Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; 90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's Whale as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act, 18343-18346 [2015-07836]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 65 / Monday, April 6, 2015 / Proposed Rules DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Parts 223 and 224 [Docket No. 141216999–5311–01] RIN 0648–XD669 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; 90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s Whale as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: 90-day petition finding, request for information. AGENCY: We, NMFS, announce a 90day finding on a petition to list the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni) as an endangered distinct population segment (DPS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. Accordingly, we will conduct a review of the status of this species to determine if the petitioned action is warranted. To ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we solicit information pertaining to this species from any interested party. DATES: Information and comments on the subject action must be received by June 5, 2015. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, information, or data on this document, identified by NOAA–NMFS–2014–0157, by either of the following methods: • Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/ #!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-20140157, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. • Mail: Submit written comments to NMFS, Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701 Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business information, or Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:03 Apr 03, 2015 Jkt 235001 otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/ A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jason Rueter, NMFS Southeast Region, 727–824–5350; or Ron Salz, NMFS Office of Protected Resources, 301–427– 8171. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background On September 18, 2014, we received a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council to list the Gulf of Mexico population of Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni) as an endangered DPS under the ESA. Supporting information in the form of bibliographic references, reprints of pertinent publications, copies of reports or letters from authorities, and maps as required by 50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)(iv) was not included in the petition. We requested those materials on October 10, 2014, and on October 21, 2014, we received some materials. We made a second request for outstanding information on November 26, 2014, and received materials the same day. Copies of this petition are available from us (see ADDRESSES, above) and can be found at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_ resources/listing_petitions/index.html ESA Statutory and Regulatory Provisions and Evaluation Framework Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA of 1973, as amended (U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires, to the maximum extent practicable, that within 90 days of receipt of a petition to list a species as threatened or endangered, the Secretary of Commerce make a finding on whether that petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted, and to promptly publish such finding in the Federal Register (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(A)). When we find that substantial scientific or commercial information in a petition indicates the petitioned action may be warranted (a ‘‘positive 90-day finding’’), we are required to promptly commence a review of the status of the species concerned during which we will conduct a comprehensive review of the best available scientific and commercial information. In such cases, we are to conclude the review with a finding as to whether, in fact, the petitioned action is warranted within 12 months of receipt of the petition. Because the finding at the 12-month stage is based on a more thorough review of the available PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 18343 information, as compared to the narrow scope of review at the 90-day stage, a ‘‘may be warranted’’ finding does not prejudge the outcome of the status review. Under the ESA a listing determination addresses a ‘‘species,’’ which is defined to also include subspecies and, for any vertebrate species, any DPS that interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A joint NMFS–U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) policy clarifies the agencies’ interpretation of the phrase ‘‘distinct population segment’’ for the purposes of listing, delisting, and reclassifying a species under the ESA (‘‘DPS Policy’’; 61 FR 4722; February 7, 1996). A species, subspecies, or DPS is ‘‘endangered’’ if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and ‘‘threatened’’ if it is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range (ESA sections 3(6) and 3(20), respectively; 16 U.S.C. 1532(6) and (20)). Pursuant to the ESA and our implementing regulations, we determine whether species are threatened or endangered because of any one or a combination of the following ESA section 4(a)(1) factors: The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range; overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; disease or predation; inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and any other natural or manmade factors affecting the species’ existence (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(1), 50 CFR 424.11(c)). ESA-implementing regulations issued jointly by NMFS and USFWS (50 CFR 424.14(b)) define ‘‘substantial information’’ in the context of reviewing a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species as the amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted. When evaluating whether substantial information is contained in a petition, the Secretary must consider whether the petition: (1) Clearly indicates the administrative measure recommended and gives the scientific and any common name of the species involved; (2) contains detailed narrative justification for the recommended measure, describing, based on available information, past and present numbers and distribution of the species involved and any threats faced by the species; (3) provides information regarding the status of the species over all or a significant portion of its range; and (4) is accompanied by the appropriate supporting documentation in the form E:\FR\FM\06APP1.SGM 06APP1 Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 18344 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 65 / Monday, April 6, 2015 / Proposed Rules of bibliographic references, reprints of pertinent publications, copies of reports or letters from authorities, and maps (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)). Court decisions clarify the appropriate scope and limitations of the NMFS’ review of petitions at the 90-day finding stage, in making a determination whether a petitioned action ‘‘may be warranted.’’ As a general matter, these decisions hold that a petition need not establish a ‘‘strong likelihood’’ or a ‘‘high probability’’ that a species is either threatened or endangered to support a positive 90-day finding. We evaluate the petitioner’s request based upon the information in the petition, including its references, and the information readily available in our files. We do not conduct additional research, and we do not solicit information from parties outside the agency to help us in evaluating the petition. We will accept the petitioner’s sources and characterizations of the information presented, if they appear to be based on accepted scientific principles, unless we have specific information in our files that indicates the petition’s information is incorrect, unreliable, obsolete, or otherwise irrelevant to the requested action. Information that is susceptible to more than one interpretation or that is contradicted by other available information will not be dismissed at the 90-day finding stage, so long as it is reliable and a reasonable person would conclude it supports the petitioner’s assertions. In other words, conclusive information indicating the species may meet the ESA’s requirements for listing is not required to make a positive 90day finding. We will not conclude that a lack of specific information alone negates a positive 90-day finding, if a reasonable person would conclude that the unknown information itself suggests an extinction risk of concern for the species at issue. To make a 90-day finding on a petition to list a species, we evaluate whether the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating the subject species may be either threatened or endangered, as defined by the ESA. First, we evaluate whether the information presented in the petition, along with the information readily available in our files, indicates that the petitioned entity constitutes a ‘‘species’’ eligible for listing under the ESA. Next, we evaluate whether the information indicates that the species at issue faces extinction risk that is cause for concern; this may be indicated in information expressly discussing the species’ status and trends, or in information describing VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:03 Apr 03, 2015 Jkt 235001 impacts and threats to the species. We evaluate any information on specific demographic factors pertinent to evaluating extinction risk for the species at issue (e.g., population abundance and trends, productivity, spatial structure, age structure, sex ratio, diversity, current and historical range, habitat integrity or fragmentation), and the potential contribution of identified demographic risks to extinction risk for the species. We then evaluate the potential links between these demographic risks and the causative impacts and threats identified in section 4(a)(1). Information presented on impacts or threats should be specific to the species and should reasonably suggest that one or more of these factors may be operative threats that act or have acted on the species to the point that it may warrant protection under the ESA. Broad statements about generalized threats to the species, or identification of factors that could negatively impact a species, do not constitute substantial information that listing may be warranted. We look for information indicating that not only is the particular species exposed to a factor, but that the species may be responding in a negative fashion; then we assess the potential significance of that negative response. Analysis of the Petition We have determined, based on the information provided in the petition and readily available in our files, that substantial information is presented in the petition indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. The petition contains a recommended administrative measure, provides the scientific and common name, contains a detailed narrative justification for the recommended measure, provides information on the status of the species, and includes supporting documentation. Below is a synopsis of our analysis of the information provided in the petition and readily available in our files. Bryde’s Whale Species Description The Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni) is a baleen whale, more specifically a rorqual, belonging to the same group as the blue whale and the humpback whale. They are distributed around the tropical waters of the world between 40°N and 40°S, or in waters warmer than 16.3°C (Kato, 2002). The Bryde’s whale is represented by two subspecies: B. e. edeni and B. e. brydei. The generally larger form (14–15 m in length), B. e. brydei or ‘‘ordinary Bryde’s whale,’’ is found in temperate and tropical waters within the Atlantic, PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Pacific, and Indian Oceans, with a somewhat smaller inshore group found in coastal South Africa. The smaller form (rarely exceeding 11.5m in length), B. e. edeni, has been found only in the Western Pacific, in waters off Asia and possibly Australia. Two other species, the sei whale (B. borealis) and the Omura’s whale (B. omurai), are closely related to the Bryde’s whale and often considered part of the Bryde’s whale ‘‘complex’’ (Wada et al., 2003; Sasaki et al., 2006). Here the term ‘‘Bryde’s whale’’ refers to B. edeni and its subspecies (B. e. edeni and B. e. brydei). Like other rorquals, the Bryde’s whale has twin blowholes behind a protruding ridge and two rows of baleen plates instead of teeth. Good descriptions of the Bryde’s whale can be found in Olsen (1913) and Best (1977). These reports note that the Bryde’s whale is dark smoky-gray dorsally and usually white ventrally. It is elongated, with a small, curved dorsal fin, and slender, pointed flippers. These flippers are bluish-black dorsally, grey ventrally and can reach approximately 10 percent of the total length of the animal. The throat area is dark bluish-grey, with 42–54 ventral grooves or furrows that extend back at least to the umbilicus. It has around 280 (ranging between 255 and 365) relatively stiff baleen plates of up to 0.5 m in length on each side of the mouth. Each plate has very coarse bristles forming a ‘‘bush’’ at the top. A median groove extending from the umbilicus to the genital aperture is typically present. Bryde’s whales are generally found in a range of habitats and water depths. Their distribution in the Gulf of Mexico appears highly limited to a relatively small area off the Florida Panhandle along the shelf edge in DeSoto Canyon at depths between 100 and 1,000 m (e.g., ˇ ´ Mullin and Fulling, 2004; Sirovic et al., 2014). There have been no confirmed records of Bryde’s whales from the Gulf of Mexico outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but it cannot be ruled out that the whales move outside this small area, including into the waters off Cuba or Mexico; the U.S. EEZ only makes up 35 percent of the oceanic waters of the Gulf of Mexico (NMFS, 2013). The petitioner presented information on the status of the population of the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale, and additional information was also available in our files. There have been four point estimates of population size made since 1991 for the northern Gulf of Mexico (i.e., within the U.S. EEZ only). The best abundance estimate for the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale is 33 (Coefficient of Variation [CV] = 1.07) from a summer 2009 oceanic survey, E:\FR\FM\06APP1.SGM 06APP1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 65 / Monday, April 6, 2015 / Proposed Rules Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS with a minimum population estimate of 16 whales (NMFS, 2012). This estimate is below the 35 animals (CV = 1.10) for the 1991 to 1994 period (Hansen et al., 1995) and the 40 animals (CV = 0.61) estimated for the 1996 to 2001 period (Mullin and Fulling, 2004), and greater than the estimate for 2003 to 2004, which was 15 animals (CV = 1.98) (Mullin, 2007). While there have been four point estimates made, the precision of the estimates is poor, there is no statistical difference between the maximum and minimum estimates (NMFS, 2009), and no interpretation of population trends should be made from these values. NMFS (2009) further cautions that the available estimates, based on surveys conducted only in the U.S. EEZ, cannot account for changes in abundance from shifts in distribution beyond U.S. waters, and NMFS (2012) recommends that Bryde’s whales need to be satellite tagged to determine whether they use the northeastern Gulf exclusively or travel to other areas. DPS Analysis The petition requests that we designate Bryde’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico as an endangered DPS and presents arguments that Bryde’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico meet NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (together, the Services) requirements for identifying a DPS eligible for listing. Our DPS policy identifies two elements that must be considered when identifying a DPS: (1) The discreteness of the population segment in relation to the remainder of the species (or subspecies) to which it belongs; and (2) the significance of the population segment to the species to which it belongs. A population segment of a vertebrate species may be considered discrete if it satisfies either one of the following conditions: (1) It is markedly separated from other populations of the same taxon as a consequence of physical, physiological, ecological, or behavioral factors—quantitative measures of genetic or morphological discontinuity may provide evidence of this separation; or (2) it is delimited by international governmental boundaries within which differences in control of exploitation, management of habitat conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms exist that are significant in light of section 4(a)(1)(D) of the ESA. If a population segment is considered discrete under one or more of the above conditions, its biological and ecological significance will then be considered in light of Congressional guidance (see Senate Report 151, 96th Congress, 1stSession) that the authority to list DPSs be used ‘‘sparingly’’ while VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:03 Apr 03, 2015 Jkt 235001 encouraging the conservation of genetic diversity. In carrying out this examination, the Services will consider available scientific evidence of the discrete population segment’s importance to the taxon to which it belongs. This consideration may include, but is not limited to, the following: (1) Persistence of the discrete population segment in an ecological setting unusual or unique for the taxon; (2) evidence that loss of the discrete population segment would result in a significant gap in the range of a taxon; (3) evidence that the discrete population segment represents the only surviving natural occurrence of a taxon that may be more abundant elsewhere as an introduced population outside its historic range; or (4) evidence that the discrete population segment differs markedly from other populations of the species in its genetic characteristics. The petitioner asserts that genetic and morphological information is evidence the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale population qualifies as a distinct population segment under the ESA. The petition cites Rosel and Wilcox (2014) as evidence the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale population is as evolutionarily distinct as other recognized subspecies within the Bryde’s whale complex. The petition also includes information indicating those whales in the Gulf of Mexico are residents and may be geographically isolated from other Bryde’s whales. Analyzing DNA sequence data from three mitochondrial DNA and nine nuclear genes, and examining 42 nuclear microsatellite loci for 21 Bryde’s whale samples, Rosel and Wilcox (2014) found that ‘‘Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale haplotypes are evolutionarily distinct from other members of the Bryde’s whale complex.’’ Further, Rosel and Wilcox (2014) found that Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whales are as divergent as the two already recognized subspecies of Bryde’s whales. Rosel and Wilcox (2014) also stated that the divergence is as great as two species generally are from one another, thus we find that the petition presents substantial evidence that the DPS policy’s criteria for discreteness may be met for the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale. The petitioner also argues that the Bryde’s whale in the Gulf of Mexico is significant because of its unique genetic characteristics, its behavior and morphology, and because it is the only resident baleen whale population in the Gulf of Mexico. The petitioners cite the findings of Rosel and Wilcox (2014) and state the genetic differentiation shown by the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale makes it evolutionarily significant. The PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 18345 petitioners also argue that the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale is behaviorally and morphologically different from other Bryde’s whales. Behaviorally, the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whales use a call that differs in frequency and repetitive structure from variants used in other ˇ ´ Bryde’s whale populations (Sirovic et al., 2014; Rice et al., 2014). Morphologically, the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whales’ body lengths seem intermediary to the smaller B. e. edeni and larger B. e. brydei forms (Best, 1977; Rice, 1998). The petitioner also states that as the only resident baleen whale in the Gulf of Mexico, the Bryde’s whale fills a unique ecological niche. We therefore conclude that the petition presents sufficient evidence that the DPS policy’s criteria for significance may be met for the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale. Because the Gulf of Mexico population of Bryde’s whale may qualify as a DPS, we will consider it a potentially listable entity for purposes of this 90-day finding. Whether the Gulf of Mexico population of Bryde’s whales constitutes a DPS will receive further analysis in the status review. Analysis of ESA Section 4(a)(1) Factors The petitioner states the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale is threatened by three (out of five) ESA Section 4(a)(1) factors: present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. The petition cites the following threats as contributing to the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range of the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale: (1) Ship strikes, (2) acoustic impacts, (3) oil spills, (4) other toxic chemicals, (5) ocean acidification, (6) entanglement in fishing gear, and (7) trophic impacts due to overfishing. We believe that three of these threats (numbers 1, 6, and 7) should be categorized under the Section 4(a)(1) category ‘‘other natural or manmade factors.’’ Ship strikes are a recognized source of whale mortality (Laist et al., 2006). In 2009, a Bryde’s whale was struck by a ship near Tampa, Florida (Waring et al., 2013); additionally, eight other Bryde’s whales are known to have stranded along the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico between 1975 and 1996, from unknown causes (Laist, 2001). While ship collisions probably have a negligible effect on the status and trend of most whale populations, they may have a significant effect on very small E:\FR\FM\06APP1.SGM 06APP1 Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 18346 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 65 / Monday, April 6, 2015 / Proposed Rules populations or discrete groups (Laist et al., 2001), such as the Gulf of Mexico population of Bryde’s whale. The petition also states that ship-strike risk in the Gulf of Mexico may increase in the near future given expansion of the Panama Canal and the associated increase in vessel traffic. There was one documented, lethal ship strike of a Bryde’s whale in 2009, involving a lactating female (therefore, its calf presumably ultimately died as well). Detected mortalities are a minimum estimate and almost certainly biased low. Total human-caused mortality of the northern Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale stock is unknown, but, based on the 2009 confirmed mortality and the stock’s small size, the annual humancaused mortality to the stock is greater than the stock’s potential biological removal level (NMFS, 2012), meaning that the level of mortality threatens the stock’s ability to achieve and maintain its optimum sustainable population. After reviewing the references and information in our files, we agree that, given the small population size, injury and death from ship strikes may be impacting Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale to a degree that raises concerns regarding the risk of extinction. The petition cites numerous sources detailing negative effects of acoustic impacts on marine mammals, including hearing loss, masking of biologically significant sounds, and disruption in foraging and other vital behaviors (NRC, 2003; Weilgart, 2007; CBD, 2012). The petition cites Azzara et al. (2013) to indicate that Gulf of Mexico shipping traffic may be disrupting sperm whale behavior and possibly communication and foraging patterns. The petition indicates the calls of Bryde’s whale fall well within the range of commercial shipping noise (5 to 500 Hz [Hildebrand, 2009]) and concludes that the high levels of ambient noise in the Gulf of Mexico are likely to constrain the communication range of Bryde’s whales, citing Hatch et al. (2012), and may potentially induce a chronic stress response, citing Rolland et al. (2012). The petition also cites seismic exploration using airguns as a threat that would degrade Bryde’s whale communication, based on the frequency overlap between Bryde’s whale calls and the peak energy release of the airguns. Based on reports from other baleen whale species (e.g., Clark and Gagnon, 2006; Gailey et al., 2007; Di Iorio and Clark, 2010; Castellote et al., 2012; Blackwell et al., 2013; Cerchio et al., 2014), the petition suggests that seismic noise may, in addition to masking communication, directly disrupt other behaviors of Bryde’s VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:03 Apr 03, 2015 Jkt 235001 whales. When we conduct 90-day reviews of petitions, we typically look for species-specific information that a threat is operative. In this case, considering the information presented on other large cetaceans, the ubiquity of major noise-producing sources in the Gulf of Mexico, and the apparently constrained habitat of Bryde’s whales, we find that there is sufficient information presented to suggest that acoustic impacts may be an operative threat to this species, despite the lack of information specific to Bryde’s whales. After reviewing the information in the petition, we conclude that commercial and industrial ocean noise may be negatively affecting Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale behavior, physiology, and acoustic habitat to a degree that raises concerns regarding the risk of extinction. Petition Finding Based on the above information and the criteria specified in 50 CFR 424.14(b)(2), we find substantial information was presented on the ‘‘present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range’’ (i.e., acoustic impacts) and on ‘‘other natural or manmade factors’’ (i.e., ship strikes) indicating the petitioned action of listing the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale (B. e. edeni) as an endangered DPS may be warranted. Since we determined that the threats associated with acoustic impacts and ship strikes indicate that the petitioned action may be warranted, we did not conduct a detailed analysis of the other threats cited by the petitioner here. Because we have found that substantial information was presented to indicate the petitioned action may be warranted, we will commence a status review of the species. During our status review, we will fully address all five of the factors set out in Section 4(a)(1). At the conclusion of the status review, we will determine whether the petitioned action is warranted. As previously noted, a ‘‘may be warranted’’ finding does not prejudge the outcome of the status review. Information Solicited As required by section 4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA and NMFS’ implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)), we are to commence a review of the status of the species and make a determination within 12 months of receiving the petition as to whether the petitioned action is warranted. We intend that any final action resulting from this review be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we open a 60-day public comment period to solicit PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 9990 information from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, and any other interested parties on the delineation of, threats to, and status of the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale including: (1) Historical and current distribution, abundance, and population trends; (2) life history and biological information including adaptations to ecological settings, genetic analyses to assess paternal contribution and population connectivity, and movement patterns to determine population mixing; (3) management measures and regulatory mechanisms designed to protect the species; (4) any current or planned activities that may adversely impact the species; and (5) ongoing or planned efforts to protect and restore the species and habitat. We request that all information be accompanied by: (1) Supporting documentation such as maps, bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications; and (2) the submitter’s name, address, and any association, institution, or business that the person represents. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the ESA and NMFS’ implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.11(b)) require that a listing determination be made solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data, without consideration of possible economic or other impacts of the determination. During the 60-day public comment period we are seeking information related only to the status of the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale. References Cited A complete list of references is available upon request from the Southeast Regional Office, Protected Resource Division (see ADDRESSES). Authority The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Dated: March 31, 2015. Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2015–07836 Filed 4–3–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\06APP1.SGM 06APP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 65 (Monday, April 6, 2015)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 18343-18346]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-07836]



