Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Site Characterization Surveys Off the Coast of Massachusetts, 19557-19579 [2016-07712]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices (Fe), lead (Pb), or tin (Sn), in small amounts (up to one percent by nominal weight). Phosphor copper is frequently produced to JIS H2501 and ASTM B–644, Alloy 3A standards or higher; however, merchandise covered by this investigation includes all phosphor copper, regardless of whether the merchandise meets, fails to meet, or exceeds these standards. Merchandise covered by this investigation is currently classified in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) under subheading 7405.00.1000. This HTSUS subheading is provided for convenience and customs purposes; the written description of the scope of this investigation is dispositive. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email comments is itp.fiorentino@noaa.gov. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25megabyte 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/ 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. RIN 0648–XE435 FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: [FR Doc. 2016–07801 Filed 4–4–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Site Characterization Surveys Off the Coast of Massachusetts National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS has received an application from DONG Energy Massachusetts (U.S.) LLC (DONG Energy) for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to high-resolution geophysical (HRG) and geotechnical survey investigations associated with marine site characterization activities off the coast of Massachusetts in the area of the Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands for Renewable Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS–A 0500) (the Lease Area). Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to DONG Energy to incidentally take, by Level B harassment only, small numbers of marine mammals during the specified activities. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than May 5, 2016. ADDRESSES: Comments on DONG Energy’s IHA application (the application) should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 John Fiorentino, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Availability An electronic copy of the application and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in this document, may be obtained by visiting the Internet at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental/. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to evaluate the issuance of wind energy leases covering the entirety of the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area (including the OCS–A 0500 Lease Area), and the approval of site assessment activities within those leases (BOEM, 2014). NMFS intends to adopt BOEM’s EA, if adequate and appropriate. Currently, we believe that the adoption of BOEM’s EA will allow NMFS to meet its responsibilities under NEPA for the issuance of an IHA to DONG Energy for HRG and geotechnical survey investigations in the Lease Area. If necessary, however, NMFS will supplement the existing analysis to ensure that we comply with NEPA prior to the issuance of the final IHA. Comments on this proposed IHA will be considered in the development of any additional NEPA analysis or documents (i.e., NMFS’ own EA) should they be deemed necessary. BOEM’s EA is available on the internet at: http:// PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 19557 www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/energy_other.htm. Background Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review. An authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ‘‘an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment]. Summary of Request On December 4, 2015, NMFS received an application from DONG Energy for the taking of marine mammals incidental to Spring 2016 geophysical survey investigations off the coast of Massachusetts in the OCS–A 0500 Lease Area, designated and offered by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), to support the development of an offshore wind project. NMFS determined that the application was adequate and complete on January 27, 2016. On January 20, 2016, DONG Energy submitted a separate request for the taking of marine mammals incidental to proposed geotechnical E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 19558 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices survey activities within the Lease Area scheduled for Fall 2016. On February 26, 2016, DONG Energy submitted a revision to the take request for the geotechnical activities and an addendum requesting that the two IHA requests be processed as a single application and IHA. NMFS determined that the combined application was adequate and complete on February 26, 2016. The proposed geophysical survey activities would occur for 4 weeks beginning in early May 2016, and geotechnical survey activities would take place in September 2016 and last for approximately 6 days. The following specific aspects of the proposed activities are likely to result in the take of marine mammals: Shallow and medium-penetration sub-bottom profiler (chirper and sparker) and equipment positioning system (also referred to as acoustic positioning system, or pinger) use during the HRG survey, and dynamically positioned (DP) vessel thruster use in support of geotechnical survey activities. Take, by Level B Harassment only, of individuals of 9 species of marine mammals is anticipated to result from the specified activities. Description of the Specified Activity Overview DONG Energy’s proposed activities discussed here are based on its February 26, 2016, final IHA application. DONG Energy proposes to conduct a geophysical and geotechnical survey in the Lease Area to support the characterization of the existing seabed and subsurface geological conditions in the Lease Area. This information is necessary to support the siting and design of up to two floating light and detection ranging buoys (FLIDARs) and up to two metocean monitoring buoys, as well as to obtain a baseline assessment of seabed/sub-surface soil conditions in the DONG Energy Massachusetts Lease Area to support the siting of the proposed wind farm. Dates and Duration HRG surveys are anticipated to commence in early May 2016 and will last for approximately 30 days, including estimated weather down time. Geotechnical surveys requiring the use of the DP drill ship will take place in September 2016, at the earliest, and will last for approximately 6 days excluding weather downtime. Specified Geographic Region DONG Energy’s survey activities will occur in the approximately 187,532-acre Lease Area designated and offered by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), located approximately 14 miles (mi) south of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, at its closest point (see Figure 1–1 of the IHA application). The Lease Area falls within the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area (MA WEA; Figure 1–1 of the IHA application). An evaluation of site assessment activities within the MA WEA was fully assessed in the BOEM Environmental Assessment (EA) and associated Finding of No Significant Impact (BOEM, 2014). A Biological Opinion on site assessment activities within the MA WEA was issued by NMFS’ Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (formerly Northeast Regional Office) to BOEM in April 2013. Detailed Description of Activities High-Resolution Geophysical Survey Activities Marine site characterization surveys will include the following HRG survey activities: • Depth sounding (multibeam depth sounder) to determine water depths and general bottom topography; • Magnetic intensity measurements for detecting local variations in regional magnetic field from geological strata and potential ferrous objects on and below the bottom; • Seafloor imaging (sidescan sonar survey) for seabed sediment classification purposes, to identify natural and man-made acoustic targets resting on the bottom as well as any anomalous features; • Subsea equipment positioning using ultra-short baseline (USBL) acoustic positioning systems (pingers); • Shallow penetration sub-bottom profiler (chirper) to map the near surface stratigraphy (top 0–5 meter [m] soils below seabed); and • Medium penetration sub-bottom profiler (sparker) to map deeper subsurface stratigraphy as needed (soils down to 75–100 m below seabed). The HRG surveys are scheduled to begin, at the earliest, on May 1, 2016. Table 1 identifies the representative survey equipment that is being considered in support of the HRG survey activities. The make and model of the listed HRG equipment will vary depending on availability, but will be finalized as part of the survey preparations and contract negotiations with the survey contractor, and therefore the final selection of the survey equipment will be confirmed prior to the start of the HRG survey program. Only the make and model of the HRG equipment may change, not the types of equipment or the addition of equipment with characteristics that might have effects beyond (i.e., resulting in larger ensonified areas) those considered in this proposed IHA. None of the proposed HRG survey activities will result in the disturbance of bottom habitat in the Lease Area. TABLE 1—SUMMARY OF REPRESENTATIVE DONG ENERGY HRG SURVEY EQUIPMENT Operating frequencies Source level iXBlue GAPS equipment positioning system (pinger). Sonardyne Scout USBL equipment positioning system (pinger). Edgtech 4125 Sidescan Sonar 1 .......... asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES HRG equipment 22–30 kHz ............ 192 dBRMS ............ 35–50 kHz ............ 187 dBRMS ............ 400/900/1600 kHz 205 dBRMS ............ Klein 3000H Sidescan Sonar 1 ............. 445/900 kHz ......... 242 dBRMS ............ GeoPulse Sub-bottom Profiler (chirper) 1.5 to 18 kHz ........ 208 dBRMS ............ Geo-Source 200/800 (sparker) ............. 50 to 5000 Hz ....... SeaBat 7125 Multibeam Sonar 2 .......... 400 kHz ................ 221 dBRMS/217 dBRMS. 220 dBpeak ............. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Source depth Beamwidth (degree) 2–5 m below surface. 2–5 m below surface. 1–2 m below surface. 3–8 m above seafloor. 3–8 m above seafloor. 1–2 m below surface. 1–3 m below surface. E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM Pulse duration (millisec) 180 1 180 1 50 0.6 to 4.9 .2 0.0025 to 0.4 55 0.1 to 1 110 2 05APN1 1 to 2 0.03 to .3 19559 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices TABLE 1—SUMMARY OF REPRESENTATIVE DONG ENERGY HRG SURVEY EQUIPMENT—Continued HRG equipment Operating frequencies Source level EM 2040 Multibeam Sonar 2 ................ 400 kHz ................ 207 dBRMS ............ 1 It asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 2 It Source depth Beamwidth (degree) 1–3 m below surface. 1.5 Pulse duration (millisec) 0.05 to 0.6 should be noted that only one of the representative sidescan sonars would be selected for deployment. should be noted that only one of the representative multibeam sonars would be selected for deployment. The HRG survey activities will be supported by a vessel approximately 98 to 180 feet (ft) in length and capable of maintaining course and a survey speed of approximately 4 knots while transiting survey lines. HRG survey activities across the Lease Area will generally be conducted at 900-meter (m) line spacing (total survey line approximately 1,800 km). Up to two FLIDARs would be deployed within the Lease Area, and up to three potential locations for FLIDAR deployment will be investigated. At the three potential FLIDAR deployment locations the survey will be conducted along a tighter 30-m line (total survey line approximately 2 km) spacing to meet the BOEM requirements as set out in the July 2015 Guidelines for Providing Geophysical, Geotechnical, and Geohazard Information Pursuant and Archeological and Historic Property Information to 30 CFR part 585. Given the size of the Lease Area (187,532 acres), to minimize cost, the duration of survey activities, and the period of potential impact on marine species, DONG Energy has proposed conducting survey operations 24 hours per day. Based on 24-hour operations, the estimated duration of the survey activities would be approximately 30 days (including estimated weather down time). Both NMFS and BOEM have advised that the deployment of HRG survey equipment, including the use of intermittent, impulsive soundproducing equipment operating below 200 kilohertz (kHz) (e.g., sub-bottom profilers), has the potential to cause acoustic harassment to marine mammals. Based on the frequency ranges of the equipment to be used in support of the HRG survey activities (Table 1) and the hearing ranges of the marine mammals that have the potential to occur in the Lease Area during survey activities (Table 2), only the equipment positioning systems (iXBlue GAPS and Sonardyne Scout USBL) and the subbottom profilers (GeoPulse Sub-bottom Profiler and Geo-Source 200 and 800) fall within the established marine mammal hearing ranges and have the potential to result in Level B harassment of marine mammals. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 The equipment positioning systems use vessel-based underwater acoustic positioning to track equipment (in this case, the sub-bottom profiler) in very shallow to very deep water. Using pulsed acoustic signals, the systems calculate the position of a subsea target by measuring the range (distance) and bearing from a vessel-mounted transceiver to a small acoustic transponder (the acoustic beacon, or pinger) fitted to the target. Equipment positioning systems (either the iXBlue GAPS or Sonardyne Scout) will be operational at all times during HRG survey data acquisition (i.e, concurrent with the sub-bottom profiler operation). Sub-bottom profiling systems identify and measure various marine sediment layers that exist below the sediment/ water interface. A sound source emits an acoustic signal vertically downwards into the water and a receiver monitors the return signal that has been reflected off the sea floor. Some of the acoustic signal will penetrate the seabed and be reflected when it encounters a boundary between two layers that have different acoustic impedance. The system uses this reflected energy to provide information on sediment layers beneath the sediment-water interface. A GeoPulse, or similar model, shallow penetration sub-bottom profiler will be used to map the near surface stratigraphy of the Lease Area. The shallow penetration sub-bottom profiler is a precisely controlled hull/pole mounted ‘‘chirp’’ system that emits high-energy sounds with a pulse duration of 0.1 to 1 millisecond (ms) at operating frequencies of 1.5 to 18 kHz and is used to penetrate and profile the shallow (top 0–5 m soils below seabed) sediments of the seafloor. A Geo-Source 200/800, or similar model, mediumpenetration sub-bottom profiler (sparker) will be used to map deeper subsurface stratigraphy in the Lease Area as needed (soils down to 75–100 m below seabed). The sparker is towed from a boom arm off the side of the survey vessel and emits a downward pulse with a duration of 1 to 2 ms at an operating frequency of 50 to 5000 Hz. PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Geotechnical Survey Activities Marine site characterization surveys will involve the following geotechnical survey activities: • Sample boreholes to determine geological and geotechnical characteristics of sediments; • Deep cone penetration tests (CPTs) to determine stratigraphy and in-situ conditions of the deep surface sediments; • Shallow CPTs to determine stratigraphy and in-situ conditions of the near surface sediments; and • Vibracoring to determine geological and geotechnical characteristics of the near surface sediments. It is anticipated that the geotechnical surveys will take place no sooner than September 2016. The geotechnical survey program will consist of up to 4 deep sample bore holes and adjacent 4 deep CPTs both to a depth of approximately 131 ft to 164 ft (40 m to 50 m) below the seabed, as well as 15 shallow CPTs, and 15 adjacent vibracores, both up to 20 ft (6 m) below seabed. The investigation activities are anticipated to be conducted from a 250ft to 350-ft (76 m to 107 m) dynamically positioned (DP) drill ship. DP vessel thruster systems maintain their precise coordinates in waters through the use of automatic controls. These control systems use variable levels of power to counter forces from current and wind. Operations will take place over a 24hour period to ensure cost, the duration of survey activities, and the period of potential impact on marine species are minimized. Based on 24-hour operations, the estimated duration of the geotechnical survey activities would be approximately 6 days excluding weather downtime. Estimated weather downtime is approximately 4 to 5 days. Field studies conducted off the coast of Virginia (Tetra Tech, 2014; Kalapinski and Varnik, 2015) to determine the underwater noise produced by borehole drilling and CPTs confirm that these activities do not result in underwater noise levels that harmful or harassing to marine mammals (i.e., do not exceed NMFS’ current Level A and Level B harassment thresholds for marine mammals). E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 19560 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices However, underwater continuous noise produced by the thrusters associated with the DP drill ship that will be used to support the geotechnical activities has the potential to result in Level B harassment of marine mammals. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity There are 38 species of marine mammals that potentially occur in the Northwest Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) region (BOEM, 2014) (Table 2). The majority of these species are pelagic and/or northern species, or are so rarely sighted that their presence in the Lease Area is unlikely. Six marine mammal species are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are known to be present, at least seasonally, in the waters of Southern New England: blue whale, fin whale, humpback whale, right whale, sei whale, and sperm whale. These species are highly migratory and do not spend extended periods of time in a localized area; the waters of Southern New England (including the Lease Area) are primarily used as a stopover point for these species during seasonal movements north or south between important feeding and breeding grounds. While the fin, humpback, and right whales have the potential to occur within the Lease Area, the sperm, blue, and sei whales are more pelagic and/or northern species, and though their presence within the Lease Area is possible, they are considered less common with regards to sightings. In particular, while sperm whales are known to occur occasionally in the region, their sightings are considered rare and thus their presence in the Lease Area at the time of the proposed activities is considered unlikely. Because the potential for sperm whale, blue whale, and sei whale to occur within the Lease Area during the marine survey period is unlikely, these species will not be described further in this analysis. The following species are both common in the waters of the OCS south of Massachusetts and have the highest likelihood of occurring, at least seasonally, in the Lease Area: North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), Atlantic whitesided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus), short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), and gray seal (Halichorus grypus) (Right Whale Consortium, 2014). Further information on the biology, ecology, abundance, and distribution of those species likely to occur in the Lease Area can be found in section 4 of the application, and the NMFS Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports (see Waring et al., 2015), which are available online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ species/. TABLE 2—MARINE MAMMALS KNOWN TO OCCUR IN THE WATERS OF SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND Common name Scientific name NMFS status Stock abundance Stock Toothed Whales (Odontoceti) Lagenorhynchus acutus ..................... Stenella frontalis ................................ Tursiops truncatus ............................. Clymene Dolphin ................................ Fraser’s Dolphin ................................. Pan-Tropical Spotted Dolphin ............ Risso’s dolphin ................................... Rough-Toothed Dolphin ..................... Short-beaked common dolphin .......... Striped dolphin ................................... Spinner Dolphin ................................. White-beaked dolphin ........................ Harbor porpoise ................................. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Atlantic white-sided dolphin ............... Atlantic spotted dolphin ...................... Bottlenose dolphin ............................. 48,819 .................. 44,715 .................. 11,548 .................. Stenella clymene ................................ Lagenodelphis hosei .......................... Stenella attenuata .............................. Grampus griseus ................................ Steno bredanensis ............................. Delphinus delphis ............................... Stenella coeruleoalba ........................ Stenella longirostris ............................ Lagenorhynchus albirostris ................ Phocoena phocoena .......................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... Northern coastal stock is Strategic a. N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... Orcinus orca ....................................... Feresa attenuata ................................ Pseudorca crassidens ........................ Globicephala melas ........................... Globicephala macrorhynchus ............ Physeter macrocephalus ................... Kogia breviceps ................................. Kogia sima ......................................... Ziphius cavirostris .............................. Mesoplodon densirostris .................... Mesoplodon europaeus ..................... Mesoplodon mirus .............................. Mesoplodon bidens ............................ Hyperoodon ampullatus ..................... Peponocephala electra ...................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... Strategic ............... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... Endangered ......... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... N/A ....................... Unknown .............. 3,785 .................... 442 ....................... 26,535 .................. 21,515 .................. 2,288 .................... 3,785 b .................. 3,785 b .................. 6,532 .................... 7,092 c .................. 7,092 c .................. 7,092 c .................. 7,092 c .................. Unknown .............. Unknown .............. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic, Northern Migratory Coastal. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. Killer whale ......................................... Pygmy Killer Whale ............................ False killer whale ............................... Long-finned pilot whale ...................... Short-finned pilot whale ..................... Sperm whale ...................................... Pigmy sperm whale ........................... Dwarf sperm whale ............................ Cuvier’s beaked whale ....................... Blainville’s beaked whale ................... Gervais’ beaked whale ...................... True’s beaked whale .......................... Sowerby’s Beaked Whale .................. Northern bottlenose whale ................. Melon-headed whale .......................... 20,741 .................. Unknown .............. 1,618 .................... 823 ....................... 465 ....................... Canadian East Coast. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. Gulf of Maine. W. North Atlantic. Unknown .............. Unknown .............. 3,333 .................... 18,250 .................. 271 ....................... 120,743 ................ 46,882 .................. Unknown .............. 2,003 .................... 79,833 .................. Baleen Whales (Mysticeti) Minke whale ....................................... Blue whale ......................................... Fin whale ............................................ Humpback whale ............................... North Atlantic right whale ................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Balaenoptera acutorostrata ................ Balaenoptera musculus ..................... Balaenoptera physalus ...................... Megaptera novaeangliae ................... Eubalaena glacialis ............................ Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 N/A ....................... Endangered ......... Endangered ......... Endangered ......... Endangered ......... Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 19561 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices TABLE 2—MARINE MAMMALS KNOWN TO OCCUR IN THE WATERS OF SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND—Continued Common name Scientific name NMFS status Stock abundance Stock Sei whale ........................................... Balaenoptera borealis ........................ Endangered ......... 357 ....................... Nova Scotia. 348,900 ................ 75,834 .................. Unknown .............. Unknown .............. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. W. North Atlantic. North Atlantic. Earless Seals (Phocidae) Gray seals .......................................... Harbor seals ....................................... Hooded seals ..................................... Harp seal ............................................ Halichoerus grypus ............................ Phoca vitulina ..................................... Cystophora cristata ............................ Phoca groenlandica ........................... N/A N/A N/A N/A ....................... ....................... ....................... ....................... a A strategic stock is defined as any marine mammal stock: (1) For which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds the potential biological removal level; (2) which is declining and likely to be listed as threatened under the ESA; or (3) which is listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA or as depleted under the MMPA. b This estimate may include both the dwarf and pygmy sperm whales. c This estimate includes Gervais’ and Blainville’s beaked whales and undifferentiated Mesoplodon spp. beaked whales. Sources: Waring et al., 2015; Waring et al., 2013; Waring et al., 2011; Waring et al., 2010; RI SAMP, 2011; Kenney and Vigness-Raposa, 2009; NMFS, 2012. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that the types of stressors associated with the specified activity have been observed to impact marine mammals. This 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 (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). 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, and 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 ‘‘Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals’’ 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. Background on Sound Sound is a physical phenomenon consisting of minute vibrations that VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 travel through a medium, such as air or water, and is generally characterized by several variables. Frequency describes the sound’s pitch and is measured in hertz (Hz) or kilohertz (kHz), while sound level describes the sound’s intensity and is measured in decibels (dB). Sound level increases or decreases exponentially with each dB of change. The logarithmic nature of the scale means that each 10-dB increase is a 10fold increase in acoustic power (and a 20-dB increase is then a 100-fold increase in power). A 10-fold increase in acoustic power does not mean that the sound is perceived as being 10 times louder, however. Sound levels are compared to a reference sound pressure (micro-Pascal) to identify the medium. For air and water, these reference pressures are ‘‘re: 20 mPa’’ and ‘‘re: 1 mPa,’’ respectively. Root mean square (RMS) is the quadratic mean sound pressure over the duration of an impulse. RMS is calculated by squaring all of the sound amplitudes, averaging the squares, and then taking the square root of the average (Urick, 1975). RMS accounts for both positive and negative values; squaring the pressures makes all values positive so that they may be accounted for in the summation of pressure levels. This measurement is often used in the context of discussing behavioral effects, in part because behavioral effects, which often result from auditory cues, may be better expressed through averaged units rather than by peak pressures. Acoustic Impacts HRG survey equipment use and use of the DP thruster during the geophysical and geotechnical surveys may temporarily impact marine mammals in the area due to elevated in-water sound levels. Marine mammals are continually exposed to many sources of sound. Naturally occurring sounds such as PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 lightning, rain, sub-sea earthquakes, and biological sounds (e.g., snapping shrimp, whale songs) are widespread throughout the world’s oceans. Marine mammals produce sounds in various contexts and use sound for various biological functions including, but not limited to: (1) Social interactions; (2) foraging; (3) orientation; and (4) predator detection. Interference with producing or receiving these sounds may result in adverse impacts. Audible distance, or received levels of sound depend on the nature of the sound source, ambient noise conditions, and the sensitivity of the receptor to the sound (Richardson et al., 1995). Type and significance of marine mammal reactions to sound are likely dependent on a variety of factors including, but not limited to, (1) the behavioral state of the animal (e.g., feeding, traveling, etc.); (2) frequency of the sound; (3) distance between the animal and the source; and (4) the level of the sound relative to ambient conditions (Southall et al., 2007). 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. Current data indicate that not all marine mammal species have equal hearing capabilities (Richardson et al., 1995; Southall et al., 1997; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999; Au and Hastings, 2008). Southall et al. (2007) designated ‘‘functional hearing groups’’ for marine mammals based on available behavioral data; audiograms derived from auditory evoked potentials; anatomical modeling; and other data. Southall et al. (2007) also estimated the lower and upper frequencies of functional hearing for each group. However, animals are less sensitive to sounds at the outer edges of their functional hearing range and are E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 19562 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices more sensitive to a range of frequencies within the middle of their functional hearing range. Note that direct measurements of hearing sensitivity do not exist for all species of marine mammals, including low-frequency cetaceans. The functional hearing groups and the associated frequencies developed by Southall et al. (2007) were revised by Finneran and Jenkins (2012) and have been further modified by NOAA. Table 3 provides a summary of sound production and general hearing capabilities for marine mammal species (note that values in this table are not meant to reflect absolute possible maximum ranges, rather they represent the best known ranges of each functional hearing group). For purposes of the analysis in this document, marine mammals are arranged into the following functional hearing groups based on their generalized hearing sensitivities: high-frequency cetaceans, mid-frequency cetaceans, low-frequency cetaceans (mysticetes), phocids (true seals), and otariids (sea lion and fur seals). A detailed discussion of the functional hearing groups can be found in Southall et al. (2007) and Finneran and Jenkins (2012). TABLE 3—MARINE MAMMAL FUNCTIONAL HEARING GROUPS Functional hearing range * Functional hearing group Low-frequency (LF) cetaceans (baleen whales) ..................................................................................................................... Mid-frequency (MF) cetaceans (dolphins, toothed whales, beaked whales, bottlenose whales) ........................................... High-frequency (HF) cetaceans (true porpoises, Kogia, river dolphins, cephalorhynchid, Lagenorhynchus cruciger & L. australis). Phocid pinnipeds (underwater) (true seals) ............................................................................................................................ Otariid pinnipeds (underwater) (sea lions and fur seals) ........................................................................................................ 7 Hz to 25 kHz. 150 Hz to 160 kHz. 200 Hz to 180 kHz. 75 Hz to 100 kHz. 100 Hz to 48 kHz. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Adapted and derived from Southall et al. (2007). * Represents frequency band of hearing for entire group as a composite (i.e., all species within the group), where individual species’ hearing ranges are typically not as broad. Functional hearing is defined as the range of frequencies a group hears without incorporating non-acoustic mechanisms (Wartzok and Ketten, 1999). This is ∼60 to ∼70 dB above best hearing sensitivity (Southall et al., 2007) for all functional hearing groups except LF cetaceans, where no direct measurements on hearing are available. For LF cetaceans, the lower range is based on recommendations from Southall et al., 2007 and the upper range is based on information on inner ear anatomy and vocalizations. When sound travels (propagates) from its source, its loudness decreases as the distance traveled by the sound increases. Thus, the loudness of a sound at its source is higher than the loudness of that same sound a kilometer away. Acousticians often refer to the loudness of a sound at its source (typically referenced to one meter from the source) as the source level and the loudness of sound elsewhere as the received level (i.e., typically the receiver). For example, a humpback whale 3 km from a device that has a source level of 230 dB may only be exposed to sound that is 160 dB loud, depending on how the sound travels through water (e.g., spherical spreading [6 dB reduction with doubling of distance] was used in this example). As a result, it is important to understand the difference between source levels and received levels when discussing the loudness of sound in the ocean or its impacts on the marine environment. As sound travels from a source, its propagation in water is influenced by various physical characteristics, including water temperature, depth, salinity, and surface and bottom properties that cause refraction, reflection, absorption, and scattering of sound waves. Oceans are not homogeneous and the contribution of each of these individual factors is extremely complex and interrelated. The physical characteristics that determine the sound’s speed through the water will change with depth, VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 season, geographic location, and with time of day (as a result, in actual active sonar operations, crews will measure oceanic conditions, such as sea water temperature and depth, to calibrate models that determine the path the sonar signal will take as it travels through the ocean and how strong the sound signal will be at a given range along a particular transmission path). As sound travels through the ocean, the intensity associated with the wavefront diminishes, or attenuates. This decrease in intensity is referred to as propagation loss, also commonly called transmission loss. As mentioned previously in this document, nine marine mammal species (seven cetaceans and two pinnipeds) are likely to occur in the Lease Area. Of the seven cetacean species likely to occur in the Lease Area, four are classified as low-frequency cetaceans (i.e., minke whale, fin whale, humpback whale, and North Atlantic right whale), two are classified as mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., Atlantic white-sided dolphin and short-beaked common dolphin), and one is classified as a high-frequency cetacean (i.e., harbor porpoise) (Southall et al., 2007). A species’ functional hearing group is a consideration when we analyze the effects of exposure to sound on marine mammals. Hearing Impairment Marine mammals may experience temporary or permanent hearing impairment when exposed to loud PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 sounds. Hearing impairment is classified by temporary threshold shift (TTS) and permanent threshold shift (PTS). There are no empirical data for onset of PTS in any marine mammal; therefore, PTS-onset must be estimated from TTS-onset measurements and from the rate of TTS growth with increasing exposure levels above the level eliciting TTS-onset. PTS is presumed to be likely if the hearing threshold is reduced by ≥ 40 dB (that is, 40 dB of TTS). PTS is considered auditory injury (Southall et al., 2007) and occurs in a specific frequency range and amount. Irreparable damage to the inner or outer cochlear hair cells may cause PTS; however, other mechanisms are also involved, such as exceeding the elastic limits of certain tissues and membranes in the middle and inner ears and resultant changes in the chemical composition of the inner ear fluids (Southall et al., 2007). Given the higher level of sound and longer durations of exposure necessary to cause PTS as compared with TTS, it is considerably less likely that PTS would occur during the proposed HRG and geotechnical survey. Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) TTS is the mildest form of hearing impairment that can occur during exposure to a loud sound (Kryter, 1985). While experiencing TTS, the hearing threshold rises and a sound must be stronger in order to be heard. At least in terrestrial mammals, TTS can last from minutes or hours to (in cases of strong E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices TTS) days, can be limited to a particular frequency range, and can occur to varying degrees (i.e., a loss of a certain number of dBs of sensitivity). For sound exposures at or somewhat above the TTS threshold, hearing sensitivity in both terrestrial and marine mammals recovers rapidly after exposure to the noise ends. Marine mammal hearing plays a critical role in communication with conspecifics and in 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. 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 takes place during a time when the animals is traveling through the open ocean, 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 a time when communication is critical for successful mother/calf interactions could have more serious impacts if it were in the same frequency band as the necessary vocalizations and of a severity that it impeded communication. The fact that animals exposed to levels and durations of sound that would be expected to result in this physiological response would also be expected to have behavioral responses of a comparatively more severe or sustained nature is also notable and potentially of more importance than the simple existence of a TTS. Currently, TTS data only exist for four species of cetaceans (bottlenose dolphin, beluga whale, harbor porpoise, and Yangtze finless porpoise) and three species of pinnipeds (northern elephant seal, harbor seal, and California sea lion) exposed to a limited number of sound sources (i.e., mostly tones and octaveband noise) in laboratory settings (e.g., Finneran et al., 2002 and 2010; Nachtigall et al., 2004; Kastak et al., 2005; Lucke et al., 2009; Mooney et al., 2009; Popov et al., 2011; Finneran and Schlundt, 2010). In general, harbor seals (Kastak et al., 2005; Kastelein et al., 2012a) and harbor porpoises (Lucke et al., 2009; Kastelein et al., 2012b) have a lower TTS onset than other measured pinniped or cetacean species. However, even for these animals, which are better able to hear higher frequencies and may be more sensitive to higher frequencies, exposures on the order of approximately VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 170 dB rms or higher for brief transient signals are likely required for even temporary (recoverable) changes in hearing sensitivity that would likely not be categorized as physiologically damaging (Lucke et al., 2009). Additionally, the existing marine mammal TTS data come from a limited number of individuals within these species. There are no data available on noise-induced hearing loss for mysticetes (of note, the source operating characteristics of some of DONG Energy’s proposed HRG survey equipment—i.e., the equipment positioning systems—are unlikely to be audible to mysticetes). For summaries of data on TTS in marine mammals or for further discussion of TTS onset thresholds, please see Southall et al. (2007), Finneran and Jenkins (2012), and Finneran (2015). Scientific literature highlights the inherent complexity of predicting TTS onset in marine mammals, as well as the importance of considering exposure duration when assessing potential impacts (Mooney et al., 2009a, 2009b; Kastak et al., 2007). Generally, with sound exposures of equal energy, quieter sounds (lower SPL) of longer duration were found to induce TTS onset more than louder sounds (higher SPL) of shorter duration (more similar to sub-bottom profilers). For intermittent sounds, less threshold shift will occur than from a continuous exposure with the same energy (some recovery will occur between intermittent exposures) (Kryter et al., 1966; Ward, 1997). For sound exposures at or somewhat above the TTS-onset threshold, hearing sensitivity recovers rapidly after exposure to the sound ends; intermittent exposures recover faster in comparison with continuous exposures of the same duration (Finneran et al., 2010). NMFS considers TTS as Level B harassment that is mediated by physiological effects on the auditory system; however, NMFS does not consider TTS-onset to be the lowest level at which Level B harassment may occur. Animals in the Lease Area during the HRG survey are unlikely to incur TTS hearing impairment due to the characteristics of the sound sources, which include low source levels (208 to 221 dB re 1 mPa-m) and generally very short pulses and duration of the sound. Even for high-frequency cetacean species (e.g., harbor porpoises), which may have increased sensitivity to TTS (Lucke et al., 2009; Kastelein et al., 2012b), individuals would have to make a very close approach and also remain very close to vessels operating these sources in order to receive multiple exposures at relatively high levels, as PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 19563 would be necessary to cause TTS. Intermittent exposures—as would occur due to the brief, transient signals produced by these sources—require a higher cumulative SEL to induce TTS than would continuous exposures of the same duration (i.e., intermittent exposure results in lower levels of TTS) (Mooney et al., 2009a; Finneran et al., 2010). Moreover, most marine mammals would more likely avoid a loud sound source rather than swim in such close proximity as to result in TTS. Kremser et al. (2005) noted that the probability of a cetacean swimming through the area of exposure when a sub-bottom profiler emits a pulse is small—because if the animal was in the area, it would have to pass the transducer at close range in order to be subjected to sound levels that could cause temporary threshold shift and would likely exhibit avoidance behavior to the area near the transducer rather than swim through at such a close range. Further, the restricted beam shape of the sub-bottom profiler and other HRG survey equipment makes it unlikely that an animal would be exposed more than briefly during the passage of the vessel. Boebel et al. (2005) concluded similarly for single and multibeam echosounders, and more recently, Lurton (2016) conducted a modeling exercise and concluded similarly that likely potential for acoustic injury from these types of systems is negligible, but that behavioral response cannot be ruled out. Animals may avoid the area around the survey vessels, thereby reducing exposure. Any disturbance to marine mammals is likely to be in the form of temporary avoidance or alteration of opportunistic foraging behavior near the survey location. It is possible that animals in the Lease Area may experience TTS during the use of DP vessel thrusters during the geotechnical survey due to the duration and nature of the noise (continuous, up to 6 days). However, the fact that the DP drill ship is stationary during the geotechnical survey activities makes it less likely that animals would remain in the area long enough to incur TTS. As is the case for the HRG survey activities, animals may avoid the area around the survey vessel, thereby reducing exposure. Any disturbance to marine mammals is more likely to be in the form of temporary avoidance or alteration of opportunistic foraging behavior near the survey location. Masking Masking is the obscuring of sounds of interest to an animal by other sounds, typically at similar frequencies. Marine mammals are highly dependent on E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 19564 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices sound, and their ability to recognize sound signals amid other sound is important in communication and detection of both predators and prey (Tyack, 2000). Background ambient sound may interfere with or mask the ability of an animal to detect a sound signal even when that signal is above its absolute hearing threshold. Even in the absence of anthropogenic sound, the marine environment is often loud. Natural ambient sound includes contributions from wind, waves, precipitation, other animals, and (at frequencies above 30 kHz) thermal sound resulting from molecular agitation (Richardson et al., 1995). Background sound may also include anthropogenic sound, and masking of natural sounds can result when human activities produce high levels of background sound. Conversely, if the background level of underwater sound is high (e.g., on a day with strong wind and high waves), an anthropogenic sound source would not be detectable as far away as would be possible under quieter conditions and would itself be masked. Ambient sound is highly variable on continental shelves (Thompson, 1965; Myrberg, 1978; Chapman et al., 1998; Desharnais et al., 1999). This results in a high degree of variability in the range at which marine mammals can detect anthropogenic sounds. Although masking is a phenomenon which may occur naturally, the introduction of loud anthropogenic sounds into the marine environment at frequencies important to marine mammals increases the severity and frequency of occurrence of masking. For example, if a baleen whale is exposed to continuous low-frequency sound from an industrial source, this would reduce the size of the area around that whale within which it can hear the calls of another whale. The components of background noise that are similar in frequency to the signal in question primarily determine the degree of masking of that signal. In general, little is known about the degree to which marine mammals rely upon detection of sounds from conspecifics, predators, prey, or other natural sources. In the absence of specific information about the importance of detecting these natural sounds, it is not possible to predict the impact of masking on marine mammals (Richardson et al., 1995). In general, masking effects are expected to be less severe when sounds are transient than when they are continuous. Masking is typically of greater concern for those marine mammals that utilize low-frequency communications, such as VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 baleen whales, because of how far lowfrequency sounds propagate. Marine mammal communications would not likely be masked appreciably by the sub-profiler or pingers’ signals given the directionality of the signal and the brief period when an individual mammal is likely to be within its beam. And while continuous sound from the DP thruster when in use is predicted to extend 3.4 km to the 120 dB threshold, the generally short duration of DP thruster use and low source levels, coupled with the likelihood of animals to avoid the sound source, would result in very little opportunity for this activity to mask the communication of local marine mammals for more than a brief period of time. Non-Auditory Physical Effects (Stress) Classic stress responses begin when an animal’s central nervous system perceives a potential threat to its homeostasis. That perception triggers stress responses regardless of whether a stimulus actually threatens the animal; the mere perception of a threat is sufficient to trigger a stress response (Moberg, 2000; Sapolsky et al., 2005; Seyle, 1950). Once an animal’s central nervous system perceives a threat, it mounts a biological response or defense that consists of a combination of the four general biological defense responses: behavioral responses, autonomic nervous system responses, neuroendocrine responses, or immune responses. In the case of many stressors, an animal’s first and sometimes most economical (in terms of biotic costs) response is behavioral avoidance of the potential stressor or avoidance of continued exposure to a stressor. An animal’s second line of defense to stressors involves the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system and the classical ‘‘fight or flight’’ response which includes the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, the exocrine glands, and the adrenal medulla to produce changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and gastrointestinal activity that humans commonly associate with ‘‘stress.’’ These responses have a relatively short duration and may or may not have significant long-term effect on an animal’s welfare. An animal’s third line of defense to stressors involves its neuroendocrine systems; the system that has received the most study has been the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system (also known as the HPA axis in mammals or the hypothalamuspituitary-interrenal axis in fish and some reptiles). Unlike stress responses associated with the autonomic nervous PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 system, virtually all neuro-endocrine functions that are affected by stress— including immune competence, reproduction, metabolism, and behavior—are regulated by pituitary hormones. Stress-induced changes in the secretion of pituitary hormones have been implicated in failed reproduction (Moberg, 1987; Rivier, 1995), altered metabolism (Elasser et al., 2000), reduced immune competence (Blecha, 2000), and behavioral disturbance. Increases in the circulation of glucocorticosteroids (cortisol, corticosterone, and aldosterone in marine mammals; see Romano et al., 2004) have been equated with stress for many years. The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does not normally place an animal at risk) and distress is the biotic cost of the response. During a stress response, an animal uses glycogen stores that can be quickly replenished once the stress is alleviated. In such circumstances, the cost of the stress response would not pose a risk to the animal’s welfare. However, when an animal does not have sufficient energy reserves to satisfy the energetic costs of a stress response, energy resources must be diverted from other biotic function, which impairs those functions that experience the diversion. For example, when mounting a stress response diverts energy away from growth in young animals, those animals may experience stunted growth. When mounting a stress response diverts energy from a fetus, an animal’s reproductive success and its fitness will suffer. In these cases, the animals will have entered a pre-pathological or pathological state which is called ‘‘distress’’ (Seyle, 1950) or ‘‘allostatic loading’’ (McEwen and Wingfield, 2003). This pathological state will last until the animal replenishes its biotic reserves sufficient to restore normal function. Note that these examples involved a long-term (days or weeks) stress response exposure to stimuli. Relationships between these physiological mechanisms, animal behavior, and the costs of stress responses have also been documented fairly well through controlled experiments; because this physiology exists in every vertebrate that has been studied, it is not surprising that stress responses and their costs have been documented in both laboratory and freeliving animals (for examples see, Holberton et al., 1996; Hood et al., 1998; Jessop et al., 2003; Krausman et al., 2004; Lankford et al., 2005; Reneerkens et al., 2002; Thompson and Hamer, 2000). Information has also been collected on the physiological responses E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices of marine mammals to exposure to anthropogenic sounds (Fair and Becker, 2000; Romano et al., 2002; Wright et al., 2008). For example, Rolland et al. (2012) found that noise reduction from reduced ship traffic in the Bay of Fundy was associated with decreased stress in North Atlantic right whales. In a conceptual model developed by the Population Consequences of Acoustic Disturbance (PCAD) working group, serum hormones were identified as possible indicators of behavioral effects that are translated into altered rates of reproduction and mortality. Studies of other marine animals and terrestrial animals would also lead us to expect some marine mammals to experience physiological stress responses and, perhaps, physiological responses that would be classified as ‘‘distress’’ upon exposure to high frequency, mid-frequency and lowfrequency sounds. For example, Jansen (1998) reported on the relationship between acoustic exposures and physiological responses that are indicative of stress responses in humans (for example, elevated respiration and increased heart rates). Jones (1998) reported on reductions in human performance when faced with acute, repetitive exposures to acoustic disturbance. Trimper et al. (1998) reported on the physiological stress responses of osprey to low-level aircraft noise while Krausman et al. (2004) reported on the auditory and physiology stress responses of endangered Sonoran pronghorn to military overflights. Smith et al. (2004a, 2004b), for example, identified noise-induced physiological transient stress responses in hearingspecialist fish (i.e., goldfish) that accompanied short- and long-term hearing losses. Welch and Welch (1970) reported physiological and behavioral stress responses that accompanied damage to the inner ears of fish and several mammals. Hearing is one of the primary senses marine mammals use to gather information about their environment and to communicate with conspecifics. Although empirical information on the relationship between sensory impairment (TTS, PTS, and acoustic masking) on marine mammals remains limited, it seems reasonable to assume that reducing an animal’s ability to gather information about its environment and to communicate with other members of its species would be stressful for animals that use hearing as their primary sensory mechanism. Therefore, we assume that acoustic exposures sufficient to trigger onset PTS or TTS would be accompanied by physiological stress responses because VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 terrestrial animals exhibit those responses under similar conditions (NRC, 2003). More importantly, marine mammals might experience stress responses at received levels lower than those necessary to trigger onset TTS. Based on empirical studies of the time required to recover from stress responses (Moberg, 2000), we also assume that stress responses are likely to persist beyond the time interval required for animals to recover from TTS and might result in pathological and pre-pathological states that would be as significant as behavioral responses to TTS. In general, there are few data on the potential for strong, anthropogenic underwater sounds to cause nonauditory physical effects in marine mammals. Such effects, if they occur at all, would presumably be limited to short distances and to activities that extend over a prolonged period. The available data do not allow identification of a specific exposure level above which non-auditory effects can be expected (Southall et al., 2007). There is no definitive evidence that any of these effects occur even for marine mammals in close proximity to an anthropogenic sound source. In addition, marine mammals that show behavioral avoidance of survey vessels and related sound sources, are unlikely to incur non-auditory impairment or other physical effects. NMFS does not expect that the generally short-term, intermittent, and transitory HRG and geotechnical activities would create conditions of long-term, continuous noise and chronic acoustic exposure leading to long-term physiological stress responses in marine mammals. Behavioral Disturbance Behavioral responses to sound are highly variable and context-specific. An animal’s perception of and response to (in both nature and magnitude) an acoustic event can be influenced by prior experience, perceived proximity, bearing of the sound, familiarity of the sound, etc. (Southall et al., 2007). If a marine mammal does react briefly to an underwater sound by changing its behavior or moving a small distance, the impacts of the change are unlikely to be significant to the individual, let alone the stock or population. However, if a sound source displaces marine mammals from an important feeding or breeding area for a prolonged period, impacts on individuals and populations could be significant (e.g., Lusseau and Bejder, 2007; Weilgart, 2007). Southall et al. (2007) reports the results of the efforts of a panel of experts in acoustic research from behavioral, PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 19565 physiological, and physical disciplines that convened and reviewed the available literature on marine mammal hearing and physiological and behavioral responses to human-made sound with the goal of proposing exposure criteria for certain effects. This peer-reviewed compilation of literature is very valuable, though Southall et al. (2007) note that not all data are equal, some have poor statistical power, insufficient controls, and/or limited information on received levels, background noise, and other potentially important contextual variables—such data were reviewed and sometimes used for qualitative illustration but were not included in the quantitative analysis for the criteria recommendations. All of the studies considered, however, contain an estimate of the received sound level when the animal exhibited the indicated response. In the Southall et al. (2007) publication, for the purposes of analyzing responses of marine mammals to anthropogenic sound and developing criteria, the authors differentiate between pulse sounds (single and multiple) and non-pulse sounds. The studies that address responses of low-frequency cetaceans to non-pulse sounds include data gathered in the field and related to several types of sound sources, including: vessel noise, drilling and machinery playback, lowfrequency M-sequences (sine wave with multiple phase reversals) playback, tactical low-frequency active sonar playback, drill ships, and non-pulse playbacks. These studies generally indicate no (or very limited) responses to received levels in the 90 to 120 dB re: 1mPa range and an increasing likelihood of avoidance and other behavioral effects in the 120 to 160 dB range. As mentioned earlier, though, contextual variables play a very important role in the reported responses and the severity of effects do not increase linearly with received levels. Also, few of the laboratory or field datasets had common conditions, behavioral contexts, or sound sources, so it is not surprising that responses differ. The studies that address responses of mid-frequency cetaceans to non-pulse sounds include data gathered both in the field and the laboratory and related to several different sound sources, including: pingers, drilling playbacks, ship and ice-breaking noise, vessel noise, Acoustic harassment devices (AHDs), Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs), mid-frequency active sonar, and non-pulse bands and tones. Southall et al. (2007) were unable to come to a clear conclusion regarding the results of these E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 19566 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices studies. In some cases animals in the field showed significant responses to received levels between 90 and 120 dB, while in other cases these responses were not seen in the 120 to 150 dB range. The disparity in results was likely due to contextual variation and the differences between the results in the field and laboratory data (animals typically responded at lower levels in the field). The studies that address responses of high-frequency cetaceans to non-pulse sounds include data gathered both in the field and the laboratory and related to several different sound sources, including: pingers, AHDs, and various laboratory non-pulse sounds. All of these data were collected from harbor porpoises. Southall et al. (2007) concluded that the existing data indicate that harbor porpoises are likely sensitive to a wide range of anthropogenic sounds at low received levels (around 90 to 120 dB), at least for initial exposures. All recorded exposures above 140 dB induced profound and sustained avoidance behavior in wild harbor porpoises (Southall et al., 2007). Rapid habituation was noted in some but not all studies. The studies that address the responses of pinnipeds in water to non-pulse sounds include data gathered both in the field and the laboratory and related to several different sound sources, including: AHDs, various non-pulse sounds used in underwater data communication, underwater drilling, and construction noise. Few studies exist with enough information to include them in the analysis. The limited data suggest that exposures to non-pulse sounds between 90 and 140 dB generally do not result in strong behavioral responses of pinnipeds in water, but no data exist at higher received levels (Southall et al., 2007). The studies that address the responses of mid-frequency cetaceans to impulse sounds include data gathered both in the field and the laboratory and related to several different sound sources, including: small explosives, airgun arrays, pulse sequences, and natural and artificial pulses. The data show no clear indication of increasing probability and severity of response with increasing received level. Behavioral responses seem to vary depending on species and stimuli. Data on behavioral responses of high-frequency cetaceans to multiple pulses is not available. The studies that address the responses of pinnipeds in water to impulse sounds include data gathered in the field and related to several different sources, including: small explosives, impact pile VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 driving, and airgun arrays. Quantitative data on reactions of pinnipeds to impulse sounds is limited, but a general finding is that exposures in the 150 to 180 dB range generally have limited potential to induce avoidance behavior (Southall et al., 2007). Marine mammals are likely to avoid the HRG survey activity, especially the naturally shy harbor porpoise, while the harbor seals might be attracted to them out of curiosity. However, because the sub-bottom profilers and other HRG survey equipment operate from a moving vessel, and the maximum radius to the 160 dB harassment threshold is less than 400 m, the area and time that this equipment would be affecting a given location is very small. Further, once an area has been surveyed, it is not likely that it will be surveyed again, therefore reducing the likelihood of repeated HRG-related impacts within the survey area. And while the drill ship using DP thrusters will generally remain stationary during geotechnical survey activities, the short duration (up to six days) of the DP thruster use would likely result in only short-term and temporary avoidance of the area, rather than permanent abandonment, by marine mammals. Vessel traffic in the project area is relatively high and marine mammals are presumably habituated to noise from project vessels (DP thrusters). We have also considered the potential for severe behavioral responses such as stranding and associated indirect injury or mortality from DONG Energy’s use of HRG survey equipment, on the basis of a 2008 mass stranding of approximately one hundred melon-headed whales in a Madagascar lagoon system. An investigation of the event indicated that use of a high-frequency mapping system (12-kHz multibeam echosounder) was the most plausible and likely initial behavioral trigger of the event, while providing the caveat that there is no unequivocal and easily identifiable single cause (Southall et al., 2013). The investigatory panel’s conclusion was based on (1) very close temporal and spatial association and directed movement of the survey with the stranding event; (2) the unusual nature of such an event coupled with previously documented apparent behavioral sensitivity of the species to other sound types (Southall et al., 2006; Brownell et al., 2009); and (3) the fact that all other possible factors considered were determined to be unlikely causes. Specifically, regarding survey patterns prior to the event and in relation to bathymetry, the vessel transited in a north-south direction on the shelf break parallel to the shore, ensonifying large PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 areas of deep-water habitat prior to operating intermittently in a concentrated area offshore from the stranding site; this may have trapped the animals between the sound source and the shore, thus driving them towards the lagoon system. The investigatory panel systematically excluded or deemed highly unlikely nearly all potential reasons for these animals leaving their typical pelagic habitat for an area extremely atypical for the species (i.e., a shallow lagoon system). Notably, this was the first time that such a system has been associated with a stranding event. The panel also noted several site- and situation-specific secondary factors that may have contributed to the avoidance responses that led to the eventual entrapment and mortality of the whales. Specifically, shoreward-directed surface currents and elevated chlorophyll levels in the area preceding the event may have played a role (Southall et al., 2013). The report also notes that prior use of a similar system in the general area may have sensitized the animals and also concluded that, for odontocete cetaceans that hear well in higher frequency ranges where ambient noise is typically quite low, high-power active sonars operating in this range may be more easily audible and have potential effects over larger areas than low frequency systems that have more typically been considered in terms of anthropogenic noise impacts. It is, however, important to note that the relatively lower output frequency, higher output power, and complex nature of the system implicated in this event, in context of the other factors noted here, likely produced a fairly unusual set of circumstances that indicate that such events would likely remain rare and are not necessarily relevant to use of lower-power, higherfrequency systems more commonly used for HRG survey applications. The risk of similar events recurring may be very low, given the extensive use of active acoustic systems used for scientific and navigational purposes worldwide on a daily basis and the lack of direct evidence of such responses previously reported. Tolerance Numerous studies have shown that underwater sounds from industrial activities are often readily detectable by marine mammals in the water at distances of many kilometers. However, other studies have shown that marine mammals at distances more than a few kilometers away often show no apparent response to industrial activities of various types (Miller et al., 2005). This E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices is often true even in cases when the sounds must be readily audible to the animals based on measured received levels and the hearing sensitivity of that mammal group. Although various baleen whales, toothed whales, and (less frequently) pinnipeds have been shown to react behaviorally to underwater sound from sources such as airgun pulses or vessels under some conditions, at other times, mammals of all three types have shown no overt reactions (e.g., Malme et al., 1986; Richardson et al., 1995; Madsen and Mohl, 2000; Croll et al., 2001; Jacobs and Terhune, 2002; Madsen et al., 2002; Miller et al., 2005). In general, pinnipeds seem to be more tolerant of exposure to some types of underwater sound than are baleen whales. Richardson et al. (1995) found that vessel sound does not seem to strongly affect pinnipeds that are already in the water. Richardson et al. (1995) went on to explain that seals on haul-outs sometimes respond strongly to the presence of vessels and at other times appear to show considerable tolerance of vessels, and Brueggeman et al. (1992) observed ringed seals (Pusa hispida) hauled out on ice pans displaying shortterm escape reactions when a ship approached within 0.16–0.31 mi (0.25– 0.5 km). Due to the relatively high vessel traffic in the Lease Area it is possible that marine mammals are habituated to noise (e.g., DP thrusters) from project vessels in the area. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Vessel Strike Ship strikes of marine mammals can cause major wounds, which may lead to the death of the animal. An animal at the surface could be struck directly by a vessel, a surfacing animal could hit the bottom of a vessel, or a vessel’s propeller could injure an animal just below the surface. The severity of injuries typically depends on the size and speed of the vessel (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Laist et al., 2001; Vanderlaan and Taggart, 2007). The most vulnerable marine mammals are those that spend extended periods of time at the surface in order to restore oxygen levels within their tissues after deep dives (e.g., the sperm whale). In addition, some baleen whales, such as the North Atlantic right whale, seem generally unresponsive to vessel sound, making them more susceptible to vessel collisions (Nowacek et al., 2004). These species are primarily large, slow moving whales. Smaller marine mammals (e.g., bottlenose dolphin) move quickly through the water column and are often seen riding the bow wave of large ships. Marine mammal responses to vessels VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 may include avoidance and changes in dive pattern (NRC, 2003). An examination of all known ship strikes from all shipping sources (civilian and military) indicates vessel speed is a principal factor in whether a vessel strike results in death (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Laist et al., 2001; Jensen and Silber, 2003; Vanderlaan and Taggart, 2007). In assessing records with known vessel speeds, Laist et al. (2001) found a direct relationship between the occurrence of a whale strike and the speed of the vessel involved in the collision. The authors concluded that most deaths occurred when a vessel was traveling in excess of 24.1 km/h (14.9 mph; 13 kts). Given the slow vessel speeds and predictable course necessary for data acquisition, ship strike is unlikely to occur during the geophysical and geotechnical surveys. Marine mammals would be able to easily avoid vessels and are likely already habituated to the presence of numerous vessels in the area. Further, DONG Energy shall implement measures (e.g., vessel speed restrictions and separation distances; see Proposed Mitigation Measures) set forth in the BOEM Lease to reduce the risk of a vessel strike to marine mammal species in the Lease Area. Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat There are no feeding areas, rookeries, or mating grounds known to be biologically important to marine mammals within the proposed project area. There is also no designated critical habitat for any ESA-listed marine mammals. NMFS’ regulations at 50 CFR part 224 designated the nearshore waters of the Mid-Atlantic Bight as the Mid-Atlantic U.S. Seasonal Management Area (SMA) for right whales in 2008. Mandatory vessel speed restrictions are in place in that SMA from November 1 through April 30 to reduce the threat of collisions between ships and right whales around their migratory route and calving grounds. Bottom disturbance associated with the HRG survey activities may include grab sampling to validate the seabed classification obtained from the multibeam echosounder/sidescan sonar data. This will typically be accomplished using a Mini-Harmon Grab with 0.1 m2 sample area or the slightly larger Harmon Grab with a 0.2 m2 sample area. Bottom disturbance associated with the geotechnical survey activities will consist of the 4 deep bore holes of approximately 3 to 4 inches (in; 7.6 to 10.1 centimeters [cm]) diameter, the 15 shallow CPTs of up to approximately 1 in (2.5 cm) in diameter, and the 4 deep CPTs of approximately PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 19567 1 in (2.5 cm) in diameter. Impact on marine mammal habitat from these activities will be temporary, insignificant, and discountable. Because of the temporary nature of the disturbance, the availability of similar habitat and resources (e.g., prey species) in the surrounding area, and the lack of important or unique marine mammal habitat, the impacts to marine mammals and the food sources that they utilize are not expected to cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. Mitigation In order to issue an incidental take authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (where relevant). Proposed Mitigation Measures With NMFS’ input during the application process, and as per the BOEM Lease, DONG Energy is proposing the following mitigation measures during site characterization surveys utilizing HRG survey equipment and use of the DP thruster. The mitigation measures outlined in this section are based on protocols and procedures that have been successfully implemented and resulted in no observed take of marine mammals for similar offshore projects and previously approved by NMFS (ESS, 2013; Dominion, 2013 and 2014). Marine Mammal Exclusion Zones Protected species observers (PSOs) will monitor the following exclusion/ monitoring zones for the presence of marine mammals: • A 400-m exclusion zone during HRG surveys when the sub-bottom profiler is in operation (this exceeds the estimated Level B harassment isopleth). • A 200-m exclusion zone during HRG surveys when all other equipment (i.e., equipment positioning systems) is in operation (this exceeds the estimated Level B harassment isopleth). • A 3,500-m monitoring zone during the use of DP thrusters during geotechnical survey activities (this exceeds the Level B harassment isopleth). The radial distances from the sound sources for these exclusion/monitoring E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 19568 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices zones were derived from acoustic modeling (see Appendix A of the application) and cover the area for both the Level A and Level B harassment zones (i.e., the 190/180 dB and 160 dB isopleths, respectively) when HRG survey equipment is in use, and the Level B harassment zone (the 120 dB isopleth) when DP thrusters are in use; DP thrusters will not produce sound levels at 180 dB re 1 mPa (rms). Acoustic modeling of the HRG survey equipment and DP thrusters was completed based on a version of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s Range-dependent Acoustic Model (RAM) and BELLHOP Gaussian beam ray-trace propagation model (Porter and Liu, 1994). BELLHOP and RAM are widely used by sound engineers and marine biologists due to its adaptability to describe highly complex acoustic scenarios. RAM is based on the parabolic equation (Collins, 1993) method using the split´ step Pade algorithm for improved numerical accuracy and efficiency in solving range dependent acoustic problems and has been extensively benchmarked (Collins et al., 1996). The BELLHOP algorithm is based on a beamtracing methodology and provides better accuracy by accounting for increased sound attenuation due to volume absorption at higher frequencies and allowing for source directivity components. The modeling methodologies employed calculate transmission loss based on a number of factors including the distance between the source and receiver along with basic ocean sound propagation parameters (e.g., depths, bathymetry, sediment type, and seasonal sound speed profiles). For each sound source, modeling was performed along transects originating out from the source along compass points (45°, 90°, 135°, 180°, 225°, 270°, 315°, and 360°) and propagated horizontally. The received sound field within each radial plane was then sampled at various ranges and depths from the source with fixed steps. The received sound level at a given location along a given transect was then taken as the maximum value that would occur over all samples within the water column. These values were then summed across frequencies to provide broadband received levels at the MMPA Level A and B harassment criteria. The representative area ensonified to the MMPA Level B threshold for each of the pieces of HRG survey equipment and for the DP thruster use represents the zone within which take of a marine mammal could occur. The distances to the Level A and Level B harassment criteria were used to support the estimate of take as well as the development of the monitoring and/or mitigation measures. The complete acoustic modeling assessment can be found in Appendix A of the application. Radial distance to NMFS’ Level A and Level B harassment thresholds are summarized in Tables 4 and 5. TABLE 4—MODELED DISTANCES TO MMPA THRESHOLDS FOR MARINE MAMMALS DURING HRG SURVEY Marine mammal level A harassment 180 dBRMS re 1 μPa (m)* HRG Equipment ixBlue GAPS (pinger) .............................................................................................................................................. Sonardyne Scout USBL (pinger) ............................................................................................................................. GeoPulse Sub-bottom Profiler (chirper) .................................................................................................................. Geo-Source 800 (sparker) ....................................................................................................................................... Geo-Source 200 (sparker) ....................................................................................................................................... * Distances < 10 0 30 80 90 Marine mammal level B harassment 160 dBRMS re 1 μPa (m) 25 25 75 250 380 to NMFS’ 190 dB level A harassment threshold for pinnipeds are smaller. TABLE 5—MODELED DISTANCES TO MMPA THRESHOLDS FOR MARINE MAMMALS DURING GEOTECHNICAL SURVEY USING DP THRUSTERS DP Thrusters—at 38 m depth ................................................................................................................. DP Thrusters—at 44 m depth ................................................................................................................. DP Thrusters—at 54 m depth ................................................................................................................. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Survey equipment Marine mammal level A harassment 180 dBRMS re 1 μPa (m) N/A ................................. N/A ................................. N/A ................................. Visual monitoring of the established exclusion zone(s) for the HRG and geotechnical surveys will be performed by qualified and NMFS-approved PSOs, the resumes of whom will be provided to NMFS for review and approval prior to the start of survey activities. Observer qualifications will include direct field experience on a marine mammal observation vessel and/or aerial surveys in the Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico. An observer team comprising a minimum of four NMFS-approved PSOs VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 and two certified Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) operators (PAM operators will not function as PSOs), operating in shifts, will be stationed aboard either the survey vessel or a dedicated PSO-vessel. PSOs and PAM operators will work in shifts such that no one monitor will work more than 4 consecutive hours without a 2-hour break or longer than 12 hours during any 24-hour period. During daylight hours the PSOs will rotate in shifts of 1 on and 3 off, while during nighttime PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Marine mammal level B harassment 120 dBRMS re 1 μPa (m) 2,875 3,225 3,400 operations PSOs will work in pairs. The PAM operators will also be on call as necessary during daytime operations should visual observations become impaired. Each PSO will monitor 360 degrees of the field of vision. PSOs will be responsible for visually monitoring and identifying marine mammals approaching or within the established exclusion zone(s) during survey activities. It will be the responsibility of the Lead PSO on duty to communicate the presence of marine E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices mammals as well as to communicate and enforce the action(s) that are necessary to ensure mitigation and monitoring requirements are implemented as appropriate. PAM operators will communicate detected vocalizations to the Lead PSO on duty, who will then be responsible for implementing the necessary mitigation procedures. A mitigation and monitoring communications flow diagram has been included as Appendix B in the IHA application. PSOs will be equipped with binoculars and have the ability to estimate distances to marine mammals located in proximity to the vessel and/ or exclusion zone using range finders. Reticulated binoculars will also be available to PSOs for use as appropriate based on conditions and visibility to support the siting and monitoring of marine species. Digital single-lens reflex camera equipment will be used to record sightings and verify species identification. During night operations, PAM (see Passive Acoustic Monitoring requirements below) and night-vision equipment in combination with infrared video monitoring will be used (Additional details and specifications of the night-vision devices and infrared video monitoring technology will be provided under separate cover by the DONG Energy Survey Contractor once selected.). Position data will be recorded using hand-held or vessel global positioning system (GPS) units for each sighting. The PSOs will begin observation of the exclusion zone(s) at least 60 minutes prior to ramp-up of HRG survey equipment. Use of noise-producing equipment will not begin until the exclusion zone is clear of all marine mammals for at least 60 minutes, as per the requirements of the BOEM Lease. If a marine mammal is detected approaching or entering the 200-m or 400-m exclusion zones during the HRG survey, or the 3,500-m monitoring zone during DP thrusters use, the vessel operator would adhere to the shutdown (during HRG survey) or powerdown (during DP thruster use) procedures described below to minimize noise impacts on the animals. At all times, the vessel operator will maintain a separation distance of 500 m from any sighted North Atlantic right whale as stipulated in the Vessel Strike Avoidance procedures described below. These stated requirements will be included in the site-specific training to be provided to the survey team. Vessel Strike Avoidance The Applicant will ensure that vessel operators and crew maintain a vigilant VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 watch for cetaceans and pinnipeds and slow down or stop their vessels to avoid striking these species. Survey vessel crew members responsible for navigation duties will receive sitespecific training on marine mammal and sea turtle sighting/reporting and vessel strike avoidance measures. Vessel strike avoidance measures will include the following, except under extraordinary circumstances when complying with these requirements would put the safety of the vessel or crew at risk: • All vessel operators will comply with 10 knot (<18.5 km per hour [km/ h]) speed restrictions in any Dynamic Management Area (DMA). In addition, all vessels operating from November 1 through July 31 will operate at speeds of 10 knots (<18.5 km/h) or less. • All survey vessels will maintain a separation distance of 500 m or greater from any sighted North Atlantic right whale. • If underway, vessels must steer a course away from any sited North Atlantic right whale at 10 knots (<18.5 km/h) or less until the 500 m minimum separation distance has been established. If a North Atlantic right whale is sited in a vessel’s path, or within 100 m to an underway vessel, the underway vessel must reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral. Engines will not be engaged until the North Atlantic right whale has moved outside of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. If stationary, the vessel must not engage engines until the North Atlantic right whale has moved beyond 100 m. • All vessels will maintain a separation distance of 100 m or greater from any sighted non-delphinoid (i.e., mysticetes and sperm whales) cetaceans. If sighted, the vessel underway must reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral, and must not engage the engines until the nondelphinoid cetacean has moved outside of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. If a survey vessel is stationary, the vessel will not engage engines until the non-delphinoid cetacean has moved out of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. • All vessels will maintain a separation distance of 50 m or greater from any sighted delphinoid cetacean. Any vessel underway will remain parallel to a sighted delphinoid cetacean’s course whenever possible, and avoid excessive speed or abrupt changes in direction. Any vessel underway reduces vessel speed to 10 knots or less when pods (including mother/calf pairs) or large assemblages of delphinoid cetaceans are observed. Vessels may not adjust course and speed until the delphinoid cetaceans have moved beyond 50 m and/or abeam (i.e., PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 19569 moving away and at a right angle to the centerline of the vessel) of the underway vessel. • All vessels will maintain a separation distance of 50 m (164 ft) or greater from any sighted pinniped. The training program will be provided to NMFS for review and approval prior to the start of surveys. Confirmation of the training and understanding of the requirements will be documented on a training course log sheet. Signing the log sheet will certify that the crew members understand and will comply with the necessary requirements throughout the survey event. Seasonal Operating Requirements Between watch shifts, members of the monitoring team will consult the NMFS North Atlantic right whale reporting systems for the presence of North Atlantic right whales throughout survey operations. The proposed survey activities will, however, occur outside of the seasonal management area (SMA) located off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The proposed survey activities will also occur in May/June and September, which is outside of the seasonal mandatory speed restriction period for this SMA (November 1 through April 30). Throughout all survey operations, the Applicant will monitor the NMFS North Atlantic right whale reporting systems for the establishment of a DMA. If NMFS should establish a DMA in the Lease Area under survey, within 24 hours of the establishment of the DMA the Applicant will work with NMFS to shut down and/or alter the survey activities to avoid the DMA. Passive Acoustic Monitoring As per the BOEM Lease, alternative monitoring technologies (e.g., active or passive acoustic monitoring) are required if a Lessee intends to conduct geophysical surveys at night or when visual observation is otherwise impaired. To support 24-hour HRG survey operations, DONG Energy will use certified PAM operators with experience reviewing and identifying recorded marine mammal vocalizations, as part of the project monitoring during nighttime operations to provide for optimal acquisition of species detections at night, or as needed during periods when visual observations may be impaired. In addition, PAM systems shall be employed during daylight hours to support system calibration and PSO and PAM team coordination, as well as in support of efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of the various mitigation techniques (i.e., visual observations during day and night, compared to the E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 19570 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES PAM detections/operations). Given the range of species that could occur in the Lease Area, the PAM system will consist of an array of hydrophones with both broadband (sampling mid-range frequencies of 2 kHz to 200 kHz) and at least one low-frequency hydrophone (sampling range frequencies of 10 Hz to 30 kHz). Monitoring of the PAM system will be conducted from a customized processing station aboard the HRG survey vessel. The on-board processing station provides the interface between the PAM system and the operator. The PAM operator(s) will monitor the hydrophone signals in real time both aurally (using headphones) and visually (via the monitor screen displays). DONG Energy proposes the use of PAMGuard software for ‘target motion analysis’ to support localization in relation to the identified exclusion zone. PAMGuard is an open source and versatile software/ hardware interface to enable flexibility in the configuration of in-sea equipment (number of hydrophones, sensitivities, spacing, and geometry). PAM operators will immediately communicate detections/vocalizations to the Lead PSO on duty who will ensure the implementation of the appropriate mitigation measure (e.g., shutdown) even if visual observations by PSOs have not been made. Ramp-Up As per the BOEM Lease, a ramp-up procedure will be used for HRG survey equipment capable of adjusting energy levels at the start or re-start of HRG survey activities. A ramp-up procedure will be used at the beginning of HRG survey activities in order to provide additional protection to marine mammals near the Lease Area by allowing them to vacate the area prior to the commencement of survey equipment use. The ramp-up procedure will not be initiated during daytime, night time, or periods of inclement weather if the exclusion zone cannot be adequately monitored by the PSOs using the appropriate visual technology (e.g., reticulated binoculars, night vision equipment) and/or PAM for a 60-minute period. A ramp-up would begin with the power of the smallest acoustic HRG equipment at its lowest practical power output appropriate for the survey. The power would then be gradually turned up and other acoustic sources added such that the source level would increase in steps not exceeding 6 dB per 5-minute period. If marine mammals are detected within the HRG survey exclusion zone prior to or during the ramp-up, activities will be delayed until the animal(s) has moved outside the monitoring zone and no marine VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 mammals are detected for a period of 60 minutes. Shutdown and Powerdown HRG Survey—The exclusion zone(s) around the noise-producing activities HRG survey equipment will be monitored, as previously described, by PSOs and at night by PAM operators for the presence of marine mammals before, during, and after any noise-producing activity. The vessel operator must comply immediately with any call for shutdown by the Lead PSO. Any disagreement should be discussed only after shutdown. As per the BOEM Lease, if a nondelphinoid (i.e., mysticetes and sperm whales) cetacean is detected at or within the established exclusion zone (200-m exclusion zone during equipment positioning systems use; 400-m exclusion zone during the operation of the sub-bottom profiler), an immediate shutdown of the HRG survey equipment is required. Subsequent restart of the electromechanical survey equipment must use the ramp-up procedures described above and may only occur following clearance of the exclusion zone for 60 minutes. These are extremely conservative shutdown zones, as the 200 and 400-m exclusion radii exceed the distances to the estimated Level B harassment isopleths (Table 4). As per the BOEM Lease, if a delphinoid cetacean or pinniped is detected at or within the exclusion zone, the HRG survey equipment (including the sub-bottom profiler) must be powered down to the lowest power output that is technically feasible. Subsequent power up of the survey equipment must use the ramp-up procedures described above and may occur after (1) the exclusion zone is clear of a delphinoid cetacean and/or pinniped for 60 minutes or (2) a determination by the PSO after a minimum of 10 minutes of observation that the delphinoid cetacean or pinniped is approaching the vessel or towed equipment at a speed and vector that indicates voluntary approach to bow-ride or chase towed equipment. If the HRG sound source (including the sub-bottom profiler) shuts down for reasons other than encroachment into the exclusion zone by a marine mammal including but not limited to a mechanical or electronic failure, resulting in in the cessation of sound source for a period greater than 20 minutes, a restart for the HRG survey equipment (including the sub-bottom profiler) is required using the full rampup procedures and clearance of the exclusion zone of all cetaceans and pinnipeds for 60 minutes. If the pause PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 is less than 20 minutes, the equipment may be restarted as soon as practicable at its operational level as long as visual surveys were continued diligently throughout the silent period and the exclusion zone remained clear of cetaceans and pinnipeds. If the visual surveys were not continued diligently during the pause of 20 minutes or less, a restart of the HRG survey equipment (including the sub-bottom profiler) is required using the full ramp-up procedures and clearance of the exclusion zone for all cetaceans and pinnipeds for 60 minutes. Geotechnical Survey (DP Thrusters)— During geotechnical survey activities, a constant position over the drill, coring, or CPT site must be maintained to ensure the integrity of the survey equipment. Any stoppage of DP thruster during the proposed geotechnical activities has the potential to result in significant damage to survey equipment. Therefore, during geotechnical survey activities if marine mammals enter or approach the established 120 dB isopleth monitoring zone, the Applicant shall reduce DP thruster to the maximum extent possible, except under circumstances when reducing DP thruster use would compromise safety (both human health and environmental) and/or the integrity of the equipment. Reducing thruster energy will effectively reduce the potential for exposure of marine mammals to sound energy. After decreasing thruster energy, PSOs will continue to monitor marine mammal behavior and determine if the animal(s) is moving towards or away from the established monitoring zone. If the animal(s) continues to move towards the sound source then DP thruster use would remain at the reduced level. Normal use will resume when PSOs report that the marine mammals have moved away from and remained clear of the monitoring zone for a minimum of 60 minutes since the last sighting. Mitigation Conclusions NMFS has carefully evaluated DONG Energy’s mitigation measures in the context of ensuring that we prescribe the means of effecting the least practicable impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: • The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals; E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices • The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; and • The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation. Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by NMFS should be able to accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of the general goals listed here: • Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal). • A reduction in the numbers of marine mammals (total number or number at biologically important time or location) exposed to received levels of activities that we expect to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). • 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 that we expect to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only). • A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number or number at biologically important time or location) to received levels of activities that we expect to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing the severity of harassment takes only). • 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. • 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. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an IHA 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. 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 PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 19571 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 DONG Energy submitted a marine mammal monitoring and reporting 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. Visual Monitoring—Visual monitoring of the established Level B harassment zones (400-m radius for sub-bottom profiler and 200-m radius for equipment positioning system use during HRG surveys [note that these are the same as the mitigation exclusion/shutdown zones established for HRG survey sound sources]; 3,500-m radius during DP thruster use [note that this is the same as the mitigation powerdown zone established for DP thruster sound sources]) will be performed by qualified and NMFS-approved PSOs (see discussion of PSO qualifications and requirements in Marine Mammal Exclusion Zones above). The PSOs will begin observation of the monitoring zone during all HRG survey activities and all geotechnical operations where DP thrusters are employed. Observations of the monitoring zone will continue throughout the survey activity and/or while DP thrusters are in use. PSOs will be responsible for visually monitoring and identifying marine mammals approaching or entering the established monitoring zone during survey activities. Observations will take place from the highest available vantage point on the survey vessel. General 360-degree scanning will occur during the monitoring periods, and target scanning by the PSO will occur when alerted of a marine mammal presence. Data on all PSO observations will be recorded based on standard PSO collection requirements. This will E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 19572 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices include dates and locations of construction operations; time of observation, location and weather; details of the sightings (e.g., species, age classification [if known], numbers, behavior); and details of any observed ‘‘taking’’ (behavioral disturbances or injury/mortality). The data sheet will be provided to both NMFS and BOEM for review and approval prior to the start of survey activities. In addition, prior to initiation of survey work, all crew members will undergo environmental training, a component of which will focus on the procedures for sighting and protection of marine mammals. A briefing will also be conducted between the survey supervisors and crews, the PSOs, and the Applicant. The purpose of the briefing will be to establish responsibilities of each party, define the chains of command, discuss communication procedures, provide an overview of monitoring purposes, and review operational procedures. Acoustic Field Verification — As per the requirements of the BOEM Lease, field verification of the exclusion/ monitoring zones will be conducted to determine whether the proposed zones correspond accurately to the relevant isopleths and are adequate to minimize impacts to marine mammals. The details of the field verification strategy will be provided in a Field Verification Plan no later than 45 days prior to the commencement of field verification activities. DONG Energy must conduct field verification of the exclusion zone (the 160 dB isopleth) for HRG survey equipment and the powerdown zone (the 120 dB isopleth) for DP thruster use for all equipment operating below 200 kHz. DONG Energy must take acoustic measurements at a minimum of two reference locations and in a manner that is sufficient to establish source level (peak at 1 meter) and distance to the 180 dB and 160 dB isopleths (the Level A and B harassment zones for HRG surveys) and 120 dB isopleth (the Level B harassment zone) for DP thruster use. Sound measurements must be taken at the reference locations at two depths (i.e., a depth at mid-water and a depth at approximately 1 meter [3.28 ft] above the seafloor). DONG Energy may use the results from its field-verification efforts to request modification of the exclusion/ monitoring zones for the HRG or geotechnical surveys. Any new exclusion/monitoring zone radius proposed by DONG Energy must be based on the most conservative measurements (i.e., the largest safety zone configuration) of the target Level A or Level B harassment acoustic VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 threshold zones. The modified zone must be used for all subsequent use of field-verified equipment. DONG Energy must obtain approval from NMFS and BOEM of any new exclusion/monitoring zone before it may be implemented and the IHA shall be modified accordingly. Proposed Reporting Measures The Applicant will provide the following reports as necessary during survey activities: • The Applicant will contact NMFS and BOEM within 24 hours of the commencement of survey activities and again within 24 hours of the completion of the activity. • As per the BOEM Lease: Any observed significant behavioral reactions (e.g., animals departing the area) or injury or mortality to any marine mammals must be reported to NMFS and BOEM within 24 hours of observation. Dead or injured protected species are reported to the NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Stranding Hotline (800–900– 3622) within 24 hours of sighting, regardless of whether the injury is caused by a vessel. In addition, if the injury of death was caused by a collision with a project related vessel, the Applicant must ensure that NMFS and BOEM are notified of the strike within 24 hours. The Applicant must use the form included as Appendix A to Addendum C of the Lease to report the sighting or incident. If The Applicant is responsible for the injury or death, the vessel must assist with any salvage effort as requested by NMFS. Additional reporting requirements for injured or dead animals are described below (Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals). • Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals—In the unanticipated event that the specified HRG and geotechnical activities lead to an injury of a marine mammal (Level A harassment) or mortality (e.g., shipstrike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), DONG Energy would immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources and the NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO) Stranding Coordinator. 