Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Marine Geophysical Survey in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, Mid-November to December 2015, 67708-67730 [2015-27990]

Download as PDF mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 67708 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices In accordance with 19 CFR 351.213(b), an interested party as defined by section 771(9) of the Act may request in writing that the Secretary conduct an administrative review. For both antidumping and countervailing duty reviews, the interested party must specify the individual producers or exporters covered by an antidumping finding or an antidumping or countervailing duty order or suspension agreement for which it is requesting a review. In addition, a domestic interested party or an interested party described in section 771(9)(B) of the Act must state why it desires the Secretary to review those particular producers or exporters. If the interested party intends for the Secretary to review sales of merchandise by an exporter (or a producer if that producer also exports merchandise from other suppliers) which was produced in more than one country of origin and each country of origin is subject to a separate order, then the interested party must state specifically, on an order-by-order basis, which exporter(s) the request is intended to cover. Note that, for any party the Department was unable to locate in prior segments, the Department will not accept a request for an administrative review of that party absent new information as to the party’s location. Moreover, if the interested party who files a request for review is unable to locate the producer or exporter for which it requested the review, the interested party must provide an explanation of the attempts it made to locate the producer or exporter at the same time it files its request for review, in order for the Secretary to determine if the interested party’s attempts were reasonable, pursuant to 19 CFR 351.303(f)(3)(ii). As explained in Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Proceedings: Assessment of Antidumping Duties, 68 FR 23954 (May 6, 2003), and NonMarket Economy Antidumping Proceedings: Assessment of Antidumping Duties, 76 FR 65694 (October 24, 2011) the Department clarified its practice with respect to the collection of final antidumping duties on imports of merchandise where intermediate firms are involved. The public should be aware of this clarification in determining whether to request an administrative review of merchandise subject to antidumping findings and orders.3 Further, as explained in Antidumping Proceedings: Announcement of Change 3 See also the Enforcement and Compliance Web site at http://trade.gov/enforcement/. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 in Department Practice for Respondent Selection in Antidumping Duty Proceedings and Conditional Review of the Nonmarket Economy Entity in NME Antidumping Duty Proceedings, 78 FR 65963 (November 4, 2013), the Department clarified its practice with regard to the conditional review of the non-market economy (NME) entity in administrative reviews of antidumping duty orders. The Department will no longer consider the NME entity as an exporter conditionally subject to administrative reviews. Accordingly, the NME entity will not be under review unless the Department specifically receives a request for, or self-initiates, a review of the NME entity.4 In administrative reviews of antidumping duty orders on merchandise from NME countries where a review of the NME entity has not been initiated, but where an individual exporter for which a review was initiated does not qualify for a separate rate, the Department will issue a final decision indicating that the company in question is part of the NME entity. However, in that situation, because no review of the NME entity was conducted, the NME entity’s entries were not subject to the review and the rate for the NME entity is not subject to change as a result of that review (although the rate for the individual exporter may change as a function of the finding that the exporter is part of the NME entity). Following initiation of an antidumping administrative review when there is no review requested of the NME entity, the Department will instruct CBP to liquidate entries for all exporters not named in the initiation notice, including those that were suspended at the NME entity rate. All requests must be filed electronically in Enforcement and Compliance’s Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Centralized Electronic Service System (‘‘ACCESS’’) on Enforcement and Compliance’s ACCESS Web site at http:// access.trade.gov.5 Further, in accordance with 19 CFR 351.303(f)(l)(i), a copy of each request must be served on the petitioner and each exporter or producer specified in the request. The Department will publish in the Federal Register a notice of ‘‘Initiation of Administrative Review of 4 In accordance with 19 CFR 351.213(b)(1), parties should specify that they are requesting a review of entries from exporters comprising the entity, and to the extent possible, include the names of such exporters in their request. 5 See Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Proceedings: Electronic Filing Procedures; Administrative Protective Order Procedures, 76 FR 39263 (July 6, 2011). PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Antidumping or Countervailing Duty Order, Finding, or Suspended Investigation’’ for requests received by the last day of November 2015. If the Department does not receive, by the last day of November 2015, a request for review of entries covered by an order, finding, or suspended investigation listed in this notice and for the period identified above, the Department will instruct CBP to assess antidumping or countervailing duties on those entries at a rate equal to the cash deposit of (or bond for) estimated antidumping or countervailing duties required on those entries at the time of entry, or withdrawal from warehouse, for consumption and to continue to collect the cash deposit previously ordered. For the first administrative review of any order, there will be no assessment of antidumping or countervailing duties on entries of subject merchandise entered, or withdrawn from warehouse, for consumption during the relevant provisional-measures ‘‘gap’’ period of the order, if such a gap period is applicable to the period of review. This notice is not required by statute but is published as a service to the international trading community. Dated: October 28, 2015. Edward Yang, Senior Director, Office VII for Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Operations. [FR Doc. 2015–28028 Filed 11–2–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XE125 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Marine Geophysical Survey in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, Mid-November to December 2015 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization. AGENCY: 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, in the eastern SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices Mediterranean Sea, mid-November through December 2015. DATES: Effective November 19, 2015, through December 31, 2015. ADDRESSES: A copy of the final Authorization and application and other supporting documents are available by writing to Jolie Harrison, Chief, 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 a draft Environmental Analysis in accordance with Executive Order 12114, ‘‘Environmental Effects Abroad of Major Federal Actions’’ for their proposed federal action. The environmental analysis titled ‘‘Environmental Analysis of a Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, November– December 2015,’’ prepared by LGL, Ltd. environmental research associates, on behalf of NSF and Lamont-Doherty is available at the same internet address. NMFS prepared an Environmental Assessment (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 Eastern Mediterranean Sea, November– December 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 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 April 20, 2015, NMFS received an application from Lamont-Doherty requesting that NMFS issue an Authorization for the take of marine mammals, incidental to the University of Oregon conducting a seismic survey in the eastern Mediterranean Sea October through November 2015. Following the initial application submission, Lamont-Doherty submitted a revised application with new dates for the proposed survey (approximately mid-November through December, 2015). NMFS considered the revised application adequate and complete on August 25, 2015. The proposed survey would take place partially within Greece’s territorial seas (less than 6 nautical PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 67709 miles (nmi) [11 km; 7 mi] from the shore) and partially in the high seas. However, NMFS cannot authorize the incidental take of marine mammals in the territorial seas of foreign nations, as the MMPA does not apply in those waters. However, NMFS estimated the level of incidental take in the entire activity area (territorial seas and high seas) as part of the analysis supporting the agency’s determination under the MMPA that the activity would have a negligible impact on the affected species. Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct a high-energy, seismic survey on the R/ V Marcus G. Langseth (Langseth), a vessel owned by NSF and operated on its behalf by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty in the eastern Mediterranean Sea for approximately 16 days from approximately mid-November 2015, through mid-December 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, of 22 species of marine mammals could result from the specified activity. Although the unlikely, NMFS also anticipates that a small level of take by Level A harassment of four species of marine mammals could occur during the proposed survey. Description of the Specified Activity Overview Lamont-Doherty plans to use one source vessel, the Langseth, an array of 36 airguns as the energy source, a receiving system of 93 ocean bottom seismometers (OBSs) for the northern portion of the proposed survey and a single 8-kilometer (km) hydrophone streamer for the southern portion of the proposed 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. However, Lamont-Doherty will not operate the multibeam echosounder and sub-bottom profiler during transits to and from the survey areas (i.e., when the airguns are not operating). The purpose of the survey is to collect and analyze seismic refraction data on and around the island of Santorini (Thira) to examine the crustal magma plumbing of the Santorini volcanic system. NMFS refers the public to Lamont-Doherty’s application for more detailed information on the proposed research objectives which are purely E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 67710 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices scientific in nature and not related to oil and natural gas exploration. The proposed survey’s principal investigators are Drs. E. Hooft and D. Toomey (University of Oregon). The Santorini portion of the study also involves international collaboration with Dr. P. Nomikou (University of Athens) who would be onboard the Langseth during the entire seismic survey. Dates and Duration Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct the seismic survey for approximately 30 days which includes approximately 16 days of seismic surveying, 11 days for OBS deployment/retrieval, and 1 day of hydrophone streamer deployment. The proposed study (e.g., equipment testing, startup, line changes, repeat coverage of any areas, and equipment recovery) would include approximately 384 hours of airgun operations (i.e., 16 days over 24 hours). Some minor deviation from Lamont-Doherty’s requested dates of mid-November through December 2015 is possible, depending on logistics, weather conditions, and the need to repeat some lines if data quality is substandard. Thus, the proposed Authorization, if issued, would be effective from November 19 through December 31, 2015. Specified Geographic Region mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct one portion of the proposed seismic survey in the Aegean Sea, located approximately between 36.1–36.8° N. and 24.7–26.1° .E in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Water depths in the Aegean Sea survey area are approximately 20 to 500 meters (m) (66 to 1,640 feet (ft)). Lamont-Doherty would conduct the second portion of the proposed seismic survey over the Hellenic subduction zone which starts in the Aegean Sea at approximately 36.4° N., 23.9° E. and runs to the southwest, ending at approximately 34.9° N., 22.6° E. Water depths in that area range from 1,000 to 3,000 m (3,280 to 9,843 ft). Lamont-Doherty would conduct the proposed seismic survey within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and territorial waters of Greece. Greece’s territorial seas extend out to six nautical miles (nmi) (7 miles [mi]; 11 kilometers [km]). Detailed Description of the Specified Activities Transit Activities The Langseth would depart from Piraieus, Greece in November 2015 and spend one day in transit to the proposed survey areas. At the conclusion of the VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 survey, the Langseth would arrive at Iraklio, Crete. Some minor deviation from these dates is possible, depending on logistics and weather. Vessel Specifications NMFS outlined the vessel’s specifications in the notice of proposed Authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 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 53623, September 4, 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 53623, September 4, 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 September 4, 2015 (80 FR 53623). During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS received comments from the following: Prof. Efthimios Lekkas, Department of Geology and Geo Environment, University of Athens; the Geological Society of Greece; the Earthquake Planning and Protection Organization (EPPO); Anastasios N. Zorzos, Mayor of the Island of Santorini (Thira); the Marcus Langseth Science Oversight Committee (MLSOC); the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission); OceanCare; Oceanomare Delphis Onlus (ODO); the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). OceanCare, ODO, NRDC, and WDC referenced several journal articles and documents within their comment letters. NMFS considered these articles and documents within the final analyses but does not intend to address each one specifically in this Response to Comments section. NMFS has posted the comments online at: PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/research.htm. NMFS addresses any comments specific to Lamont-Doherty’s application related to the statutory and regulatory requirements or findings that NMFS must make under the MMPA in order to issue an Authorization. Following is a summary of the public comments and NMFS’ responses. Compliance With International Guidelines Comment 1: NMFS received letters from two Greek organizations, one Greek citizen, and the mayor of Santorini requesting that NMFS issue the Authorization to Lamont-Doherty. The Geological Society of Greece stated that both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic and the Greek Committee for Granting Sea Research Licenses (ECAEO) had approved Lamont-Doherty’s conduct of the survey within Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and surrounding international waters. The commenters state that Lamont-Doherty’s project, approved by the Greek government, would minimize impacts on marine life by following all standard monitoring and mitigation measures for seismic surveys as listed in the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs vessel clearance document and any additional requirements established by NMFS’ Authorization. Response: NMFS acknowledges the comments from Prof. Lekkas, the Geological Society of Greece, the EPPO, and Mayor Zorzos and thanks them for their comments. NMFS confirmed through the U.S. State Department that Lamont-Doherty sought approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic to conduct the proposed seismic survey. Greece’s foreign vessel clearance process required Lamont-Doherty to submit an environmental analysis which evaluated the potential effects of the proposed activity on marine species and described the monitoring and mitigation measures for lessening impacts on marine mammals. On June 2, 2015, Greece granted permission to LamontDoherty to conduct the proposed seismic survey in areas of Greek jurisdiction provided that LamontDoherty complies with the specific terms and conditions of the issued vessel clearance including ‘‘compliance with Greek national legislation (in particular Greek Law Nos. 2971/2001 and 3028/2002) and all international regulations, including the ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices Atlantic Area) international guidelines on the protection of marine mammals’’. Lamont-Doherty is not only following mitigation and monitoring measures for marine mammals required under international regulations but must also implement mitigation measures as required by NMFS’ issued Authorization in the waters outside the Greek territorial sea per the MMPA. NMFS analyzed the proposed seismic survey in accordance with the MMPA, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Under those statutes, NMFS analyzed the impacts to marine mammals (including those listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA), their habitat, and to the availability of marine mammals for taking for subsistence uses. The MMPA analyses concluded that the activities would have a negligible impact on affected marine mammal species or stocks and would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of marine mammals for taking for subsistence uses (which is not applicable in this case). The ESA analysis concluded that the activities likely would not jeopardize the continued existence of ESA-listed species or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat. The NEPA analysis concluded that there would not be a significant impact on the human environment. Moreover, NMFS does not expect this activity to result in the death of any marine mammal species and has not authorized take by serious injury or mortality. Comment 2: The MSLOC requested that NMFS issue the Authorization to Lamont-Doherty in a timely manner; described Lamont-Doherty’s monitoring and mitigation measures for marine mammals; and stated that those measures were reasonable and consistent with, or more conservative than, internationally-accepted standards and guidelines implemented by the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, and Norway. Response: NMFS acknowledges the MSLOC’s comments and agrees that many of the mitigation measures proposed by Lamont-Doherty are consistent with many international standards and guidelines. NMFS issued this Authorization in accordance with the MMPA and the ESA. After careful evaluation of all comments and the data and information available regarding potential impacts to marine mammals and their habitat and to the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses, NMFS has issued the final authorization to Lamont-Doherty to take VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 marine mammals incidental to conducting a seismic survey in the eastern Mediterranean Sea for the period November 19 through December 31, 2015. As required by the MMPA, the Authorization sets 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. Comment 3: The NRDC, WDC, OceanCare, and Oceanomare Delphis Onlus submitted statements of concern that NMFS’ proposed Authorization and NSF’s draft environmental analysis did not consider the ACCOBAMS Resolutions 4.17, Guidelines to Address the Impact of Anthropogenic Noise on Cetaceans in the ACCOBAMS Area and 5.15, Addressing the impact of Anthropogenic Noise. Specifically, NRDC stated that the proposed Authorization and draft environmental analysis did not follow the guidelines for extra mitigation for beaked whales in deep water areas. Response: See NMFS’ response to Comment 1. Under the MMPA, NMFS does not have the jurisdiction to require an applicant to comply with ACCOBAMS resolutions because the U.S. is not party to that particular convention. However, NMFS notes that ACCOBAMS Resolution 4.17 based their guidelines for seismic surveys and airgun uses on ‘‘. . . guidelines for mitigating the effects of seismic surveys . . . in the context of academic seismic surveys conducted under NMFS’ permits.’’ NMFS described Lamont-Doherty’s proposed mitigation and monitoring measures in the notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015) as well as additional mitigation measure required by NMFS to effect the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals. Despite some minor differences between implementation of NMFS’ requirements under the MMPA and ESA for seismic surveys and those listed under ACCOBAMS Resolution 4.17, the overall guidelines required for seismic surveys are nearly identical. For example, Resolution 4.17 lists 19 guidelines (a–s) for seismic surveys and airgun uses. One guideline (r) is not applicable to this action as it covers multiple seismic survey operations and NMFS’ requirements under the MMPA and ESA closely track to the additional 16 guidelines (a, b, c, d, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, and s) for marine mammals. As stated previously in Comment 1, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic granted Lamont- PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 67711 Doherty permission to conduct the proposed seismic survey in areas of Greek jurisdiction provided that they comply with all international regulations, including ACCOBAMS Resolution 4.17 (m), Guidelines for Seismic Surveys and Airgun Uses which requires vessels to monitor for beaked whales for a duration of 120 minutes and initiate a ramp up of the airgun array 120 minutes after a beaked whale sighting within Greek jurisdictional waters. NSF plans to abide by this requirement within Greek territorial seas. NMFS’ mitigation measure of initiating a ramp-up of the airgun array 30 minutes after a large odontocete sighting would apply in the high seas. NMFS expects that our normal requirement of waiting 30 minutes to initiate a ramp-up is sufficient to effect the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals. The Langseth’s observers are continually monitoring the exclusion zone. On average, 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 this distance before resuming airgun operations at full power. Last, as standard practice, the MMPA Authorization and the ESA Biological Opinion require Lamont-Doherty to cooperate with the Greek authorities in monitoring the impacts of the proposed activity on marine mammals. Comment 4: NRDC/WDC state that the proposed survey occurs within two proposed Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and state that the proposed Authorization contradicts the CBD’s conservation priorities. OceanCare and ODO also submitted background information on EBSAs in their comments, stated that the Central Aegean Sea and Hellenic Trench were critical habitat for Mediterranean monk seals, and indicated that the proposed activities were unacceptable. Response: NMFS acknowledges the commenters’ concerns and refers them to NSF’s draft environmental analysis (see pages 17–19) which presents information on marine protected areas within the proposed action area. However, the submitted comments did not provide any specific recommendations or criticisms regarding the sufficiency of NSF’s analysis. The CBD aims to address conservation of open-ocean and deep-sea ecosystems using the concept of EBSAs (Clark et al., 2014). The Parties to the CBD approved E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 67712 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices the adoption of seven criteria: Uniqueness or rarity, special importance for life history stages of species; importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats; vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery; biological productivity; biological diversity; and naturalness for identifying EBSAs (CBD, 2008). Although EBSAs do not necessarily imply that a management response is required (Clark et al., 2014), the CBD intended them to provide an initial basis for a network of protected areas (CBD, 2008) that would undergo review by the United Nations General Assembly for future stewardship recommendations (WWF, 2012). The U.S. is not a party to the Convention, and NMFS does not have the authority to require an applicant for an MMPA Authorization to comply with the CBD. Again, NMFS’ mitigation measures are sufficient to effect the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals in the two EBSAs. Further, as a condition of vessel clearance from the Greek government, Lamont-Doherty would also comply with Greek legislation, in particular Greek Law Nos. 2971/2001 and 3028/2002, which regulate the protection of coastal ecosystems. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Modeling Exclusion and Buffer Zones Comment 5: The Commission expressed concerns regarding LamontDoherty’s method to estimate exclusion and buffer zones using a ray trace-based model. They stated that the model is not conservative because it assumes spherical spreading, a constant sound speed, and no bottom interactions instead of collecting empirical sound source and sound propagation measurements and incorporating sitespecific environmental characteristics (e.g., sound speed profiles, refraction, bathymetry/water depth, sediment properties/bottom loss, or absorption coefficients) into their model. In light of their concerns, the Commission recommended that NMFS require Lamont-Doherty to re-estimate the proposed exclusion and buffer zones using site-specific environmental and operational parameters. Response: NMFS acknowledges 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. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 Lamont-Doherty’s application (LGL, 2015) and the NSF’s draft environmental analyses (NSF, 2015) describe the approach to establishing mitigation exclusion and buffer zones. In summary, Lamont-Doherty acquired field measurements for several array configurations at shallow- and deepwater 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 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). Based upon the best available information (i.e., the three data points, two of which are peer-reviewed, discussed in this response), NMFS finds that the exclusion and buffer zone calculations are appropriate for use in this particular survey. 