Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys in the Atlantic Ocean, 26244-26334 [2017-11542]

Download as PDF 26244 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XE283 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys in the Atlantic Ocean National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; five proposed incidental harassment authorizations; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS has received five requests for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to conducting geophysical survey activity in the Atlantic Ocean. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue incidental harassment authorizations (IHA) to incidentally take marine mammals during the specified activities. SUMMARY: Comments and information must be received no later than July 6, 2017. ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Physical comments should be sent to 1315 EastWest Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and electronic comments should be sent to ITP.Laws@noaa.gov. Instructions: NMFS is not responsible for comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period. Comments received electronically, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25megabyte file size. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel or Adobe PDF file formats only. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted online at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/oilgas.htm without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. Information Solicited: NMFS is seeking public input on these requests for authorization as outlined below and request that interested persons submit information, suggestions, and comments sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 DATES: VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 concerning the applications. We will only consider comments that are relevant to marine mammal species that occur in U.S. waters of the Mid- and South Atlantic and the potential effects of geophysical survey activities on those species and their habitat. Comments indicating general support for or opposition to hydrocarbon exploration or any comments relating to hydrocarbon development (e.g., leasing, drilling) are not relevant to this request for comments and will not be considered. Comments should indicate whether they are general to the proposed authorizations described herein or are specific to one or more of the five proposed authorizations, and should be supported by data or literature citations as appropriate. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ben Laws, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Availability Electronic copies of the applications and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in this document, may be obtained online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/oilgas.htm. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above. National Environmental Policy Act In 2014, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) produced a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to evaluate potential significant environmental effects of geological and geophysical (G&G) activities on the Mid- and South Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), pursuant to requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These activities include geophysical surveys in support of hydrocarbon exploration, as are proposed in the MMPA applications before NMFS. The PEIS is available online at: www.boem.gov/Atlantic-G-GPEIS/. NMFS participated in development of the PEIS as a cooperating agency and believes it appropriate to adopt the analysis in order to assess the impacts to the human environment of issuance of the subject IHAs. Information in the IHA applications, BOEM’s PEIS, and this notice collectively provide the environmental information related to proposed issuance of these IHAs for public review and comment. We will review all comments submitted in response to this notice as we complete the NEPA process, including a final decision of whether to PO 00000 Frm 00002 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 adopt BOEM’s PEIS and sign a Record of Decision related to issuance of IHAs, prior to a final decision on the incidental take authorization requests. 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 Requests In 2014–15, we received five separate requests for authorization for take of marine mammals incidental to geophysical surveys in support of hydrocarbon exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. The applicants are companies that provide services, such as geophysical data acquisition, to the oil and gas industry. Upon review of these requests, we submitted questions, comments, and requests for additional information to the individual applicant companies. As a result of these interactions, the applicant companies E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices provided revised versions of the applications that we determined were adequate and complete. On August 18, 2014, we received an application from Spectrum Geo Inc. (Spectrum), followed by revised versions on November 25, 2014, May 14, 2015, and July 6, 2015. TGS–NOPEC Geophysical Company (TGS) submitted an application on August 25, 2014, followed by revised versions on November 17, 2014, and July 21, 2015. We also received a request from ION GeoVentures (ION) on September 5, 2014, followed by a revised version on June 24, 2015. We subsequently posted these applications for public review and sought public input (80 FR 45195; July 29, 2015), stating that we would only consider comments relevant to marine mammal species that occur in U.S. waters of the Mid- and