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; PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 • 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 event. NMFS would work with DONG Energy to minimize reoccurrence of such an event in the future. DONG Energy would not resume activities until notified by NMFS. In the event that DONG Energy discovers an injured or dead marine mammal and 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), DONG Energy would immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources and the GARFO Stranding Coordinator. 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 the Applicant to determine if modifications in the activities are appropriate. In the event that DONG Energy discovers an injured or dead marine mammal and determines that the injury or 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), DONG Energy would report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Regional Stranding Coordinator, within 24 hours of the discovery. DONG Energy would provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. DONG Energy can continue its operations under such a case. • Within 90 days after completion of the marine site characterization survey activities, a technical report will be provided to NMFS and BOEM that fully documents the methods and monitoring protocols, summarizes the data recorded during monitoring, estimates the E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices number of marine mammals that may have been taken during survey activities, and provides an interpretation of the results and effectiveness of all monitoring tasks. Any recommendations made by NMFS must be addressed in the final report prior to acceptance by NMFS. • In addition to the Applicant’s reporting requirements outlined above, the Applicant will provide an assessment report of the effectiveness of the various mitigation techniques, i.e., visual observations during day and night, compared to the PAM detections/ operations. This will be submitted as a draft to NMFS and BOEM 30 days after the completion of the HRG and geotechnical surveys and as a final version 60 days after completion of the surveys. 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]. Project activities that have the potential to harass marine mammals, as defined by the MMPA, include underwater noise from operation of the HRG survey sub-bottom profilers and equipment positioning systems, and noise propagation associated with the use of DP thrusters during geotechnical survey activities that require the use of a DP drill ship. Harassment could take the form of temporary threshold shift, avoidance, or other changes in marine mammal behavior. NMFS anticipates that impacts to marine mammals would be in the form of behavioral harassment and no take by injury, serious injury, or mortality is proposed. NMFS does not anticipate take resulting from the movement of vessels associated with construction because there will be a limited number of vessels moving at slow speeds over a relatively shallow, nearshore area. The basis for the take estimate is the number of marine mammals that would be exposed to sound levels in excess of NMFS’ Level B harassment criteria for impulsive noise (160 dB re 1 mPa (rms) and continuous noise (120 dB re 1 mPa (rms.)). NMFS’ current acoustic exposure criteria for estimating take are shown in Table 6 below. DONG 19573 Energy’s modeled distances to these acoustic exposure criteria are shown in Tables 4 and 5. Details on the model characteristics and results are provided in the hydroacoustic modeling assessment found in Appendix A of the DONG Energy IHA application. As discussed in the application and in Appendix A, modeling took into consideration sound sources using the loudest potential operational parameters, bathymetry, geoacoustic properties of the Lease Area, time of year, and marine mammal hearing ranges. Results from the hydroacoustic modeling assessment showed that estimated maximum critical distance to the 160 dB re 1 mPa (rms) MMPA threshold for all water depths for the HRG survey sub-bottom profilers (the HRG survey equipment with the greatest potential for effect on marine mammal) was approximately 380 m from the source (see Table 4), and the estimated maximum critical distance to the 120 dB re 1 mPa (rms) MMPA threshold for all water depths for the drill ship DP thruster was approximately 3,400 m from the source (see Table 5). DONG Energy and NMFS believe that these estimates represent the worst-case scenario and that the actual distances to the Level B harassment threshold may be shorter. TABLE 6—NMFS’ CURRENT ACOUSTIC EXPOSURE CRITERIA Non-explosive sound Criterion Criterion definition Threshold Level A Harassment (Injury) Permanent Threshold Shift (PTS) (Any level above that which is known to cause TTS). Behavioral Disruption (for impulse noises) ..................... Behavioral Disruption (for continuous noise) .................. 180 dB re 1 μPa-m (cetaceans)/190 dB re 1 μPa-m (pinnipeds) root mean square (rms). 160 dB re 1 μPa-m (rms). 120 dB re 1 μoPa-m (rms). asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Level B Harassment ............ Level B Harassment ............ DONG Energy estimated species densities within the proposed project area in order to estimate the number of marine mammal exposures to sound levels above the 120 dB Level B harassment threshold for continuous noise (i.e., DP thrusters) and the 160 dB Level B harassment threshold for intermittent, impulsive noise (i.e., pingers and sub-bottom profiler). Research indicates that marine mammals generally have extremely fine auditory temporal resolution and can detect each signal separately (e.g., Au et al., 1988; Dolphin et al., 1995; Supin and Popov, 1995; Mooney et al., 2009b), especially for species with echolocation capabilities. Therefore, it is likely that marine mammals would perceive the acoustic signals associated with the HRG survey equipment as being VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 intermittent rather than continuous, and we base our takes from these sources on exposures to the 160 dB threshold. The data used as the basis for estimating species density (‘‘D’’) for the Lease Area are sightings per unit effort (SPUE) taken from Kenney and VignessRaposa (2009). SPUE (or, the relative abundance of species) is derived by using a measure of survey effort and number of individual cetaceans sighted. Species density (animals per km2) can be computed by dividing the SPUE value by the width of the marine mammal survey track, and numbers of animals can be computed by multiplying the species density by the size of the geographic area in question (km2). SPUE allows for comparison between discrete units of time (i.e., seasons) and space within a project area PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 (Shoop and Kenney, 1992). SPUE calculated by Kenney and VignessRaposa (2009) was derived from a number of sources including: (1) North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium database; (2) CeTAP (CeTAP, 1982); (3) sightings data from the Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, Inc. and Okeanos Ocean Research Foundation; (4) the Northeast Regional Stranding network (marine mammals); and (5) the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Fisheries Sampling Branch (Woods Hole, MA). The Northeast Navy Operations Area (OPAREA) Density Estimates (DoN, 2007) were also used in support for estimating take for seals, which represents the only available comprehensive data for seal abundance. However, abundance estimates for the E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 19574 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices Southern New England area includes breeding populations on Cape Cod, and therefore using this dataset alone will result in a substantial over-estimate of take in the Project Area. However, based on reports conducted by Kenney and Vigness-Raposa (2009), Schroeder (2000), and Ronald and Gots (2003), harbor seal abundance off the Southern New England coast in the vicinity of the survey is likely to be approximately 20 percent of the total abundance. In addition, because the seasonality of, and habitat use by, gray seals roughly overlaps with harbor seals, the same abundance assumption of 20 percent of the southern New England population of gray seals can be applied when estimating abundance. Per this data, take due to Level B harassment for harbor seals and gray seals has been calculated based on 20 percent of the Northeast Navy OPAREA Density Estimates. Estimated takes were calculated by multiplying the species density (per 100 km2) by the zone of influence (ZOI), multiplied by the number of days of the specified activity. A detailed description of the acoustic modeling used to calculate zones of influence is provided in the acoustic modeling assessment found in Appendix A of the DONG Energy IHA application (also see the discussion in the ‘‘Mitigation’’ section above). DONG Energy used a ZOI of 23.6 m2 (61 km2) and a conservative survey period of 30 days, which includes estimated weather downtime, to estimate take from use of the HRG survey equipment during geophysical survey activities. The ZOI is based on the worst case (since it assumes the higher powered GeoSource 200 sparker will be operating all the time) ensonified area of 380 m, and a maximum survey trackline of 49 mi (79 km) per day. Based on the proposed HRG survey schedule (May 2016), take calculations were based on the spring seasonal species density as derived from seasonal SPUE data reported in Kenney and Vigness-Raposa (2009) and seasonal OPAREA density estimates (DoN, 2007). The resulting take estimates (rounded to the nearest whole number) are presented in Table 7. TABLE 6—ESTIMATED LEVEL B HARASSMENT TAKES FOR HRG SURVEY ACTIVITIES Density for Spring (Number/100 km2) Species North Atlantic Right Whale .............................................................................. Humpback Whale ............................................................................................ Fin Whale ......................................................................................................... Minke Whale .................................................................................................... Common Dolphin ............................................................................................. Atlantic White-sided Dolphin ............................................................................ Harbor Porpoise ............................................................................................... Harbor Seal 1 .................................................................................................... Gray Seal 1 ....................................................................................................... 1 Density Calculated take (Number) 0.06 0.11 0.37 0.12 2.15 1.23 0.47 9.74 14.16 1.03 2.04 6.72 2.24 39.38 22.45 8.52 35.66 51.83 Requested take authorization (Number) Percentage of stock potentially affected 1 2 7 2 39 22 9 36 52 0.215 0.243 0.433 0.010 0.001 0.045 0.011 0.047 0.015 values were derived using 20 percent of the number estimated from DoN (2007) density values. DONG Energy used a ZOI of 9.8 m2 (25.4 km2) and a maximum DP thruster use period of 6 days to estimate take from use of the DP thruster during geotechnical survey activities. The ZOI represents the worst-case ensonified area across the three representative water depths within the Lease Area (125 ft, 144 ft, and 177 ft [38 m, 44 m, and 54 m]). Based on the proposed geotechnical survey schedule (September 2016), take calculations were based on the fall seasonal species density as derived from seasonal abundance data reported in Kenney and Vigness-Raposa (2009) and seasonal OPAREA density estimates (DoN, 2007) (Table 7). The resulting take estimates (rounded to the nearest whole number) based upon these conservative assumptions for common and Atlantic white-sided dolphins are presented in Table 8. These numbers are based on 6 days and represent only 0.011 and 0.022 percent of the stock for these 2 species, respectively. Take calculations for North Atlantic right whale, humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, harbor porpoise, gray seal, and harbor seal are at or near zero (refer to the DONG Energy application); therefore, no takes for these species are requested or proposed for authorization. TABLE 7—ESTIMATED LEVEL B HARASSMENT TAKES FOR GEOTECHNICAL SURVEY ACTIVITIES Density for Fall (Number/100 km2) Species asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Common Dolphin ............................................................................................. Atlantic White-sided Dolphin ............................................................................ DONG Energy’s requested take numbers are provided in Tables 6 and 7 and this is also the number of takes NMFS is proposing to authorize. DONG Energy’s calculations do not take into account whether a single animal is harassed multiple times or whether each exposure is a different animal. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 8.21 7.46 Therefore, the numbers in Tables 6 and 7 are the maximum number of animals that may be harassed during the HRG and geotechnical surveys (i.e., DONG Energy assumes that each exposure event is a different animal). These estimates do not account for prescribed mitigation measures that DONG Energy PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Calculated take (Number) 12.5 11 Requested take authorization (Number) Percentage of stock potentially affected 13 11 0.011 0.022 would implement during the specified activities and the fact that shutdown/ powerdown procedures shall be implemented if an animal enters the Level B harassment zone (160 dB and 120 dB for HRG survey equipment and DP thruster use, respectively), further E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices reducing the potential for any takes to occur during these activities. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Analysis and Determinations Negligible Impact Negligible impact is ‘‘an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival’’ (50 CFR 216.103). A negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., populationlevel effects). An estimate of the number of takes, alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact determination, as the severity of harassment may vary greatly depending on the context and duration of the behavioral response, many of which would not be expected to have deleterious impacts on the fitness of any individuals. In determining whether the expected takes will have a negligible impact, in addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be ‘‘taken,’’ NMFS must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any responses (critical reproductive time or location, migration, etc.), as well as the number and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes, the number of estimated mortalities, and the status of the species. As discussed in the ‘‘Potential Effects’’ section, permanent threshold shift, masking, non-auditory physical effects, and vessel strike are not expected to occur. There is some potential for limited TTS; however, animals in the area would likely incur no more than brief hearing impairment (i.e., TTS) due to generally low SPLs— and in the case of the HRG survey equipment use, highly directional beam pattern, transient signals, and moving sound sources—and the fact that most marine mammals would more likely avoid a loud sound source rather than swim in such close proximity as to result in TTS or PTS. Further, once an area has been surveyed, it is not likely that it will be surveyed again, therefore reducing the likelihood of repeated impacts within the project area. Potential impacts to marine mammal habitat were discussed previously in this document (see the ‘‘Anticipated Effects on Habitat’’ section). Marine mammal habitat may be impacted by elevated sound levels and some sediment disturbance, but these impacts would be temporary. Feeding behavior is not likely to be significantly VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 impacted, as marine mammals appear to be less likely to exhibit behavioral reactions or avoidance responses while engaged in feeding activities (Richardson et al., 1995). Prey species are mobile, and are broadly distributed throughout the Lease Area; therefore, marine mammals that may be temporarily displaced during survey activities are expected to be able to resume foraging once they have moved away from areas with disturbing levels of underwater noise. Because of the temporary nature of the disturbance, the availability of similar habitat and resources in the surrounding area, and the lack of important or unique marine mammal habitat, the impacts to marine mammals and the food sources that they utilize are not expected to cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. Furthermore, there are no feeding areas, rookeries, or mating grounds known to be biologically important to marine mammals within the proposed project area. A biologically important feeding area for North Atlantic right whale encompasses the Lease Area (LaBrecque, et al., 2015); however, there is no temporal overlap between the BIA (effective March–April; November–December) and the proposed survey activities (May–June; October). ESA-listed species for which takes are proposed are North Atlantic right, humpback, and fin whales. Recent estimates of abundance indicate a stable or growing humpback whale population, while examination of the minimum number alive population index calculated from the individual sightings database for the years 1990– 2010 suggests a positive and slowly accelerating trend in North Atlantic right whale population size (Waring et al., 2015). There are currently insufficient data to determine population trends for fin whale) (Waring et al., 2015). There is no designated critical habitat for any ESA-listed marine mammals within the Lease Area, and none of the stocks for non-listed species proposed to be taken are considered ‘‘depleted’’ or ‘‘strategic’’ by NMFS under the MMPA. The proposed mitigation measures are expected to reduce the number and/or severity of takes by (1) giving animals the opportunity to move away from the sound source before HRG survey equipment reaches full energy; (2) reducing the intensity of exposure within a certain distance by reducing the DP thruster power; and (3) preventing animals from being exposed to sound levels reaching 180 dB during HRG survey activities (sound levels in PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 19575 excess of 180 dB are not anticipated for DP thruster use). Additional vessel strike avoidance requirements will further mitigate potential impacts to marine mammals during vessel transit to and within the Study Area. DONG Energy did not request, and NMFS is not proposing, take of marine mammals by injury, serious injury, or mortality. NMFS expects that most takes would be in the form of short-term Level B behavioral harassment in the form of brief startling reaction and/or temporary vacating of the area, or decreased foraging (if such activity were occurring)—reactions that are considered to be of low severity and with no lasting biological consequences (e.g., Southall et al., 2007). This is largely due to the short time scale of the proposed activities, the low source levels and intermittent nature of many of the technologies proposed to be used, as well as the required mitigation. NMFS concludes that exposures to marine mammal species and stocks due to DONG Energy’s HRG and geotechnical survey activities would result in only short-term (temporary and short in duration) and relatively infrequent effects to individuals exposed, and not of the type or severity that would be expected to be additive for the very small portion of the stocks and species likely to be exposed. Given the duration and intensity of the activities, and the fact that shipping contributes to the ambient sound levels in the surrounding waters (vessel traffic in this area is relatively high; some marine mammals may be habituated to this noise), NMFS does not anticipate the proposed take estimates to impact annual rates of recruitment or survival. Animals may temporarily avoid the immediate area, but are not expected to permanently abandon the area. Major shifts in habitat use, distribution, or foraging success, are not expected. 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 DONG Energy’s proposed HRG survey and DP thruster use during geotechnical survey activities will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks. Small Numbers The requested takes proposed to be authorized for the HRG and geotechnical surveys represent 0.215 percent of the Western North Atlantic (WNA) stock of North Atlantic right E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 19576 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices whale, 0.243 percent of the Gulf of Maine stock of humpback whale, 0.433 percent of the WNA stock of fin whale, 0.010 percent of the Canadian East Coast stock of minke whale, 0.040 percent of the WNA stock of short-beaked common dolphin, 0.068 percent of the WNA stock of Atlantic white-sided dolphin, 0.011 percent of the Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy stock of harbor porpoise, 0.047 percent of the WNA stock of harbor seal, and 0.015 percent of the North Atlantic stock of gray seal. These take estimates represent the percentage of each species or stock that could be taken by Level B behavioral harassment and are extremely small numbers (less than 1 percent) relative to the affected species or stock sizes. Further, the proposed take numbers are the maximum numbers of animals that are expected to be harassed during the project; it is possible that some of these exposures may occur to the same individual. Therefore, NMFS preliminarily finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the populations of the affected species or stocks. asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence Uses There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by this action. Therefore, NMFS has determined that the total taking of affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for subsistence purposes. Endangered Species Act Within the project area, fin, humpback, and North Atlantic right whale are listed as endangered under the ESA. Under section 7 of the ESA, BOEM consulted with NMFS on commercial wind lease issuance and site assessment activities on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey Wind Energy Areas. NOAA’s GARFO issued a Biological Opinion concluding that these activities may adversely affect but are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of fin whale, humpback whale, or North Atlantic right whale. NMFS is also consulting internally on the issuance of an IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for this activity. Following issuance of the DONG Energy IHA, the Biological Opinion may be amended to include an incidental take exemption for these marine mammal species, as appropriate. National Environmental Policy Act BOEM prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) in accordance with the VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to evaluate the issuance of wind energy leases covering the entirety of the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area (including the OCS–A 0500 Lease Area), and the approval of site assessment activities within those leases (BOEM, 2014). NMFS intends to adopt BOEM’s EA, if adequate and appropriate. Currently, we believe that the adoption of BOEM’s EA will allow NMFS to meet its responsibilities under NEPA for the issuance of an IHA to DONG Energy for HRG and geotechnical survey investigations in the Lease Area. If necessary, however, NMFS will supplement the existing analysis to ensure that we comply with NEPA prior to the issuance of the final IHA. BOEM’s EA is available on the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/energy_other.htm. Proposed Authorization As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to DONG Energy for HRG survey activities and use of DP vessel thrusters during geotechnical survey activities from May 2016 through April 2017, 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). DONG Energy Massachusetts (U.S.) LLC (DONG Energy) (One International Place, 100 Oliver Street, Suite 1400, Boston, MA 02110) is hereby authorized under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 1371(a)(5)(D)) and 50 CFR 216.107, to harass marine mammals incidental to high-resolution geophysical (HRG) and geotechnical survey investigations associated with marine site characterization activities off the coast of Massachusetts in the area of the Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands for Renewable Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS–A 0500) (the Lease Area). 1. This Authorization is valid from May 1, 2016 through April 30, 2017. 2. This Authorization is valid only for HRG and geotechnical survey investigations associated with marine site characterization activities, as described in the Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) application. 3. The holder of this authorization (Holder) is hereby authorized to take, by Level B harassment only, 33 Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus), 52 short-beaked common PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 dolphins (Delphinus delphis), 9 harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), 2 minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), 7 fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), 2 humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), 1 North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis), 52 gray seals (Halichoerus grypus), and 36 harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) incidental to HRG survey activities using sub-bottom profilers and equipment positioning systems, and dynamic positioning (DP) vessel thruster use during geotechnical activities. 4. The taking of any marine mammal in a manner prohibited under this IHA must be reported immediately to NMFS’ Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO), 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930–2276; phone 978–281–9300, and NMFS’ Office of Protected Resources, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone 301–427–8401. 5. The Holder or designees must notify NMFS’ GARFO and Headquarters at least 24 hours prior to the seasonal commencement of the specified activity (see contact information in 4 above). 6. The holder of this Authorization must notify the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, or her designee at least 24 hours prior to the start of survey activities (unless constrained by the date of issuance of this Authorization in which case notification shall be made as soon as possible) at 301–427–8401 or to John.Fiorentino@noaa.gov. 7. Mitigation Requirements The Holder is required to abide by the following mitigation conditions listed in 7(a)–(f). Failure to comply with these conditions may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. (a) Marine Mammal Exclusion Zones: Protected species observers (PSOs) shall monitor the following zones for the presence of marine mammals: • A 400-m exclusion zone during HRG surveys when the sub-bottom profiler is in operation. • A 200-m exclusion zone during HRG surveys when all other equipment (i.e., equipment positioning systems) is in operation. • A 3,500-m monitoring zone during the use of DP thrusters during geotechnical survey. • At all times, the vessel operator shall maintain a separation distance of 500 m from any sighted North Atlantic right whale as stipulated in the Vessel Strike Avoidance procedures described below. Visual monitoring of the established exclusion zone(s) shall be performed by E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices qualified and NMFS-approved protected species observers (PSOs). An observer team comprising a minimum of four NMFS-approved PSOs and two certified Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) operators, operating in shifts, shall be stationed aboard either the survey vessel or a dedicated PSO-vessel. PSOs shall be equipped with binoculars and have the ability to estimate distances to marine mammals located in proximity to the vessel and/or exclusion zone using range finders. Reticulated binoculars will also be available to PSOs for use as appropriate based on conditions and visibility to support the siting and monitoring of marine species. Digital single-lens reflex camera equipment shall be used to record sightings and verify species identification. During night operations, PAM (see Passive Acoustic Monitoring requirements below) and night-vision equipment in combination with infrared video monitoring shall be used. The PSOs shall begin observation of the exclusion zone(s) at least 60 minutes prior to ramp-up of HRG survey equipment. Use of noise-producing equipment shall not begin until the exclusion zone is clear of all marine mammals for at least 60 minutes. If a marine mammal is seen approaching or entering the 200-m or 400-m exclusion zones during the HRG survey, or the 3,500-m monitoring zone during DP thrusters use, the vessel operator shall adhere to the shutdown/powerdown procedures described below to minimize noise impacts on the animals. (b) Ramp-Up: A ramp-up procedure shall be used for HRG survey equipment capable of adjusting energy levels at the start or re-start of HRG survey activities. The ramp-up procedure shall not be initiated during daytime, night time, or periods of inclement weather if the exclusion zone cannot be adequately monitored by the PSOs using the appropriate visual technology (e.g., reticulated binoculars, night vision equipment) and/or PAM for a 60-minute period. A ramp-up shall begin with the power of the smallest acoustic HRG equipment at its lowest practical power output appropriate for the survey. The power shall then be gradually turned up and other acoustic sources added such that the source level would increase in steps not exceeding 6 dB per 5-minute period. If marine mammals are sighted within the HRG survey exclusion zone prior to or during the ramp-up, activities shall be delayed until the animal(s) has moved outside the monitoring zone and no marine mammals are sighted for a period of 60 minutes. (c) Shutdown and Powerdown VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 HRG Survey—The exclusion zone(s) around the noise-producing activities HRG survey equipment will be monitored, as previously described, by PSOs and at night by PAM operators for the presence of marine mammals before, during, and after any noise-producing activity. The vessel operator must comply immediately with any call for shutdown by the Lead PSO. If a nondelphinoid (i.e., mysticetes and sperm whales) cetacean is detected at or within the established exclusion zone (200-m exclusion zone during equipment positioning systems use; 400-m exclusion zone during the operation of the sub-bottom profiler), an immediate shutdown of the HRG survey equipment is required. Subsequent restart of the electromechanical survey equipment must use the ramp-up procedures described above and may only occur following clearance of the exclusion zone for 60 minutes. If a delphinoid cetacean or pinniped is detected at or within the exclusion zone, the HRG survey equipment must be powered down to the lowest power output that is technically feasible. Subsequent power up of the survey equipment must use the ramp-up procedures described above and may occur after (1) the exclusion zone is clear of a delphinoid cetacean and/or pinniped for 60 minutes or (2) a determination by the PSO after a minimum of 10 minutes of observation that the delphinoid cetacean or pinniped is approaching the vessel or towed equipment at a speed and vector that indicates voluntary approach to bow-ride or chase towed equipment. If the HRG sound source shuts down for reasons other than encroachment into the exclusion zone by a marine mammal including but not limited to a mechanical or electronic failure, resulting in in the cessation of sound source for a period greater than 20 minutes, a restart for the HRG survey equipment is required using the full ramp-up procedures and clearance of the exclusion zone of all cetaceans and pinnipeds for 60 minutes. If the pause is less than 20 minutes, the equipment may be restarted as soon as practicable at its operational level as long as visual surveys were continued diligently throughout the silent period and the exclusion zone remained clear of cetaceans and pinnipeds. If the visual surveys were not continued diligently during the pause of 20 minutes or less, a restart of the HRG survey equipment is required using the full ramp-up procedures and clearance of the exclusion zone for all cetaceans and pinnipeds for 60 minutes. PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 19577 Geotechnical Survey (DP Thrusters)— During geotechnical survey activities if marine mammals enter or approach the established 120 dB isopleth monitoring zone, the Holder shall reduce DP thruster to the maximum extent possible, except under circumstances when reducing DP thruster use would compromise safety (both human health and environmental) and/or the integrity of the equipment. After decreasing thruster energy, PSOs shall continue to monitor marine mammal behavior and determine if the animal(s) is moving towards or away from the established monitoring zone. If the animal(s) continues to move towards the sound source then DP thruster use shall remain at the reduced level. Normal use shall resume when PSOs report that the marine mammals have moved away from and remained clear of the monitoring zone for a minimum of 60 minutes since the last sighting. (d) Vessel Strike Avoidance: The Holder shall ensure that vessel operators and crew maintain a vigilant watch for cetaceans and pinnipeds and slow down or stop their vessels to avoid striking these protected species. Survey vessel crew members responsible for navigation duties shall receive sitespecific training on marine mammal sighting/reporting and vessel strike avoidance measures. Vessel strike avoidance measures shall include the following, except under extraordinary circumstances when complying with these requirements would put the safety of the vessel or crew at risk: • All vessel operators shall comply with 10 knot (<18.5 km per hour [km/ h]) speed restrictions in any Dynamic Management Area (DMA). In addition, all vessels operating from November 1 through July 31 shall operate at speeds of 10 knots (<18.5 km/h) or less. • All survey vessels shall maintain a separation distance of 500 m or greater from any sighted North Atlantic right whale. • If underway, vessels must steer a course away from any sited North Atlantic right whale at 10 knots (<18.5 km/h) or less until the 500 m minimum separation distance has been established. If a North Atlantic right whale is sited in a vessel’s path, or within 100 m to an underway vessel, the underway vessel must reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral. Engines shall not be engaged until the North Atlantic right whale has moved outside of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. If stationary, the vessel must not engage engines until the North Atlantic right whale has moved beyond 100 m. • All vessels shall maintain a separation distance of 100 m or greater E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 19578 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices from any sighted non-delphinoid (i.e., mysticetes and sperm whales) cetacean. If sighted, the vessel underway must reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral, and must not engage the engines until the non-delphinoid cetacean has moved outside of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. If a survey vessel is stationary, the vessel shall not engage engines until the nondelphinoid cetacean has moved out of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. • All vessels shall maintain a separation distance of 50 m or greater from any sighted delphinoid cetacean. Any vessel underway shall remain parallel to a sighted delphinoid cetacean’s course whenever possible, and avoid excessive speed or abrupt changes in direction. Any vessel underway shall reduce vessel speed to 10 knots or less when pods (including mother/calf pairs) or large assemblages of delphinoid cetaceans are observed. Vessels may not adjust course and speed until the delphinoid cetaceans have moved beyond 50 m and/or abeam of the underway vessel. • All vessels shall maintain a separation distance of 50 m (164 ft) or greater from any sighted pinniped. (e) Seasonal Operating Requirements: Between watch shifts members of the monitoring team shall consult the NMFS North Atlantic right whale reporting systems for the presence of North Atlantic right whales throughout survey operations. The proposed survey activities shall occur outside of the seasonal management area (SMA) located off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and outside of the seasonal mandatory speed restriction period for this SMA (November 1 through April 30). Throughout all survey operations, the Holder shall monitor the NMFS North Atlantic right whale reporting systems for the establishment of a DMA. If NMFS should establish a DMA in the Lease Area under survey, within 24 hours of the establishment of the DMA the Holder shall work with NMFS to shut down and/or altered the survey activities to avoid the DMA. (f) Passive Acoustic Monitoring: To support 24-hour survey operations, the Holder shall include PAM as part of the project monitoring during the geophysical survey during nighttime operations, or as needed during periods when visual observations may be impaired. In addition, PAM systems shall be employed during daylight hours to support system calibration and PSO and PAM team coordination, as well as in support of efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of the various mitigation techniques (i.e., visual observations VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 during day and night, compared to the PAM detections/operations). The PAM system shall consist of an array of hydrophones with both broadband (sampling mid-range frequencies of 2 kHz to 200 kHz) and at least one low-frequency hydrophone (sampling range frequencies of 10 Hz to 30 kHz). The PAM operator(s) shall monitor the hydrophone signals in real time both aurally (using headphones) and visually (via the monitor screen displays). PAM operators shall communicate detections/vocalizations to the Lead PSO on duty who shall ensure the implementation of the appropriate mitigation measure. 8. Monitoring Requirements The Holder is required to abide by the following monitoring conditions listed in 8(a)–(b). Failure to comply with these conditions may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. (a) Visual Monitoring—Protected species observers (refer to the PSO qualifications and requirements for Marine Mammal Exclusion Zones above) shall visually monitor the established Level B harassment zones (400-m radius during sub-bottom profiler use and 200-m radius for equipment positioning system use during HRG surveys; 3,500-m radius during DP thruster use). The observers shall be stationed on the highest available vantage point on the associated operating platform. PSOs shall estimate distance to marine mammals visually, using laser range finders or by using reticle binoculars during daylight hours. During night operations, PSOs shall use night-vision binoculars. Data on all PSO observations will be recorded based on standard PSO collection requirements. This will include dates and locations of survey operations; time of observation, location and weather; details of the sightings (e.g., species, age classification [if known], numbers, behavior); and details of any observed ‘‘taking’’ (behavioral disturbances or injury/mortality). In addition, prior to initiation of survey work, all crew members will undergo environmental training, a component of which will focus on the procedures for sighting and protection of marine mammals. (b) Acoustic Field Verification—Field verification of the exclusion/monitoring zones shall be conducted to determine whether the proposed zones correspond accurately to the relevant isopleths and are adequate to minimize impacts to marine mammals. The Holder shall conduct field verification of the exclusion/monitoring zone (the 160 dB isolpleth) for HRG survey equipment PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 and the monitoring/powerdown zone (the 120 dB isopleth) for DP thruster use for all equipment operating below 200 kHz. The Holder shall take acoustic measurements at a minimum of two reference locations and in a manner that is sufficient to establish source level (peak at 1 meter) and distance to the 180 dB and 160 dB isopleths (the Level A and B harassment zones for HRG surveys) and 120 dB isopleth (the Level B harassment zone) for DP thruster use. Sound measurements shall be taken at the reference locations at two depths (i.e., a depth at mid-water and a depth at approximately 1 meter [3.28 ft] above the seafloor). The Holder may use the results from its field-verification efforts to request modification of the exclusion/ monitoring zones for the HRG or geotechnical surveys. Any new exclusion/monitoring zone radius proposed by the Holder shall be based on the most conservative measurements (i.e., the largest safety zone configuration) of the target Level A or Level B harassment acoustic threshold zones. The modified zone shall be used for all subsequent use of field-verified equipment. The Holder shall obtain approval from NMFS and BOEM of any new exclusion/monitoring zone before it may be implemented and the IHA shall be modified accordingly. 9. Reporting Requirements The Holder shall provide the following reports as necessary during survey activities: (a) The Holder shall contact NMFS (301–427–8401) and BOEM (703–787– 1300) within 24 hours of the commencement of survey activities and again within 24 hours of the completion of the activity. (b) Any observed significant behavioral reactions (e.g., animals departing the area) or injury or mortality to any marine mammals shall be reported to NMFS and BOEM within 24 hours of observation. Dead or injured protected species shall be reported to the NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Stranding Hotline (800– 900–3622) within 24 hours of sighting, regardless of whether the injury is caused by a vessel. In addition, if the injury of death was caused by a collision with a project related vessel, the Holder shall ensure that NMFS and BOEM are notified of the strike within 24 hours. The Holder shall use the form included as Appendix A to Addendum C of the Lease to report the sighting or incident. If the Holder is responsible for the injury or death, the vessel must assist with any salvage effort as requested by NMFS. Additional reporting requirements for injured or dead animals are described E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1 asabaliauskas on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 65 / Tuesday, April 5, 2016 / Notices below (Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals). (c) Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals. (i) In the unanticipated event that the specified HRG and geotechnical survey activities lead to an injury of a marine mammal (Level A harassment) or mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), the Holder shall immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, 301–427–8401, and the NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO) Stranding Coordinator, 978–281–9300. The report shall 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 shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the event. NMFS would work with the Holder to minimize reoccurrence of such an event in the future. The Holder shall not resume activities until notified by NMFS. (ii) In the event that the Holder discovers an injured or dead marine mammal and 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), the Holder shall immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, 301–427–8401, and the GARFO Stranding Coordinator, 978–281–9300. The report shall 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 the Holder to determine if modifications in the activities are appropriate. (iii) In the event that the Holder discovers an injured or dead marine VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:18 Apr 04, 2016 Jkt 238001 mammal and determines that the injury or 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), the Holder shall report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 301–427– 8401, and the NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Regional Stranding Coordinator, 978–281–9300, within 24 hours of the discovery. The Holder shall provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting. (d) Within 90 days after completion of the marine site characterization survey activities, a technical report shall be provided to NMFS and BOEM that fully documents the methods and monitoring protocols, summarizes the data recorded during monitoring, estimates the number of marine mammals that may have been taken during survey activities, and provides an interpretation of the results and effectiveness of all monitoring tasks. Any recommendations made by NMFS shall be addressed in the final report prior to acceptance by NMFS. (e) In addition to the Holder’s reporting requirements outlined above, the Holder shall provide an assessment report of the effectiveness of the various mitigation techniques, i.e., visual observations during day and night, compared to the PAM detections/ operations. This shall be submitted as a draft to NMFS and BOEM 30 days after the completion of the HRG and geotechnical surveys and as a final version 60 days after completion of the surveys. 10. This Authorization may be modified, suspended, or withdrawn if the Holder fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein or if NMFS determines the authorized taking is having more than a negligible impact on the species or stock of affected marine mammals. 11. 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. 12. The Holder 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 PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 19579 any other aspect of the Notice of Proposed IHA for DONG Energy’s proposed high-resolution geophysical and geotechnical survey investigations associated with marine site characterization activities off the coast of Massachusetts in the area of the Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands for Renewable Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS–A 0500). Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision on DONG Energy’s request for an MMPA authorization. Dated: March 30, 2016. Wanda Cain, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2016–07712 Filed 4–4–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XE554 Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; General Provisions for Domestic Fisheries; Application for Exempted Fishing Permits National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; request for comments. AGENCY: The Assistant Regional Administrator for Sustainable Fisheries, Greater Atlantic Region, NMFS, has made a preliminary determination that an Exempted Fishing Permit application contains all of the required information and warrants further consideration. This Exempted Fishing Permit would allow one commercial fishing vessel to fish outside of the limited access scallop regulations in support of research conducted by the National Fisheries Institute that is investigating scallop incidental mortality in the scallop dredge fishery. Regulations under the MagnusonStevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act require publication of this notification to provide interested parties the opportunity to comment on applications for proposed Exempted Fishing Permits. DATES: Comments must be received on or before April 20, 2016. ADDRESSES: You may submit written comments by any of the following methods: SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\05APN1.SGM 05APN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 65 (Tuesday, April 5, 2016)]
[Notices]
[Pages 19557-19579]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-07712]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE435


