Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Subsea Cable-Laying Operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas, 17666-17682 [2016-07109]

Download as PDF 17666 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices Timely notification of the return of destruction of APO materials or conversion to judicial protective order is hereby requested. Failure to comply with the regulations and terms of an APO is a violation which is subject to sanction. We are publishing these final results and notice in accordance with sections 751(c), 752(c), and 777(i)(1) of the Act. Dated: March 17, 2016. Paul Piquado, Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Compliance. [FR Doc. 2016–07186 Filed 3–29–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XE442 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Subsea CableLaying Operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: NMFS has received an application from Quintillion Subsea Operations, LLC (Quintillion) for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to a subsea cable-laying operation in the state and federal waters of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, Alaska, during the open-water season of 2016. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to Quintillion to incidentally take, by Level B Harassments, marine mammals during the specified activity. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than April 29, 2016. ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email comments is itp.guan@noaa.gov. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25megabyte file size. NMFS is not VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 responsible for comments sent to addresses other than those provided here. Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm without change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. An electronic copy of the application may be obtained by writing to the address specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ pr/permits/incidental.htm. The following associated documents are also available at the same Internet address: Plan of Cooperation. Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address. NMFS is also preparing a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and will consider comments submitted in response to this notice as part of that process. The draft EA will be posted at the foregoing internet site. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shane Guan, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review. An authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible PO 00000 Frm 00004 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 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 October 29, 2015, NMFS received an IHA application and marine mammal mitigation and monitoring plan (4MP) from Quintillion for the taking of marine mammals incidental to conducting subsea cable laying activities in the U.S. Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. After receiving NMFS comments on the initial application, Quintillion made revisions and updated its IHA application and 4MP on February 3, 2016. NMFS determined that the application and the 4MP were adequate and complete on February 5, 2016. Quintillion proposes to install a subsea fiber optic network cable along the northern and western coasts of Alaska in the U.S. Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during the 2016 Arctic open-water season. The proposed activity would occur between June 1 and October 31, 2016. Noise generated from cable vessel’s dynamic positioning thruster could impact marine mammals in the vicinity of the activities. Take, by Level B harassments, of individuals of 8 species of marine mammals is proposed to be authorized from the specified activity. Description of the Specified Activity Overview On October 29, 2015, NMFS received an application from Quintillion requesting an authorization for the harassment of small numbers of marine mammals incidental to subsea cablelaying operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas off Alaska. After addressing comments from NMFS, Quintillion modified its application and submitted revised applications and 4MP on February 3, 2016. Quintillion’s proposed activities discussed here are E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 17667 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices Specified Geographic Region The planned fiber optic cable-laying project will occur in the offshore waters of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas between Nome and Oliktok Point (the latter located 260 km [162 mi] southeast of Barrow). The specific area is provided in Figure 1 of Quintillion’s IHA application. application. The cable network includes the main trunk line and six branch lines. The main trunk line is 1,317 km (818 mi) in length, and will run from the tail of the Nome branch line to the tail of the Oliktok Point branch line (Table 1). The branch lines range between 27 km (17 mi) and 233 km (145 mi) long. The branch lines connect to the main trunk line at the branching unit (BU), which is a piece of hardware that allows the interconnection of the branch cable from the main trunk line to the shore end facility. The cable is also ‘‘repeatered’’ in that approximately every 60 km (37 mi) a repeater is attached to the cable that amplifies the signal. Collectively, the cable, BUs, and repeaters make up the ‘‘submerged plant.’’ Depending on bottom substrate, water depth, and distance from shore, the cable would either lay on the ocean floor or will be buried using a plough or a remote operating vehicle (ROV) equipped for burial jetting. Detailed Description of Activities II. Vessels I. Cable Network The cable-laying operations will be conducted from two ships, the Ile de Brehat and the Ile de Sein, and a large based on its February 3, 2016, IHA application and 4MP. Dates and Duration The proposed subsea cable-laying operation is planned for the 2016 openwater season (June 1 to October 31). All associated activities, including mobilization, pre-lay grapnel run (PLGR), cable-laying, post lay inspection and burial (PLIB), and demobilization of survey and support crews, would occur inclusive of the above seasonal dates. It is expected that the operations may last all season (approximately 150 days). The proposed subsea cable network is shown in Figure 1 of the IHA cable-laying barge. Both ships are 140 m (460 ft) in length, 23 m (77 ft) in breadth, with berths for a crew of 70. The ships are propelled by two 4,000 kW fixed-pitch propellers. Dynamic positioning is maintained by two 1,500 kW bow thrusters, two 1,500 kW aft thrusters, and one 1,500 kW fore thruster. Support vessels include a tug and barge that will remain in the vicinity of the main lay vessel. During cable laying activities occurring in nearshore waters too shallow of the Ile de Brehat, the tug and barge (using a dive team) will lay the final shore ends of the cable. The branch line segment between Oliktok Point and BU Oliktok crosses a hard seafloor that poses a more unique challenge to burying the cable in the ice scour zone. For this segment the CB Networker, a 60-m (197-ft) powered cable-lay barge, will be used because it includes a vertical injector powerful enough to cut a cable trench through the hard sediments found off Oliktok Point. The CB Networker is also large enough to operate offshore and will lay the full 75 km cable length between Oliktok Point and BU Oliktok. TABLE 1—CABLE NETWORK ROUTE LENGTHS FOR EACH SEGMENT Segment (km) Branch lines Main Route Length ................... Oliktok Barrow asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Before cable is laid, a pre-lay grapnel run (PLGR) will be carried out along the proposed cable route where burial is required. The objective of the PLGR operation is the identification and clearance of any seabed debris, for example wires, hawsers, wrecks, or fishing gear, which may have been deposited along the route. Any debris recovered during these operations would be discharged ashore on completion of the operations and disposed of in accordance with local regulations. If any debris cannot be recovered, then a local reroute would be planned to avoid the debris. The PLGR operation would be to industry standards employing towed grapnels; the type of grapnel being determined by the nature of the seabed. The PLGR operation would be conducted by a local tug boat ahead of the cable-laying. IV. Cable-Laying The objective of the surface laying operation is to install the cable as close 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Point Hope 1,317 74 27 31 27 III. Pre-Lay Grapnel Run VerDate Sep<11>2014 Wainwright Total Jkt 238001 233 as possible to the planned route with the correct amount of cable slack to enable the cable to conform to the contours of the seabed without loops or suspensions. A slack plan would be developed that uses direct bathymetric data and a catenary modeling system to control the ship and the cable pay out speeds to ensure the cable is accurately placed in its planned physical position. Where the BAS has determined that cable burial is possible, the cable would be buried using various methods. In water depths greater than about 12 m (about 40 ft), the cable would be buried using an SMD Heavy Duty HD3 Plough. The plough has a submerged weight of 25 tonnes (27.6 tons). The plough is pulled by the tow wire and the cable fed through a cable depressor that pushes it into the trench. Burial depth is controlled by adjusting the front skids. The normal tow speed is approximately 600 m/hr (approximately 0.37 mph). In water depths less than 12 m (40 ft), burial would be by jet burial using a towed sled, tracked ROV, or by diver jet PO 00000 Kotzebue Frm 00005 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Nome 195 1,904 burial, subject to seabed conditions in the area. The ROV would be used in areas accessible to the main lay vessel. The planned ROV, the ROVJET 400 series, is 5.8 m (19.0 ft) long and 3.4 m (11.2 ft) wide and weighs 9.1 tonnes (10 tons) in air, and has both a main and forward jet tool cable of trenching to 2 m (6.6 ft) depth. Nearer to shore, where seasonal ice scouring occurs, the cable with be floated on the surface and then pulled through an existing horizontal directional drilling (HDD) bore pipe to the beach man hole (BMH) where it would be anchor-clamped and spliced to the terrestrial cable. The floated cable portion is then lowered to the seabed by divers and buried (using a post-lay burial method as described above) from the HDD Bore pipe seaward. V. Post Lay Inspection and Burial While it is expected that the cable trench would fill back in by natural current processes, it is important to ensure that cable splices and BUs are E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 17668 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices fully buried, and that there are no unnecessary plough skips at locations where burial is critical. To ensure proper burial, a post lay inspection and burial (PLIB) would be conducted using the ROVJET 400 series mentioned above. It is expected that PLIB would be necessary for no more than about 10 km (6.2 mi) of the cumulative planned burial routes. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity The Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas support a diverse assemblage of marine mammals. Table 2 lists the 12 marine mammal species under NMFS jurisdiction with confirmed or possible occurrence in the proposed project area. TABLE 2—MARINE MAMMAL SPECIES WITH CONFIRMED OR POSSIBLE OCCURRENCE IN THE PROPOSED ACTION AREA Common name Scientific name Status Occurrence Seasonality Range Delphinapterus leucas .................................... Common .................... Mostly Beaufort Sea .. 39,258 Beluga whale (eastern Chukchi Sea stock). .................................... .................................... Common .................... Mostly Chukchi Sea ... 3,710 Beluga whale (eastern Bering Sea stock). Killer whale (Alaska resident stock). Harbor porpoise (Bering Sea stock). .................................... .................................... Common .................... Mostly spring and fall with some in summer. Mostly spring and fall with some in summer. Year round ................. Bering Sea ................. 19,186 Orcinus orca .............. .................................... Occasional/Extralimital California to Alaska .... 2,347 Phocoena phocoena .. .................................... Occasional/Extralimital Mostly summer and early fall. Mostly summer and early fall. California to Alaska .... 48,215 Balaena mysticetus .... Endangered; Depleted Common .................... Russia to Canada ...... 19,534 Eschrichtius robustus .................................... Somewhat common ... Mostly spring and fall with some in summer. Mostly summer .......... 20,990 Balaenoptera physalus. Megaptera novaeangliae. Endangered; Depleted Rare ........................... Mostly summer .......... Mexico to the U.S. Arctic Ocean. N.E. Pacific Ocean .... Endangered; Depleted Rare ........................... Mostly summer .......... North Pacific Ocean ... 10,103 Megaptera novaeangliae. Endangered; Depleted Rare ........................... Mostly summer .......... North Pacific Ocean ... 1,107 Erigathus barbatus ..... Threatened; Depleted Common .................... Spring and summer ... Phoca hispida ............ Threatened; Depleted Common .................... Year round ................. Phoca largha .............. .................................... Common .................... Summer ..................... Histriophoca fasciata .................................... Occasional ................. Summer ..................... Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Japan to U.S. Arctic Ocean. Russia to U.S. Arctic Ocean. Odontocetes: Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea stock). Mysticetes: * Bowhead whale (W. Arctic stock). Gray whale (E. North Pacific stock). * Fin whale (N. East Pacific). * Humpback whale (Central North Pacific stock). * Humpback whale (western North Pacific stock). Pinnipeds: * Bearded seal (Alaska stock). * Ringed seal (Alaska stock). Spotted seal (Alaska stock). Ribbon seal (Alaska stock). Abundance 1,650 155,000 249,000 460,268 49,000 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES * Endangered, threatened, or species of concern under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); Depleted under the MMPA. Among these species, bowhead, humpback, and fin whales, and ringed and bearded are listed as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In addition, walrus and the polar bear could also occur in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas; however, these species are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and are not considered in this Notice of Proposed IHA. Of all these species, bowhead and beluga whales and ringed, bearded, and spotted seals are the species most frequently sighted in the proposed activity area. The proposed action area in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas also includes areas that have been identified as important for bowhead whale reproduction during summer and fall and for beluga whale feeding and reproduction in summer. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 Most bowheads fall migrate through the Alaskan Beaufort in water depths between 15 and 200 m (50 and 656 ft) deep (Miller et al. 2002), with annual variability depending on ice conditions. Hauser et al. (2008) conducted surveys for bowhead whales near the Colville River Delta (near Oliktok Point) during August and September 2008, and found most bowheads between 25 and 30 km (15.5 and 18.6 mi) north of the barrier islands (Jones Islands), with the nearest in 18 m (60 ft) of water about 25 km (16 mi) north of the Colville River Delta. No bowheads were observed inside the 18m (60-ft) isobath. Most of the cable-lay activity planned for the Beaufort Sea will occur in water deeper than 15 m (50 ft) where migrating bowhead whales could most likely be encountered. Three stocks of beluga whale inhabit the waters where cable-lay is planned to occur: Beaufort Sea, Eastern Chukchi PO 00000 Frm 00006 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Sea, and Eastern Bering Sea (O’CorryCrowe et al. 1997). All three stocks winter in the open leads and polynyas of the Bering Sea (Hazard 1988). In spring, the Beaufort Sea stock migrates through coastal leads more than 2,000 km (1,200 mi) to their summering grounds in the Mackenzie River delta where they molt, feed, and calve in the warmer estuarine waters (Braham et al. 1977). In late summer, these belugas move into offshore northern waters to feed (Davis and Evans 1982, Harwood et al. 1996, Richard et al. 2001). In the fall, they begin their migration back to their wintering grounds generally following an offshore route as they pass through the western Beaufort Sea (Richard et al. 2001). The Beaufort Sea stock beluga whales take a more coastal route during their fall migration, but compared to the vanguard of population and the survey E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices effort expended, nearshore travel appears to be relatively rare. Most belugas recorded during aerial surveys conducted in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in the last two decades were found more than 65 km (40 mi) from shore (Miller et al. 1999, Funk et al. 2008, Christie et al. 2010, Clarke and Ferguson 2010, Brandon et al. 2011). For the most part, beluga whales from this stock are expected to occur well north of the proposed cable route through the Beaufort Sea at the time of cable-lay activity. The Eastern Chukchi Sea beluga whale stock summers in Kotzebue Sound and Kasegaluk Lagoon where they breed and molt, and then in late summer and fall they also move in the Beaufort Sea (Suydam et al. 2005). Suydam et al. (2005) satellite-tagged 23 beluga whales in Kasegaluk Lagoon and found nearly all the whales move into the deeper waters of the Beaufort Sea post-tagging. However, virtually none of the whales were found in continental shelf waters (<200 m deep) of the Beaufort Sea, and all were in waters at least 65 km (40 mi) north of the northern Alaska coastline. The most recent stock estimate is 3,710 animals (Allen and Angliss 2015). The planned cable-lay activity is most likely to encounter this stock whale laying the Kotzebue and Wainwright branch lines, but the routes do avoid the Kasegaluk Lagoon breeding and molting area. There is little information on movements of the East Bering stock of beluga whales, although two whales were satellite tagged in 2012 near Nome wintered in Bristol Bay (Allen and Angliss 2015). These whales might be encountered while laying the Nome branch line. In addition, a few gray whales are expected to be encountered along the main trunk line route through the north Bering and Chukchi seas. However, they are expected to be commonly observed along the nearshore segments of the branch lines, especially the Wainwright branch where they are commonly found in large feeding groups. Three of the ice seal species—ringed, bearded, and spotted seals—are fairly common in the proposed subsea cable laying areas. However, there are no pinnipeds haulouts in the vicinity of the action area. Further information on the biology and local distribution of these species can be found in Quintillion’s application (see ADDRESSES) and the NMFS Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports, which are available online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ sars/species.htm. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that the types of stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., operation of dynamic positioning thrusters) have been observed to or are thought to impact marine mammals. This section may include a discussion of known effects that do not rise to the level of an MMPA take (for example, with acoustics, we may include a discussion of studies that showed animals not reacting at all to sound or exhibiting barely measurable avoidance). The discussion may also include reactions that we consider to rise to the level of a take and those that we do not consider to rise to the level of a take. This section is intended as a background of potential effects and does not consider either the specific manner in which this activity will be carried out or the mitigation that will be implemented or how either of those will shape the anticipated impacts from this specific activity. The ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment’’ section later in this document will include a quantitative analysis of the number of individuals that are expected to be taken by this activity. The ‘‘Negligible Impact Analysis’’ section will include the analysis of how this specific activity will impact marine mammals and will consider the content of this section, the ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment’’ section, the ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’ section, and the ‘‘Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat’’ section to draw conclusions regarding the likely impacts of this activity on the reproductive success or survivorship of individuals and from that on the affected marine mammal populations or stocks. When considering the influence of various kinds of sound on the marine environment, it is necessary to understand that different kinds of marine life are sensitive to different frequencies of sound. Based on available behavioral data, audiograms have been derived using auditory evoked potentials, anatomical modeling, and other data. Southall et al. (2007) designate ‘‘functional hearing groups’’ for marine mammals and estimate the lower and upper frequencies of functional hearing of the groups. The functional groups and the associated frequencies are indicated below (though animals are less sensitive to sounds at the outer edge of their functional range and most sensitive to sounds of frequencies within a smaller range somewhere in the middle of their functional hearing range): PO 00000 Frm 00007 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 17669 • Low frequency cetaceans (13 species of mysticetes): Functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 7 Hz and 25 kHz; • Mid-frequency cetaceans (32 species of dolphins, six species of larger toothed whales, and 19 species of beaked and bottlenose whales): Functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 150 Hz and 160 kHz; • High frequency cetaceans (eight species of true porpoises, six species of river dolphins, Kogia, the franciscana, and four species of cephalorhynchids): Functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 200 Hz and 180 kHz; • Phocid pinnipeds (true seals): Functional hearing is estimated between 75 Hz to 100 kHz; and • Otariid pinnipeds (sea lions and fur seals): Functional hearing is estimated between 100 Hz to 48 kHz. Species found in the vicinity of Quintillion subsea cable-laying operation area include four lowfrequency cetacean species (Bowhead whale, gray whale, humpback whale, and fin whale), two mid-frequency cetacean species (beluga whale and killer whale), one high-frequency cetacean species (harbor porpoise), and four pinniped species (ringed seal, spotted seal, bearded seal, and ribbon seal). The proposed Quintillion subsea cable-laying operation could adversely affect marine mammal species and stocks by exposing them to elevated noise levels in the vicinity of the activity area. Exposure to high intensity sound for a sufficient duration may result in auditory effects such as a noise-induced threshold shift—an increase in the auditory threshold after exposure to noise (Finneran et al., 2005). Factors that influence the amount of threshold shift include the amplitude, duration, frequency content, temporal pattern, and energy distribution of noise exposure. The magnitude of hearing threshold shift normally decreases over time following cessation of the noise exposure. The amount of threshold shift just after exposure is the initial threshold shift. If the threshold shift eventually returns to zero (i.e., the threshold returns to the pre-exposure value), it is a temporary threshold shift (Southall et al., 2007). Threshold Shift (noise-induced loss of hearing)—When animals exhibit reduced hearing sensitivity (i.e., sounds must be louder for an animal to detect them) following exposure to an intense sound or sound for long duration, it is referred to as a noise-induced threshold E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 17670 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices shift (TS). An animal can experience temporary threshold shift (TTS) or permanent threshold shift (PTS). TTS can last from minutes or hours to days (i.e., there is complete recovery), can occur in specific frequency ranges (i.e., an animal might only have a temporary loss of hearing sensitivity between the frequencies of 1 and 10 kHz), and can be of varying amounts (for example, an animal’s hearing sensitivity might be reduced initially by only 6 dB or reduced by 30 dB). PTS is permanent, but some recovery is possible. PTS can also occur in a specific frequency range and amount as mentioned above for TTS. The following physiological mechanisms are thought to play a role in inducing auditory TS: Effects to sensory hair cells in the inner ear that reduce their sensitivity, modification of the chemical environment within the sensory cells, residual muscular activity in the middle ear, displacement of certain inner ear membranes, increased blood flow, and post-stimulatory reduction in both efferent and sensory neural output (Southall et al., 2007). The amplitude, duration, frequency, temporal pattern, and energy distribution of sound exposure all can affect the amount of associated TS and the frequency range in which it occurs. As amplitude and duration of sound exposure increase, so, generally, does the amount of TS, along with the recovery time. For intermittent sounds, less TS could occur than compared to a continuous exposure with the same energy (some recovery could occur between intermittent exposures depending on the duty cycle between sounds) (Kryter et al., 1966; Ward, 1997). For example, one short but loud (higher SPL) sound exposure may induce the same impairment as one longer but softer sound, which in turn may cause more impairment than a series of several intermittent softer sounds with the same total energy (Ward, 1997). Additionally, though TTS is temporary, prolonged exposure to sounds strong enough to elicit TTS, or shorter-term exposure to sound levels well above the TTS threshold, can cause PTS, at least in terrestrial mammals (Kryter, 1985). Although in the case of Quintillion’s subsea cable laying operation, NMFS does not expect that animals would experience levels high enough or durations long enough to result in TS given that the noise levels from the operation are very low. For marine mammals, published data are limited to the captive bottlenose dolphin, beluga, harbor porpoise, and Yangtze finless porpoise (Finneran et al., 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010a, VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 2010b; Finneran and Schlundt, 2010; Lucke et al., 2009; Mooney et al., 2009a, 2009b; Popov et al., 2011a, 2011b; Kastelein et al., 2012a; Schlundt et al., 2000; Nachtigall et al., 2003, 2004). For pinnipeds in water, data are limited to measurements of TTS in harbor seals, an elephant seal, and California sea lions (Kastak et al., 1999, 2005; Kastelein et al., 2012b). Lucke et al. (2009) found a threshold shift (TS) of a harbor porpoise after exposing it to airgun noise with a received sound pressure level (SPL) at 200.2 dB (peak-to-peak) re: 1 mPa, which corresponds to a sound exposure level of 164.5 dB re: 1 mPa2 s after integrating exposure. NMFS currently uses the rootmean-square (rms) of received SPL at 180 dB and 190 dB re: 1 mPa as the threshold above which permanent threshold shift (PTS) could occur for cetaceans and pinnipeds, respectively. Because the airgun noise is a broadband impulse, one cannot directly determine the equivalent of rms SPL from the reported peak-to-peak SPLs. However, applying a conservative conversion factor of 16 dB for broadband signals from seismic surveys (McCauley, et al., 2000) to correct for the difference between peak-to-peak levels reported in Lucke et al. (2009) and rms SPLs, the rms SPL for TTS would be approximately 184 dB re: 1 mPa, and the received levels associated with PTS (Level A harassment) would be higher. This is still above NMFS’ current 180 dB rms re: 1 mPa threshold for injury. However, NMFS recognizes that TTS of harbor porpoises is lower than other cetacean species empirically tested (Finneran & Schlundt, 2010; Finneran et al., 2002; Kastelein and Jennings, 2012). Marine mammal hearing plays a critical role in communication with conspecifics, and interpretation of environmental cues for purposes such as predator avoidance and prey capture. Depending on the degree (elevation of threshold in dB), duration (i.e., recovery time), and frequency range of TTS, and the context in which it is experienced, TTS can have effects on marine mammals ranging from discountable to serious (similar to those discussed in auditory masking, below). For example, a marine mammal may be able to readily compensate for a brief, relatively small amount of TTS in a non-critical frequency range that occurs during a time where ambient noise is lower and there are not as many competing sounds present. Alternatively, a larger amount and longer duration of TTS sustained during time when communication is critical for successful mother/calf interactions could have more serious impacts. Also, depending on the degree PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 and frequency range, the effects of PTS on an animal could range in severity, although it is considered generally more serious because it is a permanent condition. Of note, reduced hearing sensitivity as a simple function of aging has been observed in marine mammals, as well as humans and other taxa (Southall et al., 2007), so one can infer that strategies exist for coping with this condition to some degree, though likely not without cost. In addition, chronic exposure to excessive, though not high-intensity, noise could cause masking at particular frequencies for marine mammals that utilize sound for vital biological functions (Clark et al. 2009). Acoustic masking is when other noises such as from human sources interfere with animal detection of acoustic signals such as communication calls, echolocation sounds, and environmental sounds important to marine mammals. Therefore, under certain circumstances, marine mammals whose acoustical sensors or environment are being severely masked could also be impaired from maximizing their performance fitness in survival and reproduction. Masking occurs at the frequency band which the animals utilize. Therefore, since noise generated from vessels dynamic positioning activity is mostly concentrated at low frequency ranges, it may have less effect on high frequency echolocation sounds by odontocetes (toothed whales). However, lower frequency man-made noises are more likely to affect detection of communication calls and other potentially important natural sounds such as surf and prey noise. It may also affect communication signals when they occur near the noise band and thus reduce the communication space of animals (e.g., Clark et al. 2009) and cause increased stress levels (e.g., Foote et al. 2004; Holt et al. 2009). Unlike TS, masking, which can occur over large temporal and spatial scales, can potentially affect the species at population, community, or even ecosystem levels, as well as individual levels. Masking affects both senders and receivers of the signals and could have long-term chronic effects on marine mammal species and populations. Recent science suggests that low frequency ambient sound levels have increased by as much as 20 dB (more than 3 times in terms of sound pressure level) in the world’s ocean from preindustrial periods, and most of these increases are from distant shipping (Hildebrand 2009). All anthropogenic noise sources, such as those from vessel traffic and cable-laying while operating E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices dynamic positioning (DP) thrusters contribute to the elevated ambient noise levels, thus increasing potential for or severity of masking. Finally, exposure of marine mammals to certain sounds could lead to behavioral disturbance (Richardson et al. 1995), such 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). The onset of behavioral disturbance from anthropogenic noise depends on both external factors (characteristics of noise sources and their paths) and the receiving animals (hearing, motivation, experience, demography) and is also difficult to predict (Southall et al. 2007). Currently NMFS uses a received level of 160 dB re 1 mPa (rms) to predict the onset of behavioral harassment from impulse noises (such as impact pile driving), and 120 dB re 1 mPa (rms) for continuous noises (such as operating DP thrusters). No impulse noise is expected from the Quintillion subsea cable-laying operation. For the Quintillion subsea cable-laying operation, only the 120 dB re 1 mPa (rms) threshold is considered because only continuous noise sources would be generated. The biological significance of many of these behavioral disturbances is difficult to predict, especially if the detected disturbances appear minor. However, the consequences of behavioral modification could be biologically significant if the change affects growth, survival, and/or reproduction, which depends on the severity, duration, and context of the effects. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat Project activities that could potentially impact marine mammal habitats include acoustical impacts to prey resources associated with laying cable on sea bottom. Regarding the former, however, acoustical injury from thruster noise is unlikely. Previous noise studies (e.g., Greenlaw et al. 1988, Davis et al. 1998, Christian et al. 2004) with cod, crab, and schooling fish found little or no injury to adults, larvae, or eggs when exposed to impulsive noises exceeding 220 dB. Continuous noise levels from ship thrusters are generally below 180 dB, and do not create great VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 enough pressures to cause tissue or organ injury. Nedwell et al. (2003) measured noise associated with cable trenching operations offshore of Wales, and found that levels (178 dB at source) did not exceed those where significant avoidance reactions of fish would occur. Cable burial operations involve the use of ploughs or jets to cut trenches in the sea floor sediment. Cable ploughs are generally used where the substrate is cohesive enough to be ‘‘cut’’ and laid alongside the trench long enough for the cable to be laid at depth. In less cohesive substrates, where the sediment would immediately settle back into the trench before the cable could be laid, jetting is used to scour a more lasting furrow. The objective of both is to excavate a temporary trench of sufficient depth to fully bury the cable. The plough blade is 0.2 m (0.7 ft) wide producing a trench of approximately the same width. Jetted trenches are somewhat wider depending on the sediment type. Potential impacts to marine mammal habitat and prey include (1) crushing of benthic and epibenthic invertebrates with the plough blade, plough skid, or ROV track, (2) dislodgement of benthic invertebrates onto the surface where they may die, and (3) and the settlement of suspended sediments away from the trench where they may clog gills or feeding structures of sessile invertebrates or smother sensitive species (BERR 2008). However, the footprint of cable trenching is generally restricted to 2 to 3 m (7–10 ft) width (BERR 2008), and the displaced wedge or berm is expected to naturally backfill into the trench. Jetting results in more suspension of sediments, which may take days to settle during which currents may transport it well away (up to several kilometers) from its source. Suspended sand particles generally settle within about 20 m (66 ft). BERR (2008) reviewed the effect of offshore wind farm construction, including laying of power and communication cables, on the environment. Based on a rating of 1 to 10, they concluded that sediment disturbance from plough operations rated the lowest at 1, with jetting rating from 2 to 4, depending on substrate. Dredging rated the highest (6) relative sediment disturbance. The maximum amount of trenching possible is about 1,900 km (1,180 mi), but the width of primary effect is only about 3 m (10 ft). Thus, the maximum impact footprint is less than 6 km2 (2.3 mi2), an insignificantly small area given the Chukchi Sea area alone is 595,000 km2 (230,000 mi2). Overall, cable-laying effects to marine mammal habitat and PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 17671 prey resources are considered not significant. Proposed Mitigation In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (where relevant). For the proposed Quintillion openwater subsea cable-laying operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, NMFS worked with Quintillion and its contractor to propose the following mitigation measures to minimize the potential impacts to marine mammals in the project vicinity as a result of the activities. The primary purpose of these mitigation measures is to detect marine mammals and avoid vessel interactions during the pre- and post-cable-laying activities. Due to the nature of the activities, the vessel will not be able to engage direction alternation during cable-laying operations. However, since the cable-laying vessel will be moving at a slow speed of 600 meter/hour (0.37 mile per hour or 0.32 knot) during cable-laying operation, it is highly unlikely that the cable vessel would have physical interaction with marine mammals. The following are mitigation measures proposed to be included in the IHA (if issued). (a) Establishing Zone of Influence (ZOI) Protected species observers (PSOs) would establish a ZOI where the received level is 120 dB during Qunitillion’s subsea cable-laying operation and conduct marine mammal monitoring during the operation. (b) Vessel Movement Mitigation During Pre- and Post-Cable-Laying Activities When the cable-lay fleet is traveling in Alaskan waters to and from the project area (before and after completion of cable-laying), the fleet vessels would: • Not approach concentrations or groups of whales (an aggregation of 6 or more whales) within 1.6 km (1 mi) by all vessels under the direction of Quintillion. • Take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with the bowhead whales observed within 1.6 km (1 mi) of a vessel. • Reduce speed to less than 5 knots when visibility drops to avoid the likelihood of collision with whales. The E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 17672 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES normal vessel travel speeds when laying cable is well less than 5 knots. Mitigation Conclusions NMFS has carefully evaluated Quintillion’s proposed mitigation measures and considered a range of other measures in the context of ensuring that NMFS prescribes the means of effecting the least practicable impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: • The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measures are expected to minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals; • The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; and • The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation. Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by NMFS should be able to accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of the general goals listed below: 1. Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal). 2. A reduction in the numbers of marine mammals (total number or number at biologically important time or location) exposed to received levels of activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). 3. A reduction in the number of times (total number or number at biologically important time or location) individuals would be exposed to received levels of activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). 4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number or number at biologically important time or location) to received levels of activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing the severity of harassment takes only). 5. Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal habitat, paying special attention to the food base, activities that block or limit passage to or from biologically important areas, permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary destruction/ disturbance of habitat during a biologically important time. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 6. For monitoring directly related to mitigation—an increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation. Based on our evaluation of the applicant’s proposed measures, as well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammals species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. Proposed measures to ensure availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses are discussed later in this document (see ‘‘Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses’’ section). Proposed Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an ITA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth, ‘‘requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.’’ The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for ITAs must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area. Quintillion submitted a marine mammal monitoring plan as part of the IHA application. The plan may be modified or supplemented based on comments or new information received from the public during the public comment period or from the peer review panel (see the ‘‘Monitoring Plan Peer Review’’ section later in this document). Monitoring measures prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or more of the following general goals: 1. An increase in our understanding of the likely occurrence of marine mammal species in the vicinity of the action, i.e., presence, abundance, distribution, and/or density of species. 2. An increase in our understanding of the nature, scope, or context of the likely exposure of marine mammal species to any of the potential stressor(s) associated with the action (e.g., sound or visual stimuli), through better understanding of one or more of the following: The action itself and its environment (e.g., sound source characterization, propagation, and ambient noise levels); the affected species (e.g., life history or dive PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 pattern); the likely co-occurrence of marine mammal species with the action (in whole or part) associated with specific adverse effects; and/or the likely biological or behavioral context of exposure to the stressor for the marine mammal (e.g., age class of exposed animals or known pupping, calving or feeding areas). 3. An increase in our understanding of how individual marine mammals respond (behaviorally or physiologically) to the specific stressors associated with the action (in specific contexts, where possible, e.g., at what distance or received level). 4. An increase in our understanding of how anticipated individual responses, to individual stressors or anticipated combinations of stressors, may impact either: The long-term fitness and survival of an individual; or the population, species, or stock (e.g., through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival). 5. An increase in our understanding of how the activity affects marine mammal habitat, such as through effects on prey sources or acoustic habitat (e.g., through characterization of longer-term contributions of multiple sound sources to rising ambient noise levels and assessment of the potential chronic effects on marine mammals). 6. An increase in understanding of the impacts of the activity on marine mammals in combination with the impacts of other anthropogenic activities or natural factors occurring in the region. 7. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of mitigation and monitoring measures. 8. An increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals (through improved technology or methodology), both specifically within the safety zone (thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation) and in general, to better achieve the above goals. Proposed Monitoring Measures Monitoring will provide information on the numbers of marine mammals potentially affected by the subsea cablelaying operation and facilitate real-time mitigation to prevent injury of marine mammals by vessel traffic. These goals will be accomplished in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during 2016 by conducting vessel-based monitoring and passive acoustic monitoring to document marine mammal presence and distribution in the vicinity of the operation area. Visual monitoring by Protected Species Observers (PSOs) during subsea cable-laying operation, and periods E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices when the operation is not occurring, will provide information on the numbers of marine mammals potentially affected by the activity. Vessel-based PSOs onboard the vessels will record the numbers and species of marine mammals observed in the area and any observable reaction of marine mammals to the cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. (2) Specialized Field Equipment Vessel-Based PSOs Acoustic Monitoring Vessel-based monitoring for marine mammals would be done by trained protected species observers (PSOs) throughout the period of subsea cablelaying operation. The observers would monitor the occurrence of marine mammals near the cable-laying vessel during all daylight periods during operation. PSO duties would include watching for and identifying marine mammals; recording their numbers, distances, and reactions to the survey operations; and documenting ‘‘take by harassment.’’ A sufficient number of PSOs would be required onboard each survey vessel to meet the following criteria: • 100% monitoring coverage during all periods of cable-laying operations in daylight; • Maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per PSO; and • Maximum of 12 hours of watch time per day per PSO. PSO teams will consist of Inupiat observers and experienced field biologists. Each vessel will have an experienced field crew leader to supervise the PSO team. The total number of PSOs may decrease later in the season as the duration of daylight decreases. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES (1) PSOs Qualification and Training Lead PSOs and most PSOs would be individuals with experience as observers during marine mammal monitoring projects in Alaska or other offshore areas in recent years. New or inexperienced PSOs would be paired with an experienced PSO or experienced field biologist so that the quality of marine mammal observations and data recording is kept consistent. Resumes for candidate PSOs would be provided to NMFS for review and acceptance of their qualifications. Inupiat observers would be experienced in the region and familiar with the marine mammals of the area. All observers would complete a NMFSapproved observer training course designed to familiarize individuals with monitoring and data collection procedures. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 The PSOs shall be provided with Fujinon 7 × 50 or equivalent binoculars for visual based monitoring onboard all vessels. Laser range finders (Leica LRF 1200 laser rangefinder or equivalent) would be available to assist with distance estimation. (1) Sound Source Measurements Quintillion plans to conduct a sound source verification (SSV) on one of the cable-lay ships and the anchor-handling tugs when both are operating near Nome (early in the season). (2) Passive Acoustic Monitoring After consulting with NMFS Office of Protected Resources, the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), and the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife, Quintillion proposes to contribute to the 2016 joint Arctic Whale Ecology Study (ARCWEST)/Chukchi Acoustics, Oceanography, and Zooplankton Studyextension (CHAOZ–X). The summer minimum extent of sea ice in the northern Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, and western Beaufort Sea has diminished by more than 50% over the past two decades. This loss of ice has sparked concerns for long-term survival of ice-dependent species like polar bears, Pacific walrus, bearded seals, and ringed seals. In contrast, populations of some Arctic species such has bowhead and gray whales have increased in abundance, while subarctic species such as humpback, fin, and minke whales have expanded their ranges into the Arctic in response to warmer water and increased zooplankton production. The joint ARCWEST/CHAOZ–X program has been monitoring climate change and anthropogenic activity in the Arctic waters of Alaska since 2010 by tracking satellite tagged animals, sampling lower trophic levels and physical oceanography, and passively acoustically monitoring marine mammal and vessel activity. The current mooring locations for the passive acoustical monitoring (PAM) portion of the joint program align closely with the proposed Quintillion cable-lay route. Operating passive acoustic recorders at these locations in 2016 would provide information not only on the distribution and composition of the marine mammal community along the proposed cablelay route at the time cable-lay activities would be occurring, but they could also record the contribution of the cable-lay activity on local acoustical environment PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 17673 where the route passes close to these stations. Monitoring Plan Peer Review The MMPA requires that monitoring plans be independently peer reviewed ‘‘where the proposed activity may affect the availability of a species or stock for taking for subsistence uses’’ (16 U.S.C. 1371(a)(5)(D)(ii)(III)). Regarding this requirement, NMFS’ implementing regulations state, ‘‘Upon receipt of a complete monitoring plan, and at its discretion, [NMFS] will either submit the plan to members of a peer review panel for review or within 60 days of receipt of the proposed monitoring plan, schedule a workshop to review the plan’’ (50 CFR 216.108(d)). NMFS has established an independent peer review panel to review Quintillion’s 4MP for the proposed subsea cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The panel is scheduled to meet via web conference in early March 2016, and will provide comments to NMFS in April 2016. After completion of the peer review, NMFS will consider all recommendations made by the panel, incorporate appropriate changes into the monitoring requirements of the IHA (if issued), and publish the panel’s findings and recommendations in the final IHA notice of issuance or denial document. Reporting Measures (1) Final Report The results of Quintillion’s subsea cable laying activities monitoring reports would be presented in the ‘‘90day’’ final reports, as required by NMFS under the proposed IHA. The initial final reports are due to NMFS within 90 days after the expiration of the IHA (if issued). The reports will include: • Summaries of monitoring effort (e.g., total hours, total distances, and marine mammal distribution through the study period, accounting for sea state and other factors affecting visibility and detectability of marine mammals); • Summaries of initial analyses of the datasets that interpret the efficacy, measurements, and observations, rather than raw data, fully processed analyses, or a summary of operations and important observations; • Analyses of the effects of various factors influencing detectability of marine mammals (e.g., sea state, number of observers, and fog/glare); • Species composition, occurrence, and distribution of marine mammal sightings, including date, water depth, numbers, age/size/gender categories (if determinable), group sizes, and ice cover; E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 17674 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices • Estimates of uncertainty in all take estimates, with uncertainty expressed by the presentation of confidence limits, a minimum-maximum, posterior probability distribution, or another applicable method, with the exact approach to be selected based on the sampling method and data available; • A clear comparison of authorized takes and the level of actual estimated takes; and • A complete characterization of the acoustic footprint resulting from various activity states. The ‘‘90-day’’ reports will be subject to review and comment by NMFS. Any recommendations made by NMFS must be addressed in the final report prior to acceptance by NMFS. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES (2) Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by the IHA, such as a serious injury, or mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), Quintillion would immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. The report would include the following information: • Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; • Name and type of vessel involved; • Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; • Description of the incident; • Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; • Water depth; • Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); • Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; • Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; • Fate of the animal(s); and • Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if equipment is available). Activities would not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS would work with Quintillion to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Quintillion would not be able to resume its activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone. In the event that Quintillion discovers a dead marine mammal, and the lead VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 PSO determines that the cause of the death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a moderate state of decomposition as described in the next paragraph), Quintillion would immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. The report would include the same information identified in the paragraph above. Activities would be able to continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work with Quintillion to determine whether modifications in the activities are appropriate. In the event that Quintillion discovers a dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), Quintillion would report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators, within 24 hours of the discovery. Quintillion would provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Quintillion can continue its operations under such a case. Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment]. Takes by Level B harassments of some species are anticipated as a result of Quintillion’s proposed subsea cablelaying operation. NMFS expects marine mammal takes could result from noise propagation from dynamic position thrusters during cable-laying operation. NMFS does not expect marine mammals would be taken by collision with cable and support vessels, because the vessels PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 will be moving at low speeds, and PSOs on the vessels will be monitoring for marine mammals and will be able to alert the vessels to avoid any marine mammals in the area. For non-impulse sounds, such as those produced by the dynamic positioning thrusters during Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying operation, NMFS uses the 180 and 190 dB (rms) re 1 mPa isopleth to indicate the onset of Level A harassment for cetaceans and pinnipeds, respectively; and the 120 dB (rms) re 1 mPa isopleth for Level B harassment of all marine mammals. Quintillion provided calculations of the 120-dB isopleths expected to be produced by the dynamic positioning thrusters during the proposed cable-laying operation to estimate takes by harassment. NMFS used those calculations to make the necessary MMPA findings. Quintillion provided a full description of the methodology used to estimate takes by harassment in its IHA application, which is also provided in the following sections. There is no 180 or 190-dB zone from the proposed activities. Noise Sources The proposed cable-laying activity is expected to generate underwater noises from several sources, including thrusters, plows, jets, ROVs, echo sounders, and positioning beacons. The predominant noise source and the only underwater noise that is likely to result in take of marine mammals during cable laying operations is the cavitating noise produced by the thrusters during dynamic positioning of the vessel (Tetra Tech 2014). Cavitation is random collapsing of bubbles produced by the blades. The C/S Ile de Brehat maintains dynamic positioning during cable-laying operations by using two 1,500 kW bow thrusters, two 1,500 kW aft thrusters, and one 1,500 kW fore thruster. Sound source measurements have not been conducted specific to the C/S Ile de Brehat but other acoustical studies have shown thruster noise measurements ranging between 171 and 180 dB re 1 mPa (rms) at 1 m (Nedwell et al. 2003, MacGillivary 2006, Samsung 2009, Hartin et al. 2011, Deepwater Wind 2013, Tetra Tech 2014). Various acoustical investigations in the Atlantic Ocean have modeled distances to the 120 dB isopleth with results ranging between 1.4 and 3.575 km (Samsung 2009, Deepwater Wind 2013, Tetra Tech 2014) for water depths similar to where Quintillion would be operating in the Arctic Ocean. However, all these ranges were based on conservative modeling that included E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 17675 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices maximum parameters and worst-case assumptions. Hartin et al. (2011) physically measured dynamic positioning noise from the 104-m (341-ft) Fugro Synergy operating in the Chukchi Sea while it was using thrusters (2,500 kW) more powerful than those used on the C/S Ile de Brehat (1,500 kW). Measured dominant frequencies were 110 to 140 Hz, and the measured (90th percentile) radius to the 120-dB isopleth was 2.3 km (1.4 mi). Because this radius is a measured value from the same water body where Quintillion’s cable-laying operation would occur, as opposed to a conservatively modeled value from the Atlantic Ocean, it is the value used in calculating marine mammal exposure estimates. Sound source levels from the Fugro Synergy during dynamic positioning did not exceed 180 dB, thus there are no Level A harassment or injury concerns. Acoustic Footprint The acoustical footprint (total ensonified area) was determined by assuming that dynamic position would occur along all trunk and branch lines within the proposed fiber optics cable network, regardless of the cable-lay vessel used. The sum total of submerged cable length is 1,902.7 km (1,182.3 mi). Assuming that the radius to the 120 dB isopleth is 2.3 km (1.4 mi) (Hartin et al. 2011), then the total ensonified area represents a swath that is 1,902.7 km (1,182.3 mi) in length and 4.6 km (2.8 mi) in width (2 x 2.3 km) or 8,752.4 km2 (3,379.3 mi2). The Nome branch (194.7 km [121.0 mi]) and 87.1 km (54.1 mi) of the trunk line between BU Nome and BU Kotzebue fall within the Bering Sea. The combined length is 281.8 km (175.1 mi) and the total ensonified area is 1,296.3 km2 (500.5 mi2). The Oliktok branch (73.9 km [45.9 mi]) and 254.1 km (157.9 mi) of the trunk line between Barrow and Oliktok are found in the Beaufort Sea. Here the combined length is 328 km (203.8 mi) and total ensonified area is 1,508.8 km2 (582.6 mi2). The remaining area 5,947.3 km2 (2,296.3 mi2) falls within the Chukchi Sea. Marine Mammal Densities Density estimates for bowhead, gray, and beluga whales were derived from aerial survey data collected in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas during the 2011 to 2013 Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) program (Clarke et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). The proposed cable routes cross ASAMM survey blocks 2, 11, and 12 in the Beaufort Sea, and blocks 13, 14, 18, 21, and 22 in the Chukchi Sea. Only data collected in these blocks were used to estimate densities for bowhead and gray whales. Beluga densities were derived from ASAMM data collected depth zones between 36 and 50 m (118 and 164 ft) within the Chukchi Sea between longitudes 157° and 169° W., and the depth zones between 21 and 200 m (68.9 and 656.2 ft) in the Beaufort Sea between longitudes 154° and 157° W. These depth zones reflect the depths where most of the cable-lay will occur. Harbor porpoise densities (Chukchi Sea only) are from Hartin et al. (2013), and ringed seal densities from Aerts et al. (2014; Chukchi Sea) and Moulton and Lawson (2002; Beaufort Sea). Spotted and bearded seal densities in the Chukchi Sea are also from Aerts et al. (2014), while spotted and bearded seal densities in the Beaufort Sea were developed by assuming both represented 5% of ringed seal densities. Too few sightings have been made in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas for all other marine mammal species to develop credible density estimates. The density estimates for the seven species are presented in Table 3 (Chukchi/Bering) and Table 4 (Beaufort) below. The specific parameters used in deriving these estimates are provided in the discussions that follow. TABLE 3—MARINE MAMMAL DENSITIES (#/km2) IN THE CHUKCHI AND BERING SEAS Species Summer Fall Bowhead Whale ....................................................................................................................................................... Gray Whale .............................................................................................................................................................. Beluga Whale .......................................................................................................................................................... Harbor Porpoise ....................................................................................................................................................... Ringed Seal ............................................................................................................................................................. Spotted Seal ............................................................................................................................................................ Bearded Seal ........................................................................................................................................................... 0.0025 0.0438 0.0680 0.0230 0.0894 0.0632 0.0022 0.0022 0.0846 0.0507 0.0423 0.0253 0.0630 0.0440 TABLE 4—MARINE MAMMAL DENSITIES (#/km2) IN THE BEAUFORT SEA Species Summer Fall asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Bowhead Whale ....................................................................................................................................................... Gray Whale .............................................................................................................................................................. Beluga Whale .......................................................................................................................................................... Ringed Seal ............................................................................................................................................................. Spotted Seal ............................................................................................................................................................ Bearded Seal ........................................................................................................................................................... Bowhead Whale: The summer density estimate for bowhead whales was derived from June, July, and August aerial survey data collected in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea during the 2011 to 2014 ASAMM program (Clarke et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Fall data were collected during September and October. Data only from the survey blocks that will be crossed by the VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 proposed cable route were used in the calculations, and included blocks 3, 11, and 12 in the Beaufort Sea and 13, 14, 18, 21, and 22 in the Chukchi Sea. ASAMM surveys did not extend more than about 25 km (15.5 mi) south of Point Hope, and there are no other systematic survey data for bowhead whales south of the point. During these three years, 87 bowhead whales were PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 0.0444 0.0742 0.0179 0.0524 0.0021 0.0142 0.3547 0.2510 0.0177 0.0125 0.0177 0.0125 recorded in the three Beaufort Sea blocks during 12,161 km (7,556 mi) of summer survey effort (0.0072/km), and 201 whales during 16,829 km (10,457 mi) of fall effort (0.0019/km). In the five Chukchi Sea survey blocks, 11 bowheads were recorded during 27,183 km (16,891 mi) of summer effort (0.0004/km), and 160 during 22,678 km (14,091 mi) of fall survey (0.0071/km). E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 17676 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices Applying an effective strip half-width (ESW) of 1.15 (Ferguson and Clarke 2013), and a 0.07 correction factor for whales missed during the surveys, results in corrected densities of 0.0444 (Beaufort summer), 0.0742 (Beaufort fall), 0.0025 (Chukchi summer), and 0.0438 (Chukchi fall) whales per km2 (Tables 3 and 4). Gray whale: Gray whale density estimates were derived from the same ASAMM transect data used to determine bowhead whale densities. During the four years of aerial survey, 35 gray whales were recorded in the three Beaufort Sea blocks during 12,161 km (7,557 mi) of summer survey effort (0.0029/km), and 142 gray whales during 16,829 km (10,457 mi) of fall effort (0.0084/km). In the five Chukchi Sea survey blocks, 298 gray whales were recorded during 27,183 km (16,891 mi) of summer effort (0.0084/km), and 84 during 22,678 km (14,091 mi) of fall survey (0.0037/km). Applying an effective strip half-width (ESW) of 1.15 (Ferguson and Clarke 2013), and a correction factor of 0.07, results in corrected densities of 0.0179 (Beaufort summer), 0.0524 (Beaufort fall), 0.0680 (Chukchi summer), and 0.0230 (Chukchi fall) whales per km2 (Tables 3 and 4). Beluga Whale: Beluga whale density estimates were derived from the ASAMM transect data collected from 2011 to 2014 (Clarke et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). During the summer aerial surveys (June–August) there were 248 beluga whale observed along 3,894 km (2,420 mi) of transect in waters between 21 to 200 m (13–124 ft) deep and between longitudes 154° W. and 157° W. This equates to 0.0637 whales/km of trackline and a corrected density of 0.0894 whales per km2, assuming an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor. Fall density estimates (September–October) for this region were based on 192 beluga whales seen along 4,267 km (2,651 mi). This equates to 0.0449 whales/km of trackline and a corrected density of 0.0632 whales per km2, assuming an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor. During the summer aerial surveys (June–August) there were 30 beluga whale observed along 20,240 km (12,577 mi) of transect in waters less than 36 to 50 m (22–31 ft) deep and between longitudes 157° W. and 169° W. This equates to 0.0015 whales/km of trackline and a corrected density of 0.0021 whales per km2, assuming an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor. Calculated fall beluga densities for the same region was based on 231 beluga whales seen during 22,887 km of transect (1,794 mi). This equates to 0.0101 whales/km and a corrected VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 density of 0.142 whales per km2, again assuming an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor. Harbor Porpoise: Although harbor porpoise are known to occur in low numbers in the Chukchi Sea (Aerts et al. 2014), no harbor porpoise were positively identified during COMIDA and ASAMM aerial surveys conducted in the Chukchi Sea from 2006 to 2013 (Clarke et al. 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014). A few small unidentified cetaceans that were observed may have been harbor porpoise. Hartin et al. (2013) conducted vessel-based surveys in the Chukchi Sea while monitoring oil and gas activities between 2006 and 2010 and recorded several harbor porpoise throughout the summer and early fall. Vessel-based surveys may be more conducive to sighting these small, cryptic porpoise than the aerial-based COMIDA/ASAMM surveys. Hartin et al.’s (2013) three-year average summer densities (0.0022/km2) and fall densities (0.0021/km2) were very similar, and are included in Table 3. Ringed and Spotted Seals: Aerts et al. (2014) conducted a marine mammal monitoring program in the northeastern Chukchi Sea in association with oil & gas exploration activities between 2008 and 2013. For seal sightings that were either ringed or spotted seals, the highest summer density was 0.127 seals/km2 (2008) and the highest fall density was 0.076 seals/km2 (2013). Where seals could be identified to species, they found the ratio of ringed to spotted seals to be 2:1. Applying this ratio to the combined densities results in species densities of 0.0846 seals/km2 (summer) and 0.0507 seals/km2 (fall) for ringed seals, and 0.0423 seals/km2 (summer) and 0.0253 seals/km2 (fall) for spotted seals. These are the densities used in the exposure calculations (Table 3) and to represent ringed and spotted seal densities for both the northern Bering and Chukchi seas. Moulton and Lawson (2002) conducted summer shipboard-based surveys for pinnipeds along the nearshore Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast, while the Kingsley (1986) conducted surveys here along the ice margin representing fall conditions. The ringed seal results from these surveys were used in the exposure estimates (Table 3). Neither survey provided a good estimate of spotted seal densities. Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) recorded pinnipeds during barging activity between West Dock and Cape Simpson, and found high numbers of ringed seal in Harrison Bay, and peaks in spotted seal numbers off the Colville River Delta where a haulout site is located. Approximately 5% of all PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 phocid sightings recorded by Green and Negri (2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) were spotted seals, which provide a suitable estimate of the proportion of ringed seals versus spotted seals in the Colville River Delta and Harrison Bay, both areas close to the proposed Oliktok branch line. Thus, the estimated densities of spotted seals in the cablelay survey area were derived by multiplying the ringed seal densities from Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) by 5%. Spotted seals are a summer resident in the Beaufort Sea and are generally found in nearshore waters, especially in association with haulout sites at or near river mouths. Their summer density in the Beaufort Sea is a function of distance from these haul out sites. Near Oliktok Point (Hauser et al. 2008, Lomac-McNair et al. 2014) where the Oliktok cable branch will reach shore, they are more common than ringed seals, but they are very uncommon farther offshore where most of the Beaufort Sea cable-lay activity will occur. This distribution of density is taken into account in the take authorization request. Bearded Seal: The most representative estimates of summer and fall density of bearded seals in the northern Bering and Chukchi seas come from Aerts et al. (2014) monitoring program that ran from 2008 to 2013 in the northeastern Chukchi Sea. During this period the highest summer estimate was 0.063 seals/km2 (2013) and the highest fall estimate was 0.044 seals/km2 (2010). These are the values that were used in developing exposure estimates for this species for the northern Bering and Chukchi sea cable-lay areas (Table 3). There are no accurate density estimates for bearded seals in the Beaufort Sea based on survey data. However, Stirling et al. (1982) noted that the proportion of eastern Beaufort Sea bearded seals is 5% that of ringed seals. Further, Clarke et al. (2013, 2014) recorded 82 bearded seals in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas during the 2012 and 2013 ASAMM surveys, which represented 5.1% of all their ringed seal and small unidentified pinniped sightings (1,586). Bengtson et al. (2005) noted a similar ratio (6%) during spring surveys of ice seals in the Chukchi Sea. Therefore, the density values in Table 3 (/km2) were determined by multiplying ringed seal density from Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) by 5% as was done with spotted seals. Level B Exposure Calculations The estimated potential harassment take of local marine mammals by QSO’s fiber optics cable-lay project was E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 17677 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices determined by multiplying the seasonal animal densities in Tables 3 and 4 with the seasonal area that would be ensonified by thruster noise greater than 120 dB re 1 mPa (rms). The total area that would be ensonified in the Chukchi Sea is 5,947 km2 (2,296 mi2), and for the Bering Sea 1,296 km2 (500 mi2). Since there are no marine mammal density estimates for the northern Bering Sea, the ensonified area was combined with the Chukchi Sea for a total ZOI of 7,243 km2 (2,796 mi2). The ensonified area for the Beaufort Sea is 1,509 km2 (583 mi2). Because the cable laying plan is to begin in the south as soon as ice conditions allow and work northward, the intention is to complete the Bering and Chukchi seas portion of the network (1,575 km, [979 mi]) during the summer (June to August), and Beaufort Sea portion (328 km [204 mi]) during the fall (September and October). Thus, summer exposure estimates apply for the Bering and Chukchi areas and the fall exposure estimates for the Beaufort (Table 5). TABLE 5—THE ESTIMATED NUMBER OF LEVEL B H ARASSMENT EXPOSURES TO MARINE MAMMALS Exposures Bering/ Chukchi Species Bowhead Whale ........................................................................................................................... Gray Whale .................................................................................................................................. Beluga Whale .............................................................................................................................. Harbor Porpoise ........................................................................................................................... Ringed Seal ................................................................................................................................. Spotted Seal ................................................................................................................................ Bearded Seal ............................................................................................................................... The estimated takes of marine mammals are based on the estimated exposures for marine mammals with known density information. For marine mammals whose estimated number of exposures were not calculated due to a lack of reasonably accurate density estimates, but for which occurrence records within the project area exist (i.e., humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, killer whale, and ribbon seal), a small number of takes relatively based Exposures Beaufort 18 112 493 79 648 21 16 0 613 379 306 19 451 19 Exposures total 130 572 669 16 992 325 470 on group size and site fidelity have been requested in case they are encountered. A summary of estimated takes is provided in Table 6. TABLE 6—LEVEL B T AKE REQUEST AS PERCENTAGE OF STOCK Stock abundance Species asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Bowhead whale ........................................................................................................................... Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea stock) ............................................................................................. Beluga whale (E. Chukchi Sea stock) ......................................................................................... Beluga whale (E. Bering Sea stock) ........................................................................................... Gray whale ................................................................................................................................... Humpback whale (W.N. Pacific stock) ........................................................................................ Humpback whale (Cent. N. Pacific stock) ................................................................................... Fin whale ..................................................................................................................................... Minke whale ................................................................................................................................. Killer whale .................................................................................................................................. Harbor porpoise ........................................................................................................................... Ringed seal .................................................................................................................................. Spotted seal ................................................................................................................................. Bearded seal ................................................................................................................................ Ribbon seal .................................................................................................................................. The estimated Level B takes as a percentage of the marine mammal stock are less than 1.72% in all cases (Table 6). The highest percent of population estimated to be taken is 18% for Level B harassments of the East Chukchi Sea stock of beluga whale. However, that percentage assumes that all beluga whales taken are from that population. Most likely, some beluga whales would be taken from each of the three stocks, meaning fewer than 669 beluga whales would be taken from either individual stock. The Level B takes of beluga whales as a percentage of populations VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 would likely be below 1.7, 18, and 3.5% for the Beaufort Sea, East Chukchi Sea, and East Bering Sea stocks, respectively. Analysis and Preliminary Determinations Negligible Impact Negligible impact is ‘‘an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival’’ (50 CFR 216.103). A negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Level B take requested 19,534 130 39,258 669 3,710 669 19.186 669 20,990 572 1,107 15 10,103 15 1,652 15 1,233 5 2,347 5 48,215 16 249,000 992 460,268 325 155,000 470 61,100 5 Request Level B take by stock (percent) 0.8 1.7 18.0 3.5 2.7 1.36 0.14 0.91 0.40 0.21 0.03 0.49 0.07 0.08 0.01 adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., populationlevel effects). An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes, alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be ‘‘taken’’ through behavioral harassment, NMFS must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any responses (critical reproductive time or location, migration, etc.), as well as the number E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 17678 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes, the number of estimated mortalities, effects on habitat, and the status of the species. To avoid repetition, this introductory discussion of our analyses applies to all the species listed in Table 6, given that the anticipated effects of Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying operation on marine mammals (taking into account the proposed mitigation) are expected to be relatively 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, they are described separately in the analysis below. No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying operation, and none are authorized. Additionally, animals in the area are not expected to incur hearing impairment (i.e., TTS or PTS) or non-auditory physiological effects. The takes that are anticipated and authorized are expected to be limited to short-term Level B behavioral harassment in the form of brief startling reaction and/or temporary vacating the area. Any effects on marine mammals are generally expected to be restricted to avoidance of a limited area around Quintillion’s proposed activities and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA definition of ‘‘Level B harassment.’’ Mitigation measures, such as controlled vessel speed and dedicated marine mammal observers, will ensure that takes are within the level being analyzed. In all cases, the effects are expected to be short-term, with no lasting biological consequence. Of the 11 marine mammal species likely to occur in the proposed cablelaying area, bowhead, humpback, and fin whales, and ringed and bearded seals are listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA. These species are also designated as ‘‘depleted’’ under the MMPA. None of the other species that may occur in the project area are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. The project area of the Quintillion’s proposed activities is within areas that have been identified as biologically important areas (BIAs) for feeding for the gray and bowhead whales and for reproduction for gray whale during the summer and fall months (Clarke et al. 2015). In addition, the coastal Beaufort Sea also serves as a migratory corridor during bowhead whale spring VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 migration, as well as for their feeding and breeding activities. Additionally, the coastal area of Chukchi and Beaufort seas also serve as BIAs for beluga whales for their feeding and migration. However, the Quintillion’s proposed cable laying operation would briefly transit through the area in a slow speed (600 meters per hour). As discussed earlier, the Level B behavioral harassment on marine mammals from the proposed activity is expected to be brief startling reaction and temporary vacating of the area. There is no longterm biologically significant impact to marine mammals expected from the proposed subsea cable-laying activity. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine mammal take from Quintillion’s proposed subsea cablelaying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas is not expected to adversely affect the affected species or stocks through impacts on annual rates of recruitment or survival, and therefore will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks. Small Numbers The requested takes represent less than 18% of all populations or stocks potentially impacted (see Table 6 in this document). These take estimates represent the percentage of each species or stock that could be taken by Level B behavioral harassment. The numbers of marine mammals estimated to be taken are small proportions of the total populations of the affected species or stocks. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, NMFS finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the populations of the affected species or stocks. Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence Uses The proposed cable-lay activities will occur within the marine subsistence areas used by the villages of Nome, Wales, Kotzebue, Little Diomede, Kivalina, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow, and Nuiqsut. Subsistence use various considerably by season and location. Seven of the villages hunt bowhead whales (Suydam and George 2004). The small villages of Wales, Little Diomedes, and Kivalina take a bowhead whale about once every five years. Point PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Hope and Nuiqsut each harvest three to four whales annually, and Wainwright five to six. Harvest from Barrow is by far the highest with about 25 whales taken each year generally split between spring and fall hunts. Point Hope and Wainwright harvest occurs largely during the spring hunt, and Nuiqsut’s during the fall. Nuiqsut whalers base from Cross Island, located 70 km (44 mi) east of Oliktok. Beluga are also annually harvested by the above villages. Beluga harvest is most important to Point Hope. For example, the village harvested 84 beluga whales during the spring of 2012, and averaged 31 whales a year from 1987 to 2006 (Frost and Suydam 2010). Beluga are also important to Wainwright villages. They harvested 34 beluga whales in 2012, and averaged 11 annually from 1987 to 2006 (Frost and Suydam 2010). All the other villages— Nome, Kotzebue, Wales, Kivalina, Little Diomede, and Barrow—averaged less than 10 whales a year (Frost and Suydam 2010). All villages utilize seals to one degree or another as well. Ringed seal harvest mostly occurs in the winter and spring when they are hauled out on ice near leads or at breathing holes. Bearded seals are taken from boats during the early summer as they migrate northward in the Chukchi Sea and eastward in the Beaufort Sea. Bearded seals are a staple for villages like Kotzebue and Kivalina that have limited access to bowhead and beluga whales (Georgette and Loon 1993). Thetis Island, located just off the Colville River Delta, is an important base from which villagers from Nuiqsut hunt bearded seals each summer after ice breakup. Spotted seals are an important summer resource for Wainwright and Nuiqsut, but other villages will avoid them because the meat is less appealing than other available marine mammals. The proposed cable-lay activity will occur in the summer after the spring bowhead and beluga whale hunts have ended, and will avoid the ice period when ringed seals are harvested. The Oliktok branch will pass within 4 km (2 mi) of Thetis Island, but the laying of cable along that branch would occur in late summer or early fall, long after the bearded seal hunt is over. Based on the proposed cable-lay time table relative to the seasonal timing of the various subsistence harvests, cable-lay activities into Kotzebue (bearded seal), Wainwright (beluga whale), and around Point Barrow (bowhead whale) could overlap with important harvest periods. Quintillion will work closely with the AEWC, the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, the Ice Seal Committee, and E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices The draft POC is attached to Quintillion’s IHA application. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES the North Slope Borough to minimize any effects cable-lay activities might have on subsistence harvest. Plan of Cooperation or Measures To Minimize Impacts to Subsistence Hunts Regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(12) require IHA applicants for activities that take place in Arctic waters to provide a Plan of Cooperation (POC) or information that identifies what measures have been taken and/or will be taken to minimize adverse effects on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence purposes. Quintillion has prepared a draft POC, which was developed by identifying and evaluating any potential effects the proposed cable-laying operation might have on seasonal abundance that is relied upon for subsistence use. Specifically, Quintillion has contracted with Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks to furnish and install the cable system. AlcatelLucent’s vessel, Ile de Brehat, participates in the Automatic Identification System (AIS) vessel tracking system allowing the vessel to be tracked and located in real time. The accuracy and real time availability of AIS information via the web for the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas will not be fully known until the vessels are in the project area. If access to the information is limited, Quintillion will provide alternate vessel information to the public on a regular basis. Quintillion can aid and support the AIS data with additional information provided to the local search and rescue, or other source nominated during the community outreach program. In addition, Quintillion will communicate closely with the communities of Pt. Hope, Pt. Lay, and Wainwright should activities progress far enough north in late June to mid-July when the villages are still engaged with their annual beluga whale hunt. Quintillion will also communicate closely with the communities of Wainwright, Barrow, and Nuiqsut to minimize impacts on the communities’ fall bowhead whale subsistence hunts, which typically occur during late September and into October. Prior to starting offshore activities, Quintillion will consult with Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow, and Nuiqsut as well as the North Slope Borough, the Northwest Arctic Borough, and other stakeholders such as the EWC, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC), the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee (ABWC), and the Alaska Nanuuq Commission (ANC). Quintillion will also engage in consultations with additional groups on request. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 Endangered Species Act (ESA) Within the project area, the bowhead, humpback, and fin whales are listed as endangered and the ringed and bearded seals are listed as threatened under the ESA. NMFS’ Permits and Conservation Division has initiated consultation with staff in NMFS’ Alaska Region Protected Resources Division under section 7 of the ESA on the issuance of an IHA to Quintillion under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for this activity. Consultation will be concluded prior to a determination on the issuance of an IHA. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) NMFS is preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA), pursuant to NEPA, to determine whether the issuance of an IHA to Quintillion for its subsea cablelaying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during the 2016 Arctic open-water season may have a significant impact on the human environment. NMFS has released a draft of the EA for public comment along with this proposed IHA. Proposed Authorization As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to Quintillion for subsea cablelaying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Sea during the 2016 Arctic open-water season, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. The proposed IHA language is provided next. This section contains a draft of the IHA itself. The wording contained in this section is proposed for inclusion in the IHA (if issued). (1) This Authorization is valid from June 1, 2016, through October 31, 2016. (2) This Authorization is valid only for activities associated with subsea cable-laying related activities in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The specific areas where Quintillion’s operations will be conducted are within the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, Alaska, as shown in Figure 1 of Quintillion’s IHA application. (3)(a) The species authorized for incidental harassment takings by Level B harassment are: Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas); bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus); gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), killer whale, (Orcinus orca), harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 17679 ringed seal (Phoca hispida), bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus); and spotted seals (Phoca largha) (Table 6). (3)(b) The authorization for taking by harassment is limited to the following acoustic sources and from the following activities: (i) Operating dynamic positioning thrusters during subsea cable-laying activities; and (ii) Vessel activities related to subsea cable-laying activities. (3)(c) The taking of any marine mammal in a manner prohibited under this Authorization must be reported within 24 hours of the taking to the Alaska Regional Administrator (907– 586–7221) or his designee in Anchorage (907–271–3023), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at (301) 427–8401, or her designee (301–427–8418). (4) The holder of this Authorization must notify the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, at least 48 hours prior to the start of subsea cable-laying activities (unless constrained by the date of issuance of this Authorization in which case notification shall be made as soon as possible). (5) Prohibitions (a) The taking, by incidental harassment only, is limited to the species listed under condition 3(a) above and by the numbers listed in Table 6. The taking by serious injury or death of these species or the taking by harassment, injury or death of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this Authorization. (b) The taking of any marine mammal is prohibited whenever the required source vessel protected species observers (PSOs), required by condition 7(a)(i), are not onboard in conformance with condition 7(a)(i) of this Authorization. (6) Mitigation (a) Establishing Disturbance Zones: (i) Establish zones of influence (ZOIs) surrounding the cable-laying vessel where the received level would be 120 dB (rms) re 1 mPa. The size of the modeled distance to the 120 dB (rms) re 1 mPa is 2.3 km. (ii) Immediately upon completion of data analysis of the field verification measurements required under condition 7(e)(i) below, the new 120 dB (rms) re 1 mPa ZOI shall be established based on the sound source verification. (b) Vessel Movement Mitigation: (i) When the cable-lay fleet is traveling in Alaskan waters to and from E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 17680 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices the project area (before and after completion of cable-laying), the fleet vessels would: (A) Not approach within 1.6 km (1 m) distance from concentrations or groups of whales (aggregation of six or more whales) by all vessels under the direction of Quintillion. (B) Take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with the bowhead whales observed within 1.6 km (1 mi) of a vessel. (C) Reduce speed to less than 5 knots when weather conditions require, such as when visibility drops, to avoid the likelihood of collision with whales. The normal vessel travel speeds when laying cable is well less than 5 knots; however vessels laying cable cannot change course and cable-laying operations will not cease until the end of cable is reached. (c) Mitigation Measures for Subsistence Activities: (i) For the purposes of reducing or eliminating conflicts between subsistence whaling activities and Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying program, Quintillion will provide a daily report of all Quintillion activities and locations to the subsistence communities (see reporting below). (ii) Quintillion will provide the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Association (Barrow), Kawerak, Inc, (Nome), and Maniilaq Association (Kotzebue) memberships with the Marine Exchange of Alaska so that subsistence communities can track all vessel operations via the vessels’ autonomous information system. (iii) Quintillion will prepare a daily report of project activities, sea conditions, and subsistence interactions, and send to all interested community leaders. (iv) The daily reports will include a contact address and phone number where interested community leaders can convey any subsistence concerns. (v) Quintillion shall monitor the positions of all of its vessels and will schedule timing and location of cablelaying segments to avoid any areas where subsistence activity is normally planned. (vi) Barge and ship transiting to and from the project area: (A) Vessels transiting in the Beaufort Sea east of Bullen Point to the Canadian border shall remain at least 5 miles offshore during transit along the coast, provided ice and sea conditions allow. During transit in the Chukchi Sea, vessels shall remain as far offshore as weather and ice conditions allow, and at all times at least 5 miles offshore. (B) From August 31 to October 31, transiting vessels in the Chukchi Sea or VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 Beaufort Sea shall remain at least 20 miles offshore of the coast of Alaska from Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea to Pitt Point on the east side of Smith Bay in the Beaufort Sea, unless ice conditions or an emergency that threatens the safety of the vessel or crew prevents compliance with this requirement. This condition shall not apply to vessels actively engaged in transit to or from a coastal community to conduct crew changes or logistical support operations. (C) Vessels shall be operated at speeds necessary to ensure no physical contact with whales occurs, and to make any other potential conflicts with bowheads or whalers unlikely. Vessel speeds shall be less than 10 knots when within 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) of feeding whales or whale aggregations (6 or more whales in a group). (D) If any vessel inadvertently approaches within 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) of observed bowhead whales, except when providing emergency assistance to whalers or in other emergency situations, the vessel operator will take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with the bowhead whales by taking one or more of the following actions, as appropriate: • Reducing vessel speed to less than 5 knots within 900 feet of the whale(s); • Steering around the whale(s) if possible; • Operating the vessel(s) in such a way as to avoid separating members of a group of whales from other members of the group; • Operating the vessel(s) to avoid causing a whale to make multiple changes in direction; and • Checking the waters immediately adjacent to the vessel(s) to ensure that no whales will be injured when the propellers are engaged. (vii) Quintillion shall complete operations in time to ensure that vessels associated with the project complete transit through the Bering Strait to a point south of 59 degrees North latitude no later than November 15, 2016. Any vessel that encounters weather or ice that will prevent compliance with this date shall coordinate its transit through the Bering Strait to a point south of 59 degrees North latitude with the appropriate Com-Centers. Quintillion vessels shall, weather and ice permitting, transit east of St. Lawrence Island and no closer than 10 miles from the shore of St. Lawrence Island. (7) Monitoring: (a) Vessel-based Visual Monitoring: (i) Vessel-based visual monitoring for marine mammals shall be conducted by NMFS-approved protected species PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 observers (PSOs) throughout the period of survey activities. (ii) PSOs shall be stationed aboard the cable-laying vessels and the Oliktok cable-laying barge through the duration of the subsea cable-laying operation. PSOs will not be aboard the smaller barge in waters of depths less than 12 m. (iii) A sufficient number of PSOs shall be onboard the survey vessel to meet the following criteria: (A) 100% Monitoring coverage during all periods of cable-laying operations in daylight; (B) Maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per PSO, with a minimum 1hour break between shifts; and (C) Maximum of 12 hours of watch time in any 24-hour period per PSO. (iv) The vessel-based marine mammal monitoring shall provide the basis for real-time mitigation measures as described in (6)(b) above. (b) Protected Species Observers and Training (i) PSO teams shall consist of Inupiat observers capable of carrying out requirements of the IHA and NMFSapproved field biologists. (ii) Experienced field crew leaders shall supervise the PSO teams in the field. New PSOs shall be paired with experienced observers to avoid situations where lack of experience impairs the quality of observations. (iii) Crew leaders and most other biologists serving as observers in 2016 shall be individuals with experience as observers during recent marine mammal monitoring projects in Alaska, the Canadian Beaufort, or other offshore areas in recent years. (iv) Resumes for PSO candidates shall be provided to NMFS for review and acceptance of their qualifications. Inupiat observers shall be experienced (as hunters or have previous PSO experience) in the region and familiar with the marine mammals of the area. (v) All observers shall complete an observer training course designed to familiarize individuals with monitoring and data collection procedures. The training course shall be completed before the anticipated start of the 2016 open-water season. The training session(s) shall be conducted by qualified marine mammalogists with extensive crew-leader experience during previous vessel-based monitoring programs. (vi) Training for both Alaska native PSOs and biologist PSOs shall be conducted at the same time in the same room. There shall not be separate training courses for the different PSOs. (vii) Crew members should not be used as primary PSOs because they have E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES other duties and generally do not have the same level of expertise, experience, or training as PSOs, but they could be stationed on the fantail of the vessel to observe the near field, especially the area around the airgun array, and implement a power-down or shutdown if a marine mammal enters the safety zone (or exclusion zone). (viii) If crew members are to be used in addition to PSOs, they shall go through some basic training consistent with the functions they will be asked to perform. The best approach would be for crew members and PSOs to go through the same training together. (ix) PSOs shall be trained using visual aids (e.g., videos, photos), to help them identify the species that they are likely to encounter in the conditions under which the animals will likely be seen. (x) Quintillion shall train its PSOs to follow a scanning schedule that consistently distributes scanning effort appropriate for each type of activity being monitored. All PSOs should follow the same schedule to ensure consistency in their scanning efforts. (xi) PSOs shall be trained in documenting the behaviors of marine mammals. PSOs should record the primary behavioral state (i.e., traveling, socializing, feeding, resting, approaching or moving away from vessels) and relative location of the observed marine mammals. (c) Marine Mammal Observation Protocol (i) PSOs shall watch for marine mammals from the best available vantage point on the survey vessels, typically the bridge. (ii) PSOs shall scan systematically with the unaided eye and 7 × 50 reticle binoculars, and night-vision equipment when needed. (iii) Personnel on the bridge shall assist the marine mammal observer(s) in watching for marine mammals; however, bridge crew observations will not be used in lieu of PSO observation efforts. (iv) Monitoring shall consist of recording of the following information: (A) The species, group size, age/size/ sex categories (if determinable), the general behavioral activity, heading (if consistent), bearing and distance from vessel, sighting cue, behavioral pace, and apparent reaction of all marine mammals seen near the vessel (e.g., none, avoidance, approach, paralleling, etc.); (B) The time, location, heading, speed, and activity of the vessel, along with sea state, visibility, cloud cover and sun glare at (I) any time a marine mammal is sighted, (II) at the start and VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 end of each watch, and (III) during a watch (whenever there is a change in one or more variable); (C) The identification of all vessels that are visible within 5 km of the vessel from which observation is conducted whenever a marine mammal is sighted and the time observed; (D) Any identifiable marine mammal behavioral response (sighting data should be collected in a manner that will not detract from the PSO’s ability to detect marine mammals); (E) Any adjustments made to operating procedures; and (F) Visibility during observation periods so that total estimates of take can be corrected accordingly. (vii) Distances to nearby marine mammals will be estimated with binoculars (7 × 50 binoculars) containing a reticle to measure the vertical angle of the line of sight to the animal relative to the horizon. Observers may use a laser rangefinder to test and improve their abilities for visually estimating distances to objects in the water. (viii) PSOs shall understand the importance of classifying marine mammals as ‘‘unknown’’ or ‘‘unidentified’’ if they cannot identify the animals to species with confidence. In those cases, they shall note any information that might aid in the identification of the marine mammal sighted. For example, for an unidentified mysticete whale, the observers should record whether the animal had a dorsal fin. (ix) Additional details about unidentified marine mammal sightings, such as ‘‘blow only,’’ mysticete with (or without) a dorsal fin, ‘‘seal splash,’’ etc., shall be recorded. (x) Quintillion shall use the best available technology to improve detection capability during periods of fog and other types of inclement weather. Such technology might include night-vision goggles or binoculars as well as other instruments that incorporate infrared technology. (d) Field Data-Recording and Verification (i) PSOs shall utilize a standardized format to record all marine mammal observations. (ii) Information collected during marine mammal observations shall include the following: (A) Vessel speed, position, and activity (B) Date, time, and location of each marine mammal sighting (C) Marine mammal information under (c)(iv)(A) PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 17681 (D) Observer’s name and contact information (E) Weather, visibility, and ice conditions at the time of observation (F) Estimated distance of marine mammals at closest approach (G) Activity at the time of observation, including possible attractants present (H) Animal behavior (I) Description of the encounter (J) Duration of encounter (K) Mitigation action taken (iii) Data shall be recorded directly into handheld computers or as a backup, transferred from hard-copy data sheets into an electronic database. (iv) A system for quality control and verification of data shall be facilitated by the pre-season training, supervision by the lead PSOs, and in-season data checks, and shall be built into the software. (v) Computerized data validity checks shall also be conducted, and the data shall be managed in such a way that it is easily summarized during and after the field program and transferred into statistical, graphical, or other programs for further processing. (e) Passive Acoustic Monitoring (i) Sound Source Measurements: (a) Using a hydrophone system, the holder of this Authorization is required to conduct sound source verification test for the dynamic positioning thrusters of the cable-laying vessel early in the season. (b) The test results shall be reported to NMFS within 5 days of completing the test. (ii) Marine Mammal Passive Acoustic Monitoring (a) Quintillion would support the 2016 joint Arctic Whale Ecology Study (ARCWEST)/Chukchi Acoustics, Oceanography, and Zooplankton Studyextension (CHAOZ–X). (9) Reporting: (a) Sound Source Verification Report: A report on the preliminary results of the sound source verification measurements, including the measured source level, shall be submitted within 14 days after collection of those measurements at the start of the field season. This report will specify the distances of the ZOI that were adopted for the survey. (b) Technical Report (90-day Report): A draft report will be submitted to the Director, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, within 90 days after the end of Quintillion’s subsea cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The report will describe in detail: (i) Summaries of monitoring effort (e.g., total hours, total distances, and E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 17682 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 61 / Wednesday, March 30, 2016 / Notices marine mammal distribution through the project period, accounting for sea state and other factors affecting visibility and detectability of marine mammals); (ii) Summaries that represent an initial level of interpretation of the efficacy, measurements, and observations, rather than raw data, fully processed analyses, or a summary of operations and important observations; (iii) Analyses of the effects of various factors influencing detectability of marine mammals (e.g., sea state, number of observers, and fog/glare); (iv) Species composition, occurrence, and distribution of marine mammal sightings, including date, water depth, numbers, age/size/gender categories (if determinable), group sizes, and ice cover; (v) Estimates of uncertainty in all take estimates, with uncertainty expressed by the presentation of confidence limits, a minimum-maximum, posterior probability distribution, or another applicable method, with the exact approach to be selected based on the sampling method and data available; and (vi) A clear comparison of authorized takes and the level of actual estimated takes. (d) The draft report shall be subject to review and comment by NMFS. Any recommendations made by NMFS must be addressed in the final report prior to acceptance by NMFS. The draft report will be considered the final report for this activity under this Authorization if NMFS has not provided comments and recommendations within 90 days of receipt of the draft report. (10)(a) In the unanticipated event that survey operations clearly cause the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this Authorization, such as a serious injury or mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), Quintillion shall immediately cease cable-laying operations and immediately report the incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301– 427–8401. The report must include the following information: (i) Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; (ii) The name and type of vessel involved; (iii) The vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; (iv) Description of the incident; (v) Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (vi) Water depth; VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:06 Mar 29, 2016 Jkt 238001 (vii) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); (viii) Description of marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (ix) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (x) The fate of the animal(s); and (xi) Photographs or video footage of the animal (if equipment is available). (b) Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS shall work with Quintillion to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Quintillion may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone. (c) In the event that Quintillion discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a moderate state of decomposition as described in the next paragraph), Quintillion will immediately report the incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301–427–8401 and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline (1–877–925– 7773). The report must include the same information identified in Condition 10(a) above. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with Quintillion to determine whether modifications in the activities are appropriate. (d) In the event that Quintillion discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in Condition 3 of this Authorization (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), Quintillion shall report the incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301– 427–8401 and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline (1–877–925–7773) within 24 hours of the discovery. Quintillion shall provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Quintillion can continue its operations under such a case. (11) The Plan of Cooperation outlining the steps that will be taken to cooperate and communicate with the native communities to ensure the PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses, must be implemented. (12) This Authorization may be modified, suspended, or withdrawn if the holder fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein or if the authorized taking is having more than a negligible impact on the species or stock of affected marine mammals, or if there is an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for subsistence uses. (13) A copy of this Authorization and the Incidental Take Statement must be in the possession of each vessel operator taking marine mammals under the authority of this Incidental Harassment Authorization. (14) Quintillion is required to comply with the Terms and Conditions of the Incidental Take Statement corresponding to NMFS’ Biological Opinion. Request for Public Comments NMFS requests comment on our analysis, the draft authorization, and any other aspect of the Notice of Proposed IHA for Quintillion’s proposed subsea cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision on Quintillion’s request for an MMPA authorization. Dated: March 24, 2016. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2016–07109 Filed 3–29–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION Market Risk Advisory Committee AGENCY: Commodity Futures Trading Commission. ACTION: Notice of meeting. SUMMARY: The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announces that on April 26, 2016, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Market Risk Advisory Committee (MRAC) will hold a public meeting at the CFTC’s Washington, DC, headquarters. The MRAC will describe and discuss how well the derivatives markets are currently functioning, including the impact and implications of the evolving structure of these markets on the movement of risk across market participants. Specific topics to be covered are listed in this Notice. DATES: The meeting will be held on April 26, 2016, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 E:\FR\FM\30MRN1.SGM 30MRN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 61 (Wednesday, March 30, 2016)]
[Notices]
[Pages 17666-17682]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-07109]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE442


