Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Marine Geophysical Survey in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean Offshore New Jersey, June to August, 2015, 27635-27659 [2015-11589]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices deposit rate will continue to be the exporter-specific rate published for the most recent period; (3) for all PRC exporters of subject merchandise which have not been found to be entitled to a separate rate, the cash deposit rate will be the PRC-wide rate $2.63 per kilogram; and (4) for all non-PRC exporters of subject merchandise which have not received their own rate, the cash deposit rate will be the rate applicable to the PRC exporters that supplied that non-PRC exporter. These deposit requirements, when imposed, shall remain in effect until further notice. Reimbursement of Duties This notice also serves as a final reminder to importers of their responsibility under 19 CFR 351.402(f) to file a certificate regarding the reimbursement of antidumping duties prior to liquidation of the relevant entries during this POR. Failure to comply with this requirement could result in the Department’s presumption that reimbursement of antidumping duties has occurred and the subsequent assessment of doubled antidumping duties. Administrative Protective Order This notice also serves as a reminder to parties subject to administrative protective order (‘‘APO’’) of their responsibility concerning the return or destruction of proprietary information disclosed under APO in accordance with 19 CFR 351.305, which continues to govern business proprietary information in this segment of the proceeding. Timely written notification of the return/destruction of APO materials or conversion to judicial protective order is hereby requested. Failure to comply with the regulations and terms of an APO is a violation which is subject to sanction. We are issuing and publishing this administrative review and notice in accordance with sections 751(a)(1) and 777(i) of the Act. Dated: May 7, 2015. Paul Piquado, Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Compliance. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Appendix—List of Topics Discussed in the Decision Memorandum I. Summary II. Background 1. Scope of the Order 2. Case Timeline III. Discussion of the Issues Comment 1: Whether the Department’s Rejection of Kunshan Xinlong’s PostDeadline Extension Requests Was Appropriate VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 Comment 2: Whether the Department Properly Disallowed Kunshan Xinlong to Submit a Supplemental Section C Questionnaire Response Comment 3: Whether the Adverse Inference Is Appropriate Comment 4: Whether the AFA Rate Is Appropriate IV. Recommendation [FR Doc. 2015–11577 Filed 5–13–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE International Trade Administration [C–570–025, C–533–862, C–523–811] Certain Polyethylene Terephthalate Resin From the People’s Republic of China, India and the Sultanate of Oman: Postponement of Preliminary Determinations in the Countervailing Duty Investigations Enforcement and Compliance, International Trade Administration, Department of Commerce. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: David Cordell (India) at (202) 482–0408, Ilissa Shefferman (People’s Republic of China) at (202) 482–4684, and Thomas Martin (Sultanate of Oman) at (202) 482–3935, AD/CVD Operations, Enforcement and Compliance, International Trade Administration, Department of Commerce, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: AGENCY: On March 30, 2015, the Department of Commerce (the Department) initiated countervailing duty investigations on certain polyethylene terephthalate resin from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), India, and the Sultanate of Oman (Oman).1 Currently, the preliminary determinations are due no later than June 3, 2015. Postponement of the Preliminary Determination Section 703(b)(1) of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (the Act), requires the Department to issue the preliminary determination in a countervailing duty investigation within 65 days after the date on which the Department initiated the investigation. However, if the petitioner makes a timely request for an extension in accordance with 19 CFR 351.205(e), section 703(c)(1)(A) of the Act allows the Department to postpone 1 See Certain Polyethylene Terephthalate Resin from the People’s Republic of China, India, and the Sultanate of Oman: Initiation of Countervailing Duty Investigations, 80 FR 18376 (April 6, 2015). Frm 00008 the preliminary determination until no later than 130 days after the date on which the Department initiated the investigation. On May 4, 2015, the petitioners 2 submitted a timely request pursuant to section 703(c)(1)(A) of the Act and 19 CFR 351.205(e) to postpone the preliminary determinations.3 Therefore, in accordance with section 703(c)(1)(A) of the Act, we are fully extending the due date for the preliminary determination to not later than 130 days after the day on which the investigation was initiated. As a result, the deadline for completion of the preliminary determination is now August 7, 2015. This notice is issued and published pursuant to section 703(c)(2) of the Act and 19 CFR 351.205(f)(1). Dated: May 7, 2015. Ronald K Lorentzen, Acting Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Compliance. [FR Doc. 2015–11654 Filed 5–13–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XD773 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Marine Geophysical Survey in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean Offshore New Jersey, June to August, 2015 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization. AGENCY: Background PO 00000 27635 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) implementing regulations, we hereby give notice that we have issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization (Authorization) to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (Lamont-Doherty), a component of Columbia University, in collaboration with the National Science Foundation (NSF), to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to conducting a marine geophysical (seismic) survey in the northwest Atlantic Ocean off the New Jersey coast June through August, 2015. SUMMARY: 2 DAK Americas, LLC, M&G Chemicals, and Nan Ya Plastics Corporation, America, (the petitioners). 3 See Letters from Petitioners, entitled ‘‘Polyethylene Terephthalate Resin From the People’s Republic of China, India and Sultanate of Oman: Petitioners’ Request for Extension of the Preliminary Determination,’’ dated May 4, 2015. E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 27636 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices Effective June 1, 2015, through August 31, 2015. ADDRESSES: A copy of the final Authorization and application are available by writing to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Incidental Take Program, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, by telephoning the contacts listed here, or by visiting the internet at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/research.htm. The NSF prepared an amended Environmental Assessment (EA) in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and the regulations published by the Council on Environmental Quality. Their EA titled, ‘‘Final Amended Environmental Assessment of a Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, Summer 2015,’’ prepared by LGL, Ltd. environmental research associates, on behalf of the NSF and the LamontDoherty, is available at https:// www.nsf.gov/geo/oce/envcomp/ index.jsp. NMFS also prepared an EA titled, ‘‘Proposed Issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization to LamontDoherty Earth Observatory to Take Marine Mammals by Harassment Incidental to a Marine Geophysical Survey in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, June–August, 2015,’’ in accordance with NEPA and NOAA Administrative Order 216–6. To obtain an electronic copy of these documents, write to the previously mentioned address, telephone the contact listed here (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or download the files at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/research.htm. NMFS also issued a Biological Opinion under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to evaluate the effects of the survey and Authorization on marine species listed as threatened and endangered. The Biological Opinion is available online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ consultations/opinions.htm. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeannine Cody, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS (301) 427– 8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES DATES: Background Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs the Secretary of Commerce VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals of a species or population stock, by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if, after NMFS provides a notice of a proposed authorization to the public for review and comment: (1) NMFS makes certain findings; and (2) the taking is limited to harassment. An Authorization shall be granted for the incidental taking of small numbers of marine mammals if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant). The Authorization must also set forth the permissible methods of taking; other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species or stock and its habitat (i.e., mitigation); and requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking. 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 23, 2014, NMFS received an application from LamontDoherty requesting that NMFS issue an Authorization for the take of marine mammals, incidental to the State University of New Jersey at Rutgers (Rutgers) conducting a seismic survey in the northwest Atlantic Ocean June through August, 2015. NMFS determined the application complete and adequate on February 20, 2015, and published a notice of proposed Authorization on March 17, 2015 (80 FR 13961). The notice afforded the public a 30-day comment period on the proposed MMPA Authorization. Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct a high-energy, 3-dimensional (3–D) seismic survey on the R/V Marcus G. PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Langseth (Langseth) in the northwest Atlantic Ocean approximately 25 to 85 kilometers (km) (15.5 to 52.8 miles [mi]) off the New Jersey coast for approximately 30 days from June 1 to August 31, 2015. The following specific aspect of the proposed activity has the potential to take marine mammals: Increased underwater sound generated during the operation of the seismic airgun arrays. We anticipate that take, by Level B harassment only, of 32 species of marine mammals could result from the specified activity. Description of the Specified Activity Overview Lamont-Doherty plans to use one source vessel, the Langseth, two pairs of subarrays configured with four airguns as the energy source, and four hydrophone streamers, and a P-Cable system to conduct the conventional seismic survey. In addition to the operations of the airguns, LamontDoherty intends to operate a multibeam echosounder and a sub-bottom profiler on the Langseth continuously throughout the proposed survey which would run 24 hours a day. However, they would not operate the multibeam echosounder or sub-bottom profiler during transits to and from the survey area. The purpose of the survey is to collect and analyze data on the arrangement of sediments deposited during times of changing global sea level from roughly 60 million years ago to present. The 3– D survey would investigate features such as river valleys cut into coastal plain sediments now buried under a kilometer of younger sediment and flooded by today’s ocean. LamontDoherty’s proposed seismic survey is purely scientific in nature and not related to oil and natural gas exploration on the outer continental shelf of the Atlantic Ocean. The proposed survey’s principal investigator is Dr. G. Mountain (Rutgers) and the collaborating investigators are Drs. J. Austin and C. Fulthorpe, and M. Nedimovic (University of Texas at Austin). Lamont-Doherty, Rutgers, and the NSF originally proposed conducting the survey in 2014. After completing appropriate environmental analyses under appropriate federal statutes, NMFS issued an Authorization under the MMPA and a Biological Opinion with an Incidental Take Statement (ITS) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) to LamontDoherty on July 1, 2014 effective from July 1 through August 17, 2014. LamontDoherty commenced the seismic survey on July 1, 2014, but was unable to E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices complete the survey due to the Langseth experiencing mechanical issues during the effective periods set forth in the 2014 Authorization and the ITS. Thus, Lamont-Doherty has requested a new Authorization under the MMPA and the NSF consulted with NMFS for a new Biological Opinion under the ESA to conduct this re-scheduled survey in 2015. The project’s objectives remain the same as those described for the 2014 survey (see 79 FR 14779, March 17, 2014 and 79 FR 38496, July 08, 2014, and 80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). Dates and Duration Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct the seismic survey for approximately 30 days. The proposed study (e.g., equipment testing, startup, line changes, repeat coverage of any areas, and equipment recovery) would include approximately 720 hours of airgun operations (i.e., 30 days over 24 hours). Some minor deviation from LamontDoherty’s requested dates of June through August, 2015, is possible, depending on logistics, weather conditions, and the need to repeat some lines if data quality is substandard. Thus, this Authorization will be effective from June 1 through August 31, 2015. Specified Geographic Area Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct the seismic survey in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 25 to 85 km (15.5 to 52.8 mi) off the coast of New Jersey between approximately 39.3–39.7° N. and approximately 73.2–73.8° W. Water depths in the survey area are approximately 30 to 75 m (98.4 to 246 feet [ft]). They would conduct the proposed survey outside of New Jersey state waters and within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. Detailed Description of the Specified Activities tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Transit Activities The Langseth will depart from New York, NY, and transit for approximately eight hours to the proposed survey area. Setup, deployment, and streamer ballasting would occur over approximately three days. At the conclusion of the 30-day survey (plus additional days for gear deployment and retrieval), the Langseth will return to New York, NY. Vessel Specifications NMFS outlined the vessel’s specifications in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). NMFS does not repeat the information here as the vessel’s specifications have not changed VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 between the notice of proposed Authorization and this notice of an issued Authorization. Data Acquisition Activities NMFS outlined the details regarding Lamont-Doherty’s data acquisition activities using the airguns, multibeam echosounder, and the sub-bottom profiler in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). NMFS does not repeat the information here as the data acquisition activities have not changed between the notice of proposed Authorization and this notice of an issued Authorization. For a more detailed description of the authorized action, including vessel and acoustic source specifications, metrics, characteristics of airgun pulses, predicted sound levels of airguns, etc., please see the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) and associated documents referenced above this section. Comments and Responses NMFS published a notice of receipt of Lamont-Doherty’s application and proposed Authorization in the Federal Register on March 17, 2015 (80 FR 13961). During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS received comments from the following: 26 private citizens, Senators Cory A. Booker and Robert Menendez, Representatives Tom MacArthur and Frank Pallone, the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission), and the following organizations: Clean Ocean Action; the Marcus Langseth Science Oversight Committee (MLSOC); the State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP); the Sierra Club—Ocean County Group (Sierra Club); the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council; SandyHook SeaLife Foundation; and NY4 Whales. NMFS has posted the comments online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/research.htm#nj2015. NMFS addresses any comments specific to Lamont-Doherty’s application related to the statutory and regulatory requirements or findings that NMFS must make in order to issue an Authorization. Following is a summary of the public comments and NMFS’ responses. Requests To Extend the Public Comment Period Comment 1: Prior to the conclusion of the public comment period for the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015), NMFS received requests through the public comment process from Senators Cory A. Booker and Robert Menendez, and PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 27637 Representatives Tom MacArthur and Frank Pallone, Clean Ocean Action, and one private citizen for NMFS to extend the 30-day public comment period by an additional 60 days for constituent review and comment. Response: NMFS acknowledges the requests from the public and members of the New Jersey Congressional delegation for an extension of the public comment period. However, NMFS did not extend the public comment period for the Federal Register notice of proposed Authorization which closed on April 16, 2015 based on the following factors. 1. The NSF, sponsor of the research seismic survey, released a draft amended EA, titled, ‘‘Draft Amended Environmental Assessment of a Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, Summer 2015,’’ on the proposed seismic survey on December 19, 2014 with a 37-day public comment period. The NSF’s draft amended EA tiers to a 2014 NSF Final EA for the same project and to the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement/ Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for Marine Seismic Research Funded by the National Science Foundation or Conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (NSF, 2011). It contains a description of the action, addresses potential impacts to tourism and commercial and recreational fisheries, and discusses mitigation measures for marine mammals. In response to requests from the public and from members of the New Jersey Congressional delegation, the NSF extended their public comment period for the draft amended EA by an additional 15 days providing a total of 52 days for adequate review by the public. 2. NMFS published a Federal Register notice of the proposed Authorization for the 2015 survey on March 17, 2015 with a 30-day public comment period. Also, on March 17, 2015, NMFS informed Clean Ocean Action of the availability of the application and Federal Register notice for review and comment. We note that the 2015 seismic survey is substantively the same as the one analyzed and authorized in 2014 (see 79 FR 14779, March 17, 2014 and 79 FR 38496, July 08, 2014), except that Lamont-Doherty proposes to use a 50percent smaller airgun array, which equates to fewer anticipated effects on marine mammals. Thus, the 2015 proposed survey (again, substantively the same as the 2014 survey) has been in the public domain for minimally one year (March 17, 2014 through April 17, 2015). In fact, NMFS extended the E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 27638 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES public comment period for the 2014 notice of the proposed Authorization by an additional 30 days (see 79 FR 19580, April 9, 2014) to accommodate additional review and analyses by the same if not similar interested parties. 3. For the 2015 survey, NMFS provided the public 30 days to review and comment on our preliminary determinations, in accordance with section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA. NMFS believes that the two public comment periods (i.e., one for NSF’s draft amended EA and one for NMFS’ proposed authorization) provided a total of 82 days for the public to consider and provide input on the marine mammal effects of the 2015 action (which again, is substantively the same as last year’s survey), as well as the proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures for marine mammals. 4. The NSF lead principal investigator (Dr. Gregory Mountain, Rutgers University) posted a public Web site on the Internet at http:// geology.rutgers.edu/slin3d-home on February 18, 2015 with information about the proposed seismic survey. The Web site clearly outlines the proposed project’s goals, presents frequently asked questions in an easy to understand format, describes the Langseth and its operations, discusses compliance with federal environmental statutes, and includes clarification that the proposed project is not related to oil & gas activities. Extending the public comment period would have impacted NSF’s continuing science program, through which other Federal agencies and academic institutions use the Langseth for upcoming scientific research. Impacts to survey timelines typically cascade into subsequent work, which can have financial and science mission effects on NSF and other entities. NMFS is aware that this is a sensitive issue and appreciates the interest that the members of the New Jersey Congressional delegation and their constituents have in the protection and conservation of marine mammals and the environment. Effects Analyses Comment 2: The Commission commented that NMFS’ presentation of the marine mammal species that could be affected, marine mammal densities, take estimation method, and numbers of takes estimated in the Federal Register notice differed from Lamont-Doherty’s approach presented in their application. The Commission questioned why Lamont-Doherty did not include those species and associated takes included within in their 2015 application given VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 their potential occurrence in the project area and the fact that they were included in the authorization issued by NMFS in 2014. The Commission recommended that, in the future, NMFS require Lamont-Doherty and the NSF to provide revised applications that reflect the best available scientific information concerning the species affected, marine mammal densities, take estimation method, and estimated numbers of takes, before it deems the application complete and publishes a proposed authorization. Response: Lamont-Doherty submitted their application to NMFS in accordance with the requirements under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA to provide information that NMFS uses to analyze impacts to marine mammals. NMFS reviewed the application and considered it complete after conducting additional research and reviews which we presented in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). While NMFS encourages applicants to include information on species and species presence within a proposed action area, NMFS uses a wide variety of information when making its determinations under the MMPA. However, NMFS does not solely rely on the information presented in the application. NMFS uses the application as a basis for consultation under the MMPA, conducts an independent review of the information presented, and presents its own information with supporting evidence to provide the best available information on mammal species that could be affected, marine mammal densities, and approaches to take estimation in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). NMFS will continue to encourage applicants for MMPA incidental take authorization to provide applications that reflect the best available scientific information and if necessary, require them to submit revised applications reflecting that information. Comment 3: The Commission commented a revised approach for estimating take in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) (which differed from Lamont-Doherty’s standard approach of multiplying the ensonified area by marine mammal density to estimate take), and understands through consultation with NMFS staff, that NMFS intends to use another method to estimate take that will likely yield different take estimates than those discussed in the notice of proposed authorization. The Commission expressed concern that public review PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 opportunity is meaningful only if the notice of proposed Authorization contains current information on methodologies to evaluate potential impacts and recommended that NMFS publish a revised proposed Incidental Harassment Authorization in the Federal Register with updated estimated numbers of takes and small numbers and negligible impact analyses to provide a more informed public comment opportunity. Response: NMFS’ analysis in this document is based on the best available information after careful consideration of the Commission’s comments on a more appropriate method for estimating take, including the Commission’s recommendation on a more appropriate method to account for the survey duration of 30 days. Refer to comment 9 for NMFS’ rationale regarding our recalculation of estimated takes based on the Commission’s recommendation. These changes to the methodology and the resulting estimates do not have any substantial effect on our small numbers and negligible impact analyses and determinations, given that the proportion of animals taken is safely within the bounds of our small numbers practice, and the anticipated severity of impacts has not changed. We agree there may be circumstances where a change to our proposed action (e.g., based on a public comment or an applicant request) may warrant a second notice and comment period before we take final action, but given the changes here we do not believe a second notice and comment period is necessary in this case. Comment 4: The Commission expressed concerns regarding LamontDoherty’s use of a ray trace-based model to estimate exclusion and buffer zones for NSF-funded geophysical research. They stated that the model is not conservative because it assumes spherical spreading, a constant sound speed, and no bottom interactions instead of incorporating site-specific environmental characteristics (e.g., sound speed profiles, refraction, bathymetry/water depth, sediment properties/bottom loss, or absorption coefficients). Response: We acknowledge the Commission’s concerns about LamontDoherty’s current modeling approach for estimating exclusion and buffer zones and also acknowledge that Lamont-Doherty did not incorporate site-specific sound speed profiles, bathymetry, and sediment characteristics of the research area in the current approach to estimate those zones for this proposed seismic survey. E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices In 2015, Lamont-Doherty explored solutions to this issue by conducting a retrospective sound power analysis of one of the lines acquired during Lamont-Doherty’s truncated seismic survey offshore New Jersey in 2014 (Crone, 2015). NMFS presented this information in Table 4 in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) and presents this information again later in this notice (see Table 1) with additional information regarding the predicted radii with the upper 95 percent crossline prediction bound radii. Briefly, Crone’s (2015) preliminary analysis, specific to the proposed survey site offshore New Jersey, confirmed that in-situ measurements and estimates of the 160- and 180-decibel (dB) isopleths collected by the Langseth’s hydrophone streamer in shallow water were smaller than the predicted exclusion and buffer zones proposed for use in the 2015 survey. Based upon the best available information, the exclusion and buffer zone calculations are appropriate for use in this particular survey. Lamont-Doherty’s application (LGL, 2014) and the NSF’s draft amended EA (NSF, 2014) describe the approach to establishing mitigation exclusion and buffer zones. In summary, LamontDoherty acquired field measurements for several array configurations at shallow- and deep-water depths during acoustic verification studies conducted in the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2003 (Tolstoy et al., 2004) and in 2007 and 2008 (Tolstoy et al., 2009). Based on the empirical data from those studies, Lamont-Doherty developed a sound propagation modeling approach that conservatively predicts received sound levels as a function of distance from a particular airgun array configuration in deep water. For this proposed survey, Lamont-Doherty developed the shallowwater exclusion and buffer zones for the airgun array based on the empiricallyderived measurements from the Gulf of Mexico calibration survey (Fig. 5a in Appendix H of the NSF’s 2011 PEIS). Following is a summary of two additional analyses of in-situ data that support Lamont-Doherty’s use of the proposed exclusion zones in this particular case. In 2010, Lamont-Doherty assessed the accuracy of their modeling approach by comparing the sound levels of the field measurements in the Gulf of Mexico study to their model predictions (Diebold et al., 2010). They reported that the observed sound levels from the field measurements fell almost entirely below the predicted mitigation radii curve for deep water (Diebold et al., 2010). VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 In 2012, Lamont-Doherty used a similar process to develop mitigation radii (i.e., exclusion and buffer zones) for a shallow-water seismic survey in the northeast Pacific Ocean offshore Washington in 2012. Lamont-Doherty conducted the shallow-water survey using an airgun configuration that was approximately 89 percent larger than the total discharge volume proposed for this shallow-water survey (i.e., 6,600 cubic inches (in3) compared to 700 in3) and recorded the received sound levels on the shelf and slope off Washington using the Langseth’s 8-kilometer (km) hydrophone streamer. Crone et al. (2014) analyzed those received sound levels from the 2012 survey and reported that the actual distances for the exclusion and buffer zones were two to three times smaller than what LamontDoherty’s modeling approach predicted. While the results confirm bathymetry’s role in sound propagation, Crone et al. (2014) were able to confirm that the empirical measurements from the Gulf of Mexico calibration survey (the same measurements used to inform LamontDoherty’s modeling approach for this survey in shallow water) overestimated the size of the exclusion and buffer zones for the shallow-water 2012 survey off Washington and were thus precautionary, in that particular case. In summary, at present, LamontDoherty cannot adjust their modeling methodology to add the environmental and site-specific parameters as requested by the Commission. We continue to work with the NSF to address the issue of incorporating sitespecific information to further inform the analysis and development of mitigation measures in coastal areas for future surveys with Lamont-Doherty and the NSF. NMFS will continue to work with Lamont-Doherty, the NSF, and the Commission on continuing to verify the accuracy of their modeling approach. However, Lamont-Doherty’s current modeling approach represents the best available information to reach our determinations for the Authorization. As described earlier, the comparisons of Lamont-Doherty’s model results and the field data collected in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore Washington, and offshore New Jersey illustrate a degree of conservativeness built into Lamont-Doherty’s model for deep water, which NMFS expects to offset some of the limitations of the model to capture the variability resulting from site-specific factors, especially in shallow water. Comment 5: The Commission disagreed with Lamont-Doherty’s use of extrapolations and correction factors (or a scaling approach) to generate PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 27639 exclusion zones for shallow-water for this proposed survey and stated that the use of those scaling factors for shallowwater surveys is unsubstantiated. The Commission states that because LamontDoherty has not verified the applicability of its model to conditions outside the Gulf of Mexico, it recommends that NMFS and/or the respective applicants estimate exclusion and buffer zones using either empirical measurements from the particular survey site or a model that accounts for the conditions in the proposed survey area by incorporating site-specific environmental and operational parameters. Response: See our response to Comment 4. Lamont-Doherty’s approach compares the sound exposure level (SEL) outputs between two different types of airgun configurations in deep water. This approach allows them to derive scaling relationships between the arrays and extrapolate empirical measurements or model outputs to different array sizes and tow depths. For example, if an Airgun Source A produces sound energy that is three times greater than Airgun Source B in deep water, it is reasonable to infer that the shallow-water mitigation zones for Airgun Source A would be three times larger than the shallow-water mitigation zones for Airgun Source B. This approach of deriving scaling factors is an appropriate approach to extrapolate existing empirical measurements for shallow water. Thus, this is the best available information to extrapolate the in-situ shallow water measurements to array tow depths without field verification studies (Crone et al., 2014; Barton and Diebold, 2006). Based upon NMFS and the Commission’s recommendation, Lamont-Doherty used in-situ empirical measurements from the 2014 survey to compare them to the accuracy of the predicted mitigation zones used in the 2014 and 2015 survey. The preliminary in-situ measurement results from Crone (2015) show that the predicted mitigation exclusion zones are appropriate. This analysis also confirmed the effectiveness of LamontDoherty’s use of scaling factors. Based on the best available information (Diebold et al., 2010; Crone et al., 2014; and Crone, 2015), NMFS concludes that in the case for this survey, requiring the use of a model with environmental characteristics of the specific study area is not necessary. Lamont-Doherty has conveyed to us that additional modeling efforts to refine the process and conduct comparative analysis may be possible with the availability of research fund and other E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 27640 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices resources. Obtaining research funds is typically through a competitive process, including those submitted to Federal agencies. The use of models for calculating buffer and exclusion zone radii and for developing take estimates is not a requirement of the MMPA incidental take authorization process. Furthermore, our agency does not provide specific guidance on model parameters nor prescribes a specific model for applicants as part of the MMPA incidental take authorization process. There is a level of variability not only with parameters in the models, but also the uncertainty associated with data used in models, and therefore the quality of the model results submitted by applicants. NMFS, however, considers this variability when evaluating applications. Applicants use models as a tool to evaluate potential impacts, estimate the number of and type of takes of marine mammals, and for designing mitigation. NMFS takes into consideration the model used and its results in determining the potential impacts to marine mammals; however, it is just one component of our analysis during the MMPA consultation process as we also take into consideration other factors associated with the proposed action, (e.g., geographic location, duration of activities, context, intensity, etc.). Comment 6: The Commission also commented on Lamont-Doherty’s retrospective sound analysis to verify the accuracy of its acoustic modeling approach for estimating exclusion and buffer zones that NMFS presented in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) (Crone, 2015). The Commission understands that Crone (2015) used a simple logarithmic regression model to fit the data that were collected 500 m to 3.5 km in line from the source; estimated the cross-line mean based on a 1.63 correction factor (Carton, pers. comm.); and used a 95th percentile fit to the regression model for all shots along the line. The Commission states, however, because the closest hydrophone was 500 m from the source, Lamont-Doherty extrapolated the distances to the 180-dB re 1 mPa threshold based on the model— in some instances, the extrapolation was more than 400 m. The Commission also stated that Crone (2015) did not provide similar information provided in Tolstoy et al. (2009) and Crone et al. (2014), such as the slope or the y-intercept for the logarithmic regression model; the basis for the cross-line correction factor; the sound speed profile when the measurements were collected, or whether the near-field extrapolated data VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 would have been better fitted with another model, since propagation loss in the near- and far-field may not necessarily be the same. The Commission further stated that polynomial and non-parametric cubic spline models best represented the data off Washington (Crone et al., 2014), neither of which are logarithmic in nature and a linear least squares method was fit to the typical spherical spreading model to extrapolate the 160-dB re 1 mPa radii to account for radii that fall beyond the length of the hydrophone streamer. Response: The NSF and LamontDoherty shared their preliminary analysis presented in Crone’s draft report (2015) to both NMFS and the Commission and provided additional clarifying information via email to both parties including information on some of the points identified in the Commission’s letter. Here, we provide additional information to inform the Commission’s understanding of the 2015 in-situ analysis. First, Lamont-Doherty believes that it is not correct to call the fitting parameters the slope and y-intercept, as one would do for a straight line using Cartesian coordinates and considers the use of constant and exponent parameters as more appropriate terminology when discussing the Crone (2015) results. Second, Lamont-Doherty confirms that the regression model used in Crone (2015) is the same as equation 6 in Crone et al., (2014), but without the linear term, which comes third in the formulation. There are fitting parameters (i.e., the constant and exponent) for every shot along the line. Because Crone (2015) used a method to fit the data (which changes with every shot) for approximately 3,000 shots, it is not reasonable to list the data for every shot. However, Lamont-Doherty will continue to evaluate this exponent change variability along the line. Third, Lamont-Doherty confirms that Crone (2015) estimated the parameters using linear least squares. However, in this case, and for equation 6 in Crone et al., (2014), both have a logarithmic term, which is appropriate since Crone (2015) employs linear regression models. Thus, the fitting model used is appropriate and the results for the 160-dB distance would likely not change significantly using another model to fit the data. In March, 2015, Lamont-Doherty also provided clarification to the Commission that the near-field data best fit using a logarithmic regression model. Lamont-Doherty offered to discuss the information presented in Crone (2015) with Commission staff and members of PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 its Committee of Scientific Advisors; however, the availability of all parties was limited before the conclusion of the public comment period and Dr. Crone was unable to discuss the results directly with the Commission prior to their submission of their letter. LamontDoherty and the NSF welcome the opportunity to further discuss these results in the near future with the Commission and NMFS. Comment 7: The Commission states that NMFS misrepresented the data from Crone (2015) in Table 4 of the Federal Register notice (page 13981, 80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) by including the in-line measured and extrapolated means (78 and 1,521 m for the 180- and 160-dB re 1 mPa thresholds, respectively) rather than the 95th percentile cross-line predicted means, which Lamont-Doherty generally uses for its best-fit model. Further, the Commission states that Crone (2015) indicated that the contour of the seafloor along the line was quite flat and varied by only a few meters along most of its 50-km length, which limited the shadowing and focusing that have been seen in other datasets (Crone et al., 2014). Crone (2015) then noted that the variability observed in Figures 3 and 4 for the 180- and 160-dB re 1 mPa thresholds, respectively, likely was caused by the shadowing and focusing of seismic energy from bathymetric features. The Commission stated that Crone’s statements did not comport. Response: NMFS’s comparison of the predicted radii for the 2014 survey with the in-situ measured radii for the 2014 survey was not misrepresented as suggested by the Commission as the information and analysis provided were accurate. However, NMFS agrees with the Commission that we could have also provided a comparison of the predicted radii with the upper 95 percent crossline prediction bound radii. We acknowledge that those results show that the percent differences in the model predicted radii and the 95th percentile cross-line predicted radii based on insitu measurements were approximately 28 and 33 percent smaller for the 180and 160-dB re: 1 mPa thresholds. Thus, the results demonstrate that the in situ measured and estimated 160 and 180-dB isopleths for the 2014 survey were significantly smaller than the predicted radii and therefore conservative, as emphasized by Lamont-Doherty in its application and in supporting environmental documentation. We present the complete information here in Table 1 with the additional information regarding the predicted radii with the upper 95 percent crossline prediction bound radii. E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices 27641 TABLE 1—SUMMARY OF RMS POWER LEVELS WITH ESTIMATED MITIGATION RADII CALCULATED USING STREAMER DATA, AND IN THE LAST COLUMN THE PREDICTED RADII USED DURING THE 2014 SURVEY RMS Level (dB re 1 μPa) tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 180 ...................... 160 ...................... In-line mean (m) Estimated cross-line mean (m) 78 1,521 128 2,479 With respect to Crone’s (2015) observations on shadowing and focusing of seismic energy, Crone (2015) did indicate that the contour of the seafloor along the line was quite flat and varied by only a few meters along most of its 50-km length, resulting in limited shadowing and focusing of seismic energy from bathymetric features frequently seen in other datasets (Crone et al. 2014). Crone, however, did not state that effects from shadowing and focusing were entirely absent from the 2014 data set. In fact, he noted that the limited amount of shadowing and focusing of seismic energy from bathymetric features present likely caused the minor variability observed. Comment 8: The Commission also recommends that we require LamontDoherty to re-estimate the proposed zones and take estimates using sitespecific parameters (including at least sound speed profiles, bathymetry, and sediment characteristics) for the proposed Authorization. They also recommend that we require the same for all future incidental harassment authorization requests submitted by Lamont-Doherty, the NSF, and other related entities. Response: See NMFS’ responses to Comment 4 and 5. There are many different modeling products and services commercially available that applicants could potentially use in developing their take estimates and analyses for MMPA authorizations. These different models range widely in cost, complexity, and the number of specific factors that one can consider in any particular modeling run. NMFS does not, and does not believe that it is appropriate to, prescribe the use of any particular modeling package. Rather, NMFS evaluates each applicant’s approach independently in the context of their activity. In cases where an applicant uses a simpler model and there is concern that a model might not capture the variability across a parameter(s) that is not represented in the model, conservative choices are often made at certain decision points in the model to help ensure that modeled estimates are buffered in a manner that VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 Upper 95% cross-line prediction bound (m) 273 3,505 Predicted levels used for the 2014 survey (m) 378 at 4.5-m tow depth; 439 at 6-m tow depth. 5,240 at 4.5 m tow depth; 6,100 at 6-m tow depth. would not result in the agency underestimating takes or effects. In this case, results have shown that LamontDoherty’s model reliably and conservatively estimates mitigation radii in deep water. First, the observed sound levels from the field measurements fell almost entirely below Lamont-Doherty’s estimated mitigation radii for deep water (Diebold et al., 2010). These conservative mitigation radii are the foundation for Lamont-Doherty’s shallow water radii used in this survey. Second, Lamont-Doherty’s analysis of measured shallow water radii during the 2012 survey offshore Washington (Crone et al., 2014) show that Lamont-Doherty’s modeled radii for the Washington survey overestimated the measured 160dB radii by approximately 10 km (6.2 mi) and overestimated the measured 180-dB radii by approximately 500 m (1,640 ft) (Crone et al., 2014). Based on Crone et al.’s (2014) findings, NMFS find that Lamont-Doherty’s shallowwater radii based on the Gulf of Mexico calibration study were larger (i.e., more conservative) for that particular study. Based on these empirical data, which illustrate the model’s conservative exposure estimates across two sites, as well as the preliminary results from a third site offshore New Jersey (Crone, 2015), NMFS finds that Lamont-Doherty reasonably estimates sound exposures for this survey. Comment 9: The Commission acknowledges that NMFS’ attempt to address shortcomings in LamontDoherty’s method to estimate take by developing an alternate approach based on the Commission’s recommendation in its public comments on the 2014 survey (see page 38500, 79 FR 38496, July 08, 2014). NMFS’ method used the total ensonified area (including overlap and the 25 percent contingency) for the 30 days multiplied by: (1) The revised density estimates from the SERDP SDSS Marine Animal Model Mapper tool for the summer months (DoN, 2007; accessed on February 10, 2015); (2) an adjustment factor of 25 percent based on Wood et al. (2012); and (3) an estimate of re-exposure (a ratio of 35.5) overlap of the survey. PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 The Commission commented that the area times the density method, which still serves as the basis for NMFS’ proposed method, assumes a snapshot approach for take estimation (i.e., uniform distribution) and does not account for the survey occurring over a 30 day period. Thus, the Commission states that NMFS did not incorporate a time element into the take estimation method and did not apply the Wood et al. (2012) correction factor of 1.25 correctly. The Commission understands that following publication of the Federal Register notice, NMFS began to revise the take estimates based on a different methodology for the proposed survey. The Commission understands that the total numbers of exposures likely will decrease but the estimated numbers of individuals that could be taken likely will increase. If NMFS chooses not to amend and republish its notice, the Commission recommends that NMFS: (1) Use one of the two methods described in their letter to estimate the total number of takes for each species/ stock for the survey; and (2) if NMFS intends to estimate the total number of individuals for each species/stock taken during the survey, include a review of the applicable scientific literature regarding migratory, residence, and foraging patterns for the various species off the East coast and relate those data to the 30-day survey period for the proposed survey off New Jersey. Response: NMFS agrees with the Commission’s recommendation to appropriately include a time component into our calculations and has revised its take estimation methodology for the proposed survey by following their recommendation to estimate take in the following manner: (1) Calculate the total area (not including contingency or overlap) that the Langseth would ensonify within a 24-hour period (i.e., a daily ensonified area); (2) multiply the daily ensonified area by each speciesspecific density (when available) to derive the expected number of instance of exposures to received levels greater than or equal to 160 dB re: 1 mPa on a given day. NMFS takes this product (i.e., E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 27642 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices the expected number of instance of exposures within a day) and multiplies it by the number of survey days (30) with 25 percent contingency (i.e., a total of 38 days). This approach assumes a 100 percent turnover of the marine mammal population within the area for those species of marine mammals that had density estimates from the SERDP SDSS summer NODE data. For those species of marine mammals where density estimates were not available in the SERDP SDSS Marine Animal Model Mapper tool for the summer months (DoN, 2007; accessed on February 10, 2015) dataset because of their limited or rare occurrence in the survey area, we used additional information (CETAP, 1982; AMAPPS, 2010, 2011, and 2013) to estimate take. We present this information later in this notice (see Table 4 in this notice) and note here that our revised approach does not include the use of a turnover rate nor does it rely on the use of Wood et al., 2012 to determine take estimates, based on the information presented in the Commission’s letter on the nonapplicability of that data set for our calculations. The method recommended by the Commission is a way to help understand the instances of exposure above the Level B threshold, however, we note that method would overestimate the number of individual marine mammals exposed above the 160-dB threshold. Comment 10: The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (NJMFC) commented on the timing of the proposed study and effects to striped bass, blue fish, and black sea bass. They stated that the testing would affect fish behavior and distribution (avoidance of areas), schooling behavior and their ability to locate food. They also stated that the proposed timeframe for the study would take place during the peak abundance and fishing activity for many of New Jersey fisheries resulting in poor fish health. The NJMFSC also requested that NMFS not issue an Incidental Harassment Authorization for the take of marine mammals. The SandyHook SeaLife Foundation also submitted similar concerns stating that the survey would disperse fish, the result of which will negatively affect New Jersey’s recreational and commercial fishing industry during the tourist season. Similarly, Clean Ocean Action (COA) also requested that Lamont-Doherty not conduct the survey during the summer months and that NMFS consider alternate survey times to avoid times of peak marine mammal activity. Finally, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) also VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 submitted comments expressing concern for effects to marine mammal habitat and for the potential impacts to New Jersey’s marine mammal boat tour operators and the recreational and commercial fishing industry. Response: The NJMFC did not provide references supporting their statement which limits our ability to respond to the commenters’ statements. However, we refer readers to the notice of the proposed Authorization (page 13977, 80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) which provided information on the anticipated effects of airgun sounds on fish, fish behavior, and invertebrates in the context of those animals as marine mammal prey. NMFS considered the effects of the survey on marine mammal prey (i.e., fish and invertebrates), as a component of marine mammal habitat, in the notice of the proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). Studies have shown both decreases and increases in fisheries catch rates and behavioral changes in captive marine fish and squid during exposure to seismic sound (Lokkeborg et al., 2012; Fewtrell and McCauley, 2012). We acknowledge that disturbance of prey species has the potential to adversely affect marine mammals while foraging. However, given the limited spatio-temporal scale of the survey, the survey would ensonify only a small fraction of available habitat at any one time because the vessel is continually moving during data acquisition. We would expect prey species to return to their pre-exposure behavior once seismic firing ceased (Lokkeborg et al., 2012; Fewtrell and McCauley, 2012). Although there is a potential for injury to fish or marine life in close proximity to the vessel, we expect that prey responses would have temporary effects on a marine mammal’s ability to forage in the immediate survey area. However, we don’t expect that temporary reductions in feeding ability would reduce an individual animal’s overall feeding success. Laboratory studies have observed permanent damage to sensory epithelia for captive fish exposed at close range to a sound source (McCauley et al., 2003) and abnormalities in larval scallops after exposure to low frequency noise in tanks (de Soto et al., 2013); however, wild fish are likely to move away from a seismic source (Fewtrell and McCauley, 2012). Finally, other studies provide examples of no fish mortality upon exposure to seismic sources (e.g., Popper et al., 2005; Boeger et al., 2006). In summary, in examining impacts to fish as prey species for marine PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 mammals, we expect fish to exhibit a range of behaviors including no reaction or habituation (Pena et al., 2013) to startle responses and/or avoidance (Fewtrell and McCauley, 2012). We expect that the seismic survey would have no more than a temporary and minimal adverse effect on any fish or invertebrate species that serve as prey species for marine mammals, and therefore consider the potential impacts to marine mammal habitat minimal as well. Regarding the survey’s impacts on commercial and recreational fishing, we refer readers to the NSF’s amended EA for this survey (Sections III and IV) which includes consideration of the effects of sound on marine invertebrates, fish, and fisheries and the effects of the survey on the recreational and commercial fishing sectors in New Jersey. The NSF also completed an ESA Section 7 consultation to address the effects of the research seismic survey on ESA-listed species within the proposed area as well as a consultation under the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act for essential fish habitat. Regarding the timing of the proposed survey, we analyzed the specified activity, including the specified dates, as presented in Lamont-Doherty’s application and were able to make the requisite findings for issuing the Authorization. We do not have the authority to cancel Lamont-Doherty’s research seismic activities under Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, as that authority lies with the NSF. NMFS and the NSF considered in their EAs, a modification of the survey schedule to an alternate time. However, we determined this could result in an increase in the number of takes of North Atlantic right whales due to their increased presence off New Jersey in the fall, spring, and winter months. Whitt et al. (2013) concluded that right whales were not present in large numbers off New Jersey during the summer months (Jun 22–Sep 27) which overlaps with the effective dates of the seismic survey (Jun through August). In contrast, peak acoustic detections for North Atlantic right whales occurred in the winter (Dec 18–Apr 9) and in the spring (Apr 10–Jun 21) (Whitt, et al., 2013). Comment 11: The NJDEP asserted that there was insufficient information to conclude that the impacts to the marine mammals that could potentially occur in the action area would be negligible. They state that marine mammals, especially cetaceans, would be adversely affected by noise created during seismic testing activities; noise pollution, in the form of repeated or E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices prolonged sounds would adversely impact marine mammals by disrupting otherwise normal behaviors associated with migration, feeding, alluding predators, resting, and breeding, etc.; and any alterations to these behaviors would jeopardize the survival of an individual simply by increasing efforts directed at avoidance of the noise and the perceived threat. They also