South Atlantic and the potential effects of geophysical survey activities on those species. We stated further that any comments should be supported by data or literature citations as appropriate, that comments indicating general support for or opposition to oil and gas exploration and development would not be considered inasmuch as such comments are not relevant to our consideration of the requests under the MMPA, and that we were particularly interested in information addressing the following topics: 1. Best available scientific information and appropriate use of such information in assessing potential effects of the specified activities on marine mammals and their habitat; 2. Application approaches to estimating acoustic exposure and take of marine mammals; and, 3. Appropriate mitigation measures and monitoring requirements for these activities. We note that this notice for proposed IHAs does not concern one additional company (TDI-Brooks International, Inc. (TDI Brooks)) whose application was referenced in our July 29, 2015, Federal Register notice, and includes two other companies (WesternGeco, LLC (Western) and CGG) whose applications were not included in our July 29, 2015, notice. TDI-Brooks International, Inc. submitted a request for authorization related to a proposed survey to conduct deep water multibeam bathymetry and sub-bottom profiler data acquisition on October 22, 2014. However, public comment indicated that this application was improperly considered adequate and complete, and we subsequently concurred with this assessment and returned the application to TDI-Brooks for revision. We will provide separate VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 notice of any proposed authorization related to this applicant upon receipt of an adequate and complete application, if appropriate. The comments and information received during this public review period informed development of the proposed IHAs discussed in this notice, and all letters received are available online at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental/oilgas.htm. Following the close of the public review period, we received revised versions of several applications: From Spectrum on September 18, 2015, and from TGS on February 10, 2016. We received additional information from ION on February 29, 2016. Spectrum revised the scope of their proposed survey effort, while TGS and ION revised their estimates of the number of potential incidents of marine mammal exposure to underwater noise. Western submitted a request for authorization on March 3, 2015, followed by a revised version on February 17, 2016, that we determined was adequate and complete. CGG submitted a request for authorization on December 21, 2015, followed by revised versions on February 18, 2016, April 6, 2016, and May 26, 2016. These applications are adequate and complete at this time and are substantially similar to other applications previously released for public review. We do not anticipate offering additional discretionary public review of applications should we receive further requests for authorization related to proposed geophysical survey activity in the Atlantic Ocean. All requested authorizations would be valid for the statutory maximum of one year from the date of effectiveness. All applicants propose to conduct twodimensional (2D) marine seismic surveys using airgun arrays. Generally speaking, these surveys may occur within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (i.e., to 200 nautical miles (nmi)) from Delaware to approximately Cape Canaveral, Florida and corresponding with BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas, as well as additional waters out to 350 nmi from shore (Figure 1). Please see the applications for specific details of survey design. The use of airgun arrays is expected to produce underwater sound at levels that have the potential to result in harassment of marine mammals. Multiple cetacean species with the expected potential to be present during all or a portion of the proposed surveys are described below. Because the specified activity, specified geographic region, and proposed dates of activity are PO 00000 Frm 00003 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26245 substantially similar for the five separate requests for authorization, we have determined it appropriate to provide a joint notice for the five proposed authorizations. However, while we provide relevant information together, we consider the potential impacts of the specified activities independently and make preliminary determinations specific to each request for authorization, as required by the MMPA. Description of the Specified Activities In this section, we provide a generalized discussion that is broadly applicable to all five requests for authorization, with project-specific portions indicated. Overview The five applicants propose to conduct deep penetration seismic surveys using airgun arrays as an acoustic source. Seismic surveys are one method of obtaining geophysical data used to characterize the subsurface structure, in this case in support of hydrocarbon exploration. The proposed surveys would be 2D surveys, designed to acquire data over large areas in order to screen for potential hydrocarbon prospectivity. To contrast, threedimensional surveys may use similar acoustic sources but are designed to cover smaller areas with greater resolution (e.g., with closer survey line spacing). A deep penetration survey uses an acoustic source suited to provide data on geological formations that may be thousands of meters (m) beneath the seafloor, as compared with a survey that may be intended to evaluate shallow subsurface formations or the seafloor