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Subsea Cable-Laying Operations in 
the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas

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

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

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

SUMMARY: NMFS has received an application from Quintillion Subsea 
Operations, LLC (Quintillion) for an Incidental Harassment 
Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental 
to a subsea cable-laying operation in the state and federal waters of 
the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, Alaska, during the open-water 
season of 2016. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), 
NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to 
Quintillion to incidentally take, by Level B Harassments, marine 
mammals during the specified activity.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than April 
29, 2016.

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

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

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

Summary of Request

    On October 29, 2015, NMFS received an IHA application and marine 
mammal mitigation and monitoring plan (4MP) from Quintillion for the 
taking of marine mammals incidental to conducting subsea cable laying 
activities in the U.S. Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. After 
receiving NMFS comments on the initial application, Quintillion made 
revisions and updated its IHA application and 4MP on February 3, 2016. 
NMFS determined that the application and the 4MP were adequate and 
complete on February 5, 2016.
    Quintillion proposes to install a subsea fiber optic network cable 
along the northern and western coasts of Alaska in the U.S. Bering, 
Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during the 2016 Arctic open-water season. 
The proposed activity would occur between June 1 and October 31, 2016. 
Noise generated from cable vessel's dynamic positioning thruster could 
impact marine mammals in the vicinity of the activities. Take, by Level 
B harassments, of individuals of 8 species of marine mammals is 
proposed to be authorized from the specified activity.

Description of the Specified Activity

Overview

    On October 29, 2015, NMFS received an application from Quintillion 
requesting an authorization for the harassment of small numbers of 
marine mammals incidental to subsea cable-laying operations in the 
Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas off Alaska. After addressing 
comments from NMFS, Quintillion modified its application and submitted 
revised applications and 4MP on February 3, 2016. Quintillion's 
proposed activities discussed here are

[[Page 17667]]

based on its February 3, 2016, IHA application and 4MP.

Dates and Duration

    The proposed subsea cable-laying operation is planned for the 2016 
open-water season (June 1 to October 31). All associated activities, 
including mobilization, pre-lay grapnel run (PLGR), cable-laying, post 
lay inspection and burial (PLIB), and demobilization of survey and 
support crews, would occur inclusive of the above seasonal dates. It is 
expected that the operations may last all season (approximately 150 
days).

Specified Geographic Region

    The planned fiber optic cable-laying project will occur in the 
offshore waters of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas between Nome 
and Oliktok Point (the latter located 260 km [162 mi] southeast of 
Barrow). The specific area is provided in Figure 1 of Quintillion's IHA 
application.