state that that the project will add to an existing and increasing anthropogenic noise pollution which may already be negatively impacting species. Response: NMFS disagrees with the commenter’s assertions regarding our neglible impact determinations under the MMPA discussed in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). The NJDEP did not provide did not provide references supporting their statements related to marine mammals which limits our ability to respond to the commenter’s statements. We refer to our detailed discussion of the potential effects of the proposed survey on marine mammals (pages 13967–13979) which covers acoustic impacts, masking, behavioral disturbance, and non-auditory physical effects to cetaceans and pinnipeds. Additionally, NMFS has issued a Biological Opinion under the ESA that concluded that the issuance of the Authorization and the conduct of the seismic survey were not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of blue, fin, humpback, North Atlantic right, sei, and sperm whales. The Opinion also concluded that the issuance of the Authorization and the conduct of the seismic survey would not affect designated critical habitat for these species. Comment 12: COA expressed concerns related to the survey’s impact on the local (coastal) bottlenose dolphin population. They include: cumulative adverse impacts of the survey in light of the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event (UME); potential increases in marine mammal strandings due to the use of the multibeam echosounder; the survey’s temporal overlap with the bottlenose dolphin calving period; and the potential heightened sensitivity of bottlenose dolphin calves to anthropogenic noise. Response: In 2013, NMFS declared a UME for elevated bottlenose dolphin strandings along the Atlantic coast (New York through Florida). From July 1, 2013–April 5, 2015, NMFS has recorded a total of 1,660 strandings from New York to Florida. Of those strandings, 153 dolphins have stranded in New Jersey, which is significantly higher than the average annual bottlenose dolphin VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 stranding rate of 15 strandings (based on 2007–2012 data). NMFS expects that the survey’s activities would result, at worst, in a temporary modification in behavior, temporary changes in animal distribution, and/or low-level physiological effects (Level B harassment) of bottlenose dolphins. We expect these impacts to be minor at the individual level and we do not anticipate impacts on the population or impacts to rookeries, mating grounds, and other areas of similar significance. The Authorization outlines reporting measures and response protocols with the Greater Atlantic Region Stranding Coordinator intended to minimize the impacts of, and enhance the analysis of, any potential stranding in the survey area. Lamont-Doherty’s activities are approximately 20 km (12 mi) away from the habitat in which the coastal bottlenose dolphins are expected to occur (Toth et al., 2011; 2012), which means that area is not expected to be ensonified above 160 dB and that take of this stock or calves of this stock (i.e., the Western North Atlantic Northern Migratory Coastal) is not anticipated. Additionally, airgun pulses are outside of the range of frequencies in which dolphin hearing is most sensitive, and Schlundt et al.’s (2013) study suggests that the low-frequency content of air gun impulses may have fewer predicted impacts on bottlenose dolphins. Last, we do not have specific information related to how any acoustic stressors may or may not exacerbate the effects of the UME with bottlenose dolphins. However, based on the fact that the acoustic effects are expected to be limited to behavioral harassment, and the survey is constantly moving (predominantly far offshore and well away from coastal species and the associated calving areas), we do not anticipate any focused adverse effects to animals involved in the UME. Regarding COA’s concerns about increased strandings, we note that Lamont-Doherty has not ever experienced a stranding event associated with their activities during the past 10 years that NMFS has issued Authorizations to them. In the past decade of seismic surveys conducted carried out by the Langseth, protected species observers and other crew members have neither observed nor reported any seismic-related marine mammal injuries or mortalities. The NSF’s EA (NSF, 2014) acknowledges that scientists have conducted numerous 2–D seismic surveys in the general vicinity of the proposed survey from 1979 to 2002. The previous surveys used different airgun PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 27643 array configurations (e.g., a 6-airgun, 1,350-in3 array in 1990; a single, 45-in3 GI Gun in 1996 and 1998; and two 45in3 GI Guns in 2002). The researchers did not observe any seismic soundrelated marine mammal related injuries or mortality, or impacts to fish during these past seismic surveys in the proposed survey area (NSF, 2014; G. Mountain, Pers. Comm.). We have considered the potential for behavioral responses such as stranding and indirect injury or mortality from Lamont-Doherty’s use of the multibeam echosounder. In 2013, an International Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) investigated a 2008 mass stranding of approximately 100 melon-headed whales in a Madagascar lagoon system (Southall et al., 2013) associated with the use of a high-frequency mapping system. The report indicated that the use of a 12-kHz multibeam echosounder was the most plausible and likely initial behavioral trigger of the mass stranding event. This was the first time that a relatively high-frequency mapping sonar system had been associated with a stranding event. However, the report also notes that there were several siteand situation-specific secondary factors that may have contributed to the avoidance responses that lead to the eventual entrapment and mortality of the whales within the Loza Lagoon system (e.g., the survey vessel transiting in a north-south direction on the shelf break parallel to the shore, may have trapped the animals between the sound source and the shore driving them towards the Loza Lagoon). They concluded that for odontocete cetaceans that hear well in the 10–50 kHz range, where ambient noise is typically quite low, high-power active sonars operating in this range may be more easily audible and have potential effects over larger areas than low frequency systems that have more typically been considered in terms of anthropogenic noise impacts (Southall, et al., 2013). However, the risk may be very low given the extensive use of these systems worldwide on a daily basis and the lack of direct evidence of such responses previously reported (Southall, et al., 2013). Given that Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct the survey offshore and the Langseth is not conducting the survey parallel to any coastline, we do not anticipate that the use of the source during the seismic survey would entrap marine mammals between the vessel’s sound sources and the New Jersey coastline. In addition, the Authorization includes reporting measures and response protocols to minimize the impacts of, and enhance the analysis of, E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 27644 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices any potential stranding in the survey area. With respect to Clean Ocean Action’s concerns about the survey’s temporal overlap with the bottlenose dolphin calving period, we note again that Lamont-Doherty’s study area is approximately 20 km (12 mi) away from the identified habitats for coastal bottlenose dolphins and their calves in Toth et al. (2011, 2012) thereby reducing further the likelihood of causing an effect on this species or stock. In response to COA’s concerns that dolphin calves may be limited in their ability to flee the ensonified area due to their dependence on their mothers and small size, we considered several studies which note that seismic operators and protected species observers regularly see dolphins and other small toothed whales near operating airgun arrays, but in general there is a tendency for most delphinids to show some avoidance of operating seismic vessels (e.g., Moulton and Miller, 2005; Holst et al., 2006; Stone and Tasker, 2006; Weir, 2008; Richardson et al., 2009; Barkaszi et al., 2009; Moulton and Holst, 2010). Also, some dolphins seem to be attracted to the seismic vessel and floats, and some ride the bow wave of the seismic vessel even when large arrays of airguns are firing (e.g., Moulton and Miller, 2005). Nonetheless, small toothed whales more often tend to head away, or to maintain a somewhat greater distance from the vessel, when a large array of airguns is operating than when it is silent (e.g., Stone and Tasker, 2006; Weir, 2008, Barry et al., 2010; Moulton and Holst, 2010). We note that in most cases, the avoidance radii for delphinids appear to be small, on the order of one km or less, and some individuals show no apparent avoidance. In considering the potential heightened sensitivity of neonate dolphins to noise, Schlundt et al. (2013) suggest that the potential for airguns to cause hearing loss in dolphins is lower than previously predicted, perhaps as a result of the low-frequency content of air gun impulses compared to the highfrequency hearing ability of dolphins. We do not expect marine mammals to experience any repeated exposures at very close distances to the sound source because Lamont-Doherty would implement the required shutdown and power down mitigation measures to ensure that marine mammals do not approach the applicable exclusion zones for Level A harassment. In addition, we anticipate that the required ramp-up procedures at the start of the survey or anytime after a shutdown of the entire array would ‘‘warn’’ marine mammals VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 in the vicinity of the airguns, and provide the time for them to leave the area and thus avoid any potential injury or impairment of their hearing abilities or annoyance at higher exposure levels. Comment 13: COA states that we did not present species information for North Atlantic right whales in our analyses, including the Whitt et al. (2013) peer-reviewed study demonstrating North Atlantic right whale presence off the New Jersey coast year-round, particularly in the spring and summer months. Response: NMFS disagrees. Table 1 in our notice of proposed authorization (pages 13966 and 13987, 80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) specifically states that we base the year-round seasonal presence of North Atlantic right whales on the Whitt et al. (2013) paper. Whitt et al. (2013) conducted acoustic and visual surveys for North Atlantic right whales off the coast of New Jersey from January 2008 to December 2009 and observed one sighting of a cow-calf pair in May 2008, but no other sightings of cow-calf pairs throughout the remainder of the study. In the discussion of the Whitt et al. (2013) data, NMFS concluded that it was appropriate to increase Lamont-Doherty’s original request for incidental take related to North Atlantic right whales from zero to three (3) to be conservative in estimating potential take for cow/calf pairs. NMFS based this adjustment on several sources (AMAPPS, 2010, 2011, and 2013; and Whitt et al., 2013) that reported sighting information on the presence of North Atlantic right whales (including a cow/ calf pair) in the survey area. Monitoring and Reporting Comment 14: The Commission has indicated that monitoring and reporting requirements should provide a reasonably accurate assessment of the types of taking and the numbers of animals taken by the proposed activity. They state that ‘‘. . . the assessments should account for animals at the surface but not detected [i.e., g(0) values] and for animals present but underwater and not available for sighting [i.e., f(0) values]. They further state that g(0) and f(0) values are essential to accurately assess the numbers of marine mammals taken during geophysical surveys based on the extent of the Level B harassment zones extending from more than 10 km in some instances and to more than 26 km in other instances. In light of the comments, the Commission recommends that NMFS consult with the funding agency (i.e., the NSF) and individual applicants (e.g., LamontDoherty and other related entities) to PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 develop, validate, and implement a monitoring program that provides a scientifically sound, reasonably accurate assessment of the types of marine mammal takes and the actual numbers of marine mammals taken, accounting for applicable g(0) and f(0) values. In previous letters, the Commission has not suggested that the NSF and LamontDoherty collect information in the field to support the development of surveyspecific correction factors (80 FR 4892); rather they suggest that Lamont-Doherty and other relevant entities to continue to collect appropriate sightings data in the field which NMFS can then pool to determine g(0) and f(0) values relevant to the various geophysical survey types. The Commission would welcome another meeting to help further this goal. Response: NMFS’ implementing regulations require that applicants include monitoring that will result in ‘‘an increased knowledge of the species, the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present while conducting activities . . .’’ This increased knowledge of the level of taking could be qualitative or relative in nature, or it could be more directly quantitative. Scientists use g(0) and f(0) values in systematic marine mammal surveys to account for the undetected animals indicated above, however, these values are not simply established and the g(0) value varies across every observer based on their sighting acumen. While we want to be clear that we do not generally believe that post-activity take estimates using f(0) and g(0) are required to meet the monitoring requirement of the MMPA, in the context of the NSF and Lamont-Doherty’s monitoring plan, we agree that developing and incorporating a way to better interpret the results of their monitoring (perhaps a simplified or generalized version of g(0) and f(0)) is desirable. We are continuing to examine this issue with the NSF to develop ways to improve their postsurvey take estimates. We will continue to consult with the Commission and NMFS scientists prior to finalizing any future recommendations. We note that current monitoring measures for past and current Authorizations for research seismic surveys require the collection of visual observation data by protected species observers prior to, during, and after airgun operations. This data collection may contribute to baseline data on marine mammals (presence/absence) and provide some generalized support for estimated take numbers (as well as providing data regarding behavioral responses to seismic operation that are E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices observable at the surface). However, it is unlikely that the information gathered from these cruises alone would result in any statistically robust conclusions for any particular species because of the small number of animals typically observed. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES MMPA Concerns Comment 15: Clean Ocean Action states that NMFS must ensure that the Authorization complies with the MMPA and requests that NMFS deny the Authorization based on their opinion that the potential impacts to marine mammals are incompatible with the prohibitions of the MMPA and that the take would be more than negligible. Response: Our Federal Register notices for the proposed and final Authorization lay out our analysis and rationale for our conclusions. Based on the analysis of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat contained within this document, the NSF’s amended EA and our own EA, and taking into consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring measures, we find that Lamont-Doherty’s proposed activity would result in the take of small numbers of marine mammals, would have a negligible impact on the affected species or stocks, and would not result in an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for subsistence uses as no subsistence users would be affected by the proposed action. Acoustic Thresholds Comment 16: COA states that the current NMFS 160-decibel (dB) re: 1 mPa threshold for Level B harassment does not reflect the best available science and is not sufficiently conservative. Response: NMFS’ practice has been to apply the 160 dB re: 1 mPa received level threshold for underwater impulse sound levels to determine whether take by Level B harassment occurs. Specifically, we derived the 160 dB threshold data from mother-calf pairs of migrating gray whales (Malme et al., 1983, 1984) and bowhead whales (Richardson et al., 1985, 1986) responding to seismic airguns. We acknowledge there is more recent information bearing on behavioral reactions to seismic airguns, and we discuss the science on this issue qualitatively in our analysis of potential effects to marine mammals (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015), but those data only illustrate how complex and context-dependent the relationship is between the two, and do not, as a whole, invalidate the current threshold. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 Accordingly, it is not a matter of simply replacing the existing threshold with a new one. NMFS is working to develop guidance for assessing the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals, including thresholds for behavioral harassment. Until NMFS finalizes that guidance (a process that includes internal agency review, public notice and comment, and peer review), we will continue to rely on the existing criteria for Level A and Level B harassment shown in Table 5 of the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). As mentioned in the Federal Register notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015), we expect that the onset for behavioral harassment is largely context dependent (e.g., behavioral state of the animals, distance from the sound source, etc.) when evaluating behavioral responses of marine mammals to acoustic sources. Although using a uniform sound pressure level of 160-dB re: 1 mPa for the onset of behavioral harassment for impulse noises may not capture all of the nuances of different marine mammal reactions to sound, it is a reasonable and workable way to evaluate and manage/ regulate anthropogenic noise impacts on marine mammals as NMFS considers more complex options. Comment 17: COA requested that we use a behavioral threshold below 160 dB for estimating take based on results reported in Clark and Gagnon (2006), MacLeod et al. (2006), Risch et al. (2012), McCauley et al. (1998), McDonald et al. (1995), Bain and Williams (2006), DeRuiter et al. (2013). They also cite comments submitted by Clark et al. (2012) on the Arctic Ocean Draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding NMFS’ current acoustic thresholds. Response: NMFS is constantly evaluating new science and how to best incorporate it into our decisions. This process involves careful consideration of new data and how it is best interpreted within the context of a given management framework. Each of these cited articles emphasizes the importance of context (e.g., behavioral state of the animals, distance from the sound source, etc.) in evaluating behavioral responses of marine mammals to acoustic sources. These papers and the studies discussed in our notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) note that there is variability in the behavioral responses of marine mammals to noise exposure. However, it is important to consider the context in predicting and observing the level and PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 27645 type of behavioral response to anthropogenic signals (Ellison et al., 2012). There are many studies showing that marine mammals do not show behavioral responses when exposed to multiple pulses at received levels at or above 160 dB re: 1 mPa (e.g., Malme et al., 1983; Malme et al., 1984; Richardson et al., 1986; Akamatsu et al., 1993; Madsen and Mohl, 2000; Harris et al., 2001; Miller et al., 2005; and Wier, 2008). And other studies show that whales continue important behaviors in the presence of seismic pulses (e.g., Richardson et al., 1986; McDonald et al., 1995; Greene et al., 1999a, 1999b; Nieukirk et al., 2004; Smultea et al., 2004; Holst et al., 2005, 2006; Dunn and Hernandez, 2009). In a passive acoustic research program that mapped the soundscape in the North Atlantic Ocean, Clark and Gagnon (2006) reported that some fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) stopped singing for an extended period starting soon after the onset of a seismic survey in the area. The study did not provide information on received levels or distance from the sound source. The authors could not determine whether or not the whales left the area ensonified by the survey, but the evidence suggests that most if not all singers remained in the area (Clark and Gagnon, 2006). Support for this statement comes from the fact that when the survey stopped temporarily, the whales resumed singing within a few hours and the number of singers increased with time (Clark and Gagnon, 2006). Also, they observed that one whale continued to sing while the seismic survey was actively operating (Figure 4; Clark and Gagnon, 2006). The authors conclude that there is not enough scientific knowledge to adequately evaluate whether or not these effects on singing or mating behaviors are significant or would alter survivorship or reproductive success (Clark and Gagnon, 2006). Thus, to address COA’s concerns related to the results of this study, it is important to note that the Lamont-Doherty’s study area is well away from any known breeding/calving grounds for low frequency cetaceans and approximately 20 km (12 mi) away from the identified habitats for coastal bottlenose dolphins and their calves in Toth et al. (2011, 2012) thereby reducing further the likelihood of causing an effect on marine mammals. MacLeod et al. (2006) discussed the possible displacement of fin and sei whales related to distribution patterns of the species during a large-scale seismic survey offshore the west coast of Scotland in 1998. The authors E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 27646 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices hypothesized about the relationship between the whale’s absence and the concurrent seismic activity, but could not rule out other contributing factors (Macleod, et al., 2006; Parsons et al., 2009). We would expect that marine mammals may briefly respond to underwater sound produced by the seismic survey by slightly changing their behavior or relocating a short distance. Based on the best available information, we expect short-term disturbance reactions that are confined to relatively small distances and durations (Thompson et al., 1998; Thompson et al., 2013), with no adverse impacts on annual rates of recruitment or survival. Regarding the suggestion that blue whales ‘‘significantly’’ changed course during the conduct of a seismic survey offshore Oregon, we disagree. We considered the McDonald et al. (1995) paper in the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). In brief, the study tracked three blue whales relative to a seismic survey with a 1,600 in3 airgun array (higher than Lamont-Doherty’s 700 in3 airgun array). The whale started its call sequence within 15 km (9.3 mi) from the source, then followed a pursuit track that decreased its distance to the vessel where it stopped calling at a range of 10 km (6.2 mi) (estimated received level at 143 dB re: 1 mPa (peak-to-peak) (McDonald et al., 1995). After that point, the ship increased its distance from the whale, which continued a new call sequence after approximately one hour (McDonald et al., 1995) and 10 km (6.2 mi) from the ship. The authors suggested that the whale had taken a track paralleling the ship during the cessation phase but observed the whale moving diagonally away from the ship after approximately 30 minutes continuing to vocalize (McDonald et al., 1995). The authors also suggest that the whale may have approached the ship intentionally or perhaps was unaffected by the airguns. They concluded that there was insufficient data to infer conclusions from their study related to blue whale responses (McDonald et al., 1995). Risch et al. (2012) documented reductions in humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) vocalizations in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary concurrent with transmissions of the Ocean Acoustic Waveguide Remote Sensing (OAWRS) low-frequency fish sensor system at distances of 200 kilometers (km) from the source. The recorded OAWRS produced a series of frequency modulated pulses and the signal received levels ranged from 88 to 110 VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 dB re: 1 mPa (Risch et al., 2012). The authors hypothesize that individuals did not leave the area but instead ceased singing and noted that the duration and frequency range of the OAWRS signals (a novel sound to the whales) were similar to those of natural humpback whale song components used during mating (Risch et al., 2012). Thus, the novelty of the sound to humpback whales in the study area provided a compelling contextual probability for the observed effects (Risch et al., 2012). However, the authors did not state or imply that these changes had long-term effects on individual animals or populations (Risch et al., 2012), nor did they necessarily rise to the level of harassment. However, (Gong et al. 2014), disputes these findings, suggesting that (Risch et al. 2012) mistakes natural variations in humpback whale song occurrence for changes caused by OAWRS activity approximately 200 km away. (Risch et al., 2014) responded to (Gong et al., 2014) and highlighted the contextdependent nature of behavioral responses to acoustic stressors. We considered the McCauley et al. (1998) paper (along with McCauley et al., 2000) in the notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). Briefly, McCauley et al. (1998, 2000) studied the responses of migrating humpback whales off western Australia to a full-scale seismic survey with a 16airgun array (2,678 in3) and to playbacks using a single, 20-in3airgun. Both studies point to a contextual variability in the behavioral responses of marine mammals to sound exposure. The mean received level for initial avoidance of an approaching airgun was 140 dB re: 1 mPa for resting humpback whale pods containing females. In contrast, some individual humpback whales, mainly males, approached within distances of 100 to 400 m (328 to 1,312 ft), where sound levels were 179 dB re: 1 mPa (McCauley et al., 2000). The authors hypothesized that the males gravitated towards the single operating airgun possibly due to its similarity to the sound produced by humpback whales breaching (McCauley et al., 2000). Despite the evidence that some humpback whales exhibited localized avoidance reactions at received levels below 160 dB re: 1 mPa, the authors found no evidence of any gross changes in migration routes, such as inshore/ offshore displacement during seismic operations (McCauley et al., 1998, 2000). With repeated exposure to sound, many marine mammals may habituate to the sound at least partially (Richardson & Wursig, 1997). Bain and PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Williams (2006) examined the effects of a large airgun array (maximum total discharge volume of 1,100 in3) on six species in shallow waters off British Columbia and Washington: harbor seal, California sea lion (Zalophus californianus), Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus), gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus), Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli), and the harbor porpoise. Harbor porpoises showed ‘‘apparent avoidance response’’ at received levels less than 145 dB re: 1 mPa at a distance of greater than 70 km (43 miles) from the seismic source (Bain and Williams, 2006). However, the tendency for greater responsiveness by harbor porpoise is consistent with their relative responsiveness to boat traffic and some other acoustic sources (Richardson et al. 1995; Southall et al., 2007). In contrast, the authors reported that gray whales seemed to tolerate exposures to sound up to approximately 170 dB re: 1 mPa (Bain and Williams, 2006) and Dall’s porpoises occupied and tolerated areas receiving exposures of 170–180 dB re: 1 mPa (Bain and Williams, 2006; Parsons et al., 2009). The authors observed several gray whales that moved away from the airguns toward deeper water where sound levels were higher due to propagation effects resulting in higher noise exposures (Bain and Williams, 2006). However, it is unclear whether their movements reflected a response to the sounds (Bain and Williams, 2006). Thus, the authors surmised that the gray whale data (i.e., voluntarily moving to areas where they are exposed to higher sound levels) are ambiguous at best because one expects the species to be the most sensitive to the low-frequency sound emanating from the airguns (Bain and Williams, 2006). DeRuiter et al. (2013) recently observed that beaked whales (considered a particularly sensitive species to sound) exposed to playbacks (i.e., simulated) of U.S. tactical midfrequency sonar from 89 to 127 dB re: 1 mPa at close distances responded notably by altering their dive patterns. In contrast, individuals showed no behavioral responses when exposed to similar received levels from actual U.S. Navy tactical mid-frequency sonar operated at much further distances (DeRuiter et al., 2013). As noted earlier, one must consider the importance of context (for example, the distance of a sound source from the animal) in predicting behavioral responses. Regarding the public comments submitted by Clark et al. (2012) on the Arctic Ocean Draft EIS in reference to our use of the current acoustic exposure E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices criteria, please refer to our earlier response to comments. None of these studies on the effects of airgun noise on marine mammals point to any associated mortalities, strandings, or permanent abandonment of habitat by marine mammals. Bain and Williams (2006) specifically conclude that ‘‘. . . although behavioral changes were observed, the precautions utilized in the SHIPS survey did not result in any detectable marine mammal mortalities during the survey, nor were any reported subsequently by the regional marine mammal stranding network . . .’’ McCauley et al. (2000) concluded that any risk factors associated with their seismic survey ‘‘. . . lasted for a comparatively short period and resulted in only small range displacement . . .’’ Further, the total discharge volume of the airgun arrays cited in McCauley et al., 1998, 2000; Bain and Williams, 2006 were generally over 40 percent larger than the 1,400 in3 array configurations proposed for use during this survey (e.g., 2,768 in3, McCauley et al., 1998; 6,730 in3, Bain and Williams, 2006). Thus, Lamont-Doherty’s 160-dB threshold radius is not likely to reach the threshold distances reported in these studies. Comment 18: COA takes issue with our conclusion that Level A harassment take would not occur during the survey. Citing Lucke et al. (2009); Thompson et al. (1998); Kastak et al. (2008); Kujawa and Lieberman (2009); Wood et al. (2012); and Cox et al. (2006), the commenters assert that our preliminary determinations for Level A harassment take and the likelihood of temporary and or permanent threshold shift do not consider the best available science. Response: As explained in Table 3 in the notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015), the predicted distances at which sound levels could result in Level A harassment are relatively small (439 m; 1,440 ft for cetaceans; 118 m; 387 ft for pinnipeds). At those distances, we expect that the required vessel-based visual monitoring of the exclusion zones is effective to implement mitigation measures to prevent Level A harassment. First, if the protected species observers observe marine mammals approaching the exclusion zone, Lamont-Doherty must shut down or power down seismic operations to ensure that the marine mammal does not approach the applicable exclusion radius. Second, if the observer detects a marine mammal outside the 180- or 190dB exclusion zones, and the animal— based on its position and the relative motion—is likely to enter the exclusion VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 zone, Lamont-Doherty may alter the vessel’s speed and/or course—when practical and safe—in combination with powering down or shutting down the airguns, to minimize the effects of the seismic survey. The avoidance behaviors discussed in the notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) supports our expectations that individuals will avoid exposure at higher levels. Also, it is unlikely that animals would encounter repeated exposures at very close distances to the sound source because Lamont-Doherty would implement the required shutdown and power down mitigation measures to ensure that marine mammals do not approach the applicable exclusion zones for Level A harassment. Finally, ramp-up of the airguns is required. Regarding the Lucke et al. (2009) study, the authors found a threshold shift (TS) of a harbor porpoise after exposing it to airgun noise (single pulse) with a received sound pressure level (SPL) at 200.2 dB (peak-to-peak) re: 1 mPa, which corresponds to a sound exposure level of 164.5 dB re: 1 mPa2 s after integrating exposure. We currently use the root-mean-square (rms) of received SPL at 180 dB and 190 dB re: 1 mPa as the threshold above which permanent threshold shift (PTS) could occur for cetaceans and pinnipeds, respectively. Because the airgun noise is a broadband impulse, one cannot directly extrapolate the equivalent of rms SPL from the reported peak-to-peak SPLs reported in Lucke et al. (2009). However, applying a conservative conversion factor of 16 dB for broadband signals from seismic surveys (Harris et al. 2001; McCauley et al. 2000) to correct for the difference between peak-to-peak levels reported in Lucke et al. (2009) and rms SPLs, the rms SPL for TTS would be approximately 184 dB re: 1 mPa, and the received levels associated with PTS (Level A harassment) would be higher. This is still above the current 180 dB rms re: 1 mPa threshold for injury. Yet, we recognize that the temporary threshold shift (TTS) of harbor porpoise is lower than other cetacean species empirically tested (Finneran et al. 2002; Finneran and Schlundt, 2010; Kastelein et al., 2012). We considered this information in the notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). The Thompson et al. (1998) telemetry study on harbor (Phoca vitulina) and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) suggested that avoidance and other behavioral reactions by individual seals to small airgun sources may at times be strong, but short-lived. The researchers PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 27647 conducted 1-hour controlled exposure experiments exposing individual seals fitted with telemetry devices to small airguns with a reported source level of 215–224 dB re: 1 mPa (peak-to-peak) (Thompson et al., 1998; Gordon et al., 2003). The researchers measured dive behavior, swim speed heart rate and stomach temperature (indicator for feeding), but they did not measure hearing threshold shift in the animals. The researchers observed startle responses, decreases in heart rate, and temporary cessation of feeding. In six out of eight trials, harbor seals exhibited strong avoidance behaviors, and swam rapidly away from the source (Thompson et al., 1998; Gordon et al., 2003). One seal showed no detectable response to the airguns, approaching within 300 m (984 ft) of the source (Gordon et al., 2003). However, they note that the behavioral responses were short-lived and the seals’ behavior returned to normal after the trials (Thompson et al., 1998; Gordon et al., 2003). The study does not discuss temporary threshold shift or permanent threshold shift in harbor seals and the estimated rms SPL for this survey is approximately 200 dB re: 1 mPa, well above NMFS’ current 180 dB rms re: 1 mPa threshold for injury for cetaceans and NMFS’ current 190 dB rms re: 1 mPa threshold for injury for pinnipeds (accounting for the fact that the rms sound pressure level (in dB) is typically 16 dB less than the peak-to-peak level). In a study on the effect of nonimpulsive sound sources on marine mammal hearing, Kastak et al. (2008) exposed one harbor seal to an underwater 4.1 kHz pure tone fatiguing stimulus with a maximum received sound pressure of 184 dB re: 1 mPa for 60 seconds (Kastak et al., 2008; Finneran and Branstetter, 2013). A second 60-second exposure resulted in an estimated threshold shift of greater than 50 dB at a test frequency of 5.8 kHz (Kastak et al., 2008). The seal recovered at a rate of ¥10 dB per log(min). However, 2 months post-exposure, the researchers observed incomplete recovery from the initial threshold shift resulting in an apparent permanent threshold shift of 7 to 10 dB in the seal (Kastak et al., 2008). We note that seismic sound is an impulsive source, and the context of the study is related to the effect of non-impulsive sounds (i.e., a continuous 6-second exposure) on marine mammals. In contrast, Lamont-Doherty’s seismic survey has a short, pulsed, intermittent shot-interval of 5 to 6 seconds every 12.5 m traveled. We also considered two other Kastak et al. (1999, 2005) studies. Kastak et al. (1999) reported TTS of approximately E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 27648 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices 4–5 dB in three species of pinnipeds (harbor seal, California sea lion, and northern elephant seal) after underwater exposure for approximately 20 minutes to sound with frequencies ranging from 100–2,000 Hz at received levels 60–75 dB above hearing threshold. This approach allowed similar effective exposure conditions to each of the subjects, but resulted in variable absolute exposure values depending on subject and test frequency. Recovery to near baseline levels was reported within 24 hours of sound exposure. Kastak et al. (2005) followed up on their previous work, exposing the same test subjects to higher levels of sound for longer durations. The animals were exposed to octave-band sound for up to 50 minutes of net exposure. The study reported that the harbor seal experienced TTS of 6 dB after a 25-minute exposure to 2.5 kHz of octave-band sound at 152 dB (183 dB SEL). The California sea lion demonstrated onset of TTS after exposure to 174 dB (206 dB SEL). We considered that PTS could occur at relatively lower levels, such as at levels that would normally cause TTS, if the animal experiences repeated exposures at very close distances to the sound source. However, an animal would need to stay very close to the sound source for an extended amount of time to incur a serious degree of PTS, which in this case, would be highly unlikely due to the required mitigation measures in place to avoid Level A harassment and the expectation that a mobile marine mammal would generally avoid an area where received sound pulse levels exceed 160 dB re: 1 mPa (rms) (review in Richardson et al. 1995; Southall et al. 2007). We also considered recent studies by Kujawa and Liberman (2009) and Lin et al. (2011). These studies found that despite completely reversible threshold shifts that leave cochlear sensory cells intact, large threshold shifts could cause synaptic level changes and delayed cochlear nerve degeneration in mice and guinea pigs, respectively. We note that the high level of TTS that led to the synaptic changes shown in these studies is in the range of the high degree of TTS that Southall et al. (2007) used to calculate PTS levels. It is not known whether smaller levels of TTS would lead to similar changes. NMFS acknowledges the complexity of noise exposure on the nervous system, and will re-examine this issue as more data become available. In contrast, a recent study on bottlenose dolphins (Schlundt, et al., VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 2013) measured hearing thresholds at multiple frequencies to determine the amount of TTS induced before and after exposure to a sequence of impulses produced by a seismic air gun. The airgun volume and operating pressure varied from 40–150 in3 and 1000–2000 psi, respectively. After three years and 180 sessions, the authors observed no significant TTS at any test frequency, for any combinations of air gun volume, pressure, or proximity to the dolphin during behavioral tests (Schlundt, et al., 2013). Schlundt et al. (2013) suggest that the potential for airguns to cause hearing loss in dolphins is lower than previously predicted, perhaps as a result of the low-frequency content of airgun impulses compared to the highfrequency hearing ability of dolphins. NEPA Concerns Comment 19: COA states that we should prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), not an EA, to adequately consider the potentially significant impacts of the proposed Authorization, including the cumulative impacts and consideration of a full range of alternatives. Response: We prepared an EA to evaluate whether significant environmental impacts may result from the issuance of an Authorization to Lamont-Doherty for the take of marine mammals incidental to conducting their seismic survey in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. After completing the EA, which includes two no action alternatives, we determined that there would not be significant impacts to the human environment related to our issuance of an Authorization and accordingly issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Therefore, this action does not require an EIS. Comment 20: COA states that our analysis of alternatives in the EA was incomplete because the NSF’s EA did not sufficiently evaluate the No Action alternative. Response: The NEPA and the implementing CEQ regulations (40 CFR parts 1500–1508) require consideration of alternatives to proposed major federal actions and NAO 216–6 provides agency policy and guidance on the consideration of alternatives to our proposed action. An EA must consider all reasonable alternatives, including the No Action Alternative. This provides a baseline analysis against which we can compare the other alternatives. NMFS’ EA titled, ‘‘Issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization to Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory to PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Take Marine Mammals by Harassment Incidental to a Marine Geophysical Survey in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, Summer, 2015,’’ addresses the potential environmental impacts of four alternatives, namely: —Issue the Authorization to LamontDoherty for take, by Level B harassment, of marine mammals during the seismic survey, taking into account the prescribed means of take, mitigation measures, and monitoring requirements; —Not issue an Authorization to LamontDoherty in which case we assume that the activities would not proceed; or —Not issue an Authorization to LamontDoherty in which case, for the purposes of NEPA analysis only, we assume that the activities would proceed and cause incidental take without the mitigation and monitoring measures prescribed in the Authorization; or —Issue the Authorization to LamontDoherty for take, by Level B harassment, of marine mammals during the seismic survey by incorporating additional mitigation requirements. To warrant detailed evaluation as a reasonable alternative, an alternative must meet our purpose and need. In this case, an alternative meets NMFS’ purpose and need if it satisfies the requirements under section 101(a)(5)(D) the MMPA. We evaluated each potential alternative against these criteria; identified two action alternatives along with two No Action Alternatives; and carried these forward for evaluation in our EA. General Comments Comment 21: Several commenters expressed general opposition or general support for the survey. Response: We acknowledge their comments and thank them for their interest. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity Table 2 in this notice provides the following: all marine mammal species with possible or confirmed occurrence in the proposed activity area; information on those species’ regulatory status under the MMPA and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.); abundance; occurrence and seasonality in the activity area. E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 27649 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices TABLE 2—GENERAL INFORMATION ON MARINE MAMMALS THAT COULD POTENTIALLY OCCUR IN THE PROPOSED SURVEY AREA DURING THE SUMMER (JUNE THROUGH AUGUST) IN 2015 Species Stock name Regulatory status 1 2 Stock/ species abundance 3 North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) Western Atlantic ................. 456 common coastal/shelf ........ year-round.4 823 common coastal ................. spring–fall. 20,741 rare coastal/shelf ................ spring–summer. 357 uncommon shelf edge ........ spring. Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) Western North Atlantic ....... 1,618 common pelagic ................. year-round. Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). Dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima) .. Western North Atlantic ....... MMPA—D ESA—EN MMPA—D ESA—EN MMPA—D ESA—NL MMPA—D ESA—EN MMPA—D ESA—EN MMPA—D ESA—EN MMPA—D ESA—EN MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—D ESA—NL uncommon coastal/pelagic occasional. 2,288 common pelagic ................. year-round. 3,785 uncommon shelf ................. year-round. 3,785 uncommon shelf ................. year-round. 6,532 uncommon shelf/pelagic .... spring–summer. 5 7,092 uncommon shelf/pelagic .... spring–summer. 5 7,092 uncommon shelf/pelagic .... spring–summer. 5 7,092 uncommon shelf/pelagic .... spring–summer. 5 7,092 uncommon shelf/pelagic .... spring–summer. unknown rare pelagic ........................ unknown. 271 rare pelagic ........................ summer. 77,532 common pelagic ................. spring–summer. 6 11,548 summer. 3,333 uncommon coastal within the 25-m isobath and estuaries. rare pelagic ........................ 44,715 common coastal ................. summer–fall. unknown rare pelagic ........................ unknown. 54,807 uncommon shelf ................. summer. 173,486 common shelf/pelagic ........ summer–fall. 2,003 rare coastal/shelf ................ summer. 48,819 uncommon shelf/slope ....... summer–winter. 7 6,086 rare slope ........................... summer. 8 726 Pelagic ................................ Rare. 18,250 common shelf/slope ........... year-round. 9 2,283 Pelagic ................................ Rare. 442 rare pelagic ........................ spring–summer. 10 1,108 Pelagic ................................ unknown. 11 28 Coastal ............................... unknown. 26,535 uncommon shelf/pelagic .... summer. 21,515 uncommon shelf/pelagic .... summer. Pygmy sperm whale (K. breviceps). Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris). Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris). Gervais’ beaked whale (M. europaeus). Sowerby’s beaked whale (M. bidens). True’s beaked whale (M. mirus) ... Northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus). Rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis). Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Gulf of Maine ...................... Canadian East Coast ......... Nova Scotia ........................ Nova Scotia ........................ Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic Offshore. Western North Atlantic Northern Migratory Coastal. Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Striped dolphin (S. coeruleoalba) .. Western North Atlantic ....... Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis). White-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris). Atlantic white-sided-dolphin (L. acutus). Clymene dolphin (Stenella clymene). Fraser’s dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei). Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus) tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata). Atlantic spotted dolphin (S. frontalis). Spinner dolphin (S. longirostris) .... Western North Atlantic ....... Melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra). False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens). Pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuate). Killer whale (Orcinus orca) ............ Western North Atlantic ....... Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas). Short-finned pilot whale (G. macrorhynchus). VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Western North Atlantic ....... Jkt 235001 PO 00000 Frm 00022 MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 440 Occurrence and range E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 Season summer–fall. 27650 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices TABLE 2—GENERAL INFORMATION ON MARINE MAMMALS THAT COULD POTENTIALLY OCCUR IN THE PROPOSED SURVEY AREA DURING THE SUMMER (JUNE THROUGH AUGUST) IN 2015—Continued Species Stock name Regulatory status 1 2 Stock/ species abundance 3 Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) .... Gulf of Maine/B Bay of Fundy. Western North Atlantic ....... 79,883 common coastal ................. year-round. 331,000 common coastal ................. fall–spring. Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) .......... Western North Atlantic ....... 75,834 common coastal ................. fall–spring. Harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus). Western North Atlantic ....... MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL MMPA—NC ESA—NL 8,600,000 rare pack ice ...................... Jan–May. Occurrence and range Season 1 MMPA: D = Depleted, S = Strategic, NC = Not Classified. EN = Endangered, T = Threatened, DL = Delisted, NL = Not listed. Technical Memorandum NMFS–NE–228, U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal Stock Assessments—2013 (Waring et al., 2014) and the Draft 2014 U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal Stock Assessments (in review, 2014). 4 Seasonality based on Whitt et al., 2013. 5 Undifferentiated beaked whales abundance estimate (Waring et al., 2014). 6 During summer months, the primary habitat of the western north Atlantic, Northern Migratory Coastal Stock of bottlenose dolphins is primarily in waters less than 20 m deep within the 25-m isobath, including estuarine and inshore waters (Waring et al., 2014; Kenney 1990). Toth et al. (2012) suggested a portioning of the Northern Migratory Coastal Stock in waters off of New Jersey. They identified two clusters, one cluster inhabiting waters 0–1.9 km from the shore and a second cluster inhabiting waters 1.9 to 6 km from shore. 7 There is no abundance information for this species in the Atlantic. The best available estimate of abundance was 6,086 (CV=0.93) (Mullin and Fulling, 2003). 8 There is no abundance information for this species in the Atlantic. The best available estimate of abundance was 726 (CV=0.70) for the Gulf of Mexico stock (Mullin and Fulling, 2004). 9 There is no abundance information for this species in the Atlantic. The best available estimate of abundance was 2,283 (CV=0.76) for the Gulf of Mexico stock (Mullin, 2007). 10 There is no abundance information for this species in the Atlantic. Abundance estimate derived from the Northern Gulf of Mexico stock = 152 (Mullin, 2007) and the Hawaii stock = 956 (Barlow, 2006). 11 There is no abundance information for this species in the Atlantic. Abundance estimate derived from the Northern Gulf of Mexico stock = 28 (Waring et al., 2014). 2 ESA: tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 3 NOAA Potential Effects of the Specified Activities on Marine Mammals We provided a summary and discussion of the ways that the types of stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., seismic airgun operations, vessel movement, and entanglement) impact marine mammals (via observations or scientific studies) in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). The ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment’’ section later in this document will include a quantitative discussion of the number of marine mammals anticipated to be taken by this activity. The ‘‘Negligible Impact Analysis’’ section will include a discussion of how this specific activity will impact marine mammals. The Negligible Impact analysis considers the anticipated level of take and the effectiveness of mitigation measures 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. Operating active acoustic sources, such as airgun arrays, has the potential for adverse effects on marine mammals. The majority of anticipated impacts would be from the use of acoustic sources. The effects of sounds from airgun pulses might include one or more VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 of the following: Tolerance, masking of natural sounds, behavioral disturbance, and temporary or permanent hearing impairment or non-auditory effects (Richardson et al., 1995). However, for reasons discussed in the proposed Authorization, it is very unlikely that there would be any cases of temporary or permanent hearing impairment resulting from Lamont-Doherty’s activities. As outlined in previous NMFS documents, the effects of noise on marine mammals are highly variable, often depending on species and contextual factors (based on Richardson et al., 1995). In the ‘‘Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals’’ section of the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015), we included a qualitative discussion of the different ways that Lamont-Doherty’s seismic survey may potentially affect marine mammals. Marine mammals may behaviorally react to sound when exposed to anthropogenic noise. These behavioral reactions are often shown as: Changing durations of surfacing and dives, number of blows per surfacing, or moving direction and/or speed; reduced/increased vocal activities; changing/cessation of certain behavioral activities (such as socializing or feeding); visible startle response or aggressive behavior (such as tail/fluke PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 slapping or jaw clapping); avoidance of areas where noise sources are located; and/or flight responses (e.g., pinnipeds flushing into water from haulouts or rookeries). Masking is the obscuring of sounds of interest by other sounds, often at similar frequencies. Marine mammals use acoustic signals for a variety of purposes, which differ among species, but include communication between individuals, navigation, foraging, reproduction, avoiding predators, and learning about their environment (Erbe and Farmer, 2000; Tyack, 2000). Masking, or auditory interference, generally occurs when sounds in the environment are louder than, and of a similar frequency as, auditory signals an animal is trying to receive. Masking is a phenomenon that affects animals that are trying to receive acoustic information about their environment, including sounds from other members of their species, predators, prey, and sounds that allow them to orient in their environment. Masking these acoustic signals can disturb the behavior of individual animals, groups of animals, or entire populations. For the airgun sound generated from Lamont-Doherty’s seismic survey, sound will consist of low frequency (under 500 Hz) pulses with extremely short durations (less than one second). Masking from airguns is more likely in low-frequency marine E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices Mitigation Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES mammals like mysticetes. There is little concern that masking would occur near the sound source due to the brief duration of these pulses and relative silence between air gun shots (approximately 5 to 6 seconds). Masking is less likely for mid- to high-frequency cetaceans and pinnipeds. Hearing impairment (either temporary or permanent) is also unlikely. Given the higher level of sound necessary to cause permanent threshold shift as compared with temporary threshold shift, it is considerably less likely that permanent threshold shift would occur during the seismic survey. Cetaceans generally avoid the immediate area around operating seismic vessels, as do some other marine mammals. Some pinnipeds show avoidance reactions to airguns. The Langseth will operate at a relatively slow speed (typically 4.6 knots [8.5 km/h; 5.3 mph]) when conducting the survey. Protected species observers would monitor for marine mammals, which would trigger mitigation measures, including vessel avoidance where safe. Therefore, NMFS does not anticipate nor do we authorize takes of marine mammals from vessel strike. NMFS refers the reader to LamontDoherty’s application, our EA, and the NSF’s amended EA for additional information on the behavioral reactions (or lack thereof) by all types of marine mammals to seismic vessels. We have reviewed these data along with new information submitted during the public comment period and based our decision on the relevant information. Lamont-Doherty would position observers aboard the seismic source vessel to watch for marine mammals near the vessel during daytime airgun operations and during any start-ups at night. Observers would also watch for marine mammals near the seismic vessel for at least 30 minutes prior to the start of airgun operations after an extended shutdown (i.e., greater than approximately eight minutes for this proposed cruise). When feasible, the observers would conduct observations during daytime periods when the seismic system is not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and without airgun operations and between acquisition periods. Based on the observations, the Langseth would power down or shutdown the airguns when marine mammals are observed within or about to enter a designated exclusion zone for cetaceans or pinnipeds. NMFS included a detailed discussion of the potential effects of this action on marine mammal habitat, including physiological and behavioral effects on marine mammal prey items (e.g., fish and invertebrates) in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). While we anticipate that the specified activity may result in marine mammals avoiding certain areas due to temporary ensonification, the impact to habitat is temporary and reversible. Further, we also considered these impacts to marine mammals in detail in the notice of proposed Authorization as behavioral modification. The main impact associated with the activity would be temporarily elevated noise levels and the associated direct effects on marine mammals. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 In order to issue an incidental take authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must prescribe, where applicable, the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse 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). Lamont-Doherty reviewed the following source documents and incorporated a suite of proposed mitigation measures into their project description: (1) Protocols used during previous NSF-funded seismic research cruises as approved by us and detailed in the NSF’s 2011 PEIS and 2014 amended EA; (2) Previous incidental harassment authorization applications and authorizations that we have approved and authorized; and (3) Recommended best practices in Richardson et al. (1995), Pierson et al. (1998), and Weir and Dolman, (2007). Lamont-Doherty proposed to implement the following mitigation measures for marine mammals: (1) Vessel-based visual mitigation monitoring; (2) Proposed exclusion zones; (3) Power down procedures; (4) Shutdown procedures; (5) Ramp-up procedures; and (6) Speed and course alterations. Vessel-Based Visual Mitigation Monitoring PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 27651 During seismic operations, at least four protected species observers would be aboard the Langseth. Lamont-Doherty would appoint the observers with NMFS concurrence and they would conduct observations during ongoing daytime operations and nighttime rampups of the airgun array. During the majority of seismic operations, two observers would be on duty from the observation tower to monitor marine mammals near the seismic vessel. Using two observers would increase the effectiveness of detecting animals near the source vessel. However, during mealtimes and bathroom breaks, it is sometimes difficult to have two observers on effort, but at least one observer would be on watch during bathroom breaks and mealtimes. Observers would be on duty in shifts of no longer than four hours in duration. Two observers on the Langseth would also be on visual watch during all nighttime ramp-ups of the seismic airguns. A third observer would monitor the passive acoustic monitoring equipment 24 hours a day to detect vocalizing marine mammals present in the action area. In summary, a typical daytime cruise would have scheduled two observers (visual) on duty from the observation tower, and an observer (acoustic) on the passive acoustic monitoring system. Before the start of the seismic survey, Lamont-Doherty would instruct the vessel’s crew to assist in detecting marine mammals and implementing mitigation requirements. The Langseth is a suitable platform for marine mammal observations. When stationed on the observation platform, the eye level would be approximately 21.5 m (70.5 ft) above sea level, and the observer would have a good view around the entire vessel. During daytime, the observers would scan the area around the vessel systematically with reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 x 50 Fujinon), Big-eye binoculars (25 x 150), and with the naked eye. During darkness, night vision devices would be available (ITT F500 Series Generation 3 binocular-image intensifier or equivalent), when required. Laser rangefinding binoculars (Leica LRF 1200 laser rangefinder or equivalent) would be available to assist with distance estimation. They are useful in training observers to estimate distances visually, but are generally not useful in measuring distances to animals directly. The user measures distances to animals with the reticles in the binoculars. Lamont-Doherty would immediately power down or shutdown the airguns when observers see marine mammals within or about to enter the designated exclusion zone. The observer(s) would E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 27652 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices continue to maintain watch to determine when the animal(s) are outside the exclusion zone by visual confirmation. Airgun operations would not resume until the observer has confirmed that the animal has left the zone, or if not observed after 15 minutes for species with shorter dive durations (small odontocetes and pinnipeds) or 30 minutes for species with longer dive durations (mysticetes and large odontocetes, including sperm, pygmy sperm, dwarf sperm, killer, and beaked whales). one would expect to receive sound levels (160-, 180-, and 190-dB,) from the airgun subarrays and a single airgun. If the protected species visual observer detects marine mammal(s) within or about to enter the appropriate exclusion zone, the Langseth crew would immediately power down the airgun array, or perform a shutdown if necessary (see Shut-down Procedures). Mitigation Exclusion Zones Lamont-Doherty would use safety radii to designate exclusion zones and to estimate take for marine mammals. Table 3 shows the distances at which TABLE 3—DISTANCES TO WHICH SOUND LEVELS GREATER THAN OR EQUAL TO 160 re: 1 μPa COULD BE RECEIVED DURING THE PROPOSED SURVEY OFFSHORE NEW JERSEY IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC OCEAN, JUNE THROUGH AUGUST, 2015 Source and volume (in3) Tow depth (m) Water depth (m) Predicted RMS distances (m) 1 190 dB 2 Single Bolt airgun (40 in3) ....................................................................... 4-Airgun subarray (700 in3) ..................................................................... 4-Airgun subarray (700 in3) ..................................................................... 6 4.5 6 <100 <100 <100 180 dB 21 101 118 73 378 439 160 dB 995 5,240 6,100 1 Predicted distances for 160 dB based on information in Table 1 of the NSF’s application. did not request take for pinniped species in their application and consequently did not include distances for the 190-dB isopleth for pinnipeds in Table 1 of their application. Because NMFS anticipates that pinnipeds have the potential to occur in the survey area, Lamont-Doherty calculated the distances for the 190-dB isopleth and submitted them to NMFS on for inclusion in this table. 2 Lamont-Doherty The 180- or 190-dB level shutdown criteria are applicable to cetaceans and pinnipeds as specified by NMFS (2000). tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Power Down Procedures A power down involves decreasing the number of airguns in use such that the radius of the 180-dB or 190-dB exclusion zone is smaller to the extent that marine mammals are no longer within or about to enter the exclusion zone. A power down of the airgun array can also occur when the vessel is moving from one seismic line to another. During a power down for mitigation, the Langseth would operate one airgun (40 in3). The continued operation of one airgun would alert marine mammals to the presence of the seismic vessel in the area. A shutdown occurs when the Langseth suspends all airgun activity. If the observer detects a marine mammal outside the exclusion zone and the animal is likely to enter the zone, the crew would power down the airguns to reduce the size of the 180-dB or 190dB exclusion zone before the animal enters that zone. Likewise, if a mammal is already within the zone after detection, the crew would power-down the airguns immediately. During a power down of the airgun array, the crew would operate a single 40-in3 airgun which has a smaller exclusion zone. If the observer detects a marine mammal within or near the smaller exclusion zone around the airgun (Table 3), the crew would shut down the single airgun (see next section). VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 Resuming Airgun Operations After a Power Down: Following a power-down, the Langseth crew would not resume full airgun activity until the marine mammal has cleared the 180-dB or 190dB exclusion zone. The observers would consider the animal to have cleared the exclusion zone if: • The observer has visually observed the animal leave the exclusion zone; or • An observer has not sighted the animal within the exclusion zone for 15 minutes for species with shorter dive durations (i.e., small odontocetes or pinnipeds), or 30 minutes for species with longer dive durations (i.e., mysticetes and large odontocetes, including sperm, pygmy sperm, dwarf sperm, and beaked whales); or The Langseth crew would resume operating the airguns at full power after 15 minutes of sighting any species with short dive durations (i.e., small odontocetes or pinnipeds). Likewise, the crew would resume airgun operations at full power after 30 minutes of sighting any species with longer dive durations (i.e., mysticetes and large odontocetes, including sperm, pygmy sperm, dwarf sperm, and beaked whales). NMFS estimates that the Langseth would transit outside the original 180dB or 190-dB exclusion zone after an 8minute wait period. This period is based on the average speed of the Langseth while operating the airguns (8.5 km/h; 5.3 mph). Because the vessel has transited away from the vicinity of the original sighting during the 8-minute period, implementing ramp-up procedures for the full array after an PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 extended power down (i.e., transiting for an additional 35 minutes from the location of initial sighting) would not meaningfully increase the effectiveness of observing marine mammals approaching or entering the exclusion zone for the full source level and would not further minimize the potential for take. The Langseth’s observers are continually monitoring the exclusion zone for the full source level while the mitigation airgun is firing. In general, observers can observe to the horizon (10 km; 6.2 mi) from the height of the Langseth’s observation deck and should be able to say with a reasonable degree of confidence whether a marine mammal would be encountered within the relevant exclusion zone distance before resuming airgun operations at full power. Shutdown Procedures The Langseth crew would shut down the operating airgun(s) if they see a marine mammal within or approaching the exclusion zone for the single airgun. The crew would implement a shutdown: (1) If an animal enters the exclusion zone of the single airgun after the crew has initiated a power down; or (2) If an observer sees the animal is initially within the exclusion zone of the single airgun when more than one airgun (typically the full airgun array) is operating. Resuming Airgun Operations after a Shutdown: Following a shutdown in excess of eight minutes, the Langseth crew would initiate a ramp-up with the E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES smallest airgun in the array (40-in3). The crew would turn on additional airguns in a sequence such that the source level of the array would increase in steps not exceeding 6 dB per five-minute period over a total duration of approximately 30 minutes. During ramp-up, the observers would monitor the exclusion zone, and if he/she sees a marine mammal, the Langseth crew would implement a power down or shutdown as though the full airgun array were operational. During periods of active seismic operations, there are occasions when the Langseth crew would need to temporarily shut down the airguns due to equipment failure or for maintenance. In this case, if the airguns are inactive longer than eight minutes, the crew would follow ramp-up procedures for a shutdown described earlier and the observers would monitor the full exclusion zone and would implement a power down or shutdown if necessary. If the full exclusion zone is not visible to the observer for at least 30 minutes prior to the start of operations in either daylight or nighttime, the Langseth crew would not commence ramp-up unless at least one airgun (40-in3 or similar) has been operating during the interruption of seismic survey operations. Given these provisions, it is likely that the vessel’s crew would not ramp up the airgun array from a complete shutdown at night or in thick fog, because the outer part of the zone for that array would not be visible during those conditions. If one airgun has operated during a power down period, ramp-up to full power would be permissible at night or in poor visibility, on the assumption that marine mammals would be alerted to the approaching seismic vessel by the sounds from the single airgun and could move away. The vessel’s crew would not initiate a ramp-up of the airguns if an observer sees the marine mammal within or near the applicable exclusion zones during the day or close to the vessel at night. Ramp-Up Procedures Ramp-up of an airgun array provides a gradual increase in sound levels, and involves a step-wise increase in the number and total volume of airguns firing until the full volume of the airgun array is achieved. The purpose of a ramp-up is to ‘‘warn’’ marine mammals in the vicinity of the airguns, and to provide the time for them to leave the area and thus avoid any potential injury or impairment of their hearing abilities. Lamont-Doherty would follow a rampup procedure when the airgun array begins operating after an 8 minute VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 period without airgun operations or when shut down has exceeded that period. Lamont-Doherty has used similar waiting periods (approximately eight to 10 minutes) during previous seismic surveys. Ramp-up would begin with the smallest airgun in the array (40 in3). The crew would add airguns in a sequence such that the source level of the array would increase in steps not exceeding six dB per five minute period over a total duration of approximately 30 to 35 minutes. During ramp-up, the observers would monitor the exclusion zone, and if marine mammals are sighted, LamontDoherty would implement a powerdown or shut-down as though the full airgun array were operational. If the complete exclusion zone has not been visible for at least 30 minutes prior to the start of operations in either daylight or nighttime, Lamont-Doherty would not commence the ramp-up unless at least one airgun (40 in3 or similar) has been operating during the interruption of seismic survey operations. Given these provisions, it is likely that the crew would not ramp up the airgun array from a complete shutdown at night or in thick fog, because the outer part of the exclusion zone for that array would not be visible during those conditions. If one airgun has operated during a power-down period, ramp-up to full power would be permissible at night or in poor visibility, on the assumption that marine mammals would be alerted to the approaching seismic vessel by the sounds from the single airgun and could move away. Lamont-Doherty would not initiate a ramp-up of the airguns if an observer sights a marine mammal within or near the applicable exclusion zones. Special Procedures for Situations or Species of Concern Considering the highly endangered status of North Atlantic right whales, the Langseth crew would shut down the airgun(s) immediately in the unlikely event that observers detect this species, regardless of the distance from the vessel. The Langseth would only begin ramp-up if observers have not seen the North Atlantic right whale for 30 minutes. The Langseth would avoid exposing concentrations of humpback, sei, fin, blue, and/or sperm whales to sounds greater than 160 dB and would power down the array, if necessary. For purposes of this planned survey, a concentration or group of whales will consist of six or more individuals visually sighted that do not appear to be traveling (e.g., feeding, socializing, etc.). PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 27653 Speed and Course Alterations If during seismic data collection, Lamont-Doherty detects marine mammals outside the exclusion zone and, based on the animal’s position and direction of travel, is likely to enter the exclusion zone, the Langseth would change speed and/or direction if this does not compromise operational safety. Due to the limited maneuverability of the primary survey vessel, altering speed, and/or course can result in an extended period of time to realign onto the transect. However, if the animal(s) appear likely to enter the exclusion zone, the Langseth would undertake further mitigation actions, including a power down or shut down of the airguns. Mitigation Conclusions NMFS has carefully evaluated Lamont-Doherty’s proposed mitigation measures in the context of ensuring that we prescribe 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 here: 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 airgun operations that we expect 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 airgun operations that we expect to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 27654 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number or number at biologically important time or location) to airgun operations that we expect 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 the evaluation of LamontDoherty’s proposed measures, as well as other measures proposed by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. Monitoring In order to issue an Incidental Take Authorization 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 Authorizations 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 we expect to be present in the proposed action area. Lamont-Doherty submitted a marine mammal monitoring plan in section XIII of the Authorization application. NMFS, the NSF, or Lamont-Doherty may modify or supplement the plan based on comments or new information received from the public during the public comment period. 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 during other times and locations, in order to generate more data VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 to contribute to the analyses mentioned later; 2. An increase in our understanding of how many marine mammals would be affected by seismic airguns and other active acoustic sources and the likelihood of associating those exposures with specific adverse effects, such as behavioral harassment, temporary or permanent threshold shift; 3. An increase in our understanding of how marine mammals respond to stimuli that we expect to result in take and how those 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: a. Behavioral observations in the presence of stimuli compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (i.e., to be able to accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other pertinent information); b. Physiological measurements in the presence of stimuli compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (i.e., to be able to accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other pertinent information); c. 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. Monitoring Measures Lamont-Doherty will sponsor marine mammal monitoring during the present project to supplement the mitigation measures that require real-time monitoring, and to satisfy the monitoring requirements of the Authorization. Lamont-Doherty planned the monitoring work as a self-contained project independent of any other related monitoring projects that may occur in the same regions at the same time. Further, Lamont-Doherty is prepared to discuss coordination of its monitoring program with any other related work that might be conducted by other groups working insofar as it is practical for Lamont-Doherty. Vessel-Based Passive Acoustic Monitoring Passive acoustic monitoring would complement the visual mitigation monitoring program, when practicable. Visual monitoring typically is not effective during periods of poor visibility or at night, and even with PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 good visibility, is unable to detect marine mammals when they are below the surface or beyond visual range. Passive acoustical monitoring can improve detection, identification, and localization of cetaceans when used in conjunction with visual observations. The passive acoustic monitoring would serve to alert visual observers (if on duty) when vocalizing cetaceans are detected. It is only useful when marine mammals call, but it can be effective either by day or by night, and does not depend on good visibility. The acoustic observer would monitor the system in real time so that he/she can advise the visual observers if they acoustically detect cetaceans. The passive acoustic monitoring system consists of hardware (i.e., hydrophones) and software. The ‘‘wet end’’ of the system consists of a towed hydrophone array connected to the vessel by a tow cable. The tow cable is 250 m (820.2 ft) long and the hydrophones are fitted in the last 10 m (32.8 ft) of cable. A depth gauge, attached to the free end of the cable, which is typically towed at depths less than 20 m (65.6 ft). The Langseth crew would deploy the array from a winch located on the back deck. A deck cable would connect the tow cable to the electronics unit in the main computer lab where the acoustic station, signal conditioning, and processing system would be located. The Pamguard software amplifies, digitizes, and then processes the acoustic signals received by the hydrophones. The system can detect marine mammal vocalizations at frequencies up to 250 kHz. One acoustic observer, an expert bioacoustician with primary responsibility for the passive acoustic monitoring system would be aboard the Langseth in addition to the four visual observers. The acoustic observer would monitor the towed hydrophones 24 hours per day during airgun operations and during most periods when the Langseth is underway while the airguns are not operating. However, passive acoustic monitoring may not be possible if damage occurs to both the primary and back-up hydrophone arrays during operations. The primary passive acoustic monitoring streamer on the Langseth is a digital hydrophone streamer. Should the digital streamer fail, back-up systems should include an analog spare streamer and a hullmounted hydrophone. One acoustic observer would monitor the acoustic detection system by listening to the signals from two channels via headphones and/or speakers and watching the real-time spectrographic display for frequency E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES ranges produced by cetaceans. The observer monitoring the acoustical data would be on shift for one to six hours at a time. The other observers would rotate as an acoustic observer, although the expert acoustician would be on passive acoustic monitoring duty more frequently. When the acoustic observer detects a vocalization while visual observations are in progress, the acoustic observer on duty would contact the visual observer immediately, to alert him/her to the presence of cetaceans (if they have not already been seen), so that the vessel’s crew can initiate a power down or shutdown, if required. The observer would enter the information regarding the call into a database. Data entry would include an acoustic encounter identification number, whether it was linked with a visual sighting, date, time when first and last heard and whenever any additional information was recorded, position and water depth when first detected, bearing if determinable, species or species group (e.g., unidentified dolphin, sperm whale), types and nature of sounds heard (e.g., clicks, continuous, sporadic, whistles, creaks, burst pulses, strength of signal, etc.), and any other notable information. Acousticians record the acoustic detection for further analysis. Observer Data and Documentation Observers would record data to estimate the numbers of marine mammals exposed to various received sound levels and to document apparent disturbance reactions or lack thereof. They would use the data to estimate numbers of animals potentially ‘taken’ by harassment (as defined in the MMPA). They will also provide information needed to order a power down or shut down of the airguns when a marine mammal is within or near the exclusion zone. When an observer makes a sighting, they will record the following information: 1. Species, group size, age/size/sex categories (if determinable), behavior when first sighted and after initial sighting, heading (if consistent), bearing and distance from seismic vessel, sighting cue, apparent reaction to the airguns or vessel (e.g., none, avoidance, approach, paralleling, etc.), and behavioral pace. 2. Time, location, heading, speed, activity of the vessel, sea state, visibility, and sun glare. The observer will record the data listed under (2) at the start and end of each observation watch, and during a watch whenever there is a change in one or more of the variables. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 Observers will record all observations and power downs or shutdowns in a standardized format and will enter data into an electronic database. The observers will verify the accuracy of the data entry by computerized data validity checks during data entry and by subsequent manual checking of the database. These procedures will allow the preparation of initial summaries of data during and shortly after the field program, and will facilitate transfer of the data to statistical, graphical, and other programs for further processing and archiving. Results from the vessel-based observations will provide: 1. The basis for real-time mitigation (airgun power down or shutdown). 2. Information needed to estimate the number of marine mammals potentially taken by harassment, which LamontDoherty must report to the Office of Protected Resources. 3. Data on the occurrence, distribution, and activities of marine mammals and turtles in the area where Lamont-Doherty would conduct the seismic study. 4. Information to compare the distance and distribution of marine mammals and turtles relative to the source vessel at times with and without seismic activity. 5. Data on the behavior and movement patterns of marine mammals detected during non-active and active seismic operations. Reporting Lamont-Doherty would submit a report to us and to the NSF within 90 days after the end of the cruise. The report would describe the operations conducted and sightings of marine mammals and turtles near the operations. The report would provide full documentation of methods, results, and interpretation pertaining to all monitoring. The 90-day report would summarize the dates and locations of seismic operations, and all marine mammal sightings (dates, times, locations, activities, associated seismic survey activities). The report would also include estimates of the number and nature of exposures that could result in ‘‘takes’’ of marine mammals by harassment or in other ways. In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner not permitted by the authorization (if issued), such as an injury, serious injury, or mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), Lamont-Doherty shall immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the take to the Chief, PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 27655 Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301–427–8401 and the Greater Atlantic Regional Stranding Coordinator at (978) 281–9300. The report must include the following information: • Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; • Name and type of vessel involved; • Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; • Description of the incident; • Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; • Water depth; • Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); • Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; • Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; • Fate of the animal(s); and • Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if equipment is available). Lamont-Doherty shall not resume its activities until we are able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. We shall work with Lamont-Doherty to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Lamont-Doherty may not resume their activities until notified by us via letter, email, or telephone. In the event that Lamont-Doherty discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead visual observer 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 we describe in the next paragraph), LamontDoherty will immediately report the incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301– 427–8401 and the Greater Atlantic Regional Stranding Coordinator at (978) 281–9300. The report must include the same information identified in the paragraph above this section. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work with Lamont-Doherty to determine whether modifications in the activities are appropriate. In the event that Lamont-Doherty discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead visual observer determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the authorized activities (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), Lamont-Doherty would report the incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 27656 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301–427–8401 and the Greater Atlantic Regional Stranding Coordinator at (978) 281–9300, within 24 hours of the discovery. Lamont-Doherty would provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. 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]. In the notice of proposed Authorization, NMFS explained the impacts and parts of the seismic survey that were likely to result in take (i.e., the acoustic stressors), as well as those that were not, and further indicated the acoustic thresholds that would be used in the take calculations. This information remains unchanged. However, NMFS received valuable input from the Commission during the public comment period recommending that we modify our method of estimating take to better incorporate the duration of the survey. We agree with the Commission’s recommendations and have modified our survey methods to incorporate duration for the majority of species and also included speciesspecific modifications for a few species with unique circumstances that support the use of a different method to quantify take. The following sections describe NMFS’ methods to estimate take by incidental harassment. We have based these estimates on the number of marine mammals that could be harassed by seismic operations with the airgun subarray during approximately 4,906 km of transect lines in the northwest Atlantic Ocean as depicted in Figure 1 (Figure 1 of Lamont-Doherty’s application). NMFS’ Density Estimates: For the Authorization, NMFS reviewed LamontDoherty’s take estimates presented in Table 3 of their application and revised the density estimates (where available) as well as the take calculations for several species based upon the best available density information from the SERDP SDSS Marine Animal Model Mapper tool for the summer months (DoN, 2007; accessed on February 10, 2015). For species where ; mean group size information from CETAP (1982) and the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) surveys in 2010, 2011, and 2013. NMFS’ Take Estimates: In order to estimate the potential number of instances that marine mammals would be exposed to airgun sounds above the 160-dB Level B harassment threshold (i.e., taken), NMFS used the following approach for a majority of the species: (1) Calculate the total area (not including contingency or overlap) that the Langseth would ensonify above the 160-dB Level B harassment threshold within a 24-hour period which includes some within day overlap (i.e., a daily ensonified area of 1,226 km2 [473 square miles (mi2)] based on the Langseth traveling 200 km [124 mi] in one day); (2) Multiply the daily ensonified area by each species-specific density (when available) to derive the expected number of instance of exposures to received levels greater than or equal to 160 dB re: 1 mPa on a given day; and (3) Multiply the product (i.e., the expected number of instance of exposures within a day) by the number of survey days that includes a 25 percent contingency (i.e., a total of 38 days). Table 5 presents the revised estimates of the possible numbers of instances that marine mammals would be exposed to sound levels greater than or equal to 160 dB re: 1 mPa during the proposed seismic survey. In many cases, this estimate of instances of take is likely an overestimate of the number of individuals that are taken, because it assumes 100 percent turnover in the area every day, (i.e., that each new day results in takes of entirely new individuals with no repeat takes of the same individuals over the 30-day period). However, it is difficult to quantify what degree of an overestimate of individuals it might be. Except as described later for a few specific species, this number of instances is used as the estimate of individuals (and authorized take) even though we know it is high. TABLE 5—DENSITIES, MEAN GROUP SIZE, AND ESTIMATES OF THE POSSIBLE NUMBERS OF MARINE MAMMALS AND POPULATION PERCENTAGES EXPOSED TO SOUND LEVELS GREATER THAN OR EQUAL TO 160 dB re: 1 μPa OVER 30 DAYS DURING THE PROPOSED SEISMIC SURVEY IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC OCEAN, SUMMER 2015 Density estimate 1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Species Blue whale ................................................................................ Fin whale .................................................................................. Humpback whale ...................................................................... Minke whale ............................................................................. North Atlantic right whale ......................................................... Sei whale .................................................................................. Sperm whale ............................................................................ Dwarf sperm whale .................................................................. Pygmy sperm whale ................................................................. Cuvier’s beaked whale ............................................................. Gervais’ beaked whale ............................................................. Sowerby’s beaked whale ......................................................... True’s beaked whale ................................................................ Blainville beaked whale ............................................................ Bottlenose dolphin .................................................................... Pantropical spotted dolphin ...................................................... Atlantic spotted dolphin ............................................................ Striped dolphin ......................................................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 PO 00000 Frm 00029 Modeled number of instances of exposures to sound levels ≥160 dB 2 0 0.014 0 0 0 0.74 17.07 0.004 0.004 0.57 0.57 0.57 0.57 0.57 269 0 87.3 0 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Authorized take 3 0 0.65 0 0 0 34.48 795.26 0.19 0.19 26.56 26.56 26.56 26.56 26.56 12,532.17 0 4,067.13 0 E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 1 3 3 2 63 75 7 31 2 2 3 4 3 3 3 12,532 6 4,067 52 14MYN1 Percent of species or stock 4 0.23 0.23 0.36 0.01 0.65 1.40 1.35 0.06 0.06 0.45 0.43 0.42 0.42 0.42 16.16 0.18 18.19 0.09 Population trend 5 Unknown. Unknown. Increasing. Unknown. Increasing. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. 27657 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices TABLE 5—DENSITIES, MEAN GROUP SIZE, AND ESTIMATES OF THE POSSIBLE NUMBERS OF MARINE MAMMALS AND POPULATION PERCENTAGES EXPOSED TO SOUND LEVELS GREATER THAN OR EQUAL TO 160 dB re: 1 μPa OVER 30 DAYS DURING THE PROPOSED SEISMIC SURVEY IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC OCEAN, SUMMER 2015—Continued Density estimate 1 Species Short-beaked common dolphin ................................................ White-beaked dolphin ............................................................... Atlantic white-sided dolphin ...................................................... Risso’s dolphin ......................................................................... Clymene dolphin ....................................................................... False killer whale ...................................................................... Pygmy killer whale ................................................................... Killer whale ............................................................................... Long-finned pilot whale ............................................................ Short-finned pilot whale ............................................................ Harbor porpoise ........................................................................ Gray seal .................................................................................. Harbor seal ............................................................................... Harp seal .................................................................................. Modeled number of instances of exposures to sound levels ≥160 dB 2 0 0 0 32.88 0 0 0 0 0.444 0.444 0 0 0 0 Authorized take 3 0 0 0 1,531.81 0 0 0 0 20.69 20.69 0 0 0 0 36 16 53 1,532 27 7 2 7 21 21 4 2 2 2 Percent of species or stock 4 0.02 0.80 0.11 16.79 0.44 1.58 1.32 1.86 0.16 0.19 0.005 0.001 0.003 0.00003 Population trend 5 Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Increasing. Unknown. Increasing. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 1 Except where noted, densities are the mean values for the survey area calculated from the SERDP SDSS NODES summer model expressed as number of individuals per 1,000 km2 (Read et al., 2009). 2 The modeled number of instances of exposures to sound levels ≥160 dB re: 1 μPa is the product of the species density (where available), the daily ensonified area of 1,226 km2, and the number of survey days (30 plus 25 percent contingency for a total of 38 days). 3 Take estimate includes adjustments for species with no density information or where the SERDP SDSS NODES summer model (DoN, 2007; accessed on February 10, 2015) produced a density estimate of less than 1, NMFS increased the take estimates based on sighting information and mean group size from the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) surveys in 2010, 2011, and 2013. 4 5 Table 2 in this notice lists the stock species abundance estimates used in calculating the percentage of species/stock. Population trend information from Waring et al., 2014. Unknown = Insufficient data to determine population trend. 6 For North Atlantic right whales, NMFS increased the estimated mean group size of one whale (based on CeTAP (1982) and AMAPPS (2010, 2011, and 2013) survey data) to three whales account for cow/calf pairs based on information from Whitt et al. (2013). 7 For sei and sperm whales, the result of the total number of instances of exposures for the duration of the survey would likely overestimate the take estimates because of sei and sperm whale movement patterns and habitat preferences. NMFS adjusted the authorized incidental take based on the mean number of individuals sighted during the 2010, 2011, and 2013 AMAPPS summer surveys (northern and southern legs). These surveys also included fine scale-surveys of NJ waters. Take Estimates for Species with One Instance of Exposure or Less: Using the approach described earlier, the model generated instances of take for some species that were less than or equal to one over the 38-day duration. Those species include the fin whale (0.65), and the dwarf and pygmy sperm whale (0.18). NMFS based the take estimates to 3 and 2, respectively on sighting information and mean group size from CETAP (1982) and the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) surveys in 2010, 2011, and 2013. Take Estimates for Species with No Density Information in SERDP–SDSS: For those species of marine mammals where density estimates were not available in the SERDP SDSS Marine Animal Model Mapper tool for the summer months (DoN, 2007) dataset because of their limited or rare occurrence in the survey area, we used additional data based on sighting information and mean group size from CETAP (1982) and the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) surveys in 2010, 2011, and 2013 to estimate take. Those species include the following: North Atlantic Right, humpback, minke, and VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 blue whales; pantropical spotted, striped, short-beaked common, whitebeaked, Atlantic white-sided, and Clymene dolphin; pygmy, false killer, and killer whales; harbor porpoise; and gray, harbor, and harp seals. For North Atlantic Right whales, NMFS increased the take estimate from zero to three based on a more reasonable group size estimate based on CETAP (1982) and AMAPPS (2010, 2011, and 2013) survey data as well as additional supporting information from Whitt et al. (2013) which reported on the occurrence of cow-calf pair in nearshore waters off New Jersey. NMFS assumed that Lamont-Doherty could potentially encounter one group of each species during the seismic survey. NMFS believes it is reasonable to use the average (mean) groups size (weighted by effort and rounded up) to estimate the take from these potential encounters. Because we believe it is unlikely, we do not think it is necessary to assume that Lamont-Doherty would encounter the largest group size. Take Estimates for Sei and Sperm Whales: For sei and sperm whales, the result of the total number of instances of exposures for the duration of the survey would be 34.48 and 795.26, PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 respectively. However, equating this number with the take of individuals would likely overestimate the numbers for these species even more than for others because of their known habitat use. Sei and sperm whale known movement patterns, habitat preferences, and survey data suggest that significantly fewer individuals would be exposed than the instances model estimates. NMFS adjusted the take estimate based on the following factors: —There are rare sightings of sei whales in the proposed survey area based on NMFS-sponsored aerial or vessel based transect surveys conducted during the summer. —Sei whales are often associated with deeper waters and areas along continental shelf edges (Hain et al. 1985). However, studies note that sei whale may disrupt this general offshore pattern during occasional incursions into shallower inshore waters (Waring et al., 2014). —Individual sei whales are capable of using large sections of the North Atlantic Ocean for seasonal migration and feeding. Sei whales have the capacity to move large distances in E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 27658 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices short periods of time (Olsen et al., 2009). —Sperm whales have a strong preference for waters deeper than 1,000 m (Reeves and Whitehead, 1997). It is not reasonable to expect that over 700 sperm whales would occur in the survey area which is on the shelf in reasonably flat and shallow bottom topography. —While deep water is their typical habitat, sperm whales rarely inhabit waters less than 300 m in depth (Clarke, 1956). —Sperm whales have occurred near Long Island, NY, in water between 40–55 m deep (Scott and Sadove, 1997). When found relatively close to shore, sperm whale presence is usually associated with sharp increases in topography where upwelling occurs and biological production is high, implying the presence of a good food supply (Clarke, 1956). Such areas include oceanic islands and along the outer continental shelf. In consideration of this and other information, NMFS is authorizing incidental take for five sei and 31 sperm whales based on the mean number of individuals reported by experienced teams of marine mammal observers (vessel and aerial based) during the 2010, 2011, and 2013 AMAPPS summer surveys (northern and southern legs). The AMAPPS surveys are a robust dataset of marine mammal sightings (also corrected for detectability [g(0)] of marine mammals in the survey area) which includes fine scale-surveys of New Jersey waters. The summer surveys were of similar duration to LamontDoherty’s survey (approximately 12 to 41 days) and provide the best available information comparable to the duration of NSF’s survey. Encouraging and Coordinating Research Lamont-Doherty would coordinate the planned marine mammal monitoring program associated with the seismic survey in the northwest Atlantic Ocean with applicable U.S. agencies. Analysis and Determinations tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD 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). The lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population level effects) forms the basis of a VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 negligible impact finding. Thus, an estimate of the number of 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. In making a negligible impact determination, NMFS considers: • The number of anticipated injuries, serious injuries, or mortalities; • The number, nature, and intensity, and duration of Level B harassment; and • The context in which the takes occur (e.g., impacts to areas of significance, impacts to local populations, and cumulative impacts when taking into account successive/ contemporaneous actions when added to baseline data); • The status of stock or species of marine mammals (i.e., depleted, not depleted, decreasing, increasing, stable, impact relative to the size of the population); • Impacts on habitat affecting rates of recruitment/survival; and • The effectiveness of monitoring and mitigation measures to reduce the number or severity of incidental take. To avoid repetition, our analysis applies to all the species listed in Table 5, given that the anticipated effects of the seismic airguns are expected to be similar in nature, and there is no information about the size, status, or structure of any species or stock that would lead to a different analysis. In some cases we add species-specific factors. For reasons stated previously in this document and based on the following factors, Lamont-Doherty’s specified activities are not likely to cause longterm behavioral disturbance, permanent threshold shift, or other non-auditory injury, serious injury, or death. They include: • The anticipated impacts of LamontDoherty’s survey activities on marine mammals are temporary behavioral changes due to avoidance of the area. • The likelihood that marine mammals approaching the survey area will be traveling through the area or opportunistically foraging within the vicinity, as no breeding, calving, pupping, or nursing areas, or haul-outs, overlap with the survey area. PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 • The low potential of the survey to have an effect on coastal bottlenose dolphin populations due to the fact that Lamont-Doherty’s study area is approximately 20 km (12 mi) away from the identified habitats for coastal bottlenose dolphins and their calves. • The low likelihood that North Atlantic right whales would be exposed to sound levels greater than or equal to 160 dB re: 1 mPa due to the requirement that the Langseth crew must shutdown the airgun(s) immediately if observers detect this species, at any distance from the vessel. • The likelihood that, given sufficient notice through relatively slow ship speed, NMFS expects marine mammals to move away from a noise source that is annoying prior to its becoming potentially injurious; • The availability of alternate areas of similar habitat value for marine mammals to temporarily vacate the survey area during the operation of the airgun(s) to avoid acoustic harassment; • NMFS also expects that the seismic survey would have no more than a temporary and minimal adverse effect on any fish or invertebrate species that serve as prey species for marine mammals, and therefore consider the potential impacts to marine mammal habitat minimal; • The relatively low potential for temporary or permanent hearing impairment and the likelihood that Lamont-Doherty would avoid this impact through the incorporation of the required monitoring and mitigation measures; and • The high likelihood that trained visual protected species observers would detect marine mammals at close proximity to the vessel. NMFS does not anticipate that any injuries, serious injuries, or mortalities would occur as a result of LamontDoherty’s proposed activities, and NMFS does not authorize injury, serious injury, or mortality. We anticipate only behavioral disturbance to occur primarily in the form of avoidance behavior to the sound source during the conduct of the survey activities. Table 5 in this document outlines the number of requested Level B harassment takes that we anticipate as a result of these activities. NMFS anticipates that 32 marine mammal species could occur in the proposed action area. Of the marine mammal species under our jurisdiction that are known to occur or likely to occur in the study area, six of these species are listed as endangered under the ESA and depleted under the MMPA, including: The blue, fin, humpback, north Atlantic right, sei, and sperm whales. E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 93 / Thursday, May 14, 2015 / Notices tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, traveling, and socializing, on a diel cycle (i.e., 24 hour cycle). Behavioral reactions to noise exposure (such as disruption of critical life functions, displacement, or avoidance of important habitat) are more likely to be significant if they last more than one diel cycle or recur on subsequent days (Southall et al., 2007). While NMFS anticipates that the seismic operations would occur on consecutive days, the estimated duration of the survey would last no more than 30 days but would increase sound levels in the marine environment in a relatively small area surrounding the vessel (compared to the range of the animals), which is constantly travelling over distances, and some animals may only be exposed to and harassed by sound for less than a day. In summary, NMFS expects marine mammals to avoid the survey area, thereby reducing the risk of higher exposure and related impacts. We do not anticipate disruption to reproductive behavior and there is no anticipated effect on annual rates of recruitment or survival of affected marine mammals. Due to the nature, degree, instances, and context of Level B (behavioral) harassment anticipated and described (see ‘‘Potential Effects on Marine Mammals’’ section in this notice), NMFS does not expect the activity to impact annual rates of recruitment or survival for any affected species or stock. The seismic survey would not take place in areas of significance for marine mammal feeding, resting, breeding, or calving and would not adversely impact marine mammal habitat, including the identified habitats for coastal bottlenose dolphins and their calves. Based on the analysis 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 finds that Lamont-Doherty’s proposed seismic survey would have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks. Small Numbers As mentioned previously, NMFS estimates that Lamont-Doherty’s activities could potentially affect, by Level B harassment only, 32 species of marine mammals under our jurisdiction. For each species, these take estimates are small numbers relative to the population sizes: Less than 19 percent of the regional populations estimates of Atlantic spotted dolphins, less than 17 VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:59 May 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 percent of Risso’s and bottlenose dolphins; and under 2 percent for all other species and stocks. We have provided the regional population and take estimates for the marine mammal species that may be taken by Level B harassment in Tables 2 and Table 5 in this notice. Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by this action. Endangered Species Act (ESA) There are six marine mammal species listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act that may occur in the proposed survey area: The blue, fin, humpback, North Atlantic right, sei, and sperm whales. Under section 7 of the ESA, the NSF has initiated formal consultation with NMFS on the proposed seismic survey. NMFS (i.e., National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, Permits and Conservation Division) has also consulted internally with NMFS on the issuance of an Authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA. In May, 2015, the Endangered Species Act Interagency Cooperation Division issued a Biological Opinion with an ITS to us and to the NSF which concluded that the issuance of the Authorization and the conduct of the seismic survey were not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of blue, fin, humpback, North Atlantic right, sei, and sperm whales. The Biological Opinion also concluded that the issuance of the Authorization and the conduct of the seismic survey would not affect designated critical habitat for these species. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) The NSF has prepared a draft amended EA titled, ‘‘Environmental Assessment of a Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, summer 2015,’’ prepared by LGL, Ltd. environmental research associates, on behalf of the NSF and Lamont-Doherty. We have also prepared an EA titled, ‘‘Proposed Issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization to Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory to Take Marine Mammals by Harassment Incidental to a Marine Geophysical Survey in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, June–August, 2015,’’ and FONSI in accordance with NEPA and NOAA Administrative Order 216–6. We provided relevant environmental PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 27659 information to the public through our notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) and considered public comments received prior to finalizing our EA and deciding whether or not to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). We concluded that issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization would not significantly affect the quality of the human environment and have issued a FONSI. Because of this finding, it is not necessary to prepare an environmental impact statement for the issuance of an Authorization to Lamont-Doherty for this activity. Our EA and FONSI for this activity are available upon request (see ADDRESSES). Authorization We have issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization to LamontDoherty for the take of marine mammals, incidental to conducting a marine seismic survey in the Atlantic Ocean, June 1, 2015 to August 31, 2015. Dated: May 8, 2015. Perry F. Gayaldo, Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2015–11589 Filed 5–13–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Submission for OMB Review; Comment Request The Department of Commerce will submit to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for clearance the following proposal for collection of information under the provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. Chapter 35). Agency: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Title: Fishery Capacity Reduction Program Buyback Requests. OMB Control Number: 0648–0376. Form Number(s): None. Type of Request: Regular (extension of a currently approved information collection). Number of Respondents: 935. Average Hours per Response: Implementation plan, 6,634 hours; referenda votes, bids, seller/buyer reports and annual fee collection reports, 4 hours each; completion of fish ticket, 10 minutes; monthly fee collection report, 2 hours; advising holder/owner of conflict with accepted bidders’ representations, 1 hour; potentially 270 hours-state approval/ review of plans. E:\FR\FM\14MYN1.SGM 14MYN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 93 (Thursday, May 14, 2015)]
[Notices]
[Pages 27635-27659]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-11589]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XD773