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Site Characterization Surveys Off 
the Coast of Massachusetts

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 DONG Energy 
Massachusetts (U.S.) LLC (DONG Energy) for an Incidental Harassment 
Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental 
to high-resolution geophysical (HRG) and geotechnical survey 
investigations associated with marine site characterization activities 
off the coast of Massachusetts in the area of the Commercial Lease of 
Submerged Lands for Renewable Energy Development on the Outer 
Continental Shelf (OCS-A 0500) (the Lease Area). Pursuant to the Marine 
Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its 
proposal to issue an IHA to DONG Energy to incidentally take, by Level 
B harassment only, small numbers of marine mammals during the specified 
activities.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than May 5, 
2016.

ADDRESSES: Comments on DONG Energy's IHA application (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.fiorentino@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/ 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.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Availability

    An electronic copy of the application and supporting documents, as 
well as a list of the references cited in this document, may be 
obtained by visiting the Internet at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call 
the contact listed above.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) prepared an 
Environmental Assessment (EA) in accordance with the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to evaluate the issuance of wind 
energy leases covering the entirety of the Massachusetts Wind Energy 
Area (including the OCS-A 0500 Lease Area), and the approval of site 
assessment activities within those leases (BOEM, 2014). NMFS intends to 
adopt BOEM's EA, if adequate and appropriate. Currently, we believe 
that the adoption of BOEM's EA will allow NMFS to meet its 
responsibilities under NEPA for the issuance of an IHA to DONG Energy 
for HRG and geotechnical survey investigations in the Lease Area. If 
necessary, however, NMFS will supplement the existing analysis to 
ensure that we comply with NEPA prior to the issuance of the final IHA. 
Comments on this proposed IHA will be considered in the development of 
any additional NEPA analysis or documents (i.e., NMFS' own EA) should 
they be deemed necessary. BOEM's EA is available on the internet at: 
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/energy_other.htm.

Background

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

Summary of Request

    On December 4, 2015, NMFS received an application from DONG Energy 
for the taking of marine mammals incidental to Spring 2016 geophysical 
survey investigations off the coast of Massachusetts in the OCS-A 0500 
Lease Area, designated and offered by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy 
Management (BOEM), to support the development of an offshore wind 
project. NMFS determined that the application was adequate and complete 
on January 27, 2016. On January 20, 2016, DONG Energy submitted a 
separate request for the taking of marine mammals incidental to 
proposed geotechnical

[[Page 19558]]

survey activities within the Lease Area scheduled for Fall 2016. On 
February 26, 2016, DONG Energy submitted a revision to the take request 
for the geotechnical activities and an addendum requesting that the two 
IHA requests be processed as a single application and IHA. NMFS 
determined that the combined application was adequate and complete on 
February 26, 2016.
    The proposed geophysical survey activities would occur for 4 weeks 
beginning in early May 2016, and geotechnical survey activities would 
take place in September 2016 and last for approximately 6 days. The 
following specific aspects of the proposed activities are likely to 
result in the take of marine mammals: Shallow and medium-penetration 
sub-bottom profiler (chirper and sparker) and equipment positioning 
system (also referred to as acoustic positioning system, or pinger) use 
during the HRG survey, and dynamically positioned (DP) vessel thruster 
use in support of geotechnical survey activities. Take, by Level B 
Harassment only, of individuals of 9 species of marine mammals is 
anticipated to result from the specified activities.

Description of the Specified Activity

Overview

    DONG Energy's proposed activities discussed here are based on its 
February 26, 2016, final IHA application. DONG Energy proposes to 
conduct a geophysical and geotechnical survey in the Lease Area to 
support the characterization of the existing seabed and subsurface 
geological conditions in the Lease Area. This information is necessary 
to support the siting and design of up to two floating light and 
detection ranging buoys (FLIDARs) and up to two metocean monitoring 
buoys, as well as to obtain a baseline assessment of seabed/sub-surface 
soil conditions in the DONG Energy Massachusetts Lease Area to support 
the siting of the proposed wind farm.

Dates and Duration

    HRG surveys are anticipated to commence in early May 2016 and will 
last for approximately 30 days, including estimated weather down time. 
Geotechnical surveys requiring the use of the DP drill ship will take 
place in September 2016, at the earliest, and will last for 
approximately 6 days excluding weather downtime.

Specified Geographic Region

    DONG Energy's survey activities will occur in the approximately 
187,532-acre Lease Area designated and offered by the U.S. Bureau of 
Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), located approximately 14 miles (mi) 
south of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, at its closest point (see 
Figure 1-1 of the IHA application). The Lease Area falls within the 
Massachusetts Wind Energy Area (MA WEA; Figure 1-1 of the IHA 
application). An evaluation of site assessment activities within the MA 
WEA was fully assessed in the BOEM Environmental Assessment (EA) and 
associated Finding of No Significant Impact (BOEM, 2014). A Biological 
Opinion on site assessment activities within the MA WEA was issued by 
NMFS' Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (formerly Northeast 
Regional Office) to BOEM in April 2013.