[[Page 18343]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Parts 223 and 224

[Docket No. 141216999-5311-01]
RIN 0648-XD669


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; 90-Day Finding on a Petition 
To List the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's Whale as Threatened or Endangered 
Under the Endangered Species Act

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

ACTION: 90-day petition finding, request for information.

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SUMMARY: We, NMFS, announce a 90-day finding on a petition to list the 
Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni) as an endangered 
distinct population segment (DPS) under the Endangered Species Act 
(ESA). We find that the petition presents substantial scientific or 
commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be 
warranted. Accordingly, we will conduct a review of the status of this 
species to determine if the petitioned action is warranted. To ensure 
that the status review is comprehensive, we solicit information 
pertaining to this species from any interested party.

DATES: Information and comments on the subject action must be received 
by June 5, 2015.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, information, or data on this 
document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2014-0157, by either of the following 
methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic comments via 
the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0157, click the ``Comment Now!'' icon, 
complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to NMFS, Southeast Regional 
Office, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jason Rueter, NMFS Southeast Region, 
727-824-5350; or Ron Salz, NMFS Office of Protected Resources, 301-427-
8171.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    On September 18, 2014, we received a petition from the Natural 
Resources Defense Council to list the Gulf of Mexico population of 
Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni) as an endangered DPS under the ESA. 
Supporting information in the form of bibliographic references, 
reprints of pertinent publications, copies of reports or letters from 
authorities, and maps as required by 50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)(iv) was not 
included in the petition. We requested those materials on October 10, 
2014, and on October 21, 2014, we received some materials. We made a 
second request for outstanding information on November 26, 2014, and 
received materials the same day. Copies of this petition are available 
from us (see ADDRESSES, above) and can be found at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_resources/listing_petitions/index.html

ESA Statutory and Regulatory Provisions and Evaluation Framework

    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA of 1973, as amended (U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.), requires, to the maximum extent practicable, that within 90 days 
of receipt of a petition to list a species as threatened or endangered, 
the Secretary of Commerce make a finding on whether that petition 
presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating 
that the petitioned action may be warranted, and to promptly publish 
such finding in the Federal Register (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(A)). When we 
find that substantial scientific or commercial information in a 
petition indicates the petitioned action may be warranted (a ``positive 
90-day finding''), we are required to promptly commence a review of the 
status of the species concerned during which we will conduct a 
comprehensive review of the best available scientific and commercial 
information. In such cases, we are to conclude the review with a 
finding as to whether, in fact, the petitioned action is warranted 
within 12 months of receipt of the petition. Because the finding at the 
12-month stage is based on a more thorough review of the available 
information, as compared to the narrow scope of review at the 90-day 
stage, a ``may be warranted'' finding does not prejudge the outcome of 
the status review.
    Under the ESA a listing determination addresses a ``species,'' 
which is defined to also include subspecies and, for any vertebrate 
species, any DPS that interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A 
joint NMFS-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) policy clarifies the 
agencies' interpretation of the phrase ``distinct population segment'' 
for the purposes of listing, delisting, and reclassifying a species 
under the ESA (``DPS Policy''; 61 FR 4722; February 7, 1996). A 
species, subspecies, or DPS is ``endangered'' if it is in danger of 
extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and 
``threatened'' if it is likely to become endangered within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range 
(ESA sections 3(6) and 3(20), respectively; 16 U.S.C. 1532(6) and 
(20)). Pursuant to the ESA and our implementing regulations, we 
determine whether species are threatened or endangered because of any 
one or a combination of the following ESA section 4(a)(1) factors: The 
present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
habitat or range; overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes; disease or predation; inadequacy 
of existing regulatory mechanisms; and any other natural or manmade 
factors affecting the species' existence (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(1), 50 CFR 
424.11(c)).
    ESA-implementing regulations issued jointly by NMFS and USFWS (50 
CFR 424.14(b)) define ``substantial information'' in the context of 
reviewing a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species as the 
amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe 
that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted. When 
evaluating whether substantial information is contained in a petition, 
the Secretary must consider whether the petition: (1) Clearly indicates 
the administrative measure recommended and gives the scientific and any 
common name of the species involved; (2) contains detailed narrative 
justification for the recommended measure, describing, based on 
available information, past and present numbers and distribution of the 
species involved and any threats faced by the species; (3) provides 
information regarding the status of the species over all or a 
significant portion of its range; and (4) is accompanied by the 
appropriate supporting documentation in the form

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of bibliographic references, reprints of pertinent publications, copies 
of reports or letters from authorities, and maps (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)).
    Court decisions clarify the appropriate scope and limitations of 
the NMFS' review of petitions at the 90-day finding stage, in making a 
determination whether a petitioned action ``may be warranted.'' As a 
general matter, these decisions hold that a petition need not establish 
a ``strong likelihood'' or a ``high probability'' that a species is 
either threatened or endangered to support a positive 90-day finding.
    We evaluate the petitioner's request based upon the information in 
the petition, including its references, and the information readily 
available in our files. We do not conduct additional research, and we 
do not solicit information from parties outside the agency to help us 
in evaluating the petition. We will accept the petitioner's sources and 
characterizations of the information presented, if they appear to be 
based on accepted scientific principles, unless we have specific 
information in our files that indicates the petition's information is 
incorrect, unreliable, obsolete, or otherwise irrelevant to the 
requested action. Information that is susceptible to more than one 
interpretation or that is contradicted by other available information 
will not be dismissed at the 90-day finding stage, so long as it is 
reliable and a reasonable person would conclude it supports the 
petitioner's assertions. In other words, conclusive information 
indicating the species may meet the ESA's requirements for listing is 
not required to make a positive 90-day finding. We will not conclude 
that a lack of specific information alone negates a positive 90-day 
finding, if a reasonable person would conclude that the unknown 
information itself suggests an extinction risk of concern for the 
species at issue.
    To make a 90-day finding on a petition to list a species, we 
evaluate whether the petition presents substantial scientific or 
commercial information indicating the subject species may be either 
threatened or endangered, as defined by the ESA. First, we evaluate 
whether the information presented in the petition, along with the 
information readily available in our files, indicates that the 
petitioned entity constitutes a ``species'' eligible for listing under 
the ESA. Next, we evaluate whether the information indicates that the 
species at issue faces extinction risk that is cause for concern; this 
may be indicated in information expressly discussing the species' 
status and trends, or in information describing impacts and threats to 
the species. We evaluate any information on specific demographic 
factors pertinent to evaluating extinction risk for the species at 
issue (e.g., population abundance and trends, productivity, spatial 
structure, age structure, sex ratio, diversity, current and historical 
range, habitat integrity or fragmentation), and the potential 
contribution of identified demographic risks to extinction risk for the 
species. We then evaluate the potential links between these demographic 
risks and the causative impacts and threats identified in section 
4(a)(1).
    Information presented on impacts or threats should be specific to 
the species and should reasonably suggest that one or more of these 
factors may be operative threats that act or have acted on the species 
to the point that it may warrant protection under the ESA. Broad 
statements about generalized threats to the species, or identification 
of factors that could negatively impact a species, do not constitute 
substantial information that listing may be warranted. We look for 
information indicating that not only is the particular species exposed 
to a factor, but that the species may be responding in a negative 
fashion; then we assess the potential significance of that negative 
response.