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 seismic survey offshore New Jersey in 2014 (Crone, 2015). NMFS presented a comparison of the predicted radii (i.e., modeled exclusion zones) with radii based on in situ measurements (i.e., the upper bound [95th percentile] of the cross-line prediction) in a previous notice of issued Authorization (see Table 1, 80 FR 27635, May 14, 2015) for LamontDoherty. Briefly, Crone’s (2015) preliminary analysis, specific to the proposed survey site offshore New Jersey, confirmed that in-situ, site specific 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 modeled (i.e., predicted) exclusion and buffer zones proposed for use in two seismic surveys conducted offshore New Jersey in shallow water in 2014 and 2015. In that particular case, Crone’s (2015) results show that Lamont-Doherty’s modeled exclusion (180-dB) and buffer (160-dB) zones were approximately 28 and 33 percent smaller than the in situ, site-specific measurements confirming that LamontDoherty’s model was conservative, as emphasized by Lamont-Doherty in its PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 application and in supporting environmental documentation. Following is a summary of two additional analyses of in-situ data that support Lamont-Doherty’s use of the modeled exclusion and buffer 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 acquired 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 (greater than 1,000 meters [m]; 3280.8 feet [ft]) (Diebold et al., 2010). In 2012, Lamont-Doherty used a similar process to model exclusion and buffer zones for a shallow-water seismic survey in the northeast Pacific Ocean offshore Washington in 2012. LamontDoherty conducted the shallow-water survey using the same airgun configuration proposed for this seismic survey (i.e., 6,600 cubic inches [in3]) and recorded the received sound levels on the shelf and slope off Washington State using the Langseth’s 8-kilometer (km) hydrophone streamer. Crone et al. (2014) analyzed those received sound levels from the 2012 survey and confirmed that in-situ, site specific measurements and estimates of the 160and 180-dB isopleths collected by the Langseth’s hydrophone streamer in shallow water 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 LamontDoherty’s modeling approach for this seismic survey in the Mediterranean Sea) 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. At present, Lamont-Doherty cannot adjust their modeling methodology to add the environmental and site-specific parameters as requested by the Commission. NMFS continues to work with Lamont-Doherty and the NSF to address the issue of incorporating sitespecific information to further inform the analysis and development of mitigation measures in oceanic and coastal areas for future seismic surveys with Lamont-Doherty. Also, NMFS will continue to work with Lamont-Doherty, the NSF, and the Commission on continuing to verify the accuracy of E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices their modeling approach. However, Lamont-Doherty’s current modeling approach (supported by the three data points discussed previously) represents the best available information for NMFS to reach 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. Lamont-Doherty has conveyed to NMFS that additional modeling efforts to refine the process and conduct comparative analysis may be possible with the availability of research funds and other resources. Obtaining research funds is typically through a competitive process, including those submitted to U.S. 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, NMFS does not provide specific guidance on model parameters nor prescribes a specific model for applicants as part of the MMPA incidental take authorization process at this time. 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 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 the analysis during the MMPA consultation process as NMFS also takes into consideration other factors associated with the proposed action, (e.g., geographic location, duration of activities, context, intensity, etc.). Comment 6: NRDC/WDC commented that Lamont-Doherty should have considered local propagation features to predict sound propagation characteristics and used that information to estimate the proposed exclusion zones. The commenters noted that a recent reviews presented information on behavioral disruption of marine mammals occurring below the 160-dB Level B threshold (Nowacek et al., 2015; DeRuiter et al., 2013; and VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 Kastelein et al., 2012) and stated that the exclusion zone and take estimates were not accurate and not conservative. NRDC/WDC also stated that NMFS should modify the current thresholds and base them on the best available science (i.e., centering the behavioral risk function at 140 dB (RMS) instead of 160 dB). Response: Please see NMFS’ response to Comment 4 with respect to LamontDoherty modeling proposed exclusion zones. NMFS considered Nowacek et al.’s (2015) review in making our final determinations. Their review presents several recommendations including the establishment of a uniform set of international standards to manage ocean noise; the recognition of ocean noise as a pollutant; and the management of ocean noise through a revision to the existing International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. NMFS notes that Nowacek et al.’s (2015) review primarily focused on simultaneous seismic surveys for oil and gas exploration conducted over large spatial and temporal scales and did not particularly focus on the conduct of smaller, one-time, academic research seismic surveys such as the one proposed by Lamont-Doherty in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Nowacek et al. (2015) also discussed the use of appropriate impact thresholds and the need for regulatory agencies to accept a new paradigm for assessing acoustic impacts and move beyond the use of acute impact thresholds. 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. These papers and the studies discussed in our notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015) emphasize 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 and 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 is potential for responses to occur below 140 dB and NMFS considered papers and studies in the notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015) that note that there is variability in the behavioral responses of marine mammals to sound exposure. PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 67713 On the other hand, 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). With respect to the use of current thresholds, 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, NMFS 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. NMFS discusses the science on this issue qualitatively in our analysis of potential effects to marine mammals (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015). Accordingly, it is not a matter of merely replacing the existing threshold with a new one. NMFS is currently developing revised acoustic guidelines for assessing the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals. Until NMFS finalizes these guidelines (a process that includes public notice and comment and peer review), NMFS will continue to rely on the existing criteria for Level A and Level B harassment shown in Table 4 of the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015). As mentioned in the Federal Register notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 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 single 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 an appropriate way to manage and regulate anthropogenic noise impacts on marine mammals until NMFS implements its acoustic guidelines. With regards to the information presented in DeRuiter et al. (2013) for beaked whales and in Kastelein et al. E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 67714 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices (2012) for harbor porpoises. NMFS considered the significance of these articles within the environmental assessment for this proposed survey (NMFS, 2015) and in previous notices of issued authorizations for LamontDoherty (79 FR 38496 and 80 FR 27635, May 14, 2015). DeRuiter et al. (2013) observed that beaked whales (considered a particularly sensitive species) exposed to playbacks (i.e., simulated) of U.S. Navy tactical mid-frequency active 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 active sonar operated at much further distances (DeRuiter, et al., 2013). As noted earlier, one must consider the importance of context (e.g., the distance of a sound source from the animal) in predicting behavioral responses. With regards to Kasetlein et al. (2012), NMFS recognizes that behavioral responses for a harbor porpoise occurs at lower levels than for other cetacean species empirically tested (Finneran & Schlundt, 2010; Finneran et al., 2002; Kastelein & Jennings, 2012, Kastelein et al., 2012; Kastelein et al., 2013). However, Kastelein et al., (2014) stated that for the harbor porpoise, after small reductions in hearing sensitivity (threshold shifts less than 15 dB), recovery was relatively quick (within 60 minutes) and in most cases, reduced hearing for such a short time period (if it does not occur many times per day) may have little effect on the ecology of a harbor porpoise (Kastelein et al., 2014). Limited available data suggest that harbor porpoises show avoidance of seismic operations. Based on data collected by observers on seismic vessels off the United Kingdom from 1994 to 2010, detection rates of harbor porpoises were significantly higher when airguns were silent versus when large or small arrays were operating; in addition, observers noted that harbor porpoises were farther away from an active array versus when it was silent and were most often seen traveling away from the airgun array when it was in operation (Stone, 2015). Thompson et al. (2013) reported decreased densities and reduced acoustic detections of harbor porpoise in response to a seismic survey in Moray Firth, Scotland at ranges of 5 to 10 km (165–172 dB (SPL); 145–151 dB (SEL). For the same survey, Pirotta et al. (2014) reported that the probability of recording harbor porpoise buzzes decreased by 15 percent in the VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 ensonified area. Taking this into consideration, NMFS expects that harbor porpoises would avoid the area around the proposed survey operations effectively reducing the likelihood of auditory injury and the potential of Level A harassment to the airgun array (Hermannsen et al., 2015; Touggard et al., 2012). Thus, NMFS would expect all of the effects to harbor porpoises to result in short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ‘‘Level B harassment.’’ NMFS acknowledges that there is more recent information available bearing on the relevant exposure levels for assessing temporary and permanent hearing impacts. (See Federal Register notice 80 FR 45642, July 31, 2015: Draft Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing-Acoustic Threshold Levels for Onset of Permanent and Temporary Threshold Shifts). Again, NOAA will be issuing new acoustic guidelines, but that process is not complete (i.e., NOAA expects the guidance to be finalized until late 2015), so NMFS did not use it to assign new thresholds for calculating take estimates for hearing impacts. Moreover, the required mitigation measures ensure there are no exposures at levels thought to cause permanent hearing impairment, and, for several of the marine mammal species in the project area, mitigation measures would reduce exposure to current Level B harassment thresholds. Effects Analysis Comment 7: NRDC/WDC commented that NSF’s draft environmental analysis did not adequately evaluate the cumulative actions and effects from past and present sources with respect to ACCOBAMS Resolution 4.17 which ‘‘encourages Parties to address fully the issue of anthropogenic noise in the marine environment, including cumulative effects, in the light of the best scientific information available and taking into consideration the applicable legislation of the Parties, particularly as regards the need for thorough environmental impact assessments being undertaken before granting approval to proposed noise-producing activities.’’ Response: Lamont-Doherty and the NSF submitted an environmental analysis (NSF, 2015) on the proposed survey to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic through the U.S. State Department in May, 2015. The draft environmental analysis evaluated the potential effects of the proposed activity on marine species and included information about potential cumulative effects (see Chapter IV, PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 pages 63 through 67) including past and future academic seismic research, vessel traffic, fisheries, military activities, and oil and gas activities in the action area. The Hellenic Republic (Greece), a party to ACCOBAMS, granted approval to Lamont-Doherty to conduct the proposed seismic survey in areas of Greek jurisdiction on June 2, 2015. Again, Greece granted this authority to Lamont-Doherty provided that they comply with the specific terms and conditions of the issued vessel clearance including compliance with Greek national legislation (in particular Greek Law Nos. 2971/2001 and 3028/2002) and all international regulations, including the ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area) international guidelines on the protection of marine mammals. Comment 8: NRDC/WDC stated that NMFS did not consider the cumulative effects of the use of the multibeam echosounder, sub-bottom profiler, and the ocean-bottom seismometer acoustic release system and did not consider take estimates for these sources. Commenters also provided statements on mass stranding events associated or potentially linked with use of a multibeam echosounder during seismic exploration activities off the coast of Madagascar in 2008 and in the Gulf of California in 2002. Response: NMFS disagrees with the commenters’ statements. NMFS assessed the potential for the operation of the multi-beam echosounder and subbottom profiler to impact marine mammals in notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015). NMFS assumes that during simultaneous operations of the airgun array and the other sources, the airguns would be the primary source of acoustic harassment given the characteristics of the multi-beam echosounder and subbottom profiler (e.g., narrow, downward-directed beam) and the proximity of marine mammals to those sources. NMFS does not expect the sound levels produced by the echosounder and sub-bottom profiler to exceed the sound levels produced by the airguns. However, whether or not the airguns are operating simultaneously with the other sources, marine mammals are expected to exhibit no more than short-term and inconsequential responses to the multibeam echosounder and sub-bottom profiler given their characteristics. Therefore, NMFS has not authorized take from the multi-beam echosounder and sub-bottom profiler. NMFS’ notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices 53623, September 4, 2015) states that the multi-beam echosounder and subbottom profiler will not operate during transits at the beginning and end of the planned seismic survey. As for ocean bottom seismometers, NMFS considered the brief (8 milliseconds) acoustic signals emanating from the devices at the time of retrieval to be so brief as to not risk masking other acoustic information relevant to marine mammals. Therefore, NMFS has not authorized take from the acoustic release signals from ocean bottom seismometers. NMFS considered the potential for behavioral responses such as the Madagascar stranding and indirect injury or mortality from LamontDoherty’s use of the multibeam echosounder in the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015, see Potential Effects of Other Acoustic Devices, pages 53636– 53637). NMFS does not repeat that information here, but notes that the International Scientific Review Panel tasked to investigate the stranding stated that the risk of using multi-beam echosounders 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; Lurton, 2015, 2016). NMFS notes that the multi-beam in use on this seismic survey is not operating in the same way as it was in Madagascar. The Authorization requires Lamont-Doherty to plan to conduct the seismic surveys (especially when near land) from the coast (inshore) and proceed towards the sea (offshore) in order to avoid the potential herding ‘‘herding of sensitive species’’ into canyons and other similar areas. Regarding the 2002 stranding event in the Gulf of California, the multi-beam echosounder system was on a different vessel, the R/V Maurice Ewing (Ewing), which is a vessel no longer operated by Lamont-Doherty. Although NRDC/WDC suggest that the multi-beam echosounder system or other acoustic sources on the Ewing may have been associated with the 2002 stranding of two beaked whales, as noted in Cox et al. (2006), ‘‘whether or not this survey caused the beaked whales to strand has been a matter of debate because of the small number of animals involved and a lack of knowledge regarding the temporal and spatial correlation between the animals and the sound source.’’ As noted by Yoder (2002), there was no scientific linkage to the event with the Ewing’s activities and the acoustic sources used. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 Comment 9: OceanCare and ODO state that NMFS did not consider the ‘‘impacts of reduced prey availability forcing animals to cease feeding or harassment forcing the abandonment of pups.’’ Response: 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 for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015, see Anticipated Impacts on Marine Mammal Habitat, pages 53639– 53641). The comment does not provide any specific recommendations or criticisms regarding the sufficiency of those analyses. Moreover, the NSF also addressed the potential effects of this action in the draft environmental analysis (NSF, 2015) which NMFS incorporates by reference in this notice. In addition to the information presented in the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015), NMFS also considered recent studies that assessed foraging energetics (Melcon et al., 2012; Goldbogen et al., 2013; New et al., 2013, 2014) in marine mammals. The most relevant New et al. (2014) study used a simulation model to assess how behavioral disruptions (e.g., significant disruption of foraging behavior) and the exclusion of maternal southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonine) foraging habitat could affect health, offspring survival, individual fitness, and population growth rate. The authors suggested their model can determine the population consequences of disturbance from short-term changes in individual animals. Their model assumed that disturbance affected behavior by reducing the number of drift dives in which the animals were feeding and increasing the time they spent in transit. For example, they suggested a disturbance lasting 50 percent of an average annual foraging trip would reduce pup survival by 0.4 percent. If this level of disturbance continued over 30 years and the population did not adapt, the authors found that the population size would decrease by approximately 10 percent. The findings of New et al. (2014) are not applicable to the temporary behavioral disruptions that could potentially result from a proposed 16day seismic survey versus the study’s assessments of effects over one year and a persistent disruption of a 30-year period. First, the model assumed that individuals would be unable to compensate for lost foraging opportunities. Available empirical data does not confirm this would be the case. For example, elephant seals are unlikely to be affected by short-term variations in PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 67715 prey availability because they take long foraging trips, allowing for some margin of error in prey availability ((Costa, 1993), as cited in New et al., 2014). Similarly, female Mediterranean monk seals also have the ability to take foraging trips up to 70 km (43 miles) (Adamantopoulou et al., 2011) which NMFS expects would buffer foraging mothers from short-term variations in prey availability within the action area ((Costa, 1993), as cited in New et al., 2014). NMFS has no information to suggest that an animal eliciting a behavioral response (e.g., temporary disruption of feeding) to the proposed seismic survey would be unable to compensate for this temporary disruption in feeding activity by either immediately feeding at another location, by feeding shortly after cessation of acoustic exposure, or by feeding at a later time. Additionally, the behavioral disruption marine mammals reasonably expected to occur due to LamontDoherty’s proposed activities would not have as long of a duration as the two scenarios considered in the New et al., (2014) study. Comment 10: The Commission states that NMFS based the number of Mediterranean monk seal instances of exposure (shown in Tables 5 and Table 6 in the notice of proposed authorization) on the maximum estimated number of individual monk seals that could be present within the action area rather than accounting for the extent of the ensonified area and the number of days of activities—an approach the Commission supports for NMFS’ negligible impact determination for Mediterranean monk seals. OceanCare and ODO also state that the assumptions of impacts to Mediterranean monk seals could be higher. Response: NMFS agrees with the Commission’s comments. Tables 5 and 6 in this notice will show the theoretical maximum number of exposures that could occur over 16 days (13 days in the Aegean Sea plus 25 percent contingency) which is 560 instances of exposures in the absence of mitigation. NMFS bases this estimate on 25 individuals from the Anafi, two individuals from the Santorini, and eight individuals from the KimolosPolyaigos subpopulations. NMFS acknowledges uncertainties in estimating take in the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015). Given the many uncertainties in predicting the quantity and types of impacts of sound on marine mammals, it is common practice to estimate how many animals are likely to be present within a particular E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 67716 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices distance of a given activity, or exposed to a particular level of sound and to use that information to predict instances of take of individuals. In practice, depending on the amount of information available to characterize daily and seasonal movement and distribution of affected marine mammals, distinguishing between the numbers of individuals harassed and the instances of harassment can be difficult to parse. Moreover, when one considers the duration of the activity, in the absence of information to predict the degree to which individual animals could be re-exposed subsequent days, the simple assumption that up to 560 instances of exposure could occur is an overestimate because it does not account for a percentage of animals remaining with caves during active operations or individuals avoiding the ensonified area all together which would lower the estimates of instances of exposure. Use of Alternate Technologies Comment 11: NRDC/WDC state that NMFS should require use of an alternative multi-beam echosounder to the one presently proposed and associated with a mass stranding of melon-headed whales offshore Madagascar in 2008. Response: NMFS disagrees with the commenters’ recommendation as NMFS does not have the authority to require an applicant or action proponent to choose a different multi-beam echosounder system for the proposed seismic survey. The multi-beam echosounder system currently installed on the Langseth is capable of mapping the seafloor in deep water and the characteristics of the system are well suited for meeting the scientists’ research goals. It would not be practicable for Lamont-Doherty or the NSF to install a different multi-beam echosounder (such as the Konegsburg EM 302 or EM 710 MKII suggested by the commenters) for the proposed survey. Lamont-Doherty has used the currently-installed multi-beam echosounder on the Langseth (evaluated in the 2011 NSF/USGS PEIS and in the 2015 draft environmental analysis) on over 25 research seismic surveys since 2008 without association to any marine mammal strandings. Monitoring and Reporting Comment 12: 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 recommend that NMFS and Lamont-Doherty incorporate an accounting 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] into monitoring efforts. In light of the Commission previous comments, they recommend that NMFS consult with the funding agency (i.e., the NSF) and individual applicants (e.g., LamontDoherty 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. They also recommend 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. 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 LamontDoherty’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. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity Table 1 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 proposed activity area. Lamont-Doherty presented species information in Table 2 of their application but excluded information for certain pinniped and cetacean species because they anticipated that these species would have a low likelihood of occurring in the survey area. Based on the best available information, NMFS expects that there may be a potential for certain cetacean and pinniped species to occur within the survey area (i.e., potentially be taken) and have included additional information for these species in Table 1 of this notice. NMFS will carry forward analyses on the species listed in Table 1 later in this document. TABLE 1—GENERAL INFORMATION ON MARINE MAMMALS THAT COULD POTENTIALLY OCCUR IN THE PROPOSED SURVEY AREAS WITHIN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA [November through December, 2015] Stock/ species abundance 3 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Species Stock name Regulatory status 1 2 Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus). Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis). Eastern North Pacific ............... MMPA—NC ............. ESA—EN MMPA—D ............... ESA—EN MMPA—D ............... ESA—NL MMPA—D ............... ESA—EN VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 North Atlantic ........................... Canadian East Coast ............... Nova Scotia .............................. Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Local occurrence and range 4 Season 5 6 19,126 Visitor Extralimital ... Spring. 7 8 11,570 Visitor Extralimital ... NA. 20,741 Visitor Extralimital ... NA. 357 Vagrant Pelagic ....... NA. E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 67717 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices TABLE 1—GENERAL INFORMATION ON MARINE MAMMALS THAT COULD POTENTIALLY OCCUR IN THE PROPOSED SURVEY AREAS WITHIN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA—Continued [November through December, 2015] Stock/ species abundance 3 Regulatory status 1 2 Species Stock name Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus). Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). Dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima). 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). Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis). Striped dolphin (S. coeruleoalba). Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis). Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus). False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens). Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas). Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Hooded seal (Cystophora cristata). Monk seal (Monachus Monachus). Mediterranean .......................... MMPA—D ............... ESA—EN Mediterranean .......................... MMPA—D ............... ESA—EN Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Mediterranean .......................... MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western Mediterranean ........... MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Gulf of Maine/B Bay of Fundy .... MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Western North Atlantic ............. MMPA—NC ............. ESA—NL Mediterranean .......................... MMPA—D ............... ESA—EN Local occurrence and range 4 Season 5 9 5,000 Present Pelagic ....... Summer. 10 2,500 Year-round. 3,785 Regular Pelagic/ Slope. Vagrant Shelf .......... 3,785 Vagrant Shelf .......... NA. 6,532 Year-round. 11 7,092 Regular/Present Slope. Vagrant Slope ......... NA. 11 7,092 Vagrant Extralimital NA. 11 7,092 Vagrant Extralimital NA. Year-Round. 271 Regular/Present Coastal. Visitor Pelagic ......... NA. 12 233,584 Regular Pelagic ....... Year-round. 173,486 Present Coastal/Pelagic. Present Pelagic/ Slope. Visitor Pelagic ......... Spring Summer. NA. Rare or Absent Pelagic. Vagrant Coastal ...... NA. Vagrant Pelagic/ Pack Ice. Present Coastal ...... NA. 77,532 18,250 442 13 240–270 79,883 Unknown 14 341 NA. NA. NA. Year-round. 1 MMPA: D = Depleted, S = Strategic, NC = Not Classified. EN = Endangered, T = Threatened, DL = Delisted, NL = Not listed. where noted abundance information obtained from 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, 2015). 