proportions of their populations.
(2) Pinnipeds
    This subsection provides estimates of the number of individual ice 
seals that could potentially be disturbed by aircraft during Shell's 
proposed ice overflights. The estimates are based on a consideration of 
the proposed flight distances, proximity of seals to the aircraft 
trackline, and the proportion of ice seals present that might actually 
be disturbed appreciably (i.e. moving from the ice into the water) by 
flight operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and the anticipated 
area that could be subjected to disturbance from overflights.
    The number of individuals of each ice seal species potentially 
disturbed by fixed wing aircraft or helicopters was estimated by 
multiplying:

 The potential disturbance area from each aircraft (fixed wing 
and helicopter) for each season (winter and spring), by
 The expected seal density in each season, and by
 The expected proportion of seals expected to react to each 
type of aircraft in a way that could be interpreted as disturbance.

    The numbers of individuals potentially disturbed were then summed 
for each species across the two seasons.
    Estimates of the average number of individual seals that may be 
disturbed are shown by season in Table 4. The estimates shown represent 
proportions of the total number of seals encountered that may actually 
demonstrate a disturbance reaction to each type of aircraft. Estimates 
shown in Table 4 were based on Born et al. 1999, which assumed that ~6 
and ~49% of seals would react within lateral distances of 600 and 1,500 
m of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, respectively.
    Ringed seal is by far the most abundant species expected to be 
encountered during the planned ice overflights. The best (average) 
estimate of the numbers of ringed seals potentially disturbed during 
ice overflights is 793 individuals, which represents only a small 
proportion of the estimated population of ringed seals in the Chukchi 
and Beaufort Seas. Fewer individuals of other pinniped species are 
estimated to be encountered during ice overflights, also representing 
very small proportions of their populations.

[[Page 11409]]



  Table 4--The Total Number of Potential Exposures of Marine Mammals During the Shell's Proposed Ice Overflight
                           Surveys in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska, 2015-2016
                           [Estimates are also shown as a percent of each population]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                      Number         Estimated
                             Species                                 Abundance       potential      population
                                                                                     exposure        (percent)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Beluga (E. Chukchi Sea).........................................           3,710               1           0.027
Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea).....................................          39,258               1           0.003
Bowhead whale...................................................          19,534               2           0.010
Gray whale......................................................          19,126               2           0.010
Bearded seal....................................................         155,000              11           0.007
Ribbon seal.....................................................          49,000               1           0.002
Ringed seal.....................................................         300,000             793           0.264
Spotted seal....................................................         141,479               7           0.005
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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 
Shell's proposed ice overflight surveys in the Beaufort and Chukchi 
Seas, 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. Instead, any impact that 
could result from Shell's activities is most likely to be behavioral 
harassment and is expected to be of brief duration and the aircraft 
flies by. Although it is possible that some individuals may be exposed 
to sounds from aircraft overflight more than once, during the migratory 
periods it is less likely that this will occur since animals will 
continue to move across the Chukchi Sea towards their wintering 
grounds.
    Aircraft flyovers are not heard underwater for very long, 
especially when compared to how long they are heard in air as the 
aircraft approaches an observer. Very few cetaceans are expected to be 
encountered during ice overflights due to the low density of cetacean 
species in the winter survey area and small area to be flown over open 
water during spring. Long-term or population level effects are not 
expected. The majority of seals encountered by fixed wing aircraft will 
unlikely show a notable disturbance reaction, and approximately half of 
the seals encountered by helicopters may react by moving from ice into 
the water. Any potential disturbance from aircraft to seals in the area 
of ice overflights will be localized and short-term in duration with no 
population level effects.
    Of the seven marine mammal species likely to occur in the proposed 
ice overflight survey area, only the bowhead whale and ringed seal are 
listed as endangered under the ESA. These two 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% annually for nearly a decade (Allen and Angliss, 2011), 
even in the face of ongoing industrial activity. 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, 2011). Certain stocks or 
populations of gray and beluga whales and spotted seals are listed as 
endangered or are proposed for listing under the ESA; however, none of 
those stocks or populations occur in the proposed activity area. Ringed 
seals were recently listed under the ESA as threatened species. On July 
25, 2014 the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska vacated the 
rule listing to the Beringia bearded seal DPS and remanded the rule to 
NMFS to correct the deficiencies identified in the opinion. None of the 
other species that may occur in the project area is listed as 
threatened or endangered under the ESA or designated as depleted under 
the MMPA. There is currently no established critical habitat in the 
proposed project area for any of these seven species.
    Potential impacts to marine mammal habitat were discussed 
previously in this document (see the ``Anticipated Effects on Habitat'' 
section). Although some disturbance is possible to food sources of 
marine mammals, the impacts are anticipated to be minor. Based on the 
vast size of the Arctic Ocean where feeding by marine mammals occurs 
versus the localized area of the ice overflight surveys, any missed 
feeding opportunities in the direct project area would be of little 
consequence, as marine mammals would have access to other feeding 
grounds.
    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 Shell's proposed 2015 ice overflight surveys in the 
Chukchi and Beaufort Seas will have a negligible impact on the affected 
marine mammal species or stocks.