Detailed Description of Activities

High-Resolution Geophysical Survey Activities

    Marine site characterization surveys will include the following HRG 
survey activities:
     Depth sounding (multibeam depth sounder) to determine 
water depths and general bottom topography;
     Magnetic intensity measurements for detecting local 
variations in regional magnetic field from geological strata and 
potential ferrous objects on and below the bottom;
     Seafloor imaging (sidescan sonar survey) for seabed 
sediment classification purposes, to identify natural and man-made 
acoustic targets resting on the bottom as well as any anomalous 
features;
     Subsea equipment positioning using ultra-short baseline 
(USBL) acoustic positioning systems (pingers);
     Shallow penetration sub-bottom profiler (chirper) to map 
the near surface stratigraphy (top 0-5 meter [m] soils below seabed); 
and
     Medium penetration sub-bottom profiler (sparker) to map 
deeper subsurface stratigraphy as needed (soils down to 75-100 m below 
seabed).
    The HRG surveys are scheduled to begin, at the earliest, on May 1, 
2016. Table 1 identifies the representative survey equipment that is 
being considered in support of the HRG survey activities. The make and 
model of the listed HRG equipment will vary depending on availability, 
but will be finalized as part of the survey preparations and contract 
negotiations with the survey contractor, and therefore the final 
selection of the survey equipment will be confirmed prior to the start 
of the HRG survey program. Only the make and model of the HRG equipment 
may change, not the types of equipment or the addition of equipment 
with characteristics that might have effects beyond (i.e., resulting in 
larger ensonified areas) those considered in this proposed IHA. None of 
the proposed HRG survey activities will result in the disturbance of 
bottom habitat in the Lease Area.

                       Table 1--Summary of Representative DONG Energy HRG Survey Equipment
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                 Operating                                          Beamwidth     Pulse duration
        HRG equipment           frequencies      Source level     Source depth      (degree)        (millisec)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
iXBlue GAPS equipment         22-30 kHz......  192 dBRMS......  2-5 m below                 180  1
 positioning system (pinger).                                    surface.
Sonardyne Scout USBL          35-50 kHz......  187 dBRMS......  2-5 m below                 180  1
 equipment positioning                                           surface.
 system (pinger).
Edgtech 4125 Sidescan Sonar   400/900/1600     205 dBRMS......  1-2 m below                  50  0.6 to 4.9
 \1\.                          kHz.                              surface.
Klein 3000H Sidescan Sonar    445/900 kHz....  242 dBRMS......  3-8 m above                  .2  0.0025 to 0.4
 \1\.                                                            seafloor.
GeoPulse Sub-bottom Profiler  1.5 to 18 kHz..  208 dBRMS......  3-8 m above                  55  0.1 to 1
 (chirper).                                                      seafloor.
Geo-Source 200/800 (sparker)  50 to 5000 Hz..  221 dBRMS/217    1-2 m below                 110  1 to 2
                                                dBRMS.           surface.
SeaBat 7125 Multibeam Sonar   400 kHz........  220 dBpeak.....  1-3 m below                   2  0.03 to .3
 \2\.                                                            surface.

[[Page 19559]]

 
EM 2040 Multibeam Sonar \2\.  400 kHz........  207 dBRMS......  1-3 m below                 1.5  0.05 to 0.6
                                                                 surface.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ It should be noted that only one of the representative sidescan sonars would be selected for deployment.
\2\ It should be noted that only one of the representative multibeam sonars would be selected for deployment.

    The HRG survey activities will be supported by a vessel 
approximately 98 to 180 feet (ft) in length and capable of maintaining 
course and a survey speed of approximately 4 knots while transiting 
survey lines. HRG survey activities across the Lease Area will 
generally be conducted at 900-meter (m) line spacing (total survey line 
approximately 1,800 km). Up to two FLIDARs would be deployed within the 
Lease Area, and up to three potential locations for FLIDAR deployment 
will be investigated. At the three potential FLIDAR deployment 
locations the survey will be conducted along a tighter 30-m line (total 
survey line approximately 2 km) spacing to meet the BOEM requirements 
as set out in the July 2015 Guidelines for Providing Geophysical, 
Geotechnical, and Geohazard Information Pursuant and Archeological and 
Historic Property Information to 30 CFR part 585.
    Given the size of the Lease Area (187,532 acres), to minimize cost, 
the duration of survey activities, and the period of potential impact 
on marine species, DONG Energy has proposed conducting survey 
operations 24 hours per day. Based on 24-hour operations, the estimated 
duration of the survey activities would be approximately 30 days 
(including estimated weather down time).
    Both NMFS and BOEM have advised that the deployment of HRG survey 
equipment, including the use of intermittent, impulsive sound-producing 
equipment operating below 200 kilohertz (kHz) (e.g., sub-bottom 
profilers), has the potential to cause acoustic harassment to marine 
mammals. Based on the frequency ranges of the equipment to be used in 
support of the HRG survey activities (Table 1) and the hearing ranges 
of the marine mammals that have the potential to occur in the Lease 
Area during survey activities (Table 2), only the equipment positioning 
systems (iXBlue GAPS and Sonardyne Scout USBL) and the sub-bottom 
profilers (GeoPulse Sub-bottom Profiler and Geo-Source 200 and 800) 
fall within the established marine mammal hearing ranges and have the 
potential to result in Level B harassment of marine mammals.
    The equipment positioning systems use vessel-based underwater 
acoustic positioning to track equipment (in this case, the sub-bottom 
profiler) in very shallow to very deep water. Using pulsed acoustic 
signals, the systems calculate the position of a subsea target by 
measuring the range (distance) and bearing from a vessel-mounted 
transceiver to a small acoustic transponder (the acoustic beacon, or 
pinger) fitted to the target. Equipment positioning systems (either the 
iXBlue GAPS or Sonardyne Scout) will be operational at all times during 
HRG survey data acquisition (i.e, concurrent with the sub-bottom 
profiler operation). Sub-bottom profiling systems identify and measure 
various marine sediment layers that exist below the sediment/water 
interface. A sound source emits an acoustic signal vertically downwards 
into the water and a receiver monitors the return signal that has been 
reflected off the sea floor. Some of the acoustic signal will penetrate 
the seabed and be reflected when it encounters a boundary between two 
layers that have different acoustic impedance. The system uses this 
reflected energy to provide information on sediment layers beneath the 
sediment-water interface. A GeoPulse, or similar model, shallow 
penetration sub-bottom profiler will be used to map the near surface 
stratigraphy of the Lease Area. The shallow penetration sub-bottom 
profiler is a precisely controlled hull/pole mounted ``chirp'' system 
that emits high-energy sounds with a pulse duration of 0.1 to 1 
millisecond (ms) at operating frequencies of 1.5 to 18 kHz and is used 
to penetrate and profile the shallow (top 0-5 m soils below seabed) 
sediments of the seafloor. A Geo-Source 200/800, or similar model, 
medium-penetration sub-bottom profiler (sparker) will be used to map 
deeper subsurface stratigraphy in the Lease Area as needed (soils down 
to 75-100 m below seabed). The sparker is towed from a boom arm off the 
side of the survey vessel and emits a downward pulse with a duration of 
1 to 2 ms at an operating frequency of 50 to 5000 Hz.

Geotechnical Survey Activities

    Marine site characterization surveys will involve the following 
geotechnical survey activities:
     Sample boreholes to determine geological and geotechnical 
characteristics of sediments;
     Deep cone penetration tests (CPTs) to determine 
stratigraphy and in-situ conditions of the deep surface sediments;
     Shallow CPTs to determine stratigraphy and in-situ 
conditions of the near surface sediments; and
     Vibracoring to determine geological and geotechnical 
characteristics of the near surface sediments.
    It is anticipated that the geotechnical surveys will take place no 
sooner than September 2016. The geotechnical survey program will 
consist of up to 4 deep sample bore holes and adjacent 4 deep CPTs both 
to a depth of approximately 131 ft to 164 ft (40 m to 50 m) below the 
seabed, as well as 15 shallow CPTs, and 15 adjacent vibracores, both up 
to 20 ft (6 m) below seabed.
    The investigation activities are anticipated to be conducted from a 
250-ft to 350-ft (76 m to 107 m) dynamically positioned (DP) drill 
ship. DP vessel thruster systems maintain their precise coordinates in 
waters through the use of automatic controls. These control systems use 
variable levels of power to counter forces from current and wind. 
Operations will take place over a 24-hour period to ensure cost, the 
duration of survey activities, and the period of potential impact on 
marine species are minimized. Based on 24-hour operations, the 
estimated duration of the geotechnical survey activities would be 
approximately 6 days excluding weather downtime. Estimated weather 
downtime is approximately 4 to 5 days.
    Field studies conducted off the coast of Virginia (Tetra Tech, 
2014; Kalapinski and Varnik, 2015) to determine the underwater noise 
produced by borehole drilling and CPTs confirm that these activities do 
not result in underwater noise levels that harmful or harassing to 
marine mammals (i.e., do not exceed NMFS' current Level A and Level B 
harassment thresholds for marine mammals).

[[Page 19560]]

However, underwater continuous noise produced by the thrusters 
associated with the DP drill ship that will be used to support the 
geotechnical activities has the potential to result in Level B 
harassment of marine mammals.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    There are 38 species of marine mammals that potentially occur in 
the Northwest Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) region (BOEM, 
2014) (Table 2). The majority of these species are pelagic and/or 
northern species, or are so rarely sighted that their presence in the 
Lease Area is unlikely. Six marine mammal species are listed under the 
Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are known to be present, at least 
seasonally, in the waters of Southern New England: blue whale, fin 
whale, humpback whale, right whale, sei whale, and sperm whale. These 
species are highly migratory and do not spend extended periods of time 
in a localized area; the waters of Southern New England (including the 
Lease Area) are primarily used as a stopover point for these species 
during seasonal movements north or south between important feeding and 
breeding grounds. While the fin, humpback, and right whales have the 
potential to occur within the Lease Area, the sperm, blue, and sei 
whales are more pelagic and/or northern species, and though their 
presence within the Lease Area is possible, they are considered less 
common with regards to sightings. In particular, while sperm whales are 
known to occur occasionally in the region, their sightings are 
considered rare and thus their presence in the Lease Area at the time 
of the proposed activities is considered unlikely. Because the 
potential for sperm whale, blue whale, and sei whale to occur within 
the Lease Area during the marine survey period is unlikely, these 
species will not be described further in this analysis.
    The following species are both common in the waters of the OCS 
south of Massachusetts and have the highest likelihood of occurring, at 
least seasonally, in the Lease Area: North Atlantic right whale 
(Eubalaena glacialis), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), fin 
whale (Balaenoptera physalus), minke whale (Balaenoptera 
acutorostrata), harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), Atlantic white-
sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus), short-beaked common dolphin 
(Delphinus delphis), harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), and gray seal 
(Halichorus grypus) (Right Whale Consortium, 2014).
    Further information on the biology, ecology, abundance, and 
distribution of those species likely to occur in the Lease Area can be 
found in section 4 of the application, and the NMFS Marine Mammal Stock 
Assessment Reports (see Waring et al., 2015), which are available 
online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/.

                  Table 2--Marine Mammals Known To Occur in the Waters of Southern New England
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           Common name              Scientific name       NMFS status       Stock abundance          Stock
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Toothed Whales (Odontoceti)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Atlantic white-sided dolphin....  Lagenorhynchus      N/A...............  48,819............  W. North Atlantic.
                                   acutus.
Atlantic spotted dolphin........  Stenella frontalis  N/A...............  44,715............  W. North Atlantic.
Bottlenose dolphin..............  Tursiops truncatus  Northern coastal    11,548............  W. North Atlantic,
                                                       stock is                                Northern
                                                       Strategic \a\.                          Migratory
                                                                                               Coastal.
Clymene Dolphin.................  Stenella clymene..  N/A...............  Unknown...........  W. North Atlantic.
Fraser's Dolphin................  Lagenodelphis       N/A...............  Unknown...........  W. North Atlantic.
                                   hosei.
Pan-Tropical Spotted Dolphin....  Stenella attenuata  N/A...............  3,333.............  W. North Atlantic.
Risso's dolphin.................  Grampus griseus...  N/A...............  18,250............  W. North Atlantic.
Rough-Toothed Dolphin...........  Steno bredanensis.  N/A...............  271...............  W. North Atlantic.
Short-beaked common dolphin.....  Delphinus delphis.  N/A...............  120,743...........  W. North Atlantic.
Striped dolphin.................  Stenella            N/A...............  46,882............  W. North Atlantic.
                                   coeruleoalba.
Spinner Dolphin.................  Stenella            N/A...............  Unknown...........  W. North Atlantic.
                                   longirostris.
White-beaked dolphin............  Lagenorhynchus      N/A...............  2,003.............  W. North Atlantic.
                                   albirostris.
Harbor porpoise.................  Phocoena phocoena.  N/A...............  79,833............  Gulf of Maine/Bay
                                                                                               of Fundy.
Killer whale....................  Orcinus orca......  N/A...............  Unknown...........  W. North Atlantic.
Pygmy Killer Whale..............  Feresa attenuata..  N/A...............  3,785.............  W. North Atlantic.
False killer whale..............  Pseudorca           Strategic.........  442...............  W. North Atlantic.
                                   crassidens.
Long-finned pilot whale.........  Globicephala melas  N/A...............  26,535............  W. North Atlantic.
Short-finned pilot whale........  Globicephala        N/A...............  21,515............  W. North Atlantic.
                                   macrorhynchus.
Sperm whale.....................  Physeter            Endangered........  2,288.............  North Atlantic.
                                   macrocephalus.
Pigmy sperm whale...............  Kogia breviceps...  N/A...............  3,785 \b\.........  W. North Atlantic.
Dwarf sperm whale...............  Kogia sima........  N/A...............  3,785 \b\.........  W. North Atlantic.
Cuvier's beaked whale...........  Ziphius             N/A...............  6,532.............  W. North Atlantic.
                                   cavirostris.
Blainville's beaked whale.......  Mesoplodon          N/A...............  7,092 \c\.........  W. North Atlantic.
                                   densirostris.
Gervais' beaked whale...........  Mesoplodon          N/A...............  7,092 \c\.........  W. North Atlantic.
                                   europaeus.
True's beaked whale.............  Mesoplodon mirus..  N/A...............  7,092 \c\.........  W. North Atlantic.
Sowerby's Beaked Whale..........  Mesoplodon bidens.  N/A...............  7,092 \c\.........  W. North Atlantic.
Northern bottlenose whale.......  Hyperoodon          N/A...............  Unknown...........  W. North Atlantic.
                                   ampullatus.
Melon-headed whale..............  Peponocephala       N/A...............  Unknown...........  W. North Atlantic.
                                   electra.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Baleen Whales (Mysticeti)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Minke whale.....................  Balaenoptera        N/A...............  20,741............  Canadian East
                                   acutorostrata.                                              Coast.
Blue whale......................  Balaenoptera        Endangered........  Unknown...........  W. North Atlantic.
                                   musculus.
Fin whale.......................  Balaenoptera        Endangered........  1,618.............  W. North Atlantic.
                                   physalus.
Humpback whale..................  Megaptera           Endangered........  823...............  Gulf of Maine.
                                   novaeangliae.
North Atlantic right whale......  Eubalaena           Endangered........  465...............  W. North Atlantic.
                                   glacialis.

[[Page 19561]]

 
Sei whale.......................  Balaenoptera        Endangered........  357...............  Nova Scotia.
                                   borealis.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Earless Seals (Phocidae)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gray seals......................  Halichoerus grypus  N/A...............  348,900...........  North Atlantic.
Harbor seals....................  Phoca vitulina....  N/A...............  75,834............  W. North Atlantic.
Hooded seals....................  Cystophora          N/A...............  Unknown...........  W. North Atlantic.
                                   cristata.
Harp seal.......................  Phoca groenlandica  N/A...............  Unknown...........  North Atlantic.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\a\ A strategic stock is defined as any marine mammal stock: (1) For which the level of direct human-caused
  mortality exceeds the potential biological removal level; (2) which is declining and likely to be listed as
  threatened under the ESA; or (3) which is listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA or as depleted
  under the MMPA.
\b\ This estimate may include both the dwarf and pygmy sperm whales.
\c\ This estimate includes Gervais' and Blainville's beaked whales and undifferentiated Mesoplodon spp. beaked
  whales.
Sources: Waring et al., 2015; Waring et al., 2013; Waring et al., 2011; Waring et al., 2010; RI SAMP, 2011;
  Kenney and Vigness-Raposa, 2009; NMFS, 2012.

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals and Their 
Habitat

    This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that the 
types of stressors associated with the specified activity have been 
observed to impact marine mammals. This 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 (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). 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, and 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 ``Potential Effects of the 
Specified Activity on Marine Mammals'' 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.

Background on Sound

    Sound is a physical phenomenon consisting of minute vibrations that 
travel through a medium, such as air or water, and is generally 
characterized by several variables. Frequency describes the sound's 
pitch and is measured in hertz (Hz) or kilohertz (kHz), while sound 
level describes the sound's intensity and is measured in decibels (dB). 
Sound level increases or decreases exponentially with each dB of 
change. The logarithmic nature of the scale means that each 10-dB 
increase is a 10-fold increase in acoustic power (and a 20-dB increase 
is then a 100-fold increase in power). A 10-fold increase in acoustic 
power does not mean that the sound is perceived as being 10 times 
louder, however. Sound levels are compared to a reference sound 
pressure (micro-Pascal) to identify the medium. For air and water, 
these reference pressures are ``re: 20 [mu]Pa'' and ``re: 1 [mu]Pa,'' 
respectively. Root mean square (RMS) is the quadratic mean sound 
pressure over the duration of an impulse. RMS is calculated by squaring 
all of the sound amplitudes, averaging the squares, and then taking the 
square root of the average (Urick, 1975). RMS accounts for both 
positive and negative values; squaring the pressures makes all values 
positive so that they may be accounted for in the summation of pressure 
levels. This measurement is often used in the context of discussing 
behavioral effects, in part because behavioral effects, which often 
result from auditory cues, may be better expressed through averaged 
units rather than by peak pressures.

Acoustic Impacts

    HRG survey equipment use and use of the DP thruster during the 
geophysical and geotechnical surveys may temporarily impact marine 
mammals in the area due to elevated in-water sound levels. Marine 
mammals are continually exposed to many sources of sound. Naturally 
occurring sounds such as lightning, rain, sub-sea earthquakes, and 
biological sounds (e.g., snapping shrimp, whale songs) are widespread 
throughout the world's oceans. Marine mammals produce sounds in various 
contexts and use sound for various biological functions including, but 
not limited to: (1) Social interactions; (2) foraging; (3) orientation; 
and (4) predator detection. Interference with producing or receiving 
these sounds may result in adverse impacts. Audible distance, or 
received levels of sound depend on the nature of the sound source, 
ambient noise conditions, and the sensitivity of the receptor to the 
sound (Richardson et al., 1995). Type and significance of marine mammal 
reactions to sound are likely dependent on a variety of factors 
including, but not limited to, (1) the behavioral state of the animal 
(e.g., feeding, traveling, etc.); (2) frequency of the sound; (3) 
distance between the animal and the source; and (4) the level of the 
sound relative to ambient conditions (Southall et al., 2007).
    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. Current 
data indicate that not all marine mammal species have equal hearing 
capabilities (Richardson et al., 1995; Southall et al., 1997; Wartzok 
and Ketten, 1999; Au and Hastings, 2008).
    Southall et al. (2007) designated ``functional hearing groups'' for 
marine mammals based on available behavioral data; audiograms derived 
from auditory evoked potentials; anatomical modeling; and other data. 
Southall et al. (2007) also estimated the lower and upper frequencies 
of functional hearing for each group. However, animals are less 
sensitive to sounds at the outer edges of their functional hearing 
range and are

[[Page 19562]]

more sensitive to a range of frequencies within the middle of their 
functional hearing range. Note that direct measurements of hearing 
sensitivity do not exist for all species of marine mammals, including 
low-frequency cetaceans. The functional hearing groups and the 
associated frequencies developed by Southall et al. (2007) were revised 
by Finneran and Jenkins (2012) and have been further modified by NOAA. 
Table 3 provides a summary of sound production and general hearing 
capabilities for marine mammal species (note that values in this table 
are not meant to reflect absolute possible maximum ranges, rather they 
represent the best known ranges of each functional hearing group). For 
purposes of the analysis in this document, marine mammals are arranged 
into the following functional hearing groups based on their generalized 
hearing sensitivities: high-frequency cetaceans, mid-frequency 
cetaceans, low-frequency cetaceans (mysticetes), phocids (true seals), 
and otariids (sea lion and fur seals). A detailed discussion of the 
functional hearing groups can be found in Southall et al. (2007) and 
Finneran and Jenkins (2012).

            Table 3--Marine Mammal Functional Hearing Groups
------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Functional hearing group            Functional hearing range *
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Low-frequency (LF) cetaceans (baleen  7 Hz to 25 kHz.
 whales).
Mid-frequency (MF) cetaceans          150 Hz to 160 kHz.
 (dolphins, toothed whales, beaked
 whales, bottlenose whales).
High-frequency (HF) cetaceans (true   200 Hz to 180 kHz.
 porpoises, Kogia, river dolphins,
 cephalorhynchid, Lagenorhynchus
 cruciger & L. australis).
Phocid pinnipeds (underwater) (true   75 Hz to 100 kHz.
 seals).
Otariid pinnipeds (underwater) (sea   100 Hz to 48 kHz.
 lions and fur seals).
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Adapted and derived from Southall et al. (2007).
* Represents frequency band of hearing for entire group as a composite
  (i.e., all species within the group), where individual species'
  hearing ranges are typically not as broad. Functional hearing is
  defined as the range of frequencies a group hears without
  incorporating non-acoustic mechanisms (Wartzok and Ketten, 1999). This
  is ~60 to ~70 dB above best hearing sensitivity (Southall et al.,
  2007) for all functional hearing groups except LF cetaceans, where no
  direct measurements on hearing are available. For LF cetaceans, the
  lower range is based on recommendations from Southall et al., 2007 and
  the upper range is based on information on inner ear anatomy and
  vocalizations.

    When sound travels (propagates) from its source, its loudness 
decreases as the distance traveled by the sound increases. Thus, the 
loudness of a sound at its source is higher than the loudness of that 
same sound a kilometer away. Acousticians often refer to the loudness 
of a sound at its source (typically referenced to one meter from the 
source) as the source level and the loudness of sound elsewhere as the 
received level (i.e., typically the receiver). For example, a humpback 
whale 3 km from a device that has a source level of 230 dB may only be 
exposed to sound that is 160 dB loud, depending on how the sound 
travels through water (e.g., spherical spreading [6 dB reduction with 
doubling of distance] was used in this example). As a result, it is 
important to understand the difference between source levels and 
received levels when discussing the loudness of sound in the ocean or 
its impacts on the marine environment.
    As sound travels from a source, its propagation in water is 
influenced by various physical characteristics, including water 
temperature, depth, salinity, and surface and bottom properties that 
cause refraction, reflection, absorption, and scattering of sound 
waves. Oceans are not homogeneous and the contribution of each of these 
individual factors is extremely complex and interrelated. The physical 
characteristics that determine the sound's speed through the water will 
change with depth, season, geographic location, and with time of day 
(as a result, in actual active sonar operations, crews will measure 
oceanic conditions, such as sea water temperature and depth, to 
calibrate models that determine the path the sonar signal will take as 
it travels through the ocean and how strong the sound signal will be at 
a given range along a particular transmission path). As sound travels 
through the ocean, the intensity associated with the wavefront 
diminishes, or attenuates. This decrease in intensity is referred to as 
propagation loss, also commonly called transmission loss.
    As mentioned previously in this document, nine marine mammal 
species (seven cetaceans and two pinnipeds) are likely to occur in the 
Lease Area. Of the seven cetacean species likely to occur in the Lease 
Area, four are classified as low-frequency cetaceans (i.e., minke 
whale, fin whale, humpback whale, and North Atlantic right whale), two 
are classified as mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., Atlantic white-sided 
dolphin and short-beaked common dolphin), and one is classified as a 
high-frequency cetacean (i.e., harbor porpoise) (Southall et al., 
2007). A species' functional hearing group is a consideration when we 
analyze the effects of exposure to sound on marine mammals.

Hearing Impairment

    Marine mammals may experience temporary or permanent hearing 
impairment when exposed to loud sounds. Hearing impairment is 
classified by temporary threshold shift (TTS) and permanent threshold 
shift (PTS). There are no empirical data for onset of PTS in any marine 
mammal; therefore, PTS-onset must be estimated from TTS-onset 
measurements and from the rate of TTS growth with increasing exposure 
levels above the level eliciting TTS-onset. PTS is presumed to be 
likely if the hearing threshold is reduced by >= 40 dB (that is, 40 dB 
of TTS). PTS is considered auditory injury (Southall et al., 2007) and 
occurs in a specific frequency range and amount. Irreparable damage to 
the inner or outer cochlear hair cells may cause PTS; however, other 
mechanisms are also involved, such as exceeding the elastic limits of 
certain tissues and membranes in the middle and inner ears and 
resultant changes in the chemical composition of the inner ear fluids 
(Southall et al., 2007). Given the higher level of sound and longer 
durations of exposure necessary to cause PTS as compared with TTS, it 
is considerably less likely that PTS would occur during the proposed 
HRG and geotechnical survey.

Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS)

    TTS is the mildest form of hearing impairment that can occur during 
exposure to a loud sound (Kryter, 1985). While experiencing TTS, the 
hearing threshold rises and a sound must be stronger in order to be 
heard. At least in terrestrial mammals, TTS can last from minutes or 
hours to (in cases of strong

[[Page 19563]]

TTS) days, can be limited to a particular frequency range, and can 
occur to varying degrees (i.e., a loss of a certain number of dBs of 
sensitivity). For sound exposures at or somewhat above the TTS 
threshold, hearing sensitivity in both terrestrial and marine mammals 
recovers rapidly after exposure to the noise ends.
    Marine mammal hearing plays a critical role in communication with 
conspecifics and in 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. 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 takes place during a time when the animals is traveling 
through the open ocean, 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 a time when communication is 
critical for successful mother/calf interactions could have more 
serious impacts if it were in the same frequency band as the necessary 
vocalizations and of a severity that it impeded communication. The fact 
that animals exposed to levels and durations of sound that would be 
expected to result in this physiological response would also be 
expected to have behavioral responses of a comparatively more severe or 
sustained nature is also notable and potentially of more importance 
than the simple existence of a TTS.
    Currently, TTS data only exist for four species of cetaceans 
(bottlenose dolphin, beluga whale, harbor porpoise, and Yangtze finless 
porpoise) and three species of pinnipeds (northern elephant seal, 
harbor seal, and California sea lion) exposed to a limited number of 
sound sources (i.e., mostly tones and octave-band noise) in laboratory 
settings (e.g., Finneran et al., 2002 and 2010; Nachtigall et al., 
2004; Kastak et al., 2005; Lucke et al., 2009; Mooney et al., 2009; 
Popov et al., 2011; Finneran and Schlundt, 2010). In general, harbor 
seals (Kastak et al., 2005; Kastelein et al., 2012a) and harbor 
porpoises (Lucke et al., 2009; Kastelein et al., 2012b) have a lower 
TTS onset than other measured pinniped or cetacean species. However, 
even for these animals, which are better able to hear higher 
frequencies and may be more sensitive to higher frequencies, exposures 
on the order of approximately 170 dB rms or higher for brief transient 
signals are likely required for even temporary (recoverable) changes in 
hearing sensitivity that would likely not be categorized as 
physiologically damaging (Lucke et al., 2009). Additionally, the 
existing marine mammal TTS data come from a limited number of 
individuals within these species. There are no data available on noise-
induced hearing loss for mysticetes (of note, the source operating 
characteristics of some of DONG Energy's proposed HRG survey 
equipment--i.e., the equipment positioning systems--are unlikely to be 
audible to mysticetes). For summaries of data on TTS in marine mammals 
or for further discussion of TTS onset thresholds, please see Southall 
et al. (2007), Finneran and Jenkins (2012), and Finneran (2015).
    Scientific literature highlights the inherent complexity of 
predicting TTS onset in marine mammals, as well as the importance of 
considering exposure duration when assessing potential impacts (Mooney 
et al., 2009a, 2009b; Kastak et al., 2007). Generally, with sound 
exposures of equal energy, quieter sounds (lower SPL) of longer 
duration were found to induce TTS onset more than louder sounds (higher 
SPL) of shorter duration (more similar to sub-bottom profilers). For 
intermittent sounds, less threshold shift will occur than from a 
continuous exposure with the same energy (some recovery will occur 
between intermittent exposures) (Kryter et al., 1966; Ward, 1997). For 
sound exposures at or somewhat above the TTS-onset threshold, hearing 
sensitivity recovers rapidly after exposure to the sound ends; 
intermittent exposures recover faster in comparison with continuous 
exposures of the same duration (Finneran et al., 2010). NMFS considers 
TTS as Level B harassment that is mediated by physiological effects on 
the auditory system; however, NMFS does not consider TTS-onset to be 
the lowest level at which Level B harassment may occur.
    Animals in the Lease Area during the HRG survey are unlikely to 
incur TTS hearing impairment due to the characteristics of the sound 
sources, which include low source levels (208 to 221 dB re 1 [micro]Pa-
m) and generally very short pulses and duration of the sound. Even for 
high-frequency cetacean species (e.g., harbor porpoises), which may 
have increased sensitivity to TTS (Lucke et al., 2009; Kastelein et 
al., 2012b), individuals would have to make a very close approach and 
also remain very close to vessels operating these sources in order to 
receive multiple exposures at relatively high levels, as would be 
necessary to cause TTS. Intermittent exposures--as would occur due to 
the brief, transient signals produced by these sources--require a 
higher cumulative SEL to induce TTS than would continuous exposures of 
the same duration (i.e., intermittent exposure results in lower levels 
of TTS) (Mooney et al., 2009a; Finneran et al., 2010). Moreover, most 
marine mammals would more likely avoid a loud sound source rather than 
swim in such close proximity as to result in TTS. Kremser et al. (2005) 
noted that the probability of a cetacean swimming through the area of 
exposure when a sub-bottom profiler emits a pulse is small--because if 
the animal was in the area, it would have to pass the transducer at 
close range in order to be subjected to sound levels that could cause 
temporary threshold shift and would likely exhibit avoidance behavior 
to the area near the transducer rather than swim through at such a 
close range. Further, the restricted beam shape of the sub-bottom 
profiler and other HRG survey equipment makes it unlikely that an 
animal would be exposed more than briefly during the passage of the 
vessel. Boebel et al. (2005) concluded similarly for single and 
multibeam echosounders, and more recently, Lurton (2016) conducted a 
modeling exercise and concluded similarly that likely potential for 
acoustic injury from these types of systems is negligible, but that 
behavioral response cannot be ruled out. Animals may avoid the area 
around the survey vessels, thereby reducing exposure. Any disturbance 
to marine mammals is likely to be in the form of temporary avoidance or 
alteration of opportunistic foraging behavior near the survey location.
    It is possible that animals in the Lease Area may experience TTS 
during the use of DP vessel thrusters during the geotechnical survey 
due to the duration and nature of the noise (continuous, up to 6 days). 
However, the fact that the DP drill ship is stationary during the 
geotechnical survey activities makes it less likely that animals would 
remain in the area long enough to incur TTS. As is the case for the HRG 
survey activities, animals may avoid the area around the survey vessel, 
thereby reducing exposure. Any disturbance to marine mammals is more 
likely to be in the form of temporary avoidance or alteration of 
opportunistic foraging behavior near the survey location.