4 For most species, occurrence and range information based on The Status and Distribution of Cetaceans in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea (Reeves and Notarbartolo di Sciara, 2006). Gray whale and hooded seal presence based on sighting reports. 5 NA = Not available. Seasonality is not available due to limited information on that species’ rare or unlikely occurrence in proposed survey area. 6 NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS–SWFSC–532, U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments—2013 (Carretta et al., 2014). 7 Scheinin et. al., 2011. 8 Stevick et al., 2003. 9 Panigada et al. (2012). IUCN—Balaenoptera physalus (Mediterranean subpopulation). 10 Notarbartolo di Sciara, et al. (2012). IUCN—Physeter macrocephalus (Mediterranean subpopulation). 11 Undifferentiated beaked whales abundance estimate for the Atlantic Ocean (Waring et al., 2014). 12 Forcada and Hammond (1998) for the western Mediterranean plus Gomez de Segura et al. (2006) for the central Spanish Mediterranean. ´ 13 Estimate for the western Mediterranean Sea (Reeves and Notarbartolo di Sciara, 2006). 14 Rapid Assessment Survey of the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus population in Anafi island, Cyclades (MOm, 2014) and UNEP. (2013) Draft Regional Strategy for the Conservation of Monk Seals in the Mediterranean (2014–2019) for Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus breeding areas. 2 ESA: mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 3 Except NMFS refers the public to LamontDoherty’s application, NSF’s draft environmental analysis (see ADDRESSES), 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 Stock Assessments (in review, 2015) available online at: http://www.nmfs. noaa.gov/pr/sars/species.htm for further information on the biology and local distribution of these species. PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Potential Effects of the Specified Activities on Marine Mammals NMFS 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 E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 67718 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 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 in the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015), NMFS 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). VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 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 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 22 to 170 seconds). Masking is less likely for mid- to highfrequency 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, the NSF’s environmental analysis for additional information on the behavioral reactions (or lack thereof) by all types of marine mammals to seismic vessels. NMFS has PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 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 for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015). While NMFS anticipates 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, NMFS 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 set forth 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 has reviewed the following source documents and has incorporated a suite of proposed mitigation measures into their project description. (1) Protocols used during previous Lamont-Doherty and Foundationfunded seismic research cruises as approved by us and detailed in the Foundation’s 2011 PEIS and 2015 draft environmental analysis; (2) Previous incidental harassment authorizations applications and authorizations that NMFS has approved and authorized; and (3) Recommended best practices in Richardson et al. (1995), Pierson et al. (1998), and Weir and Dolman, (2007). To reduce the potential for disturbance from acoustic stimuli associated with the activities, LamontDoherty, and/or its designees have proposed to implement the following mitigation measures for marine mammals: E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 67719 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices (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. NMFS reviewed Lamont-Doherty’s proposed mitigation measures and has proposed additional measures to effect the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals. They are: (1) Expanded shutdown procedures for all pinnipeds, including Mediterranean monk seals; (2) Expanded power down procedures for concentrations of six or more whales that do not appear to be traveling (e.g., feeding, socializing, etc.); (3) Delayed conduct of the three tracklines nearest to Anafi Island as late as possible (i.e., late November to early December) during the proposed survey; (4) Expanded exclusion zone of 100 m (328 ft) for the mitigation airgun in shallow water depths for pinnipeds and cetaceans; and (5) Modified transit patterns to conduct acquisition activities from the coast in a seaward direction to the maximum extent practicable. 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 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 × 50 Fujinon), Big-eye binoculars (25 × 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 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 array 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—PREDICTED DISTANCES TO WHICH SOUND LEVELS GREATER THAN OR EQUAL TO 160 RE: 1 μPA COULD BE RECEIVED DURING THE PROPOSED SURVEY AREAS WITHIN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA [November through December, 2015] mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Source and volume (in3) Tow depth (m) Predicted RMS Distances1 (m) Water depth (m) 190 dB Single Bolt airgun (40 in3) ............................ 9 or 12 ...................... 36-Airgun Array (6,600 in3) ........................... 9 ................................ VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:22 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00022 <100 .......................... 100 to 1,000 .............. >1,000 ....................... <100 .......................... 100 to 1,000 .............. >1,000 ....................... Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 100 2 100 100 591 429 286 03NON1 180 dB 100 2 100 100 2,060 1,391 927 160 dB 1,041 647 431 22,580 8,670 5,780 67720 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices TABLE 3—PREDICTED DISTANCES TO WHICH SOUND LEVELS GREATER THAN OR EQUAL TO 160 RE: 1 μPA COULD BE RECEIVED DURING THE PROPOSED SURVEY AREAS WITHIN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA—Continued [November through December, 2015] Tow depth (m) Source and volume (in3) Predicted RMS Distances1 (m) Water depth (m) 190 dB 36-Airgun Array (6,600 in3) ........................... 12 .............................. <100 .......................... 100 to 1,000 .............. >1,000 ....................... 180 dB 710 522 348 2,480 1,674 1,116 160 dB 27,130 10,362 6,908 1 Predicted 2 NMFS distances based on information presented in Lamont-Doherty’s application. required NSF to expand the exclusion zone for the mitigation airgun to 100 m (328 ft) in shallow water. The 180– or 190–dB level shutdown criteria are applicable to cetaceans as specified by NMFS (2000). LamontDoherty used these levels to establish the exclusion zones as presented in their application. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD 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 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-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). 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 • 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, and dwarf sperm whales). NMFS estimates that the Langseth would transit outside the original 180– dB or 190–dB exclusion zone after an 8minute wait period. Lamont-Doherty bases this period 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. On average, 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 this distance before resuming airgun operations at full power. PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 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 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 E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 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 Mediterranean monk seals, the Langseth crew would shut down the airgun(s) immediately in the unlikely event that observers detect any pinniped species within any visible distance of the vessel. The Langseth would only begin ramp-up if observers have not seen the Mediterranean monk seal for 30 minutes. To further reduce impacts to Mediterranean monk seals during the peak of the pupping season (September through November), NMFS is requiring Lamont-Doherty to conduct the three proposed tracklines nearest to Anafi Island as late as possible (i.e., late November to early December) during the proposed survey. Last, the Langseth would avoid exposing concentrations of large whales to sounds greater than 160 dB and would power down the array, if necessary. For purposes of this proposed survey, a concentration or group of whales would 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 the Langseth to the transect line. 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. To the maximum extent practicable, the Langseth would conduct the seismic survey (especially when near land) from the coast (inshore) and proceed towards the sea (offshore) in order to avoid PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 67721 trapping marine mammals in shallow water. 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). 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. E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 67722 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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, 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 (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 proposes to sponsor marine mammal monitoring during the present project to supplement the mitigation measures that require realtime monitoring, and to satisfy the monitoring requirements of the Authorization. Lamont-Doherty understands that NMFS would review the monitoring plan and may require refinements to the plan. LamontDoherty 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 PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 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, 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 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 E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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 help better understand the impacts of the activity on marine mammals and 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 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 NSF within 90 days after the end of the cruise. The report would describe the operations conducted and sightings of marine mammals 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 occurred above the harassment threshold based on the observations. 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 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. Lamont-Doherty must also contact the ARION Cetacean Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, Greece at +030– 6945–531850. The report must include the following information: • Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; • Name and type of vessel involved; PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 67723 • 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. NMFS 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. LamontDoherty must also contact the ARION Cetacean Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, Greece at +030–6945–531850. 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, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 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. Lamont-Doherty must also contact the ARION Cetacean Rescue and E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 67724 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices Rehabilitation Centre, Greece at +030– 6945–531850. Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, section 3(18) 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]. Acoustic stimuli (i.e., increased underwater sound) generated during the operation of the airgun array may have the potential to result in the behavioral disturbance of some marine mammals and may have an even smaller potential to result in permanent threshold shift (non-lethal injury) of some marine mammals. NMFS expects that the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures would minimize the possibility of injurious or lethal takes. However, NMFS cannot discount the possibility (albeit small) that exposure to energy from the proposed survey could result in non-lethal injury (Level A harassment). Thus, NMFS proposes to authorize take by Level B harassment and Level A harassment resulting from the operation of the sound sources for the proposed seismic survey based upon the current acoustic exposure criteria shown in Table 4. TABLE 4—NMFS’ CURRENT ACOUSTIC EXPOSURE CRITERIA Criterion Criterion Definition Threshold Level A Harassment (Injury) .............................. Permanent Threshold Shift (PTS) (Any level above that which is known to cause TTS). Level B Harassment .......................................... Behavioral Disruption (for impulse noises) ...... 180 dB re 1 microPa-m (cetaceans)/190 dB re 1 microPa-m (pinnipeds) root mean square (rms). 160 dB re 1 microPa-m (rms). NMFS’ practice is to apply the 160 dB re: 1 mPa received level threshold for underwater impulse sound levels to predict whether behavioral disturbance that rises to the level of Level B harassment is likely to occur. NMFS’ practice is to apply the 180 dB re: 1 mPa received level threshold for underwater impulse sound levels to predict whether permanent threshold shift (auditory injury), which is considered Level A harassment, is likely to occur. The following sections describe NMFS’ methods to estimate take by incidental harassment. We base these estimates on the number of marine mammals that could be harassed by seismic operations with the airgun array during approximately 2,140 km (1,330 mi) of transect lines in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Modeled Number of Instances of Exposures in Territorial Waters and High Seas: Lamont-Doherty would conduct the proposed seismic survey within the EEZ and territorial waters of Greece. Greece’s territorial seas to extend out to 6 nmi (7 mi; 11 km). The proposed survey would take place partially within Greece’s territorial seas (less than 6 nmi [11 km; 7 mi] from the shore) and partially in the high seas. However, NMFS has no authority to authorize the incidental take of marine mammals in the territorial seas of foreign nations, because the MMPA does not apply in those waters. However, NMFS still needs to calculate the level of incidental take in the entire activity area (territorial seas and high seas) as part of the analysis supporting our preliminary determination under the MMPA that the activity will have a negligible impact on the affected species (Table 5). Therefore, NMFS presents estimates of the anticipated numbers of instances that marine mammals would be exposed to sound levels greater than or equal to 160, 180, and 190 dB re: 1 mPa during the proposed seismic survey, both for within the entire action area (i.e., within Greece’s territorial seas [less than 6 nmi] and outside of Greece’s territorial seas [greater than 6 nmi]— Table 5. Table 6 represents the numbers of instances of take that NMFS proposes to authorize for this survey within the high seas portion of the survey (i.e., the area beyond Greek territorial seas which is outside 6 nmi; 7 mi; 11 km). NMFS’ Take Estimate Method for Species with Density Information: For the proposed Authorization, NMFS reviewed Lamont-Doherty’s take estimates presented in Table 3 of their application and propose a more appropriate methodology to estimate take. Lamont-Doherty’s approach is to multiply the ensonified area by marine mammal densities (if available) to estimate take. This ‘‘snapshot approach’’ (i.e., area times density) proposed by Lamont-Doherty, assumes a uniform distribution of marine mammals present within the proposed survey area and does not account for the survey occurring over a 16-day period and the overlap of areas across days in that 16day period. NMFS has developed an alternate approach that appropriately includes a time component to calculate the take estimates for the proposed survey. In order to estimate the potential number of instances that marine mammals could be exposed to airgun sounds above the 160-dB Level B harassment threshold and the 180–dB Level A harassment thresholds, NMFS used the following approach for species with density estimates: (1) Calculate the total area that the Langseth would ensonify above the 160dB Level B harassment threshold and above the 180-dB Level A harassment threshold for cetaceans within a 24-hour period. This calculation includes a daily ensonified area of approximately 1,211 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Acknowledging Uncertainties in Estimating Take Given the many uncertainties in predicting the quantity and types of impacts of sound on marine mammals, it is common practice to estimate how many animals are likely to be present within a particular distance of a given activity, or exposed to a particular level of sound and use that information to predict how many animals are taken. In practice, depending on the amount of information available to characterize daily and seasonal movement and distribution of affected marine mammals, distinguishing between the numbers of individuals harassed and the instances of harassment can be difficult to parse. Moreover, when one considers the duration of the activity, in the absence of information to predict the degree to which individual animals are likely exposed repeatedly on subsequent days, the simple assumption is that entirely new animals are exposed in every day, which results in a take estimate that in some circumstances overestimates the number of individuals harassed. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices square kilometers (km2) [468 square miles (mi2)] based on the Langseth traveling approximately 200 km [124 mi] in one day). Generally, the Langseth travels approximately 137 km in one day while conducting a seismic survey, thus, NMFS’ estimate of a daily ensonified area based on 200 km is an estimation of the theoretical maximum that the Langseth could travel within 24 hours. (2) Multiply the daily ensonified area above the 160-dB Level B harassment threshold by the species’ density to derive the predicted number of instances of exposures to received levels greater than or equal to 160-dB re: 1 mPa on a given day; (3) Multiply that product (i.e., the expected number of instances of exposures within a day) by the number of survey days that includes a 25 percent contingency (i.e., a total of 20 days) to derive the predicted number of instances of exposures over the duration of the survey; (4) Multiply the daily ensonified area by each species-specific density to derive the predicted number of instances of exposures to received levels greater than or equal to 180-dB re: 1 mPa for cetaceans on a given day; and (i.e., Level A takes). (5) Multiply that product by the number of survey days that includes a 25 percent contingency (i.e., a total of 20 days). Subtract that product from the predicted number of instances of exposures to received levels greater than or equal to 160-dB re: 1 mPa on a given day to derive the number of instances of exposures estimated to occur between 160 and 180-dB threshold (i.e., Level B takes). In many cases, this estimate of instances of exposures 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 20-day period). However, it is difficult to quantify to what degree NMFS has overestimated the number of individuals potentially affected. Except as described later for a few specific species, NMFS uses this number of instances as the estimate of individuals (and authorized take) even though NMFS is aware that the number is high. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 This method is a way to help understand the instances of exposure above the Level B and Level A thresholds, however, NMFS notes that method would overestimate the number of individual marine mammals exposed above the 160- or 180-dB threshold. Take Estimates for Species with No Density Information: Density information for many species of marine mammals in the eastern Mediterranean Sea is data poor or non-existent. When density estimates were not available, NMFS used data based on dedicated survey sighting information from the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) surveys in 2010, 2011, and 2013 (AMAPPS, 2010, 2011, 2013) and Boisseau et al. (2010) to estimate take for certain species with no density information. 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) group size (weighted by effort and rounded up) from the AMMAPS surveys to estimate the take from these potential encounters. Those species include the following: Dwarf sperm and pygmy sperm whale (2 each), Gervais’, Sowerby’s, and Blainville’s beaked whales (3 each). For humpback whale and minke whale, the applicant requested 116 and 1,052 Level B takes for those species, respectively to account for uncertainty in the likelihood of encountering those species during the proposed survey. For these two species which are considered as visitor and vagrant respectively, NMFS believes that it is reasonable to use the average (mean) group size (weighted by effort and rounded up) from the AMMAPS surveys for humpback whale (3) and minke whale (2) and multiply those estimates by 20 days to derive a more reasonable estimate of take. Thus, NMFS proposes a take estimate of 60 humpback whales and 40 minke whales to account for the unlikely possibility of an eruptive occurrence of these species within the proposed action area. NMFS based the take estimates for rough-toothed dolphins (8), false killer whales (3), long-finned pilot whales (33) and harbor porpoise (1) on mean group size reported from encounter rates observed during visual and acoustic surveys in the Mediterranean Sea, 2003– 2007 (Boisseau et al., 2010). PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 67725 For rarely sighted species such as the gray and Sei whale, NMFS used the mean group size reported in (Boisseau et al., 2010) for Sei whales (1) as a proxy for a take estimate for gray whales (1). NMFS based the take estimates for hooded seals (1) on stranding and sighting records for the western Mediterranean Sea (Bellido et al., 2008). Based on the best available information, there are no reports of strandings or sightings of hooded seals east of the Gata Cape, Almeria, Spain. Researchers suggest the Alboran Sea is the present limit of the sporadic incursion of this species in the Mediterranean Sea (Bellido et al., 2008). Take Estimates for Mediterranean Monk Seals: Density information for Mediterranean monk seals in the eastern Mediterranean Sea is also data poor or non-existent. NMFS used data based on sighting information from the Rapid Assessment Survey of the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus population in Anafi Island, Cyclades Greece (MOm, 2014). Based on the spatial extent of the survey (three tracklines are approximately 4 km west of Anafi Island). NMFS estimates that the proposed survey could affect approximately 100 percent (25 out of approximately 25 individuals) of the monk seal subpopulation from Anafi Island (Mom, 2014) location within the proposed survey area. Because adult female Mediterranean monk seals can travel up to 70 km (43 mi) (Adamantopoulou et al., 2011) and based on the spatial extent of the survey in relation to the islands, NMFS conservatively estimates that the proposed survey could affect up to 8 adult females of the monk seal subpopulation from the Kimolos— Polyaigos Island complex in the Cyclades Islands (Politikos et al., 2009) located approximately 60 km (37 mi) northwest of the outer perimeter of the 160-dB ensonified area. NMFS bases the estimate of 8 females on the estimated mean annual pup production count (7.9) for the island complex (UNEP, 2013). To date, data is unavailable from any systematic survey on the presence of monk seal caves on Santorini Island (Pers. Comm. MOm, 2015). However, based on recent stranding information for one pup on Santorini Island, NMFS estimates that up to two individuals could be present on Santorini Island. E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 67726 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices TABLE 5—DENSITIES, GROUP SIZE, AND ESTIMATES OF THE POSSIBLE NUMBER OF INSTANCES OF EXPOSURES OF MARINE MAMMALS EXPOSED TO SOUND LEVELS GREATER THAN OR EQUAL TO 160 DB RE: 1 μPA OVER 20 DAYS DURING THE PROPOSED SEISMIC SURVEY FOR THE ENTIRE ACTION AREA (WITHIN TERRITORIAL WATERS AND THE HIGH SEAS) IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA (NOVEMBER THROUGH DECEMBER, 2015) Species Density estimate1 Modeled number of instances of exposures to sound levels ≥ 160, 180, and 190 dB2 Gray whale .............................................. Humpback whale .................................... Minke whale ............................................ Sei whale ................................................ Fin whale ................................................. Sperm whale ........................................... Dwarf sperm whale ................................. Pygmy sperm whale ............................... Cuvier’s beaked whale ............................ Blainville’s beaked whale ........................ Gervais’ beaked whale ........................... Sowerby’s beaked whale ........................ Bottlenose dolphin .................................. Rough-toothed dolphin ............................ Striped dolphin ........................................ Short-beaked common dolphin ............... Risso’s dolphin ........................................ False killer whale .................................... Long-finned pilot whale ........................... Harbor porpoise ...................................... Hooded seal ............................................ Monk seal ................................................ NA .......................... NA .......................... NA .......................... NA .......................... 0.001686 ................ 0.000527 ................ NA .......................... NA .......................... 0.001568 ................ NA .......................... NA .......................... NA .......................... 0.0439 .................... NA .......................... 0.2210 ..................... 0.0311 ..................... 0.01512 ................... NA .......................... NA .......................... NA .......................... NA .......................... NA .......................... 1, 0, - ...................... 60, 0, - .................... 40, 0, - .................... 1, 0, - ...................... 100, 20, - ................ 40, 0, - .................... 2, 0, - ...................... 2, 0, - ...................... 100, 20, - ................ 27, 0, - .................... 27, 0, - .................... 27, 0, - .................... 2,940, 340, - ........... 8, 0, - ...................... 15,060, 1,700, - ...... 2,060, 240, - ........... 1,020, 120, - ........... 3, 0, - ...................... 33, 0 - ..................... 1, 0, - ...................... 1, -, 0 ...................... 560, -, 0 .................. Total number of instances of exposures3 Percent of regional population4 1 60 40 1 120 40 2 2 120 3 3 3 3,280 8 16,760 2,300 1,140 3 33 1 1 35 0.01 ........................ 0.52 ........................ 0.19 ........................ 0.28 ........................ 2.40 ........................ 1.60 ........................ 0.05 ........................ 0.05 ........................ 1.84 ........................ 0.04 ........................ 0.04 ........................ 0.04 ........................ 4.23 ........................ 2.95 ........................ 7.18 ........................ 