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Marine Geophysical Survey in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean Offshore New 
Jersey, June to August, 2015

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

ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) 
implementing regulations, we hereby give notice that we have issued an 
Incidental Harassment Authorization (Authorization) to Lamont-Doherty 
Earth Observatory (Lamont-Doherty), a component of Columbia University, 
in collaboration with the National Science Foundation (NSF), to take 
marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to conducting a marine 
geophysical (seismic) survey in the northwest Atlantic Ocean off the 
New Jersey coast June through August, 2015.

[[Page 27636]]


DATES: Effective June 1, 2015, through August 31, 2015.

ADDRESSES: A copy of the final Authorization and application are 
available by writing to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Incidental Take Program, 
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, 
National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver 
Spring, MD 20910, by telephoning the contacts listed here, or by 
visiting the internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm.
    The NSF prepared an amended Environmental Assessment (EA) in 
accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 42 
U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and the regulations published by the Council on 
Environmental Quality. Their EA titled, ``Final Amended Environmental 
Assessment of a Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth 
in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, Summer 2015,'' prepared by LGL, 
Ltd. environmental research associates, on behalf of the NSF and the 
Lamont-Doherty, is available at https://www.nsf.gov/geo/oce/envcomp/index.jsp.
    NMFS also prepared an EA titled, ``Proposed Issuance of an 
Incidental Harassment Authorization to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory 
to Take Marine Mammals by Harassment Incidental to a Marine Geophysical 
Survey in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, June-August, 2015,'' in 
accordance with NEPA and NOAA Administrative Order 216-6. To obtain an 
electronic copy of these documents, write to the previously mentioned 
address, telephone the contact listed here (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT), or download the files at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm.
    NMFS also issued a Biological Opinion under section 7 of the 
Endangered Species Act (ESA) to evaluate the effects of the survey and 
Authorization on marine species listed as threatened and endangered. 
The Biological Opinion is available online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/consultations/opinions.htm.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, 
as amended (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs the Secretary of 
Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, 
taking of small numbers of marine mammals of a species or population 
stock, by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than 
commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if, after 
NMFS provides a notice of a proposed authorization to the public for 
review and comment: (1) NMFS makes certain findings; and (2) the taking 
is limited to harassment.
    An Authorization shall be granted for the incidental taking of 
small numbers of marine mammals if NMFS finds that the taking will have 
a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), and will not have an 
unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or 
stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant). The Authorization must 
also set forth the permissible methods of taking; other means of 
effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species or stock 
and its habitat (i.e., mitigation); and requirements pertaining to the 
monitoring and reporting of such taking. 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 23, 2014, NMFS received an application from Lamont-
Doherty requesting that NMFS issue an Authorization for the take of 
marine mammals, incidental to the State University of New Jersey at 
Rutgers (Rutgers) conducting a seismic survey in the northwest Atlantic 
Ocean June through August, 2015. NMFS determined the application 
complete and adequate on February 20, 2015, and published a notice of 
proposed Authorization on March 17, 2015 (80 FR 13961). The notice 
afforded the public a 30-day comment period on the proposed MMPA 
Authorization.
    Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct a high-energy, 3-dimensional (3-
D) seismic survey on the R/V Marcus G. Langseth (Langseth) in the 
northwest Atlantic Ocean approximately 25 to 85 kilometers (km) (15.5 
to 52.8 miles [mi]) off the New Jersey coast for approximately 30 days 
from June 1 to August 31, 2015. The following specific aspect of the 
proposed activity has the potential to take marine mammals: Increased 
underwater sound generated during the operation of the seismic airgun 
arrays. We anticipate that take, by Level B harassment only, of 32 
species of marine mammals could result from the specified activity.