Masking

    Masking is the obscuring of sounds of interest to an animal by 
other sounds, typically at similar frequencies. Marine mammals are 
highly dependent on

[[Page 19564]]

sound, and their ability to recognize sound signals amid other sound is 
important in communication and detection of both predators and prey 
(Tyack, 2000). Background ambient sound may interfere with or mask the 
ability of an animal to detect a sound signal even when that signal is 
above its absolute hearing threshold. Even in the absence of 
anthropogenic sound, the marine environment is often loud. Natural 
ambient sound includes contributions from wind, waves, precipitation, 
other animals, and (at frequencies above 30 kHz) thermal sound 
resulting from molecular agitation (Richardson et al., 1995).
    Background sound may also include anthropogenic sound, and masking 
of natural sounds can result when human activities produce high levels 
of background sound. Conversely, if the background level of underwater 
sound is high (e.g., on a day with strong wind and high waves), an 
anthropogenic sound source would not be detectable as far away as would 
be possible under quieter conditions and would itself be masked. 
Ambient sound is highly variable on continental shelves (Thompson, 
1965; Myrberg, 1978; Chapman et al., 1998; Desharnais et al., 1999). 
This results in a high degree of variability in the range at which 
marine mammals can detect anthropogenic sounds.
    Although masking is a phenomenon which may occur naturally, the 
introduction of loud anthropogenic sounds into the marine environment 
at frequencies important to marine mammals increases the severity and 
frequency of occurrence of masking. For example, if a baleen whale is 
exposed to continuous low-frequency sound from an industrial source, 
this would reduce the size of the area around that whale within which 
it can hear the calls of another whale. The components of background 
noise that are similar in frequency to the signal in question primarily 
determine the degree of masking of that signal. In general, little is 
known about the degree to which marine mammals rely upon detection of 
sounds from conspecifics, predators, prey, or other natural sources. In 
the absence of specific information about the importance of detecting 
these natural sounds, it is not possible to predict the impact of 
masking on marine mammals (Richardson et al., 1995). In general, 
masking effects are expected to be less severe when sounds are 
transient than when they are continuous. Masking is typically of 
greater concern for those marine mammals that utilize low-frequency 
communications, such as baleen whales, because of how far low-frequency 
sounds propagate.
    Marine mammal communications would not likely be masked appreciably 
by the sub-profiler or pingers' signals given the directionality of the 
signal and the brief period when an individual mammal is likely to be 
within its beam. And while continuous sound from the DP thruster when 
in use is predicted to extend 3.4 km to the 120 dB threshold, the 
generally short duration of DP thruster use and low source levels, 
coupled with the likelihood of animals to avoid the sound source, would 
result in very little opportunity for this activity to mask the 
communication of local marine mammals for more than a brief period of 
time.

Non-Auditory Physical Effects (Stress)

    Classic stress responses begin when an animal's central nervous 
system perceives a potential threat to its homeostasis. That perception 
triggers stress responses regardless of whether a stimulus actually 
threatens the animal; the mere perception of a threat is sufficient to 
trigger a stress response (Moberg, 2000; Sapolsky et al., 2005; Seyle, 
1950). Once an animal's central nervous system perceives a threat, it 
mounts a biological response or defense that consists of a combination 
of the four general biological defense responses: behavioral responses, 
autonomic nervous system responses, neuroendocrine responses, or immune 
responses.
    In the case of many stressors, an animal's first and sometimes most 
economical (in terms of biotic costs) response is behavioral avoidance 
of the potential stressor or avoidance of continued exposure to a 
stressor. An animal's second line of defense to stressors involves the 
sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system and the classical 
``fight or flight'' response which includes the cardiovascular system, 
the gastrointestinal system, the exocrine glands, and the adrenal 
medulla to produce changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and 
gastrointestinal activity that humans commonly associate with 
``stress.'' These responses have a relatively short duration and may or 
may not have significant long-term effect on an animal's welfare.
    An animal's third line of defense to stressors involves its 
neuroendocrine systems; the system that has received the most study has 
been the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system (also known as the HPA 
axis in mammals or the hypothalamus-pituitary-interrenal axis in fish 
and some reptiles). Unlike stress responses associated with the 
autonomic nervous system, virtually all neuro-endocrine functions that 
are affected by stress--including immune competence, reproduction, 
metabolism, and behavior--are regulated by pituitary hormones. Stress-
induced changes in the secretion of pituitary hormones have been 
implicated in failed reproduction (Moberg, 1987; Rivier, 1995), altered 
metabolism (Elasser et al., 2000), reduced immune competence (Blecha, 
2000), and behavioral disturbance. Increases in the circulation of 
glucocorticosteroids (cortisol, corticosterone, and aldosterone in 
marine mammals; see Romano et al., 2004) have been equated with stress 
for many years.
    The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does 
not normally place an animal at risk) and distress is the biotic cost 
of the response. During a stress response, an animal uses glycogen 
stores that can be quickly replenished once the stress is alleviated. 
In such circumstances, the cost of the stress response would not pose a 
risk to the animal's welfare. However, when an animal does not have 
sufficient energy reserves to satisfy the energetic costs of a stress 
response, energy resources must be diverted from other biotic function, 
which impairs those functions that experience the diversion. For 
example, when mounting a stress response diverts energy away from 
growth in young animals, those animals may experience stunted growth. 
When mounting a stress response diverts energy from a fetus, an 
animal's reproductive success and its fitness will suffer. In these 
cases, the animals will have entered a pre-pathological or pathological 
state which is called ``distress'' (Seyle, 1950) or ``allostatic 
loading'' (McEwen and Wingfield, 2003). This pathological state will 
last until the animal replenishes its biotic reserves sufficient to 
restore normal function. Note that these examples involved a long-term 
(days or weeks) stress response exposure to stimuli.
    Relationships between these physiological mechanisms, animal 
behavior, and the costs of stress responses have also been documented 
fairly well through controlled experiments; because this physiology 
exists in every vertebrate that has been studied, it is not surprising 
that stress responses and their costs have been documented in both 
laboratory and free-living animals (for examples see, Holberton et al., 
1996; Hood et al., 1998; Jessop et al., 2003; Krausman et al., 2004; 
Lankford et al., 2005; Reneerkens et al., 2002; Thompson and Hamer, 
2000). Information has also been collected on the physiological 
responses

[[Page 19565]]

of marine mammals to exposure to anthropogenic sounds (Fair and Becker, 
2000; Romano et al., 2002; Wright et al., 2008). For example, Rolland 
et al. (2012) found that noise reduction from reduced ship traffic in 
the Bay of Fundy was associated with decreased stress in North Atlantic 
right whales. In a conceptual model developed by the Population 
Consequences of Acoustic Disturbance (PCAD) working group, serum 
hormones were identified as possible indicators of behavioral effects 
that are translated into altered rates of reproduction and mortality.
    Studies of other marine animals and terrestrial animals would also 
lead us to expect some marine mammals to experience physiological 
stress responses and, perhaps, physiological responses that would be 
classified as ``distress'' upon exposure to high frequency, mid-
frequency and low-frequency sounds. For example, Jansen (1998) reported 
on the relationship between acoustic exposures and physiological 
responses that are indicative of stress responses in humans (for 
example, elevated respiration and increased heart rates). Jones (1998) 
reported on reductions in human performance when faced with acute, 
repetitive exposures to acoustic disturbance. Trimper et al. (1998) 
reported on the physiological stress responses of osprey to low-level 
aircraft noise while Krausman et al. (2004) reported on the auditory 
and physiology stress responses of endangered Sonoran pronghorn to 
military overflights. Smith et al. (2004a, 2004b), for example, 
identified noise-induced physiological transient stress responses in 
hearing-specialist fish (i.e., goldfish) that accompanied short- and 
long-term hearing losses. Welch and Welch (1970) reported physiological 
and behavioral stress responses that accompanied damage to the inner 
ears of fish and several mammals.
    Hearing is one of the primary senses marine mammals use to gather 
information about their environment and to communicate with 
conspecifics. Although empirical information on the relationship 
between sensory impairment (TTS, PTS, and acoustic masking) on marine 
mammals remains limited, it seems reasonable to assume that reducing an 
animal's ability to gather information about its environment and to 
communicate with other members of its species would be stressful for 
animals that use hearing as their primary sensory mechanism. Therefore, 
we assume that acoustic exposures sufficient to trigger onset PTS or 
TTS would be accompanied by physiological stress responses because 
terrestrial animals exhibit those responses under similar conditions 
(NRC, 2003). More importantly, marine mammals might experience stress 
responses at received levels lower than those necessary to trigger 
onset TTS. Based on empirical studies of the time required to recover 
from stress responses (Moberg, 2000), we also assume that stress 
responses are likely to persist beyond the time interval required for 
animals to recover from TTS and might result in pathological and pre-
pathological states that would be as significant as behavioral 
responses to TTS.
    In general, there are few data on the potential for strong, 
anthropogenic underwater sounds to cause non-auditory physical effects 
in marine mammals. Such effects, if they occur at all, would presumably 
be limited to short distances and to activities that extend over a 
prolonged period. The available data do not allow identification of a 
specific exposure level above which non-auditory effects can be 
expected (Southall et al., 2007). There is no definitive evidence that 
any of these effects occur even for marine mammals in close proximity 
to an anthropogenic sound source. In addition, marine mammals that show 
behavioral avoidance of survey vessels and related sound sources, are 
unlikely to incur non-auditory impairment or other physical effects. 
NMFS does not expect that the generally short-term, intermittent, and 
transitory HRG and geotechnical activities would create conditions of 
long-term, continuous noise and chronic acoustic exposure leading to 
long-term physiological stress responses in marine mammals.

Behavioral Disturbance

    Behavioral responses to sound are highly variable and context-
specific. An animal's perception of and response to (in both nature and 
magnitude) an acoustic event can be influenced by prior experience, 
perceived proximity, bearing of the sound, familiarity of the sound, 
etc. (Southall et al., 2007). If a marine mammal does react briefly to 
an underwater sound by changing its behavior or moving a small 
distance, the impacts of the change are unlikely to be significant to 
the individual, let alone the stock or population. However, if a sound 
source displaces marine mammals from an important feeding or breeding 
area for a prolonged period, impacts on individuals and populations 
could be significant (e.g., Lusseau and Bejder, 2007; Weilgart, 2007).
    Southall et al. (2007) reports the results of the efforts of a 
panel of experts in acoustic research from behavioral, physiological, 
and physical disciplines that convened and reviewed the available 
literature on marine mammal hearing and physiological and behavioral 
responses to human-made sound with the goal of proposing exposure 
criteria for certain effects. This peer-reviewed compilation of 
literature is very valuable, though Southall et al. (2007) note that 
not all data are equal, some have poor statistical power, insufficient 
controls, and/or limited information on received levels, background 
noise, and other potentially important contextual variables--such data 
were reviewed and sometimes used for qualitative illustration but were 
not included in the quantitative analysis for the criteria 
recommendations. All of the studies considered, however, contain an 
estimate of the received sound level when the animal exhibited the 
indicated response.
    In the Southall et al. (2007) publication, for the purposes of 
analyzing responses of marine mammals to anthropogenic sound and 
developing criteria, the authors differentiate between pulse sounds 
(single and multiple) and non-pulse sounds.
    The studies that address responses of low-frequency cetaceans to 
non-pulse sounds include data gathered in the field and related to 
several types of sound sources, including: vessel noise, drilling and 
machinery playback, low-frequency M-sequences (sine wave with multiple 
phase reversals) playback, tactical low-frequency active sonar 
playback, drill ships, and non-pulse playbacks. These studies generally 
indicate no (or very limited) responses to received levels in the 90 to 
120 dB re: 1[micro]Pa range and an increasing likelihood of avoidance 
and other behavioral effects in the 120 to 160 dB range. As mentioned 
earlier, though, contextual variables play a very important role in the 
reported responses and the severity of effects do not increase linearly 
with received levels. Also, few of the laboratory or field datasets had 
common conditions, behavioral contexts, or sound sources, so it is not 
surprising that responses differ.
    The studies that address responses of mid-frequency cetaceans to 
non-pulse sounds include data gathered both in the field and the 
laboratory and related to several different sound sources, including: 
pingers, drilling playbacks, ship and ice-breaking noise, vessel noise, 
Acoustic harassment devices (AHDs), Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs), 
mid-frequency active sonar, and non-pulse bands and tones. Southall et 
al. (2007) were unable to come to a clear conclusion regarding the 
results of these

[[Page 19566]]

studies. In some cases animals in the field showed significant 
responses to received levels between 90 and 120 dB, while in other 
cases these responses were not seen in the 120 to 150 dB range. The 
disparity in results was likely due to contextual variation and the 
differences between the results in the field and laboratory data 
(animals typically responded at lower levels in the field).
    The studies that address responses of high-frequency cetaceans to 
non-pulse sounds include data gathered both in the field and the 
laboratory and related to several different sound sources, including: 
pingers, AHDs, and various laboratory non-pulse sounds. All of these 
data were collected from harbor porpoises. Southall et al. (2007) 
concluded that the existing data indicate that harbor porpoises are 
likely sensitive to a wide range of anthropogenic sounds at low 
received levels (around 90 to 120 dB), at least for initial exposures. 
All recorded exposures above 140 dB induced profound and sustained 
avoidance behavior in wild harbor porpoises (Southall et al., 2007). 
Rapid habituation was noted in some but not all studies.
    The studies that address the responses of pinnipeds in water to 
non-pulse sounds include data gathered both in the field and the 
laboratory and related to several different sound sources, including: 
AHDs, various non-pulse sounds used in underwater data communication, 
underwater drilling, and construction noise. Few studies exist with 
enough information to include them in the analysis. The limited data 
suggest that exposures to non-pulse sounds between 90 and 140 dB 
generally do not result in strong behavioral responses of pinnipeds in 
water, but no data exist at higher received levels (Southall et al., 
2007).
    The studies that address the responses of mid-frequency cetaceans 
to impulse sounds include data gathered both in the field and the 
laboratory and related to several different sound sources, including: 
small explosives, airgun arrays, pulse sequences, and natural and 
artificial pulses. The data show no clear indication of increasing 
probability and severity of response with increasing received level. 
Behavioral responses seem to vary depending on species and stimuli. 
Data on behavioral responses of high-frequency cetaceans to multiple 
pulses is not available.
    The studies that address the responses of pinnipeds in water to 
impulse sounds include data gathered in the field and related to 
several different sources, including: small explosives, impact pile 
driving, and airgun arrays. Quantitative data on reactions of pinnipeds 
to impulse sounds is limited, but a general finding is that exposures 
in the 150 to 180 dB range generally have limited potential to induce 
avoidance behavior (Southall et al., 2007).
    Marine mammals are likely to avoid the HRG survey activity, 
especially the naturally shy harbor porpoise, while the harbor seals 
might be attracted to them out of curiosity. However, because the sub-
bottom profilers and other HRG survey equipment operate from a moving 
vessel, and the maximum radius to the 160 dB harassment threshold is 
less than 400 m, the area and time that this equipment would be 
affecting a given location is very small. Further, once an area has 
been surveyed, it is not likely that it will be surveyed again, 
therefore reducing the likelihood of repeated HRG-related impacts 
within the survey area. And while the drill ship using DP thrusters 
will generally remain stationary during geotechnical survey activities, 
the short duration (up to six days) of the DP thruster use would likely 
result in only short-term and temporary avoidance of the area, rather 
than permanent abandonment, by marine mammals. Vessel traffic in the 
project area is relatively high and marine mammals are presumably 
habituated to noise from project vessels (DP thrusters).
    We have also considered the potential for severe behavioral 
responses such as stranding and associated indirect injury or mortality 
from DONG Energy's use of HRG survey equipment, on the basis of a 2008 
mass stranding of approximately one hundred melon-headed whales in a 
Madagascar lagoon system. An investigation of the event indicated that 
use of a high-frequency mapping system (12-kHz multibeam echosounder) 
was the most plausible and likely initial behavioral trigger of the 
event, while providing the caveat that there is no unequivocal and 
easily identifiable single cause (Southall et al., 2013). The 
investigatory panel's conclusion was based on (1) very close temporal 
and spatial association and directed movement of the survey with the 
stranding event; (2) the unusual nature of such an event coupled with 
previously documented apparent behavioral sensitivity of the species to 
other sound types (Southall et al., 2006; Brownell et al., 2009); and 
(3) the fact that all other possible factors considered were determined 
to be unlikely causes. Specifically, regarding survey patterns prior to 
the event and in relation to bathymetry, the vessel transited in a 
north-south direction on the shelf break parallel to the shore, 
ensonifying large areas of deep-water habitat prior to operating 
intermittently in a concentrated area offshore from the stranding site; 
this may have trapped the animals between the sound source and the 
shore, thus driving them towards the lagoon system. The investigatory 
panel systematically excluded or deemed highly unlikely nearly all 
potential reasons for these animals leaving their typical pelagic 
habitat for an area extremely atypical for the species (i.e., a shallow 
lagoon system). Notably, this was the first time that such a system has 
been associated with a stranding event. The panel also noted several 
site- and situation-specific secondary factors that may have 
contributed to the avoidance responses that led to the eventual 
entrapment and mortality of the whales. Specifically, shoreward-
directed surface currents and elevated chlorophyll levels in the area 
preceding the event may have played a role (Southall et al., 2013). The 
report also notes that prior use of a similar system in the general 
area may have sensitized the animals and also concluded that, for 
odontocete cetaceans that hear well in higher frequency ranges where 
ambient noise is typically quite low, high-power active sonars 
operating in this range may be more easily audible and have potential 
effects over larger areas than low frequency systems that have more 
typically been considered in terms of anthropogenic noise impacts. It 
is, however, important to note that the relatively lower output 
frequency, higher output power, and complex nature of the system 
implicated in this event, in context of the other factors noted here, 
likely produced a fairly unusual set of circumstances that indicate 
that such events would likely remain rare and are not necessarily 
relevant to use of lower-power, higher-frequency systems more commonly 
used for HRG survey applications. The risk of similar events recurring 
may be very low, given the extensive use of active acoustic systems 
used for scientific and navigational purposes worldwide on a daily 
basis and the lack of direct evidence of such responses previously 
reported.

Tolerance

    Numerous studies have shown that underwater sounds from industrial 
activities are often readily detectable by marine mammals in the water 
at distances of many kilometers. However, other studies have shown that 
marine mammals at distances more than a few kilometers away often show 
no apparent response to industrial activities of various types (Miller 
et al., 2005). This

[[Page 19567]]

is often true even in cases when the sounds must be readily audible to 
the animals based on measured received levels and the hearing 
sensitivity of that mammal group. Although various baleen whales, 
toothed whales, and (less frequently) pinnipeds have been shown to 
react behaviorally to underwater sound from sources such as airgun 
pulses or vessels under some conditions, at other times, mammals of all 
three types have shown no overt reactions (e.g., Malme et al., 1986; 
Richardson et al., 1995; Madsen and Mohl, 2000; Croll et al., 2001; 
Jacobs and Terhune, 2002; Madsen et al., 2002; Miller et al., 2005). In 
general, pinnipeds seem to be more tolerant of exposure to some types 
of underwater sound than are baleen whales. Richardson et al. (1995) 
found that vessel sound does not seem to strongly affect pinnipeds that 
are already in the water. Richardson et al. (1995) went on to explain 
that seals on haul-outs sometimes respond strongly to the presence of 
vessels and at other times appear to show considerable tolerance of 
vessels, and Brueggeman et al. (1992) observed ringed seals (Pusa 
hispida) hauled out on ice pans displaying short-term escape reactions 
when a ship approached within 0.16-0.31 mi (0.25-0.5 km). Due to the 
relatively high vessel traffic in the Lease Area it is possible that 
marine mammals are habituated to noise (e.g., DP thrusters) from 
project vessels in the area.

Vessel Strike

    Ship strikes of marine mammals can cause major wounds, which may 
lead to the death of the animal. An animal at the surface could be 
struck directly by a vessel, a surfacing animal could hit the bottom of 
a vessel, or a vessel's propeller could injure an animal just below the 
surface. The severity of injuries typically depends on the size and 
speed of the vessel (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Laist et al., 2001; 
Vanderlaan and Taggart, 2007).
    The most vulnerable marine mammals are those that spend extended 
periods of time at the surface in order to restore oxygen levels within 
their tissues after deep dives (e.g., the sperm whale). In addition, 
some baleen whales, such as the North Atlantic right whale, seem 
generally unresponsive to vessel sound, making them more susceptible to 
vessel collisions (Nowacek et al., 2004). These species are primarily 
large, slow moving whales. Smaller marine mammals (e.g., bottlenose 
dolphin) move quickly through the water column and are often seen 
riding the bow wave of large ships. Marine mammal responses to vessels 
may include avoidance and changes in dive pattern (NRC, 2003).
    An examination of all known ship strikes from all shipping sources 
(civilian and military) indicates vessel speed is a principal factor in 
whether a vessel strike results in death (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; 
Laist et al., 2001; Jensen and Silber, 2003; Vanderlaan and Taggart, 
2007). In assessing records with known vessel speeds, Laist et al. 
(2001) found a direct relationship between the occurrence of a whale 
strike and the speed of the vessel involved in the collision. The 
authors concluded that most deaths occurred when a vessel was traveling 
in excess of 24.1 km/h (14.9 mph; 13 kts). Given the slow vessel speeds 
and predictable course necessary for data acquisition, ship strike is 
unlikely to occur during the geophysical and geotechnical surveys. 
Marine mammals would be able to easily avoid vessels and are likely 
already habituated to the presence of numerous vessels in the area. 
Further, DONG Energy shall implement measures (e.g., vessel speed 
restrictions and separation distances; see Proposed Mitigation 
Measures) set forth in the BOEM Lease to reduce the risk of a vessel 
strike to marine mammal species in the Lease Area.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    There are no feeding areas, rookeries, or mating grounds known to 
be biologically important to marine mammals within the proposed project 
area. There is also no designated critical habitat for any ESA-listed 
marine mammals. NMFS' regulations at 50 CFR part 224 designated the 
nearshore waters of the Mid-Atlantic Bight as the Mid-Atlantic U.S. 
Seasonal Management Area (SMA) for right whales in 2008. Mandatory 
vessel speed restrictions are in place in that SMA from November 1 
through April 30 to reduce the threat of collisions between ships and 
right whales around their migratory route and calving grounds.
    Bottom disturbance associated with the HRG survey activities may 
include grab sampling to validate the seabed classification obtained 
from the multibeam echosounder/sidescan sonar data. This will typically 
be accomplished using a Mini-Harmon Grab with 0.1 m\2\ sample area or 
the slightly larger Harmon Grab with a 0.2 m\2\ sample area. Bottom 
disturbance associated with the geotechnical survey activities will 
consist of the 4 deep bore holes of approximately 3 to 4 inches (in; 
7.6 to 10.1 centimeters [cm]) diameter, the 15 shallow CPTs of up to 
approximately 1 in (2.5 cm) in diameter, and the 4 deep CPTs of 
approximately 1 in (2.5 cm) in diameter. Impact on marine mammal 
habitat from these activities will be temporary, insignificant, and 
discountable.
    Because of the temporary nature of the disturbance, the 
availability of similar habitat and resources (e.g., prey species) in 
the surrounding area, and the lack of important or unique marine mammal 
habitat, the impacts to marine mammals and the food sources that they 
utilize are not expected to cause significant or long-term consequences 
for individual marine mammals or their populations.

Mitigation

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization under section 
101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods 
of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the 
least practicable adverse impact on such species or stock and its 
habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and 
areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species 
or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (where relevant).

Proposed Mitigation Measures

    With NMFS' input during the application process, and as per the 
BOEM Lease, DONG Energy is proposing the following mitigation measures 
during site characterization surveys utilizing HRG survey equipment and 
use of the DP thruster. The mitigation measures outlined in this 
section are based on protocols and procedures that have been 
successfully implemented and resulted in no observed take of marine 
mammals for similar offshore projects and previously approved by NMFS 
(ESS, 2013; Dominion, 2013 and 2014).

Marine Mammal Exclusion Zones

    Protected species observers (PSOs) will monitor the following 
exclusion/monitoring zones for the presence of marine mammals:
     A 400-m exclusion zone during HRG surveys when the sub-
bottom profiler is in operation (this exceeds the estimated Level B 
harassment isopleth).
     A 200-m exclusion zone during HRG surveys when all other 
equipment (i.e., equipment positioning systems) is in operation (this 
exceeds the estimated Level B harassment isopleth).
     A 3,500-m monitoring zone during the use of DP thrusters 
during geotechnical survey activities (this exceeds the Level B 
harassment isopleth).
    The radial distances from the sound sources for these exclusion/
monitoring

[[Page 19568]]

zones were derived from acoustic modeling (see Appendix A of the 
application) and cover the area for both the Level A and Level B 
harassment zones (i.e., the 190/180 dB and 160 dB isopleths, 
respectively) when HRG survey equipment is in use, and the Level B 
harassment zone (the 120 dB isopleth) when DP thrusters are in use; DP 
thrusters will not produce sound levels at 180 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms). 
Acoustic modeling of the HRG survey equipment and DP thrusters was 
completed based on a version of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's 
Range-dependent Acoustic Model (RAM) and BELLHOP Gaussian beam ray-
trace propagation model (Porter and Liu, 1994). BELLHOP and RAM are 
widely used by sound engineers and marine biologists due to its 
adaptability to describe highly complex acoustic scenarios. RAM is 
based on the parabolic equation (Collins, 1993) method using the split-
step Pad[eacute] algorithm for improved numerical accuracy and 
efficiency in solving range dependent acoustic problems and has been 
extensively benchmarked (Collins et al., 1996). The BELLHOP algorithm 
is based on a beam-tracing methodology and provides better accuracy by 
accounting for increased sound attenuation due to volume absorption at 
higher frequencies and allowing for source directivity components. The 
modeling methodologies employed calculate transmission loss based on a 
number of factors including the distance between the source and 
receiver along with basic ocean sound propagation parameters (e.g., 
depths, bathymetry, sediment type, and seasonal sound speed profiles). 
For each sound source, modeling was performed along transects 
originating out from the source along compass points (45[deg], 90[deg], 
135[deg], 180[deg], 225[deg], 270[deg], 315[deg], and 360[deg]) and 
propagated horizontally. The received sound field within each radial 
plane was then sampled at various ranges and depths from the source 
with fixed steps. The received sound level at a given location along a 
given transect was then taken as the maximum value that would occur 
over all samples within the water column. These values were then summed 
across frequencies to provide broadband received levels at the MMPA 
Level A and B harassment criteria. The representative area ensonified 
to the MMPA Level B threshold for each of the pieces of HRG survey 
equipment and for the DP thruster use represents the zone within which 
take of a marine mammal could occur. The distances to the Level A and 
Level B harassment criteria were used to support the estimate of take 
as well as the development of the monitoring and/or mitigation 
measures. The complete acoustic modeling assessment can be found in 
Appendix A of the application. Radial distance to NMFS' Level A and 
Level B harassment thresholds are summarized in Tables 4 and 5.