11.84 ...................... 6.25 ........................ 0.68 ........................ 13.75 ...................... 0.001 ...................... Unknown ................ 10.26 ...................... Population trend5 Unknown. Increasing. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Decreasing. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. In Review. 1 Densities (where available) are expressed as number of individuals per km2. NA = Not available. 2 See preceding text for information on NMFS’ take estimate calculations. NA = Not applicable. 3 Modeled instances of exposures includes adjustments for species with no density information. 4 Table 2 in this notice lists the stock species abundance estimates used in calculating the percentage of species/stock. trend information from Waring et al., 2014. Population trend information for Mediterranean monk seals from MOm (Pers. Comm., 2015). Unknown = Insufficient data to determine population trend. 6 Panigada et al., 2011. 7 Laran et al., 2010. 8 Density based on density for sperm whales (Laran et al., 2010) and adjusted for proportional difference in sighting rates and mean group sizes between sperm and Cuvier’s beaked whales in the Mediterranean Sea (Boisseau et al., 2010). 9 Fortuna et al., 2011. 10 Panigada et al., 2011. 11 Density based Laran et al. (2010) striped dolphin winter density adjusted for the proportional difference in striped dolphin to common dolphin sightings as indicated by surveys of the Ionian Sea (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al. 1993). 12 Gomez de Segura et al., 2006. Fortuna et al., 2011 reported 0.007 in the Adriatic, but noted that the estimate was not suitable for management purposes. 5 Population TABLE 6—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 20 DAYS DURING THE PROPOSED SEISMIC SURVEY OUTSIDE OF TERRITORIAL WATERS AND THE HIGH SEAS IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA (NOVEMBER THROUGH DECEMBER, 2015) mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Species Density estimate 1 Modeled number of instances of exposures to sound levels ≥ 160, 180, and 190 dB 2 (Outside territorial sea) Gray whale ................................... Humpback whale .......................... Minke whale ................................. Sei whale ...................................... Fin whale ...................................... Sperm whale ................................ Dwarf sperm whale ...................... Pygmy sperm whale ..................... Cuvier’s beaked whale ................. Blainville’s beaked whale ............. Gervais’ beaked whale ................. Sowerby’s beaked whale ............. Bottlenose dolphin ........................ NA .................... NA .................... NA .................... NA ..................... 0.00168 ............ 0.00052 ............ NA .................... NA .................... 0.00156 ............ NA ..................... NA ..................... NA ..................... 0.043 ................ 1, 0, - ................. 60, 0, - ............... 40, 0, - ............... 1, 0, - ................. 40, 0, - ............... 20, 0, - ............... 2, 0, - ................. 2, 0, - ................. 40, 0, - ............... 27, 0, - ............... 27, 0, - ............... 27, 0, - ............... 900, 160, - ......... VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:22 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4703 Authorized level A take 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 160 Sfmt 4703 Authorized level B take 3 1 60 40 1 40 20 2 2 40 3 3 3 900 E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM Percent of regional population 4 0.01 ..................... 0.52 ..................... 0.193 ................... 0.28 ..................... 0.80 ..................... 0.80 ..................... 0.05 ..................... 0.05 ..................... 0.61 ..................... 0.04 ..................... 0.04 ..................... 0.04 ..................... 1.37 ..................... 03NON1 Population trend 5 Unknown. Increasing. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices 67727 TABLE 6—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 20 DAYS DURING THE PROPOSED SEISMIC SURVEY OUTSIDE OF TERRITORIAL WATERS AND THE HIGH SEAS IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA (NOVEMBER THROUGH DECEMBER, 2015)—Continued Species Density estimate 1 Modeled number of instances of exposures to sound levels ≥ 160, 180, and 190 dB 2 (Outside territorial sea) Rough-toothed dolphin ................. Striped dolphin ............................. Short-beaked common dolphin .... Risso’s dolphin ............................. False killer whale .......................... Long-finned pilot whale ................ Harbor porpoise ............................ Hooded seal ................................. Monk seal ..................................... NA .................... 0.22 .................. 0.03 .................. 0.015 ................ NA ..................... NA ..................... NA .................... NA .................... NA .................... 8, 0, - ................. 4,560, 780, - ...... 620, 100, - ......... 320, 60, - ........... 3, 0, - ................. 33, 0, - ............... 1, 0, - ................. 1, -, 0 ................. 560, -, 0 ............. Authorized level A take 3 Authorized level B take 3 0 780 100 60 0 0 0 0 0 8 4,560 620 320 3 33 1 1 35 Percent of regional population 4 2.95 ..................... 2.29 ..................... 3.71 ..................... 2.08 ..................... 0.68 ..................... 13.75 ................... 0.001 ................... Unknown ............. 10.26 ................... Population trend 5 Unknown. Unknown. Decreasing. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown. In Review. 1 Densities (where available) are expressed as number of individuals per km2. NA = Not available. preceding text for information on NMFS’ take estimate calculations. NA = Not applicable. 3 Modeled instances of exposures includes adjustments for species with no density information. The Level A estimates are overestimates of predicted impacts to marine mammals as the estimates do not take into consideration the required mitigation measures for shutdowns or power downs if a marine mammal is likely to enter the 180 dB exclusion zone while the airguns are active. 4 Table 2 in this notice lists the stock species abundance estimates used in calculating the percentage of species/stock or regional population. 5 Population trend information from Waring et al., 2014. Population trend information for Mediterranean monk seals from MOm (Pers. Comm., 2015). Unknown = Insufficient data to determine population trend. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 2 See Lamont-Doherty did not estimate any additional take from sound sources other than airguns. NMFS does not expect the sound levels produced by the echosounder or sub-bottom profiler to exceed the sound levels produced by the airguns. Lamont-Doherty will not operate the multibeam echosounder and sub-bottom profiler during transits to and from the survey area, (i.e., when the airguns are not operating), and, therefore, NMFS does not anticipate additional takes from these sources or acoustic release signals from the ocean bottom seismometers in this particular case. NMFS considers the probability for entanglement of marine mammals as low because of the vessel speed and the monitoring efforts onboard the survey vessel. Therefore, NMFS does not believe it is necessary to authorize additional takes for entanglement at this time. 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. There is no evidence that planned activities could result in serious injury or mortality within the specified geographic area for the requested VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 proposed Authorization. The required mitigation and monitoring measures would minimize any potential risk for serious injury or mortality. 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; PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 • The number, nature, and intensity, and duration of 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 6, given that NMFS expects the anticipated effects of the seismic airguns to be similar in nature. Where there are meaningful differences between species or stocks, or groups of species, in anticipated individual responses to activities, impact of expected take on the population due to differences in population status, or impacts on habitat (e.g. Mediterranean monk seals), NMFS has identified species-specific factors to inform the analysis. Given the required mitigation and related monitoring, NMFS does not anticipate that serious injury or mortality would occur as a result of Lamont-Doherty’s proposed seismic survey in the eastern Mediterranean E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 67728 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices Sea. Thus the Authorization does not authorize any mortality. NMFS’ predicted estimates for Level A harassment take for bottlenose, striped, short-beaked common, and Risso’s dolphins are overestimates of likely injury because NMFS has not quantitatively adjusted the estimate to account for either avoidance or effective mitigation. NMFS expects that the required visual and acoustic mitigation measures would minimize Level A take in those instances. Also, NMFS expects that some individuals would avoid the source at levels expected to result in injury. NMFS expects that Level A harassment is unlikely but includes the modeled information in this notice. Taking into account that interactions at the modeled level of take for Level A harassment are unlikely or minimal due to Lamont-Doherty implementing required mitigation and monitoring measures, the likely avoidance of animals to the sound source, and Lamont-Doherty’s previous history of successfully implementing required mitigation measures, the quantified potential injuries in Table 6, if incurred, would be in the form of some lesser degree of permanent threshold shift and not total deafness or mortality. Given that the Hellenic Republic Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change conducted a larger scale seismic survey in the eastern Mediterranean Sea from mid-November 2012 to end of January 2013, the addition of the increased sound due to the Langseth’s operations associated with the proposed seismic survey during a shorter time-frame (approximately 20 days from midNovember to mid-December) is not outside the present experience of marine mammals in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, although levels may increase locally. NMFS does not expect that Lamont-Doherty’s 20-day proposed survey would have effects that could cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. Of the marine mammal species under our jurisdiction that are known to occur or likely to occur in the study area, five of these species are listed as endangered under the ESA including: The fin, humpback, sei, and sperm whales and the Mediterranean monk seal. Population trends for the Mediterranean monk seal globally are variable with some sub populations decreasing and others remaining stable or even indicating slight increases. The western north Atlantic population of humpback whales is known to be increasing. The other marine mammal species that may be taken by harassment during Lamont- VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 Doherty’s seismic survey program are not listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Cetaceans. Odontocete reactions to seismic energy pulses are usually thought to be limited to shorter distances from the airgun(s) than are those of mysticetes, in part because odontocete low-frequency hearing is assumed to be less sensitive than that of mysticetes. Given sufficient notice through relatively slow ship speed, NMFS expects marine mammals to move away from a noise source that is annoying prior to becoming potentially injurious. Potential impacts to marine mammal habitat were discussed previously in this document (see the ‘‘Anticipated Effects on Habitat’’ and Responses to Comments sections). Although some disturbance is possible to food sources of marine mammals, the impacts are anticipated to be minor enough as to not affect annual rates of recruitment or survival of marine mammals in the area. Based on the size of the eastern Mediterranean Sea where feeding by marine mammals occurs versus the localized area of the marine survey activities, any missed feeding opportunities in the direct project area will be minor based on the fact that other feeding areas exist elsewhere (Costa, 1993; New et al., 2014). Taking into account the planned mitigation measures, effects on cetaceans are generally expected to be restricted to avoidance of a limited area around the survey operation and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ‘‘Level B harassment.’’ Animals are not expected to permanently abandon any area that is surveyed, and any behaviors that are interrupted during the activity are expected to resume once the activity ceases. Only a small portion of marine mammal habitat will be affected at any time, and other areas within the Mediterranean Sea will be available for necessary biological functions. Mediterranean Monk Seal. The Mediterranean monk seal is nonmigratory and has a very limited home range (Gucu et al., 2004; Dendrinos et al., 2007a; Adamantopoulou et al., 2011). It historically occupied open beaches, rocky shorelines, and spacious arching caves, but now almost exclusively uses secluded coastal caves for hauling out and breeding. Available data from Greece indicate that Mediterranean monk seals appear to have fairly restricted ranges (from about 100 to 1,000 km2) (Adamantopoulou et al., 2011). Although primary habitat seems to be nearshore shallow waters, movement over deep oceanic waters PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 does occur (Adamantopoulou et al., 2011; Dendrinos et al., 2007a; Sergeant et al., 1978). Unlike most other seal species, Mediterranean monk seals are known to haul-out in grottos or caves frequently accessible only by underwater entrances, (Bareham and Furreddu, 1975; Bayed et al. 2005; CMS, 2005; Dendrinos et al., 2007b) and movement into and out of these locations is not clearly tied to sea or tide state, day or night, or sea/air temperature in some cases (Bareham and Furreddu, 1975; Dendrinos et al., 2001; Marchessaux and Duguy, 1977; Sergeant et al., 1978). Monk seals are more particular when selecting caves for breeding versus caves ¨ ¨ for resting (Gucu et al., 2004; Karamanlidis et al., 2004; Dendrinos et al. 2007b). In Greece, the pupping season lasts from August to December with a peak in births during September through November (MOm, 2009). Suitable pupping sites tend to have multiple entrances with soft substrate beaches in their interior which lowers the risk of pup washout (Dendrinos et al., 2007). There are several caves suitable for pupping and/or resting occur near the action area (Dendrinos et al., 2008) including caves for resting and reproduction on Anafi Island located within the eastern perimeter of the proposed action area and on the Kimolos-Polyaigos Island complex located approximately 60 km (37 mi) northwest of the outer perimeter of the proposed action area (Mom, 2014). NMFS does not expect that the proposed survey would ensonify the caves with pups because the cave’s long entrance corridors which act as wave breakers (Dendrinos et al., 2007) could also offer additional protection for lactating pups from sound generated during the proposed survey. During parturition, lactating females leave the maternity caves as soon as possible after birth in search of food. Based upon a few tagged individuals, lactating female Mediterranean monk seals generally dive in waters 40–60 m deep and have a maximum known dive depth of 180 m (CMS, 2005). Monk seals may focus on areas shallower (2–25 m deep) while foraging (CMS, 2005). Pups tend to remain in shallow, nearshore waters and gradually distribute further from natal caves into waters up to 40 m deep (CMS, 2005; Gazo, 1997; Gazo et al., 2006). In Greek waters, seals may generally stay even closer to their haulout locations (within a few miles) (Marchessaux and Duguy, 1977). Female Mediterranean monk seals also have the ability to take foraging trips up to 70 km (43 miles) (Adamantopoulou et al., 2011) which NMFS expects would E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices buffer foraging mothers from short-term variations in prey availability within the action area ((Costa, 1993), as cited in New et al., 2014). NMFS has no information to suggest that an animal eliciting a behavioral response (e.g., temporary disruption of feeding) to the proposed seismic survey would be unable to compensate for this temporary disruption in feeding activity by either immediately feeding at another location, by feeding shortly after cessation of acoustic exposure, or by feeding at a later time. NMFS expects that it is unlikely that mothers would remain within the cave because of their need to forage and feed their pups. The closest approach of the Langseth to Anafi Island is approximately four km (2.5 mi) away from the northwest portion of the Island. During foraging, Mediterranean monk seal mothers may not react at all to the sound from the proposed survey or may alert, ignore the stimulus, change their behavior, or avoid the immediate area by swimming away or diving. Behavioral responses can range from a mild orienting response, or a shifting of attention, to flight and panic. Research and observations show that pinnipeds in the water are generally tolerant of anthropogenic noise and activity. They may react in a number of ways depending on their experience with the sound source and what activity they are engaged in at the time of the exposure. Taking into account the required mitigation measures to delay the conduct of survey lines acquired around Anafi Island to avoid the densest part of the pupping season and the required mitigation measure to shut down the airguns any time a pinniped is detected by observers around the vessel, effects on Mediterranean monk seals are generally expected to be restricted to avoidance of a limited area around the survey operation and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ‘‘Level B harassment.’’ NMFS does not expect the animals to permanently abandon their caves, and any behaviors interrupted during the activity are expected to resume once the short-term activity ceases or moves away. 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 mammals are temporary behavioral changes due to avoidance of the area; • 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 high likelihood that trained visual protected species observers would detect marine mammals at close proximity to the vessel. Table 6 in this document outlines the number of requested Level A and Level B harassment takes that we anticipate as a result of these activities. NMFS anticipates that 22 marine mammal species could occur in the proposed action area. 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 20 days but would increase sound levels in the marine environment in a relatively small area surrounding the vessel (compared to the range of most of the marine mammals within the proposed survey area), which is constantly travelling over distances, and some animals may only be exposed to and harassed by sound for less than a day. Required mitigation measures, such as shutdowns for pinnipeds, vessel speed, course alteration, and visual monitoring would be implemented to help reduce impacts to marine mammals. Therefore, the exposure of pinnipeds to sounds produced by this phase of LamontDoherty’s seismic survey is not anticipated to have an adverse effect on annual rates of recruitment or survival on the Mediterranean monk seal population (see New et al., 2014), and PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 67729 therefore would have a negligible impact. 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, 22 species of marine mammals under our jurisdiction. NMFS estimates that Lamont-Doherty’s activities could potentially affect, by Level A harassment, up to four species of marine mammals under our jurisdiction. For each species, the numbers of take being proposed for authorization are small numbers relative to the population sizes: less than 14 percent for long-finned pilot whales, less than 11 percent of the regional population estimates of Mediterranean monk seals, and less than four percent or less for all other species. NMFS has provided the regional population and take estimates for the marine mammal species that may be taken by Level A and Level B harassment in Table 2 and Table 6 in this notice. NMFS finds that the incidental take authorized in Table 6 for the activity would be small relative to the affected species or stocks. In addition, NMFS also considered the seasonal distribution and habitat use patterns of Mediterranean monk seals, which suggest that for much of the time only a small portion of the population will be accessible to impacts from LamontDoherty’s activity. Therefore, NMFS determined that the numbers of animals likely to be taken are small. For two species, when considering take that would occur in the entire action area (including the part within the territorial seas, in which the MMPA does not apply) the number of instances is 11.84 for short-beaked common dolphins and 13.75 percent for shortbeaked common dolphins, respectively (Table 5). While these additional takes were not evaluated under the ‘‘small number’’ standard because we are not authorizing them, these total takes (which are overestimates because NMFS’ take estimate methodology assumes new exposures every day), were still considered in in our negligible impact determination, which considered all of the effects of the E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1 67730 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 212 / Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / Notices action, even those that occur outside of the jurisdiction of the MMPA. 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. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 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. Under section 7 of the ESA, NSF 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) also consulted internally with NMFS on the proposed issuance of an Authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA. In October, 2015, the Endangered Species Act Interagency Cooperation Division issued a Biological Opinion with an Incidental Take Statement 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 fin, humpback, sei, and sperm whales and the Mediterranean monk seal. 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) NSF has prepared an environmental analysis titled ‘‘Environmental Analysis of a Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, November– December, 2015.’’ NMFS has also prepared an environmental assessment (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 Eastern Mediterranean Sea, November—December 2015,’’ which tiers off of NSF’s environmental analysis. NMFS and NSF provided relevant environmental information to the public through the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 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). NMFS concluded that issuance of an Incidental VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 02, 2015 Jkt 238001 Harassment Authorization to LamontDoherty would not significantly affect the quality of the human environment and prepared and issued FONSI in accordance with NEPA and NOAA Administrative Order 216–6. NMFS’ EA and FONSI for this activity are available upon request (see ADDRESSES). Authorization NMFS has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization to LamontDoherty for the take of marine mammals, incidental to conducting a marine seismic survey in the Mediterranean Sea November 19 through December 31, 2015. Dated: October 29, 2015. Perry F. Gayaldo, Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2015–27990 Filed 11–2–15; 8:45 a.m.] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Availability of Seats for National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Councils Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), National Ocean Service (NOS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce (DOC). ACTION: Notice and request for applications. AGENCY: ONMS is seeking applications for vacant seats for five of its 13 national marine sanctuary advisory councils (advisory councils). Vacant seats, including positions (i.e., primary member and alternate), for each of the advisory councils are listed in this notice under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION. Applicants are chosen based upon their particular expertise and experience in relation to the seat for which they are applying; community and professional affiliations; views regarding the protection and management of marine or Great Lake resources; and possibly the length of residence in the area affected by the sanctuary. Applicants who are chosen as members or alternates should expect to serve two- or three year terms, pursuant to the charter of the specific national marine sanctuary advisory council. DATES: Applications are due by November 30, 2015. ADDRESSES: Application kits are specific to each advisory council. As such, application kits must be obtained from SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 and returned to the council-specific addresses noted below. • Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council: Carolyn Gibson, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, 991 Marine Drive, The Presidio, San Francisco, CA 94129; (415) 561–6622 extension 306; email Carolyn.Gibson@noaa.gov; or download application from http://farallones.noaa. gov/manage/sac.html. • Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council: Inouye Regional Center, ATTN: NOS/ONMS/Shannon Lyday, 1845 Wasp Blvd., Building 176, Honolulu, HI 96818; (808) 725–5905; email Shannon.Lyday@noaa.gov; or download application from http://hawaiihump backwhale.noaa.gov/council/council_ app_accepting.html. • Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council: Nichole Rodriguez, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, 99 Pacific St. Building 455A, Monterey, CA; (831) 647–4206; email Nichole.Rodriguez@ noaa.gov; or download application from http://montereybay.noaa.gov/sac/2015/ recruit15v2/151102covlet.html. • National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa Advisory Council: Joseph Paulin, National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center, P.O. Box 4318, Pago Pago, AS 96799 (Utulei, American Samoa); (684) 633–6500; email Joseph.Paulin@noaa.gov; or download application from http://americansamoa. noaa.gov/about/samoa.html. • Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council: Karlyn Langjahr, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, 115 East Railroad Ave., Suite 101, Port Angeles, WA 98362; (360) 457–6622 extension 31; email Karlyn.Langjahr@noaa.gov; or download application from http:// olympiccoast.noaa.gov/involved/sac/ sac_welcome.html. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information on a particular national marine sanctuary advisory council, please contact the individual identified in the Addresses section of this notice. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: ONMS serves as the trustee for 14 marine protected areas encompassing more than 170,000 square miles of ocean and Great Lakes waters from the Hawaiian Islands to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. National marine sanctuaries protect our Nation’s most vital coastal and marine natural and cultural resources, and through active research, management, and public engagement, sustains healthy E:\FR\FM\03NON1.SGM 03NON1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 212 (Tuesday, November 3, 2015)]
[Notices]
[Pages 67708-67730]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-27990]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE125