Analysis of the Petition

    We have determined, based on the information provided in the 
petition and readily available in our files, that substantial 
information is presented in the petition indicating that the petitioned 
action may be warranted. The petition contains a recommended 
administrative measure, provides the scientific and common name, 
contains a detailed narrative justification for the recommended 
measure, provides information on the status of the species, and 
includes supporting documentation. Below is a synopsis of our analysis 
of the information provided in the petition and readily available in 
our files.

Bryde's Whale Species Description

    The Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni) is a baleen whale, more 
specifically a rorqual, belonging to the same group as the blue whale 
and the humpback whale. They are distributed around the tropical waters 
of the world between 40[deg]N and 40[deg]S, or in waters warmer than 
16.3[deg]C (Kato, 2002). The Bryde's whale is represented by two 
subspecies: B. e. edeni and B. e. brydei. The generally larger form 
(14-15 m in length), B. e. brydei or ``ordinary Bryde's whale,'' is 
found in temperate and tropical waters within the Atlantic, Pacific, 
and Indian Oceans, with a somewhat smaller inshore group found in 
coastal South Africa. The smaller form (rarely exceeding 11.5m in 
length), B. e. edeni, has been found only in the Western Pacific, in 
waters off Asia and possibly Australia. Two other species, the sei 
whale (B. borealis) and the Omura's whale (B. omurai), are closely 
related to the Bryde's whale and often considered part of the Bryde's 
whale ``complex'' (Wada et al., 2003; Sasaki et al., 2006). Here the 
term ``Bryde's whale'' refers to B. edeni and its subspecies (B. e. 
edeni and B. e. brydei).
    Like other rorquals, the Bryde's whale has twin blowholes behind a 
protruding ridge and two rows of baleen plates instead of teeth. Good 
descriptions of the Bryde's whale can be found in Olsen (1913) and Best 
(1977). These reports note that the Bryde's whale is dark smoky-gray 
dorsally and usually white ventrally. It is elongated, with a small, 
curved dorsal fin, and slender, pointed flippers. These flippers are 
bluish-black dorsally, grey ventrally and can reach approximately 10 
percent of the total length of the animal. The throat area is dark 
bluish-grey, with 42-54 ventral grooves or furrows that extend back at 
least to the umbilicus. It has around 280 (ranging between 255 and 365) 
relatively stiff baleen plates of up to 0.5 m in length on each side of 
the mouth. Each plate has very coarse bristles forming a ``bush'' at 
the top. A median groove extending from the umbilicus to the genital 
aperture is typically present.
    Bryde's whales are generally found in a range of habitats and water 
depths. Their distribution in the Gulf of Mexico appears highly limited 
to a relatively small area off the Florida Panhandle along the shelf 
edge in DeSoto Canyon at depths between 100 and 1,000 m (e.g., Mullin 
and Fulling, 2004; [Scaron]irovi[cacute] et al., 2014). There have been 
no confirmed records of Bryde's whales from the Gulf of Mexico outside 
the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but it cannot be ruled out that 
the whales move outside this small area, including into the waters off 
Cuba or Mexico; the U.S. EEZ only makes up 35 percent of the oceanic 
waters of the Gulf of Mexico (NMFS, 2013).
    The petitioner presented information on the status of the 
population of the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale, and additional 
information was also available in our files. There have been four point 
estimates of population size made since 1991 for the northern Gulf of 
Mexico (i.e., within the U.S. EEZ only). The best abundance estimate 
for the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale is 33 (Coefficient of Variation 
[CV] = 1.07) from a summer 2009 oceanic survey,

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with a minimum population estimate of 16 whales (NMFS, 2012). This 
estimate is below the 35 animals (CV = 1.10) for the 1991 to 1994 
period (Hansen et al., 1995) and the 40 animals (CV = 0.61) estimated 
for the 1996 to 2001 period (Mullin and Fulling, 2004), and greater 
than the estimate for 2003 to 2004, which was 15 animals (CV = 1.98) 
(Mullin, 2007). While there have been four point estimates made, the 
precision of the estimates is poor, there is no statistical difference 
between the maximum and minimum estimates (NMFS, 2009), and no 
interpretation of population trends should be made from these values. 
NMFS (2009) further cautions that the available estimates, based on 
surveys conducted only in the U.S. EEZ, cannot account for changes in 
abundance from shifts in distribution beyond U.S. waters, and NMFS 
(2012) recommends that Bryde's whales need to be satellite tagged to 
determine whether they use the northeastern Gulf exclusively or travel 
to other areas.