 Table 4--Modeled Distances to MMPA Thresholds for Marine Mammals During
                               HRG Survey
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Marine  mammal  Marine  mammal
                                              level A         level B
              HRG Equipment               harassment 180  harassment 160
                                            dBRMS  re 1     dBRMS  re 1
                                          [micro]Pa (m)*   [micro]Pa (m)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
ixBlue GAPS (pinger)....................            < 10              25
Sonardyne Scout USBL (pinger)...........               0              25
GeoPulse Sub-bottom Profiler (chirper)..              30              75
Geo-Source 800 (sparker)................              80             250
Geo-Source 200 (sparker)................              90             380
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\*\ Distances to NMFS' 190 dB level A harassment threshold for pinnipeds
  are smaller.


 Table 5--Modeled Distances to MMPA Thresholds for Marine Mammals During Geotechnical Survey Using DP Thrusters
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                  Marine  mammal
                                                                                                      level B
                                                 Marine mammal level A harassment 180 dBRMS re 1    harassment
               Survey equipment                                   [micro]Pa (m)                    120 dBRMS  re
                                                                                                    1 [micro]Pa
                                                                                                        (m)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DP Thrusters--at 38 m depth...................  N/A.............................................           2,875
DP Thrusters--at 44 m depth...................  N/A.............................................           3,225
DP Thrusters--at 54 m depth...................  N/A.............................................           3,400
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Visual monitoring of the established exclusion zone(s) for the HRG 
and geotechnical surveys will be performed by qualified and NMFS-
approved PSOs, the resumes of whom will be provided to NMFS for review 
and approval prior to the start of survey activities. Observer 
qualifications will include direct field experience on a marine mammal 
observation vessel and/or aerial surveys in the Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of 
Mexico. An observer team comprising a minimum of four NMFS-approved 
PSOs and two certified Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) operators (PAM 
operators will not function as PSOs), operating in shifts, will be 
stationed aboard either the survey vessel or a dedicated PSO-vessel. 
PSOs and PAM operators will work in shifts such that no one monitor 
will work more than 4 consecutive hours without a 2-hour break or 
longer than 12 hours during any 24-hour period. During daylight hours 
the PSOs will rotate in shifts of 1 on and 3 off, while during 
nighttime operations PSOs will work in pairs. The PAM operators will 
also be on call as necessary during daytime operations should visual 
observations become impaired. Each PSO will monitor 360 degrees of the 
field of vision.
    PSOs will be responsible for visually monitoring and identifying 
marine mammals approaching or within the established exclusion zone(s) 
during survey activities. It will be the responsibility of the Lead PSO 
on duty to communicate the presence of marine

[[Page 19569]]

mammals as well as to communicate and enforce the action(s) that are 
necessary to ensure mitigation and monitoring requirements are 
implemented as appropriate. PAM operators will communicate detected 
vocalizations to the Lead PSO on duty, who will then be responsible for 
implementing the necessary mitigation procedures. A mitigation and 
monitoring communications flow diagram has been included as Appendix B 
in the IHA application.
    PSOs will be equipped with binoculars and have the ability to 
estimate distances to marine mammals located in proximity to the vessel 
and/or exclusion zone using range finders. Reticulated binoculars will 
also be available to PSOs for use as appropriate based on conditions 
and visibility to support the siting and monitoring of marine species. 
Digital single-lens reflex camera equipment will be used to record 
sightings and verify species identification. During night operations, 
PAM (see Passive Acoustic Monitoring requirements below) and night-
vision equipment in combination with infrared video monitoring will be 
used (Additional details and specifications of the night-vision devices 
and infrared video monitoring technology will be provided under 
separate cover by the DONG Energy Survey Contractor once selected.). 
Position data will be recorded using hand-held or vessel global 
positioning system (GPS) units for each sighting.
    The PSOs will begin observation of the exclusion zone(s) at least 
60 minutes prior to ramp-up of HRG survey equipment. Use of noise-
producing equipment will not begin until the exclusion zone is clear of 
all marine mammals for at least 60 minutes, as per the requirements of 
the BOEM Lease.
    If a marine mammal is detected approaching or entering the 200-m or 
400-m exclusion zones during the HRG survey, or the 3,500-m monitoring 
zone during DP thrusters use, the vessel operator would adhere to the 
shutdown (during HRG survey) or powerdown (during DP thruster use) 
procedures described below to minimize noise impacts on the animals.
    At all times, the vessel operator will maintain a separation 
distance of 500 m from any sighted North Atlantic right whale as 
stipulated in the Vessel Strike Avoidance procedures described below. 
These stated requirements will be included in the site-specific 
training to be provided to the survey team.

Vessel Strike Avoidance

    The Applicant will ensure that vessel operators and crew maintain a 
vigilant watch for cetaceans and pinnipeds and slow down or stop their 
vessels to avoid striking these species. Survey vessel crew members 
responsible for navigation duties will receive site-specific training 
on marine mammal and sea turtle sighting/reporting and vessel strike 
avoidance measures. Vessel strike avoidance measures will include the 
following, except under extraordinary circumstances when complying with 
these requirements would put the safety of the vessel or crew at risk:
     All vessel operators will comply with 10 knot (<18.5 km 
per hour [km/h]) speed restrictions in any Dynamic Management Area 
(DMA). In addition, all vessels operating from November 1 through July 
31 will operate at speeds of 10 knots (<18.5 km/h) or less.
     All survey vessels will maintain a separation distance of 
500 m or greater from any sighted North Atlantic right whale.
     If underway, vessels must steer a course away from any 
sited North Atlantic right whale at 10 knots (<18.5 km/h) or less until 
the 500 m minimum separation distance has been established. If a North 
Atlantic right whale is sited in a vessel's path, or within 100 m to an 
underway vessel, the underway vessel must reduce speed and shift the 
engine to neutral. Engines will not be engaged until the North Atlantic 
right whale has moved outside of the vessel's path and beyond 100 m. If 
stationary, the vessel must not engage engines until the North Atlantic 
right whale has moved beyond 100 m.
     All vessels will maintain a separation distance of 100 m 
or greater from any sighted non-delphinoid (i.e., mysticetes and sperm 
whales) cetaceans. If sighted, the vessel underway must reduce speed 
and shift the engine to neutral, and must not engage the engines until 
the non-delphinoid cetacean has moved outside of the vessel's path and 
beyond 100 m. If a survey vessel is stationary, the vessel will not 
engage engines until the non-delphinoid cetacean has moved out of the 
vessel's path and beyond 100 m.
     All vessels will maintain a separation distance of 50 m or 
greater from any sighted delphinoid cetacean. Any vessel underway will 
remain parallel to a sighted delphinoid cetacean's course whenever 
possible, and avoid excessive speed or abrupt changes in direction. Any 
vessel underway reduces vessel speed to 10 knots or less when pods 
(including mother/calf pairs) or large assemblages of delphinoid 
cetaceans are observed. Vessels may not adjust course and speed until 
the delphinoid cetaceans have moved beyond 50 m and/or abeam (i.e., 
moving away and at a right angle to the centerline of the vessel) of 
the underway vessel.
     All vessels will maintain a separation distance of 50 m 
(164 ft) or greater from any sighted pinniped.
    The training program will be provided to NMFS for review and 
approval prior to the start of surveys. Confirmation of the training 
and understanding of the requirements will be documented on a training 
course log sheet. Signing the log sheet will certify that the crew 
members understand and will comply with the necessary requirements 
throughout the survey event.

Seasonal Operating Requirements

    Between watch shifts, members of the monitoring team will consult 
the NMFS North Atlantic right whale reporting systems for the presence 
of North Atlantic right whales throughout survey operations. The 
proposed survey activities will, however, occur outside of the seasonal 
management area (SMA) located off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode 
Island. The proposed survey activities will also occur in May/June and 
September, which is outside of the seasonal mandatory speed restriction 
period for this SMA (November 1 through April 30).
    Throughout all survey operations, the Applicant will monitor the 
NMFS North Atlantic right whale reporting systems for the establishment 
of a DMA. If NMFS should establish a DMA in the Lease Area under 
survey, within 24 hours of the establishment of the DMA the Applicant 
will work with NMFS to shut down and/or alter the survey activities to 
avoid the DMA.

Passive Acoustic Monitoring

    As per the BOEM Lease, alternative monitoring technologies (e.g., 
active or passive acoustic monitoring) are required if a Lessee intends 
to conduct geophysical surveys at night or when visual observation is 
otherwise impaired. To support 24-hour HRG survey operations, DONG 
Energy will use certified PAM operators with experience reviewing and 
identifying recorded marine mammal vocalizations, as part of the 
project monitoring during nighttime operations to provide for optimal 
acquisition of species detections at night, or as needed during periods 
when visual observations may be impaired. In addition, PAM systems 
shall be employed during daylight hours to support system calibration 
and PSO and PAM team coordination, as well as in support of efforts to 
evaluate the effectiveness of the various mitigation techniques (i.e., 
visual observations during day and night, compared to the

[[Page 19570]]

PAM detections/operations). Given the range of species that could occur 
in the Lease Area, the PAM system will consist of an array of 
hydrophones with both broadband (sampling mid-range frequencies of 2 
kHz to 200 kHz) and at least one low-frequency hydrophone (sampling 
range frequencies of 10 Hz to 30 kHz). Monitoring of the PAM system 
will be conducted from a customized processing station aboard the HRG 
survey vessel. The on-board processing station provides the interface 
between the PAM system and the operator. The PAM operator(s) will 
monitor the hydrophone signals in real time both aurally (using 
headphones) and visually (via the monitor screen displays). DONG Energy 
proposes the use of PAMGuard software for `target motion analysis' to 
support localization in relation to the identified exclusion zone. 
PAMGuard is an open source and versatile software/hardware interface to 
enable flexibility in the configuration of in-sea equipment (number of 
hydrophones, sensitivities, spacing, and geometry). PAM operators will 
immediately communicate detections/vocalizations to the Lead PSO on 
duty who will ensure the implementation of the appropriate mitigation 
measure (e.g., shutdown) even if visual observations by PSOs have not 
been made.

Ramp-Up

    As per the BOEM Lease, a ramp-up procedure will be used for HRG 
survey equipment capable of adjusting energy levels at the start or re-
start of HRG survey activities. A ramp-up procedure will be used at the 
beginning of HRG survey activities in order to provide additional 
protection to marine mammals near the Lease Area by allowing them to 
vacate the area prior to the commencement of survey equipment use. The 
ramp-up procedure will not be initiated during daytime, night time, or 
periods of inclement weather if the exclusion zone cannot be adequately 
monitored by the PSOs using the appropriate visual technology (e.g., 
reticulated binoculars, night vision equipment) and/or PAM for a 60-
minute period. A ramp-up would begin with the power of the smallest 
acoustic HRG equipment at its lowest practical power output appropriate 
for the survey. The power would then be gradually turned up and other 
acoustic sources added such that the source level would increase in 
steps not exceeding 6 dB per 5-minute period. If marine mammals are 
detected within the HRG survey exclusion zone prior to or during the 
ramp-up, activities will be delayed until the animal(s) has moved 
outside the monitoring zone and no marine mammals are detected for a 
period of 60 minutes.

Shutdown and Powerdown

    HRG Survey--The exclusion zone(s) around the noise-producing 
activities HRG survey equipment will be monitored, as previously 
described, by PSOs and at night by PAM operators for the presence of 
marine mammals before, during, and after any noise-producing activity. 
The vessel operator must comply immediately with any call for shutdown 
by the Lead PSO. Any disagreement should be discussed only after 
shutdown.
    As per the BOEM Lease, if a non-delphinoid (i.e., mysticetes and 
sperm whales) cetacean is detected at or within the established 
exclusion zone (200-m exclusion zone during equipment positioning 
systems use; 400-m exclusion zone during the operation of the sub-
bottom profiler), an immediate shutdown of the HRG survey equipment is 
required. Subsequent restart of the electromechanical survey equipment 
must use the ramp-up procedures described above and may only occur 
following clearance of the exclusion zone for 60 minutes. These are 
extremely conservative shutdown zones, as the 200 and 400-m exclusion 
radii exceed the distances to the estimated Level B harassment 
isopleths (Table 4).
    As per the BOEM Lease, if a delphinoid cetacean or pinniped is 
detected at or within the exclusion zone, the HRG survey equipment 
(including the sub-bottom profiler) must be powered down to the lowest 
power output that is technically feasible. Subsequent power up of the 
survey equipment must use the ramp-up procedures described above and 
may occur after (1) the exclusion zone is clear of a delphinoid 
cetacean and/or pinniped for 60 minutes or (2) a determination by the 
PSO after a minimum of 10 minutes of observation that the delphinoid 
cetacean or pinniped is approaching the vessel or towed equipment at a 
speed and vector that indicates voluntary approach to bow-ride or chase 
towed equipment.
    If the HRG sound source (including the sub-bottom profiler) shuts 
down for reasons other than encroachment into the exclusion zone by a 
marine mammal including but not limited to a mechanical or electronic 
failure, resulting in in the cessation of sound source for a period 
greater than 20 minutes, a restart for the HRG survey equipment 
(including the sub-bottom profiler) is required using the full ramp-up 
procedures and clearance of the exclusion zone of all cetaceans and 
pinnipeds for 60 minutes. If the pause is less than 20 minutes, the 
equipment may be restarted as soon as practicable at its operational 
level as long as visual surveys were continued diligently throughout 
the silent period and the exclusion zone remained clear of cetaceans 
and pinnipeds. If the visual surveys were not continued diligently 
during the pause of 20 minutes or less, a restart of the HRG survey 
equipment (including the sub-bottom profiler) is required using the 
full ramp-up procedures and clearance of the exclusion zone for all 
cetaceans and pinnipeds for 60 minutes.
    Geotechnical Survey (DP Thrusters)--During geotechnical survey 
activities, a constant position over the drill, coring, or CPT site 
must be maintained to ensure the integrity of the survey equipment. Any 
stoppage of DP thruster during the proposed geotechnical activities has 
the potential to result in significant damage to survey equipment. 
Therefore, during geotechnical survey activities if marine mammals 
enter or approach the established 120 dB isopleth monitoring zone, the 
Applicant shall reduce DP thruster to the maximum extent possible, 
except under circumstances when reducing DP thruster use would 
compromise safety (both human health and environmental) and/or the 
integrity of the equipment. Reducing thruster energy will effectively 
reduce the potential for exposure of marine mammals to sound energy. 
After decreasing thruster energy, PSOs will continue to monitor marine 
mammal behavior and determine if the animal(s) is moving towards or 
away from the established monitoring zone. If the animal(s) continues 
to move towards the sound source then DP thruster use would remain at 
the reduced level. Normal use will resume when PSOs report that the 
marine mammals have moved away from and remained clear of the 
monitoring zone for a minimum of 60 minutes since the last sighting.

Mitigation Conclusions

    NMFS has carefully evaluated DONG Energy's mitigation measures in 
the context of ensuring that we prescribe the means of effecting the 
least practicable impact on the affected marine mammal species and 
stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included 
consideration of the following factors in relation to one another:
     The manner in which, and the degree to which, the 
successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize 
adverse impacts to marine mammals;

[[Page 19571]]

     The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to 
minimize adverse impacts as planned; and
     The practicability of the measure for applicant 
implementation.
    Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by NMFS should be able to 
accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on 
current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of 
the general goals listed here:
     Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine 
mammals wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this 
goal).
     A reduction in the numbers of marine mammals (total number 
or number at biologically important time or location) exposed to 
received levels of activities that we expect to result in the take of 
marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing 
harassment takes only).
     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 that we expect to result in 
the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to 
reducing harassment takes only).
     A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total 
number or number at biologically important time or location) to 
received levels of activities that we expect to result in the take of 
marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing 
the severity of harassment takes only).
     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.
     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.

Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an IHA 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.
    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

    DONG Energy submitted a marine mammal monitoring and reporting 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.
    Visual Monitoring--Visual monitoring of the established Level B 
harassment zones (400-m radius for sub-bottom profiler and 200-m radius 
for equipment positioning system use during HRG surveys [note that 
these are the same as the mitigation exclusion/shutdown zones 
established for HRG survey sound sources]; 3,500-m radius during DP 
thruster use [note that this is the same as the mitigation powerdown 
zone established for DP thruster sound sources]) will be performed by 
qualified and NMFS-approved PSOs (see discussion of PSO qualifications 
and requirements in Marine Mammal Exclusion Zones above).
    The PSOs will begin observation of the monitoring zone during all 
HRG survey activities and all geotechnical operations where DP 
thrusters are employed. Observations of the monitoring zone will 
continue throughout the survey activity and/or while DP thrusters are 
in use. PSOs will be responsible for visually monitoring and 
identifying marine mammals approaching or entering the established 
monitoring zone during survey activities.
    Observations will take place from the highest available vantage 
point on the survey vessel. General 360-degree scanning will occur 
during the monitoring periods, and target scanning by the PSO will 
occur when alerted of a marine mammal presence.
    Data on all PSO observations will be recorded based on standard PSO 
collection requirements. This will

[[Page 19572]]

include dates and locations of construction operations; time of 
observation, location and weather; details of the sightings (e.g., 
species, age classification [if known], numbers, behavior); and details 
of any observed ``taking'' (behavioral disturbances or injury/
mortality). The data sheet will be provided to both NMFS and BOEM for 
review and approval prior to the start of survey activities. In 
addition, prior to initiation of survey work, all crew members will 
undergo environmental training, a component of which will focus on the 
procedures for sighting and protection of marine mammals. A briefing 
will also be conducted between the survey supervisors and crews, the 
PSOs, and the Applicant. The purpose of the briefing will be to 
establish responsibilities of each party, define the chains of command, 
discuss communication procedures, provide an overview of monitoring 
purposes, and review operational procedures.
    Acoustic Field Verification -- As per the requirements of the BOEM 
Lease, field verification of the exclusion/monitoring zones will be 
conducted to determine whether the proposed zones correspond accurately 
to the relevant isopleths and are adequate to minimize impacts to 
marine mammals. The details of the field verification strategy will be 
provided in a Field Verification Plan no later than 45 days prior to 
the commencement of field verification activities.
    DONG Energy must conduct field verification of the exclusion zone 
(the 160 dB isopleth) for HRG survey equipment and the powerdown zone 
(the 120 dB isopleth) for DP thruster use for all equipment operating 
below 200 kHz. DONG Energy must take acoustic measurements at a minimum 
of two reference locations and in a manner that is sufficient to 
establish source level (peak at 1 meter) and distance to the 180 dB and 
160 dB isopleths (the Level A and B harassment zones for HRG surveys) 
and 120 dB isopleth (the Level B harassment zone) for DP thruster use. 
Sound measurements must be taken at the reference locations at two 
depths (i.e., a depth at mid-water and a depth at approximately 1 meter 
[3.28 ft] above the seafloor).
    DONG Energy may use the results from its field-verification efforts 
to request modification of the exclusion/monitoring zones for the HRG 
or geotechnical surveys. Any new exclusion/monitoring zone radius 
proposed by DONG Energy must be based on the most conservative 
measurements (i.e., the largest safety zone configuration) of the 
target Level A or Level B harassment acoustic threshold zones. The 
modified zone must be used for all subsequent use of field-verified 
equipment. DONG Energy must obtain approval from NMFS and BOEM of any 
new exclusion/monitoring zone before it may be implemented and the IHA 
shall be modified accordingly.

Proposed Reporting Measures

    The Applicant will provide the following reports as necessary 
during survey activities:
     The Applicant will contact NMFS and BOEM within 24 hours 
of the commencement of survey activities and again within 24 hours of 
the completion of the activity.
     As per the BOEM Lease: Any observed significant behavioral 
reactions (e.g., animals departing the area) or injury or mortality to 
any marine mammals must be reported to NMFS and BOEM within 24 hours of 
observation. Dead or injured protected species are reported to the NMFS 
Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Stranding Hotline (800-900-
3622) within 24 hours of sighting, regardless of whether the injury is 
caused by a vessel. In addition, if the injury of death was caused by a 
collision with a project related vessel, the Applicant must ensure that 
NMFS and BOEM are notified of the strike within 24 hours. The Applicant 
must use the form included as Appendix A to Addendum C of the Lease to 
report the sighting or incident. If The Applicant is responsible for 
the injury or death, the vessel must assist with any salvage effort as 
requested by NMFS. Additional reporting requirements for injured or 
dead animals are described below (Notification of Injured or Dead 
Marine Mammals).
     Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals--In the 
unanticipated event that the specified HRG and geotechnical activities 
lead to an injury of a marine mammal (Level A harassment) or mortality 
(e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), DONG Energy 
would immediately cease the specified activities and report the 
incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office 
of Protected Resources and the NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries 
Office (GARFO) Stranding Coordinator. 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 event. NMFS would work with DONG Energy to 
minimize reoccurrence of such an event in the future. DONG Energy would 
not resume activities until notified by NMFS.
    In the event that DONG Energy discovers an injured or dead marine 
mammal and 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), DONG Energy would immediately report the incident to 
the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources and the GARFO Stranding Coordinator. 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 the Applicant to determine if 
modifications in the activities are appropriate.
    In the event that DONG Energy discovers an injured or dead marine 
mammal and determines that the injury or 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), DONG Energy would report the incident to the Chief 
of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries 
Office Regional Stranding Coordinator, within 24 hours of the 
discovery. DONG Energy would provide photographs or video footage (if 
available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to 
NMFS. DONG Energy can continue its operations under such a case.
     Within 90 days after completion of the marine site 
characterization survey activities, a technical report will be provided 
to NMFS and BOEM that fully documents the methods and monitoring 
protocols, summarizes the data recorded during monitoring, estimates 
the

[[Page 19573]]

number of marine mammals that may have been taken during survey 
activities, and provides an interpretation of the results and 
effectiveness of all monitoring tasks. Any recommendations made by NMFS 
must be addressed in the final report prior to acceptance by NMFS.
     In addition to the Applicant's reporting requirements 
outlined above, the Applicant will provide an assessment report of the 
effectiveness of the various mitigation techniques, i.e., visual 
observations during day and night, compared to the PAM detections/
operations. This will be submitted as a draft to NMFS and BOEM 30 days 
after the completion of the HRG and geotechnical surveys and as a final 
version 60 days after completion of the surveys.

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].
    Project activities that have the potential to harass marine 
mammals, as defined by the MMPA, include underwater noise from 
operation of the HRG survey sub-bottom profilers and equipment 
positioning systems, and noise propagation associated with the use of 
DP thrusters during geotechnical survey activities that require the use 
of a DP drill ship. Harassment could take the form of temporary 
threshold shift, avoidance, or other changes in marine mammal behavior. 
NMFS anticipates that impacts to marine mammals would be in the form of 
behavioral harassment and no take by injury, serious injury, or 
mortality is proposed. NMFS does not anticipate take resulting from the 
movement of vessels associated with construction because there will be 
a limited number of vessels moving at slow speeds over a relatively 
shallow, nearshore area.
    The basis for the take estimate is the number of marine mammals 
that would be exposed to sound levels in excess of NMFS' Level B 
harassment criteria for impulsive noise (160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) and 
continuous noise (120 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms.)). NMFS' current acoustic 
exposure criteria for estimating take are shown in Table 6 below. DONG 
Energy's modeled distances to these acoustic exposure criteria are 
shown in Tables 4 and 5. Details on the model characteristics and 
results are provided in the hydroacoustic modeling assessment found in 
Appendix A of the DONG Energy IHA application. As discussed in the 
application and in Appendix A, modeling took into consideration sound 
sources using the loudest potential operational parameters, bathymetry, 
geoacoustic properties of the Lease Area, time of year, and marine 
mammal hearing ranges. Results from the hydroacoustic modeling 
assessment showed that estimated maximum critical distance to the 160 
dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) MMPA threshold for all water depths for the HRG 
survey sub-bottom profilers (the HRG survey equipment with the greatest 
potential for effect on marine mammal) was approximately 380 m from the 
source (see Table 4), and the estimated maximum critical distance to 
the 120 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) MMPA threshold for all water depths for 
the drill ship DP thruster was approximately 3,400 m from the source 
(see Table 5). DONG Energy and NMFS believe that these estimates 
represent the worst-case scenario and that the actual distances to the 
Level B harassment threshold may be shorter.

            Table 6--NMFS' Current Acoustic Exposure Criteria
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                           Non-explosive sound
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
          Criterion           Criterion definition        Threshold
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level A Harassment (Injury).  Permanent Threshold   180 dB re 1 [mu]Pa-m
                               Shift (PTS) (Any      (cetaceans)/190 dB
                               level above that      re 1 [mu]Pa-m
                               which is known to     (pinnipeds) root
                               cause TTS).           mean square (rms).
Level B Harassment..........  Behavioral            160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa-m
                               Disruption (for       (rms).
                               impulse noises).
Level B Harassment..........  Behavioral            120 dB re 1 [mu]oPa-
                               Disruption (for       m (rms).
                               continuous noise).
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    DONG Energy estimated species densities within the proposed project 
area in order to estimate the number of marine mammal exposures to 
sound levels above the 120 dB Level B harassment threshold for 
continuous noise (i.e., DP thrusters) and the 160 dB Level B harassment 
threshold for intermittent, impulsive noise (i.e., pingers and sub-
bottom profiler). Research indicates that marine mammals generally have 
extremely fine auditory temporal resolution and can detect each signal 
separately (e.g., Au et al., 1988; Dolphin et al., 1995; Supin and 
Popov, 1995; Mooney et al., 2009b), especially for species with 
echolocation capabilities. Therefore, it is likely that marine mammals 
would perceive the acoustic signals associated with the HRG survey 
equipment as being intermittent rather than continuous, and we base our 
takes from these sources on exposures to the 160 dB threshold.
    The data used as the basis for estimating species density (``D'') 
for the Lease Area are sightings per unit effort (SPUE) taken from 
Kenney and Vigness-Raposa (2009). SPUE (or, the relative abundance of 
species) is derived by using a measure of survey effort and number of 
individual cetaceans sighted. Species density (animals per km\2\) can 
be computed by dividing the SPUE value by the width of the marine 
mammal survey track, and numbers of animals can be computed by 
multiplying the species density by the size of the geographic area in 
question (km\2\). SPUE allows for comparison between discrete units of 
time (i.e., seasons) and space within a project area (Shoop and Kenney, 
1992). SPUE calculated by Kenney and Vigness-Raposa (2009) was derived 
from a number of sources including: (1) North Atlantic Right Whale 
Consortium database; (2) CeTAP (CeTAP, 1982); (3) sightings data from 
the Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, Inc. and 
Okeanos Ocean Research Foundation; (4) the Northeast Regional Stranding 
network (marine mammals); and (5) the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science 
Center's Fisheries Sampling Branch (Woods Hole, MA).
    The Northeast Navy Operations Area (OPAREA) Density Estimates (DoN, 
2007) were also used in support for estimating take for seals, which 
represents the only available comprehensive data for seal abundance. 
However, abundance estimates for the

[[Page 19574]]

Southern New England area includes breeding populations on Cape Cod, 
and therefore using this dataset alone will result in a substantial 
over-estimate of take in the Project Area. However, based on reports 
conducted by Kenney and Vigness-Raposa (2009), Schroeder (2000), and 
Ronald and Gots (2003), harbor seal abundance off the Southern New 
England coast in the vicinity of the survey is likely to be 
approximately 20 percent of the total abundance. In addition, because 
the seasonality of, and habitat use by, gray seals roughly overlaps 
with harbor seals, the same abundance assumption of 20 percent of the 
southern New England population of gray seals can be applied when 
estimating abundance. Per this data, take due to Level B harassment for 
harbor seals and gray seals has been calculated based on 20 percent of 
the Northeast Navy OPAREA Density Estimates.
    Estimated takes were calculated by multiplying the species density 
(per 100 km\2\) by the zone of influence (ZOI), multiplied by the 
number of days of the specified activity. A detailed description of the 
acoustic modeling used to calculate zones of influence is provided in 
the acoustic modeling assessment found in Appendix A of the DONG Energy 
IHA application (also see the discussion in the ``Mitigation'' section 
above).
    DONG Energy used a ZOI of 23.6 m\2\ (61 km\2\) and a conservative 
survey period of 30 days, which includes estimated weather downtime, to 
estimate take from use of the HRG survey equipment during geophysical 
survey activities. The ZOI is based on the worst case (since it assumes 
the higher powered GeoSource 200 sparker will be operating all the 
time) ensonified area of 380 m, and a maximum survey trackline of 49 mi 
(79 km) per day. Based on the proposed HRG survey schedule (May 2016), 
take calculations were based on the spring seasonal species density as 
derived from seasonal SPUE data reported in Kenney and Vigness-Raposa 
(2009) and seasonal OPAREA density estimates (DoN, 2007). The resulting 
take estimates (rounded to the nearest whole number) are presented in 
Table 7.

                      Table 6--Estimated Level B Harassment Takes for HRG Survey Activities
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                    Density for                                    Percentage of
                                                      Spring        Calculated    Requested take       stock
                     Species                        (Number/100    take (Number)   authorization    potentially
                                                      km\2\)                         (Number)        affected
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Atlantic Right Whale......................            0.06            1.03               1           0.215
Humpback Whale..................................            0.11            2.04               2           0.243
Fin Whale.......................................            0.37            6.72               7           0.433
Minke Whale.....................................            0.12            2.24               2           0.010
Common Dolphin..................................            2.15           39.38              39           0.001
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin....................            1.23           22.45              22           0.045
Harbor Porpoise.................................            0.47            8.52               9           0.011
Harbor Seal \1\.................................            9.74           35.66              36           0.047
Gray Seal \1\...................................           14.16           51.83              52           0.015
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Density values were derived using 20 percent of the number estimated from DoN (2007) density values.