Small Numbers

    The estimated takes proposed to be authorized represent less than 
0.3% of the affected population or stock for all species in the survey 
area.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into

[[Page 11410]]

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

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.
    Subsistence hunting continues to be an essential aspect of Inupiat 
Native life, especially in rural coastal villages. The Inupiat 
participate in subsistence hunting activities in and around the 
Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The animals taken for subsistence provide a 
significant portion of the food that will last the community through 
the year. Marine mammals represent on the order of 60-80% of the total 
subsistence harvest. Along with the nourishment necessary for survival, 
the subsistence activities strengthen bonds within the culture, provide 
a means for educating the younger generation, provide supplies for 
artistic expression, and allow for important celebratory events.

Bowhead Whale

    Activities associated with Shell's planned ice overflight survey 
program is not likely to have an un-mitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of bowhead whales for taking for subsistence uses. Ice 
overflight surveys that may occur near Point Lay, Wainwright, Barrow, 
Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik would traverse bowhead subsistence areas. Most 
flights would take place after the date of fall and prior to spring 
bowhead whale hunting from the villages. The most commonly observed 
reactions of bowheads to aircraft traffic are hasty dives, but changes 
in orientation, dispersal, and changes in activity are sometimes noted. 
Such reactions could potentially affect subsistence hunts if the 
flights occurred near and at the same time as the hunt. Shell has 
developed and proposes to implement a number of mitigation measures to 
avoid such impacts. These mitigation measures include minimum flight 
altitudes, use of Village Community Liaison Officers (CLOs), 
Subsistence Advisors (SAs), and Communication Centers in order to avoid 
conflicts with subsistence activities. SA calls will be held while 
subsistence activities are underway during the ice overflight survey 
program and are attended by operations staff, logistics staff, and 
CLOs. Aircraft flights are adjusted as needed and planned in a manner 
that avoids potential impacts to bowhead whale hunts and other 
subsistence activities. With these mitigation measures any effects on 
the bowhead whale as a subsistence resource, or effects on bowhead 
subsistence hunts would be minimal.

Beluga Whale

    Activities associated with Shell's planned ice overflight survey 
program will not have an un-mitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of beluga whales for taking for subsistence uses.
    Ice overflight surveys may occur near Point Lay, Wainwright, 
Barrow, Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik would and traverse beluga whale hunt 
subsistence areas. Most flights would take place when belugas are not 
typically harvested. Survey activities could potentially affect 
subsistence hunts if the flights occurred near and at the same time as 
the hunt. Shell has developed and proposes to implement a number of 
mitigation measures to avoid such impacts. These mitigation measures 
include minimum flight altitudes, use of CLOs, SAs, and Communication 
Centers. SA calls will be held while subsistence activities are 
underway during the ice overflight survey program and are attended by 
operations staff, logistics staff, and CLOs. Aircraft flights are 
adjusted as needed and planned in a manner that avoids potential 
impacts to beluga whale hunts and other subsistence activities. With 
these mitigation measures any effects on the beluga whale as a 
subsistence resource, or effects on beluga subsistence hunts would be 
minimal.