Description of the Specified Activity

Overview

    Lamont-Doherty plans to use one source vessel, the Langseth, two 
pairs of subarrays configured with four airguns as the energy source, 
and four hydrophone streamers, and a P-Cable system to conduct the 
conventional seismic survey. In addition to the operations of the 
airguns, Lamont-Doherty intends to operate a multibeam echosounder and 
a sub-bottom profiler on the Langseth continuously throughout the 
proposed survey which would run 24 hours a day. However, they would not 
operate the multibeam echosounder or sub-bottom profiler during 
transits to and from the survey area.
    The purpose of the survey is to collect and analyze data on the 
arrangement of sediments deposited during times of changing global sea 
level from roughly 60 million years ago to present. The 3-D survey 
would investigate features such as river valleys cut into coastal plain 
sediments now buried under a kilometer of younger sediment and flooded 
by today's ocean. Lamont-Doherty's proposed seismic survey is purely 
scientific in nature and not related to oil and natural gas exploration 
on the outer continental shelf of the Atlantic Ocean. The proposed 
survey's principal investigator is Dr. G. Mountain (Rutgers) and the 
collaborating investigators are Drs. J. Austin and C. Fulthorpe, and M. 
Nedimovic (University of Texas at Austin).
    Lamont-Doherty, Rutgers, and the NSF originally proposed conducting 
the survey in 2014. After completing appropriate environmental analyses 
under appropriate federal statutes, NMFS issued an Authorization under 
the MMPA and a Biological Opinion with an Incidental Take Statement 
(ITS) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) 
to Lamont-Doherty on July 1, 2014 effective from July 1 through August 
17, 2014. Lamont-Doherty commenced the seismic survey on July 1, 2014, 
but was unable to

[[Page 27637]]

complete the survey due to the Langseth experiencing mechanical issues 
during the effective periods set forth in the 2014 Authorization and 
the ITS. Thus, Lamont-Doherty has requested a new Authorization under 
the MMPA and the NSF consulted with NMFS for a new Biological Opinion 
under the ESA to conduct this re-scheduled survey in 2015. The 
project's objectives remain the same as those described for the 2014 
survey (see 79 FR 14779, March 17, 2014 and 79 FR 38496, July 08, 2014, 
and 80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015).

Dates and Duration

    Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct the seismic survey for 
approximately 30 days. The proposed study (e.g., equipment testing, 
startup, line changes, repeat coverage of any areas, and equipment 
recovery) would include approximately 720 hours of airgun operations 
(i.e., 30 days over 24 hours). Some minor deviation from Lamont-
Doherty's requested dates of June through August, 2015, is possible, 
depending on logistics, weather conditions, and the need to repeat some 
lines if data quality is substandard. Thus, this Authorization will be 
effective from June 1 through August 31, 2015.

Specified Geographic Area

    Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct the seismic survey in the 
Atlantic Ocean, approximately 25 to 85 km (15.5 to 52.8 mi) off the 
coast of New Jersey between approximately 39.3-39.7[deg] N. and 
approximately 73.2-73.8[deg] W. Water depths in the survey area are 
approximately 30 to 75 m (98.4 to 246 feet [ft]). They would conduct 
the proposed survey outside of New Jersey state waters and within the 
U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

Detailed Description of the Specified Activities

Transit Activities

    The Langseth will depart from New York, NY, and transit for 
approximately eight hours to the proposed survey area. Setup, 
deployment, and streamer ballasting would occur over approximately 
three days. At the conclusion of the 30-day survey (plus additional 
days for gear deployment and retrieval), the Langseth will return to 
New York, NY.

Vessel Specifications

    NMFS outlined the vessel's specifications in the notice of proposed 
Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). NMFS does not repeat the 
information here as the vessel's specifications have not changed 
between the notice of proposed Authorization and this notice of an 
issued Authorization.

Data Acquisition Activities

    NMFS outlined the details regarding Lamont-Doherty's data 
acquisition activities using the airguns, multibeam echosounder, and 
the sub-bottom profiler in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 
13961, March 17, 2015). NMFS does not repeat the information here as 
the data acquisition activities have not changed between the notice of 
proposed Authorization and this notice of an issued Authorization.
    For a more detailed description of the authorized action, including 
vessel and acoustic source specifications, metrics, characteristics of 
airgun pulses, predicted sound levels of airguns, etc., please see the 
notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) and 
associated documents referenced above this section.

Comments and Responses

    NMFS published a notice of receipt of Lamont-Doherty's application 
and proposed Authorization in the Federal Register on March 17, 2015 
(80 FR 13961). During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS received 
comments from the following: 26 private citizens, Senators Cory A. 
Booker and Robert Menendez, Representatives Tom MacArthur and Frank 
Pallone, the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission), and the following 
organizations: Clean Ocean Action; the Marcus Langseth Science 
Oversight Committee (MLSOC); the State of New Jersey Department of 
Environmental Protection (NJDEP); the Sierra Club--Ocean County Group 
(Sierra Club); the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council; SandyHook 
SeaLife Foundation; and NY4 Whales. NMFS has posted the comments online 
at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm#nj2015.
    NMFS addresses any comments specific to Lamont-Doherty's 
application related to the statutory and regulatory requirements or 
findings that NMFS must make in order to issue an Authorization. 
Following is a summary of the public comments and NMFS' responses.

Requests To Extend the Public Comment Period

    Comment 1: Prior to the conclusion of the public comment period for 
the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015), 
NMFS received requests through the public comment process from Senators 
Cory A. Booker and Robert Menendez, and Representatives Tom MacArthur 
and Frank Pallone, Clean Ocean Action, and one private citizen for NMFS 
to extend the 30-day public comment period by an additional 60 days for 
constituent review and comment.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges the requests from the public and 
members of the New Jersey Congressional delegation for an extension of 
the public comment period. However, NMFS did not extend the public 
comment period for the Federal Register notice of proposed 
Authorization which closed on April 16, 2015 based on the following 
factors.
    1. The NSF, sponsor of the research seismic survey, released a 
draft amended EA, titled, ``Draft Amended Environmental Assessment of a 
Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Atlantic 
Ocean off New Jersey, Summer 2015,'' on the proposed seismic survey on 
December 19, 2014 with a 37-day public comment period. The NSF's draft 
amended EA tiers to a 2014 NSF Final EA for the same project and to the 
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental 
Impact Statement (PEIS) for Marine Seismic Research Funded by the 
National Science Foundation or Conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey 
(NSF, 2011). It contains a description of the action, addresses 
potential impacts to tourism and commercial and recreational fisheries, 
and discusses mitigation measures for marine mammals.
    In response to requests from the public and from members of the New 
Jersey Congressional delegation, the NSF extended their public comment 
period for the draft amended EA by an additional 15 days providing a 
total of 52 days for adequate review by the public.
    2. NMFS published a Federal Register notice of the proposed 
Authorization for the 2015 survey on March 17, 2015 with a 30-day 
public comment period. Also, on March 17, 2015, NMFS informed Clean 
Ocean Action of the availability of the application and Federal 
Register notice for review and comment.
    We note that the 2015 seismic survey is substantively the same as 
the one analyzed and authorized in 2014 (see 79 FR 14779, March 17, 
2014 and 79 FR 38496, July 08, 2014), except that Lamont-Doherty 
proposes to use a 50-percent smaller airgun array, which equates to 
fewer anticipated effects on marine mammals. Thus, the 2015 proposed 
survey (again, substantively the same as the 2014 survey) has been in 
the public domain for minimally one year (March 17, 2014 through April 
17, 2015). In fact, NMFS extended the

[[Page 27638]]

public comment period for the 2014 notice of the proposed Authorization 
by an additional 30 days (see 79 FR 19580, April 9, 2014) to 
accommodate additional review and analyses by the same if not similar 
interested parties.
    3. For the 2015 survey, NMFS provided the public 30 days to review 
and comment on our preliminary determinations, in accordance with 
section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA. NMFS believes that the two public 
comment periods (i.e., one for NSF's draft amended EA and one for NMFS' 
proposed authorization) provided a total of 82 days for the public to 
consider and provide input on the marine mammal effects of the 2015 
action (which again, is substantively the same as last year's survey), 
as well as the proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures 
for marine mammals.
    4. The NSF lead principal investigator (Dr. Gregory Mountain, 
Rutgers University) posted a public Web site on the Internet at http://geology.rutgers.edu/slin3d-home on February 18, 2015 with information 
about the proposed seismic survey. The Web site clearly outlines the 
proposed project's goals, presents frequently asked questions in an 
easy to understand format, describes the Langseth and its operations, 
discusses compliance with federal environmental statutes, and includes 
clarification that the proposed project is not related to oil & gas 
activities.
    Extending the public comment period would have impacted NSF's 
continuing science program, through which other Federal agencies and 
academic institutions use the Langseth for upcoming scientific 
research. Impacts to survey timelines typically cascade into subsequent 
work, which can have financial and science mission effects on NSF and 
other entities.
    NMFS is aware that this is a sensitive issue and appreciates the 
interest that the members of the New Jersey Congressional delegation 
and their constituents have in the protection and conservation of 
marine mammals and the environment.

Effects Analyses

    Comment 2: The Commission commented that NMFS' presentation of the 
marine mammal species that could be affected, marine mammal densities, 
take estimation method, and numbers of takes estimated in the Federal 
Register notice differed from Lamont-Doherty's approach presented in 
their application. The Commission questioned why Lamont-Doherty did not 
include those species and associated takes included within in their 
2015 application given their potential occurrence in the project area 
and the fact that they were included in the authorization issued by 
NMFS in 2014. The Commission recommended that, in the future, NMFS 
require Lamont-Doherty and the NSF to provide revised applications that 
reflect the best available scientific information concerning the 
species affected, marine mammal densities, take estimation method, and 
estimated numbers of takes, before it deems the application complete 
and publishes a proposed authorization.
    Response: Lamont-Doherty submitted their application to NMFS in 
accordance with the requirements under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA 
to provide information that NMFS uses to analyze impacts to marine 
mammals. NMFS reviewed the application and considered it complete after 
conducting additional research and reviews which we presented in the 
notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015).
    While NMFS encourages applicants to include information on species 
and species presence within a proposed action area, NMFS uses a wide 
variety of information when making its determinations under the MMPA. 
However, NMFS does not solely rely on the information presented in the 
application. NMFS uses the application as a basis for consultation 
under the MMPA, conducts an independent review of the information 
presented, and presents its own information with supporting evidence to 
provide the best available information on mammal species that could be 
affected, marine mammal densities, and approaches to take estimation in 
the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). 
NMFS will continue to encourage applicants for MMPA incidental take 
authorization to provide applications that reflect the best available 
scientific information and if necessary, require them to submit revised 
applications reflecting that information.
    Comment 3: The Commission commented a revised approach for 
estimating take in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, 
March 17, 2015) (which differed from Lamont-Doherty's standard approach 
of multiplying the ensonified area by marine mammal density to estimate 
take), and understands through consultation with NMFS staff, that NMFS 
intends to use another method to estimate take that will likely yield 
different take estimates than those discussed in the notice of proposed 
authorization. The Commission expressed concern that public review 
opportunity is meaningful only if the notice of proposed Authorization 
contains current information on methodologies to evaluate potential 
impacts and recommended that NMFS publish a revised proposed Incidental 
Harassment Authorization in the Federal Register with updated estimated 
numbers of takes and small numbers and negligible impact analyses to 
provide a more informed public comment opportunity.
    Response: NMFS' analysis in this document is based on the best 
available information after careful consideration of the Commission's 
comments on a more appropriate method for estimating take, including 
the Commission's recommendation on a more appropriate method to account 
for the survey duration of 30 days. Refer to comment 9 for NMFS' 
rationale regarding our recalculation of estimated takes based on the 
Commission's recommendation. These changes to the methodology and the 
resulting estimates do not have any substantial effect on our small 
numbers and negligible impact analyses and determinations, given that 
the proportion of animals taken is safely within the bounds of our 
small numbers practice, and the anticipated severity of impacts has not 
changed. We agree there may be circumstances where a change to our 
proposed action (e.g., based on a public comment or an applicant 
request) may warrant a second notice and comment period before we take 
final action, but given the changes here we do not believe a second 
notice and comment period is necessary in this case.
    Comment 4: The Commission expressed concerns regarding Lamont-
Doherty's use of a ray trace-based model to estimate exclusion and 
buffer zones for NSF-funded geophysical research. They stated that the 
model is not conservative because it assumes spherical spreading, a 
constant sound speed, and no bottom interactions instead of 
incorporating site-specific environmental characteristics (e.g., sound 
speed profiles, refraction, bathymetry/water depth, sediment 
properties/bottom loss, or absorption coefficients).
    Response: We acknowledge the Commission's concerns about Lamont-
Doherty's current modeling approach for estimating exclusion and buffer 
zones and also acknowledge that Lamont-Doherty did not incorporate 
site-specific sound speed profiles, bathymetry, and sediment 
characteristics of the research area in the current approach to 
estimate those zones for this proposed seismic survey.

[[Page 27639]]

    In 2015, Lamont-Doherty explored solutions to this issue by 
conducting a retrospective sound power analysis of one of the lines 
acquired during Lamont-Doherty's truncated seismic survey offshore New 
Jersey in 2014 (Crone, 2015). NMFS presented this information in Table 
4 in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) 
and presents this information again later in this notice (see Table 1) 
with additional information regarding the predicted radii with the 
upper 95 percent cross-line prediction bound radii.
    Briefly, Crone's (2015) preliminary analysis, specific to the 
proposed survey site offshore New Jersey, confirmed that in-situ 
measurements and estimates of the 160- and 180-decibel (dB) isopleths 
collected by the Langseth's hydrophone streamer in shallow water were 
smaller than the predicted exclusion and buffer zones proposed for use 
in the 2015 survey. Based upon the best available information, the 
exclusion and buffer zone calculations are appropriate for use in this 
particular survey.
    Lamont-Doherty's application (LGL, 2014) and the NSF's draft 
amended EA (NSF, 2014) describe the approach to establishing mitigation 
exclusion and buffer zones. In summary, Lamont-Doherty acquired field 
measurements for several array configurations at shallow- and deep-
water depths during acoustic verification studies conducted in the 
northern Gulf of Mexico in 2003 (Tolstoy et al., 2004) and in 2007 and 
2008 (Tolstoy et al., 2009). Based on the empirical data from those 
studies, Lamont-Doherty developed a sound propagation modeling approach 
that conservatively predicts received sound levels as a function of 
distance from a particular airgun array configuration in deep water. 
For this proposed survey, Lamont-Doherty developed the shallow-water 
exclusion and buffer zones for the airgun array based on the 
empirically-derived measurements from the Gulf of Mexico calibration 
survey (Fig. 5a in Appendix H of the NSF's 2011 PEIS). Following is a 
summary of two additional analyses of in-situ data that support Lamont-
Doherty's use of the proposed exclusion zones in this particular case.
    In 2010, Lamont-Doherty assessed the accuracy of their modeling 
approach by comparing the sound levels of the field measurements in the 
Gulf of Mexico study to their model predictions (Diebold et al., 2010). 
They reported that the observed sound levels from the field 
measurements fell almost entirely below the predicted mitigation radii 
curve for deep water (Diebold et al., 2010).
    In 2012, Lamont-Doherty used a similar process to develop 
mitigation radii (i.e., exclusion and buffer zones) for a shallow-water 
seismic survey in the northeast Pacific Ocean offshore Washington in 
2012. Lamont-Doherty conducted the shallow-water survey using an airgun 
configuration that was approximately 89 percent larger than the total 
discharge volume proposed for this shallow-water survey (i.e., 6,600 
cubic inches (in\3\) compared to 700 in\3\) and recorded the received 
sound levels on the shelf and slope off Washington using the Langseth's 
8-kilometer (km) hydrophone streamer. Crone et al. (2014) analyzed 
those received sound levels from the 2012 survey and reported that the 
actual distances for the exclusion and buffer zones were two to three 
times smaller than what Lamont-Doherty's modeling approach predicted. 
While the results confirm bathymetry's role in sound propagation, Crone 
et al. (2014) were able to confirm that the empirical measurements from 
the Gulf of Mexico calibration survey (the same measurements used to 
inform Lamont-Doherty's modeling approach for this survey in shallow 
water) overestimated the size of the exclusion and buffer zones for the 
shallow-water 2012 survey off Washington and were thus precautionary, 
in that particular case.
    In summary, at present, Lamont-Doherty cannot adjust their modeling 
methodology to add the environmental and site-specific parameters as 
requested by the Commission. We continue to work with the NSF to 
address the issue of incorporating site-specific information to further 
inform the analysis and development of mitigation measures in coastal 
areas for future surveys with Lamont-Doherty and the NSF. NMFS will 
continue to work with Lamont-Doherty, the NSF, and the Commission on 
continuing to verify the accuracy of their modeling approach. However, 
Lamont-Doherty's current modeling approach represents the best 
available information to reach our determinations for the 
Authorization. As described earlier, the comparisons of Lamont-
Doherty's model results and the field data collected in the Gulf of 
Mexico, offshore Washington, and offshore New Jersey illustrate a 
degree of conservativeness built into Lamont-Doherty's model for deep 
water, which NMFS expects to offset some of the limitations of the 
model to capture the variability resulting from site-specific factors, 
especially in shallow water.
    Comment 5: The Commission disagreed with Lamont-Doherty's use of 
extrapolations and correction factors (or a scaling approach) to 
generate exclusion zones for shallow-water for this proposed survey and 
stated that the use of those scaling factors for shallow-water surveys 
is unsubstantiated. The Commission states that because Lamont-Doherty 
has not verified the applicability of its model to conditions outside 
the Gulf of Mexico, it recommends that NMFS and/or the respective 
applicants estimate exclusion and buffer zones using either empirical 
measurements from the particular survey site or a model that accounts 
for the conditions in the proposed survey area by incorporating site-
specific environmental and operational parameters.
    Response: See our response to Comment 4. Lamont-Doherty's approach 
compares the sound exposure level (SEL) outputs between two different 
types of airgun configurations in deep water. This approach allows them 
to derive scaling relationships between the arrays and extrapolate 
empirical measurements or model outputs to different array sizes and 
tow depths. For example, if an Airgun Source A produces sound energy 
that is three times greater than Airgun Source B in deep water, it is 
reasonable to infer that the shallow-water mitigation zones for Airgun 
Source A would be three times larger than the shallow-water mitigation 
zones for Airgun Source B. This approach of deriving scaling factors is 
an appropriate approach to extrapolate existing empirical measurements 
for shallow water. Thus, this is the best available information to 
extrapolate the in-situ shallow water measurements to array tow depths 
without field verification studies (Crone et al., 2014; Barton and 
Diebold, 2006).
    Based upon NMFS and the Commission's recommendation, Lamont-Doherty 
used in-situ empirical measurements from the 2014 survey to compare 
them to the accuracy of the predicted mitigation zones used in the 2014 
and 2015 survey. The preliminary in-situ measurement results from Crone 
(2015) show that the predicted mitigation exclusion zones are 
appropriate. This analysis also confirmed the effectiveness of Lamont-
Doherty's use of scaling factors. Based on the best available 
information (Diebold et al., 2010; Crone et al., 2014; and Crone, 
2015), NMFS concludes that in the case for this survey, requiring the 
use of a model with environmental characteristics of the specific study 
area is not necessary.
    Lamont-Doherty has conveyed to us that additional modeling efforts 
to refine the process and conduct comparative analysis may be possible 
with the availability of research fund and other

[[Page 27640]]

resources. Obtaining research funds is typically through a competitive 
process, including those submitted to Federal agencies. The use of 
models for calculating buffer and exclusion zone radii and for 
developing take estimates is not a requirement of the MMPA incidental 
take authorization process. Furthermore, our agency does not provide 
specific guidance on model parameters nor prescribes a specific model 
for applicants as part of the MMPA incidental take authorization 
process. There is a level of variability not only with parameters in 
the models, but also the uncertainty associated with data used in 
models, and therefore the quality of the model results submitted by 
applicants. NMFS, however, considers this variability when evaluating 
applications. Applicants use models as a tool to evaluate potential 
impacts, estimate the number of and type of takes of marine mammals, 
and for designing mitigation. NMFS takes into consideration the model 
used and its results in determining the potential impacts to marine 
mammals; however, it is just one component of our analysis during the 
MMPA consultation process as we also take into consideration other 
factors associated with the proposed action, (e.g., geographic 
location, duration of activities, context, intensity, etc.).
    Comment 6: The Commission also commented on Lamont-Doherty's 
retrospective sound analysis to verify the accuracy of its acoustic 
modeling approach for estimating exclusion and buffer zones that NMFS 
presented in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 
17, 2015) (Crone, 2015). The Commission understands that Crone (2015) 
used a simple logarithmic regression model to fit the data that were 
collected 500 m to 3.5 km in line from the source; estimated the cross-
line mean based on a 1.63 correction factor (Carton, pers. comm.); and 
used a 95th percentile fit to the regression model for all shots along 
the line. The Commission states, however, because the closest 
hydrophone was 500 m from the source, Lamont-Doherty extrapolated the 
distances to the 180-dB re 1 [mu]Pa threshold based on the model--in 
some instances, the extrapolation was more than 400 m. The Commission 
also stated that Crone (2015) did not provide similar information 
provided in Tolstoy et al. (2009) and Crone et al. (2014), such as the 
slope or the y-intercept for the logarithmic regression model; the 
basis for the cross-line correction factor; the sound speed profile 
when the measurements were collected, or whether the near-field 
extrapolated data would have been better fitted with another model, 
since propagation loss in the near- and far-field may not necessarily 
be the same.
    The Commission further stated that polynomial and non-parametric 
cubic spline models best represented the data off Washington (Crone et 
al., 2014), neither of which are logarithmic in nature and a linear 
least squares method was fit to the typical spherical spreading model 
to extrapolate the 160-dB re 1 [mu]Pa radii to account for radii that 
fall beyond the length of the hydrophone streamer.
    Response: The NSF and Lamont-Doherty shared their preliminary 
analysis presented in Crone's draft report (2015) to both NMFS and the 
Commission and provided additional clarifying information via email to 
both parties including information on some of the points identified in 
the Commission's letter. Here, we provide additional information to 
inform the Commission's understanding of the 2015 in-situ analysis.
    First, Lamont-Doherty believes that it is not correct to call the 
fitting parameters the slope and y-intercept, as one would do for a 
straight line using Cartesian coordinates and considers the use of 
constant and exponent parameters as more appropriate terminology when 
discussing the Crone (2015) results.
    Second, Lamont-Doherty confirms that the regression model used in 
Crone (2015) is the same as equation 6 in Crone et al., (2014), but 
without the linear term, which comes third in the formulation. There 
are fitting parameters (i.e., the constant and exponent) for every shot 
along the line. Because Crone (2015) used a method to fit the data 
(which changes with every shot) for approximately 3,000 shots, it is 
not reasonable to list the data for every shot. However, Lamont-Doherty 
will continue to evaluate this exponent change variability along the 
line.
    Third, Lamont-Doherty confirms that Crone (2015) estimated the 
parameters using linear least squares. However, in this case, and for 
equation 6 in Crone et al., (2014), both have a logarithmic term, which 
is appropriate since Crone (2015) employs linear regression models. 
Thus, the fitting model used is appropriate and the results for the 
160-dB distance would likely not change significantly using another 
model to fit the data. In March, 2015, Lamont-Doherty also provided 
clarification to the Commission that the near-field data best fit using 
a logarithmic regression model.
    Lamont-Doherty offered to discuss the information presented in 
Crone (2015) with Commission staff and members of its Committee of 
Scientific Advisors; however, the availability of all parties was 
limited before the conclusion of the public comment period and Dr. 
Crone was unable to discuss the results directly with the Commission 
prior to their submission of their letter. Lamont-Doherty and the NSF 
welcome the opportunity to further discuss these results in the near 
future with the Commission and NMFS.
    Comment 7: The Commission states that NMFS misrepresented the data 
from Crone (2015) in Table 4 of the Federal Register notice (page 
13981, 80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) by including the in-line measured 
and extrapolated means (78 and 1,521 m for the 180- and 160-dB re 1 
[mu]Pa thresholds, respectively) rather than the 95th percentile cross-
line predicted means, which Lamont-Doherty generally uses for its best-
fit model.
    Further, the Commission states that Crone (2015) indicated that the 
contour of the seafloor along the line was quite flat and varied by 
only a few meters along most of its 50-km length, which limited the 
shadowing and focusing that have been seen in other datasets (Crone et 
al., 2014). Crone (2015) then noted that the variability observed in 
Figures 3 and 4 for the 180- and 160-dB re 1 [mu]Pa thresholds, 
respectively, likely was caused by the shadowing and focusing of 
seismic energy from bathymetric features. The Commission stated that 
Crone's statements did not comport.
    Response: NMFS's comparison of the predicted radii for the 2014 
survey with the in-situ measured radii for the 2014 survey was not 
misrepresented as suggested by the Commission as the information and 
analysis provided were accurate. However, NMFS agrees with the 
Commission that we could have also provided a comparison of the 
predicted radii with the upper 95 percent cross-line prediction bound 
radii. We acknowledge that those results show that the percent 
differences in the model predicted radii and the 95th percentile cross-
line predicted radii based on in-situ measurements were approximately 
28 and 33 percent smaller for the 180- and 160-dB re: 1 [mu]Pa 
thresholds. Thus, the results demonstrate that the in situ measured and 
estimated 160 and 180-dB isopleths for the 2014 survey were 
significantly smaller than the predicted radii and therefore 
conservative, as emphasized by Lamont-Doherty in its application and in 
supporting environmental documentation. We present the complete 
information here in Table 1 with the additional information regarding 
the predicted radii with the upper 95 percent cross-line prediction 
bound radii.

[[Page 27641]]



 Table 1--Summary of RMS Power Levels With Estimated Mitigation Radii Calculated Using Streamer Data, and in the
                           Last Column the Predicted Radii Used During the 2014 Survey
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                       Upper 95%
                                     In-line mean      Estimated      cross-line      Predicted levels used for
    RMS Level (dB re 1 [mu]Pa)            (m)         cross-line      prediction         the 2014 survey (m)
                                                       mean (m)        bound (m)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
180...............................              78             128             273  378 at 4.5-m tow depth; 439
                                                                                     at 6-m tow depth.
160...............................           1,521           2,479           3,505  5,240 at 4.5 m tow depth;
                                                                                     6,100 at 6-m tow depth.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    With respect to Crone's (2015) observations on shadowing and 
focusing of seismic energy, Crone (2015) did indicate that the contour 
of the seafloor along the line was quite flat and varied by only a few 
meters along most of its 50-km length, resulting in limited shadowing 
and focusing of seismic energy from bathymetric features frequently 
seen in other datasets (Crone et al. 2014). Crone, however, did not 
state that effects from shadowing and focusing were entirely absent 
from the 2014 data set. In fact, he noted that the limited amount of 
shadowing and focusing of seismic energy from bathymetric features 
present likely caused the minor variability observed.
    Comment 8: The Commission also recommends that we require Lamont-
Doherty to re-estimate the proposed zones and take estimates using 
site-specific parameters (including at least sound speed profiles, 
bathymetry, and sediment characteristics) for the proposed 
Authorization. They also recommend that we require the same for all 
future incidental harassment authorization requests submitted by 
Lamont-Doherty, the NSF, and other related entities.
    Response: See NMFS' responses to Comment 4 and 5. There are many 
different modeling products and services commercially available that 
applicants could potentially use in developing their take estimates and 
analyses for MMPA authorizations. These different models range widely 
in cost, complexity, and the number of specific factors that one can 
consider in any particular modeling run. NMFS does not, and does not 
believe that it is appropriate to, prescribe the use of any particular 
modeling package. Rather, NMFS evaluates each applicant's approach 
independently in the context of their activity. In cases where an 
applicant uses a simpler model and there is concern that a model might 
not capture the variability across a parameter(s) that is not 
represented in the model, conservative choices are often made at 
certain decision points in the model to help ensure that modeled 
estimates are buffered in a manner that would not result in the agency 
underestimating takes or effects. In this case, results have shown that 
Lamont-Doherty's model reliably and conservatively estimates mitigation 
radii in deep water. First, the observed sound levels from the field 
measurements fell almost entirely below Lamont-Doherty's estimated 
mitigation radii for deep water (Diebold et al., 2010). These 
conservative mitigation radii are the foundation for Lamont-Doherty's 
shallow water radii used in this survey.
    Second, Lamont-Doherty's analysis of measured shallow water radii 
during the 2012 survey offshore Washington (Crone et al., 2014) show 
that Lamont-Doherty's modeled radii for the Washington survey 
overestimated the measured 160-dB radii by approximately 10 km (6.2 mi) 
and overestimated the measured 180-dB radii by approximately 500 m 
(1,640 ft) (Crone et al., 2014). Based on Crone et al.'s (2014) 
findings, NMFS find that Lamont-Doherty's shallow-water radii based on 
the Gulf of Mexico calibration study were larger (i.e., more 
conservative) for that particular study. Based on these empirical data, 
which illustrate the model's conservative exposure estimates across two 
sites, as well as the preliminary results from a third site offshore 
New Jersey (Crone, 2015), NMFS finds that Lamont-Doherty reasonably 
estimates sound exposures for this survey.
    Comment 9: The Commission acknowledges that NMFS' attempt to 
address shortcomings in Lamont-Doherty's method to estimate take by 
developing an alternate approach based on the Commission's 
recommendation in its public comments on the 2014 survey (see page 
38500, 79 FR 38496, July 08, 2014). NMFS' method used the total 
ensonified area (including overlap and the 25 percent contingency) for 
the 30 days multiplied by: (1) The revised density estimates from the 
SERDP SDSS Marine Animal Model Mapper tool for the summer months (DoN, 
2007; accessed on February 10, 2015); (2) an adjustment factor of 25 
percent based on Wood et al. (2012); and (3) an estimate of re-exposure 
(a ratio of 35.5) overlap of the survey.
    The Commission commented that the area times the density method, 
which still serves as the basis for NMFS' proposed method, assumes a 
snapshot approach for take estimation (i.e., uniform distribution) and 
does not account for the survey occurring over a 30 day period. Thus, 
the Commission states that NMFS did not incorporate a time element into 
the take estimation method and did not apply the Wood et al. (2012) 
correction factor of 1.25 correctly.
    The Commission understands that following publication of the 
Federal Register notice, NMFS began to revise the take estimates based 
on a different methodology for the proposed survey. The Commission 
understands that the total numbers of exposures likely will decrease 
but the estimated numbers of individuals that could be taken likely 
will increase. If NMFS chooses not to amend and republish its notice, 
the Commission recommends that NMFS: (1) Use one of the two methods 
described in their letter to estimate the total number of takes for 
each species/stock for the survey; and (2) if NMFS intends to estimate 
the total number of individuals for each species/stock taken during the 
survey, include a review of the applicable scientific literature 
regarding migratory, residence, and foraging patterns for the various 
species off the East coast and relate those data to the 30-day survey 
period for the proposed survey off New Jersey.
    Response: NMFS agrees with the Commission's recommendation to 
appropriately include a time component into our calculations and has 
revised its take estimation methodology for the proposed survey by 
following their recommendation to estimate take in the following 
manner: (1) Calculate the total area (not including contingency or 
overlap) that the Langseth would ensonify within a 24-hour period 
(i.e., a daily ensonified area); (2) multiply the daily ensonified area 
by each species-specific density (when available) to derive the 
expected number of instance of exposures to received levels greater 
than or equal to 160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa on a given day. NMFS takes this 
product (i.e.,