Detailed Description of Activities

I. Cable Network
    The proposed subsea cable network is shown in Figure 1 of the IHA 
application. The cable network includes the main trunk line and six 
branch lines. The main trunk line is 1,317 km (818 mi) in length, and 
will run from the tail of the Nome branch line to the tail of the 
Oliktok Point branch line (Table 1). The branch lines range between 27 
km (17 mi) and 233 km (145 mi) long. The branch lines connect to the 
main trunk line at the branching unit (BU), which is a piece of 
hardware that allows the interconnection of the branch cable from the 
main trunk line to the shore end facility. The cable is also 
``repeatered'' in that approximately every 60 km (37 mi) a repeater is 
attached to the cable that amplifies the signal. Collectively, the 
cable, BUs, and repeaters make up the ``submerged plant.'' Depending on 
bottom substrate, water depth, and distance from shore, the cable would 
either lay on the ocean floor or will be buried using a plough or a 
remote operating vehicle (ROV) equipped for burial jetting.
II. Vessels
    The cable-laying operations will be conducted from two ships, the 
Ile de Brehat and the Ile de Sein, and a large cable-laying barge. Both 
ships are 140 m (460 ft) in length, 23 m (77 ft) in breadth, with 
berths for a crew of 70. The ships are propelled by two 4,000 kW fixed-
pitch propellers. Dynamic positioning is maintained by two 1,500 kW bow 
thrusters, two 1,500 kW aft thrusters, and one 1,500 kW fore thruster.
    Support vessels include a tug and barge that will remain in the 
vicinity of the main lay vessel. During cable laying activities 
occurring in nearshore waters too shallow of the Ile de Brehat, the tug 
and barge (using a dive team) will lay the final shore ends of the 
cable.
    The branch line segment between Oliktok Point and BU Oliktok 
crosses a hard seafloor that poses a more unique challenge to burying 
the cable in the ice scour zone. For this segment the CB Networker, a 
60-m (197-ft) powered cable-lay barge, will be used because it includes 
a vertical injector powerful enough to cut a cable trench through the 
hard sediments found off Oliktok Point. The CB Networker is also large 
enough to operate offshore and will lay the full 75 km cable length 
between Oliktok Point and BU Oliktok.

                                                  Table 1--Cable Network Route Lengths for Each Segment
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                         Segment (km)
                                                 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                               Branch lines                                     Total
                                                      Main    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                 Oliktok       Barrow     Wainwright   Point Hope    Kotzebue       Nome
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Route Length....................................        1,317           74           27           31           27          233          195        1,904
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

III. Pre-Lay Grapnel Run
    Before cable is laid, a pre-lay grapnel run (PLGR) will be carried 
out along the proposed cable route where burial is required. The 
objective of the PLGR operation is the identification and clearance of 
any seabed debris, for example wires, hawsers, wrecks, or fishing gear, 
which may have been deposited along the route. Any debris recovered 
during these operations would be discharged ashore on completion of the 
operations and disposed of in accordance with local regulations. If any 
debris cannot be recovered, then a local reroute would be planned to 
avoid the debris. The PLGR operation would be to industry standards 
employing towed grapnels; the type of grapnel being determined by the 
nature of the seabed. The PLGR operation would be conducted by a local 
tug boat ahead of the cable-laying.
IV. Cable-Laying
    The objective of the surface laying operation is to install the 
cable as close as possible to the planned route with the correct amount 
of cable slack to enable the cable to conform to the contours of the 
seabed without loops or suspensions. A slack plan would be developed 
that uses direct bathymetric data and a catenary modeling system to 
control the ship and the cable pay out speeds to ensure the cable is 
accurately placed in its planned physical position.
    Where the BAS has determined that cable burial is possible, the 
cable would be buried using various methods. In water depths greater 
than about 12 m (about 40 ft), the cable would be buried using an SMD 
Heavy Duty HD3 Plough. The plough has a submerged weight of 25 tonnes 
(27.6 tons). The plough is pulled by the tow wire and the cable fed 
through a cable depressor that pushes it into the trench. Burial depth 
is controlled by adjusting the front skids. The normal tow speed is 
approximately 600 m/hr (approximately 0.37 mph).
    In water depths less than 12 m (40 ft), burial would be by jet 
burial using a towed sled, tracked ROV, or by diver jet burial, subject 
to seabed conditions in the area. The ROV would be used in areas 
accessible to the main lay vessel. The planned ROV, the ROVJET 400 
series, is 5.8 m (19.0 ft) long and 3.4 m (11.2 ft) wide and weighs 9.1 
tonnes (10 tons) in air, and has both a main and forward jet tool cable 
of trenching to 2 m (6.6 ft) depth.
    Nearer to shore, where seasonal ice scouring occurs, the cable with 
be floated on the surface and then pulled through an existing 
horizontal directional drilling (HDD) bore pipe to the beach man hole 
(BMH) where it would be anchor-clamped and spliced to the terrestrial 
cable. The floated cable portion is then lowered to the seabed by 
divers and buried (using a post-lay burial method as described above) 
from the HDD Bore pipe seaward.
V. Post Lay Inspection and Burial
    While it is expected that the cable trench would fill back in by 
natural current processes, it is important to ensure that cable splices 
and BUs are

[[Page 17668]]

fully buried, and that there are no unnecessary plough skips at 
locations where burial is critical. To ensure proper burial, a post lay 
inspection and burial (PLIB) would be conducted using the ROVJET 400 
series mentioned above. It is expected that PLIB would be necessary for 
no more than about 10 km (6.2 mi) of the cumulative planned burial 
routes.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    The Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas support a diverse assemblage 
of marine mammals. Table 2 lists the 12 marine mammal species under 
NMFS jurisdiction with confirmed or possible occurrence in the proposed 
project area.

                            Table 2--Marine Mammal Species With Confirmed or Possible Occurrence in the Proposed Action Area
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           Common name              Scientific name           Status             Occurrence          Seasonality             Range           Abundance
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Odontocetes:
Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea        Delphinapterus       ...................  Common.............  Mostly spring and    Mostly Beaufort             39,258
 stock).                           leucas.                                                        fall with some in    Sea.
                                                                                                  summer.
Beluga whale (eastern Chukchi     ...................  ...................  Common.............  Mostly spring and    Mostly Chukchi Sea           3,710
 Sea stock).                                                                                      fall with some in
                                                                                                  summer.
Beluga whale (eastern Bering Sea  ...................  ...................  Common.............  Year round.........  Bering Sea........          19,186
 stock).
Killer whale (Alaska resident     Orcinus orca.......  ...................  Occasional/          Mostly summer and    California to                2,347
 stock).                                                                     Extralimital.        early fall.          Alaska.
Harbor porpoise (Bering Sea       Phocoena phocoena..  ...................  Occasional/          Mostly summer and    California to               48,215
 stock).                                                                     Extralimital.        early fall.          Alaska.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mysticetes:
* Bowhead whale (W. Arctic        Balaena mysticetus.  Endangered;          Common.............  Mostly spring and    Russia to Canada..          19,534
 stock).                                                Depleted.                                 fall with some in
                                                                                                  summer.
Gray whale (E. North Pacific      Eschrichtius         ...................  Somewhat common....  Mostly summer......  Mexico to the U.S.          20,990
 stock).                           robustus.                                                                           Arctic Ocean.
* Fin whale (N. East Pacific)...  Balaenoptera         Endangered;          Rare...............  Mostly summer......  N.E. Pacific Ocean           1,650
                                   physalus.            Depleted.
* Humpback whale (Central North   Megaptera            Endangered;          Rare...............  Mostly summer......  North Pacific               10,103
 Pacific stock).                   novaeangliae.        Depleted.                                                      Ocean.
* Humpback whale (western North   Megaptera            Endangered;          Rare...............  Mostly summer......  North Pacific                1,107
 Pacific stock).                   novaeangliae.        Depleted.                                                      Ocean.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pinnipeds:
* Bearded seal (Alaska stock)...  Erigathus barbatus.  Threatened;          Common.............  Spring and summer..  Bering, Chukchi,           155,000
                                                        Depleted.                                                      and Beaufort Seas.
* Ringed seal (Alaska stock)....  Phoca hispida......  Threatened;          Common.............  Year round.........  Bering, Chukchi,           249,000
                                                        Depleted.                                                      and Beaufort Seas.
Spotted seal (Alaska stock).....  Phoca largha.......  ...................  Common.............  Summer.............  Japan to U.S.              460,268
                                                                                                                       Arctic Ocean.
Ribbon seal (Alaska stock)......  Histriophoca         ...................  Occasional.........  Summer.............  Russia to U.S.              49,000
                                   fasciata.                                                                           Arctic Ocean.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Endangered, threatened, or species of concern under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); Depleted under the MMPA.

    Among these species, bowhead, humpback, and fin whales, and ringed 
and bearded are listed as endangered or threatened species under the 
Endangered Species Act (ESA). In addition, walrus and the polar bear 
could also occur in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas; however, 
these species are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) 
and are not considered in this Notice of Proposed IHA.
    Of all these species, bowhead and beluga whales and ringed, 
bearded, and spotted seals are the species most frequently sighted in 
the proposed activity area. The proposed action area in the Bering, 
Chukchi, and Beaufort seas also includes areas that have been 
identified as important for bowhead whale reproduction during summer 
and fall and for beluga whale feeding and reproduction in summer.
    Most bowheads fall migrate through the Alaskan Beaufort in water 
depths between 15 and 200 m (50 and 656 ft) deep (Miller et al. 2002), 
with annual variability depending on ice conditions. Hauser et al. 
(2008) conducted surveys for bowhead whales near the Colville River 
Delta (near Oliktok Point) during August and September 2008, and found 
most bowheads between 25 and 30 km (15.5 and 18.6 mi) north of the 
barrier islands (Jones Islands), with the nearest in 18 m (60 ft) of 
water about 25 km (16 mi) north of the Colville River Delta. No 
bowheads were observed inside the 18-m (60-ft) isobath. Most of the 
cable-lay activity planned for the Beaufort Sea will occur in water 
deeper than 15 m (50 ft) where migrating bowhead whales could most 
likely be encountered.
    Three stocks of beluga whale inhabit the waters where cable-lay is 
planned to occur: Beaufort Sea, Eastern Chukchi Sea, and Eastern Bering 
Sea (O'Corry-Crowe et al. 1997). All three stocks winter in the open 
leads and polynyas of the Bering Sea (Hazard 1988). In spring, the 
Beaufort Sea stock migrates through coastal leads more than 2,000 km 
(1,200 mi) to their summering grounds in the Mackenzie River delta 
where they molt, feed, and calve in the warmer estuarine waters (Braham 
et al. 1977). In late summer, these belugas move into offshore northern 
waters to feed (Davis and Evans 1982, Harwood et al. 1996, Richard et 
al. 2001). In the fall, they begin their migration back to their 
wintering grounds generally following an offshore route as they pass 
through the western Beaufort Sea (Richard et al. 2001).
    The Beaufort Sea stock beluga whales take a more coastal route 
during their fall migration, but compared to the vanguard of population 
and the survey

[[Page 17669]]

effort expended, nearshore travel appears to be relatively rare. Most 
belugas recorded during aerial surveys conducted in the Alaskan 
Beaufort Sea in the last two decades were found more than 65 km (40 mi) 
from shore (Miller et al. 1999, Funk et al. 2008, Christie et al. 2010, 
Clarke and Ferguson 2010, Brandon et al. 2011). For the most part, 
beluga whales from this stock are expected to occur well north of the 
proposed cable route through the Beaufort Sea at the time of cable-lay 
activity.
    The Eastern Chukchi Sea beluga whale stock summers in Kotzebue 
Sound and Kasegaluk Lagoon where they breed and molt, and then in late 
summer and fall they also move in the Beaufort Sea (Suydam et al. 
2005). Suydam et al. (2005) satellite-tagged 23 beluga whales in 
Kasegaluk Lagoon and found nearly all the whales move into the deeper 
waters of the Beaufort Sea post-tagging. However, virtually none of the 
whales were found in continental shelf waters (<200 m deep) of the 
Beaufort Sea, and all were in waters at least 65 km (40 mi) north of 
the northern Alaska coastline. The most recent stock estimate is 3,710 
animals (Allen and Angliss 2015). The planned cable-lay activity is 
most likely to encounter this stock whale laying the Kotzebue and 
Wainwright branch lines, but the routes do avoid the Kasegaluk Lagoon 
breeding and molting area.
    There is little information on movements of the East Bering stock 
of beluga whales, although two whales were satellite tagged in 2012 
near Nome wintered in Bristol Bay (Allen and Angliss 2015). These 
whales might be encountered while laying the Nome branch line.
    In addition, a few gray whales are expected to be encountered along 
the main trunk line route through the north Bering and Chukchi seas. 
However, they are expected to be commonly observed along the nearshore 
segments of the branch lines, especially the Wainwright branch where 
they are commonly found in large feeding groups.
    Three of the ice seal species--ringed, bearded, and spotted seals--
are fairly common in the proposed subsea cable laying areas. However, 
there are no pinnipeds haulouts in the vicinity of the action area.
    Further information on the biology and local distribution of these 
species can be found in Quintillion's application (see ADDRESSES) and 
the NMFS Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports, which are available 
online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/species.htm.

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals

    This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that the 
types of stressors associated with the specified activity (e.g., 
operation of dynamic positioning thrusters) have been observed to or 
are thought to impact marine mammals. This section may include a 
discussion of known effects that do not rise to the level of an MMPA 
take (for example, with acoustics, we may include a discussion of 
studies that showed animals not reacting at all to sound or exhibiting 
barely measurable avoidance). The discussion may also include reactions 
that we consider to rise to the level of a take and those that we do 
not consider to rise to the level of a take. This section is intended 
as a background of potential effects and does not consider either the 
specific manner in which this activity will be carried out or the 
mitigation that will be implemented or how either of those will shape 
the anticipated impacts from this specific activity. The ``Estimated 
Take by Incidental Harassment'' section later in this document will 
include a quantitative analysis of the number of individuals that are 
expected to be taken by this activity. The ``Negligible Impact 
Analysis'' section will include the analysis of how this specific 
activity will impact marine mammals and will consider the content of 
this section, the ``Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment'' section, 
the ``Proposed Mitigation'' section, and the ``Anticipated Effects on 
Marine Mammal Habitat'' section to draw conclusions regarding the 
likely impacts of this activity on the reproductive success or 
survivorship of individuals and from that on the affected marine mammal 
populations or stocks.
    When considering the influence of various kinds of sound on the 
marine environment, it is necessary to understand that different kinds 
of marine life are sensitive to different frequencies of sound. Based 
on available behavioral data, audiograms have been derived using 
auditory evoked potentials, anatomical modeling, and other data. 
Southall et al. (2007) designate ``functional hearing groups'' for 
marine mammals and estimate the lower and upper frequencies of 
functional hearing of the groups. The functional groups and the 
associated frequencies are indicated below (though animals are less 
sensitive to sounds at the outer edge of their functional range and 
most sensitive to sounds of frequencies within a smaller range 
somewhere in the middle of their functional hearing range):
     Low frequency cetaceans (13 species of mysticetes): 
Functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 7 Hz and 
25 kHz;
     Mid-frequency cetaceans (32 species of dolphins, six 
species of larger toothed whales, and 19 species of beaked and 
bottlenose whales): Functional hearing is estimated to occur between 
approximately 150 Hz and 160 kHz;
     High frequency cetaceans (eight species of true porpoises, 
six species of river dolphins, Kogia, the franciscana, and four species 
of cephalorhynchids): Functional hearing is estimated to occur between 
approximately 200 Hz and 180 kHz;
     Phocid pinnipeds (true seals): Functional hearing is 
estimated between 75 Hz to 100 kHz; and
     Otariid pinnipeds (sea lions and fur seals): Functional 
hearing is estimated between 100 Hz to 48 kHz.
    Species found in the vicinity of Quintillion subsea cable-laying 
operation area include four low-frequency cetacean species (Bowhead 
whale, gray whale, humpback whale, and fin whale), two mid-frequency 
cetacean species (beluga whale and killer whale), one high-frequency 
cetacean species (harbor porpoise), and four pinniped species (ringed 
seal, spotted seal, bearded seal, and ribbon seal).
    The proposed Quintillion subsea cable-laying operation could 
adversely affect marine mammal species and stocks by exposing them to 
elevated noise levels in the vicinity of the activity area.
    Exposure to high intensity sound for a sufficient duration may 
result in auditory effects such as a noise-induced threshold shift--an 
increase in the auditory threshold after exposure to noise (Finneran et 
al., 2005). Factors that influence the amount of threshold shift 
include the amplitude, duration, frequency content, temporal pattern, 
and energy distribution of noise exposure. The magnitude of hearing 
threshold shift normally decreases over time following cessation of the 
noise exposure. The amount of threshold shift just after exposure is 
the initial threshold shift. If the threshold shift eventually returns 
to zero (i.e., the threshold returns to the pre-exposure value), it is 
a temporary threshold shift (Southall et al., 2007).
    Threshold Shift (noise-induced loss of hearing)--When animals 
exhibit reduced hearing sensitivity (i.e., sounds must be louder for an 
animal to detect them) following exposure to an intense sound or sound 
for long duration, it is referred to as a noise-induced threshold

[[Page 17670]]

shift (TS). An animal can experience temporary threshold shift (TTS) or 
permanent threshold shift (PTS). TTS can last from minutes or hours to 
days (i.e., there is complete recovery), can occur in specific 
frequency ranges (i.e., an animal might only have a temporary loss of 
hearing sensitivity between the frequencies of 1 and 10 kHz), and can 
be of varying amounts (for example, an animal's hearing sensitivity 
might be reduced initially by only 6 dB or reduced by 30 dB). PTS is 
permanent, but some recovery is possible. PTS can also occur in a 
specific frequency range and amount as mentioned above for TTS.
    The following physiological mechanisms are thought to play a role 
in inducing auditory TS: Effects to sensory hair cells in the inner ear 
that reduce their sensitivity, modification of the chemical environment 
within the sensory cells, residual muscular activity in the middle ear, 
displacement of certain inner ear membranes, increased blood flow, and 
post-stimulatory reduction in both efferent and sensory neural output 
(Southall et al., 2007). The amplitude, duration, frequency, temporal 
pattern, and energy distribution of sound exposure all can affect the 
amount of associated TS and the frequency range in which it occurs. As 
amplitude and duration of sound exposure increase, so, generally, does 
the amount of TS, along with the recovery time. For intermittent 
sounds, less TS could occur than compared to a continuous exposure with 
the same energy (some recovery could occur between intermittent 
exposures depending on the duty cycle between sounds) (Kryter et al., 
1966; Ward, 1997). For example, one short but loud (higher SPL) sound 
exposure may induce the same impairment as one longer but softer sound, 
which in turn may cause more impairment than a series of several 
intermittent softer sounds with the same total energy (Ward, 1997). 
Additionally, though TTS is temporary, prolonged exposure to sounds 
strong enough to elicit TTS, or shorter-term exposure to sound levels 
well above the TTS threshold, can cause PTS, at least in terrestrial 
mammals (Kryter, 1985). Although in the case of Quintillion's subsea 
cable laying operation, NMFS does not expect that animals would 
experience levels high enough or durations long enough to result in TS 
given that the noise levels from the operation are very low.
    For marine mammals, published data are limited to the captive 
bottlenose dolphin, beluga, harbor porpoise, and Yangtze finless 
porpoise (Finneran et al., 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010a, 2010b; 
Finneran and Schlundt, 2010; Lucke et al., 2009; Mooney et al., 2009a, 
2009b; Popov et al., 2011a, 2011b; Kastelein et al., 2012a; Schlundt et 
al., 2000; Nachtigall et al., 2003, 2004). For pinnipeds in water, data 
are limited to measurements of TTS in harbor seals, an elephant seal, 
and California sea lions (Kastak et al., 1999, 2005; Kastelein et al., 
2012b).
    Lucke et al. (2009) found a threshold shift (TS) of a harbor 
porpoise after exposing it to airgun noise with a received sound 
pressure level (SPL) at 200.2 dB (peak-to-peak) re: 1 [mu]Pa, which 
corresponds to a sound exposure level of 164.5 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa\2\ s 
after integrating exposure. NMFS currently uses the root-mean-square 
(rms) of received SPL at 180 dB and 190 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa as the 
threshold above which permanent threshold shift (PTS) could occur for 
cetaceans and pinnipeds, respectively. Because the airgun noise is a 
broadband impulse, one cannot directly determine the equivalent of rms 
SPL from the reported peak-to-peak SPLs. However, applying a 
conservative conversion factor of 16 dB for broadband signals from 
seismic surveys (McCauley, et al., 2000) to correct for the difference 
between peak-to-peak levels reported in Lucke et al. (2009) and rms 
SPLs, the rms SPL for TTS would be approximately 184 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa, 
and the received levels associated with PTS (Level A harassment) would 
be higher. This is still above NMFS' current 180 dB rms re: 1 [mu]Pa 
threshold for injury. However, NMFS recognizes that TTS of harbor 
porpoises is lower than other cetacean species empirically tested 
(Finneran & Schlundt, 2010; Finneran et al., 2002; Kastelein and 
Jennings, 2012).
    Marine mammal hearing plays a critical role in communication with 
conspecifics, and interpretation of environmental cues for purposes 
such as predator avoidance and prey capture. Depending on the degree 
(elevation of threshold in dB), duration (i.e., recovery time), and 
frequency range of TTS, and the context in which it is experienced, TTS 
can have effects on marine mammals ranging from discountable to serious 
(similar to those discussed in auditory masking, below). For example, a 
marine mammal may be able to readily compensate for a brief, relatively 
small amount of TTS in a non-critical frequency range that occurs 
during a time where ambient noise is lower and there are not as many 
competing sounds present. Alternatively, a larger amount and longer 
duration of TTS sustained during time when communication is critical 
for successful mother/calf interactions could have more serious 
impacts. Also, depending on the degree and frequency range, the effects 
of PTS on an animal could range in severity, although it is considered 
generally more serious because it is a permanent condition. Of note, 
reduced hearing sensitivity as a simple function of aging has been 
observed in marine mammals, as well as humans and other taxa (Southall 
et al., 2007), so one can infer that strategies exist for coping with 
this condition to some degree, though likely not without cost.
    In addition, chronic exposure to excessive, though not high-
intensity, noise could cause masking at particular frequencies for 
marine mammals that utilize sound for vital biological functions (Clark 
et al. 2009). Acoustic masking is when other noises such as from human 
sources interfere with animal detection of acoustic signals such as 
communication calls, echolocation sounds, and environmental sounds 
important to marine mammals. Therefore, under certain circumstances, 
marine mammals whose acoustical sensors or environment are being 
severely masked could also be impaired from maximizing their 
performance fitness in survival and reproduction.
    Masking occurs at the frequency band which the animals utilize. 
Therefore, since noise generated from vessels dynamic positioning 
activity is mostly concentrated at low frequency ranges, it may have 
less effect on high frequency echolocation sounds by odontocetes 
(toothed whales). However, lower frequency man-made noises are more 
likely to affect detection of communication calls and other potentially 
important natural sounds such as surf and prey noise. It may also 
affect communication signals when they occur near the noise band and 
thus reduce the communication space of animals (e.g., Clark et al. 
2009) and cause increased stress levels (e.g., Foote et al. 2004; Holt 
et al. 2009).
    Unlike TS, masking, which can occur over large temporal and spatial 
scales, can potentially affect the species at population, community, or 
even ecosystem levels, as well as individual levels. Masking affects 
both senders and receivers of the signals and could have long-term 
chronic effects on marine mammal species and populations. Recent 
science suggests that low frequency ambient sound levels have increased 
by as much as 20 dB (more than 3 times in terms of sound pressure 
level) in the world's ocean from pre-industrial periods, and most of 
these increases are from distant shipping (Hildebrand 2009). All 
anthropogenic noise sources, such as those from vessel traffic and 
cable-laying while operating