itself (e.g., for hazards). An airgun is a device used to emit acoustic energy pulses into the seafloor, and generally consists of a steel cylinder that is charged with high-pressure air. Release of the compressed air into the water column generates a signal that reflects (or refracts) off of the seafloor and/or subsurface layers having acoustic impedance contrast. When fired, a brief (∼0.1 second (s)) pulse of sound is emitted by all airguns nearly simultaneously. The airguns are silent during the intervening periods, with the array typically fired on a fixed distance (or shot point) interval. This interval may vary depending on survey objectives, but a typical interval for a 2D survey in relatively deep water might be 25 m (approximately every 10 s, depending on vessel speed). The return signal is recorded by a listening device and later analyzed with computer interpretation and mapping systems used to depict the subsurface. In this E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26246 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 case, towed streamers contain hydrophones that would record the return signal. Individual airguns are available in different volumetric sizes and, for deep penetration seismic surveys, are towed in arrays (i.e., a certain number of airguns of varying sizes in a certain arrangement) designed according to a given company’s method of data acquisition, seismic target, and data processing capabilities. A typical large airgun array, as was considered in BOEM’s PEIS (BOEM, 2014a), may have a total volume of approximately 5,400 in3. The notional array modeled by BOEM consists of 18 airguns in three identical strings of six airguns each, with individual airguns ranging in volume from 105–660 in3. Sound levels for airgun arrays are typically modeled or measured at some distance from the source and a nominal source level then back-calculated. Because these arrays constitute a distributed acoustic source rather than a single point source (i.e., the ‘‘source’’ is actually comprised of multiple sources with some predetermined spatial arrangement), the highest sound levels measurable at any location in the water will be less than the nominal source level. A common analogy is to an array of light bulbs; at sufficient distance the array will appear to be a single point source of light but individual sources, each with less intensity than that of the whole, may be discerned at closer distances. In addition, the effective source level for sound propagating in near-horizontal directions (i.e., directions likely to impact most marine mammals in the vicinity of an array) is likely to be substantially lower than the nominal source level applicable to downward propagation because of the directional nature of the sound from the airgun array. The horizontal propagation of sound is reduced by noise cancellation effects created when sound from neighboring airguns on the same horizontal plane partially cancel each other out. Survey protocols generally involve a predetermined set of survey, or track, lines. The seismic acquisition vessel VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 (source vessel) will travel down a linear track for some distance until a line of data is acquired, then turn and acquire data on a different track. In addition to the line over which data acquisition is desired, full-power operation may include run-in and run-out. Run-in is approximately 1 kilometer (km) of fullpower source operation before starting a new line to ensure equipment is functioning properly, and run-out is additional full-power operation beyond the conclusion of a trackline (typically half the distance of the acquisition streamer behind the source vessel) to ensure that all data along the trackline are collected by the streamer. Line turns typically require two to three hours due to the long trailing streamers (e.g., 10 km). Spacing and length of tracks varies by survey. Survey operations often involve the source vessel, supported by a chase vessel. Chase vessels typically support the source vessel by protecting the long hydrophone streamer from damage (e.g., from other vessels) and otherwise lending logistical support (e.g., returning to port for fuel, supplies, or any necessary personnel transfers). Chase vessels do not deploy acoustic sources for data acquisition purposes; the only potential effects of the chase vessels are those associated with normal vessel operations. Dates and Duration All companies requested IHAs covering the statutory maximum of one year from the date of issuance, but the expected temporal extent of survey activity varies by company and may be subject to unpredictability due to inclement weather days, equipment maintenance and/or repair, transit to and from ports to survey locations, and other contingencies. Spectrum plans a six-month data acquisition program, consisting of an expected 165 days of seismic operations. TGS plans a full year data acquisition program, with an estimated 308 days of seismic operations. ION plans a six-month data acquisition program, with an estimated 70 days of seismic data collection. Western plans a full year data acquisition program, with an estimated PO 00000 Frm 00004 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 208 days of seismic operations. CGG plans a six-month data acquisition program (July–December), with an estimated 155 days of seismic operations. Seismic operations would typically occur 24 hours per day. Specific Geographic Region The proposed survey activities would occur off the Atlantic coast of the U.S., within BOEM’s Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic OCS planning areas (i.e., from Delaware to Cape Canaveral, FL), and out