DPS Analysis

    The petition requests that we designate Bryde's whales in the Gulf 
of Mexico as an endangered DPS and presents arguments that Bryde's 
whales in the Gulf of Mexico meet NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service's (together, the Services) requirements for identifying a DPS 
eligible for listing. Our DPS policy identifies two elements that must 
be considered when identifying a DPS: (1) The discreteness of the 
population segment in relation to the remainder of the species (or 
subspecies) to which it belongs; and (2) the significance of the 
population segment to the species to which it belongs. A population 
segment of a vertebrate species may be considered discrete if it 
satisfies either one of the following conditions: (1) It is markedly 
separated from other populations of the same taxon as a consequence of 
physical, physiological, ecological, or behavioral factors--
quantitative measures of genetic or morphological discontinuity may 
provide evidence of this separation; or (2) it is delimited by 
international governmental boundaries within which differences in 
control of exploitation, management of habitat conservation status, or 
regulatory mechanisms exist that are significant in light of section 
4(a)(1)(D) of the ESA. If a population segment is considered discrete 
under one or more of the above conditions, its biological and 
ecological significance will then be considered in light of 
Congressional guidance (see Senate Report 151, 96th Congress, 
1stSession) that the authority to list DPSs be used ``sparingly'' while 
encouraging the conservation of genetic diversity. In carrying out this 
examination, the Services will consider available scientific evidence 
of the discrete population segment's importance to the taxon to which 
it belongs. This consideration may include, but is not limited to, the 
following: (1) Persistence of the discrete population segment in an 
ecological setting unusual or unique for the taxon; (2) evidence that 
loss of the discrete population segment would result in a significant 
gap in the range of a taxon; (3) evidence that the discrete population 
segment represents the only surviving natural occurrence of a taxon 
that may be more abundant elsewhere as an introduced population outside 
its historic range; or (4) evidence that the discrete population 
segment differs markedly from other populations of the species in its 
genetic characteristics.
    The petitioner asserts that genetic and morphological information 
is evidence the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale population qualifies as a 
distinct population segment under the ESA. The petition cites Rosel and 
Wilcox (2014) as evidence the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale population 
is as evolutionarily distinct as other recognized subspecies within the 
Bryde's whale complex. The petition also includes information 
indicating those whales in the Gulf of Mexico are residents and may be 
geographically isolated from other Bryde's whales. Analyzing DNA 
sequence data from three mitochondrial DNA and nine nuclear genes, and 
examining 42 nuclear microsatellite loci for 21 Bryde's whale samples, 
Rosel and Wilcox (2014) found that ``Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale 
haplotypes are evolutionarily distinct from other members of the 
Bryde's whale complex.'' Further, Rosel and Wilcox (2014) found that 
Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whales are as divergent as the two already 
recognized subspecies of Bryde's whales. Rosel and Wilcox (2014) also 
stated that the divergence is as great as two species generally are 
from one another, thus we find that the petition presents substantial 
evidence that the DPS policy's criteria for discreteness may be met for 
the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale.
    The petitioner also argues that the Bryde's whale in the Gulf of 
Mexico is significant because of its unique genetic characteristics, 
its behavior and morphology, and because it is the only resident baleen 
whale population in the Gulf of Mexico. The petitioners cite the 
findings of Rosel and Wilcox (2014) and state the genetic 
differentiation shown by the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale makes it 
evolutionarily significant. The petitioners also argue that the Gulf of 
Mexico Bryde's whale is behaviorally and morphologically different from 
other Bryde's whales. Behaviorally, the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whales 
use a call that differs in frequency and repetitive structure from 
variants used in other Bryde's whale populations ([Scaron]irovi[cacute] 
et al., 2014; Rice et al., 2014). Morphologically, the Gulf of Mexico 
Bryde's whales' body lengths seem intermediary to the smaller B. e. 
edeni and larger B. e. brydei forms (Best, 1977; Rice, 1998). The 
petitioner also states that as the only resident baleen whale in the 
Gulf of Mexico, the Bryde's whale fills a unique ecological niche. We 
therefore conclude that the petition presents sufficient evidence that 
the DPS policy's criteria for significance may be met for the Gulf of 
Mexico Bryde's whale. Because the Gulf of Mexico population of Bryde's 
whale may qualify as a DPS, we will consider it a potentially listable 
entity for purposes of this 90-day finding. Whether the Gulf of Mexico 
population of Bryde's whales constitutes a DPS will receive further 
analysis in the status review.

Analysis of ESA Section 4(a)(1) Factors

    The petitioner states the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale is 
threatened by three (out of five) ESA Section 4(a)(1) factors: present 
or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat 
or range; inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and other 
natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. The 
petition cites the following threats as contributing to the present or 
threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or 
range of the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale: (1) Ship strikes, (2) 
acoustic impacts, (3) oil spills, (4) other toxic chemicals, (5) ocean 
acidification, (6) entanglement in fishing gear, and (7) trophic 
impacts due to overfishing. We believe that three of these threats 
(numbers 1, 6, and 7) should be categorized under the Section 4(a)(1) 
category ``other natural or manmade factors.''
    Ship strikes are a recognized source of whale mortality (Laist et 
al., 2006). In 2009, a Bryde's whale was struck by a ship near Tampa, 
Florida (Waring et al., 2013); additionally, eight other Bryde's whales 
are known to have stranded along the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico 
between 1975 and 1996, from unknown causes (Laist, 2001). While ship 
collisions probably have a negligible effect on the status and trend of 
most whale populations, they may have a significant effect on very 
small