[[Page 17671]]

dynamic positioning (DP) thrusters contribute to the elevated ambient 
noise levels, thus increasing potential for or severity of masking.
    Finally, exposure of marine mammals to certain sounds could lead to 
behavioral disturbance (Richardson et al. 1995), such 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).
    The onset of behavioral disturbance from anthropogenic noise 
depends on both external factors (characteristics of noise sources and 
their paths) and the receiving animals (hearing, motivation, 
experience, demography) and is also difficult to predict (Southall et 
al. 2007). Currently NMFS uses a received level of 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa 
(rms) to predict the onset of behavioral harassment from impulse noises 
(such as impact pile driving), and 120 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) for 
continuous noises (such as operating DP thrusters). No impulse noise is 
expected from the Quintillion subsea cable-laying operation. For the 
Quintillion subsea cable-laying operation, only the 120 dB re 1 [mu]Pa 
(rms) threshold is considered because only continuous noise sources 
would be generated.
    The biological significance of many of these behavioral 
disturbances is difficult to predict, especially if the detected 
disturbances appear minor. However, the consequences of behavioral 
modification could be biologically significant if the change affects 
growth, survival, and/or reproduction, which depends on the severity, 
duration, and context of the effects.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    Project activities that could potentially impact marine mammal 
habitats include acoustical impacts to prey resources associated with 
laying cable on sea bottom. Regarding the former, however, acoustical 
injury from thruster noise is unlikely. Previous noise studies (e.g., 
Greenlaw et al. 1988, Davis et al. 1998, Christian et al. 2004) with 
cod, crab, and schooling fish found little or no injury to adults, 
larvae, or eggs when exposed to impulsive noises exceeding 220 dB. 
Continuous noise levels from ship thrusters are generally below 180 dB, 
and do not create great enough pressures to cause tissue or organ 
injury.
    Nedwell et al. (2003) measured noise associated with cable 
trenching operations offshore of Wales, and found that levels (178 dB 
at source) did not exceed those where significant avoidance reactions 
of fish would occur. Cable burial operations involve the use of ploughs 
or jets to cut trenches in the sea floor sediment. Cable ploughs are 
generally used where the substrate is cohesive enough to be ``cut'' and 
laid alongside the trench long enough for the cable to be laid at 
depth. In less cohesive substrates, where the sediment would 
immediately settle back into the trench before the cable could be laid, 
jetting is used to scour a more lasting furrow. The objective of both 
is to excavate a temporary trench of sufficient depth to fully bury the 
cable. The plough blade is 0.2 m (0.7 ft) wide producing a trench of 
approximately the same width. Jetted trenches are somewhat wider 
depending on the sediment type. Potential impacts to marine mammal 
habitat and prey include (1) crushing of benthic and epibenthic 
invertebrates with the plough blade, plough skid, or ROV track, (2) 
dislodgement of benthic invertebrates onto the surface where they may 
die, and (3) and the settlement of suspended sediments away from the 
trench where they may clog gills or feeding structures of sessile 
invertebrates or smother sensitive species (BERR 2008). However, the 
footprint of cable trenching is generally restricted to 2 to 3 m (7-10 
ft) width (BERR 2008), and the displaced wedge or berm is expected to 
naturally backfill into the trench. Jetting results in more suspension 
of sediments, which may take days to settle during which currents may 
transport it well away (up to several kilometers) from its source. 
Suspended sand particles generally settle within about 20 m (66 ft). 
BERR (2008) reviewed the effect of offshore wind farm construction, 
including laying of power and communication cables, on the environment. 
Based on a rating of 1 to 10, they concluded that sediment disturbance 
from plough operations rated the lowest at 1, with jetting rating from 
2 to 4, depending on substrate. Dredging rated the highest (6) relative 
sediment disturbance.
    The maximum amount of trenching possible is about 1,900 km (1,180 
mi), but the width of primary effect is only about 3 m (10 ft). Thus, 
the maximum impact footprint is less than 6 km\2\ (2.3 mi\2\), an 
insignificantly small area given the Chukchi Sea area alone is 595,000 
km\2\ (230,000 mi\2\). Overall, cable-laying effects to marine mammal 
habitat and prey resources are considered not significant.

Proposed Mitigation

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under 
section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible 
methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of 
effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its 
habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and 
areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species 
or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (where relevant).
    For the proposed Quintillion open-water subsea cable-laying 
operations in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, NMFS worked with 
Quintillion and its contractor to propose the following mitigation 
measures to minimize the potential impacts to marine mammals in the 
project vicinity as a result of the activities. The primary purpose of 
these mitigation measures is to detect marine mammals and avoid vessel 
interactions during the pre- and post-cable-laying activities. Due to 
the nature of the activities, the vessel will not be able to engage 
direction alternation during cable-laying operations. However, since 
the cable-laying vessel will be moving at a slow speed of 600 meter/
hour (0.37 mile per hour or 0.32 knot) during cable-laying operation, 
it is highly unlikely that the cable vessel would have physical 
interaction with marine mammals. The following are mitigation measures 
proposed to be included in the IHA (if issued).
(a) Establishing Zone of Influence (ZOI)
    Protected species observers (PSOs) would establish a ZOI where the 
received level is 120 dB during Qunitillion's subsea cable-laying 
operation and conduct marine mammal monitoring during the operation.
(b) Vessel Movement Mitigation During Pre- and Post-Cable-Laying 
Activities
    When the cable-lay fleet is traveling in Alaskan waters to and from 
the project area (before and after completion of cable-laying), the 
fleet vessels would:
     Not approach concentrations or groups of whales (an 
aggregation of 6 or more whales) within 1.6 km (1 mi) by all vessels 
under the direction of Quintillion.
     Take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction 
with the bowhead whales observed within 1.6 km (1 mi) of a vessel.
     Reduce speed to less than 5 knots when visibility drops to 
avoid the likelihood of collision with whales. The

[[Page 17672]]

normal vessel travel speeds when laying cable is well less than 5 
knots.

Mitigation Conclusions

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

Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an ITA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth, ``requirements pertaining to 
the monitoring and reporting of such taking.'' The MMPA implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for ITAs 
must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary 
monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the 
species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine 
mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area. 
Quintillion submitted a marine mammal monitoring plan as part of the 
IHA application. The plan may be modified or supplemented based on 
comments or new information received from the public during the public 
comment period or from the peer review panel (see the ``Monitoring Plan 
Peer Review'' section later in this document).
    Monitoring measures prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or 
more of the following general goals:
    1. An increase in our understanding of the likely occurrence of 
marine mammal species in the vicinity of the action, i.e., presence, 
abundance, distribution, and/or density of species.
    2. An increase in our understanding of the nature, scope, or 
context of the likely exposure of marine mammal species to any of the 
potential stressor(s) associated with the action (e.g., sound or visual 
stimuli), through better understanding of one or more of the following: 
The action itself and its environment (e.g., sound source 
characterization, propagation, and ambient noise levels); the affected 
species (e.g., life history or dive pattern); the likely co-occurrence 
of marine mammal species with the action (in whole or part) associated 
with specific adverse effects; and/or the likely biological or 
behavioral context of exposure to the stressor for the marine mammal 
(e.g., age class of exposed animals or known pupping, calving or 
feeding areas).
    3. An increase in our understanding of how individual marine 
mammals respond (behaviorally or physiologically) to the specific 
stressors associated with the action (in specific contexts, where 
possible, e.g., at what distance or received level).
    4. An increase in our understanding of how anticipated individual 
responses, to individual stressors or anticipated combinations of 
stressors, may impact either: The long-term fitness and survival of an 
individual; or the population, species, or stock (e.g., through effects 
on annual rates of recruitment or survival).
    5. An increase in our understanding of how the activity affects 
marine mammal habitat, such as through effects on prey sources or 
acoustic habitat (e.g., through characterization of longer-term 
contributions of multiple sound sources to rising ambient noise levels 
and assessment of the potential chronic effects on marine mammals).
    6. An increase in understanding of the impacts of the activity on 
marine mammals in combination with the impacts of other anthropogenic 
activities or natural factors occurring in the region.
    7. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of 
mitigation and monitoring measures.
    8. An increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals 
(through improved technology or methodology), both specifically within 
the safety zone (thus allowing for more effective implementation of the 
mitigation) and in general, to better achieve the above goals.

Proposed Monitoring Measures

    Monitoring will provide information on the numbers of marine 
mammals potentially affected by the subsea cable-laying operation and 
facilitate real-time mitigation to prevent injury of marine mammals by 
vessel traffic. These goals will be accomplished in the Bering, 
Chukchi, and Beaufort seas during 2016 by conducting vessel-based 
monitoring and passive acoustic monitoring to document marine mammal 
presence and distribution in the vicinity of the operation area.
    Visual monitoring by Protected Species Observers (PSOs) during 
subsea cable-laying operation, and periods

[[Page 17673]]

when the operation is not occurring, will provide information on the 
numbers of marine mammals potentially affected by the activity. Vessel-
based PSOs onboard the vessels will record the numbers and species of 
marine mammals observed in the area and any observable reaction of 
marine mammals to the cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, 
and Beaufort seas.

Vessel-Based PSOs

    Vessel-based monitoring for marine mammals would be done by trained 
protected species observers (PSOs) throughout the period of subsea 
cable-laying operation. The observers would monitor the occurrence of 
marine mammals near the cable-laying vessel during all daylight periods 
during operation. PSO duties would include watching for and identifying 
marine mammals; recording their numbers, distances, and reactions to 
the survey operations; and documenting ``take by harassment.''
    A sufficient number of PSOs would be required onboard each survey 
vessel to meet the following criteria:
     100% monitoring coverage during all periods of cable-
laying operations in daylight;
     Maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per PSO; and
     Maximum of 12 hours of watch time per day per PSO.
    PSO teams will consist of Inupiat observers and experienced field 
biologists. Each vessel will have an experienced field crew leader to 
supervise the PSO team. The total number of PSOs may decrease later in 
the season as the duration of daylight decreases.
(1) PSOs Qualification and Training
    Lead PSOs and most PSOs would be individuals with experience as 
observers during marine mammal monitoring projects in Alaska or other 
offshore areas in recent years. New or inexperienced PSOs would be 
paired with an experienced PSO or experienced field biologist so that 
the quality of marine mammal observations and data recording is kept 
consistent.
    Resumes for candidate PSOs would be provided to NMFS for review and 
acceptance of their qualifications. Inupiat observers would be 
experienced in the region and familiar with the marine mammals of the 
area. All observers would complete a NMFS-approved observer training 
course designed to familiarize individuals with monitoring and data 
collection procedures.
(2) Specialized Field Equipment
    The PSOs shall be provided with Fujinon 7 x 50 or equivalent 
binoculars for visual based monitoring onboard all vessels.
    Laser range finders (Leica LRF 1200 laser rangefinder or 
equivalent) would be available to assist with distance estimation.

Acoustic Monitoring

(1) Sound Source Measurements
    Quintillion plans to conduct a sound source verification (SSV) on 
one of the cable-lay ships and the anchor-handling tugs when both are 
operating near Nome (early in the season).
(2) Passive Acoustic Monitoring
    After consulting with NMFS Office of Protected Resources, the 
National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), and the North Slope Borough 
Department of Wildlife, Quintillion proposes to contribute to the 2016 
joint Arctic Whale Ecology Study (ARCWEST)/Chukchi Acoustics, 
Oceanography, and Zooplankton Study-extension (CHAOZ-X).
    The summer minimum extent of sea ice in the northern Bering Sea, 
Chukchi Sea, and western Beaufort Sea has diminished by more than 50% 
over the past two decades. This loss of ice has sparked concerns for 
long-term survival of ice-dependent species like polar bears, Pacific 
walrus, bearded seals, and ringed seals. In contrast, populations of 
some Arctic species such has bowhead and gray whales have increased in 
abundance, while subarctic species such as humpback, fin, and minke 
whales have expanded their ranges into the Arctic in response to warmer 
water and increased zooplankton production. The joint ARCWEST/CHAOZ-X 
program has been monitoring climate change and anthropogenic activity 
in the Arctic waters of Alaska since 2010 by tracking satellite tagged 
animals, sampling lower trophic levels and physical oceanography, and 
passively acoustically monitoring marine mammal and vessel activity. 
The current mooring locations for the passive acoustical monitoring 
(PAM) portion of the joint program align closely with the proposed 
Quintillion cable-lay route. Operating passive acoustic recorders at 
these locations in 2016 would provide information not only on the 
distribution and composition of the marine mammal community along the 
proposed cable-lay route at the time cable-lay activities would be 
occurring, but they could also record the contribution of the cable-lay 
activity on local acoustical environment where the route passes close 
to these stations.

Monitoring Plan Peer Review

    The MMPA requires that monitoring plans be independently peer 
reviewed ``where the proposed activity may affect the availability of a 
species or stock for taking for subsistence uses'' (16 U.S.C. 
1371(a)(5)(D)(ii)(III)). Regarding this requirement, NMFS' implementing 
regulations state, ``Upon receipt of a complete monitoring plan, and at 
its discretion, [NMFS] will either submit the plan to members of a peer 
review panel for review or within 60 days of receipt of the proposed 
monitoring plan, schedule a workshop to review the plan'' (50 CFR 
216.108(d)).
    NMFS has established an independent peer review panel to review 
Quintillion's 4MP for the proposed subsea cable-laying operation in the 
Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The panel is scheduled to meet via 
web conference in early March 2016, and will provide comments to NMFS 
in April 2016. After completion of the peer review, NMFS will consider 
all recommendations made by the panel, incorporate appropriate changes 
into the monitoring requirements of the IHA (if issued), and publish 
the panel's findings and recommendations in the final IHA notice of 
issuance or denial document.

Reporting Measures

(1) Final Report
    The results of Quintillion's subsea cable laying activities 
monitoring reports would be presented in the ``90-day'' final reports, 
as required by NMFS under the proposed IHA. The initial final reports 
are due to NMFS within 90 days after the expiration of the IHA (if 
issued). The reports will include:
     Summaries of monitoring effort (e.g., total hours, total 
distances, and marine mammal distribution through the study period, 
accounting for sea state and other factors affecting visibility and 
detectability of marine mammals);
     Summaries of initial analyses of the datasets that 
interpret the efficacy, measurements, and observations, rather than raw 
data, fully processed analyses, or a summary of operations and 
important observations;
     Analyses of the effects of various factors influencing 
detectability of marine mammals (e.g., sea state, number of observers, 
and fog/glare);
     Species composition, occurrence, and distribution of 
marine mammal sightings, including date, water depth, numbers, age/
size/gender categories (if determinable), group sizes, and ice cover;

[[Page 17674]]

     Estimates of uncertainty in all take estimates, with 
uncertainty expressed by the presentation of confidence limits, a 
minimum-maximum, posterior probability distribution, or another 
applicable method, with the exact approach to be selected based on the 
sampling method and data available;
     A clear comparison of authorized takes and the level of 
actual estimated takes; and
     A complete characterization of the acoustic footprint 
resulting from various activity states.
    The ``90-day'' reports will be subject to review and comment by 
NMFS. Any recommendations made by NMFS must be addressed in the final 
report prior to acceptance by NMFS.
(2) Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals
    In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly 
causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by the IHA, 
such as a serious injury, or mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear 
interaction, and/or entanglement), Quintillion would immediately cease 
the specified activities and immediately report the incident to the 
Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, and the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators. The 
report would include the following information:
     Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the 
incident;
     Name and type of vessel involved;
     Vessel's speed during and leading up to the incident;
     Description of the incident;
     Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding 
the incident;
     Water depth;
     Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
     Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 
hours preceding the incident;
     Species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
     Fate of the animal(s); and
     Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if 
equipment is available).
    Activities would not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS would work with Quintillion 
to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further 
prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Quintillion would not be 
able to resume its activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, 
or telephone.
    In the event that Quintillion discovers a dead marine mammal, and 
the lead PSO determines that the cause of the death is unknown and the 
death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a moderate state of 
decomposition as described in the next paragraph), Quintillion would 
immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and 
Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the 
NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email to the Alaska Regional 
Stranding Coordinators. The report would include the same information 
identified in the paragraph above. Activities would be able to continue 
while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work 
with Quintillion to determine whether modifications in the activities 
are appropriate.
    In the event that Quintillion discovers a dead marine mammal, and 
the lead PSO determines that the death is not associated with or 
related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously 
wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or 
scavenger damage), Quintillion would report the incident to the Chief 
of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline and/or by email 
to the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinators, within 24 hours of the 
discovery. Quintillion would provide photographs or video footage (if 
available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to 
NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Quintillion can continue 
its operations under such a case.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering [Level B harassment].
    Takes by Level B harassments of some species are anticipated as a 
result of Quintillion's proposed subsea cable-laying operation. NMFS 
expects marine mammal takes could result from noise propagation from 
dynamic position thrusters during cable-laying operation. NMFS does not 
expect marine mammals would be taken by collision with cable and 
support vessels, because the vessels will be moving at low speeds, and 
PSOs on the vessels will be monitoring for marine mammals and will be 
able to alert the vessels to avoid any marine mammals in the area.
    For non-impulse sounds, such as those produced by the dynamic 
positioning thrusters during Quintillion's subsea cable-laying 
operation, NMFS uses the 180 and 190 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa isopleth to 
indicate the onset of Level A harassment for cetaceans and pinnipeds, 
respectively; and the 120 dB (rms) re 1 [mu]Pa isopleth for Level B 
harassment of all marine mammals. Quintillion provided calculations of 
the 120-dB isopleths expected to be produced by the dynamic positioning 
thrusters during the proposed cable-laying operation to estimate takes 
by harassment. NMFS used those calculations to make the necessary MMPA 
findings. Quintillion provided a full description of the methodology 
used to estimate takes by harassment in its IHA application, which is 
also provided in the following sections. There is no 180 or 190-dB zone 
from the proposed activities.

Noise Sources

    The proposed cable-laying activity is expected to generate 
underwater noises from several sources, including thrusters, plows, 
jets, ROVs, echo sounders, and positioning beacons. The predominant 
noise source and the only underwater noise that is likely to result in 
take of marine mammals during cable laying operations is the cavitating 
noise produced by the thrusters during dynamic positioning of the 
vessel (Tetra Tech 2014). Cavitation is random collapsing of bubbles 
produced by the blades. The C/S Ile de Brehat maintains dynamic 
positioning during cable-laying operations by using two 1,500 kW bow 
thrusters, two 1,500 kW aft thrusters, and one 1,500 kW fore thruster. 
Sound source measurements have not been conducted specific to the C/S 
Ile de Brehat but other acoustical studies have shown thruster noise 
measurements ranging between 171 and 180 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) at 1 m 
(Nedwell et al. 2003, MacGillivary 2006, Samsung 2009, Hartin et al. 
2011, Deepwater Wind 2013, Tetra Tech 2014).
    Various acoustical investigations in the Atlantic Ocean have 
modeled distances to the 120 dB isopleth with results ranging between 
1.4 and 3.575 km (Samsung 2009, Deepwater Wind 2013, Tetra Tech 2014) 
for water depths similar to where Quintillion would be operating in the 
Arctic Ocean. However, all these ranges were based on conservative 
modeling that included

[[Page 17675]]

maximum parameters and worst-case assumptions.
    Hartin et al. (2011) physically measured dynamic positioning noise 
from the 104-m (341-ft) Fugro Synergy operating in the Chukchi Sea 
while it was using thrusters (2,500 kW) more powerful than those used 
on the C/S Ile de Brehat (1,500 kW). Measured dominant frequencies were 
110 to 140 Hz, and the measured (90th percentile) radius to the 120-dB 
isopleth was 2.3 km (1.4 mi). Because this radius is a measured value 
from the same water body where Quintillion's cable-laying operation 
would occur, as opposed to a conservatively modeled value from the 
Atlantic Ocean, it is the value used in calculating marine mammal 
exposure estimates. Sound source levels from the Fugro Synergy during 
dynamic positioning did not exceed 180 dB, thus there are no Level A 
harassment or injury concerns.