to 350 nmi (648 km) (see Figure 1, reproduced from BOEM, 2014a). The seaward limit of the region is based on the maximum constraint line for the extended continental shelf (ECS) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Until such time as an ECS is established by the U.S., the region between the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundary and the ECS maximum constraint line (i.e., 200– 350 nmi from shore) is part of the global commons, and BOEM determined it appropriate to include this area within the area of interest for geophysical survey activity. The specific survey areas differ within this region; please see maps provided in the individual applications (Spectrum: Figure 1; Western: Figures 1–1 to 1–4; TGS: Figures 1–1 to 1–4; ION: Figure 1; CGG: Figure 3). A map of all proposed surveys may be viewed online at: www.boem.gov/Atlantic-G-and-GPermitting/ (accessed on October 18, 2016); however, note that this map displays all permits requested from BOEM, including potential surveys for companies who have not yet requested authorization under the MMPA. The survey shown as ‘‘GXTechnology’’ on the referenced map is the same as what we describe here as being proposed by ION. In addition to general knowledge and other citations contained herein, this section relies upon the descriptions found in Sherman and Hempel (2009) and Wilkinson et al. (2009). As referred to here, productivity refers to fixated carbon (i.e., g C/m2/yr) which relates to the carrying capacity of an ecosystem. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices 26247 BILLING CODE 3510–22–C The entire U.S. Atlantic coast region extends from the Gulf of Maine past Cape Hatteras to Florida. The region is characterized by its temperate climate and proximity to the Gulf Stream Current, and is generally considered to VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 be of moderately high productivity, although the portion of the region from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras is one of the most productive areas in the world due to upwellings along the shelf break created by the western edge of the Gulf Stream. Sea surface temperatures (SST) PO 00000 Frm 00005 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 exhibit a broad range across this region, with winter temperatures ranging from 2–20 °C in the north and 15–22 °C in the south, while summer temperatures, consistent in the south at approximately 28 °C, range from 15–27 °C in the northern portion. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 EN06JN17.000</GPH> sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Figure 1. Specific Geographic Region sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26248 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices The northern portion of this region (i.e., north of Cape Hatteras) is more complex, with four major sub-areas, only one of which is within the specified geographic region: The MidAtlantic Bight (MAB). South of Cape Cod, there is strong stratification along the coast where large estuaries occur (e.g., Chesapeake Bay, Pamlico Sound). The Gulf Stream is highly influential on both the northern and southern portions of the region, but in different ways. Meanders of the current directly affect the southern portion of the region, where the Gulf Stream is closer to shore, while warm-core rings indirectly affect the northern portion (Belkin et al., 2009). In addition, subarctic influences can reach as far south as the MAB, but the convergence of the Gulf Stream with the coast near Cape Hatteras does not allow for significant northern influence into waters of the South Atlantic Bight. The MAB includes the continental shelf and slope waters from Georges Bank to Cape Hatteras, NC. The retreat of the last ice sheet shaped the morphology and sediments of this area. The continental shelf south of New England is broad and flat, dominated by fine grained sediments (sand and silt). The shelf slopes gently away from the shore out to approximately 100 to 200 km offshore, where it transforms into the continental slope at the shelf break (at water depths of 100 to 200 m). Along the shelf break, numerous deep-water canyons incise the slope and shelf. The sediments and topography of the canyons are much more heterogeneous than the predominantly sandy top of the shelf, with steep walls and outcroppings of bedrock and deposits of clay. The southwestern flow of cold shelf water feeding out of the Gulf of Maine and off Georges Bank dominates the circulatory patterns in this area. The countervailing Gulf Stream provides a source of warmer water along the coast as warm-core rings and meanders break off from the Gulf Stream and move shoreward, mixing with the colder shelf and slope water. As the shelf plain narrows to the south (the extent of the continental shelf is narrowest at Cape Hatteras), the warmer Gulf Stream waters run closer to shore. The southeast continental shelf area extends approximately 1,500 km from Cape Hatteras, NC south to the Straits of Florida (Yoder, 1991). The continental shelf in the region reaches up to approximately 200 km offshore. The Gulf Stream influences the region with minor upwelling occurring along the Gulf Stream front. The area is approximately 300,000 km2, includes several protected areas and coral reefs (Aquarone, 2008); numerous estuaries VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 and bays, nearshore and barrier islands; and extensive coastal marshes that provide habitats for numerous marine and estuarine species. A 10–20 km wide coastal zone is characterized by high levels of primary production throughout the year, while offshore, on the middle and outer shelf, upwelling