    DONG Energy used a ZOI of 9.8 m\2\ (25.4 km\2\) and a maximum DP 
thruster use period of 6 days to estimate take from use of the DP 
thruster during geotechnical survey activities. The ZOI represents the 
worst-case ensonified area across the three representative water depths 
within the Lease Area (125 ft, 144 ft, and 177 ft [38 m, 44 m, and 54 
m]). Based on the proposed geotechnical survey schedule (September 
2016), take calculations were based on the fall seasonal species 
density as derived from seasonal abundance data reported in Kenney and 
Vigness-Raposa (2009) and seasonal OPAREA density estimates (DoN, 2007) 
(Table 7). The resulting take estimates (rounded to the nearest whole 
number) based upon these conservative assumptions for common and 
Atlantic white-sided dolphins are presented in Table 8. These numbers 
are based on 6 days and represent only 0.011 and 0.022 percent of the 
stock for these 2 species, respectively. Take calculations for North 
Atlantic right whale, humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, harbor 
porpoise, gray seal, and harbor seal are at or near zero (refer to the 
DONG Energy application); therefore, no takes for these species are 
requested or proposed for authorization.

                 Table 7--Estimated Level B Harassment Takes for Geotechnical Survey Activities
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                   Percentage of
                                                    Density for     Calculated    Requested take       stock
                     Species                       Fall (Number/   take (Number)   authorization    potentially
                                                    100 km\2\)                       (Number)        affected
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Common Dolphin..................................            8.21            12.5              13           0.011
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin....................            7.46              11              11           0.022
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    DONG Energy's requested take numbers are provided in Tables 6 and 7 
and this is also the number of takes NMFS is proposing to authorize. 
DONG Energy's calculations do not take into account whether a single 
animal is harassed multiple times or whether each exposure is a 
different animal. Therefore, the numbers in Tables 6 and 7 are the 
maximum number of animals that may be harassed during the HRG and 
geotechnical surveys (i.e., DONG Energy assumes that each exposure 
event is a different animal). These estimates do not account for 
prescribed mitigation measures that DONG Energy would implement during 
the specified activities and the fact that shutdown/powerdown 
procedures shall be implemented if an animal enters the Level B 
harassment zone (160 dB and 120 dB for HRG survey equipment and DP 
thruster use, respectively), further

[[Page 19575]]

reducing the potential for any takes to occur during these activities.

Analysis and Determinations

Negligible Impact

    Negligible impact is ``an impact resulting from the specified 
activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably 
likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on 
annual rates of recruitment or survival'' (50 CFR 216.103). 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 takes, alone, is not 
enough information on which to base an impact determination, as the 
severity of harassment may vary greatly depending on the context and 
duration of the behavioral response, many of which would not be 
expected to have deleterious impacts on the fitness of any individuals. 
In determining whether the expected takes will have a negligible 
impact, in addition to considering estimates of the number of marine 
mammals that might be ``taken,'' NMFS must consider other factors, such 
as the likely nature of any responses (their intensity, duration, 
etc.), the context of any responses (critical reproductive time or 
location, migration, etc.), as well as the number and nature of 
estimated Level A harassment takes, the number of estimated 
mortalities, and the status of the species.
    As discussed in the ``Potential Effects'' section, permanent 
threshold shift, masking, non-auditory physical effects, and vessel 
strike are not expected to occur. There is some potential for limited 
TTS; however, animals in the area would likely incur no more than brief 
hearing impairment (i.e., TTS) due to generally low SPLs--and in the 
case of the HRG survey equipment use, highly directional beam pattern, 
transient signals, and moving sound sources--and the fact that most 
marine mammals would more likely avoid a loud sound source rather than 
swim in such close proximity as to result in TTS or PTS. Further, once 
an area has been surveyed, it is not likely that it will be surveyed 
again, therefore reducing the likelihood of repeated impacts within the 
project area.
    Potential impacts to marine mammal habitat were discussed 
previously in this document (see the ``Anticipated Effects on Habitat'' 
section). Marine mammal habitat may be impacted by elevated sound 
levels and some sediment disturbance, but these impacts would be 
temporary. Feeding behavior is not likely to be significantly impacted, 
as marine mammals appear to be less likely to exhibit behavioral 
reactions or avoidance responses while engaged in feeding activities 
(Richardson et al., 1995). Prey species are mobile, and are broadly 
distributed throughout the Lease Area; therefore, marine mammals that 
may be temporarily displaced during survey activities are expected to 
be able to resume foraging once they have moved away from areas with 
disturbing levels of underwater noise. Because of the temporary nature 
of the disturbance, the availability of similar habitat and resources 
in the surrounding area, and the lack of important or unique marine 
mammal habitat, the impacts to marine mammals and the food sources that 
they utilize are not expected to cause significant or long-term 
consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. 
Furthermore, there are no feeding areas, rookeries, or mating grounds 
known to be biologically important to marine mammals within the 
proposed project area. A biologically important feeding area for North 
Atlantic right whale encompasses the Lease Area (LaBrecque, et al., 
2015); however, there is no temporal overlap between the BIA (effective 
March-April; November-December) and the proposed survey activities 
(May-June; October). ESA-listed species for which takes are proposed 
are North Atlantic right, humpback, and fin whales. Recent estimates of 
abundance indicate a stable or growing humpback whale population, while 
examination of the minimum number alive population index calculated 
from the individual sightings database for the years 1990-2010 suggests 
a positive and slowly accelerating trend in North Atlantic right whale 
population size (Waring et al., 2015). There are currently insufficient 
data to determine population trends for fin whale) (Waring et al., 
2015). There is no designated critical habitat for any ESA-listed 
marine mammals within the Lease Area, and none of the stocks for non-
listed species proposed to be taken are considered ``depleted'' or 
``strategic'' by NMFS under the MMPA.
    The proposed mitigation measures are expected to reduce the number 
and/or severity of takes by (1) giving animals the opportunity to move 
away from the sound source before HRG survey equipment reaches full 
energy; (2) reducing the intensity of exposure within a certain 
distance by reducing the DP thruster power; and (3) preventing animals 
from being exposed to sound levels reaching 180 dB during HRG survey 
activities (sound levels in excess of 180 dB are not anticipated for DP 
thruster use). Additional vessel strike avoidance requirements will 
further mitigate potential impacts to marine mammals during vessel 
transit to and within the Study Area.
    DONG Energy did not request, and NMFS is not proposing, take of 
marine mammals by injury, serious injury, or mortality. NMFS expects 
that most takes would be in the form of short-term Level B behavioral 
harassment in the form of brief startling reaction and/or temporary 
vacating of the area, or decreased foraging (if such activity were 
occurring)--reactions that are considered to be of low severity and 
with no lasting biological consequences (e.g., Southall et al., 2007). 
This is largely due to the short time scale of the proposed activities, 
the low source levels and intermittent nature of many of the 
technologies proposed to be used, as well as the required mitigation.
    NMFS concludes that exposures to marine mammal species and stocks 
due to DONG Energy's HRG and geotechnical survey activities would 
result in only short-term (temporary and short in duration) and 
relatively infrequent effects to individuals exposed, and not of the 
type or severity that would be expected to be additive for the very 
small portion of the stocks and species likely to be exposed. Given the 
duration and intensity of the activities, and the fact that shipping 
contributes to the ambient sound levels in the surrounding waters 
(vessel traffic in this area is relatively high; some marine mammals 
may be habituated to this noise), NMFS does not anticipate the proposed 
take estimates to impact annual rates of recruitment or survival. 
Animals may temporarily avoid the immediate area, but are not expected 
to permanently abandon the area. Major shifts in habitat use, 
distribution, or foraging success, are not expected.
    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 DONG Energy's proposed HRG survey and DP thruster use 
during geotechnical survey activities will have a negligible impact on 
the affected marine mammal species or stocks.

Small Numbers

    The requested takes proposed to be authorized for the HRG and 
geotechnical surveys represent 0.215 percent of the Western North 
Atlantic (WNA) stock of North Atlantic right

[[Page 19576]]

whale, 0.243 percent of the Gulf of Maine stock of humpback whale, 
0.433 percent of the WNA stock of fin whale, 0.010 percent of the 
Canadian East Coast stock of minke whale, 0.040 percent of the WNA 
stock of short-beaked common dolphin, 0.068 percent of the WNA stock of 
Atlantic white-sided dolphin, 0.011 percent of the Gulf of Maine/Bay of 
Fundy stock of harbor porpoise, 0.047 percent of the WNA stock of 
harbor seal, and 0.015 percent of the North Atlantic stock of gray 
seal. These take estimates represent the percentage of each species or 
stock that could be taken by Level B behavioral harassment and are 
extremely small numbers (less than 1 percent) relative to the affected 
species or stock sizes. Further, the proposed take numbers are the 
maximum numbers of animals that are expected to be harassed during the 
project; it is possible that some of these exposures may occur to the 
same individual. Therefore, NMFS preliminarily finds that small numbers 
of marine mammals will be taken relative to the populations of the 
affected species or stocks.

Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence 
Uses

    There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated 
by this action. Therefore, NMFS has determined that the total taking of 
affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact 
on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for 
subsistence purposes.

Endangered Species Act

    Within the project area, fin, humpback, and North Atlantic right 
whale are listed as endangered under the ESA. Under section 7 of the 
ESA, BOEM consulted with NMFS on commercial wind lease issuance and 
site assessment activities on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf in 
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey Wind Energy Areas. 
NOAA's GARFO issued a Biological Opinion concluding that these 
activities may adversely affect but are not likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of fin whale, humpback whale, or North Atlantic 
right whale. NMFS is also consulting internally on the issuance of an 
IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for this activity. Following 
issuance of the DONG Energy IHA, the Biological Opinion may be amended 
to include an incidental take exemption for these marine mammal 
species, as appropriate.

National Environmental Policy Act

    BOEM prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) in accordance with 
the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to evaluate the issuance 
of wind energy leases covering the entirety of the Massachusetts Wind 
Energy Area (including the OCS-A 0500 Lease Area), and the approval of 
site assessment activities within those leases (BOEM, 2014). NMFS 
intends to adopt BOEM's EA, if adequate and appropriate. Currently, we 
believe that the adoption of BOEM's EA will allow NMFS to meet its 
responsibilities under NEPA for the issuance of an IHA to DONG Energy 
for HRG and geotechnical survey investigations in the Lease Area. If 
necessary, however, NMFS will supplement the existing analysis to 
ensure that we comply with NEPA prior to the issuance of the final IHA. 
BOEM's EA is available on the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/energy_other.htm.

Proposed Authorization

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
issue an IHA to DONG Energy for HRG survey activities and use of DP 
vessel thrusters during geotechnical survey activities from May 2016 
through April 2017, 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).
    DONG Energy Massachusetts (U.S.) LLC (DONG Energy) (One 
International Place, 100 Oliver Street, Suite 1400, Boston, MA 02110) 
is hereby authorized under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 1371(a)(5)(D)) and 50 CFR 216.107, to harass 
marine mammals incidental to high-resolution geophysical (HRG) and 
geotechnical survey investigations associated with marine site 
characterization activities off the coast of Massachusetts in the area 
of the Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands for Renewable Energy 
Development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS-A 0500) (the Lease 
Area).
    1. This Authorization is valid from May 1, 2016 through April 30, 
2017.
    2. This Authorization is valid only for HRG and geotechnical survey 
investigations associated with marine site characterization activities, 
as described in the Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) 
application.
    3. The holder of this authorization (Holder) is hereby authorized 
to take, by Level B harassment only, 33 Atlantic white-sided dolphins 
(Lagenorhynchus acutus), 52 short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus 
delphis), 9 harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), 2 minke whales 
(Balaenoptera acutorostrata), 7 fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), 2 
humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), 1 North Atlantic right whales 
(Eubalaena glacialis), 52 gray seals (Halichoerus grypus), and 36 
harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) incidental to HRG survey activities using 
sub-bottom profilers and equipment positioning systems, and dynamic 
positioning (DP) vessel thruster use during geotechnical activities.
    4. The taking of any marine mammal in a manner prohibited under 
this IHA must be reported immediately to NMFS' Greater Atlantic 
Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO), 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, 
MA 01930-2276; phone 978-281-9300, and NMFS' Office of Protected 
Resources, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone 301-
427-8401.
    5. The Holder or designees must notify NMFS' GARFO and Headquarters 
at least 24 hours prior to the seasonal commencement of the specified 
activity (see contact information in 4 above).
    6. The holder of this Authorization must notify the Chief of the 
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, or 
her designee at least 24 hours prior to the start of survey activities 
(unless constrained by the date of issuance of this Authorization in 
which case notification shall be made as soon as possible) at 301-427-
8401 or to John.Fiorentino@noaa.gov.
    7. Mitigation Requirements
    The Holder is required to abide by the following mitigation 
conditions listed in 7(a)-(f). Failure to comply with these conditions 
may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA.
    (a) Marine Mammal Exclusion Zones: Protected species observers 
(PSOs) shall monitor the following zones for the presence of marine 
mammals:
     A 400-m exclusion zone during HRG surveys when the sub-
bottom profiler is in operation.
     A 200-m exclusion zone during HRG surveys when all other 
equipment (i.e., equipment positioning systems) is in operation.
     A 3,500-m monitoring zone during the use of DP thrusters 
during geotechnical survey.
     At all times, the vessel operator shall maintain a 
separation distance of 500 m from any sighted North Atlantic right 
whale as stipulated in the Vessel Strike Avoidance procedures described 
below.
    Visual monitoring of the established exclusion zone(s) shall be 
performed by

[[Page 19577]]

qualified and NMFS-approved protected species observers (PSOs). An 
observer team comprising a minimum of four NMFS-approved PSOs and two 
certified Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) operators, operating in 
shifts, shall be stationed aboard either the survey vessel or a 
dedicated PSO-vessel. PSOs shall be equipped with binoculars and have 
the ability to estimate distances to marine mammals located in 
proximity to the vessel and/or exclusion zone using range finders. 
Reticulated binoculars will also be available to PSOs for use as 
appropriate based on conditions and visibility to support the siting 
and monitoring of marine species. Digital single-lens reflex camera 
equipment shall be used to record sightings and verify species 
identification. During night operations, PAM (see Passive Acoustic 
Monitoring requirements below) and night-vision equipment in 
combination with infrared video monitoring shall be used. The PSOs 
shall begin observation of the exclusion zone(s) at least 60 minutes 
prior to ramp-up of HRG survey equipment. Use of noise-producing 
equipment shall not begin until the exclusion zone is clear of all 
marine mammals for at least 60 minutes. If a marine mammal is seen 
approaching or entering the 200-m or 400-m exclusion zones during the 
HRG survey, or the 3,500-m monitoring zone during DP thrusters use, the 
vessel operator shall adhere to the shutdown/powerdown procedures 
described below to minimize noise impacts on the animals.
    (b) Ramp-Up: A ramp-up procedure shall be used for HRG survey 
equipment capable of adjusting energy levels at the start or re-start 
of HRG survey activities. The ramp-up procedure shall not be initiated 
during daytime, night time, or periods of inclement weather if the 
exclusion zone cannot be adequately monitored by the PSOs using the 
appropriate visual technology (e.g., reticulated binoculars, night 
vision equipment) and/or PAM for a 60-minute period. A ramp-up shall 
begin with the power of the smallest acoustic HRG equipment at its 
lowest practical power output appropriate for the survey. The power 
shall then be gradually turned up and other acoustic sources added such 
that the source level would increase in steps not exceeding 6 dB per 5-
minute period. If marine mammals are sighted within the HRG survey 
exclusion zone prior to or during the ramp-up, activities shall be 
delayed until the animal(s) has moved outside the monitoring zone and 
no marine mammals are sighted for a period of 60 minutes.
    (c) Shutdown and Powerdown
    HRG Survey--The exclusion zone(s) around the noise-producing 
activities HRG survey equipment will be monitored, as previously 
described, by PSOs and at night by PAM operators for the presence of 
marine mammals before, during, and after any noise-producing activity. 
The vessel operator must comply immediately with any call for shutdown 
by the Lead PSO. If a non-delphinoid (i.e., mysticetes and sperm 
whales) cetacean is detected at or within the established exclusion 
zone (200-m exclusion zone during equipment positioning systems use; 
400-m exclusion zone during the operation of the sub-bottom profiler), 
an immediate shutdown of the HRG survey equipment is required. 
Subsequent restart of the electromechanical survey equipment must use 
the ramp-up procedures described above and may only occur following 
clearance of the exclusion zone for 60 minutes. If a delphinoid 
cetacean or pinniped is detected at or within the exclusion zone, the 
HRG survey equipment must be powered down to the lowest power output 
that is technically feasible. Subsequent power up of the survey 
equipment must use the ramp-up procedures described above and may occur 
after (1) the exclusion zone is clear of a delphinoid cetacean and/or 
pinniped for 60 minutes or (2) a determination by the PSO after a 
minimum of 10 minutes of observation that the delphinoid cetacean or 
pinniped is approaching the vessel or towed equipment at a speed and 
vector that indicates voluntary approach to bow-ride or chase towed 
equipment. If the HRG sound source shuts down for reasons other than 
encroachment into the exclusion zone by a marine mammal including but 
not limited to a mechanical or electronic failure, resulting in in the 
cessation of sound source for a period greater than 20 minutes, a 
restart for the HRG survey equipment is required using the full ramp-up 
procedures and clearance of the exclusion zone of all cetaceans and 
pinnipeds for 60 minutes. If the pause is less than 20 minutes, the 
equipment may be restarted as soon as practicable at its operational 
level as long as visual surveys were continued diligently throughout 
the silent period and the exclusion zone remained clear of cetaceans 
and pinnipeds. If the visual surveys were not continued diligently 
during the pause of 20 minutes or less, a restart of the HRG survey 
equipment is required using the full ramp-up procedures and clearance 
of the exclusion zone for all cetaceans and pinnipeds for 60 minutes.
    Geotechnical Survey (DP Thrusters)-- During geotechnical survey 
activities if marine mammals enter or approach the established 120 dB 
isopleth monitoring zone, the Holder shall reduce DP thruster to the 
maximum extent possible, except under circumstances when reducing DP 
thruster use would compromise safety (both human health and 
environmental) and/or the integrity of the equipment. After decreasing 
thruster energy, PSOs shall continue to monitor marine mammal behavior 
and determine if the animal(s) is moving towards or away from the 
established monitoring zone. If the animal(s) continues to move towards 
the sound source then DP thruster use shall remain at the reduced 
level. Normal use shall resume when PSOs report that the marine mammals 
have moved away from and remained clear of the monitoring zone for a 
minimum of 60 minutes since the last sighting.
    (d) Vessel Strike Avoidance: The Holder shall ensure that vessel 
operators and crew maintain a vigilant watch for cetaceans and 
pinnipeds and slow down or stop their vessels to avoid striking these 
protected species. Survey vessel crew members responsible for 
navigation duties shall receive site-specific training on marine mammal 
sighting/reporting and vessel strike avoidance measures. Vessel strike 
avoidance measures shall include the following, except under 
extraordinary circumstances when complying with these requirements 
would put the safety of the vessel or crew at risk:
     All vessel operators shall comply with 10 knot (<18.5 km 
per hour [km/h]) speed restrictions in any Dynamic Management Area 
(DMA). In addition, all vessels operating from November 1 through July 
31 shall operate at speeds of 10 knots (<18.5 km/h) or less.
     All survey vessels shall maintain a separation distance of 
500 m or greater from any sighted North Atlantic right whale.
     If underway, vessels must steer a course away from any 
sited North Atlantic right whale at 10 knots (<18.5 km/h) or less until 
the 500 m minimum separation distance has been established. If a North 
Atlantic right whale is sited in a vessel's path, or within 100 m to an 
underway vessel, the underway vessel must reduce speed and shift the 
engine to neutral. Engines shall not be engaged until the North 
Atlantic right whale has moved outside of the vessel's path and beyond 
100 m. If stationary, the vessel must not engage engines until the 
North Atlantic right whale has moved beyond 100 m.
     All vessels shall maintain a separation distance of 100 m 
or greater

[[Page 19578]]

from any sighted non-delphinoid (i.e., mysticetes and sperm whales) 
cetacean. If sighted, the vessel underway must reduce speed and shift 
the engine to neutral, and must not engage the engines until the non-
delphinoid cetacean has moved outside of the vessel's path and beyond 
100 m. If a survey vessel is stationary, the vessel shall not engage 
engines until the non-delphinoid cetacean has moved out of the vessel's 
path and beyond 100 m.
     All vessels shall maintain a separation distance of 50 m 
or greater from any sighted delphinoid cetacean. Any vessel underway 
shall remain parallel to a sighted delphinoid cetacean's course 
whenever possible, and avoid excessive speed or abrupt changes in 
direction. Any vessel underway shall reduce vessel speed to 10 knots or 
less when pods (including mother/calf pairs) or large assemblages of 
delphinoid cetaceans are observed. Vessels may not adjust course and 
speed until the delphinoid cetaceans have moved beyond 50 m and/or 
abeam of the underway vessel.
     All vessels shall maintain a separation distance of 50 m 
(164 ft) or greater from any sighted pinniped.
    (e) Seasonal Operating Requirements: Between watch shifts members 
of the monitoring team shall consult the NMFS North Atlantic right 
whale reporting systems for the presence of North Atlantic right whales 
throughout survey operations. The proposed survey activities shall 
occur outside of the seasonal management area (SMA) located off the 
coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and outside of the seasonal 
mandatory speed restriction period for this SMA (November 1 through 
April 30). Throughout all survey operations, the Holder shall monitor 
the NMFS North Atlantic right whale reporting systems for the 
establishment of a DMA. If NMFS should establish a DMA in the Lease 
Area under survey, within 24 hours of the establishment of the DMA the 
Holder shall work with NMFS to shut down and/or altered the survey 
activities to avoid the DMA.
    (f) Passive Acoustic Monitoring: To support 24-hour survey 
operations, the Holder shall include PAM as part of the project 
monitoring during the geophysical survey during nighttime operations, 
or as needed during periods when visual observations may be impaired. 
In addition, PAM systems shall be employed during daylight hours to 
support system calibration and PSO and PAM team coordination, as well 
as in support of efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of the various 
mitigation techniques (i.e., visual observations during day and night, 
compared to the PAM detections/operations).
    The PAM system shall consist of an array of hydrophones with both 
broadband (sampling mid-range frequencies of 2 kHz to 200 kHz) and at 
least one low-frequency hydrophone (sampling range frequencies of 10 Hz 
to 30 kHz). The PAM operator(s) shall monitor the hydrophone signals in 
real time both aurally (using headphones) and visually (via the monitor 
screen displays). PAM operators shall communicate detections/
vocalizations to the Lead PSO on duty who shall ensure the 
implementation of the appropriate mitigation measure.
    8. Monitoring Requirements
    The Holder is required to abide by the following monitoring 
conditions listed in 8(a)-(b). Failure to comply with these conditions 
may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA.
    (a) Visual Monitoring--Protected species observers (refer to the 
PSO qualifications and requirements for Marine Mammal Exclusion Zones 
above) shall visually monitor the established Level B harassment zones 
(400-m radius during sub-bottom profiler use and 200-m radius for 
equipment positioning system use during HRG surveys; 3,500-m radius 
during DP thruster use). The observers shall be stationed on the 
highest available vantage point on the associated operating platform. 
PSOs shall estimate distance to marine mammals visually, using laser 
range finders or by using reticle binoculars during daylight hours. 
During night operations, PSOs shall use night-vision binoculars. Data 
on all PSO observations will be recorded based on standard PSO 
collection requirements. This will include dates and locations of 
survey operations; time of observation, location and weather; details 
of the sightings (e.g., species, age classification [if known], 
numbers, behavior); and details of any observed ``taking'' (behavioral 
disturbances or injury/mortality). In addition, prior to initiation of 
survey work, all crew members will undergo environmental training, a 
component of which will focus on the procedures for sighting and 
protection of marine mammals.
    (b) Acoustic Field Verification--Field verification of the 
exclusion/monitoring zones shall be conducted to determine whether the 
proposed zones correspond accurately to the relevant isopleths and are 
adequate to minimize impacts to marine mammals. The Holder shall 
conduct field verification of the exclusion/monitoring zone (the 160 dB 
isolpleth) for HRG survey equipment and the monitoring/powerdown zone 
(the 120 dB isopleth) for DP thruster use for all equipment operating 
below 200 kHz. The Holder shall take acoustic measurements at a minimum 
of two reference locations and in a manner that is sufficient to 
establish source level (peak at 1 meter) and distance to the 180 dB and 
160 dB isopleths (the Level A and B harassment zones for HRG surveys) 
and 120 dB isopleth (the Level B harassment zone) for DP thruster use. 
Sound measurements shall be taken at the reference locations at two 
depths (i.e., a depth at mid-water and a depth at approximately 1 meter 
[3.28 ft] above the seafloor). The Holder may use the results from its 
field-verification efforts to request modification of the exclusion/
monitoring zones for the HRG or geotechnical surveys. Any new 
exclusion/monitoring zone radius proposed by the Holder shall be based 
on the most conservative measurements (i.e., the largest safety zone 
configuration) of the target Level A or Level B harassment acoustic 
threshold zones. The modified zone shall be used for all subsequent use 
of field-verified equipment. The Holder shall obtain approval from NMFS 
and BOEM of any new exclusion/monitoring zone before it may be 
implemented and the IHA shall be modified accordingly.
    9. Reporting Requirements
    The Holder shall provide the following reports as necessary during 
survey activities:
    (a) The Holder shall contact NMFS (301-427-8401) and BOEM (703-787-
1300) within 24 hours of the commencement of survey activities and 
again within 24 hours of the completion of the activity.
    (b) Any observed significant behavioral reactions (e.g., animals 
departing the area) or injury or mortality to any marine mammals shall 
be reported to NMFS and BOEM within 24 hours of observation. Dead or 
injured protected species shall be reported to the NMFS Greater 
Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Stranding Hotline (800-900-3622) 
within 24 hours of sighting, regardless of whether the injury is caused 
by a vessel. In addition, if the injury of death was caused by a 
collision with a project related vessel, the Holder shall ensure that 
NMFS and BOEM are notified of the strike within 24 hours. The Holder 
shall use the form included as Appendix A to Addendum C of the Lease to 
report the sighting or incident. If the Holder is responsible for the 
injury or death, the vessel must assist with any salvage effort as 
requested by NMFS.
    Additional reporting requirements for injured or dead animals are 
described

[[Page 19579]]

below (Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals).
    (c) Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals.
    (i) In the unanticipated event that the specified HRG and 
geotechnical survey activities lead to an injury of a marine mammal 
(Level A harassment) or mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, 
and/or entanglement), the Holder shall immediately cease the specified 
activities and report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and 
Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, 301-427-8401, and 
the NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO) Stranding 
Coordinator, 978-281-9300. The report shall 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 shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the event. NMFS would work with the Holder to minimize 
reoccurrence of such an event in the future. The Holder shall not 
resume activities until notified by NMFS.
    (ii) In the event that the Holder discovers an injured or dead 
marine mammal and 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), the Holder shall immediately report 
the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, 
Office of Protected Resources, 301-427-8401, and the GARFO Stranding 
Coordinator, 978-281-9300. The report shall 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 the Holder to determine if modifications in the 
activities are appropriate.
    (iii) In the event that the Holder discovers an injured or dead 
marine mammal and determines that the injury or 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), the Holder shall report the 
incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office 
of Protected Resources, NMFS, 301-427-8401, and the NMFS Greater 
Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Regional Stranding Coordinator, 978-
281-9300, within 24 hours of the discovery. The Holder shall provide 
photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of 
the stranded animal sighting.
    (d) Within 90 days after completion of the marine site 
characterization survey activities, a technical report shall be 
provided to NMFS and BOEM that fully documents the methods and 
monitoring protocols, summarizes the data recorded during monitoring, 
estimates the number of marine mammals that may have been taken during 
survey activities, and provides an interpretation of the results and 
effectiveness of all monitoring tasks. Any recommendations made by NMFS 
shall be addressed in the final report prior to acceptance by NMFS.
    (e) In addition to the Holder's reporting requirements outlined 
above, the Holder shall provide an assessment report of the 
effectiveness of the various mitigation techniques, i.e., visual 
observations during day and night, compared to the PAM detections/
operations. This shall be submitted as a draft to NMFS and BOEM 30 days 
after the completion of the HRG and geotechnical surveys and as a final 
version 60 days after completion of the surveys.
    10. This Authorization may be modified, suspended, or withdrawn if 
the Holder fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein or if 
NMFS determines the authorized taking is having more than a negligible 
impact on the species or stock of affected marine mammals.
    11. 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.
    12. The Holder 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 DONG Energy's 
proposed high-resolution geophysical and geotechnical survey 
investigations associated with marine site characterization activities 
off the coast of Massachusetts in the area of the Commercial Lease of 
Submerged Lands for Renewable Energy Development on the Outer 
Continental Shelf (OCS-A 0500). Please include with your comments any 
supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final 
decision on DONG Energy's request for an MMPA authorization.

    Dated: March 30, 2016.
Wanda Cain,
Acting Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2016-07712 Filed 4-4-16; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P