[[Page 27642]]

the expected number of instance of exposures within a day) and 
multiplies it by the number of survey days (30) with 25 percent 
contingency (i.e., a total of 38 days). This approach assumes a 100 
percent turnover of the marine mammal population within the area for 
those species of marine mammals that had density estimates from the 
SERDP SDSS summer NODE data. For those species of marine mammals where 
density estimates were not available in the SERDP SDSS Marine Animal 
Model Mapper tool for the summer months (DoN, 2007; accessed on 
February 10, 2015) dataset because of their limited or rare occurrence 
in the survey area, we used additional information (CETAP, 1982; 
AMAPPS, 2010, 2011, and 2013) to estimate take.
    We present this information later in this notice (see Table 4 in 
this notice) and note here that our revised approach does not include 
the use of a turnover rate nor does it rely on the use of Wood et al., 
2012 to determine take estimates, based on the information presented in 
the Commission's letter on the non-applicability of that data set for 
our calculations.
    The method recommended by the Commission is a way to help 
understand the instances of exposure above the Level B threshold, 
however, we note that method would overestimate the number of 
individual marine mammals exposed above the 160-dB threshold.
    Comment 10: The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (NJMFC) 
commented on the timing of the proposed study and effects to striped 
bass, blue fish, and black sea bass. They stated that the testing would 
affect fish behavior and distribution (avoidance of areas), schooling 
behavior and their ability to locate food. They also stated that the 
proposed timeframe for the study would take place during the peak 
abundance and fishing activity for many of New Jersey fisheries 
resulting in poor fish health. The NJMFSC also requested that NMFS not 
issue an Incidental Harassment Authorization for the take of marine 
mammals. The SandyHook SeaLife Foundation also submitted similar 
concerns stating that the survey would disperse fish, the result of 
which will negatively affect New Jersey's recreational and commercial 
fishing industry during the tourist season.
    Similarly, Clean Ocean Action (COA) also requested that Lamont-
Doherty not conduct the survey during the summer months and that NMFS 
consider alternate survey times to avoid times of peak marine mammal 
activity.
    Finally, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection 
(NJDEP) also submitted comments expressing concern for effects to 
marine mammal habitat and for the potential impacts to New Jersey's 
marine mammal boat tour operators and the recreational and commercial 
fishing industry.
    Response: The NJMFC did not provide references supporting their 
statement which limits our ability to respond to the commenters' 
statements. However, we refer readers to the notice of the proposed 
Authorization (page 13977, 80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) which provided 
information on the anticipated effects of airgun sounds on fish, fish 
behavior, and invertebrates in the context of those animals as marine 
mammal prey.
    NMFS considered the effects of the survey on marine mammal prey 
(i.e., fish and invertebrates), as a component of marine mammal 
habitat, in the notice of the proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, 
March 17, 2015). Studies have shown both decreases and increases in 
fisheries catch rates and behavioral changes in captive marine fish and 
squid during exposure to seismic sound (Lokkeborg et al., 2012; 
Fewtrell and McCauley, 2012). We acknowledge that disturbance of prey 
species has the potential to adversely affect marine mammals while 
foraging. However, given the limited spatio-temporal scale of the 
survey, the survey would ensonify only a small fraction of available 
habitat at any one time because the vessel is continually moving during 
data acquisition. We would expect prey species to return to their pre-
exposure behavior once seismic firing ceased (Lokkeborg et al., 2012; 
Fewtrell and McCauley, 2012). Although there is a potential for injury 
to fish or marine life in close proximity to the vessel, we expect that 
prey responses would have temporary effects on a marine mammal's 
ability to forage in the immediate survey area. However, we don't 
expect that temporary reductions in feeding ability would reduce an 
individual animal's overall feeding success.
    Laboratory studies have observed permanent damage to sensory 
epithelia for captive fish exposed at close range to a sound source 
(McCauley et al., 2003) and abnormalities in larval scallops after 
exposure to low frequency noise in tanks (de Soto et al., 2013); 
however, wild fish are likely to move away from a seismic source 
(Fewtrell and McCauley, 2012). Finally, other studies provide examples 
of no fish mortality upon exposure to seismic sources (e.g., Popper et 
al., 2005; Boeger et al., 2006).
    In summary, in examining impacts to fish as prey species for marine 
mammals, we expect fish to exhibit a range of behaviors including no 
reaction or habituation (Pena et al., 2013) to startle responses and/or 
avoidance (Fewtrell and McCauley, 2012). We expect that the seismic 
survey would have no more than a temporary and minimal adverse effect 
on any fish or invertebrate species that serve as prey species for 
marine mammals, and therefore consider the potential impacts to marine 
mammal habitat minimal as well.
    Regarding the survey's impacts on commercial and recreational 
fishing, we refer readers to the NSF's amended EA for this survey 
(Sections III and IV) which includes consideration of the effects of 
sound on marine invertebrates, fish, and fisheries and the effects of 
the survey on the recreational and commercial fishing sectors in New 
Jersey. The NSF also completed an ESA Section 7 consultation to address 
the effects of the research seismic survey on ESA-listed species within 
the proposed area as well as a consultation under the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act for essential fish habitat.
    Regarding the timing of the proposed survey, we analyzed the 
specified activity, including the specified dates, as presented in 
Lamont-Doherty's application and were able to make the requisite 
findings for issuing the Authorization. We do not have the authority to 
cancel Lamont-Doherty's research seismic activities under Section 
101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, as that authority lies with the NSF. NMFS and 
the NSF considered in their EAs, a modification of the survey schedule 
to an alternate time. However, we determined this could result in an 
increase in the number of takes of North Atlantic right whales due to 
their increased presence off New Jersey in the fall, spring, and winter 
months. Whitt et al. (2013) concluded that right whales were not 
present in large numbers off New Jersey during the summer months (Jun 
22-Sep 27) which overlaps with the effective dates of the seismic 
survey (Jun through August). In contrast, peak acoustic detections for 
North Atlantic right whales occurred in the winter (Dec 18-Apr 9) and 
in the spring (Apr 10-Jun 21) (Whitt, et al., 2013).
    Comment 11: The NJDEP asserted that there was insufficient 
information to conclude that the impacts to the marine mammals that 
could potentially occur in the action area would be negligible. They 
state that marine mammals, especially cetaceans, would be adversely 
affected by noise created during seismic testing activities; noise 
pollution, in the form of repeated or

[[Page 27643]]

prolonged sounds would adversely impact marine mammals by disrupting 
otherwise normal behaviors associated with migration, feeding, alluding 
predators, resting, and breeding, etc.; and any alterations to these 
behaviors would jeopardize the survival of an individual simply by 
increasing efforts directed at avoidance of the noise and the perceived 
threat. They also state that that the project will add to an existing 
and increasing anthropogenic noise pollution which may already be 
negatively impacting species.
    Response: NMFS disagrees with the commenter's assertions regarding 
our neglible impact determinations under the MMPA discussed in the 
notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). The 
NJDEP did not provide did not provide references supporting their 
statements related to marine mammals which limits our ability to 
respond to the commenter's statements. We refer to our detailed 
discussion of the potential effects of the proposed survey on marine 
mammals (pages 13967-13979) which covers acoustic impacts, masking, 
behavioral disturbance, and non-auditory physical effects to cetaceans 
and pinnipeds.
    Additionally, NMFS has issued a Biological Opinion under the ESA 
that concluded that the issuance of the Authorization and the conduct 
of the seismic survey were not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of blue, fin, humpback, North Atlantic right, sei, and sperm 
whales. The Opinion also concluded that the issuance of the 
Authorization and the conduct of the seismic survey would not affect 
designated critical habitat for these species.
    Comment 12: COA expressed concerns related to the survey's impact 
on the local (coastal) bottlenose dolphin population. They include: 
cumulative adverse impacts of the survey in light of the ongoing 
Unusual Mortality Event (UME); potential increases in marine mammal 
strandings due to the use of the multibeam echosounder; the survey's 
temporal overlap with the bottlenose dolphin calving period; and the 
potential heightened sensitivity of bottlenose dolphin calves to 
anthropogenic noise.
    Response: In 2013, NMFS declared a UME for elevated bottlenose 
dolphin strandings along the Atlantic coast (New York through Florida). 
From July 1, 2013-April 5, 2015, NMFS has recorded a total of 1,660 
strandings from New York to Florida. Of those strandings, 153 dolphins 
have stranded in New Jersey, which is significantly higher than the 
average annual bottlenose dolphin stranding rate of 15 strandings 
(based on 2007-2012 data).
    NMFS expects that the survey's activities would result, at worst, 
in a temporary modification in behavior, temporary changes in animal 
distribution, and/or low-level physiological effects (Level B 
harassment) of bottlenose dolphins. We expect these impacts to be minor 
at the individual level and we do not anticipate impacts on the 
population or impacts to rookeries, mating grounds, and other areas of 
similar significance.
    The Authorization outlines reporting measures and response 
protocols with the Greater Atlantic Region Stranding Coordinator 
intended to minimize the impacts of, and enhance the analysis of, any 
potential stranding in the survey area. Lamont-Doherty's activities are 
approximately 20 km (12 mi) away from the habitat in which the coastal 
bottlenose dolphins are expected to occur (Toth et al., 2011; 2012), 
which means that area is not expected to be ensonified above 160 dB and 
that take of this stock or calves of this stock (i.e., the Western 
North Atlantic Northern Migratory Coastal) is not anticipated. 
Additionally, airgun pulses are outside of the range of frequencies in 
which dolphin hearing is most sensitive, and Schlundt et al.'s (2013) 
study suggests that the low-frequency content of air gun impulses may 
have fewer predicted impacts on bottlenose dolphins. Last, we do not 
have specific information related to how any acoustic stressors may or 
may not exacerbate the effects of the UME with bottlenose dolphins. 
However, based on the fact that the acoustic effects are expected to be 
limited to behavioral harassment, and the survey is constantly moving 
(predominantly far offshore and well away from coastal species and the 
associated calving areas), we do not anticipate any focused adverse 
effects to animals involved in the UME.
    Regarding COA's concerns about increased strandings, we note that 
Lamont-Doherty has not ever experienced a stranding event associated 
with their activities during the past 10 years that NMFS has issued 
Authorizations to them. In the past decade of seismic surveys conducted 
carried out by the Langseth, protected species observers and other crew 
members have neither observed nor reported any seismic-related marine 
mammal injuries or mortalities.
    The NSF's EA (NSF, 2014) acknowledges that scientists have 
conducted numerous 2-D seismic surveys in the general vicinity of the 
proposed survey from 1979 to 2002. The previous surveys used different 
airgun array configurations (e.g., a 6-airgun, 1,350-in\3\ array in 
1990; a single, 45-in\3\ GI Gun in 1996 and 1998; and two 45-in\3\ GI 
Guns in 2002). The researchers did not observe any seismic sound-
related marine mammal related injuries or mortality, or impacts to fish 
during these past seismic surveys in the proposed survey area (NSF, 
2014; G. Mountain, Pers. Comm.).
    We have considered the potential for behavioral responses such as 
stranding and indirect injury or mortality from Lamont-Doherty's use of 
the multibeam echosounder. In 2013, an International Scientific Review 
Panel (ISRP) investigated a 2008 mass stranding of approximately 100 
melon-headed whales in a Madagascar lagoon system (Southall et al., 
2013) associated with the use of a high-frequency mapping system. The 
report indicated that the use of a 12-kHz multibeam echosounder was the 
most plausible and likely initial behavioral trigger of the mass 
stranding event. This was the first time that a relatively high-
frequency mapping sonar system had been associated with a stranding 
event. However, the report also notes that there were several site- and 
situation-specific secondary factors that may have contributed to the 
avoidance responses that lead to the eventual entrapment and mortality 
of the whales within the Loza Lagoon system (e.g., the survey vessel 
transiting in a north-south direction on the shelf break parallel to 
the shore, may have trapped the animals between the sound source and 
the shore driving them towards the Loza Lagoon). They concluded that 
for odontocete cetaceans that hear well in the 10-50 kHz range, where 
ambient noise is typically quite low, high-power active sonars 
operating in this range may be more easily audible and have potential 
effects over larger areas than low frequency systems that have more 
typically been considered in terms of anthropogenic noise impacts 
(Southall, et al., 2013). However, the risk may be very low given the 
extensive use of these systems worldwide on a daily basis and the lack 
of direct evidence of such responses previously reported (Southall, et 
al., 2013).
    Given that Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct the survey offshore 
and the Langseth is not conducting the survey parallel to any 
coastline, we do not anticipate that the use of the source during the 
seismic survey would entrap marine mammals between the vessel's sound 
sources and the New Jersey coastline. In addition, the Authorization 
includes reporting measures and response protocols to minimize the 
impacts of, and enhance the analysis of,

[[Page 27644]]

any potential stranding in the survey area.
    With respect to Clean Ocean Action's concerns about the survey's 
temporal overlap with the bottlenose dolphin calving period, we note 
again that Lamont-Doherty's study area is approximately 20 km (12 mi) 
away from the identified habitats for coastal bottlenose dolphins and 
their calves in Toth et al. (2011, 2012) thereby reducing further the 
likelihood of causing an effect on this species or stock.
    In response to COA's concerns that dolphin calves may be limited in 
their ability to flee the ensonified area due to their dependence on 
their mothers and small size, we considered several studies which note 
that seismic operators and protected species observers regularly see 
dolphins and other small toothed whales near operating airgun arrays, 
but in general there is a tendency for most delphinids to show some 
avoidance of operating seismic vessels (e.g., Moulton and Miller, 2005; 
Holst et al., 2006; Stone and Tasker, 2006; Weir, 2008; Richardson et 
al., 2009; Barkaszi et al., 2009; Moulton and Holst, 2010). Also, some 
dolphins seem to be attracted to the seismic vessel and floats, and 
some ride the bow wave of the seismic vessel even when large arrays of 
airguns are firing (e.g., Moulton and Miller, 2005). Nonetheless, small 
toothed whales more often tend to head away, or to maintain a somewhat 
greater distance from the vessel, when a large array of airguns is 
operating than when it is silent (e.g., Stone and Tasker, 2006; Weir, 
2008, Barry et al., 2010; Moulton and Holst, 2010). We note that in 
most cases, the avoidance radii for delphinids appear to be small, on 
the order of one km or less, and some individuals show no apparent 
avoidance. In considering the potential heightened sensitivity of 
neonate dolphins to noise, Schlundt et al. (2013) suggest that the 
potential for airguns to cause hearing loss in dolphins is lower than 
previously predicted, perhaps as a result of the low-frequency content 
of air gun impulses compared to the high-frequency hearing ability of 
dolphins.
    We do not expect marine mammals to experience any repeated 
exposures at very close distances to the sound source because Lamont-
Doherty would implement the required shutdown and power down mitigation 
measures to ensure that marine mammals do not approach the applicable 
exclusion zones for Level A harassment. In addition, we anticipate that 
the required ramp-up procedures at the start of the survey or anytime 
after a shutdown of the entire array would ``warn'' marine mammals in 
the vicinity of the airguns, and provide the time for them to leave the 
area and thus avoid any potential injury or impairment of their hearing 
abilities or annoyance at higher exposure levels.
    Comment 13: COA states that we did not present species information 
for North Atlantic right whales in our analyses, including the Whitt et 
al. (2013) peer[hyphen]reviewed study demonstrating North Atlantic 
right whale presence off the New Jersey coast year-round, particularly 
in the spring and summer months.
    Response: NMFS disagrees. Table 1 in our notice of proposed 
authorization (pages 13966 and 13987, 80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) 
specifically states that we base the year-round seasonal presence of 
North Atlantic right whales on the Whitt et al. (2013) paper. Whitt et 
al. (2013) conducted acoustic and visual surveys for North Atlantic 
right whales off the coast of New Jersey from January 2008 to December 
2009 and observed one sighting of a cow-calf pair in May 2008, but no 
other sightings of cow-calf pairs throughout the remainder of the 
study. In the discussion of the Whitt et al. (2013) data, NMFS 
concluded that it was appropriate to increase Lamont-Doherty's original 
request for incidental take related to North Atlantic right whales from 
zero to three (3) to be conservative in estimating potential take for 
cow/calf pairs. NMFS based this adjustment on several sources (AMAPPS, 
2010, 2011, and 2013; and Whitt et al., 2013) that reported sighting 
information on the presence of North Atlantic right whales (including a 
cow/calf pair) in the survey area.

Monitoring and Reporting

    Comment 14: The Commission has indicated that monitoring and 
reporting requirements should provide a reasonably accurate assessment 
of the types of taking and the numbers of animals taken by the proposed 
activity. They state that ``. . . the assessments should account for 
animals at the surface but not detected [i.e., g(0) values] and for 
animals present but underwater and not available for sighting [i.e., 
f(0) values]. They further state that g(0) and f(0) values are 
essential to accurately assess the numbers of marine mammals taken 
during geophysical surveys based on the extent of the Level B 
harassment zones extending from more than 10 km in some instances and 
to more than 26 km in other instances. In light of the comments, the 
Commission recommends that NMFS consult with the funding agency (i.e., 
the NSF) and individual applicants (e.g., Lamont-Doherty and other 
related entities) to develop, validate, and implement a monitoring 
program that provides a scientifically sound, reasonably accurate 
assessment of the types of marine mammal takes and the actual numbers 
of marine mammals taken, accounting for applicable g(0) and f(0) 
values. In previous letters, the Commission has not suggested that the 
NSF and Lamont-Doherty collect information in the field to support the 
development of survey-specific correction factors (80 FR 4892); rather 
they suggest that Lamont-Doherty and other relevant entities to 
continue to collect appropriate sightings data in the field which NMFS 
can then pool to determine g(0) and f(0) values relevant to the various 
geophysical survey types. The Commission would welcome another meeting 
to help further this goal.
    Response: NMFS' implementing regulations require that applicants 
include monitoring that will result in ``an increased knowledge of the 
species, the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine 
mammals that are expected to be present while conducting activities . . 
.'' This increased knowledge of the level of taking could be 
qualitative or relative in nature, or it could be more directly 
quantitative. Scientists use g(0) and f(0) values in systematic marine 
mammal surveys to account for the undetected animals indicated above, 
however, these values are not simply established and the g(0) value 
varies across every observer based on their sighting acumen. While we 
want to be clear that we do not generally believe that post-activity 
take estimates using f(0) and g(0) are required to meet the monitoring 
requirement of the MMPA, in the context of the NSF and Lamont-Doherty's 
monitoring plan, we agree that developing and incorporating a way to 
better interpret the results of their monitoring (perhaps a simplified 
or generalized version of g(0) and f(0)) is desirable. We are 
continuing to examine this issue with the NSF to develop ways to 
improve their post-survey take estimates. We will continue to consult 
with the Commission and NMFS scientists prior to finalizing any future 
recommendations.
    We note that current monitoring measures for past and current 
Authorizations for research seismic surveys require the collection of 
visual observation data by protected species observers prior to, 
during, and after airgun operations. This data collection may 
contribute to baseline data on marine mammals (presence/absence) and 
provide some generalized support for estimated take numbers (as well as 
providing data regarding behavioral responses to seismic operation that 
are

[[Page 27645]]

observable at the surface). However, it is unlikely that the 
information gathered from these cruises alone would result in any 
statistically robust conclusions for any particular species because of 
the small number of animals typically observed.

MMPA Concerns

    Comment 15: Clean Ocean Action states that NMFS must ensure that 
the Authorization complies with the MMPA and requests that NMFS deny 
the Authorization based on their opinion that the potential impacts to 
marine mammals are incompatible with the prohibitions of the MMPA and 
that the take would be more than negligible.
    Response: Our Federal Register notices for the proposed and final 
Authorization lay out our analysis and rationale for our conclusions.
    Based on the analysis of the likely effects of the specified 
activity on marine mammals and their habitat contained within this 
document, the NSF's amended EA and our own EA, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring 
measures, we find that Lamont-Doherty's proposed activity would result 
in the take of small numbers of marine mammals, would have a negligible 
impact on the affected species or stocks, and would not result in an 
unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or 
stocks for taking for subsistence uses as no subsistence users would be 
affected by the proposed action.

Acoustic Thresholds

    Comment 16: COA states that the current NMFS 160-decibel (dB) re: 1 
[mu]Pa threshold for Level B harassment does not reflect the best 
available science and is not sufficiently conservative.
    Response: NMFS' practice has been to apply the 160 dB re: 1 
[micro]Pa received level threshold for underwater impulse sound levels 
to determine whether take by Level B harassment occurs. Specifically, 
we derived the 160 dB threshold data from mother-calf pairs of 
migrating gray whales (Malme et al., 1983, 1984) and bowhead whales 
(Richardson et al., 1985, 1986) responding to seismic airguns. We 
acknowledge there is more recent information bearing on behavioral 
reactions to seismic airguns, and we discuss the science on this issue 
qualitatively in our analysis of potential effects to marine mammals 
(80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015), but those data only illustrate how 
complex and context-dependent the relationship is between the two, and 
do not, as a whole, invalidate the current threshold. Accordingly, it 
is not a matter of simply replacing the existing threshold with a new 
one.
    NMFS is working to develop guidance for assessing the effects of 
anthropogenic sound on marine mammals, including thresholds for 
behavioral harassment. Until NMFS finalizes that guidance (a process 
that includes internal agency review, public notice and comment, and 
peer review), we will continue to rely on the existing criteria for 
Level A and Level B harassment shown in Table 5 of the notice for the 
proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015).
    As mentioned in the Federal Register notice for the proposed 
authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015), we expect that the onset 
for behavioral harassment is largely context dependent (e.g., 
behavioral state of the animals, distance from the sound source, etc.) 
when evaluating behavioral responses of marine mammals to acoustic 
sources. Although using a uniform sound pressure level of 160-dB re: 1 
[mu]Pa for the onset of behavioral harassment for impulse noises may 
not capture all of the nuances of different marine mammal reactions to 
sound, it is a reasonable and workable way to evaluate and manage/
regulate anthropogenic noise impacts on marine mammals as NMFS 
considers more complex options.
    Comment 17: COA requested that we use a behavioral threshold below 
160 dB for estimating take based on results reported in Clark and 
Gagnon (2006), MacLeod et al. (2006), Risch et al. (2012), McCauley et 
al. (1998), McDonald et al. (1995), Bain and Williams (2006), DeRuiter 
et al. (2013). They also cite comments submitted by Clark et al. (2012) 
on the Arctic Ocean Draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding 
NMFS' current acoustic thresholds.
    Response: NMFS is constantly evaluating new science and how to best 
incorporate it into our decisions. This process involves careful 
consideration of new data and how it is best interpreted within the 
context of a given management framework. Each of these cited articles 
emphasizes the importance of context (e.g., behavioral state of the 
animals, distance from the sound source, etc.) in evaluating behavioral 
responses of marine mammals to acoustic sources.
    These papers and the studies discussed in our notice of proposed 
authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) note that there is 
variability in the behavioral responses of marine mammals to noise 
exposure. However, it is important to consider the context in 
predicting and observing the level and type of behavioral response to 
anthropogenic signals (Ellison et al., 2012). There are many studies 
showing that marine mammals do not show behavioral responses when 
exposed to multiple pulses at received levels at or above 160 dB re: 1 
[micro]Pa (e.g., Malme et al., 1983; Malme et al., 1984; Richardson et 
al., 1986; Akamatsu et al., 1993; Madsen and Mohl, 2000; Harris et al., 
2001; Miller et al., 2005; and Wier, 2008). And other studies show that 
whales continue important behaviors in the presence of seismic pulses 
(e.g., Richardson et al., 1986; McDonald et al., 1995; Greene et al., 
1999a, 1999b; Nieukirk et al., 2004; Smultea et al., 2004; Holst et 
al., 2005, 2006; Dunn and Hernandez, 2009).
    In a passive acoustic research program that mapped the soundscape 
in the North Atlantic Ocean, Clark and Gagnon (2006) reported that some 
fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) stopped singing for an extended 
period starting soon after the onset of a seismic survey in the area. 
The study did not provide information on received levels or distance 
from the sound source. The authors could not determine whether or not 
the whales left the area ensonified by the survey, but the evidence 
suggests that most if not all singers remained in the area (Clark and 
Gagnon, 2006). Support for this statement comes from the fact that when 
the survey stopped temporarily, the whales resumed singing within a few 
hours and the number of singers increased with time (Clark and Gagnon, 
2006). Also, they observed that one whale continued to sing while the 
seismic survey was actively operating (Figure 4; Clark and Gagnon, 
2006).
    The authors conclude that there is not enough scientific knowledge 
to adequately evaluate whether or not these effects on singing or 
mating behaviors are significant or would alter survivorship or 
reproductive success (Clark and Gagnon, 2006). Thus, to address COA's 
concerns related to the results of this study, it is important to note 
that the Lamont-Doherty's study area is well away from any known 
breeding/calving grounds for low frequency cetaceans and approximately 
20 km (12 mi) away from the identified habitats for coastal bottlenose 
dolphins and their calves in Toth et al. (2011, 2012) thereby reducing 
further the likelihood of causing an effect on marine mammals.
    MacLeod et al. (2006) discussed the possible displacement of fin 
and sei whales related to distribution patterns of the species during a 
large-scale seismic survey offshore the west coast of Scotland in 1998. 
The authors

[[Page 27646]]

hypothesized about the relationship between the whale's absence and the 
concurrent seismic activity, but could not rule out other contributing 
factors (Macleod, et al., 2006; Parsons et al., 2009). We would expect 
that marine mammals may briefly respond to underwater sound produced by 
the seismic survey by slightly changing their behavior or relocating a 
short distance. Based on the best available information, we expect 
short-term disturbance reactions that are confined to relatively small 
distances and durations (Thompson et al., 1998; Thompson et al., 2013), 
with no adverse impacts on annual rates of recruitment or survival.
    Regarding the suggestion that blue whales ``significantly'' changed 
course during the conduct of a seismic survey offshore Oregon, we 
disagree. We considered the McDonald et al. (1995) paper in the notice 
for the proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015). In brief, 
the study tracked three blue whales relative to a seismic survey with a 
1,600 in3 airgun array (higher than Lamont-Doherty's 700 in\3\ airgun 
array). The whale started its call sequence within 15 km (9.3 mi) from 
the source, then followed a pursuit track that decreased its distance 
to the vessel where it stopped calling at a range of 10 km (6.2 mi) 
(estimated received level at 143 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa (peak-to-peak) 
(McDonald et al., 1995). After that point, the ship increased its 
distance from the whale, which continued a new call sequence after 
approximately one hour (McDonald et al., 1995) and 10 km (6.2 mi) from 
the ship. The authors suggested that the whale had taken a track 
paralleling the ship during the cessation phase but observed the whale 
moving diagonally away from the ship after approximately 30 minutes 
continuing to vocalize (McDonald et al., 1995). The authors also 
suggest that the whale may have approached the ship intentionally or 
perhaps was unaffected by the airguns. They concluded that there was 
insufficient data to infer conclusions from their study related to blue 
whale responses (McDonald et al., 1995).
    Risch et al. (2012) documented reductions in humpback whale 
(Megaptera novaeangliae) vocalizations in the Stellwagen Bank National 
Marine Sanctuary concurrent with transmissions of the Ocean Acoustic 
Waveguide Remote Sensing (OAWRS) low-frequency fish sensor system at 
distances of 200 kilometers (km) from the source. The recorded OAWRS 
produced a series of frequency modulated pulses and the signal received 
levels ranged from 88 to 110 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa (Risch et al., 2012). The 
authors hypothesize that individuals did not leave the area but instead 
ceased singing and noted that the duration and frequency range of the 
OAWRS signals (a novel sound to the whales) were similar to those of 
natural humpback whale song components used during mating (Risch et 
al., 2012). Thus, the novelty of the sound to humpback whales in the 
study area provided a compelling contextual probability for the 
observed effects (Risch et al., 2012). However, the authors did not 
state or imply that these changes had long-term effects on individual 
animals or populations (Risch et al., 2012), nor did they necessarily 
rise to the level of harassment. However, (Gong et al. 2014), disputes 
these findings, suggesting that (Risch et al. 2012) mistakes natural 
variations in humpback whale song occurrence for changes caused by 
OAWRS activity approximately 200 km away. (Risch et al., 2014) 
responded to (Gong et al., 2014) and highlighted the context-dependent 
nature of behavioral responses to acoustic stressors.
    We considered the McCauley et al. (1998) paper (along with McCauley 
et al., 2000) in the notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, 
March 17, 2015). Briefly, McCauley et al. (1998, 2000) studied the 
responses of migrating humpback whales off western Australia to a full-
scale seismic survey with a 16-airgun array (2,678 in\3\) and to 
playbacks using a single, 20-in\3\airgun. Both studies point to a 
contextual variability in the behavioral responses of marine mammals to 
sound exposure. The mean received level for initial avoidance of an 
approaching airgun was 140 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa for resting humpback whale 
pods containing females. In contrast, some individual humpback whales, 
mainly males, approached within distances of 100 to 400 m (328 to 1,312 
ft), where sound levels were 179 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa (McCauley et al., 
2000). The authors hypothesized that the males gravitated towards the 
single operating airgun possibly due to its similarity to the sound 
produced by humpback whales breaching (McCauley et al., 2000). Despite 
the evidence that some humpback whales exhibited localized avoidance 
reactions at received levels below 160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa, the authors 
found no evidence of any gross changes in migration routes, such as 
inshore/offshore displacement during seismic operations (McCauley et 
al., 1998, 2000).
    With repeated exposure to sound, many marine mammals may habituate 
to the sound at least partially (Richardson & Wursig, 1997). Bain and 
Williams (2006) examined the effects of a large airgun array (maximum 
total discharge volume of 1,100 in\3\) on six species in shallow waters 
off British Columbia and Washington: harbor seal, California sea lion 
(Zalophus californianus), Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus), gray 
whale (Eschrichtius robustus), Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli), 
and the harbor porpoise. Harbor porpoises showed ``apparent avoidance 
response'' at received levels less than 145 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa at a 
distance of greater than 70 km (43 miles) from the seismic source (Bain 
and Williams, 2006). However, the tendency for greater responsiveness 
by harbor porpoise is consistent with their relative responsiveness to 
boat traffic and some other acoustic sources (Richardson et al. 1995; 
Southall et al., 2007). In contrast, the authors reported that gray 
whales seemed to tolerate exposures to sound up to approximately 170 dB 
re: 1 [mu]Pa (Bain and Williams, 2006) and Dall's porpoises occupied 
and tolerated areas receiving exposures of 170-180 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa 
(Bain and Williams, 2006; Parsons et al., 2009). The authors observed 
several gray whales that moved away from the airguns toward deeper 
water where sound levels were higher due to propagation effects 
resulting in higher noise exposures (Bain and Williams, 2006). However, 
it is unclear whether their movements reflected a response to the 
sounds (Bain and Williams, 2006). Thus, the authors surmised that the 
gray whale data (i.e., voluntarily moving to areas where they are 
exposed to higher sound levels) are ambiguous at best because one 
expects the species to be the most sensitive to the low-frequency sound 
emanating from the airguns (Bain and Williams, 2006).
    DeRuiter et al. (2013) recently observed that beaked whales 
(considered a particularly sensitive species to sound) exposed to 
playbacks (i.e., simulated) of U.S. tactical mid-frequency sonar from 
89 to 127 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa at close distances responded notably by 
altering their dive patterns. In contrast, individuals showed no 
behavioral responses when exposed to similar received levels from 
actual U.S. Navy tactical mid-frequency sonar operated at much further 
distances (DeRuiter et al., 2013). As noted earlier, one must consider 
the importance of context (for example, the distance of a sound source 
from the animal) in predicting behavioral responses.
    Regarding the public comments submitted by Clark et al. (2012) on 
the Arctic Ocean Draft EIS in reference to our use of the current 
acoustic exposure