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populations or discrete groups (Laist et al., 2001), such as the Gulf 
of Mexico population of Bryde's whale. The petition also states that 
ship-strike risk in the Gulf of Mexico may increase in the near future 
given expansion of the Panama Canal and the associated increase in 
vessel traffic. There was one documented, lethal ship strike of a 
Bryde's whale in 2009, involving a lactating female (therefore, its 
calf presumably ultimately died as well). Detected mortalities are a 
minimum estimate and almost certainly biased low. Total human-caused 
mortality of the northern Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale stock is 
unknown, but, based on the 2009 confirmed mortality and the stock's 
small size, the annual human-caused mortality to the stock is greater 
than the stock's potential biological removal level (NMFS, 2012), 
meaning that the level of mortality threatens the stock's ability to 
achieve and maintain its optimum sustainable population. After 
reviewing the references and information in our files, we agree that, 
given the small population size, injury and death from ship strikes may 
be impacting Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale to a degree that raises 
concerns regarding the risk of extinction.
    The petition cites numerous sources detailing negative effects of 
acoustic impacts on marine mammals, including hearing loss, masking of 
biologically significant sounds, and disruption in foraging and other 
vital behaviors (NRC, 2003; Weilgart, 2007; CBD, 2012). The petition 
cites Azzara et al. (2013) to indicate that Gulf of Mexico shipping 
traffic may be disrupting sperm whale behavior and possibly 
communication and foraging patterns. The petition indicates the calls 
of Bryde's whale fall well within the range of commercial shipping 
noise (5 to 500 Hz [Hildebrand, 2009]) and concludes that the high 
levels of ambient noise in the Gulf of Mexico are likely to constrain 
the communication range of Bryde's whales, citing Hatch et al. (2012), 
and may potentially induce a chronic stress response, citing Rolland et 
al. (2012).
    The petition also cites seismic exploration using airguns as a 
threat that would degrade Bryde's whale communication, based on the 
frequency overlap between Bryde's whale calls and the peak energy 
release of the airguns. Based on reports from other baleen whale 
species (e.g., Clark and Gagnon, 2006; Gailey et al., 2007; Di Iorio 
and Clark, 2010; Castellote et al., 2012; Blackwell et al., 2013; 
Cerchio et al., 2014), the petition suggests that seismic noise may, in 
addition to masking communication, directly disrupt other behaviors of 
Bryde's whales. When we conduct 90-day reviews of petitions, we 
typically look for species-specific information that a threat is 
operative. In this case, considering the information presented on other 
large cetaceans, the ubiquity of major noise-producing sources in the 
Gulf of Mexico, and the apparently constrained habitat of Bryde's 
whales, we find that there is sufficient information presented to 
suggest that acoustic impacts may be an operative threat to this 
species, despite the lack of information specific to Bryde's whales. 
After reviewing the information in the petition, we conclude that 
commercial and industrial ocean noise may be negatively affecting Gulf 
of Mexico Bryde's whale behavior, physiology, and acoustic habitat to a 
degree that raises concerns regarding the risk of extinction.

Petition Finding

    Based on the above information and the criteria specified in 50 CFR 
424.14(b)(2), we find substantial information was presented on the 
``present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
its habitat or range'' (i.e., acoustic impacts) and on ``other natural 
or manmade factors'' (i.e., ship strikes) indicating the petitioned 
action of listing the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale (B. e. edeni) as an 
endangered DPS may be warranted. Since we determined that the threats 
associated with acoustic impacts and ship strikes indicate that the 
petitioned action may be warranted, we did not conduct a detailed 
analysis of the other threats cited by the petitioner here.
    Because we have found that substantial information was presented to 
indicate the petitioned action may be warranted, we will commence a 
status review of the species. During our status review, we will fully 
address all five of the factors set out in Section 4(a)(1). At the 
conclusion of the status review, we will determine whether the 
petitioned action is warranted. As previously noted, a ``may be 
warranted'' finding does not prejudge the outcome of the status review.

Information Solicited

    As required by section 4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA and NMFS' implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)), we are to commence a review of the 
status of the species and make a determination within 12 months of 
receiving the petition as to whether the petitioned action is 
warranted. We intend that any final action resulting from this review 
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we open a 60-
day public comment period to solicit information from the public, 
government agencies, the scientific community, industry, and any other 
interested parties on the delineation of, threats to, and status of the 
Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale including: (1) Historical and current 
distribution, abundance, and population trends; (2) life history and 
biological information including adaptations to ecological settings, 
genetic analyses to assess paternal contribution and population 
connectivity, and movement patterns to determine population mixing; (3) 
management measures and regulatory mechanisms designed to protect the 
species; (4) any current or planned activities that may adversely 
impact the species; and (5) ongoing or planned efforts to protect and 
restore the species and habitat. We request that all information be 
accompanied by: (1) Supporting documentation such as maps, 
bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications; and 
(2) the submitter's name, address, and any association, institution, or 
business that the person represents. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the ESA and 
NMFS' implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.11(b)) require that a 
listing determination be made solely on the basis of the best 
scientific and commercial data, without consideration of possible 
economic or other impacts of the determination. During the 60-day 
public comment period we are seeking information related only to the 
status of the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale.

References Cited

    A complete list of references is available upon request from the 
Southeast Regional Office, Protected Resource Division (see ADDRESSES).

Authority

    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: March 31, 2015.
Eileen Sobeck,
Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2015-07836 Filed 4-3-15; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P