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Marine Geophysical Survey in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, Mid-
November to December 2015

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

ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization.

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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, in the eastern

[[Page 67709]]

Mediterranean Sea, mid-November through December 2015.

DATES: Effective November 19, 2015, through December 31, 2015.

ADDRESSES: A copy of the final Authorization and application and other 
supporting documents are available by writing to Jolie Harrison, Chief, 
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 a draft Environmental Analysis in accordance with 
Executive Order 12114, ``Environmental Effects Abroad of Major Federal 
Actions'' for their proposed federal action. The environmental analysis 
titled ``Environmental Analysis of a Marine Geophysical Survey by the 
R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, November-
December 2015,'' prepared by LGL, Ltd. environmental research 
associates, on behalf of NSF and Lamont-Doherty is available at the 
same internet address.
    NMFS prepared an Environmental Assessment (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 Eastern Mediterranean Sea, November-
December 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 April 20, 2015, NMFS received an application from Lamont-Doherty 
requesting that NMFS issue an Authorization for the take of marine 
mammals, incidental to the University of Oregon conducting a seismic 
survey in the eastern Mediterranean Sea October through November 2015. 
Following the initial application submission, Lamont-Doherty submitted 
a revised application with new dates for the proposed survey 
(approximately mid-November through December, 2015). NMFS considered 
the revised application adequate and complete on August 25, 2015.
    The proposed survey would take place partially within Greece's 
territorial seas (less than 6 nautical miles (nmi) [11 km; 7 mi] from 
the shore) and partially in the high seas. However, NMFS cannot 
authorize the incidental take of marine mammals in the territorial seas 
of foreign nations, as the MMPA does not apply in those waters. 
However, NMFS estimated the level of incidental take in the entire 
activity area (territorial seas and high seas) as part of the analysis 
supporting the agency's determination under the MMPA that the activity 
would have a negligible impact on the affected species.
    Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct a high-energy, seismic survey on 
the R/V Marcus G. Langseth (Langseth), a vessel owned by NSF and 
operated on its behalf by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty in the 
eastern Mediterranean Sea for approximately 16 days from approximately 
mid-November 2015, through mid-December 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, of 22 species of marine mammals could result from the 
specified activity. Although the unlikely, NMFS also anticipates that a 
small level of take by Level A harassment of four species of marine 
mammals could occur during the proposed survey.

Description of the Specified Activity

Overview

    Lamont-Doherty plans to use one source vessel, the Langseth, an 
array of 36 airguns as the energy source, a receiving system of 93 
ocean bottom seismometers (OBSs) for the northern portion of the 
proposed survey and a single 8-kilometer (km) hydrophone streamer for 
the southern portion of the proposed 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. However, Lamont-Doherty 
will not operate the multibeam echosounder and sub-bottom profiler 
during transits to and from the survey areas (i.e., when the airguns 
are not operating).
    The purpose of the survey is to collect and analyze seismic 
refraction data on and around the island of Santorini (Thira) to 
examine the crustal magma plumbing of the Santorini volcanic system. 
NMFS refers the public to Lamont-Doherty's application for more 
detailed information on the proposed research objectives which are 
purely

[[Page 67710]]

scientific in nature and not related to oil and natural gas 
exploration. The proposed survey's principal investigators are Drs. E. 
Hooft and D. Toomey (University of Oregon). The Santorini portion of 
the study also involves international collaboration with Dr. P. Nomikou 
(University of Athens) who would be onboard the Langseth during the 
entire seismic survey.

Dates and Duration

    Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct the seismic survey for 
approximately 30 days which includes approximately 16 days of seismic 
surveying, 11 days for OBS deployment/retrieval, and 1 day of 
hydrophone streamer deployment. The proposed study (e.g., equipment 
testing, startup, line changes, repeat coverage of any areas, and 
equipment recovery) would include approximately 384 hours of airgun 
operations (i.e., 16 days over 24 hours). Some minor deviation from 
Lamont-Doherty's requested dates of mid-November through December 2015 
is possible, depending on logistics, weather conditions, and the need 
to repeat some lines if data quality is substandard. Thus, the proposed 
Authorization, if issued, would be effective from November 19 through 
December 31, 2015.

Specified Geographic Region

    Lamont-Doherty proposes to conduct one portion of the proposed 
seismic survey in the Aegean Sea, located approximately between 36.1-
36.8[deg] N. and 24.7-26.1[deg] .E in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. 
Water depths in the Aegean Sea survey area are approximately 20 to 500 
meters (m) (66 to 1,640 feet (ft)). Lamont-Doherty would conduct the 
second portion of the proposed seismic survey over the Hellenic 
subduction zone which starts in the Aegean Sea at approximately 
36.4[deg] N., 23.9[deg] E. and runs to the southwest, ending at 
approximately 34.9[deg] N., 22.6[deg] E. Water depths in that area 
range from 1,000 to 3,000 m (3,280 to 9,843 ft). Lamont-Doherty would 
conduct the proposed seismic survey within the Exclusive Economic Zone 
(EEZ) and territorial waters of Greece. Greece's territorial seas 
extend out to six nautical miles (nmi) (7 miles [mi]; 11 kilometers 
[km]).

Detailed Description of the Specified Activities

Transit Activities

    The Langseth would depart from Piraieus, Greece in November 2015 
and spend one day in transit to the proposed survey areas. At the 
conclusion of the survey, the Langseth would arrive at Iraklio, Crete. 
Some minor deviation from these dates is possible, depending on 
logistics and weather.

Vessel Specifications

    NMFS outlined the vessel's specifications in the notice of proposed 
Authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 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 
53623, September 4, 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 53623, September 4, 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 September 4, 2015 
(80 FR 53623). During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS received 
comments from the following: Prof. Efthimios Lekkas, Department of 
Geology and Geo Environment, University of Athens; the Geological 
Society of Greece; the Earthquake Planning and Protection Organization 
(EPPO); Anastasios N. Zorzos, Mayor of the Island of Santorini (Thira); 
the Marcus Langseth Science Oversight Committee (MLSOC); the Marine 
Mammal Commission (Commission); OceanCare; Oceanomare Delphis Onlus 
(ODO); the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Whale and 
Dolphin Conservation (WDC). OceanCare, ODO, NRDC, and WDC referenced 
several journal articles and documents within their comment letters. 
NMFS considered these articles and documents within the final analyses 
but does not intend to address each one specifically in this Response 
to Comments section. NMFS has posted the comments online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm.
    NMFS addresses any comments specific to Lamont-Doherty's 
application related to the statutory and regulatory requirements or 
findings that NMFS must make under the MMPA in order to issue an 
Authorization. Following is a summary of the public comments and NMFS' 
responses.

Compliance With International Guidelines

    Comment 1: NMFS received letters from two Greek organizations, one 
Greek citizen, and the mayor of Santorini requesting that NMFS issue 
the Authorization to Lamont-Doherty. The Geological Society of Greece 
stated that both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic 
Republic and the Greek Committee for Granting Sea Research Licenses 
([Egr][KHgr][Agr][Egr]O) had approved Lamont-Doherty's conduct of the 
survey within Greece's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and surrounding 
international waters. The commenters state that Lamont-Doherty's 
project, approved by the Greek government, would minimize impacts on 
marine life by following all standard monitoring and mitigation 
measures for seismic surveys as listed in the Greek Ministry of Foreign 
Affairs vessel clearance document and any additional requirements 
established by NMFS' Authorization.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges the comments from Prof. Lekkas, the 
Geological Society of Greece, the EPPO, and Mayor Zorzos and thanks 
them for their comments. NMFS confirmed through the U.S. State 
Department that Lamont-Doherty sought approval from the Ministry of 
Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic to conduct the proposed 
seismic survey. Greece's foreign vessel clearance process required 
Lamont-Doherty to submit an environmental analysis which evaluated the 
potential effects of the proposed activity on marine species and 
described the monitoring and mitigation measures for lessening impacts 
on marine mammals. On June 2, 2015, Greece granted permission to 
Lamont-Doherty to conduct the proposed seismic survey in areas of Greek 
jurisdiction provided that Lamont-Doherty complies with the specific 
terms and conditions of the issued vessel clearance including 
``compliance with Greek national legislation (in particular Greek Law 
Nos. 2971/2001 and 3028/2002) and all international regulations, 
including the ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in 
the Black Sea Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous

[[Page 67711]]

Atlantic Area) international guidelines on the protection of marine 
mammals''.
    Lamont-Doherty is not only following mitigation and monitoring 
measures for marine mammals required under international regulations 
but must also implement mitigation measures as required by NMFS' issued 
Authorization in the waters outside the Greek territorial sea per the 
MMPA. NMFS analyzed the proposed seismic survey in accordance with the 
MMPA, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA). Under those statutes, NMFS analyzed the impacts to 
marine mammals (including those listed as threatened or endangered 
under the ESA), their habitat, and to the availability of marine 
mammals for taking for subsistence uses. The MMPA analyses concluded 
that the activities would have a negligible impact on affected marine 
mammal species or stocks and would not have an unmitigable adverse 
impact on the availability of marine mammals for taking for subsistence 
uses (which is not applicable in this case). The ESA analysis concluded 
that the activities likely would not jeopardize the continued existence 
of ESA-listed species or destroy or adversely modify designated 
critical habitat. The NEPA analysis concluded that there would not be a 
significant impact on the human environment. Moreover, NMFS does not 
expect this activity to result in the death of any marine mammal 
species and has not authorized take by serious injury or mortality.
    Comment 2: The MSLOC requested that NMFS issue the Authorization to 
Lamont-Doherty in a timely manner; described Lamont-Doherty's 
monitoring and mitigation measures for marine mammals; and stated that 
those measures were reasonable and consistent with, or more 
conservative than, internationally-accepted standards and guidelines 
implemented by the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Australia, New 
Zealand, Denmark, and Norway.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges the MSLOC's comments and agrees that 
many of the mitigation measures proposed by Lamont-Doherty are 
consistent with many international standards and guidelines. NMFS 
issued this Authorization in accordance with the MMPA and the ESA. 
After careful evaluation of all comments and the data and information 
available regarding potential impacts to marine mammals and their 
habitat and to the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses, 
NMFS has issued the final authorization to Lamont-Doherty to take 
marine mammals incidental to conducting a seismic survey in the eastern 
Mediterranean Sea for the period November 19 through December 31, 2015. 
As required by the MMPA, the Authorization sets 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.
    Comment 3: The NRDC, WDC, OceanCare, and Oceanomare Delphis Onlus 
submitted statements of concern that NMFS' proposed Authorization and 
NSF's draft environmental analysis did not consider the ACCOBAMS 
Resolutions 4.17, Guidelines to Address the Impact of Anthropogenic 
Noise on Cetaceans in the ACCOBAMS Area and 5.15, Addressing the impact 
of Anthropogenic Noise. Specifically, NRDC stated that the proposed 
Authorization and draft environmental analysis did not follow the 
guidelines for extra mitigation for beaked whales in deep water areas.
    Response: See NMFS' response to Comment 1. Under the MMPA, NMFS 
does not have the jurisdiction to require an applicant to comply with 
ACCOBAMS resolutions because the U.S. is not party to that particular 
convention. However, NMFS notes that ACCOBAMS Resolution 4.17 based 
their guidelines for seismic surveys and airgun uses on ``. . . 
guidelines for mitigating the effects of seismic surveys . . . in the 
context of academic seismic surveys conducted under NMFS' permits.''
    NMFS described Lamont-Doherty's proposed mitigation and monitoring 
measures in the notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, 
September 4, 2015) as well as additional mitigation measure required by 
NMFS to effect the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals. 
Despite some minor differences between implementation of NMFS' 
requirements under the MMPA and ESA for seismic surveys and those 
listed under ACCOBAMS Resolution 4.17, the overall guidelines required 
for seismic surveys are nearly identical. For example, Resolution 4.17 
lists 19 guidelines (a-s) for seismic surveys and airgun uses. One 
guideline (r) is not applicable to this action as it covers multiple 
seismic survey operations and NMFS' requirements under the MMPA and ESA 
closely track to the additional 16 guidelines (a, b, c, d, f, g, h, i, 
j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, and s) for marine mammals.
    As stated previously in Comment 1, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
of the Hellenic Republic granted Lamont-Doherty permission to conduct 
the proposed seismic survey in areas of Greek jurisdiction provided 
that they comply with all international regulations, including ACCOBAMS 
Resolution 4.17 (m), Guidelines for Seismic Surveys and Airgun Uses 
which requires vessels to monitor for beaked whales for a duration of 
120 minutes and initiate a ramp up of the airgun array 120 minutes 
after a beaked whale sighting within Greek jurisdictional waters. NSF 
plans to abide by this requirement within Greek territorial seas. NMFS' 
mitigation measure of initiating a ramp-up of the airgun array 30 
minutes after a large odontocete sighting would apply in the high seas. 
NMFS expects that our normal requirement of waiting 30 minutes to 
initiate a ramp-up is sufficient to effect the least practicable 
adverse impact on marine mammals. The Langseth's observers are 
continually monitoring the exclusion zone. On average, 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 this distance before resuming airgun operations at full power. 
Last, as standard practice, the MMPA Authorization and the ESA 
Biological Opinion require Lamont-Doherty to cooperate with the Greek 
authorities in monitoring the impacts of the proposed activity on 
marine mammals.
    Comment 4: NRDC/WDC state that the proposed survey occurs within 
two proposed Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) 
under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and state that the 
proposed Authorization contradicts the CBD's conservation priorities. 
OceanCare and ODO also submitted background information on EBSAs in 
their comments, stated that the Central Aegean Sea and Hellenic Trench 
were critical habitat for Mediterranean monk seals, and indicated that 
the proposed activities were unacceptable.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges the commenters' concerns and refers 
them to NSF's draft environmental analysis (see pages 17-19) which 
presents information on marine protected areas within the proposed 
action area. However, the submitted comments did not provide any 
specific recommendations or criticisms regarding the sufficiency of 
NSF's analysis.
    The CBD aims to address conservation of open-ocean and deep-sea 
ecosystems using the concept of EBSAs (Clark et al., 2014). The Parties 
to the CBD approved

[[Page 67712]]

the adoption of seven criteria: Uniqueness or rarity, special 
importance for life history stages of species; importance for 
threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats; 
vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery; biological 
productivity; biological diversity; and naturalness for identifying 
EBSAs (CBD, 2008). Although EBSAs do not necessarily imply that a 
management response is required (Clark et al., 2014), the CBD intended 
them to provide an initial basis for a network of protected areas (CBD, 
2008) that would undergo review by the United Nations General Assembly 
for future stewardship recommendations (WWF, 2012).
    The U.S. is not a party to the Convention, and NMFS does not have 
the authority to require an applicant for an MMPA Authorization to 
comply with the CBD. Again, NMFS' mitigation measures are sufficient to 
effect the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals in the 
two EBSAs. Further, as a condition of vessel clearance from the Greek 
government, Lamont-Doherty would also comply with Greek legislation, in 
particular Greek Law Nos. 2971/2001 and 3028/2002, which regulate the 
protection of coastal ecosystems.

Modeling Exclusion and Buffer Zones

    Comment 5: The Commission expressed concerns regarding Lamont-
Doherty's method to estimate exclusion and buffer zones using a ray 
trace-based model. They stated that the model is not conservative 
because it assumes spherical spreading, a constant sound speed, and no 
bottom interactions instead of collecting empirical sound source and 
sound propagation measurements and incorporating site-specific 
environmental characteristics (e.g., sound speed profiles, refraction, 
bathymetry/water depth, sediment properties/bottom loss, or absorption 
coefficients) into their model. In light of their concerns, the 
Commission recommended that NMFS require Lamont-Doherty to re-estimate 
the proposed exclusion and buffer zones using site-specific 
environmental and operational parameters.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges 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.
    Lamont-Doherty's application (LGL, 2015) and the NSF's draft 
environmental analyses (NSF, 2015) 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 
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). Based upon the 
best available information (i.e., the three data points, two of which 
are peer-reviewed, discussed in this response), NMFS finds that the 
exclusion and buffer zone calculations are appropriate for use in this 
particular survey.
    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 seismic survey offshore New Jersey in 
2014 (Crone, 2015). NMFS presented a comparison of the predicted radii 
(i.e., modeled exclusion zones) with radii based on in situ 
measurements (i.e., the upper bound [95th percentile] of the cross-line 
prediction) in a previous notice of issued Authorization (see Table 1, 
80 FR 27635, May 14, 2015) for Lamont-Doherty.
    Briefly, Crone's (2015) preliminary analysis, specific to the 
proposed survey site offshore New Jersey, confirmed that in-situ, site 
specific 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 modeled (i.e., predicted) exclusion and 
buffer zones proposed for use in two seismic surveys conducted offshore 
New Jersey in shallow water in 2014 and 2015. In that particular case, 
Crone's (2015) results show that Lamont-Doherty's modeled exclusion 
(180-dB) and buffer (160-dB) zones were approximately 28 and 33 percent 
smaller than the in situ, site-specific measurements confirming that 
Lamont-Doherty's model was conservative, as emphasized by Lamont-
Doherty in its application and in supporting environmental 
documentation. Following is a summary of two additional analyses of in-
situ data that support Lamont-Doherty's use of the modeled exclusion 
and buffer 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 
acquired 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 (greater than 1,000 meters [m]; 
3280.8 feet [ft]) (Diebold et al., 2010).
    In 2012, Lamont-Doherty used a similar process to model 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 the same airgun configuration proposed for 
this seismic survey (i.e., 6,600 cubic inches [in\3\]) and recorded the 
received sound levels on the shelf and slope off Washington State using 
the Langseth's 8-kilometer (km) hydrophone streamer. Crone et al. 
(2014) analyzed those received sound levels from the 2012 survey and 
confirmed that in-situ, site specific measurements and estimates of the 
160- and 180-dB isopleths collected by the Langseth's hydrophone 
streamer in shallow water 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 seismic survey in the 
Mediterranean Sea) 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.
    At present, Lamont-Doherty cannot adjust their modeling methodology 
to add the environmental and site-specific parameters as requested by 
the Commission. NMFS continues to work with Lamont-Doherty and the NSF 
to address the issue of incorporating site-specific information to 
further inform the analysis and development of mitigation measures in 
oceanic and coastal areas for future seismic surveys with Lamont-
Doherty. Also, NMFS will continue to work with Lamont-Doherty, the NSF, 
and the Commission on continuing to verify the accuracy of

[[Page 67713]]

their modeling approach. However, Lamont-Doherty's current modeling 
approach (supported by the three data points discussed previously) 
represents the best available information for NMFS to reach 
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.
    Lamont-Doherty has conveyed to NMFS that additional modeling 
efforts to refine the process and conduct comparative analysis may be 
possible with the availability of research funds and other resources. 
Obtaining research funds is typically through a competitive process, 
including those submitted to U.S. 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, NMFS does not provide specific 
guidance on model parameters nor prescribes a specific model for 
applicants as part of the MMPA incidental take authorization process at 
this time. 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 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 the analysis during the 
MMPA consultation process as NMFS also takes into consideration other 
factors associated with the proposed action, (e.g., geographic 
location, duration of activities, context, intensity, etc.).
    Comment 6: NRDC/WDC commented that Lamont-Doherty should have 
considered local propagation features to predict sound propagation 
characteristics and used that information to estimate the proposed 
exclusion zones. The commenters noted that a recent reviews presented 
information on behavioral disruption of marine mammals occurring below 
the 160-dB Level B threshold (Nowacek et al., 2015; DeRuiter et al., 
2013; and Kastelein et al., 2012) and stated that the exclusion zone 
and take estimates were not accurate and not conservative. NRDC/WDC 
also stated that NMFS should modify the current thresholds and base 
them on the best available science (i.e., centering the behavioral risk 
function at 140 dB (RMS) instead of 160 dB).
    Response: Please see NMFS' response to Comment 4 with respect to 
Lamont-Doherty modeling proposed exclusion zones.
    NMFS considered Nowacek et al.'s (2015) review in making our final 
determinations. Their review presents several recommendations including 
the establishment of a uniform set of international standards to manage 
ocean noise; the recognition of ocean noise as a pollutant; and the 
management of ocean noise through a revision to the existing 
International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. 
NMFS notes that Nowacek et al.'s (2015) review primarily focused on 
simultaneous seismic surveys for oil and gas exploration conducted over 
large spatial and temporal scales and did not particularly focus on the 
conduct of smaller, one-time, academic research seismic surveys such as 
the one proposed by Lamont-Doherty in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. 
Nowacek et al. (2015) also discussed the use of appropriate impact 
thresholds and the need for regulatory agencies to accept a new 
paradigm for assessing acoustic impacts and move beyond the use of 
acute impact thresholds.
    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. These papers and the studies 
discussed in our notice of proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, 
September 4, 2015) emphasize 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 and 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 is potential for responses to occur below 140 dB and NMFS 
considered papers and studies in the notice of proposed authorization 
(80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015) that note that there is variability in 
the behavioral responses of marine mammals to sound exposure. On the 
other hand, 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 [mu]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).
    With respect to the use of current thresholds, 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, NMFS 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.
    NMFS discusses the science on this issue qualitatively in our 
analysis of potential effects to marine mammals (80 FR 53623, September 
4, 2015). Accordingly, it is not a matter of merely replacing the 
existing threshold with a new one. NMFS is currently developing revised 
acoustic guidelines for assessing the effects of anthropogenic sound on 
marine mammals. Until NMFS finalizes these guidelines (a process that 
includes public notice and comment and peer review), NMFS will continue 
to rely on the existing criteria for Level A and Level B harassment 
shown in Table 4 of the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 
53623, September 4, 2015).
    As mentioned in the Federal Register notice for the proposed 
authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 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 single 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 an appropriate way to manage and regulate anthropogenic 
noise impacts on marine mammals until NMFS implements its acoustic 
guidelines.
    With regards to the information presented in DeRuiter et al. (2013) 
for beaked whales and in Kastelein et al.