[[Page 27647]]

criteria, please refer to our earlier response to comments.
    None of these studies on the effects of airgun noise on marine 
mammals point to any associated mortalities, strandings, or permanent 
abandonment of habitat by marine mammals. Bain and Williams (2006) 
specifically conclude that ``. . . although behavioral changes were 
observed, the precautions utilized in the SHIPS survey did not result 
in any detectable marine mammal mortalities during the survey, nor were 
any reported subsequently by the regional marine mammal stranding 
network . . .'' McCauley et al. (2000) concluded that any risk factors 
associated with their seismic survey ``. . . lasted for a comparatively 
short period and resulted in only small range displacement . . .'' 
Further, the total discharge volume of the airgun arrays cited in 
McCauley et al., 1998, 2000; Bain and Williams, 2006 were generally 
over 40 percent larger than the 1,400 in\3\ array configurations 
proposed for use during this survey (e.g., 2,768 in\3\, McCauley et 
al., 1998; 6,730 in\3\, Bain and Williams, 2006). Thus, Lamont-
Doherty's 160-dB threshold radius is not likely to reach the threshold 
distances reported in these studies.
    Comment 18: COA takes issue with our conclusion that Level A 
harassment take would not occur during the survey. Citing Lucke et al. 
(2009); Thompson et al. (1998); Kastak et al. (2008); Kujawa and 
Lieberman (2009); Wood et al. (2012); and Cox et al. (2006), the 
commenters assert that our preliminary determinations for Level A 
harassment take and the likelihood of temporary and or permanent 
threshold shift do not consider the best available science.
    Response: As explained in Table 3 in the notice of proposed 
authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015), the predicted distances at 
which sound levels could result in Level A harassment are relatively 
small (439 m; 1,440 ft for cetaceans; 118 m; 387 ft for pinnipeds). At 
those distances, we expect that the required vessel-based visual 
monitoring of the exclusion zones is effective to implement mitigation 
measures to prevent Level A harassment.
    First, if the protected species observers observe marine mammals 
approaching the exclusion zone, Lamont-Doherty must shut down or power 
down seismic operations to ensure that the marine mammal does not 
approach the applicable exclusion radius. Second, if the observer 
detects a marine mammal outside the 180- or 190-dB exclusion zones, and 
the animal--based on its position and the relative motion--is likely to 
enter the exclusion zone, Lamont-Doherty may alter the vessel's speed 
and/or course--when practical and safe--in combination with powering 
down or shutting down the airguns, to minimize the effects of the 
seismic survey. The avoidance behaviors discussed in the notice of 
proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015) supports our 
expectations that individuals will avoid exposure at higher levels. 
Also, it is unlikely that animals would encounter repeated exposures at 
very close distances to the sound source because Lamont-Doherty would 
implement the required shutdown and power down mitigation measures to 
ensure that marine mammals do not approach the applicable exclusion 
zones for Level A harassment. Finally, ramp-up of the airguns is 
required.
    Regarding the Lucke et al. (2009) study, the authors found a 
threshold shift (TS) of a harbor porpoise after exposing it to airgun 
noise (single pulse) with a received sound pressure level (SPL) at 
200.2 dB (peak-to-peak) re: 1 [mu]Pa, which corresponds to a sound 
exposure level of 164.5 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa2 s after integrating exposure. 
We currently use the root-mean-square (rms) of received SPL at 180 dB 
and 190 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa as the threshold above which permanent 
threshold shift (PTS) could occur for cetaceans and pinnipeds, 
respectively. Because the airgun noise is a broadband impulse, one 
cannot directly extrapolate the equivalent of rms SPL from the reported 
peak-to-peak SPLs reported in Lucke et al. (2009). However, applying a 
conservative conversion factor of 16 dB for broadband signals from 
seismic surveys (Harris et al. 2001; McCauley et al. 2000) to correct 
for the difference between peak-to-peak levels reported in Lucke et al. 
(2009) and rms SPLs, the rms SPL for TTS would be approximately 184 dB 
re: 1 [mu]Pa, and the received levels associated with PTS (Level A 
harassment) would be higher. This is still above the current 180 dB rms 
re: 1 [mu]Pa threshold for injury. Yet, we recognize that the temporary 
threshold shift (TTS) of harbor porpoise is lower than other cetacean 
species empirically tested (Finneran et al. 2002; Finneran and 
Schlundt, 2010; Kastelein et al., 2012). We considered this information 
in the notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015).
    The Thompson et al. (1998) telemetry study on harbor (Phoca 
vitulina) and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) suggested that avoidance 
and other behavioral reactions by individual seals to small airgun 
sources may at times be strong, but short-lived. The researchers 
conducted 1-hour controlled exposure experiments exposing individual 
seals fitted with telemetry devices to small airguns with a reported 
source level of 215-224 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa (peak-to-peak) (Thompson et 
al., 1998; Gordon et al., 2003). The researchers measured dive 
behavior, swim speed heart rate and stomach temperature (indicator for 
feeding), but they did not measure hearing threshold shift in the 
animals. The researchers observed startle responses, decreases in heart 
rate, and temporary cessation of feeding. In six out of eight trials, 
harbor seals exhibited strong avoidance behaviors, and swam rapidly 
away from the source (Thompson et al., 1998; Gordon et al., 2003). One 
seal showed no detectable response to the airguns, approaching within 
300 m (984 ft) of the source (Gordon et al., 2003). However, they note 
that the behavioral responses were short-lived and the seals' behavior 
returned to normal after the trials (Thompson et al., 1998; Gordon et 
al., 2003). The study does not discuss temporary threshold shift or 
permanent threshold shift in harbor seals and the estimated rms SPL for 
this survey is approximately 200 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa, well above NMFS' 
current 180 dB rms re: 1 [mu]Pa threshold for injury for cetaceans and 
NMFS' current 190 dB rms re: 1 [mu]Pa threshold for injury for 
pinnipeds (accounting for the fact that the rms sound pressure level 
(in dB) is typically 16 dB less than the peak-to-peak level).
    In a study on the effect of non-impulsive sound sources on marine 
mammal hearing, Kastak et al. (2008) exposed one harbor seal to an 
underwater 4.1 kHz pure tone fatiguing stimulus with a maximum received 
sound pressure of 184 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa for 60 seconds (Kastak et al., 
2008; Finneran and Branstetter, 2013). A second 60-second exposure 
resulted in an estimated threshold shift of greater than 50 dB at a 
test frequency of 5.8 kHz (Kastak et al., 2008). The seal recovered at 
a rate of -10 dB per log(min). However, 2 months post-exposure, the 
researchers observed incomplete recovery from the initial threshold 
shift resulting in an apparent permanent threshold shift of 7 to 10 dB 
in the seal (Kastak et al., 2008). We note that seismic sound is an 
impulsive source, and the context of the study is related to the effect 
of non-impulsive sounds (i.e., a continuous 6-second exposure) on 
marine mammals. In contrast, Lamont-Doherty's seismic survey has a 
short, pulsed, intermittent shot-interval of 5 to 6 seconds every 12.5 
m traveled.
    We also considered two other Kastak et al. (1999, 2005) studies. 
Kastak et al. (1999) reported TTS of approximately

[[Page 27648]]

4-5 dB in three species of pinnipeds (harbor seal, California sea lion, 
and northern elephant seal) after underwater exposure for approximately 
20 minutes to sound with frequencies ranging from 100-2,000 Hz at 
received levels 60-75 dB above hearing threshold. This approach allowed 
similar effective exposure conditions to each of the subjects, but 
resulted in variable absolute exposure values depending on subject and 
test frequency. Recovery to near baseline levels was reported within 24 
hours of sound exposure. Kastak et al. (2005) followed up on their 
previous work, exposing the same test subjects to higher levels of 
sound for longer durations. The animals were exposed to octave-band 
sound for up to 50 minutes of net exposure. The study reported that the 
harbor seal experienced TTS of 6 dB after a 25-minute exposure to 2.5 
kHz of octave-band sound at 152 dB (183 dB SEL). The California sea 
lion demonstrated onset of TTS after exposure to 174 dB (206 dB SEL).
    We considered that PTS could occur at relatively lower levels, such 
as at levels that would normally cause TTS, if the animal experiences 
repeated exposures at very close distances to the sound source. 
However, an animal would need to stay very close to the sound source 
for an extended amount of time to incur a serious degree of PTS, which 
in this case, would be highly unlikely due to the required mitigation 
measures in place to avoid Level A harassment and the expectation that 
a mobile marine mammal would generally avoid an area where received 
sound pulse levels exceed 160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa (rms) (review in 
Richardson et al. 1995; Southall et al. 2007).
    We also considered recent studies by Kujawa and Liberman (2009) and 
Lin et al. (2011). These studies found that despite completely 
reversible threshold shifts that leave cochlear sensory cells intact, 
large threshold shifts could cause synaptic level changes and delayed 
cochlear nerve degeneration in mice and guinea pigs, respectively. We 
note that the high level of TTS that led to the synaptic changes shown 
in these studies is in the range of the high degree of TTS that 
Southall et al. (2007) used to calculate PTS levels. It is not known 
whether smaller levels of TTS would lead to similar changes. NMFS 
acknowledges the complexity of noise exposure on the nervous system, 
and will re-examine this issue as more data become available.
    In contrast, a recent study on bottlenose dolphins (Schlundt, et 
al., 2013) measured hearing thresholds at multiple frequencies to 
determine the amount of TTS induced before and after exposure to a 
sequence of impulses produced by a seismic air gun. The airgun volume 
and operating pressure varied from 40-150 in\3\ and 1000-2000 psi, 
respectively. After three years and 180 sessions, the authors observed 
no significant TTS at any test frequency, for any combinations of air 
gun volume, pressure, or proximity to the dolphin during behavioral 
tests (Schlundt, et al., 2013). Schlundt et al. (2013) suggest that the 
potential for airguns to cause hearing loss in dolphins is lower than 
previously predicted, perhaps as a result of the low-frequency content 
of airgun impulses compared to the high-frequency hearing ability of 
dolphins.

NEPA Concerns

    Comment 19: COA states that we should prepare an Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS), not an EA, to adequately consider the 
potentially significant impacts of the proposed Authorization, 
including the cumulative impacts and consideration of a full range of 
alternatives.
    Response: We prepared an EA to evaluate whether significant 
environmental impacts may result from the issuance of an Authorization 
to Lamont-Doherty for the take of marine mammals incidental to 
conducting their seismic survey in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. After 
completing the EA, which includes two no action alternatives, we 
determined that there would not be significant impacts to the human 
environment related to our issuance of an Authorization and accordingly 
issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Therefore, this 
action does not require an EIS.
    Comment 20: COA states that our analysis of alternatives in the EA 
was incomplete because the NSF's EA did not sufficiently evaluate the 
No Action alternative.
    Response: The NEPA and the implementing CEQ regulations (40 CFR 
parts 1500-1508) require consideration of alternatives to proposed 
major federal actions and NAO 216-6 provides agency policy and guidance 
on the consideration of alternatives to our proposed action. An EA must 
consider all reasonable alternatives, including the No Action 
Alternative. This provides a baseline analysis against which we can 
compare the other alternatives.
    NMFS' EA titled, ``Issuance of an Incidental Harassment 
Authorization to Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory to Take Marine 
Mammals by Harassment Incidental to a Marine Geophysical Survey in the 
Northwest Atlantic Ocean, Summer, 2015,'' addresses the potential 
environmental impacts of four alternatives, namely:

--Issue the Authorization to Lamont-Doherty for take, by Level B 
harassment, of marine mammals during the seismic survey, taking into 
account the prescribed means of take, mitigation measures, and 
monitoring requirements;
--Not issue an Authorization to Lamont-Doherty in which case we assume 
that the activities would not proceed; or
--Not issue an Authorization to Lamont-Doherty in which case, for the 
purposes of NEPA analysis only, we assume that the activities would 
proceed and cause incidental take without the mitigation and monitoring 
measures prescribed in the Authorization; or
--Issue the Authorization to Lamont-Doherty for take, by Level B 
harassment, of marine mammals during the seismic survey by 
incorporating additional mitigation requirements.

    To warrant detailed evaluation as a reasonable alternative, an 
alternative must meet our purpose and need. In this case, an 
alternative meets NMFS' purpose and need if it satisfies the 
requirements under section 101(a)(5)(D) the MMPA. We evaluated each 
potential alternative against these criteria; identified two action 
alternatives along with two No Action Alternatives; and carried these 
forward for evaluation in our EA.

General Comments

    Comment 21: Several commenters expressed general opposition or 
general support for the survey.
    Response: We acknowledge their comments and thank them for their 
interest.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    Table 2 in this notice provides the following: all marine mammal 
species with possible or confirmed occurrence in the proposed activity 
area; information on those species' regulatory status under the MMPA 
and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.); 
abundance; occurrence and seasonality in the activity area.

[[Page 27649]]



 Table 2--General Information on Marine Mammals That Could Potentially Occur in the Proposed Survey Area During the Summer (June Through August) in 2015
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                       Stock/
                                                                     Regulatory       species
           Species                         Stock name              status \1\ \2\    abundance          Occurrence and range               Season
                                                                                        \3\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Atlantic right whale     Western Atlantic.................  MMPA--D                   456  common coastal/shelf.............  year-round.\4\
 (Eubalaena glacialis).                                           ESA--EN
Humpback whale (Megaptera      Gulf of Maine....................  MMPA--D                   823  common coastal...................  spring-fall.
 novaeangliae).                                                   ESA--EN
Common minke whale             Canadian East Coast..............  MMPA--D                20,741  rare coastal/shelf...............  spring-summer.
 (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).                                    ESA--NL
Sei whale (Balaenoptera        Nova Scotia......................  MMPA--D                   357  uncommon shelf edge..............  spring.
 borealis).                                                       ESA--EN
Fin whale (Balaenoptera        Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--D                 1,618  common pelagic...................  year-round.
 physalus).                                                       ESA--EN
Blue whale (Balaenoptera       Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--D                   440  uncommon coastal/pelagic.........  occasional.
 musculus).                                                       ESA--EN
Sperm whale (Physeter          Nova Scotia......................  MMPA--D                 2,288  common pelagic...................  year-round.
 macrocephalus).                                                  ESA--EN
Dwarf sperm whale (Kogia       Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC                3,785  uncommon shelf...................  year-round.
 sima).                                                           ESA--NL
Pygmy sperm whale (K.          Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC                3,785  uncommon shelf...................  year-round.
 breviceps).                                                      ESA--NL
Cuvier's beaked whale          Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC                6,532  uncommon shelf/pelagic...........  spring-summer.
 (Ziphius cavirostris).                                           ESA--NL
Blainville's beaked whale      Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC            \5\ 7,092  uncommon shelf/pelagic...........  spring-summer.
 (Mesoplodon densirostris).                                       ESA--NL
Gervais' beaked whale (M.      Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC            \5\ 7,092  uncommon shelf/pelagic...........  spring-summer.
 europaeus).                                                      ESA--NL
Sowerby's beaked whale (M.     Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC            \5\ 7,092  uncommon shelf/pelagic...........  spring-summer.
 bidens).                                                         ESA--NL
True's beaked whale (M.        Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC            \5\ 7,092  uncommon shelf/pelagic...........  spring-summer.
 mirus).                                                          ESA--NL
Northern bottlenose whale      Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC              unknown  rare pelagic.....................  unknown.
 (Hyperoodon ampullatus).                                         ESA--NL
Rough-toothed dolphin (Steno   Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC                  271  rare pelagic.....................  summer.
 bredanensis).                                                    ESA--NL
Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops   Western North Atlantic Offshore..  MMPA--NC               77,532  common pelagic...................  spring-summer.
 truncatus).                                                      ESA--NL
                               Western North Atlantic Northern    MMPA--D            \6\ 11,548  uncommon coastal within the 25-m   summer.
                                Migratory Coastal.                ESA--NL                         isobath and estuaries.
Pantropical spotted dolphin    Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC                3,333  rare pelagic.....................  summer-fall.
 (Stenella attenuata).                                            ESA--NL
Atlantic spotted dolphin (S.   Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC               44,715  common coastal...................  summer-fall.
 frontalis).                                                      ESA--NL
Spinner dolphin (S.            Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC              unknown  rare pelagic.....................  unknown.
 longirostris).                                                   ESA--NL
Striped dolphin (S.            Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC               54,807  uncommon shelf...................  summer.
 coeruleoalba).                                                   ESA--NL
Short-beaked common dolphin    Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC              173,486  common shelf/pelagic.............  summer-fall.
 (Delphinus delphis).                                             ESA--NL
White-beaked dolphin           Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC                2,003  rare coastal/shelf...............  summer.
 (Lagenorhynchus albirostris).                                    ESA--NL
Atlantic white-sided-dolphin   Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC               48,819  uncommon shelf/slope.............  summer-winter.
 (L. acutus).                                                     ESA--NL
Clymene dolphin (Stenella      Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC            \7\ 6,086  rare slope.......................  summer.
 clymene).                                                        ESA--NL
Fraser's dolphin               Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC              \8\ 726  Pelagic..........................  Rare.
 (Lagenodelphis hosei).                                           ESA--NL
Risso's dolphin (Grampus       Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC               18,250  common shelf/slope...............  year-round.
 griseus).                                                        ESA--NL
Melon-headed whale             Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC            \9\ 2,283  Pelagic..........................  Rare.
 (Peponocephala electra).                                         ESA--NL
False killer whale (Pseudorca  Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC                  442  rare pelagic.....................  spring-summer.
 crassidens).                                                     ESA--NL
Pygmy killer whale (Feresa     Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC           \10\ 1,108  Pelagic..........................  unknown.
 attenuate).                                                      ESA--NL
Killer whale (Orcinus orca)..  Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC              \11\ 28  Coastal..........................  unknown.
                                                                  ESA--NL
Long-finned pilot whale        Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC               26,535  uncommon shelf/pelagic...........  summer.
 (Globicephala melas).                                            ESA--NL
Short-finned pilot whale (G.   Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC               21,515  uncommon shelf/pelagic...........  summer.
 macrorhynchus).                                                  ESA--NL

[[Page 27650]]

 
Harbor porpoise (Phocoena      Gulf of Maine/ Bay of Fundy......  MMPA--NC               79,883  common coastal...................  year-round.
 phocoena).                                                       ESA--NL
Gray seal (Halichoerus         Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC              331,000  common coastal...................  fall-spring.
 grypus).                                                         ESA--NL
Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina).  Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC               75,834  common coastal...................  fall-spring.
                                                                  ESA--NL
Harp seal (Pagophilus          Western North Atlantic...........  MMPA--NC            8,600,000  rare pack ice....................  Jan-May.
 groenlandicus).                                                  ESA--NL
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ MMPA: D = Depleted, S = Strategic, NC = Not Classified.
\2\ ESA: EN = Endangered, T = Threatened, DL = Delisted, NL = Not listed.
\3\ NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-228, U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal Stock Assessments--2013 (Waring et al., 2014) and the Draft
  2014 U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal Stock Assessments (in review, 2014).
\4\ Seasonality based on Whitt et al., 2013.
\5\ Undifferentiated beaked whales abundance estimate (Waring et al., 2014).
\6\ During summer months, the primary habitat of the western north Atlantic, Northern Migratory Coastal Stock of bottlenose dolphins is primarily in
  waters less than 20 m deep within the 25-m isobath, including estuarine and inshore waters (Waring et al., 2014; Kenney 1990). Toth et al. (2012)
  suggested a portioning of the Northern Migratory Coastal Stock in waters off of New Jersey. They identified two clusters, one cluster inhabiting
  waters 0-1.9 km from the shore and a second cluster inhabiting waters 1.9 to 6 km from shore.
\7\ There is no abundance information for this species in the Atlantic. The best available estimate of abundance was 6,086 (CV=0.93) (Mullin and
  Fulling, 2003).
\8\ There is no abundance information for this species in the Atlantic. The best available estimate of abundance was 726 (CV=0.70) for the Gulf of
  Mexico stock (Mullin and Fulling, 2004).
\9\ There is no abundance information for this species in the Atlantic. The best available estimate of abundance was 2,283 (CV=0.76) for the Gulf of
  Mexico stock (Mullin, 2007).
\10\ There is no abundance information for this species in the Atlantic. Abundance estimate derived from the Northern Gulf of Mexico stock = 152
  (Mullin, 2007) and the Hawaii stock = 956 (Barlow, 2006).
\11\ There is no abundance information for this species in the Atlantic. Abundance estimate derived from the Northern Gulf of Mexico stock = 28 (Waring
  et al., 2014).

Potential Effects of the Specified Activities on Marine Mammals

    We provided a summary and discussion of the ways that the types of 
stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., seismic airgun 
operations, vessel movement, and entanglement) impact marine mammals 
(via observations or scientific studies) in the notice of proposed 
Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 2015).
    The ``Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment'' section later in 
this document will include a quantitative discussion of the number of 
marine mammals anticipated to be taken by this activity. The 
``Negligible Impact Analysis'' section will include a discussion of how 
this specific activity will impact marine mammals. The Negligible 
Impact analysis considers the anticipated level of take and the 
effectiveness of mitigation measures 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.
    Operating active acoustic sources, such as airgun arrays, has the 
potential for adverse effects on marine mammals. The majority of 
anticipated impacts would be from the use of acoustic sources. The 
effects of sounds from airgun pulses might include one or more of the 
following: Tolerance, masking of natural sounds, behavioral 
disturbance, and temporary or permanent hearing impairment or non-
auditory effects (Richardson et al., 1995). However, for reasons 
discussed in the proposed Authorization, it is very unlikely that there 
would be any cases of temporary or permanent hearing impairment 
resulting from Lamont-Doherty's activities. As outlined in previous 
NMFS documents, the effects of noise on marine mammals are highly 
variable, often depending on species and contextual factors (based on 
Richardson et al., 1995).
    In the ``Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine 
Mammals'' section of the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, 
March 17, 2015), we included a qualitative discussion of the different 
ways that Lamont-Doherty's seismic survey may potentially affect marine 
mammals. Marine mammals may behaviorally react to sound when exposed to 
anthropogenic noise. These behavioral reactions are often shown as: 
Changing durations of surfacing and dives, number of blows per 
surfacing, or moving direction and/or speed; reduced/increased vocal 
activities; changing/cessation of certain behavioral activities (such 
as socializing or feeding); visible startle response or aggressive 
behavior (such as tail/fluke slapping or jaw clapping); avoidance of 
areas where noise sources are located; and/or flight responses (e.g., 
pinnipeds flushing into water from haulouts or rookeries).
    Masking is the obscuring of sounds of interest by other sounds, 
often at similar frequencies. Marine mammals use acoustic signals for a 
variety of purposes, which differ among species, but include 
communication between individuals, navigation, foraging, reproduction, 
avoiding predators, and learning about their environment (Erbe and 
Farmer, 2000; Tyack, 2000). Masking, or auditory interference, 
generally occurs when sounds in the environment are louder than, and of 
a similar frequency as, auditory signals an animal is trying to 
receive. Masking is a phenomenon that affects animals that are trying 
to receive acoustic information about their environment, including 
sounds from other members of their species, predators, prey, and sounds 
that allow them to orient in their environment. Masking these acoustic 
signals can disturb the behavior of individual animals, groups of 
animals, or entire populations. For the airgun sound generated from 
Lamont-Doherty's seismic survey, sound will consist of low frequency 
(under 500 Hz) pulses with extremely short durations (less than one 
second). Masking from airguns is more likely in low-frequency marine

[[Page 27651]]

mammals like mysticetes. There is little concern that masking would 
occur near the sound source due to the brief duration of these pulses 
and relative silence between air gun shots (approximately 5 to 6 
seconds). Masking is less likely for mid- to high-frequency cetaceans 
and pinnipeds.
    Hearing impairment (either temporary or permanent) is also 
unlikely. Given the higher level of sound necessary to cause permanent 
threshold shift as compared with temporary threshold shift, it is 
considerably less likely that permanent threshold shift would occur 
during the seismic survey. Cetaceans generally avoid the immediate area 
around operating seismic vessels, as do some other marine mammals. Some 
pinnipeds show avoidance reactions to airguns.
    The Langseth will operate at a relatively slow speed (typically 4.6 
knots [8.5 km/h; 5.3 mph]) when conducting the survey. Protected 
species observers would monitor for marine mammals, which would trigger 
mitigation measures, including vessel avoidance where safe. Therefore, 
NMFS does not anticipate nor do we authorize takes of marine mammals 
from vessel strike.
    NMFS refers the reader to Lamont-Doherty's application, our EA, and 
the NSF's amended EA for additional information on the behavioral 
reactions (or lack thereof) by all types of marine mammals to seismic 
vessels. We have reviewed these data along with new information 
submitted during the public comment period and based our decision on 
the relevant information.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    NMFS included a detailed discussion of the potential effects of 
this action on marine mammal habitat, including physiological and 
behavioral effects on marine mammal prey items (e.g., fish and 
invertebrates) in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, 
March 17, 2015). While we anticipate that the specified activity may 
result in marine mammals avoiding certain areas due to temporary 
ensonification, the impact to habitat is temporary and reversible. 
Further, we also considered these impacts to marine mammals in detail 
in the notice of proposed Authorization as behavioral modification. The 
main impact associated with the activity would be temporarily elevated 
noise levels and the associated direct effects on marine mammals.

Mitigation

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization under section 
101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must prescribe, where applicable, the 
permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other 
means of effecting the least practicable adverse 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).
    Lamont-Doherty reviewed the following source documents and 
incorporated a suite of proposed mitigation measures into their project 
description:
    (1) Protocols used during previous NSF-funded seismic research 
cruises as approved by us and detailed in the NSF's 2011 PEIS and 2014 
amended EA;
    (2) Previous incidental harassment authorization applications and 
authorizations that we have approved and authorized; and
    (3) Recommended best practices in Richardson et al. (1995), Pierson 
et al. (1998), and Weir and Dolman, (2007).
    Lamont-Doherty proposed to implement the following mitigation 
measures for marine mammals:
    (1) Vessel-based visual mitigation monitoring;
    (2) Proposed exclusion zones;
    (3) Power down procedures;
    (4) Shutdown procedures;
    (5) Ramp-up procedures; and
    (6) Speed and course alterations.

Vessel-Based Visual Mitigation Monitoring

    Lamont-Doherty would position observers aboard the seismic source 
vessel to watch for marine mammals near the vessel during daytime 
airgun operations and during any start-ups at night. Observers would 
also watch for marine mammals near the seismic vessel for at least 30 
minutes prior to the start of airgun operations after an extended 
shutdown (i.e., greater than approximately eight minutes for this 
proposed cruise). When feasible, the observers would conduct 
observations during daytime periods when the seismic system is not 
operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and 
without airgun operations and between acquisition periods. Based on the 
observations, the Langseth would power down or shutdown the airguns 
when marine mammals are observed within or about to enter a designated 
exclusion zone for cetaceans or pinnipeds.
    During seismic operations, at least four protected species 
observers would be aboard the Langseth. Lamont-Doherty would appoint 
the observers with NMFS concurrence and they would conduct observations 
during ongoing daytime operations and nighttime ramp-ups of the airgun 
array. During the majority of seismic operations, two observers would 
be on duty from the observation tower to monitor marine mammals near 
the seismic vessel. Using two observers would increase the 
effectiveness of detecting animals near the source vessel. However, 
during mealtimes and bathroom breaks, it is sometimes difficult to have 
two observers on effort, but at least one observer would be on watch 
during bathroom breaks and mealtimes. Observers would be on duty in 
shifts of no longer than four hours in duration.
    Two observers on the Langseth would also be on visual watch during 
all nighttime ramp-ups of the seismic airguns. A third observer would 
monitor the passive acoustic monitoring equipment 24 hours a day to 
detect vocalizing marine mammals present in the action area. In 
summary, a typical daytime cruise would have scheduled two observers 
(visual) on duty from the observation tower, and an observer (acoustic) 
on the passive acoustic monitoring system. Before the start of the 
seismic survey, Lamont-Doherty would instruct the vessel's crew to 
assist in detecting marine mammals and implementing mitigation 
requirements.
    The Langseth is a suitable platform for marine mammal observations. 
When stationed on the observation platform, the eye level would be 
approximately 21.5 m (70.5 ft) above sea level, and the observer would 
have a good view around the entire vessel. During daytime, the 
observers would scan the area around the vessel systematically with 
reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 x 50 Fujinon), Big-eye binoculars (25 x 
150), and with the naked eye. During darkness, night vision devices 
would be available (ITT F500 Series Generation 3 binocular-image 
intensifier or equivalent), when required. Laser range-finding 
binoculars (Leica LRF 1200 laser rangefinder or equivalent) would be 
available to assist with distance estimation. They are useful in 
training observers to estimate distances visually, but are generally 
not useful in measuring distances to animals directly. The user 
measures distances to animals with the reticles in the binoculars.
    Lamont-Doherty would immediately power down or shutdown the airguns 
when observers see marine mammals within or about to enter the 
designated exclusion zone. The observer(s) would

[[Page 27652]]

continue to maintain watch to determine when the animal(s) are outside 
the exclusion zone by visual confirmation. Airgun operations would not 
resume until the observer has confirmed that the animal has left the 
zone, or if not observed after 15 minutes for species with shorter dive 
durations (small odontocetes and pinnipeds) or 30 minutes for species 
with longer dive durations (mysticetes and large odontocetes, including 
sperm, pygmy sperm, dwarf sperm, killer, and beaked whales).

Mitigation Exclusion Zones

    Lamont-Doherty would use safety radii to designate exclusion zones 
and to estimate take for marine mammals. Table 3 shows the distances at 
which one would expect to receive sound levels (160-, 180-, and 190-
dB,) from the airgun subarrays and a single airgun. If the protected 
species visual observer detects marine mammal(s) within or about to 
enter the appropriate exclusion zone, the Langseth crew would 
immediately power down the airgun array, or perform a shutdown if 
necessary (see Shut-down Procedures).

 Table 3--Distances To Which Sound Levels Greater Than or Equal to 160 re: 1 [micro]Pa Could Be Received During
         the Proposed Survey Offshore New Jersey in the North Atlantic Ocean, June Through August, 2015
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                              Predicted RMS distances (m) \1\
           Source and volume (in\3\)              Tow depth   Water depth --------------------------------------
                                                     (m)          (m)       190 dB \2\     180 dB       160 dB
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Single Bolt airgun (40 in\3\)..................            6         <100           21           73          995
4-Airgun subarray (700 in\3\)..................          4.5         <100          101          378        5,240
4-Airgun subarray (700 in\3\)..................            6         <100          118          439        6,100
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Predicted distances for 160 dB based on information in Table 1 of the NSF's application.
\2\ Lamont-Doherty did not request take for pinniped species in their application and consequently did not
  include distances for the 190-dB isopleth for pinnipeds in Table 1 of their application. Because NMFS
  anticipates that pinnipeds have the potential to occur in the survey area, Lamont-Doherty calculated the
  distances for the 190-dB isopleth and submitted them to NMFS on for inclusion in this table.

    The 180- or 190-dB level shutdown criteria are applicable to 
cetaceans and pinnipeds as specified by NMFS (2000).

Power Down Procedures

    A power down involves decreasing the number of airguns in use such 
that the radius of the 180-dB or 190-dB exclusion zone is smaller to 
the extent that marine mammals are no longer within or about to enter 
the exclusion zone. A power down of the airgun array can also occur 
when the vessel is moving from one seismic line to another. During a 
power down for mitigation, the Langseth would operate one airgun (40 
in\3\). The continued operation of one airgun would alert marine 
mammals to the presence of the seismic vessel in the area. A shutdown 
occurs when the Langseth suspends all airgun activity.
    If the observer detects a marine mammal outside the exclusion zone 
and the animal is likely to enter the zone, the crew would power down 
the airguns to reduce the size of the 180-dB or 190-dB exclusion zone 
before the animal enters that zone. Likewise, if a mammal is already 
within the zone after detection, the crew would power-down the airguns 
immediately. During a power down of the airgun array, the crew would 
operate a single 40-in\3\ airgun which has a smaller exclusion zone. If 
the observer detects a marine mammal within or near the smaller 
exclusion zone around the airgun (Table 3), the crew would shut down 
the single airgun (see next section).
    Resuming Airgun Operations After a Power Down: Following a power-
down, the Langseth crew would not resume full airgun activity until the 
marine mammal has cleared the 180-dB or 190-dB exclusion zone. The 
observers would consider the animal to have cleared the exclusion zone 
if:
     The observer has visually observed the animal leave the 
exclusion zone; or
     An observer has not sighted the animal within the 
exclusion zone for 15 minutes for species with shorter dive durations 
(i.e., small odontocetes or pinnipeds), or 30 minutes for species with 
longer dive durations (i.e., mysticetes and large odontocetes, 
including sperm, pygmy sperm, dwarf sperm, and beaked whales); or
    The Langseth crew would resume operating the airguns at full power 
after 15 minutes of sighting any species with short dive durations 
(i.e., small odontocetes or pinnipeds). Likewise, the crew would resume 
airgun operations at full power after 30 minutes of sighting any 
species with longer dive durations (i.e., mysticetes and large 
odontocetes, including sperm, pygmy sperm, dwarf sperm, and beaked 
whales).
    NMFS estimates that the Langseth would transit outside the original 
180-dB or 190-dB exclusion zone after an 8-minute wait period. This 
period is based on the average speed of the Langseth while operating 
the airguns (8.5 km/h; 5.3 mph). Because the vessel has transited away 
from the vicinity of the original sighting during the 8-minute period, 
implementing ramp-up procedures for the full array after an extended 
power down (i.e., transiting for an additional 35 minutes from the 
location of initial sighting) would not meaningfully increase the 
effectiveness of observing marine mammals approaching or entering the 
exclusion zone for the full source level and would not further minimize 
the potential for take. The Langseth's observers are continually 
monitoring the exclusion zone for the full source level while the 
mitigation airgun is firing. In general, observers can observe to the 
horizon (10 km; 6.2 mi) from the height of the Langseth's observation 
deck and should be able to say with a reasonable degree of confidence 
whether a marine mammal would be encountered within the relevant 
exclusion zone distance before resuming airgun operations at full 
power.

Shutdown Procedures

    The Langseth crew would shut down the operating airgun(s) if they 
see a marine mammal within or approaching the exclusion zone for the 
single airgun. The crew would implement a shutdown:
    (1) If an animal enters the exclusion zone of the single airgun 
after the crew has initiated a power down; or
    (2) If an observer sees the animal is initially within the 
exclusion zone of the single airgun when more than one airgun 
(typically the full airgun array) is operating.
    Resuming Airgun Operations after a Shutdown: Following a shutdown 
in excess of eight minutes, the Langseth crew would initiate a ramp-up 
with the

[[Page 27653]]

smallest airgun in the array (40-in\3\). The crew would turn on 
additional airguns in a sequence such that the source level of the 
array would increase in steps not exceeding 6 dB per five-minute period 
over a total duration of approximately 30 minutes. During ramp-up, the 
observers would monitor the exclusion zone, and if he/she sees a marine 
mammal, the Langseth crew would implement a power down or shutdown as 
though the full airgun array were operational.
    During periods of active seismic operations, there are occasions 
when the Langseth crew would need to temporarily shut down the airguns 
due to equipment failure or for maintenance. In this case, if the 
airguns are inactive longer than eight minutes, the crew would follow 
ramp-up procedures for a shutdown described earlier and the observers 
would monitor the full exclusion zone and would implement a power down 
or shutdown if necessary.
    If the full exclusion zone is not visible to the observer for at 
least 30 minutes prior to the start of operations in either daylight or 
nighttime, the Langseth crew would not commence ramp-up unless at least 
one airgun (40-in\3\ or similar) has been operating during the 
interruption of seismic survey operations. Given these provisions, it 
is likely that the vessel's crew would not ramp up the airgun array 
from a complete shutdown at night or in thick fog, because the outer 
part of the zone for that array would not be visible during those 
conditions.
    If one airgun has operated during a power down period, ramp-up to 
full power would be permissible at night or in poor visibility, on the 
assumption that marine mammals would be alerted to the approaching 
seismic vessel by the sounds from the single airgun and could move 
away. The vessel's crew would not initiate a ramp-up of the airguns if 
an observer sees the marine mammal within or near the applicable 
exclusion zones during the day or close to the vessel at night.