Seals

    Seals are an important subsistence resource with ringed and bearded 
seals making up the bulk of the seal harvest. The survey areas are far 
outside of areas reportedly utilized for the harvest of seals by the 
villages of Point Hope, thus the ice overflight surveys will not have 
an un-mitigable adverse impact on the availability of ice seals for 
taking for subsistence uses. The survey areas encompass some areas 
utilized by residents of Point Lay, Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut and 
Kaktovik for the harvest of seals. Most ringed and bearded seals are 
harvested in the winter and a harvest of seals could possibly be 
affected by Shell's planned activities. Spotted seals are harvested 
during the summer and may overlap briefly with Shell's planned 
activities. Most seals are harvested in coastal waters, with available 
maps of recent and past subsistence use areas indicating that seal 
harvests have occurred only within 30-40 mi (48-64 km) off the 
coastline. Some of the planned ice overflight surveys would take place 
in areas used by the village residents for the harvest of seals. The 
survey aircraft could potentially travel over areas used by residents 
for seal hunting and could potentially disturb seals and, therefore, 
subsistence hunts for seals. Any such effects from the survey 
activities would be minimal due to the infrequency of the planned 
surveys. Shell has developed and proposes to implement a number of 
mitigation measures which include a proposed 4MP, use of CLOs, SAs, 
operation of Communication Centers, and minimum altitude requirements. 
SA calls will be held while subsistence activities are underway during 
the ice overflight survey program and are attended by operations staff, 
logistics staff, and CLOs. Aircraft movements and activities are 
adjusted as needed and planned in a manner that avoids potential 
impacts to subsistence activities. With these mitigation measures any 
effects on ringed, bearded, and spotted seals as subsistence resources, 
or effects on subsistence hunts for seals, would be minimal.

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.
    Shell is preparing to implement a POC in accordance with NMFS' 
regulations. The POC relies upon the Chukchi Sea Communication Plans to 
identify the measures that Shell has developed in consultation with 
North Slope subsistence communities and will implement during its 
planned 2015/2016 ice overflight surveys to minimize any adverse 
effects on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses. In 
addition, the POC will detail Shell's communications and consultations 
with

[[Page 11411]]

local subsistence communities concerning its planned 2015/2016 program, 
potential conflicts with subsistence activities, and means of resolving 
any such conflicts (50 CFR 216.104(a)(12)(i), (ii), and (iv)). Shell 
continues to document its contacts with the North Slope subsistence 
communities, as well as the substance of its communications with 
subsistence stakeholder groups.
    The POC identifies and documents potential conflicts and associated 
measures that will be taken to minimize any adverse effects on the 
availability of marine mammals for subsistence use. Outcomes of POC 
meetings are typically included in updates attached to the POC as 
addenda and distributed to federal, state, and local agencies as well 
as local stakeholder groups that either adjudicate or influence 
mitigation approaches for Shell's activities.
    Shell will engage with the villages potentially impacted by the 
2015/2016 ice overflight surveys in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in 
2014 and early 2015. Meetings were held in Barrow and Point Lay in 
early November 2014 and additional engagements are scheduled with other 
villages in early 2015. Throughout 2015, and 2016 Shell anticipates 
continued engagement with the marine mammal commissions and committees 
active in the subsistence harvests and marine mammal research.
    Following the 2015/2016 season, Shell intends to have a post-season 
co-management meeting with the commissioners and committee heads to 
discuss results of mitigation measures and outcomes of the preceding 
season. The goal of the post-season meeting is to build upon the 
knowledge base, discuss successful or unsuccessful outcomes of 
mitigation measures, and possibly refine plans or mitigation measures 
if necessary.
    In addition to the POC, the following subsistence mitigation 
measures will be implemented for Shell's proposed ice overflight 
surveys.
(1) Communications
     Shell has developed a Communication Plan and will 
implement this plan before initiating ice overflight survey operations 
to coordinate activities with local subsistence users, as well as 
Village Whaling Captains' Associations, to minimize the risk of 
interfering with subsistence hunting activities, and keep current as to 
the timing and status of the bowhead whale hunt and other subsistence 
hunts.
     Shell will employ local CLOs and/or SAs from the Chukchi 
Sea villages that are potentially impacted by Shell's ice overflight 
surveys. The CLOs and SAs will provide consultation and guidance 
regarding the whale migration and subsistence activities. There will be 
one per village. The CLO and/or SA will use local knowledge 
(Traditional Knowledge) to gather data on the subsistence lifestyle 
within the community and provide advice on ways to minimize and 
mitigate potential negative impacts to subsistence resources during the 
survey season. Responsibilities include reporting any subsistence 
concerns or conflicts; coordinating with subsistence users; reporting 
subsistence-related comments, concerns, and information; and advising 
how to avoid subsistence conflicts.
(2) Aircraft Travel
     The aircraft will maintain a 1 mi (1.6 km) radius when 
flying over areas where seals appear to be concentrated in groups of 
>=5 individuals.
     The aircraft will not land on ice within 0.5 mi (805 m) of 
hauled out pinnipeds.
     The aircraft will avoid flying over polynyas and along 
adjacent ice margins as much as possible to minimize potential 
disturbance to cetaceans.
     Aircraft shall not operate below 1,500 ft (457 m) in areas 
of active whale hunting; such areas to be identified through 
communications with the Com Centers and SAs.
     Shell will routinely engage with local communities and 
subsistence groups to ensure no disturbance of whaling or other 
subsistence activities.

Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Preliminary Determination

    NMFS considers that these mitigation measures including measures to 
reduce overall impacts to marine mammals in the vicinity of the 
proposed ice overflight survey area and measures to mitigate any 
potential adverse effects on subsistence use of marine mammals are 
adequate to ensure subsistence use of marine mammals in the vicinity of 
Shell's proposed ice overflight surveys in the Chukchi and Beaufort 
Seas.
    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 Shell's 
proposed activities.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    There are two marine mammal species listed as endangered under the 
ESA with confirmed or possible occurrence in the proposed project area: 
The bowhead whale and ringed seal. NMFS' Permits and Conservation 
Division will initiate consultation with NMFS' Endangered Species 
Division under section 7 of the ESA on the issuance of an IHA to Shell 
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 preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA), pursuant to 
NEPA, to determine whether the issuance of an IHA to Shell for its 
2015/2016 ice overflight surveys may have a significant impact on the 
human environment. NMFS has released a draft of the EA for public 
comment along with this proposed IHA.

Proposed Authorization

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
issue an IHA to Shell for conducting ice overflight surveys in the 
Chukchi and Beaufort Seas during 2015/2016, provided the previously 
mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are 
incorporated. The proposed IHA language is provided next.
    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 May 1, 2015, through April 30, 
2016.
    (2) This Authorization is valid only for activities associated with 
Shell's 2015/2016 Chukchi and Beaufort Seas ice overflight surveys. The 
specific areas where Shell's ice overflight surveys will be conducted 
are the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska, as indicated in Figure 1-1 
of Shell's IHA application.
    (3)(a) The incidental taking of marine mammals, by Level B 
harassment only, is limited to the following species: Bowhead whale; 
gray whale; beluga whale; ringed seal; bearded seal; spotted seal; and 
ribbon seal.
    (3)(b) The taking by injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, 
or death of any of the species listed in Condition 3(a) or the taking 
of any kind of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may 
result in the modification, suspension or revocation of this 
Authorization.
    (4) The authorization for taking by harassment is limited to the 
following activities:

[[Page 11412]]