[[Page 67714]]

(2012) for harbor porpoises. NMFS considered the significance of these 
articles within the environmental assessment for this proposed survey 
(NMFS, 2015) and in previous notices of issued authorizations for 
Lamont-Doherty (79 FR 38496 and 80 FR 27635, May 14, 2015).
    DeRuiter et al. (2013) observed that beaked whales (considered a 
particularly sensitive species) exposed to playbacks (i.e., simulated) 
of U.S. Navy tactical mid-frequency active 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 active sonar operated at much further distances (DeRuiter, et 
al., 2013). As noted earlier, one must consider the importance of 
context (e.g., the distance of a sound source from the animal) in 
predicting behavioral responses.
    With regards to Kasetlein et al. (2012), NMFS recognizes that 
behavioral responses for a harbor porpoise occurs at lower levels than 
for other cetacean species empirically tested (Finneran & Schlundt, 
2010; Finneran et al., 2002; Kastelein & Jennings, 2012, Kastelein et 
al., 2012; Kastelein et al., 2013). However, Kastelein et al., (2014) 
stated that for the harbor porpoise, after small reductions in hearing 
sensitivity (threshold shifts less than 15 dB), recovery was relatively 
quick (within 60 minutes) and in most cases, reduced hearing for such a 
short time period (if it does not occur many times per day) may have 
little effect on the ecology of a harbor porpoise (Kastelein et al., 
2014).
    Limited available data suggest that harbor porpoises show avoidance 
of seismic operations. Based on data collected by observers on seismic 
vessels off the United Kingdom from 1994 to 2010, detection rates of 
harbor porpoises were significantly higher when airguns were silent 
versus when large or small arrays were operating; in addition, 
observers noted that harbor porpoises were farther away from an active 
array versus when it was silent and were most often seen traveling away 
from the airgun array when it was in operation (Stone, 2015). Thompson 
et al. (2013) reported decreased densities and reduced acoustic 
detections of harbor porpoise in response to a seismic survey in Moray 
Firth, Scotland at ranges of 5 to 10 km (165-172 dB (SPL); 145-151 dB 
(SEL). For the same survey, Pirotta et al. (2014) reported that the 
probability of recording harbor porpoise buzzes decreased by 15 percent 
in the ensonified area. Taking this into consideration, NMFS expects 
that harbor porpoises would avoid the area around the proposed survey 
operations effectively reducing the likelihood of auditory injury and 
the potential of Level A harassment to the airgun array (Hermannsen et 
al., 2015; Touggard et al., 2012). Thus, NMFS would expect all of the 
effects to harbor porpoises to result in short-term changes in 
behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ``Level B harassment.''
    NMFS acknowledges that there is more recent information available 
bearing on the relevant exposure levels for assessing temporary and 
permanent hearing impacts. (See Federal Register notice 80 FR 45642, 
July 31, 2015: Draft Guidance for Assessing the Effects of 
Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing-Acoustic Threshold Levels 
for Onset of Permanent and Temporary Threshold Shifts). Again, NOAA 
will be issuing new acoustic guidelines, but that process is not 
complete (i.e., NOAA expects the guidance to be finalized until late 
2015), so NMFS did not use it to assign new thresholds for calculating 
take estimates for hearing impacts. Moreover, the required mitigation 
measures ensure there are no exposures at levels thought to cause 
permanent hearing impairment, and, for several of the marine mammal 
species in the project area, mitigation measures would reduce exposure 
to current Level B harassment thresholds.

Effects Analysis

    Comment 7: NRDC/WDC commented that NSF's draft environmental 
analysis did not adequately evaluate the cumulative actions and effects 
from past and present sources with respect to ACCOBAMS Resolution 4.17 
which ``encourages Parties to address fully the issue of anthropogenic 
noise in the marine environment, including cumulative effects, in the 
light of the best scientific information available and taking into 
consideration the applicable legislation of the Parties, particularly 
as regards the need for thorough environmental impact assessments being 
undertaken before granting approval to proposed noise-producing 
activities.''
    Response: Lamont-Doherty and the NSF submitted an environmental 
analysis (NSF, 2015) on the proposed survey to the Ministry of Foreign 
Affairs of the Hellenic Republic through the U.S. State Department in 
May, 2015. The draft environmental analysis evaluated the potential 
effects of the proposed activity on marine species and included 
information about potential cumulative effects (see Chapter IV, pages 
63 through 67) including past and future academic seismic research, 
vessel traffic, fisheries, military activities, and oil and gas 
activities in the action area. The Hellenic Republic (Greece), a party 
to ACCOBAMS, granted approval to Lamont-Doherty to conduct the proposed 
seismic survey in areas of Greek jurisdiction on June 2, 2015. Again, 
Greece granted this authority to Lamont-Doherty provided that they 
comply with the specific terms and conditions of the issued vessel 
clearance including compliance with Greek national legislation (in 
particular Greek Law Nos. 2971/2001 and 3028/2002) and all 
international regulations, including the ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the 
Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea Mediterranean Sea and 
Contiguous Atlantic Area) international guidelines on the protection of 
marine mammals.
    Comment 8: NRDC/WDC stated that NMFS did not consider the 
cumulative effects of the use of the multibeam echosounder, sub-bottom 
profiler, and the ocean-bottom seismometer acoustic release system and 
did not consider take estimates for these sources. Commenters also 
provided statements on mass stranding events associated or potentially 
linked with use of a multi-beam echosounder during seismic exploration 
activities off the coast of Madagascar in 2008 and in the Gulf of 
California in 2002.
    Response: NMFS disagrees with the commenters' statements. NMFS 
assessed the potential for the operation of the multi-beam echosounder 
and sub-bottom profiler to impact marine mammals in notice for the 
proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015). NMFS assumes 
that during simultaneous operations of the airgun array and the other 
sources, the airguns would be the primary source of acoustic harassment 
given the characteristics of the multi-beam echosounder and sub-bottom 
profiler (e.g., narrow, downward-directed beam) and the proximity of 
marine mammals to those sources. NMFS does not expect the sound levels 
produced by the echosounder and sub-bottom profiler to exceed the sound 
levels produced by the airguns. However, whether or not the airguns are 
operating simultaneously with the other sources, marine mammals are 
expected to exhibit no more than short-term and inconsequential 
responses to the multi-beam echosounder and sub-bottom profiler given 
their characteristics. Therefore, NMFS has not authorized take from the 
multi-beam echosounder and sub-bottom profiler. NMFS' notice for the 
proposed authorization (80 FR

[[Page 67715]]

53623, September 4, 2015) states that the multi-beam echosounder and 
sub-bottom profiler will not operate during transits at the beginning 
and end of the planned seismic survey.
    As for ocean bottom seismometers, NMFS considered the brief (8 
milliseconds) acoustic signals emanating from the devices at the time 
of retrieval to be so brief as to not risk masking other acoustic 
information relevant to marine mammals. Therefore, NMFS has not 
authorized take from the acoustic release signals from ocean bottom 
seismometers.
    NMFS considered the potential for behavioral responses such as the 
Madagascar stranding and indirect injury or mortality from Lamont-
Doherty's use of the multibeam echosounder in the notice for the 
proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015, see Potential 
Effects of Other Acoustic Devices, pages 53636-53637). NMFS does not 
repeat that information here, but notes that the International 
Scientific Review Panel tasked to investigate the stranding stated that 
the risk of using multi-beam echosounders 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; Lurton, 2015, 2016).
    NMFS notes that the multi-beam in use on this seismic survey is not 
operating in the same way as it was in Madagascar. The Authorization 
requires Lamont-Doherty to plan to conduct the seismic surveys 
(especially when near land) from the coast (inshore) and proceed 
towards the sea (offshore) in order to avoid the potential herding 
``herding of sensitive species'' into canyons and other similar areas.
    Regarding the 2002 stranding event in the Gulf of California, the 
multi-beam echosounder system was on a different vessel, the R/V 
Maurice Ewing (Ewing), which is a vessel no longer operated by Lamont-
Doherty. Although NRDC/WDC suggest that the multi-beam echosounder 
system or other acoustic sources on the Ewing may have been associated 
with the 2002 stranding of two beaked whales, as noted in Cox et al. 
(2006), ``whether or not this survey caused the beaked whales to strand 
has been a matter of debate because of the small number of animals 
involved and a lack of knowledge regarding the temporal and spatial 
correlation between the animals and the sound source.'' As noted by 
Yoder (2002), there was no scientific linkage to the event with the 
Ewing's activities and the acoustic sources used.
    Comment 9: OceanCare and ODO state that NMFS did not consider the 
``impacts of reduced prey availability forcing animals to cease feeding 
or harassment forcing the abandonment of pups.''
    Response: 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 for the proposed authorization (80 FR 
53623, September 4, 2015, see Anticipated Impacts on Marine Mammal 
Habitat, pages 53639-53641). The comment does not provide any specific 
recommendations or criticisms regarding the sufficiency of those 
analyses. Moreover, the NSF also addressed the potential effects of 
this action in the draft environmental analysis (NSF, 2015) which NMFS 
incorporates by reference in this notice.
    In addition to the information presented in the notice for the 
proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015), NMFS also 
considered recent studies that assessed foraging energetics (Melcon et 
al., 2012; Goldbogen et al., 2013; New et al., 2013, 2014) in marine 
mammals. The most relevant New et al. (2014) study used a simulation 
model to assess how behavioral disruptions (e.g., significant 
disruption of foraging behavior) and the exclusion of maternal southern 
elephant seals (Mirounga leonine) foraging habitat could affect health, 
offspring survival, individual fitness, and population growth rate. The 
authors suggested their model can determine the population consequences 
of disturbance from short-term changes in individual animals. Their 
model assumed that disturbance affected behavior by reducing the number 
of drift dives in which the animals were feeding and increasing the 
time they spent in transit. For example, they suggested a disturbance 
lasting 50 percent of an average annual foraging trip would reduce pup 
survival by 0.4 percent. If this level of disturbance continued over 30 
years and the population did not adapt, the authors found that the 
population size would decrease by approximately 10 percent.
    The findings of New et al. (2014) are not applicable to the 
temporary behavioral disruptions that could potentially result from a 
proposed 16-day seismic survey versus the study's assessments of 
effects over one year and a persistent disruption of a 30-year period. 
First, the model assumed that individuals would be unable to compensate 
for lost foraging opportunities. Available empirical data does not 
confirm this would be the case. For example, elephant seals are 
unlikely to be affected by short-term variations in prey availability 
because they take long foraging trips, allowing for some margin of 
error in prey availability ((Costa, 1993), as cited in New et al., 
2014). Similarly, female Mediterranean monk seals also have the ability 
to take foraging trips up to 70 km (43 miles) (Adamantopoulou et al., 
2011) which NMFS expects would buffer foraging mothers from short-term 
variations in prey availability within the action area ((Costa, 1993), 
as cited in New et al., 2014). NMFS has no information to suggest that 
an animal eliciting a behavioral response (e.g., temporary disruption 
of feeding) to the proposed seismic survey would be unable to 
compensate for this temporary disruption in feeding activity by either 
immediately feeding at another location, by feeding shortly after 
cessation of acoustic exposure, or by feeding at a later time. 
Additionally, the behavioral disruption marine mammals reasonably 
expected to occur due to Lamont-Doherty's proposed activities would not 
have as long of a duration as the two scenarios considered in the New 
et al., (2014) study.
    Comment 10: The Commission states that NMFS based the number of 
Mediterranean monk seal instances of exposure (shown in Tables 5 and 
Table 6 in the notice of proposed authorization) on the maximum 
estimated number of individual monk seals that could be present within 
the action area rather than accounting for the extent of the ensonified 
area and the number of days of activities--an approach the Commission 
supports for NMFS' negligible impact determination for Mediterranean 
monk seals. OceanCare and ODO also state that the assumptions of 
impacts to Mediterranean monk seals could be higher.
    Response: NMFS agrees with the Commission's comments. Tables 5 and 
6 in this notice will show the theoretical maximum number of exposures 
that could occur over 16 days (13 days in the Aegean Sea plus 25 
percent contingency) which is 560 instances of exposures in the absence 
of mitigation. NMFS bases this estimate on 25 individuals from the 
Anafi, two individuals from the Santorini, and eight individuals from 
the Kimolos-Polyaigos subpopulations.
    NMFS acknowledges uncertainties in estimating take in the notice 
for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 2015). Given 
the many uncertainties in predicting the quantity and types of impacts 
of sound on marine mammals, it is common practice to estimate how many 
animals are likely to be present within a particular

[[Page 67716]]

distance of a given activity, or exposed to a particular level of sound 
and to use that information to predict instances of take of 
individuals. In practice, depending on the amount of information 
available to characterize daily and seasonal movement and distribution 
of affected marine mammals, distinguishing between the numbers of 
individuals harassed and the instances of harassment can be difficult 
to parse. Moreover, when one considers the duration of the activity, in 
the absence of information to predict the degree to which individual 
animals could be re-exposed subsequent days, the simple assumption that 
up to 560 instances of exposure could occur is an overestimate because 
it does not account for a percentage of animals remaining with caves 
during active operations or individuals avoiding the ensonified area 
all together which would lower the estimates of instances of exposure.

Use of Alternate Technologies

    Comment 11: NRDC/WDC state that NMFS should require use of an 
alternative multi-beam echosounder to the one presently proposed and 
associated with a mass stranding of melon-headed whales offshore 
Madagascar in 2008.
    Response: NMFS disagrees with the commenters' recommendation as 
NMFS does not have the authority to require an applicant or action 
proponent to choose a different multi-beam echosounder system for the 
proposed seismic survey. The multi-beam echosounder system currently 
installed on the Langseth is capable of mapping the seafloor in deep 
water and the characteristics of the system are well suited for meeting 
the scientists' research goals. It would not be practicable for Lamont-
Doherty or the NSF to install a different multi-beam echosounder (such 
as the Konegsburg EM 302 or EM 710 MKII suggested by the commenters) 
for the proposed survey. Lamont-Doherty has used the currently-
installed multi-beam echosounder on the Langseth (evaluated in the 2011 
NSF/USGS PEIS and in the 2015 draft environmental analysis) on over 25 
research seismic surveys since 2008 without association to any marine 
mammal strandings.

Monitoring and Reporting

    Comment 12: 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 recommend that NMFS and Lamont-Doherty incorporate an 
accounting 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] into monitoring efforts. In light of the 
Commission previous comments, they recommend 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. They also recommend 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.
    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.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    Table 1 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 proposed activity area.
    Lamont-Doherty presented species information in Table 2 of their 
application but excluded information for certain pinniped and cetacean 
species because they anticipated that these species would have a low 
likelihood of occurring in the survey area. Based on the best available 
information, NMFS expects that there may be a potential for certain 
cetacean and pinniped species to occur within the survey area (i.e., 
potentially be taken) and have included additional information for 
these species in Table 1 of this notice. NMFS will carry forward 
analyses on the species listed in Table 1 later in this document.

      Table 1--General Information on Marine Mammals That Could Potentially Occur in the Proposed Survey Areas Within the Eastern Mediterranean Sea
                                                            [November through December, 2015]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                        Stock/ species    Local occurrence and
               Species                       Stock name         Regulatory  status 1 2   abundance \3\         range \4\                Season \5\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus)..  Eastern North Pacific..  MMPA--NC...............      \6\ 19,126  Visitor Extralimital...  Spring. \7\
                                                               ESA--EN................
Humpback whale (Megaptera             North Atlantic.........  MMPA--D................      \8\ 11,570  Visitor Extralimital...  NA.
 novaeangliae).                                                ESA--EN................
Common minke whale (Balaenoptera      Canadian East Coast....  MMPA--D................          20,741  Visitor Extralimital...  NA.
 acutorostrata).                                               ESA--NL................
Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis)...  Nova Scotia............  MMPA--D................             357  Vagrant Pelagic........  NA.
                                                               ESA--EN................