Ramp-Up Procedures

    Ramp-up of an airgun array provides a gradual increase in sound 
levels, and involves a step-wise increase in the number and total 
volume of airguns firing until the full volume of the airgun array is 
achieved. The purpose of a ramp-up is to ``warn'' marine mammals in the 
vicinity of the airguns, and to provide the time for them to leave the 
area and thus avoid any potential injury or impairment of their hearing 
abilities. Lamont-Doherty would follow a ramp-up procedure when the 
airgun array begins operating after an 8 minute period without airgun 
operations or when shut down has exceeded that period. Lamont-Doherty 
has used similar waiting periods (approximately eight to 10 minutes) 
during previous seismic surveys.
    Ramp-up would begin with the smallest airgun in the array (40 
in\3\). The crew would add airguns in a sequence such that the source 
level of the array would increase in steps not exceeding six dB per 
five minute period over a total duration of approximately 30 to 35 
minutes. During ramp-up, the observers would monitor the exclusion 
zone, and if marine mammals are sighted, Lamont-Doherty would implement 
a power-down or shut-down as though the full airgun array were 
operational.
    If the complete exclusion zone has not been visible for at least 30 
minutes prior to the start of operations in either daylight or 
nighttime, Lamont-Doherty would not commence the ramp-up unless at 
least one airgun (40 in\3\ or similar) has been operating during the 
interruption of seismic survey operations. Given these provisions, it 
is likely that the crew would not ramp up the airgun array from a 
complete shut-down at night or in thick fog, because the outer part of 
the exclusion zone for that array would not be visible during those 
conditions. If one airgun has operated during a power-down period, 
ramp-up to full power would be permissible at night or in poor 
visibility, on the assumption that marine mammals would be alerted to 
the approaching seismic vessel by the sounds from the single airgun and 
could move away. Lamont-Doherty would not initiate a ramp-up of the 
airguns if an observer sights a marine mammal within or near the 
applicable exclusion zones.

Special Procedures for Situations or Species of Concern

    Considering the highly endangered status of North Atlantic right 
whales, the Langseth crew would shut down the airgun(s) immediately in 
the unlikely event that observers detect this species, regardless of 
the distance from the vessel. The Langseth would only begin ramp-up if 
observers have not seen the North Atlantic right whale for 30 minutes.
    The Langseth would avoid exposing concentrations of humpback, sei, 
fin, blue, and/or sperm whales to sounds greater than 160 dB and would 
power down the array, if necessary. For purposes of this planned 
survey, a concentration or group of whales will consist of six or more 
individuals visually sighted that do not appear to be traveling (e.g., 
feeding, socializing, etc.).

Speed and Course Alterations

    If during seismic data collection, Lamont-Doherty detects marine 
mammals outside the exclusion zone and, based on the animal's position 
and direction of travel, is likely to enter the exclusion zone, the 
Langseth would change speed and/or direction if this does not 
compromise operational safety. Due to the limited maneuverability of 
the primary survey vessel, altering speed, and/or course can result in 
an extended period of time to realign onto the transect. However, if 
the animal(s) appear likely to enter the exclusion zone, the Langseth 
would undertake further mitigation actions, including a power down or 
shut down of the airguns.

Mitigation Conclusions

    NMFS has carefully evaluated Lamont-Doherty's proposed mitigation 
measures in the context of ensuring that we prescribe 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 here:
    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 airgun 
operations that we expect 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 airgun operations that we expect to result in the take of marine 
mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing 
harassment takes only).

[[Page 27654]]

    4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number 
or number at biologically important time or location) to airgun 
operations that we expect 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 the evaluation of Lamont-Doherty's proposed measures, as 
well as other measures proposed by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily 
determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means of 
effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or 
stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, 
mating grounds, and areas of similar significance.

Monitoring

    In order to issue an Incidental Take Authorization 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 Authorizations 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 we expect to be 
present in the proposed action area.
    Lamont-Doherty submitted a marine mammal monitoring plan in section 
XIII of the Authorization application. NMFS, the NSF, or Lamont-Doherty 
may modify or supplement the plan based on comments or new information 
received from the public during the public comment period.
    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 during other times and locations, 
in order to generate more data to contribute to the analyses mentioned 
later;
    2. An increase in our understanding of how many marine mammals 
would be affected by seismic airguns and other active acoustic sources 
and the likelihood of associating those exposures with specific adverse 
effects, such as behavioral harassment, temporary or permanent 
threshold shift;
    3. An increase in our understanding of how marine mammals respond 
to stimuli that we expect to result in take and how those 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:
    a. Behavioral observations in the presence of stimuli compared to 
observations in the absence of stimuli (i.e., to be able to accurately 
predict received level, distance from source, and other pertinent 
information);
    b. Physiological measurements in the presence of stimuli compared 
to observations in the absence of stimuli (i.e., to be able to 
accurately predict received level, distance from source, and other 
pertinent information);
    c. 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.

Monitoring Measures

    Lamont-Doherty will sponsor marine mammal monitoring during the 
present project to supplement the mitigation measures that require 
real-time monitoring, and to satisfy the monitoring requirements of the 
Authorization. Lamont-Doherty planned the monitoring work as a self-
contained project independent of any other related monitoring projects 
that may occur in the same regions at the same time. Further, Lamont-
Doherty is prepared to discuss coordination of its monitoring program 
with any other related work that might be conducted by other groups 
working insofar as it is practical for Lamont-Doherty.

Vessel-Based Passive Acoustic Monitoring

    Passive acoustic monitoring would complement the visual mitigation 
monitoring program, when practicable. Visual monitoring typically is 
not effective during periods of poor visibility or at night, and even 
with good visibility, is unable to detect marine mammals when they are 
below the surface or beyond visual range. Passive acoustical monitoring 
can improve detection, identification, and localization of cetaceans 
when used in conjunction with visual observations. The passive acoustic 
monitoring would serve to alert visual observers (if on duty) when 
vocalizing cetaceans are detected. It is only useful when marine 
mammals call, but it can be effective either by day or by night, and 
does not depend on good visibility. The acoustic observer would monitor 
the system in real time so that he/she can advise the visual observers 
if they acoustically detect cetaceans.
    The passive acoustic monitoring system consists of hardware (i.e., 
hydrophones) and software. The ``wet end'' of the system consists of a 
towed hydrophone array connected to the vessel by a tow cable. The tow 
cable is 250 m (820.2 ft) long and the hydrophones are fitted in the 
last 10 m (32.8 ft) of cable. A depth gauge, attached to the free end 
of the cable, which is typically towed at depths less than 20 m (65.6 
ft). The Langseth crew would deploy the array from a winch located on 
the back deck. A deck cable would connect the tow cable to the 
electronics unit in the main computer lab where the acoustic station, 
signal conditioning, and processing system would be located. The 
Pamguard software amplifies, digitizes, and then processes the acoustic 
signals received by the hydrophones. The system can detect marine 
mammal vocalizations at frequencies up to 250 kHz.
    One acoustic observer, an expert bioacoustician with primary 
responsibility for the passive acoustic monitoring system would be 
aboard the Langseth in addition to the four visual observers. The 
acoustic observer would monitor the towed hydrophones 24 hours per day 
during airgun operations and during most periods when the Langseth is 
underway while the airguns are not operating. However, passive acoustic 
monitoring may not be possible if damage occurs to both the primary and 
back-up hydrophone arrays during operations. The primary passive 
acoustic monitoring streamer on the Langseth is a digital hydrophone 
streamer. Should the digital streamer fail, back-up systems should 
include an analog spare streamer and a hull-mounted hydrophone.
    One acoustic observer would monitor the acoustic detection system 
by listening to the signals from two channels via headphones and/or 
speakers and watching the real-time spectrographic display for 
frequency

[[Page 27655]]

ranges produced by cetaceans. The observer monitoring the acoustical 
data would be on shift for one to six hours at a time. The other 
observers would rotate as an acoustic observer, although the expert 
acoustician would be on passive acoustic monitoring duty more 
frequently.
    When the acoustic observer detects a vocalization while visual 
observations are in progress, the acoustic observer on duty would 
contact the visual observer immediately, to alert him/her to the 
presence of cetaceans (if they have not already been seen), so that the 
vessel's crew can initiate a power down or shutdown, if required. The 
observer would enter the information regarding the call into a 
database. Data entry would include an acoustic encounter identification 
number, whether it was linked with a visual sighting, date, time when 
first and last heard and whenever any additional information was 
recorded, position and water depth when first detected, bearing if 
determinable, species or species group (e.g., unidentified dolphin, 
sperm whale), types and nature of sounds heard (e.g., clicks, 
continuous, sporadic, whistles, creaks, burst pulses, strength of 
signal, etc.), and any other notable information. Acousticians record 
the acoustic detection for further analysis.

Observer Data and Documentation

    Observers would record data to estimate the numbers of marine 
mammals exposed to various received sound levels and to document 
apparent disturbance reactions or lack thereof. They would use the data 
to estimate numbers of animals potentially `taken' by harassment (as 
defined in the MMPA). They will also provide information needed to 
order a power down or shut down of the airguns when a marine mammal is 
within or near the exclusion zone.
    When an observer makes a sighting, they will record the following 
information:
    1. Species, group size, age/size/sex categories (if determinable), 
behavior when first sighted and after initial sighting, heading (if 
consistent), bearing and distance from seismic vessel, sighting cue, 
apparent reaction to the airguns or vessel (e.g., none, avoidance, 
approach, paralleling, etc.), and behavioral pace.
    2. Time, location, heading, speed, activity of the vessel, sea 
state, visibility, and sun glare.
    The observer will record the data listed under (2) at the start and 
end of each observation watch, and during a watch whenever there is a 
change in one or more of the variables.
    Observers will record all observations and power downs or shutdowns 
in a standardized format and will enter data into an electronic 
database. The observers will verify the accuracy of the data entry by 
computerized data validity checks during data entry and by subsequent 
manual checking of the database. These procedures will allow the 
preparation of initial summaries of data during and shortly after the 
field program, and will facilitate transfer of the data to statistical, 
graphical, and other programs for further processing and archiving.
    Results from the vessel-based observations will provide:
    1. The basis for real-time mitigation (airgun power down or 
shutdown).
    2. Information needed to estimate the number of marine mammals 
potentially taken by harassment, which Lamont-Doherty must report to 
the Office of Protected Resources.
    3. Data on the occurrence, distribution, and activities of marine 
mammals and turtles in the area where Lamont-Doherty would conduct the 
seismic study.
    4. Information to compare the distance and distribution of marine 
mammals and turtles relative to the source vessel at times with and 
without seismic activity.
    5. Data on the behavior and movement patterns of marine mammals 
detected during non-active and active seismic operations.

Reporting

    Lamont-Doherty would submit a report to us and to the NSF within 90 
days after the end of the cruise. The report would describe the 
operations conducted and sightings of marine mammals and turtles near 
the operations. The report would provide full documentation of methods, 
results, and interpretation pertaining to all monitoring. The 90-day 
report would summarize the dates and locations of seismic operations, 
and all marine mammal sightings (dates, times, locations, activities, 
associated seismic survey activities). The report would also include 
estimates of the number and nature of exposures that could result in 
``takes'' of marine mammals by harassment or in other ways.
    In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly 
causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner not permitted by the 
authorization (if issued), such as an injury, serious injury, or 
mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), 
Lamont-Doherty shall immediately cease the specified activities and 
immediately report the take to the Chief, Permits and Conservation 
Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401 and the 
Greater Atlantic Regional Stranding Coordinator at (978) 281-9300. The 
report must include the following information:
     Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the 
incident;
     Name and type of vessel involved;
     Vessel's speed during and leading up to the incident;
     Description of the incident;
     Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding 
the incident;
     Water depth;
     Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
     Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 
hours preceding the incident;
     Species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
     Fate of the animal(s); and
     Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if 
equipment is available).
    Lamont-Doherty shall not resume its activities until we are able to 
review the circumstances of the prohibited take. We shall work with 
Lamont-Doherty to determine what is necessary to minimize the 
likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. 
Lamont-Doherty may not resume their activities until notified by us via 
letter, email, or telephone.
    In the event that Lamont-Doherty discovers an injured or dead 
marine mammal, and the lead visual observer 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 we describe in 
the next paragraph), Lamont-Doherty will immediately report the 
incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401 and the Greater Atlantic 
Regional Stranding Coordinator at (978) 281-9300. The report must 
include the same information identified in the paragraph above this 
section. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances 
of the incident. NMFS would work with Lamont-Doherty to determine 
whether modifications in the activities are appropriate.
    In the event that Lamont-Doherty discovers an injured or dead 
marine mammal, and the lead visual observer determines that the injury 
or death is not associated with or related to the authorized activities 
(e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced 
decomposition, or scavenger damage), Lamont-Doherty would report the 
incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division,

[[Page 27656]]

Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401 and the Greater 
Atlantic Regional Stranding Coordinator at (978) 281-9300, within 24 
hours of the discovery. Lamont-Doherty would provide photographs or 
video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded 
animal sighting to NMFS.

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].
    In the notice of proposed Authorization, NMFS explained the impacts 
and parts of the seismic survey that were likely to result in take 
(i.e., the acoustic stressors), as well as those that were not, and 
further indicated the acoustic thresholds that would be used in the 
take calculations. This information remains unchanged. However, NMFS 
received valuable input from the Commission during the public comment 
period recommending that we modify our method of estimating take to 
better incorporate the duration of the survey. We agree with the 
Commission's recommendations and have modified our survey methods to 
incorporate duration for the majority of species and also included 
species-specific modifications for a few species with unique 
circumstances that support the use of a different method to quantify 
take.
    The following sections describe NMFS' methods to estimate take by 
incidental harassment. We have based these estimates on the number of 
marine mammals that could be harassed by seismic operations with the 
airgun sub-array during approximately 4,906 km of transect lines in the 
northwest Atlantic Ocean as depicted in Figure 1 (Figure 1 of Lamont-
Doherty's application).
    NMFS' Density Estimates: For the Authorization, NMFS reviewed 
Lamont-Doherty's take estimates presented in Table 3 of their 
application and revised the density estimates (where available) as well 
as the take calculations for several species based upon the best 
available density information from the SERDP SDSS Marine Animal Model 
Mapper tool for the summer months (DoN, 2007; accessed on February 10, 
2015).
    For species where ; mean group size information from CETAP (1982) 
and the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species 
(AMAPPS) surveys in 2010, 2011, and 2013.
    NMFS' Take Estimates: In order to estimate the potential number of 
instances that marine mammals would be exposed to airgun sounds above 
the 160-dB Level B harassment threshold (i.e., taken), NMFS used the 
following approach for a majority of the species:
    (1) Calculate the total area (not including contingency or overlap) 
that the Langseth would ensonify above the 160-dB Level B harassment 
threshold within a 24-hour period which includes some within day 
overlap (i.e., a daily ensonified area of 1,226 km\2\ [473 square miles 
(mi\2\)] based on the Langseth traveling 200 km [124 mi] in one day);
    (2) Multiply the daily ensonified area by each species-specific 
density (when available) to derive the expected number of instance of 
exposures to received levels greater than or equal to 160 dB re: 1 
[mu]Pa on a given day; and
    (3) Multiply the product (i.e., the expected number of instance of 
exposures within a day) by the number of survey days that includes a 25 
percent contingency (i.e., a total of 38 days).
    Table 5 presents the revised estimates of the possible numbers of 
instances that marine mammals would be exposed to sound levels greater 
than or equal to 160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa during the proposed seismic 
survey. In many cases, this estimate of instances of take is likely an 
overestimate of the number of individuals that are taken, because it 
assumes 100 percent turnover in the area every day, (i.e., that each 
new day results in takes of entirely new individuals with no repeat 
takes of the same individuals over the 30-day period). However, it is 
difficult to quantify what degree of an overestimate of individuals it 
might be. Except as described later for a few specific species, this 
number of instances is used as the estimate of individuals (and 
authorized take) even though we know it is high.

   Table 5--Densities, Mean Group Size, and Estimates of the Possible Numbers of Marine Mammals and Population
    Percentages Exposed to Sound Levels Greater Than or Equal to 160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa Over 30 Days During the
                        Proposed Seismic Survey in the North Atlantic Ocean, Summer 2015
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                Modeled number
                                                of instances of                 Percent of
            Species                 Density      exposures to     Authorized    species or     Population trend
                                 estimate \1\    sound levels      take \3\      stock \4\           \5\
                                                 >=160 dB \2\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Blue whale.....................             0                 0             1          0.23  Unknown.
Fin whale......................         0.014              0.65             3          0.23  Unknown.
Humpback whale.................             0                 0             3          0.36  Increasing.
Minke whale....................             0                 0             2          0.01  Unknown.
North Atlantic right whale.....             0                 0         \6\ 3          0.65  Increasing.
Sei whale......................          0.74             34.48         \7\ 5          1.40  Unknown.
Sperm whale....................         17.07            795.26        \7\ 31          1.35  Unknown.
Dwarf sperm whale..............         0.004              0.19             2          0.06  Unknown.
Pygmy sperm whale..............         0.004              0.19             2          0.06  Unknown.
Cuvier's beaked whale..........          0.57             26.56             3          0.45  Unknown.
Gervais' beaked whale..........          0.57             26.56             4          0.43  Unknown.
Sowerby's beaked whale.........          0.57             26.56             3          0.42  Unknown.
True's beaked whale............          0.57             26.56             3          0.42  Unknown.
Blainville beaked whale........          0.57             26.56             3          0.42  Unknown.
Bottlenose dolphin.............           269         12,532.17        12,532         16.16  Unknown.
Pantropical spotted dolphin....             0                 0             6          0.18  Unknown.
Atlantic spotted dolphin.......          87.3          4,067.13         4,067         18.19  Unknown.
Striped dolphin................             0                 0            52          0.09  Unknown.

[[Page 27657]]

 
Short-beaked common dolphin....             0                 0            36          0.02  Unknown.
White-beaked dolphin...........             0                 0            16          0.80  Unknown.
Atlantic white-sided dolphin...             0                 0            53          0.11  Unknown.
Risso's dolphin................         32.88          1,531.81         1,532         16.79  Unknown.
Clymene dolphin................             0                 0            27          0.44  Unknown.
False killer whale.............             0                 0             7          1.58  Unknown.
Pygmy killer whale.............             0                 0             2          1.32  Unknown.
Killer whale...................             0                 0             7          1.86  Unknown.
Long-finned pilot whale........         0.444             20.69            21          0.16  Unknown.
Short-finned pilot whale.......         0.444             20.69            21          0.19  Unknown.
Harbor porpoise................             0                 0             4         0.005  Unknown.
Gray seal......................             0                 0             2         0.001  Increasing.
Harbor seal....................             0                 0             2         0.003  Unknown.
Harp seal......................             0                 0             2       0.00003  Increasing.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Except where noted, densities are the mean values for the survey area calculated from the SERDP SDSS NODES
  summer model expressed as number of individuals per 1,000 km\2\ (Read et al., 2009).
\2\ The modeled number of instances of exposures to sound levels >=160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa is the product of the
  species density (where available), the daily ensonified area of 1,226 km\2\, and the number of survey days (30
  plus 25 percent contingency for a total of 38 days).
\3\ Take estimate includes adjustments for species with no density information or where the SERDP SDSS NODES
  summer model (DoN, 2007; accessed on February 10, 2015) produced a density estimate of less than 1, NMFS
  increased the take estimates based on sighting information and mean group size from the Atlantic Marine
  Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) surveys in 2010, 2011, and 2013.
4 5 Table 2 in this notice lists the stock species abundance estimates used in calculating the percentage of
  species/stock. Population trend information from Waring et al., 2014. Unknown = Insufficient data to determine
  population trend.
\6\ For North Atlantic right whales, NMFS increased the estimated mean group size of one whale (based on CeTAP
  (1982) and AMAPPS (2010, 2011, and 2013) survey data) to three whales account for cow/calf pairs based on
  information from Whitt et al. (2013).
\7\ For sei and sperm whales, the result of the total number of instances of exposures for the duration of the
  survey would likely overestimate the take estimates because of sei and sperm whale movement patterns and
  habitat preferences. NMFS adjusted the authorized incidental take based on the mean number of individuals
  sighted during the 2010, 2011, and 2013 AMAPPS summer surveys (northern and southern legs). These surveys also
  included fine scale-surveys of NJ waters.

    Take Estimates for Species with One Instance of Exposure or Less: 
Using the approach described earlier, the model generated instances of 
take for some species that were less than or equal to one over the 38-
day duration. Those species include the fin whale (0.65), and the dwarf 
and pygmy sperm whale (0.18). NMFS based the take estimates to 3 and 2, 
respectively on sighting information and mean group size from CETAP 
(1982) and the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species 
(AMAPPS) surveys in 2010, 2011, and 2013.
    Take Estimates for Species with No Density Information in SERDP-
SDSS: For those species of marine mammals where density estimates were 
not available in the SERDP SDSS Marine Animal Model Mapper tool for the 
summer months (DoN, 2007) dataset because of their limited or rare 
occurrence in the survey area, we used additional data based on 
sighting information and mean group size from CETAP (1982) and the 
Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) 
surveys in 2010, 2011, and 2013 to estimate take. Those species include 
the following: North Atlantic Right, humpback, minke, and blue whales; 
pantropical spotted, striped, short-beaked common, white-beaked, 
Atlantic white-sided, and Clymene dolphin; pygmy, false killer, and 
killer whales; harbor porpoise; and gray, harbor, and harp seals.
    For North Atlantic Right whales, NMFS increased the take estimate 
from zero to three based on a more reasonable group size estimate based 
on CETAP (1982) and AMAPPS (2010, 2011, and 2013) survey data as well 
as additional supporting information from Whitt et al. (2013) which 
reported on the occurrence of cow-calf pair in nearshore waters off New 
Jersey.
    NMFS assumed that Lamont-Doherty could potentially encounter one 
group of each species during the seismic survey. NMFS believes it is 
reasonable to use the average (mean) groups size (weighted by effort 
and rounded up) to estimate the take from these potential encounters. 
Because we believe it is unlikely, we do not think it is necessary to 
assume that Lamont-Doherty would encounter the largest group size.
    Take Estimates for Sei and Sperm Whales: For sei and sperm whales, 
the result of the total number of instances of exposures for the 
duration of the survey would be 34.48 and 795.26, respectively. 
However, equating this number with the take of individuals would likely 
overestimate the numbers for these species even more than for others 
because of their known habitat use.
    Sei and sperm whale known movement patterns, habitat preferences, 
and survey data suggest that significantly fewer individuals would be 
exposed than the instances model estimates. NMFS adjusted the take 
estimate based on the following factors:

--There are rare sightings of sei whales in the proposed survey area 
based on NMFS-sponsored aerial or vessel based transect surveys 
conducted during the summer.
--Sei whales are often associated with deeper waters and areas along 
continental shelf edges (Hain et al. 1985). However, studies note that 
sei whale may disrupt this general offshore pattern during occasional 
incursions into shallower inshore waters (Waring et al., 2014).
--Individual sei whales are capable of using large sections of the 
North Atlantic Ocean for seasonal migration and feeding. Sei whales 
have the capacity to move large distances in

[[Page 27658]]

short periods of time (Olsen et al., 2009).
--Sperm whales have a strong preference for waters deeper than 1,000 m 
(Reeves and Whitehead, 1997). It is not reasonable to expect that over 
700 sperm whales would occur in the survey area which is on the shelf 
in reasonably flat and shallow bottom topography.
--While deep water is their typical habitat, sperm whales rarely 
inhabit waters less than 300 m in depth (Clarke, 1956).
--Sperm whales have occurred near Long Island, NY, in water between 40-
55 m deep (Scott and Sadove, 1997). When found relatively close to 
shore, sperm whale presence is usually associated with sharp increases 
in topography where upwelling occurs and biological production is high, 
implying the presence of a good food supply (Clarke, 1956). Such areas 
include oceanic islands and along the outer continental shelf.

    In consideration of this and other information, NMFS is authorizing 
incidental take for five sei and 31 sperm whales based on the mean 
number of individuals reported by experienced teams of marine mammal 
observers (vessel and aerial based) during the 2010, 2011, and 2013 
AMAPPS summer surveys (northern and southern legs).
    The AMAPPS surveys are a robust dataset of marine mammal sightings 
(also corrected for detectability [g(0)] of marine mammals in the 
survey area) which includes fine scale-surveys of New Jersey waters. 
The summer surveys were of similar duration to Lamont-Doherty's survey 
(approximately 12 to 41 days) and provide the best available 
information comparable to the duration of NSF's survey.

Encouraging and Coordinating Research

    Lamont-Doherty would coordinate the planned marine mammal 
monitoring program associated with the seismic survey in the northwest 
Atlantic Ocean with applicable U.S. agencies.

Analysis and 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). The lack of 
likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival 
(i.e., population level effects) forms the basis of a negligible impact 
finding. Thus, an estimate of the number of 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.
    In making a negligible impact determination, NMFS considers:
     The number of anticipated injuries, serious injuries, or 
mortalities;
     The number, nature, and intensity, and duration of Level B 
harassment; and
     The context in which the takes occur (e.g., impacts to 
areas of significance, impacts to local populations, and cumulative 
impacts when taking into account successive/contemporaneous actions 
when added to baseline data);
     The status of stock or species of marine mammals (i.e., 
depleted, not depleted, decreasing, increasing, stable, impact relative 
to the size of the population);
     Impacts on habitat affecting rates of recruitment/
survival; and
     The effectiveness of monitoring and mitigation measures to 
reduce the number or severity of incidental take.
    To avoid repetition, our analysis applies to all the species listed 
in Table 5, given that the anticipated effects of the seismic airguns 
are expected to be similar in nature, and there is no information about 
the size, status, or structure of any species or stock that would lead 
to a different analysis. In some cases we add species-specific factors.
    For reasons stated previously in this document and based on the 
following factors, Lamont-Doherty's specified activities are not likely 
to cause long-term behavioral disturbance, permanent threshold shift, 
or other non-auditory injury, serious injury, or death. They include:
     The anticipated impacts of Lamont-Doherty's survey 
activities on marine mammals are temporary behavioral changes due to 
avoidance of the area.
     The likelihood that marine mammals approaching the survey 
area will be traveling through the area or opportunistically foraging 
within the vicinity, as no breeding, calving, pupping, or nursing 
areas, or haul-outs, overlap with the survey area.
     The low potential of the survey to have an effect on 
coastal bottlenose dolphin populations due to the fact that Lamont-
Doherty's study area is approximately 20 km (12 mi) away from the 
identified habitats for coastal bottlenose dolphins and their calves.
     The low likelihood that North Atlantic right whales would 
be exposed to sound levels greater than or equal to 160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa 
due to the requirement that the Langseth crew must shutdown the 
airgun(s) immediately if observers detect this species, at any distance 
from the vessel.
     The likelihood that, given sufficient notice through 
relatively slow ship speed, NMFS expects marine mammals to move away 
from a noise source that is annoying prior to its becoming potentially 
injurious;
     The availability of alternate areas of similar habitat 
value for marine mammals to temporarily vacate the survey area during 
the operation of the airgun(s) to avoid acoustic harassment;
     NMFS also expects that the seismic survey would have no 
more than a temporary and minimal adverse effect on any fish or 
invertebrate species that serve as prey species for marine mammals, and 
therefore consider the potential impacts to marine mammal habitat 
minimal;
     The relatively low potential for temporary or permanent 
hearing impairment and the likelihood that Lamont-Doherty would avoid 
this impact through the incorporation of the required monitoring and 
mitigation measures; and
     The high likelihood that trained visual protected species 
observers would detect marine mammals at close proximity to the vessel.
    NMFS does not anticipate that any injuries, serious injuries, or 
mortalities would occur as a result of Lamont-Doherty's proposed 
activities, and NMFS does not authorize injury, serious injury, or 
mortality. We anticipate only behavioral disturbance to occur primarily 
in the form of avoidance behavior to the sound source during the 
conduct of the survey activities.
    Table 5 in this document outlines the number of requested Level B 
harassment takes that we anticipate as a result of these activities. 
NMFS anticipates that 32 marine mammal species could occur in the 
proposed action area. Of the marine mammal species under our 
jurisdiction that are known to occur or likely to occur in the study 
area, six of these species are listed as endangered under the ESA and 
depleted under the MMPA, including: The blue, fin, humpback, north 
Atlantic right, sei, and sperm whales.

[[Page 27659]]

    Many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, 
traveling, and socializing, on a diel cycle (i.e., 24 hour cycle). 
Behavioral reactions to noise exposure (such as disruption of critical 
life functions, displacement, or avoidance of important habitat) are 
more likely to be significant if they last more than one diel cycle or 
recur on subsequent days (Southall et al., 2007). While NMFS 
anticipates that the seismic operations would occur on consecutive 
days, the estimated duration of the survey would last no more than 30 
days but would increase sound levels in the marine environment in a 
relatively small area surrounding the vessel (compared to the range of 
the animals), which is constantly travelling over distances, and some 
animals may only be exposed to and harassed by sound for less than a 
day.
    In summary, NMFS expects marine mammals to avoid the survey area, 
thereby reducing the risk of higher exposure and related impacts. We do 
not anticipate disruption to reproductive behavior and there is no 
anticipated effect on annual rates of recruitment or survival of 
affected marine mammals.
    Due to the nature, degree, instances, and context of Level B 
(behavioral) harassment anticipated and described (see ``Potential 
Effects on Marine Mammals'' section in this notice), NMFS does not 
expect the activity to impact annual rates of recruitment or survival 
for any affected species or stock. The seismic survey would not take 
place in areas of significance for marine mammal feeding, resting, 
breeding, or calving and would not adversely impact marine mammal 
habitat, including the identified habitats for coastal bottlenose 
dolphins and their calves.
    Based on the analysis 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 finds that Lamont-Doherty's proposed seismic 
survey would have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal 
species or stocks.

Small Numbers

    As mentioned previously, NMFS estimates that Lamont-Doherty's 
activities could potentially affect, by Level B harassment only, 32 
species of marine mammals under our jurisdiction. For each species, 
these take estimates are small numbers relative to the population 
sizes: Less than 19 percent of the regional populations estimates of 
Atlantic spotted dolphins, less than 17 percent of Risso's and 
bottlenose dolphins; and under 2 percent for all other species and 
stocks. We have provided the regional population and take estimates for 
the marine mammal species that may be taken by Level B harassment in 
Tables 2 and Table 5 in this notice.

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

    There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated 
by this action.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    There are six marine mammal species listed as endangered under the 
Endangered Species Act that may occur in the proposed survey area: The 
blue, fin, humpback, North Atlantic right, sei, and sperm whales. Under 
section 7 of the ESA, the NSF has initiated formal consultation with 
NMFS on the proposed seismic survey. NMFS (i.e., National Marine 
Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, Permits and 
Conservation Division) has also consulted internally with NMFS on the 
issuance of an Authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA.
    In May, 2015, the Endangered Species Act Interagency Cooperation 
Division issued a Biological Opinion with an ITS to us and to the NSF 
which concluded that the issuance of the Authorization and the conduct 
of the seismic survey were not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of blue, fin, humpback, North Atlantic right, sei, and sperm 
whales. The Biological Opinion also concluded that the issuance of the 
Authorization and the conduct of the seismic survey would not affect 
designated critical habitat for these species.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    The NSF has prepared a draft amended EA titled, ``Environmental 
Assessment of a Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth 
in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, summer 2015,'' prepared by LGL, 
Ltd. environmental research associates, on behalf of the NSF and 
Lamont-Doherty. We have also prepared an EA titled, ``Proposed Issuance 
of an Incidental Harassment Authorization to Lamont Doherty Earth 
Observatory to Take Marine Mammals by Harassment Incidental to a Marine 
Geophysical Survey in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, June-August, 
2015,'' and FONSI in accordance with NEPA and NOAA Administrative Order 
216-6. We provided relevant environmental information to the public 
through our notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 13961, March 17, 
2015) and considered public comments received prior to finalizing our 
EA and deciding whether or not to issue a Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI). We concluded that issuance of an Incidental Harassment 
Authorization would not significantly affect the quality of the human 
environment and have issued a FONSI. Because of this finding, it is not 
necessary to prepare an environmental impact statement for the issuance 
of an Authorization to Lamont-Doherty for this activity. Our EA and 
FONSI for this activity are available upon request (see ADDRESSES).

Authorization

    We have issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization to Lamont-
Doherty for the take of marine mammals, incidental to conducting a 
marine seismic survey in the Atlantic Ocean, June 1, 2015 to August 31, 
2015.

    Dated: May 8, 2015.
Perry F. Gayaldo,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2015-11589 Filed 5-13-15; 8:45 am]
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