    Ice overflight surveys during freeze-up, winter, and break-up 
periods in 2015 and 2016 by aircraft.
    (5) The taking of any marine mammal in a manner prohibited under 
this Authorization must be reported immediately to the Chief, Permits 
and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS or her 
designee.
    (6) 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 ice overflight surveys (unless 
constrained by the date of issuance of this Authorization in which case 
notification shall be made as soon as possible).
    (7) Ice Overflight Mitigation and Monitoring Requirements: The 
Holder of this Authorization is required to implement the following 
mitigation and monitoring requirements when conducting the specified 
activities to achieve the least practicable impact on affected marine 
mammal species or stocks:
    (a) A PSO will be aboard all flights recording all sightings/
observations (e.g. including number of individuals, approximate age 
(when possible to determine)), and any type of potential reaction to 
the aircraft. Environmental information the observer will record 
includes weather, air temperature, cloud and ice cover, visibility 
conditions, and wind speed.
    (b) The aircraft will maintain a 1 mi radius when flying over areas 
where seals appear to be concentrated in groups of >=5 individuals;
    (c) The aircraft will not land on ice within 0.5 mi of hauled out 
pinnipeds or polar bears; and
    (d) The aircraft will avoid flying over polynyas and along adjacent 
ice margins as much as possible to minimize potential disturbance to 
cetaceans.
    (8) Subsistence Mitigation Measures: To ensure no unmitigable 
adverse impact on subsistence uses of marine mammals, the Holder of 
this Authorization shall:
    (a) Develop and implement a Communication Plan before initiating 
ice overflight survey operations to coordinate activities with local 
subsistence users, as well as Village Whaling Captains' Associations, 
to minimize the risk of interfering with subsistence hunting 
activities, and keep current as to the timing and status of the bowhead 
whale hunt and other subsistence hunts.
    (b) Employ local Community Liaison Officers (CLOs) and/or 
Subsistence Advisors (SAs) from the Chukchi Sea villages that are 
potentially impacted by the ice overflight surveys.
    (A) The CLOs and SAs will provide consultation and guidance 
regarding the whale migration and subsistence activities.
    (B) The CLOs and SAs will also report any subsistence concerns or 
conflicts; coordinate with subsistence users; report subsistence-
related comments, concerns, and information; and advise how to avoid 
subsistence conflicts.
    (c) Routinely engage with local communities and subsistence groups 
to ensure no disturbance of whaling or other subsistence activities.
    (9) Monitoring Measures:
    (a) Protected Species Observers:
    (A) Aerial monitoring for marine mammals will be conducted by a 
trained protected species observer (PSO) aboard each flight.
    (B) PSO duties will include watching for and identifying marine 
mammals, recording their numbers, distances from, and potential 
reactions to the presence of the aircraft, in addition to working with 
the helicopter pilots to identify areas for landings on ice that is 
clear of marine mammals.
    (b) Observer Qualifications and Training:
    (A) Observers will have previous marine mammal observation 
experience in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
    (B) All observers will be trained and familiar with the marine 
mammals of the area, data collection protocols, reporting procedures, 
and required mitigation measures.
    (c) Specialized Field Equipment:
    (A) Fujinon 7 x 50 binoculars for visual monitoring,
    (B) GPS unit to document the route of each ice overflight,
    (C) Laptop computer for data entry,
    (D) Voice recorder to capture detailed observations and data for 
post flight entry into the computer,
    (E) Digital still cameras.
    (d) Field Data-Recording
    (A) The observer on the aircraft will record observations directly 
into computers using a custom software package.
    (B) The accuracy of the data entry will be verified in the field by 
computerized validity checks as the data are entered, and by subsequent 
manual checking following the flight.
    (C) Observers will capture the details of sightings and other 
observations with a voice recorder, which will maximize observation 
time and the collection of data.
    (D) During the course of the flights, the observer will record 
information for each sighting including:
     Number of individuals,
     Approximate age (when possible to determine),
     Any type of potential reaction to the aircraft.
     Weather, air temperature, wind speed, cloud and ice cover, 
and
     Visibility conditions.
    (10) Reporting Requirements:
    (a) Final Report: The results of Shell's ice overflight monitoring 
report will be presented in the ``90-day'' final report, as required by 
NMFS under the proposed IHA. The initial final report is due to NMFS 
within 90 days after the expiration of the IHA. The report will 
include:
    (A) Summaries of monitoring effort: Total hours, total distances 
flown, and environmental conditions during surveys;
    (B) Summaries of occurrence, species composition, and distribution 
of all marine mammal sightings including date, numbers, age/size/gender 
categories (when discernible), group sizes, ice cover and other 
environmental variables; data will be visualized by plotting sightings 
relative to the position of the aircraft; and
    (C) Analyses of the potential effects of ice overflights on marine 
mammals and the number of individuals that may have been disturbed by 
aircraft.
    (b) The ``90-day'' report will 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.
    (11)(a) In the unanticipated event that the ice overflight surveys 
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, Shell shall immediately cease operations and 
immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and 
Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, by phone or 
email and the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. 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); (xi) and

[[Page 11413]]

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 Shell to 
determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further 
prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Shell may not resume their 
activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone.
    (b) In the event that Shell 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), 
Shell will immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits 
and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, by 
phone or email and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to 
the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. The report must include the 
same information identified in Condition 12(a) above. Activities may 
continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS 
will work with Shell to determine whether modifications in the 
activities are appropriate.
    (c) In the event that Shell 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 2 
of this Authorization (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with 
moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), Shell shall 
report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation 
Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, by phone or email and 
the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska 
Regional Stranding Coordinators, within 24 hours of the discovery. 
Shell shall provide photographs or video footage (if available) or 
other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS and the 
Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Activities may continue while NMFS 
reviews the circumstances of the incident.
    (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) Shell is required to comply with the Terms and Conditions of 
the Incidental Take Statement (ITS) corresponding to NMFS's Biological 
Opinion issued to NMFS's Office of Protected Resources.
    (14) A copy of this Authorization and the ITS must be in the 
possession of all contractors and PSOs operating under the authority of 
this Incidental Harassment Authorization.
    (15) Penalties and Permit Sanctions: Any person who violates any 
provision of this Incidental Harassment Authorization is subject to 
civil and criminal penalties, permit sanctions, and forfeiture as 
authorized under the MMPA.
    (16) 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.

Request for Public Comment

    As noted above, NMFS requests comment on our analysis, the draft 
authorization, and any other aspect of the Notice of Proposed IHA for 
Shell's 2015/2016 Chukchi and Beaufort Seas ice overflight surveys. 
Please include, with your comments, any supporting data or literature 
citations to help inform our final decision on Shell's request for an 
MMPA authorization.

    Dated: February 25, 2015.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2015-04345 Filed 3-2-15; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P