[[Page 67717]]

 
Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)...  Mediterranean..........  MMPA--D................       \9\ 5,000  Present Pelagic........  Summer.
                                                               ESA--EN................
Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)  Mediterranean..........  MMPA--D................      \10\ 2,500  Regular Pelagic/Slope..  Year-round.
                                                               ESA--EN................
Dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima)......  Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............           3,785  Vagrant Shelf..........  NA.
                                                               ESA--NL................
Pygmy sperm whale (K. breviceps)....  Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............           3,785  Vagrant Shelf..........  NA.
                                                               ESA--NL................
Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius        Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............           6,532  Regular/Present Slope..  Year-round.
 cavirostris).                                                 ESA--NL................
Blainville's beaked whale             Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............      \11\ 7,092  Vagrant Slope..........  NA.
 (Mesoplodon densirostris).                                    ESA--NL................
Gervais' beaked whale (M. europaeus)  Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............      \11\ 7,092  Vagrant Extralimital...  NA.
                                                               ESA--NL................
Sowerby's beaked whale (M. bidens)..  Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............      \11\ 7,092  Vagrant Extralimital...  NA.
                                                               ESA--NL................
Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops          Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............          77,532  Regular/Present Coastal  Year-Round.
 truncatus).                                                   ESA--NL................
Rough-toothed dolphin (Steno          Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............             271  Visitor Pelagic........  NA.
 bredanensis).                                                 ESA--NL................
Striped dolphin (S. coeruleoalba)...  Mediterranean..........  MMPA--NC...............    \12\ 233,584  Regular Pelagic........  Year-round.
                                                               ESA--NL................
Short-beaked common dolphin           Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............         173,486  Present Coastal/Pelagic  Spring Summer.
 (Delphinus delphis).                                          ESA--NL................
Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus)...  Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............          18,250  Present Pelagic/Slope..  NA.
                                                               ESA--NL................
False killer whale (Pseudorca         Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............             442  Visitor Pelagic........  NA.
 crassidens).                                                  ESA--NL................
Long-finned pilot whale               Western Mediterranean..  MMPA--NC...............    \13\ 240-270  Rare or Absent Pelagic.  NA.
 (Globicephala melas).                                         ESA--NL................
Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena).  Gulf of Maine/ Bay of    MMPA--NC...............          79,883  Vagrant Coastal........  NA.
                                       Fundy.                  ESA--NL................
Hooded seal (Cystophora cristata)...  Western North Atlantic.  MMPA--NC...............         Unknown  Vagrant Pelagic/Pack     NA.
                                                               ESA--NL................                   Ice.
Monk seal (Monachus Monachus).......  Mediterranean..........  MMPA--D................        \14\ 341  Present Coastal........  Year-round.
                                                               ESA--EN................
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ MMPA: D = Depleted, S = Strategic, NC = Not Classified.
\2\ ESA: EN = Endangered, T = Threatened, DL = Delisted, NL = Not listed.
\3\ Except where noted abundance information obtained from 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, 2015).
\4\ For most species, occurrence and range information based on The Status and Distribution of Cetaceans in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea (Reeves
  and Notarbartolo di Sciara, 2006). Gray whale and hooded seal presence based on sighting reports.
\5\ NA = Not available. Seasonality is not available due to limited information on that species' rare or unlikely occurrence in proposed survey area.
\6\ NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SWFSC-532, U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessments--2013 (Carretta et al., 2014).
\7\ Scheinin et. al., 2011.
\8\ Stevick et al., 2003.
\9\ Panigada et al. (2012). IUCN--Balaenoptera physalus (Mediterranean subpopulation).
\10\ Notarbartolo di Sciara, et al. (2012). IUCN--Physeter macrocephalus (Mediterranean subpopulation).
\11\ Undifferentiated beaked whales abundance estimate for the Atlantic Ocean (Waring et al., 2014).
\12\ Forcada and Hammond (1998) for the western Mediterranean plus G[oacute]mez de Segura et al. (2006) for the central Spanish Mediterranean.
\13\ Estimate for the western Mediterranean Sea (Reeves and Notarbartolo di Sciara, 2006).
\14\ Rapid Assessment Survey of the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus population in Anafi island, Cyclades (MOm, 2014) and UNEP. (2013) Draft
  Regional Strategy for the Conservation of Monk Seals in the Mediterranean (2014-2019) for Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus breeding areas.

    NMFS refers the public to Lamont-Doherty's application, NSF's draft 
environmental analysis (see ADDRESSES), 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, 
2015) available online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/species.htm 
for further information on the biology and local distribution of these 
species.

Potential Effects of the Specified Activities on Marine Mammals

    NMFS 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

[[Page 67718]]

notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, September 4, 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 in the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 
53623, September 4, 2015), NMFS 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 
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 22 to 170 
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, the NSF's 
environmental analysis for additional information on the behavioral 
reactions (or lack thereof) by all types of marine mammals to seismic 
vessels. NMFS has 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 for the proposed authorization (80 FR 
53623, September 4, 2015). While NMFS anticipates 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, NMFS 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 set forth 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 has reviewed the following source documents and has 
incorporated a suite of proposed mitigation measures into their project 
description.
    (1) Protocols used during previous Lamont-Doherty and Foundation-
funded seismic research cruises as approved by us and detailed in the 
Foundation's 2011 PEIS and 2015 draft environmental analysis;
    (2) Previous incidental harassment authorizations applications and 
authorizations that NMFS has approved and authorized; and
    (3) Recommended best practices in Richardson et al. (1995), Pierson 
et al. (1998), and Weir and Dolman, (2007).
    To reduce the potential for disturbance from acoustic stimuli 
associated with the activities, Lamont-Doherty, and/or its designees 
have proposed to implement the following mitigation measures for marine 
mammals:

[[Page 67719]]

    (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.
    NMFS reviewed Lamont-Doherty's proposed mitigation measures and has 
proposed additional measures to effect the least practicable adverse 
impact on marine mammals. They are:
    (1) Expanded shutdown procedures for all pinnipeds, including 
Mediterranean monk seals;
    (2) Expanded power down procedures for concentrations of six or 
more whales that do not appear to be traveling (e.g., feeding, 
socializing, etc.);
    (3) Delayed conduct of the three tracklines nearest to Anafi Island 
as late as possible (i.e., late November to early December) during the 
proposed survey;
    (4) Expanded exclusion zone of 100 m (328 ft) for the mitigation 
airgun in shallow water depths for pinnipeds and cetaceans; and
    (5) Modified transit patterns to conduct acquisition activities 
from the coast in a seaward direction to the maximum extent 
practicable.

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 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 array 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--Predicted Distances to Which Sound Levels Greater Than or Equal to 160 re: 1 [micro]Pa Could Be
                 Received During the Proposed Survey Areas Within the Eastern Mediterranean Sea
                                        [November through December, 2015]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                          Predicted RMS Distances\1\  (m)
  Source and volume (in\3\)      Tow depth (m)   Water depth (m) -----------------------------------------------
                                                                      190 dB          180 dB          160 dB
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Single Bolt airgun (40 in\3\)  9 or 12.........  <100...........         100 \2\         100 \2\           1,041
                                                 100 to 1,000...             100             100             647
                                                 >1,000.........             100             100             431
36-Airgun Array (6,600 in\3\)  9...............  <100...........             591           2,060          22,580
                                                 100 to 1,000...             429           1,391           8,670
                                                 >1,000.........             286             927           5,780

[[Page 67720]]

 
36-Airgun Array (6,600 in\3\)  12..............  <100...........             710           2,480          27,130
                                                 100 to 1,000...             522           1,674          10,362
                                                 >1,000.........             348           1,116           6,908
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Predicted distances based on information presented in Lamont-Doherty's application.
\2\ NMFS required NSF to expand the exclusion zone for the mitigation airgun to 100 m (328 ft) in shallow water.

    The 180- or 190-dB level shutdown criteria are applicable to 
cetaceans as specified by NMFS (2000). Lamont-Doherty used these levels 
to establish the exclusion zones as presented in their application.

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, and dwarf sperm whales).
    NMFS estimates that the Langseth would transit outside the original 
180-dB or 190-dB exclusion zone after an 8-minute wait period. Lamont-
Doherty bases this period 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. On average, 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 this 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 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

[[Page 67721]]

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 Mediterranean monk 
seals, the Langseth crew would shut down the airgun(s) immediately in 
the unlikely event that observers detect any pinniped species within 
any visible distance of the vessel. The Langseth would only begin ramp-
up if observers have not seen the Mediterranean monk seal for 30 
minutes.
    To further reduce impacts to Mediterranean monk seals during the 
peak of the pupping season (September through November), NMFS is 
requiring Lamont-Doherty to conduct the three proposed tracklines 
nearest to Anafi Island as late as possible (i.e., late November to 
early December) during the proposed survey.
    Last, the Langseth would avoid exposing concentrations of large 
whales to sounds greater than 160 dB and would power down the array, if 
necessary. For purposes of this proposed survey, a concentration or 
group of whales would 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 the Langseth to the transect 
line. 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.
    To the maximum extent practicable, the Langseth would conduct the 
seismic survey (especially when near land) from the coast (inshore) and 
proceed towards the sea (offshore) in order to avoid trapping marine 
mammals in shallow water.

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).
    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.

[[Page 67722]]

    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, 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 proposes to 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 understands that NMFS would review the 
monitoring plan and may require refinements to the plan. 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, 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 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

[[Page 67723]]

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 help better understand the impacts of the activity on marine mammals 
and 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 NSF within 90 
days after the end of the cruise. The report would describe the 
operations conducted and sightings of marine mammals 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 occurred above the 
harassment threshold based on the observations.
    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 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. Lamont-Doherty must also contact the ARION 
Cetacean Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, Greece at +030-6945-531850.
    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. NMFS 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. Lamont-Doherty must also contact the ARION 
Cetacean Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, Greece at +030-6945-531850.
    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, Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, 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. Lamont-
Doherty must also contact the ARION Cetacean Rescue and

[[Page 67724]]

Rehabilitation Centre, Greece at +030-6945-531850.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, 
section 3(18) 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].
    Acoustic stimuli (i.e., increased underwater sound) generated 
during the operation of the airgun array may have the potential to 
result in the behavioral disturbance of some marine mammals and may 
have an even smaller potential to result in permanent threshold shift 
(non-lethal injury) of some marine mammals. NMFS expects that the 
proposed mitigation and monitoring measures would minimize the 
possibility of injurious or lethal takes. However, NMFS cannot discount 
the possibility (albeit small) that exposure to energy from the 
proposed survey could result in non-lethal injury (Level A harassment). 
Thus, NMFS proposes to authorize take by Level B harassment and Level A 
harassment resulting from the operation of the sound sources for the 
proposed seismic survey based upon the current acoustic exposure 
criteria shown in Table 4.

            Table 4--NMFS' Current Acoustic Exposure Criteria
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                       Criterion
            Criterion                 Definition           Threshold
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level A Harassment (Injury).....  Permanent           180 dB re 1
                                   Threshold Shift     microPa-m
                                   (PTS) (Any level    (cetaceans)/190
                                   above that which    dB re 1 microPa-m
                                   is known to cause   (pinnipeds) root
                                   TTS).               mean square
                                                       (rms).
Level B Harassment..............  Behavioral          160 dB re 1
                                   Disruption (for     microPa-m (rms).
                                   impulse noises).
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    NMFS' practice is to apply the 160 dB re: 1 [micro]Pa received 
level threshold for underwater impulse sound levels to predict whether 
behavioral disturbance that rises to the level of Level B harassment is 
likely to occur. NMFS' practice is to apply the 180 dB re: 1 [micro]Pa 
received level threshold for underwater impulse sound levels to predict 
whether permanent threshold shift (auditory injury), which is 
considered Level A harassment, is likely to occur.

Acknowledging Uncertainties in Estimating Take

    Given the many uncertainties in predicting the quantity and types 
of impacts of sound on marine mammals, it is common practice to 
estimate how many animals are likely to be present within a particular 
distance of a given activity, or exposed to a particular level of sound 
and use that information to predict how many animals are taken. In 
practice, depending on the amount of information available to 
characterize daily and seasonal movement and distribution of affected 
marine mammals, distinguishing between the numbers of individuals 
harassed and the instances of harassment can be difficult to parse. 
Moreover, when one considers the duration of the activity, in the 
absence of information to predict the degree to which individual 
animals are likely exposed repeatedly on subsequent days, the simple 
assumption is that entirely new animals are exposed in every day, which 
results in a take estimate that in some circumstances overestimates the 
number of individuals harassed.
    The following sections describe NMFS' methods to estimate take by 
incidental harassment. We base these estimates on the number of marine 
mammals that could be harassed by seismic operations with the airgun 
array during approximately 2,140 km (1,330 mi) of transect lines in the 
eastern Mediterranean Sea.
    Modeled Number of Instances of Exposures in Territorial Waters and 
High Seas: Lamont-Doherty would conduct the proposed seismic survey 
within the EEZ and territorial waters of Greece. Greece's territorial 
seas to extend out to 6 nmi (7 mi; 11 km). The proposed survey would 
take place partially within Greece's territorial seas (less than 6 nmi 
[11 km; 7 mi] from the shore) and partially in the high seas. However, 
NMFS has no authority to authorize the incidental take of marine 
mammals in the territorial seas of foreign nations, because the MMPA 
does not apply in those waters. However, NMFS still needs to calculate 
the level of incidental take in the entire activity area (territorial 
seas and high seas) as part of the analysis supporting our preliminary 
determination under the MMPA that the activity will have a negligible 
impact on the affected species (Table 5). Therefore, NMFS presents 
estimates of the anticipated numbers of instances that marine mammals 
would be exposed to sound levels greater than or equal to 160, 180, and 
190 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa during the proposed seismic survey, both for within 
the entire action area (i.e., within Greece's territorial seas [less 
than 6 nmi] and outside of Greece's territorial seas [greater than 6 
nmi]--Table 5. Table 6 represents the numbers of instances of take that 
NMFS proposes to authorize for this survey within the high seas portion 
of the survey (i.e., the area beyond Greek territorial seas which is 
outside 6 nmi; 7 mi; 11 km).
    NMFS' Take Estimate Method for Species with Density Information: 
For the proposed Authorization, NMFS reviewed Lamont-Doherty's take 
estimates presented in Table 3 of their application and propose a more 
appropriate methodology to estimate take. Lamont-Doherty's approach is 
to multiply the ensonified area by marine mammal densities (if 
available) to estimate take. This ``snapshot approach'' (i.e., area 
times density) proposed by Lamont-Doherty, assumes a uniform 
distribution of marine mammals present within the proposed survey area 
and does not account for the survey occurring over a 16-day period and 
the overlap of areas across days in that 16-day period.
    NMFS has developed an alternate approach that appropriately 
includes a time component to calculate the take estimates for the 
proposed survey. In order to estimate the potential number of instances 
that marine mammals could be exposed to airgun sounds above the 160-dB 
Level B harassment threshold and the 180-dB Level A harassment 
thresholds, NMFS used the following approach for species with density 
estimates:
    (1) Calculate the total area that the Langseth would ensonify above 
the 160-dB Level B harassment threshold and above the 180-dB Level A 
harassment threshold for cetaceans within a 24-hour period. This 
calculation includes a daily ensonified area of approximately 1,211

[[Page 67725]]

square kilometers (km\2\) [468 square miles (mi\2\)] based on the 
Langseth traveling approximately 200 km [124 mi] in one day). 
Generally, the Langseth travels approximately 137 km in one day while 
conducting a seismic survey, thus, NMFS' estimate of a daily ensonified 
area based on 200 km is an estimation of the theoretical maximum that 
the Langseth could travel within 24 hours.
    (2) Multiply the daily ensonified area above the 160-dB Level B 
harassment threshold by the species' density to derive the predicted 
number of instances of exposures to received levels greater than or 
equal to 160-dB re: 1 [mu]Pa on a given day;
    (3) Multiply that product (i.e., the expected number of instances 
of exposures within a day) by the number of survey days that includes a 
25 percent contingency (i.e., a total of 20 days) to derive the 
predicted number of instances of exposures over the duration of the 
survey;
    (4) Multiply the daily ensonified area by each species-specific 
density to derive the predicted number of instances of exposures to 
received levels greater than or equal to 180-dB re: 1 [mu]Pa for 
cetaceans on a given day; and (i.e., Level A takes).
    (5) Multiply that product by the number of survey days that 
includes a 25 percent contingency (i.e., a total of 20 days). Subtract 
that product from the predicted number of instances of exposures to 
received levels greater than or equal to 160-dB re: 1 [mu]Pa on a given 
day to derive the number of instances of exposures estimated to occur 
between 160 and 180-dB threshold (i.e., Level B takes).
    In many cases, this estimate of instances of exposures 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 20-day period). However, it is 
difficult to quantify to what degree NMFS has overestimated the number 
of individuals potentially affected. Except as described later for a 
few specific species, NMFS uses this number of instances as the 
estimate of individuals (and authorized take) even though NMFS is aware 
that the number is high. This method is a way to help understand the 
instances of exposure above the Level B and Level A thresholds, 
however, NMFS notes that method would overestimate the number of 
individual marine mammals exposed above the 160- or 180-dB threshold.
    Take Estimates for Species with No Density Information: Density 
information for many species of marine mammals in the eastern 
Mediterranean Sea is data poor or non-existent. When density estimates 
were not available, NMFS used data based on dedicated survey sighting 
information from the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected 
Species (AMAPPS) surveys in 2010, 2011, and 2013 (AMAPPS, 2010, 2011, 
2013) and Boisseau et al. (2010) to estimate take for certain species 
with no density information. 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) group 
size (weighted by effort and rounded up) from the AMMAPS surveys to 
estimate the take from these potential encounters. Those species 
include the following: Dwarf sperm and pygmy sperm whale (2 each), 
Gervais', Sowerby's, and Blainville's beaked whales (3 each).
    For humpback whale and minke whale, the applicant requested 116 and 
1,052 Level B takes for those species, respectively to account for 
uncertainty in the likelihood of encountering those species during the 
proposed survey. For these two species which are considered as visitor 
and vagrant respectively, NMFS believes that it is reasonable to use 
the average (mean) group size (weighted by effort and rounded up) from 
the AMMAPS surveys for humpback whale (3) and minke whale (2) and 
multiply those estimates by 20 days to derive a more reasonable 
estimate of take. Thus, NMFS proposes a take estimate of 60 humpback 
whales and 40 minke whales to account for the unlikely possibility of 
an eruptive occurrence of these species within the proposed action 
area.
    NMFS based the take estimates for rough-toothed dolphins (8), false 
killer whales (3), long-finned pilot whales (33) and harbor porpoise 
(1) on mean group size reported from encounter rates observed during 
visual and acoustic surveys in the Mediterranean Sea, 2003-2007 
(Boisseau et al., 2010).
    For rarely sighted species such as the gray and Sei whale, NMFS 
used the mean group size reported in (Boisseau et al., 2010) for Sei 
whales (1) as a proxy for a take estimate for gray whales (1).
    NMFS based the take estimates for hooded seals (1) on stranding and 
sighting records for the western Mediterranean Sea (Bellido et al., 
2008). Based on the best available information, there are no reports of 
strandings or sightings of hooded seals east of the Gata Cape, Almeria, 
Spain. Researchers suggest the Alboran Sea is the present limit of the 
sporadic incursion of this species in the Mediterranean Sea (Bellido et 
al., 2008).
    Take Estimates for Mediterranean Monk Seals: Density information 
for Mediterranean monk seals in the eastern Mediterranean Sea is also 
data poor or non-existent. NMFS used data based on sighting information 
from the Rapid Assessment Survey of the Mediterranean monk seal 
Monachus monachus population in Anafi Island, Cyclades Greece (MOm, 
2014). Based on the spatial extent of the survey (three tracklines are 
approximately 4 km west of Anafi Island). NMFS estimates that the 
proposed survey could affect approximately 100 percent (25 out of 
approximately 25 individuals) of the monk seal subpopulation from Anafi 
Island (Mom, 2014) location within the proposed survey area.
    Because adult female Mediterranean monk seals can travel up to 70 
km (43 mi) (Adamantopoulou et al., 2011) and based on the spatial 
extent of the survey in relation to the islands, NMFS conservatively 
estimates that the proposed survey could affect up to 8 adult females 
of the monk seal subpopulation from the Kimolos--Polyaigos Island 
complex in the Cyclades Islands (Politikos et al., 2009) located 
approximately 60 km (37 mi) northwest of the outer perimeter of the 
160-dB ensonified area. NMFS bases the estimate of 8 females on the 
estimated mean annual pup production count (7.9) for the island complex 
(UNEP, 2013).
    To date, data is unavailable from any systematic survey on the 
presence of monk seal caves on Santorini Island (Pers. Comm. MOm, 
2015). However, based on recent stranding information for one pup on 
Santorini Island, NMFS estimates that up to two individuals could be 
present on Santorini Island.