Acoustic Footprint

    The acoustical footprint (total ensonified area) was determined by 
assuming that dynamic position would occur along all trunk and branch 
lines within the proposed fiber optics cable network, regardless of the 
cable-lay vessel used. The sum total of submerged cable length is 
1,902.7 km (1,182.3 mi). Assuming that the radius to the 120 dB 
isopleth is 2.3 km (1.4 mi) (Hartin et al. 2011), then the total 
ensonified area represents a swath that is 1,902.7 km (1,182.3 mi) in 
length and 4.6 km (2.8 mi) in width (2 x 2.3 km) or 8,752.4 km\2\ 
(3,379.3 mi\2\). The Nome branch (194.7 km [121.0 mi]) and 87.1 km 
(54.1 mi) of the trunk line between BU Nome and BU Kotzebue fall within 
the Bering Sea. The combined length is 281.8 km (175.1 mi) and the 
total ensonified area is 1,296.3 km\2\ (500.5 mi\2\). The Oliktok 
branch (73.9 km [45.9 mi]) and 254.1 km (157.9 mi) of the trunk line 
between Barrow and Oliktok are found in the Beaufort Sea. Here the 
combined length is 328 km (203.8 mi) and total ensonified area is 
1,508.8 km\2\ (582.6 mi\2\). The remaining area 5,947.3 km\2\ (2,296.3 
mi\2\) falls within the Chukchi Sea.

Marine Mammal Densities

    Density estimates for bowhead, gray, and beluga whales were derived 
from aerial survey data collected in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas 
during the 2011 to 2013 Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) 
program (Clarke et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). The proposed cable 
routes cross ASAMM survey blocks 2, 11, and 12 in the Beaufort Sea, and 
blocks 13, 14, 18, 21, and 22 in the Chukchi Sea. Only data collected 
in these blocks were used to estimate densities for bowhead and gray 
whales. Beluga densities were derived from ASAMM data collected depth 
zones between 36 and 50 m (118 and 164 ft) within the Chukchi Sea 
between longitudes 157[deg] and 169[deg] W., and the depth zones 
between 21 and 200 m (68.9 and 656.2 ft) in the Beaufort Sea between 
longitudes 154[deg] and 157[deg] W. These depth zones reflect the 
depths where most of the cable-lay will occur. Harbor porpoise 
densities (Chukchi Sea only) are from Hartin et al. (2013), and ringed 
seal densities from Aerts et al. (2014; Chukchi Sea) and Moulton and 
Lawson (2002; Beaufort Sea). Spotted and bearded seal densities in the 
Chukchi Sea are also from Aerts et al. (2014), while spotted and 
bearded seal densities in the Beaufort Sea were developed by assuming 
both represented 5% of ringed seal densities. Too few sightings have 
been made in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas for all other marine mammal 
species to develop credible density estimates.
    The density estimates for the seven species are presented in Table 
3 (Chukchi/Bering) and Table 4 (Beaufort) below. The specific 
parameters used in deriving these estimates are provided in the 
discussions that follow.

  Table 3--Marine Mammal Densities (#/km\2\) in the Chukchi and Bering
                                  Seas
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 Species                      Summer           Fall
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead Whale...........................          0.0025          0.0438
Gray Whale..............................          0.0680          0.0230
Beluga Whale............................          0.0894          0.0632
Harbor Porpoise.........................          0.0022          0.0022
Ringed Seal.............................          0.0846          0.0507
Spotted Seal............................          0.0423          0.0253
Bearded Seal............................          0.0630          0.0440
------------------------------------------------------------------------


     Table 4--Marine Mammal Densities (#/km\2\) in the Beaufort Sea
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 Species                      Summer           Fall
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead Whale...........................          0.0444          0.0742
Gray Whale..............................          0.0179          0.0524
Beluga Whale............................          0.0021          0.0142
Ringed Seal.............................          0.3547          0.2510
Spotted Seal............................          0.0177          0.0125
Bearded Seal............................          0.0177          0.0125
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Bowhead Whale: The summer density estimate for bowhead whales was 
derived from June, July, and August aerial survey data collected in the 
Chukchi and Beaufort Sea during the 2011 to 2014 ASAMM program (Clarke 
et al. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Fall data were collected during 
September and October. Data only from the survey blocks that will be 
crossed by the proposed cable route were used in the calculations, and 
included blocks 3, 11, and 12 in the Beaufort Sea and 13, 14, 18, 21, 
and 22 in the Chukchi Sea. ASAMM surveys did not extend more than about 
25 km (15.5 mi) south of Point Hope, and there are no other systematic 
survey data for bowhead whales south of the point. During these three 
years, 87 bowhead whales were recorded in the three Beaufort Sea blocks 
during 12,161 km (7,556 mi) of summer survey effort (0.0072/km), and 
201 whales during 16,829 km (10,457 mi) of fall effort (0.0019/km). In 
the five Chukchi Sea survey blocks, 11 bowheads were recorded during 
27,183 km (16,891 mi) of summer effort (0.0004/km), and 160 during 
22,678 km (14,091 mi) of fall survey (0.0071/km).

[[Page 17676]]

Applying an effective strip half-width (ESW) of 1.15 (Ferguson and 
Clarke 2013), and a 0.07 correction factor for whales missed during the 
surveys, results in corrected densities of 0.0444 (Beaufort summer), 
0.0742 (Beaufort fall), 0.0025 (Chukchi summer), and 0.0438 (Chukchi 
fall) whales per km\2\ (Tables 3 and 4).
    Gray whale: Gray whale density estimates were derived from the same 
ASAMM transect data used to determine bowhead whale densities. During 
the four years of aerial survey, 35 gray whales were recorded in the 
three Beaufort Sea blocks during 12,161 km (7,557 mi) of summer survey 
effort (0.0029/km), and 142 gray whales during 16,829 km (10,457 mi) of 
fall effort (0.0084/km). In the five Chukchi Sea survey blocks, 298 
gray whales were recorded during 27,183 km (16,891 mi) of summer effort 
(0.0084/km), and 84 during 22,678 km (14,091 mi) of fall survey 
(0.0037/km). Applying an effective strip half-width (ESW) of 1.15 
(Ferguson and Clarke 2013), and a correction factor of 0.07, results in 
corrected densities of 0.0179 (Beaufort summer), 0.0524 (Beaufort 
fall), 0.0680 (Chukchi summer), and 0.0230 (Chukchi fall) whales per 
km\2\ (Tables 3 and 4).
    Beluga Whale: Beluga whale density estimates were derived from the 
ASAMM transect data collected from 2011 to 2014 (Clarke et al. 2012, 
2013, 2014, 2015). During the summer aerial surveys (June-August) there 
were 248 beluga whale observed along 3,894 km (2,420 mi) of transect in 
waters between 21 to 200 m (13-124 ft) deep and between longitudes 
154[deg] W. and 157[deg] W. This equates to 0.0637 whales/km of 
trackline and a corrected density of 0.0894 whales per km\2\, assuming 
an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor. Fall density estimates 
(September-October) for this region were based on 192 beluga whales 
seen along 4,267 km (2,651 mi). This equates to 0.0449 whales/km of 
trackline and a corrected density of 0.0632 whales per km\2\, assuming 
an ESW of 0.614 km and a 0.58 correction factor.
    During the summer aerial surveys (June-August) there were 30 beluga 
whale observed along 20,240 km (12,577 mi) of transect in waters less 
than 36 to 50 m (22-31 ft) deep and between longitudes 157[deg] W. and 
169[deg] W. This equates to 0.0015 whales/km of trackline and a 
corrected density of 0.0021 whales per km\2\, assuming an ESW of 0.614 
km and a 0.58 correction factor. Calculated fall beluga densities for 
the same region was based on 231 beluga whales seen during 22,887 km of 
transect (1,794 mi). This equates to 0.0101 whales/km and a corrected 
density of 0.142 whales per km\2\, again assuming an ESW of 0.614 km 
and a 0.58 correction factor.
    Harbor Porpoise: Although harbor porpoise are known to occur in low 
numbers in the Chukchi Sea (Aerts et al. 2014), no harbor porpoise were 
positively identified during COMIDA and ASAMM aerial surveys conducted 
in the Chukchi Sea from 2006 to 2013 (Clarke et al. 2011, 2012, 2013, 
2014). A few small unidentified cetaceans that were observed may have 
been harbor porpoise. Hartin et al. (2013) conducted vessel-based 
surveys in the Chukchi Sea while monitoring oil and gas activities 
between 2006 and 2010 and recorded several harbor porpoise throughout 
the summer and early fall. Vessel-based surveys may be more conducive 
to sighting these small, cryptic porpoise than the aerial-based COMIDA/
ASAMM surveys. Hartin et al.'s (2013) three-year average summer 
densities (0.0022/km\2\) and fall densities (0.0021/km\2\) were very 
similar, and are included in Table 3.
    Ringed and Spotted Seals: Aerts et al. (2014) conducted a marine 
mammal monitoring program in the northeastern Chukchi Sea in 
association with oil & gas exploration activities between 2008 and 
2013. For seal sightings that were either ringed or spotted seals, the 
highest summer density was 0.127 seals/km\2\ (2008) and the highest 
fall density was 0.076 seals/km\2\ (2013). Where seals could be 
identified to species, they found the ratio of ringed to spotted seals 
to be 2:1. Applying this ratio to the combined densities results in 
species densities of 0.0846 seals/km\2\ (summer) and 0.0507 seals/km\2\ 
(fall) for ringed seals, and 0.0423 seals/km\2\ (summer) and 0.0253 
seals/km\2\ (fall) for spotted seals. These are the densities used in 
the exposure calculations (Table 3) and to represent ringed and spotted 
seal densities for both the northern Bering and Chukchi seas.
    Moulton and Lawson (2002) conducted summer shipboard-based surveys 
for pinnipeds along the nearshore Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast, while the 
Kingsley (1986) conducted surveys here along the ice margin 
representing fall conditions. The ringed seal results from these 
surveys were used in the exposure estimates (Table 3). Neither survey 
provided a good estimate of spotted seal densities. Green and Negri 
(2005) and Green et al. (2006, 2007) recorded pinnipeds during barging 
activity between West Dock and Cape Simpson, and found high numbers of 
ringed seal in Harrison Bay, and peaks in spotted seal numbers off the 
Colville River Delta where a haulout site is located. Approximately 5% 
of all phocid sightings recorded by Green and Negri (2005) and Green et 
al. (2006, 2007) were spotted seals, which provide a suitable estimate 
of the proportion of ringed seals versus spotted seals in the Colville 
River Delta and Harrison Bay, both areas close to the proposed Oliktok 
branch line. Thus, the estimated densities of spotted seals in the 
cable-lay survey area were derived by multiplying the ringed seal 
densities from Moulton and Lawson (2002) and Kingsley (1986) by 5%.
    Spotted seals are a summer resident in the Beaufort Sea and are 
generally found in nearshore waters, especially in association with 
haulout sites at or near river mouths. Their summer density in the 
Beaufort Sea is a function of distance from these haul out sites. Near 
Oliktok Point (Hauser et al. 2008, Lomac-McNair et al. 2014) where the 
Oliktok cable branch will reach shore, they are more common than ringed 
seals, but they are very uncommon farther offshore where most of the 
Beaufort Sea cable-lay activity will occur. This distribution of 
density is taken into account in the take authorization request.
    Bearded Seal: The most representative estimates of summer and fall 
density of bearded seals in the northern Bering and Chukchi seas come 
from Aerts et al. (2014) monitoring program that ran from 2008 to 2013 
in the northeastern Chukchi Sea. During this period the highest summer 
estimate was 0.063 seals/km\2\ (2013) and the highest fall estimate was 
0.044 seals/km\2\ (2010). These are the values that were used in 
developing exposure estimates for this species for the northern Bering 
and Chukchi sea cable-lay areas (Table 3).
    There are no accurate density estimates for bearded seals in the 
Beaufort Sea based on survey data. However, Stirling et al. (1982) 
noted that the proportion of eastern Beaufort Sea bearded seals is 5% 
that of ringed seals. Further, Clarke et al. (2013, 2014) recorded 82 
bearded seals in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas during the 2012 and 
2013 ASAMM surveys, which represented 5.1% of all their ringed seal and 
small unidentified pinniped sightings (1,586). Bengtson et al. (2005) 
noted a similar ratio (6%) during spring surveys of ice seals in the 
Chukchi Sea. Therefore, the density values in Table 3 (/km\2\) were 
determined by multiplying ringed seal density from Moulton and Lawson 
(2002) and Kingsley (1986) by 5% as was done with spotted seals.

Level B Exposure Calculations

    The estimated potential harassment take of local marine mammals by 
QSO's fiber optics cable-lay project was

[[Page 17677]]

determined by multiplying the seasonal animal densities in Tables 3 and 
4 with the seasonal area that would be ensonified by thruster noise 
greater than 120 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms). The total area that would be 
ensonified in the Chukchi Sea is 5,947 km\2\ (2,296 mi\2\), and for the 
Bering Sea 1,296 km\2\ (500 mi\2\). Since there are no marine mammal 
density estimates for the northern Bering Sea, the ensonified area was 
combined with the Chukchi Sea for a total ZOI of 7,243 km\2\ (2,796 
mi\2\). The ensonified area for the Beaufort Sea is 1,509 km\2\ (583 
mi\2\).
    Because the cable laying plan is to begin in the south as soon as 
ice conditions allow and work northward, the intention is to complete 
the Bering and Chukchi seas portion of the network (1,575 km, [979 mi]) 
during the summer (June to August), and Beaufort Sea portion (328 km 
[204 mi]) during the fall (September and October). Thus, summer 
exposure estimates apply for the Bering and Chukchi areas and the fall 
exposure estimates for the Beaufort (Table 5).

                 Table 5--The Estimated Number of Level B Harassment Exposures to Marine Mammals
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                     Exposures       Exposures       Exposures
                             Species                              Bering/Chukchi     Beaufort          total
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead Whale...................................................              18             112             130
Gray Whale......................................................             493              79             572
Beluga Whale....................................................             648              21             669
Harbor Porpoise.................................................              16               0              16
Ringed Seal.....................................................             613             379             992
Spotted Seal....................................................             306              19             325
Bearded Seal....................................................             451              19             470
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The estimated takes of marine mammals are based on the estimated 
exposures for marine mammals with known density information. For marine 
mammals whose estimated number of exposures were not calculated due to 
a lack of reasonably accurate density estimates, but for which 
occurrence records within the project area exist (i.e., humpback whale, 
fin whale, minke whale, killer whale, and ribbon seal), a small number 
of takes relatively based on group size and site fidelity have been 
requested in case they are encountered. A summary of estimated takes is 
provided in Table 6.

                              Table 6--Level B Take Request as Percentage of Stock
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                   Request Level
                                                                       Stock       Level B take      B take by
                             Species                                 abundance       requested         stock
                                                                                                     (percent)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bowhead whale...................................................          19,534             130             0.8
Beluga whale (Beaufort Sea stock)...............................          39,258             669             1.7
Beluga whale (E. Chukchi Sea stock).............................           3,710             669            18.0
Beluga whale (E. Bering Sea stock)..............................          19.186             669             3.5
Gray whale......................................................          20,990             572             2.7
Humpback whale (W.N. Pacific stock).............................           1,107              15            1.36
Humpback whale (Cent. N. Pacific stock).........................          10,103              15            0.14
Fin whale.......................................................           1,652              15            0.91
Minke whale.....................................................           1,233               5            0.40
Killer whale....................................................           2,347               5            0.21
Harbor porpoise.................................................          48,215              16            0.03
Ringed seal.....................................................         249,000             992            0.49
Spotted seal....................................................         460,268             325            0.07
Bearded seal....................................................         155,000             470            0.08
Ribbon seal.....................................................          61,100               5            0.01
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The estimated Level B takes as a percentage of the marine mammal 
stock are less than 1.72% in all cases (Table 6). The highest percent 
of population estimated to be taken is 18% for Level B harassments of 
the East Chukchi Sea stock of beluga whale. However, that percentage 
assumes that all beluga whales taken are from that population. Most 
likely, some beluga whales would be taken from each of the three 
stocks, meaning fewer than 669 beluga whales would be taken from either 
individual stock. The Level B takes of beluga whales as a percentage of 
populations would likely be below 1.7, 18, and 3.5% for the Beaufort 
Sea, East Chukchi Sea, and East Bering Sea stocks, respectively.

Analysis and Preliminary Determinations

Negligible Impact

    Negligible impact is ``an impact resulting from the specified 
activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably 
likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on 
annual rates of recruitment or survival'' (50 CFR 216.103). A 
negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population-
level effects). An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes, 
alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact 
determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of 
marine mammals that might be ``taken'' through behavioral harassment, 
NMFS must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any 
responses (their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any 
responses (critical reproductive time or location, migration, etc.), as 
well as the number

[[Page 17678]]

and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes, the number of 
estimated mortalities, effects on habitat, and the status of the 
species.
    To avoid repetition, this introductory discussion of our analyses 
applies to all the species listed in Table 6, given that the 
anticipated effects of Quintillion's subsea cable-laying operation on 
marine mammals (taking into account the proposed mitigation) are 
expected to be relatively 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, they are described separately in the analysis below.
    No injuries or mortalities are anticipated to occur as a result of 
Quintillion's subsea cable-laying operation, and none are authorized. 
Additionally, animals in the area are not expected to incur hearing 
impairment (i.e., TTS or PTS) or non-auditory physiological effects. 
The takes that are anticipated and authorized are expected to be 
limited to short-term Level B behavioral harassment in the form of 
brief startling reaction and/or temporary vacating the area.
    Any effects on marine mammals are generally expected to be 
restricted to avoidance of a limited area around Quintillion's proposed 
activities and short-term changes in behavior, falling within the MMPA 
definition of ``Level B harassment.'' Mitigation measures, such as 
controlled vessel speed and dedicated marine mammal observers, will 
ensure that takes are within the level being analyzed. In all cases, 
the effects are expected to be short-term, with no lasting biological 
consequence.
    Of the 11 marine mammal species likely to occur in the proposed 
cable-laying area, bowhead, humpback, and fin whales, and ringed and 
bearded seals are listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA. 
These species are also designated as ``depleted'' under the MMPA. None 
of the other species that may occur in the project area are listed as 
threatened or endangered under the ESA or designated as depleted under 
the MMPA.
    The project area of the Quintillion's proposed activities is within 
areas that have been identified as biologically important areas (BIAs) 
for feeding for the gray and bowhead whales and for reproduction for 
gray whale during the summer and fall months (Clarke et al. 2015). In 
addition, the coastal Beaufort Sea also serves as a migratory corridor 
during bowhead whale spring migration, as well as for their feeding and 
breeding activities. Additionally, the coastal area of Chukchi and 
Beaufort seas also serve as BIAs for beluga whales for their feeding 
and migration. However, the Quintillion's proposed cable laying 
operation would briefly transit through the area in a slow speed (600 
meters per hour). As discussed earlier, the Level B behavioral 
harassment on marine mammals from the proposed activity is expected to 
be brief startling reaction and temporary vacating of the area. There 
is no long-term biologically significant impact to marine mammals 
expected from the proposed subsea cable-laying activity.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and 
mitigation measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine 
mammal take from Quintillion's proposed subsea cable-laying operation 
in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas is not expected to adversely 
affect the affected species or stocks through impacts on annual rates 
of recruitment or survival, and therefore will have a negligible impact 
on the affected marine mammal species or stocks.

Small Numbers

    The requested takes represent less than 18% of all populations or 
stocks potentially impacted (see Table 6 in this document). These take 
estimates represent the percentage of each species or stock that could 
be taken by Level B behavioral harassment. The numbers of marine 
mammals estimated to be taken are small proportions of the total 
populations of the affected species or stocks.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, NMFS finds that 
small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the 
populations of the affected species or stocks.

Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence 
Uses

    The proposed cable-lay activities will occur within the marine 
subsistence areas used by the villages of Nome, Wales, Kotzebue, Little 
Diomede, Kivalina, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow, and Nuiqsut. 
Subsistence use various considerably by season and location. Seven of 
the villages hunt bowhead whales (Suydam and George 2004). The small 
villages of Wales, Little Diomedes, and Kivalina take a bowhead whale 
about once every five years. Point Hope and Nuiqsut each harvest three 
to four whales annually, and Wainwright five to six. Harvest from 
Barrow is by far the highest with about 25 whales taken each year 
generally split between spring and fall hunts. Point Hope and 
Wainwright harvest occurs largely during the spring hunt, and Nuiqsut's 
during the fall. Nuiqsut whalers base from Cross Island, located 70 km 
(44 mi) east of Oliktok.
    Beluga are also annually harvested by the above villages. Beluga 
harvest is most important to Point Hope. For example, the village 
harvested 84 beluga whales during the spring of 2012, and averaged 31 
whales a year from 1987 to 2006 (Frost and Suydam 2010). Beluga are 
also important to Wainwright villages. They harvested 34 beluga whales 
in 2012, and averaged 11 annually from 1987 to 2006 (Frost and Suydam 
2010). All the other villages--Nome, Kotzebue, Wales, Kivalina, Little 
Diomede, and Barrow--averaged less than 10 whales a year (Frost and 
Suydam 2010).
    All villages utilize seals to one degree or another as well. Ringed 
seal harvest mostly occurs in the winter and spring when they are 
hauled out on ice near leads or at breathing holes. Bearded seals are 
taken from boats during the early summer as they migrate northward in 
the Chukchi Sea and eastward in the Beaufort Sea. Bearded seals are a 
staple for villages like Kotzebue and Kivalina that have limited access 
to bowhead and beluga whales (Georgette and Loon 1993). Thetis Island, 
located just off the Colville River Delta, is an important base from 
which villagers from Nuiqsut hunt bearded seals each summer after ice 
breakup. Spotted seals are an important summer resource for Wainwright 
and Nuiqsut, but other villages will avoid them because the meat is 
less appealing than other available marine mammals.
    The proposed cable-lay activity will occur in the summer after the 
spring bowhead and beluga whale hunts have ended, and will avoid the 
ice period when ringed seals are harvested. The Oliktok branch will 
pass within 4 km (2 mi) of Thetis Island, but the laying of cable along 
that branch would occur in late summer or early fall, long after the 
bearded seal hunt is over. Based on the proposed cable-lay time table 
relative to the seasonal timing of the various subsistence harvests, 
cable-lay activities into Kotzebue (bearded seal), Wainwright (beluga 
whale), and around Point Barrow (bowhead whale) could overlap with 
important harvest periods. Quintillion will work closely with the AEWC, 
the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, the Ice Seal Committee, and

[[Page 17679]]

the North Slope Borough to minimize any effects cable-lay activities 
might have on subsistence harvest.