[[Page 67726]]



Table 5--Densities, Group Size, and Estimates of the Possible Number of Instances of Exposures of Marine Mammals
  Exposed to Sound Levels Greater Than or Equal to 160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa Over 20 Days During the Proposed Seismic
Survey for the Entire Action Area (Within Territorial Waters and the High Seas) in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea
                                        (November Through December, 2015)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                Modeled number
                                                of  instances
                                                of  exposures    Total number      Percent of
           Species                Density      to sound levels   of instances       regional        Population
                                estimate\1\      [gteqt] 160,         of         population\4\       trend\5\
                                                180,  and 190    exposures\3\
                                                    dB\2\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gray whale..................  NA.............  1, 0, -........               1  0.01...........  Unknown.
Humpback whale..............  NA.............  60, 0, -.......              60  0.52...........  Increasing.
Minke whale.................  NA.............  40, 0, -.......              40  0.19...........  Unknown.
Sei whale...................  NA.............  1, 0, -........               1  0.28...........  Unknown.
Fin whale...................  0.00168\6\.....  100, 20, -.....             120  2.40...........  Unknown.
Sperm whale.................  0.00052\7\.....  40, 0, -.......              40  1.60...........  Unknown.
Dwarf sperm whale...........  NA.............  2, 0, -........               2  0.05...........  Unknown.
Pygmy sperm whale...........  NA.............  2, 0, -........               2  0.05...........  Unknown.
Cuvier's beaked whale.......  0.00156\8\.....  100, 20, -.....             120  1.84...........  Unknown.
Blainville's beaked whale...  NA.............  27, 0, -.......               3  0.04...........  Unknown.
Gervais' beaked whale.......  NA.............  27, 0, -.......               3  0.04...........  Unknown.
Sowerby's beaked whale......  NA.............  27, 0, -.......               3  0.04...........  Unknown.
Bottlenose dolphin..........  0.043\9\.......  2,940, 340, -..           3,280  4.23...........  Unknown.
Rough-toothed dolphin.......  NA.............  8, 0, -........               8  2.95...........  Unknown.
Striped dolphin.............  0.22\10\.......  15,060, 1,700, -         16,760  7.18...........  Unknown.
                                                .
Short-beaked common dolphin.  0.03\11\.......  2,060, 240, -..           2,300  11.84..........  Decreasing.
Risso's dolphin.............  0.015\12\......  1,020, 120, -..           1,140  6.25...........  Unknown.
False killer whale..........  NA.............  3, 0, -........               3  0.68...........  Unknown.
Long-finned pilot whale.....  NA.............  33, 0 -........              33  13.75..........  Unknown.
Harbor porpoise.............  NA.............  1, 0, -........               1  0.001..........  Unknown.
Hooded seal.................  NA.............  1, -, 0........               1  Unknown........  Unknown.
Monk seal...................  NA.............  560, -, 0......              35  10.26..........  In Review.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Densities (where available) are expressed as number of individuals per km\2\. NA = Not available.
\2\ See preceding text for information on NMFS' take estimate calculations. NA = Not applicable.
\3\ Modeled instances of exposures includes adjustments for species with no density information.
\4\ Table 2 in this notice lists the stock species abundance estimates used in calculating the percentage of
  species/stock.
\5\ Population trend information from Waring et al., 2014. Population trend information for Mediterranean monk
  seals from MOm (Pers. Comm., 2015). Unknown = Insufficient data to determine population trend.
\6\ Panigada et al., 2011.
\7\ Laran et al., 2010.
\8\ Density based on density for sperm whales (Laran et al., 2010) and adjusted for proportional difference in
  sighting rates and mean group sizes between sperm and Cuvier's beaked whales in the Mediterranean Sea
  (Boisseau et al., 2010).
\9\ Fortuna et al., 2011.
\10\ Panigada et al., 2011.
\11\ Density based Laran et al. (2010) striped dolphin winter density adjusted for the proportional difference
  in striped dolphin to
common dolphin sightings as indicated by surveys of the Ionian Sea (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al. 1993).
\12\ Gomez de Segura et al., 2006. Fortuna et al., 2011 reported 0.007 in the Adriatic, but noted that the
  estimate was not suitable for management purposes.


 Table 6--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 20 Days During the Proposed Seismic Survey Outside of Territorial Waters and the High Seas in the Eastern
                                                   Mediterranean Sea (November Through December, 2015)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                           Modeled number of
                                                             instances of
                                                          exposures to sound     Authorized      Authorized
             Species               Density estimate \1\   levels [gteqt] 160,   level A take    level B take    Percent of regional    Population trend
                                                          180, and 190 dB \2\        \3\             \3\          population \ 4\            \5\
                                                         (Outside territorial
                                                                 sea)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gray whale.......................  NA..................  1, 0, -.............               0               1  0.01................  Unknown.
Humpback whale...................  NA..................  60, 0, -............               0              60  0.52................  Increasing.
Minke whale......................  NA..................  40, 0, -............               0              40  0.193...............  Unknown.
Sei whale........................  NA..................  1, 0, -.............               0               1  0.28................  Unknown.
Fin whale........................  0.00168.............  40, 0, -............               0              40  0.80................  Unknown.
Sperm whale......................  0.00052.............  20, 0, -............               0              20  0.80................  Unknown.
Dwarf sperm whale................  NA..................  2, 0, -.............               0               2  0.05................  Unknown.
Pygmy sperm whale................  NA..................  2, 0, -.............               0               2  0.05................  Unknown.
Cuvier's beaked whale............  0.00156.............  40, 0, -............               0              40  0.61................  Unknown.
Blainville's beaked whale........  NA..................  27, 0, -............               0               3  0.04................  Unknown.
Gervais' beaked whale............  NA..................  27, 0, -............               0               3  0.04................  Unknown.
Sowerby's beaked whale...........  NA..................  27, 0, -............               0               3  0.04................  Unknown.
Bottlenose dolphin...............  0.043...............  900, 160, -.........             160             900  1.37................  Unknown.

[[Page 67727]]

 
Rough-toothed dolphin............  NA..................  8, 0, -.............               0               8  2.95................  Unknown.
Striped dolphin..................  0.22................  4,560, 780, -.......             780           4,560  2.29................  Unknown.
Short-beaked common dolphin......  0.03................  620, 100, -.........             100             620  3.71................  Decreasing.
Risso's dolphin..................  0.015...............  320, 60, -..........              60             320  2.08................  Unknown.
False killer whale...............  NA..................  3, 0, -.............               0               3  0.68................  Unknown.
Long-finned pilot whale..........  NA..................  33, 0, -............               0              33  13.75...............  Unknown.
Harbor porpoise..................  NA..................  1, 0, -.............               0               1  0.001...............  Unknown.
Hooded seal......................  NA..................  1, -, 0.............               0               1  Unknown.............  Unknown.
Monk seal........................  NA..................  560, -, 0...........               0              35  10.26...............  In Review.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Densities (where available) are expressed as number of individuals per km\2\. NA = Not available.
\2\ See preceding text for information on NMFS' take estimate calculations. NA = Not applicable.
\3\ Modeled instances of exposures includes adjustments for species with no density information. The Level A estimates are overestimates of predicted
  impacts to marine mammals as the estimates do not take into consideration the required mitigation measures for shutdowns or power downs if a marine
  mammal is likely to enter the 180 dB exclusion zone while the airguns are active.
\4\ Table 2 in this notice lists the stock species abundance estimates used in calculating the percentage of species/stock or regional population.
\5\ Population trend information from Waring et al., 2014. Population trend information for Mediterranean monk seals from MOm (Pers. Comm., 2015).
  Unknown = Insufficient data to determine population trend.

    Lamont-Doherty did not estimate any additional take from sound 
sources other than airguns. NMFS does not expect the sound levels 
produced by the echosounder or sub-bottom profiler to exceed the sound 
levels produced by the airguns. Lamont-Doherty will not operate the 
multibeam echosounder and sub-bottom profiler during transits to and 
from the survey area, (i.e., when the airguns are not operating), and, 
therefore, NMFS does not anticipate additional takes from these sources 
or acoustic release signals from the ocean bottom seismometers in this 
particular case.
    NMFS considers the probability for entanglement of marine mammals 
as low because of the vessel speed and the monitoring efforts onboard 
the survey vessel. Therefore, NMFS does not believe it is necessary to 
authorize additional takes for entanglement at this time.
    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.
    There is no evidence that planned activities could result in 
serious injury or mortality within the specified geographic area for 
the requested proposed Authorization. The required mitigation and 
monitoring measures would minimize any potential risk for serious 
injury or mortality.

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 
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 6, given that NMFS expects the anticipated effects of the 
seismic airguns to be similar in nature. Where there are meaningful 
differences between species or stocks, or groups of species, in 
anticipated individual responses to activities, impact of expected take 
on the population due to differences in population status, or impacts 
on habitat (e.g. Mediterranean monk seals), NMFS has identified 
species-specific factors to inform the analysis.
    Given the required mitigation and related monitoring, NMFS does not 
anticipate that serious injury or mortality would occur as a result of 
Lamont-Doherty's proposed seismic survey in the eastern Mediterranean

[[Page 67728]]

Sea. Thus the Authorization does not authorize any mortality.
    NMFS' predicted estimates for Level A harassment take for 
bottlenose, striped, short-beaked common, and Risso's dolphins are 
overestimates of likely injury because NMFS has not quantitatively 
adjusted the estimate to account for either avoidance or effective 
mitigation. NMFS expects that the required visual and acoustic 
mitigation measures would minimize Level A take in those instances. 
Also, NMFS expects that some individuals would avoid the source at 
levels expected to result in injury. NMFS expects that Level A 
harassment is unlikely but includes the modeled information in this 
notice. Taking into account that interactions at the modeled level of 
take for Level A harassment are unlikely or minimal due to Lamont-
Doherty implementing required mitigation and monitoring measures, the 
likely avoidance of animals to the sound source, and Lamont-Doherty's 
previous history of successfully implementing required mitigation 
measures, the quantified potential injuries in Table 6, if incurred, 
would be in the form of some lesser degree of permanent threshold shift 
and not total deafness or mortality.
    Given that the Hellenic Republic Ministry of Environment, Energy 
and Climate Change conducted a larger scale seismic survey in the 
eastern Mediterranean Sea from mid-November 2012 to end of January 
2013, the addition of the increased sound due to the Langseth's 
operations associated with the proposed seismic survey during a shorter 
time-frame (approximately 20 days from mid-November to mid-December) is 
not outside the present experience of marine mammals in the eastern 
Mediterranean Sea, although levels may increase locally. NMFS does not 
expect that Lamont-Doherty's 20-day proposed survey would have effects 
that could cause significant or long-term consequences for individual 
marine mammals or their populations.
    Of the marine mammal species under our jurisdiction that are known 
to occur or likely to occur in the study area, five of these species 
are listed as endangered under the ESA including: The fin, humpback, 
sei, and sperm whales and the Mediterranean monk seal. Population 
trends for the Mediterranean monk seal globally are variable with some 
sub populations decreasing and others remaining stable or even 
indicating slight increases. The western north Atlantic population of 
humpback whales is known to be increasing. The other marine mammal 
species that may be taken by harassment during Lamont-Doherty's seismic 
survey program are not listed as threatened or endangered under the 
ESA.
    Cetaceans. Odontocete reactions to seismic energy pulses are 
usually thought to be limited to shorter distances from the airgun(s) 
than are those of mysticetes, in part because odontocete low-frequency 
hearing is assumed to be less sensitive than that of mysticetes. Given 
sufficient notice through relatively slow ship speed, NMFS expects 
marine mammals to move away from a noise source that is annoying prior 
to becoming potentially injurious.
    Potential impacts to marine mammal habitat were discussed 
previously in this document (see the ``Anticipated Effects on Habitat'' 
and Responses to Comments sections). Although some disturbance is 
possible to food sources of marine mammals, the impacts are anticipated 
to be minor enough as to not affect annual rates of recruitment or 
survival of marine mammals in the area. Based on the size of the 
eastern Mediterranean Sea where feeding by marine mammals occurs versus 
the localized area of the marine survey activities, any missed feeding 
opportunities in the direct project area will be minor based on the 
fact that other feeding areas exist elsewhere (Costa, 1993; New et al., 
2014). Taking into account the planned mitigation measures, effects on 
cetaceans are generally expected to be restricted to avoidance of a 
limited area around the survey operation and short-term changes in 
behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ``Level B harassment.'' 
Animals are not expected to permanently abandon any area that is 
surveyed, and any behaviors that are interrupted during the activity 
are expected to resume once the activity ceases. Only a small portion 
of marine mammal habitat will be affected at any time, and other areas 
within the Mediterranean Sea will be available for necessary biological 
functions.
    Mediterranean Monk Seal. The Mediterranean monk seal is non-
migratory and has a very limited home range (Gucu et al., 2004; 
Dendrinos et al., 2007a; Adamantopoulou et al., 2011). It historically 
occupied open beaches, rocky shorelines, and spacious arching caves, 
but now almost exclusively uses secluded coastal caves for hauling out 
and breeding. Available data from Greece indicate that Mediterranean 
monk seals appear to have fairly restricted ranges (from about 100 to 
1,000 km\2\) (Adamantopoulou et al., 2011). Although primary habitat 
seems to be nearshore shallow waters, movement over deep oceanic waters 
does occur (Adamantopoulou et al., 2011; Dendrinos et al., 2007a; 
Sergeant et al., 1978). Unlike most other seal species, Mediterranean 
monk seals are known to haul-out in grottos or caves frequently 
accessible only by underwater entrances, (Bareham and Furreddu, 1975; 
Bayed et al. 2005; CMS, 2005; Dendrinos et al., 2007b) and movement 
into and out of these locations is not clearly tied to sea or tide 
state, day or night, or sea/air temperature in some cases (Bareham and 
Furreddu, 1975; Dendrinos et al., 2001; Marchessaux and Duguy, 1977; 
Sergeant et al., 1978).
    Monk seals are more particular when selecting caves for breeding 
versus caves for resting (G[uuml]c[uuml] et al., 2004; Karamanlidis et 
al., 2004; Dendrinos et al. 2007b). In Greece, the pupping season lasts 
from August to December with a peak in births during September through 
November (MOm, 2009). Suitable pupping sites tend to have multiple 
entrances with soft substrate beaches in their interior which lowers 
the risk of pup washout (Dendrinos et al., 2007). There are several 
caves suitable for pupping and/or resting occur near the action area 
(Dendrinos et al., 2008) including caves for resting and reproduction 
on Anafi Island located within the eastern perimeter of the proposed 
action area and on the Kimolos-Polyaigos Island complex located 
approximately 60 km (37 mi) northwest of the outer perimeter of the 
proposed action area (Mom, 2014). NMFS does not expect that the 
proposed survey would ensonify the caves with pups because the cave's 
long entrance corridors which act as wave breakers (Dendrinos et al., 
2007) could also offer additional protection for lactating pups from 
sound generated during the proposed survey.
    During parturition, lactating females leave the maternity caves as 
soon as possible after birth in search of food. Based upon a few tagged 
individuals, lactating female Mediterranean monk seals generally dive 
in waters 40-60 m deep and have a maximum known dive depth of 180 m 
(CMS, 2005). Monk seals may focus on areas shallower (2-25 m deep) 
while foraging (CMS, 2005). Pups tend to remain in shallow, nearshore 
waters and gradually distribute further from natal caves into waters up 
to 40 m deep (CMS, 2005; Gazo, 1997; Gazo et al., 2006). In Greek 
waters, seals may generally stay even closer to their haul-out 
locations (within a few miles) (Marchessaux and Duguy, 1977). Female 
Mediterranean monk seals also have the ability to take foraging trips 
up to 70 km (43 miles) (Adamantopoulou et al., 2011) which NMFS expects 
would

[[Page 67729]]

buffer foraging mothers from short-term variations in prey availability 
within the action area ((Costa, 1993), as cited in New et al., 2014). 
NMFS has no information to suggest that an animal eliciting a 
behavioral response (e.g., temporary disruption of feeding) to the 
proposed seismic survey would be unable to compensate for this 
temporary disruption in feeding activity by either immediately feeding 
at another location, by feeding shortly after cessation of acoustic 
exposure, or by feeding at a later time.
    NMFS expects that it is unlikely that mothers would remain within 
the cave because of their need to forage and feed their pups. The 
closest approach of the Langseth to Anafi Island is approximately four 
km (2.5 mi) away from the northwest portion of the Island. During 
foraging, Mediterranean monk seal mothers may not react at all to the 
sound from the proposed survey or may alert, ignore the stimulus, 
change their behavior, or avoid the immediate area by swimming away or 
diving. Behavioral responses can range from a mild orienting response, 
or a shifting of attention, to flight and panic. Research and 
observations show that pinnipeds in the water are generally tolerant of 
anthropogenic noise and activity. They may react in a number of ways 
depending on their experience with the sound source and what activity 
they are engaged in at the time of the exposure.
    Taking into account the required mitigation measures to delay the 
conduct of survey lines acquired around Anafi Island to avoid the 
densest part of the pupping season and the required mitigation measure 
to shut down the airguns any time a pinniped is detected by observers 
around the vessel, effects on Mediterranean monk seals are generally 
expected to be restricted to avoidance of a limited area around the 
survey operation and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the 
MMPA definition of ``Level B harassment.'' NMFS does not expect the 
animals to permanently abandon their caves, and any behaviors 
interrupted during the activity are expected to resume once the short-
term activity ceases or moves away.
    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, 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 high likelihood that trained visual protected species 
observers would detect marine mammals at close proximity to the vessel.
    Table 6 in this document outlines the number of requested Level A 
and Level B harassment takes that we anticipate as a result of these 
activities. NMFS anticipates that 22 marine mammal species could occur 
in the proposed action area.
    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 20 
days but would increase sound levels in the marine environment in a 
relatively small area surrounding the vessel (compared to the range of 
most of the marine mammals within the proposed survey area), which is 
constantly travelling over distances, and some animals may only be 
exposed to and harassed by sound for less than a day.
    Required mitigation measures, such as shutdowns for pinnipeds, 
vessel speed, course alteration, and visual monitoring would be 
implemented to help reduce impacts to marine mammals. Therefore, the 
exposure of pinnipeds to sounds produced by this phase of Lamont-
Doherty's seismic survey is not anticipated to have an adverse effect 
on annual rates of recruitment or survival on the Mediterranean monk 
seal population (see New et al., 2014), and therefore would have a 
negligible impact.
    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, 22 species 
of marine mammals under our jurisdiction. NMFS estimates that Lamont-
Doherty's activities could potentially affect, by Level A harassment, 
up to four species of marine mammals under our jurisdiction.
    For each species, the numbers of take being proposed for 
authorization are small numbers relative to the population sizes: less 
than 14 percent for long-finned pilot whales, less than 11 percent of 
the regional population estimates of Mediterranean monk seals, and less 
than four percent or less for all other species. NMFS has provided the 
regional population and take estimates for the marine mammal species 
that may be taken by Level A and Level B harassment in Table 2 and 
Table 6 in this notice.
    NMFS finds that the incidental take authorized in Table 6 for the 
activity would be small relative to the affected species or stocks. In 
addition, NMFS also considered the seasonal distribution and habitat 
use patterns of Mediterranean monk seals, which suggest that for much 
of the time only a small portion of the population will be accessible 
to impacts from Lamont-Doherty's activity. Therefore, NMFS determined 
that the numbers of animals likely to be taken are small.
    For two species, when considering take that would occur in the 
entire action area (including the part within the territorial seas, in 
which the MMPA does not apply) the number of instances is 11.84 for 
short-beaked common dolphins and 13.75 percent for short-beaked common 
dolphins, respectively (Table 5). While these additional takes were not 
evaluated under the ``small number'' standard because we are not 
authorizing them, these total takes (which are overestimates because 
NMFS' take estimate methodology assumes new exposures every day), were 
still considered in in our negligible impact determination, which 
considered all of the effects of the

[[Page 67730]]

action, even those that occur outside of the jurisdiction of the MMPA.

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. 
Under section 7 of the ESA, NSF 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) also consulted internally with NMFS on the proposed issuance 
of an Authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA.
    In October, 2015, the Endangered Species Act Interagency 
Cooperation Division issued a Biological Opinion with an Incidental 
Take Statement 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 fin, humpback, sei, and 
sperm whales and the Mediterranean monk seal. 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)

    NSF has prepared an environmental analysis titled ``Environmental 
Analysis of a Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth 
in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, November- December, 2015.'' NMFS has 
also prepared an environmental assessment (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 Eastern Mediterranean Sea, November--
December 2015,'' which tiers off of NSF's environmental analysis. NMFS 
and NSF provided relevant environmental information to the public 
through the notice for the proposed authorization (80 FR 53623, 
September 4, 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). NMFS concluded that issuance of an 
Incidental Harassment Authorization to Lamont-Doherty would not 
significantly affect the quality of the human environment and prepared 
and issued FONSI in accordance with NEPA and NOAA Administrative Order 
216-6. NMFS' EA and FONSI for this activity are available upon request 
(see ADDRESSES).

Authorization

    NMFS has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization to Lamont-
Doherty for the take of marine mammals, incidental to conducting a 
marine seismic survey in the Mediterranean Sea November 19 through 
December 31, 2015.

    Dated: October 29, 2015.
Perry F. Gayaldo,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2015-27990 Filed 11-2-15; 8:45 a.m.]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P