Plan of Cooperation or Measures To Minimize Impacts to Subsistence 
Hunts

    Regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(12) require IHA applicants for 
activities that take place in Arctic waters to provide a Plan of 
Cooperation (POC) or information that identifies what measures have 
been taken and/or will be taken to minimize adverse effects on the 
availability of marine mammals for subsistence purposes.
    Quintillion has prepared a draft POC, which was developed by 
identifying and evaluating any potential effects the proposed cable-
laying operation might have on seasonal abundance that is relied upon 
for subsistence use.
    Specifically, Quintillion has contracted with Alcatel-Lucent 
Submarine Networks to furnish and install the cable system. Alcatel-
Lucent's vessel, Ile de Brehat, participates in the Automatic 
Identification System (AIS) vessel tracking system allowing the vessel 
to be tracked and located in real time. The accuracy and real time 
availability of AIS information via the web for the Bering, Chukchi, 
and Beaufort Seas will not be fully known until the vessels are in the 
project area. If access to the information is limited, Quintillion will 
provide alternate vessel information to the public on a regular basis. 
Quintillion can aid and support the AIS data with additional 
information provided to the local search and rescue, or other source 
nominated during the community outreach program.
    In addition, Quintillion will communicate closely with the 
communities of Pt. Hope, Pt. Lay, and Wainwright should activities 
progress far enough north in late June to mid-July when the villages 
are still engaged with their annual beluga whale hunt. Quintillion will 
also communicate closely with the communities of Wainwright, Barrow, 
and Nuiqsut to minimize impacts on the communities' fall bowhead whale 
subsistence hunts, which typically occur during late September and into 
October.
    Prior to starting offshore activities, Quintillion will consult 
with Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow, and Nuiqsut as well as 
the North Slope Borough, the Northwest Arctic Borough, and other 
stakeholders such as the EWC, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission 
(AEWC), the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee (ABWC), and the Alaska Nanuuq 
Commission (ANC). Quintillion will also engage in consultations with 
additional groups on request.
    The draft POC is attached to Quintillion's IHA application.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

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

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    NMFS is preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA), pursuant to 
NEPA, to determine whether the issuance of an IHA to Quintillion for 
its subsea cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort 
seas during the 2016 Arctic open-water season may have a significant 
impact on the human environment. NMFS has released a draft of the EA 
for public comment along with this proposed IHA.

Proposed Authorization

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
issue an IHA to Quintillion for subsea cable-laying operation in the 
Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Sea during the 2016 Arctic open-water 
season, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and 
reporting requirements are incorporated. The proposed IHA language is 
provided next.
    This section contains a draft of the IHA itself. The wording 
contained in this section is proposed for inclusion in the IHA (if 
issued).
    (1) This Authorization is valid from June 1, 2016, through October 
31, 2016.
    (2) This Authorization is valid only for activities associated with 
subsea cable-laying related activities in the Bering, Chukchi, and 
Beaufort seas. The specific areas where Quintillion's operations will 
be conducted are within the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas, Alaska, 
as shown in Figure 1 of Quintillion's IHA application.
    (3)(a) The species authorized for incidental harassment takings by 
Level B harassment are: Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas); bowhead 
whales (Balaena mysticetus); gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus), 
humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), fin whale (Balaenoptera 
physalus), killer whale, (Orcinus orca), harbor porpoise (Phocoena 
phocoena), ringed seal (Phoca hispida), bearded seals (Erignathus 
barbatus); and spotted seals (Phoca largha) (Table 6).
    (3)(b) The authorization for taking by harassment is limited to the 
following acoustic sources and from the following activities:
    (i) Operating dynamic positioning thrusters during subsea cable-
laying activities; and
    (ii) Vessel activities related to subsea cable-laying activities.
    (3)(c) The taking of any marine mammal in a manner prohibited under 
this Authorization must be reported within 24 hours of the taking to 
the Alaska Regional Administrator (907-586-7221) or his designee in 
Anchorage (907-271-3023), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and 
the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, at (301) 427-8401, or her designee (301-427-8418).
    (4) The holder of this Authorization must notify the Chief of the 
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, at 
least 48 hours prior to the start of subsea cable-laying activities 
(unless constrained by the date of issuance of this Authorization in 
which case notification shall be made as soon as possible).
    (5) Prohibitions
    (a) The taking, by incidental harassment only, is limited to the 
species listed under condition 3(a) above and by the numbers listed in 
Table 6. The taking by serious injury or death of these species or the 
taking by harassment, injury or death of any other species of marine 
mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or 
revocation of this Authorization.
    (b) The taking of any marine mammal is prohibited whenever the 
required source vessel protected species observers (PSOs), required by 
condition 7(a)(i), are not onboard in conformance with condition 
7(a)(i) of this Authorization.
    (6) Mitigation
    (a) Establishing Disturbance Zones:
    (i) Establish zones of influence (ZOIs) surrounding the cable-
laying vessel where the received level would be 120 dB (rms) re 1 
[micro]Pa. The size of the modeled distance to the 120 dB (rms) re 1 
[micro]Pa is 2.3 km.
    (ii) Immediately upon completion of data analysis of the field 
verification measurements required under condition 7(e)(i) below, the 
new 120 dB (rms) re 1 [micro]Pa ZOI shall be established based on the 
sound source verification.
    (b) Vessel Movement Mitigation:
    (i) When the cable-lay fleet is traveling in Alaskan waters to and 
from

[[Page 17680]]

the project area (before and after completion of cable-laying), the 
fleet vessels would:
    (A) Not approach within 1.6 km (1 m) distance from concentrations 
or groups of whales (aggregation of six or more whales) by all vessels 
under the direction of Quintillion.
    (B) Take reasonable precautions to avoid potential interaction with 
the bowhead whales observed within 1.6 km (1 mi) of a vessel.
    (C) Reduce speed to less than 5 knots when weather conditions 
require, such as when visibility drops, to avoid the likelihood of 
collision with whales. The normal vessel travel speeds when laying 
cable is well less than 5 knots; however vessels laying cable cannot 
change course and cable-laying operations will not cease until the end 
of cable is reached.
    (c) Mitigation Measures for Subsistence Activities:
    (i) For the purposes of reducing or eliminating conflicts between 
subsistence whaling activities and Quintillion's subsea cable-laying 
program, Quintillion will provide a daily report of all Quintillion 
activities and locations to the subsistence communities (see reporting 
below).
    (ii) Quintillion will provide the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Association 
(Barrow), Kawerak, Inc, (Nome), and Maniilaq Association (Kotzebue) 
memberships with the Marine Exchange of Alaska so that subsistence 
communities can track all vessel operations via the vessels' autonomous 
information system.
    (iii) Quintillion will prepare a daily report of project 
activities, sea conditions, and subsistence interactions, and send to 
all interested community leaders.
    (iv) The daily reports will include a contact address and phone 
number where interested community leaders can convey any subsistence 
concerns.
    (v) Quintillion shall monitor the positions of all of its vessels 
and will schedule timing and location of cable-laying segments to avoid 
any areas where subsistence activity is normally planned.
    (vi) Barge and ship transiting to and from the project area:
    (A) Vessels transiting in the Beaufort Sea east of Bullen Point to 
the Canadian border shall remain at least 5 miles offshore during 
transit along the coast, provided ice and sea conditions allow. During 
transit in the Chukchi Sea, vessels shall remain as far offshore as 
weather and ice conditions allow, and at all times at least 5 miles 
offshore.
    (B) From August 31 to October 31, transiting vessels in the Chukchi 
Sea or Beaufort Sea shall remain at least 20 miles offshore of the 
coast of Alaska from Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea to Pitt Point on the 
east side of Smith Bay in the Beaufort Sea, unless ice conditions or an 
emergency that threatens the safety of the vessel or crew prevents 
compliance with this requirement. This condition shall not apply to 
vessels actively engaged in transit to or from a coastal community to 
conduct crew changes or logistical support operations.
    (C) Vessels shall be operated at speeds necessary to ensure no 
physical contact with whales occurs, and to make any other potential 
conflicts with bowheads or whalers unlikely. Vessel speeds shall be 
less than 10 knots when within 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) of feeding 
whales or whale aggregations (6 or more whales in a group).
    (D) If any vessel inadvertently approaches within 1.6 kilometers (1 
mile) of observed bowhead whales, except when providing emergency 
assistance to whalers or in other emergency situations, the vessel 
operator will take reasonable precautions to avoid potential 
interaction with the bowhead whales by taking one or more of the 
following actions, as appropriate:
     Reducing vessel speed to less than 5 knots within 900 feet 
of the whale(s);
     Steering around the whale(s) if possible;
     Operating the vessel(s) in such a way as to avoid 
separating members of a group of whales from other members of the 
group;
     Operating the vessel(s) to avoid causing a whale to make 
multiple changes in direction; and
     Checking the waters immediately adjacent to the vessel(s) 
to ensure that no whales will be injured when the propellers are 
engaged.
    (vii) Quintillion shall complete operations in time to ensure that 
vessels associated with the project complete transit through the Bering 
Strait to a point south of 59 degrees North latitude no later than 
November 15, 2016. Any vessel that encounters weather or ice that will 
prevent compliance with this date shall coordinate its transit through 
the Bering Strait to a point south of 59 degrees North latitude with 
the appropriate Com-Centers. Quintillion vessels shall, weather and ice 
permitting, transit east of St. Lawrence Island and no closer than 10 
miles from the shore of St. Lawrence Island.
    (7) Monitoring:
    (a) Vessel-based Visual Monitoring:
    (i) Vessel-based visual monitoring for marine mammals shall be 
conducted by NMFS-approved protected species observers (PSOs) 
throughout the period of survey activities.
    (ii) PSOs shall be stationed aboard the cable-laying vessels and 
the Oliktok cable-laying barge through the duration of the subsea 
cable-laying operation. PSOs will not be aboard the smaller barge in 
waters of depths less than 12 m.
    (iii) A sufficient number of PSOs shall be onboard the survey 
vessel to meet the following criteria:
    (A) 100% Monitoring coverage during all periods of cable-laying 
operations in daylight;
    (B) Maximum of 4 consecutive hours on watch per PSO, with a minimum 
1-hour break between shifts; and
    (C) Maximum of 12 hours of watch time in any 24-hour period per 
PSO.
    (iv) The vessel-based marine mammal monitoring shall provide the 
basis for real-time mitigation measures as described in (6)(b) above.
    (b) Protected Species Observers and Training
    (i) PSO teams shall consist of Inupiat observers capable of 
carrying out requirements of the IHA and NMFS-approved field 
biologists.
    (ii) Experienced field crew leaders shall supervise the PSO teams 
in the field. New PSOs shall be paired with experienced observers to 
avoid situations where lack of experience impairs the quality of 
observations.
    (iii) Crew leaders and most other biologists serving as observers 
in 2016 shall be individuals with experience as observers during recent 
marine mammal monitoring projects in Alaska, the Canadian Beaufort, or 
other offshore areas in recent years.
    (iv) Resumes for PSO candidates shall be provided to NMFS for 
review and acceptance of their qualifications. Inupiat observers shall 
be experienced (as hunters or have previous PSO experience) in the 
region and familiar with the marine mammals of the area.
    (v) All observers shall complete an observer training course 
designed to familiarize individuals with monitoring and data collection 
procedures. The training course shall be completed before the 
anticipated start of the 2016 open-water season. The training 
session(s) shall be conducted by qualified marine mammalogists with 
extensive crew-leader experience during previous vessel-based 
monitoring programs.
    (vi) Training for both Alaska native PSOs and biologist PSOs shall 
be conducted at the same time in the same room. There shall not be 
separate training courses for the different PSOs.
    (vii) Crew members should not be used as primary PSOs because they 
have

[[Page 17681]]

other duties and generally do not have the same level of expertise, 
experience, or training as PSOs, but they could be stationed on the 
fantail of the vessel to observe the near field, especially the area 
around the airgun array, and implement a power-down or shutdown if a 
marine mammal enters the safety zone (or exclusion zone).
    (viii) If crew members are to be used in addition to PSOs, they 
shall go through some basic training consistent with the functions they 
will be asked to perform. The best approach would be for crew members 
and PSOs to go through the same training together.
    (ix) PSOs shall be trained using visual aids (e.g., videos, 
photos), to help them identify the species that they are likely to 
encounter in the conditions under which the animals will likely be 
seen.
    (x) Quintillion shall train its PSOs to follow a scanning schedule 
that consistently distributes scanning effort appropriate for each type 
of activity being monitored. All PSOs should follow the same schedule 
to ensure consistency in their scanning efforts.
    (xi) PSOs shall be trained in documenting the behaviors of marine 
mammals. PSOs should record the primary behavioral state (i.e., 
traveling, socializing, feeding, resting, approaching or moving away 
from vessels) and relative location of the observed marine mammals.
(c) Marine Mammal Observation Protocol
    (i) PSOs shall watch for marine mammals from the best available 
vantage point on the survey vessels, typically the bridge.
    (ii) PSOs shall scan systematically with the unaided eye and 7 x 50 
reticle binoculars, and night-vision equipment when needed.
    (iii) Personnel on the bridge shall assist the marine mammal 
observer(s) in watching for marine mammals; however, bridge crew 
observations will not be used in lieu of PSO observation efforts.
    (iv) Monitoring shall consist of recording of the following 
information:
    (A) The species, group size, age/size/sex categories (if 
determinable), the general behavioral activity, heading (if 
consistent), bearing and distance from vessel, sighting cue, behavioral 
pace, and apparent reaction of all marine mammals seen near the vessel 
(e.g., none, avoidance, approach, paralleling, etc.);
    (B) The time, location, heading, speed, and activity of the vessel, 
along with sea state, visibility, cloud cover and sun glare at (I) any 
time a marine mammal is sighted, (II) at the start and end of each 
watch, and (III) during a watch (whenever there is a change in one or 
more variable);
    (C) The identification of all vessels that are visible within 5 km 
of the vessel from which observation is conducted whenever a marine 
mammal is sighted and the time observed;
    (D) Any identifiable marine mammal behavioral response (sighting 
data should be collected in a manner that will not detract from the 
PSO's ability to detect marine mammals);
    (E) Any adjustments made to operating procedures; and
    (F) Visibility during observation periods so that total estimates 
of take can be corrected accordingly.
    (vii) Distances to nearby marine mammals will be estimated with 
binoculars (7 x 50 binoculars) containing a reticle to measure the 
vertical angle of the line of sight to the animal relative to the 
horizon. Observers may use a laser rangefinder to test and improve 
their abilities for visually estimating distances to objects in the 
water.
    (viii) PSOs shall understand the importance of classifying marine 
mammals as ``unknown'' or ``unidentified'' if they cannot identify the 
animals to species with confidence. In those cases, they shall note any 
information that might aid in the identification of the marine mammal 
sighted. For example, for an unidentified mysticete whale, the 
observers should record whether the animal had a dorsal fin.
    (ix) Additional details about unidentified marine mammal sightings, 
such as ``blow only,'' mysticete with (or without) a dorsal fin, ``seal 
splash,'' etc., shall be recorded.
    (x) Quintillion shall use the best available technology to improve 
detection capability during periods of fog and other types of inclement 
weather. Such technology might include night-vision goggles or 
binoculars as well as other instruments that incorporate infrared 
technology.
(d) Field Data-Recording and Verification
    (i) PSOs shall utilize a standardized format to record all marine 
mammal observations.
    (ii) Information collected during marine mammal observations shall 
include the following:
    (A) Vessel speed, position, and activity
    (B) Date, time, and location of each marine mammal sighting
    (C) Marine mammal information under (c)(iv)(A)
    (D) Observer's name and contact information
    (E) Weather, visibility, and ice conditions at the time of 
observation
    (F) Estimated distance of marine mammals at closest approach
    (G) Activity at the time of observation, including possible 
attractants present
    (H) Animal behavior
    (I) Description of the encounter
    (J) Duration of encounter
    (K) Mitigation action taken
    (iii) Data shall be recorded directly into handheld computers or as 
a back-up, transferred from hard-copy data sheets into an electronic 
database.
    (iv) A system for quality control and verification of data shall be 
facilitated by the pre-season training, supervision by the lead PSOs, 
and in-season data checks, and shall be built into the software.
    (v) Computerized data validity checks shall also be conducted, and 
the data shall be managed in such a way that it is easily summarized 
during and after the field program and transferred into statistical, 
graphical, or other programs for further processing.
(e) Passive Acoustic Monitoring
    (i) Sound Source Measurements:
    (a) Using a hydrophone system, the holder of this Authorization is 
required to conduct sound source verification test for the dynamic 
positioning thrusters of the cable-laying vessel early in the season.
    (b) The test results shall be reported to NMFS within 5 days of 
completing the test.
    (ii) Marine Mammal Passive Acoustic Monitoring
    (a) Quintillion would support the 2016 joint Arctic Whale Ecology 
Study (ARCWEST)/Chukchi Acoustics, Oceanography, and Zooplankton Study-
extension (CHAOZ-X).
    (9) Reporting:
    (a) Sound Source Verification Report: A report on the preliminary 
results of the sound source verification measurements, including the 
measured source level, shall be submitted within 14 days after 
collection of those measurements at the start of the field season. This 
report will specify the distances of the ZOI that were adopted for the 
survey.
    (b) Technical Report (90-day Report): A draft report will be 
submitted to the Director, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, within 
90 days after the end of Quintillion's subsea cable-laying operation in 
the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The report will describe in 
detail:
    (i) Summaries of monitoring effort (e.g., total hours, total 
distances, and

[[Page 17682]]

marine mammal distribution through the project period, accounting for 
sea state and other factors affecting visibility and detectability of 
marine mammals);
    (ii) Summaries that represent an initial level of interpretation of 
the efficacy, measurements, and observations, rather than raw data, 
fully processed analyses, or a summary of operations and important 
observations;
    (iii) Analyses of the effects of various factors influencing 
detectability of marine mammals (e.g., sea state, number of observers, 
and fog/glare);
    (iv) Species composition, occurrence, and distribution of marine 
mammal sightings, including date, water depth, numbers, age/size/gender 
categories (if determinable), group sizes, and ice cover;
    (v) Estimates of uncertainty in all take estimates, with 
uncertainty expressed by the presentation of confidence limits, a 
minimum-maximum, posterior probability distribution, or another 
applicable method, with the exact approach to be selected based on the 
sampling method and data available; and
    (vi) A clear comparison of authorized takes and the level of actual 
estimated takes.
    (d) The draft report shall be subject to review and comment by 
NMFS. Any recommendations made by NMFS must be addressed in the final 
report prior to acceptance by NMFS. The draft report will be considered 
the final report for this activity under this Authorization if NMFS has 
not provided comments and recommendations within 90 days of receipt of 
the draft report.
    (10)(a) In the unanticipated event that survey operations clearly 
cause the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this 
Authorization, such as a serious injury or mortality (e.g., ship-
strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), Quintillion shall 
immediately cease cable-laying operations and immediately report the 
incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401. The report must include the 
following information:
    (i) Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the incident;
    (ii) The name and type of vessel involved;
    (iii) The vessel's speed during and leading up to the incident;
    (iv) Description of the incident;
    (v) Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the 
incident;
    (vi) Water depth;
    (vii) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
    (viii) Description of marine mammal observations in the 24 hours 
preceding the incident;
    (ix) Species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
    (x) The fate of the animal(s); and
    (xi) Photographs or video footage of the animal (if equipment is 
available).
    (b) Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS shall work with Quintillion 
to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further 
prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Quintillion may not resume 
their activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or 
telephone.
    (c) In the event that Quintillion discovers an injured or dead 
marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the cause of the injury 
or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less 
than a moderate state of decomposition as described in the next 
paragraph), Quintillion will immediately report the incident to the 
Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401 and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline 
(1-877-925-7773). The report must include the same information 
identified in Condition 10(a) above. Activities may continue while NMFS 
reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with 
Quintillion to determine whether modifications in the activities are 
appropriate.
    (d) In the event that Quintillion discovers an injured or dead 
marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the injury or death is 
not associated with or related to the activities authorized in 
Condition 3 of this Authorization (e.g., previously wounded animal, 
carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), 
Quintillion shall report the incident to the Chief, Permits and 
Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-
8401 and the NMFS Alaska Stranding Hotline (1-877-925-7773) within 24 
hours of the discovery. Quintillion shall provide photographs or video 
footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal 
sighting to NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Quintillion 
can continue its operations under such a case.
    (11) The Plan of Cooperation outlining the steps that will be taken 
to cooperate and communicate with the native communities to ensure the 
availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses, must be 
implemented.
    (12) This Authorization may be modified, suspended, or withdrawn if 
the holder fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein or if the 
authorized taking is having more than a negligible impact on the 
species or stock of affected marine mammals, or if there is an 
unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or 
stocks for subsistence uses.
    (13) A copy of this Authorization and the Incidental Take Statement 
must be in the possession of each vessel operator taking marine mammals 
under the authority of this Incidental Harassment Authorization.
    (14) Quintillion is required to comply with the Terms and 
Conditions of the Incidental Take Statement corresponding to NMFS' 
Biological Opinion.

Request for Public Comments

    NMFS requests comment on our analysis, the draft authorization, and 
any other aspect of the Notice of Proposed IHA for Quintillion's 
proposed subsea cable-laying operation in the Bering, Chukchi, and 
Beaufort seas. Please include with your comments any supporting data or 
literature citations to help inform our final decision on Quintillion's 
request for an MMPA authorization.

    Dated: March 24, 2016.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2016-07109 Filed 3-29-16; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P