along the Gulf Stream front and intrusions from the Gulf Stream cause seasonal phytoplankton blooms. Because of its high productivity, this sub-region supports active commercial and recreational fisheries (Shertzer et al., 2009). Detailed Description of Activities Detailed survey descriptions, as given in specific applications, are provided here without regard for the mitigation measures proposed by NMFS. In some cases, our proposed mitigation measures may affect the proposed survey plan (e.g., distance from coast, areas to be avoided at certain times of year). Please see ‘‘Proposed Mitigation,’’ later in this document, for details on those proposed mitigation requirements. Please see Table 1 for a summary of airgun array characteristics. ION—ION proposes to conduct a 2D marine seismic survey off the U.S. east coast from Delaware to northern Florida (∼38.5° N. to ∼27.9° N.), and from 20 km from the coast to >600 km from the coast (see Figure 1 of ION’s application). The survey would involve one source vessel, the M/V Discoverer, and one chase vessel, the M/V Octopus, or similar (see ION’s application for vessel details). The Discoverer has a cruising speed of 9.5 knots (kn), maximum speed of 10 kn, and would tow gear during data acquisition at ∼4 kn. The survey plan consists of five widely-spaced transect lines (∼20–190 km apart) roughly parallel to the coast and 14 widely-spaced transect lines (∼30–220 km apart) in the onshore-offshore direction totaling ∼13,062 km of data acquisition line. Effort planned by depth bin is as follows: ∼48 percent >3,000 m; ∼18 percent 1,000–3,000 m; ∼22 percent 100–1,000 m; ∼12 percent <100 m. There would be limited additional operations associated with equipment testing, startup, line changes, and repeat coverage of any areas where initial data quality is sub-standard. Therefore, there could be some small amount of use of the acoustic source not accounted for in the total estimated line-km; however, this activity is difficult to quantify in advance and would represent an insignificant increase in effort. The acoustic source planned for deployment is a 36-airgun array with a total volume of 6,420 in3. The source vessel would tow a single hydrophone PO 00000 Frm 00006 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 streamer, up to 12 km long. The 36airgun array would consist of a mixture of Bolt 1500LL and sleeve airguns ranging in volume from 40 in3 to 380 in3; the larger (300–380 in3) airguns would be Bolt airguns, and the smaller (40–150 in3) airguns would be sleeve airguns. The difference between the two types of airguns is in the mechanical parts that release the pressurized air; however, the bubble and acoustic energy released by the two types of airguns are effectively the same. The airguns would be configured as four identical linear arrays or ‘‘strings’’ (see Figure 3 of ION’s application). Each string would have nine airguns; the first and last airguns in the strings would be spaced ∼15.5 m apart. The four airgun strings would be distributed across an approximate area of 34 x 15.5 m behind the vessel and would be towed ∼50–100 m behind the vessel at 10-m depth. The firing pressure of the array would be 2,000 pounds per square inch (psi). The airgun array would fire every 50 m or 20–24 s, depending on exact vessel speed—a longer interval than is typical of most industry seismic surveys. ION provided modeling results for their array, including notional source signatures, 1/3-octave band source levels as a function of azimuth angle, and received sound levels as a function of distance and direction at 16 representative sites in the proposed survey area. For more detail, please see ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment,’’ later in this document, as well as Figures 4–6 and Appendix A of ION’s application. Spectrum—Spectrum proposes to conduct a 2D marine seismic survey off the U.S. east coast from Delaware to northern Florida, extending throughout BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas. The survey would be conducted on an approximately 25 x 32 km grid; grid size may vary to minimize overall survey distance (see Figure 1 of Spectrum’s application). The closest trackline to shore would be approximately 35 km (off Cape Hatteras). The survey would involve one source vessel and one chase vessel (see Spectrum’s application for vessel details). The survey plan includes a total of approximately 21,635 km of data acquisition line, including allowance for lines expected to be resurveyed due to environmental or technical reasons. Water depths range from 30 to 5,410 m. There would be limited additional operations associated with equipment testing, startup, and repeat coverage of any areas where initial data quality is sub-standard. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices The acoustic source planned for deployment is a 32-airgun array with a total volume of 4,920 in3. The source vessel would tow a single 12-km hydrophone streamer. The 32-airgun array would consist of individual airguns ranging in volume from 50 in3 to 250 in3. The firing pressure of the array would be 2,000 psi. The airguns would be configured as four subarrays (see Figure 2 in Appendix A of Spectrum’s application). Each string would have eight to ten airguns and strings would be spaced 10 m apart; the total array dimensions would be 40 m wide x 30 m long. The four airgun strings would be towed at 6 to 10-m depth and the airgun array would fire every 25 m or 10 s, depending on exact vessel speed (expected to be 4–5 kn). Spectrum provided modeling results for their array, including notional source signatures, 1/3-octave band source levels as a function of azimuth angle, and received sound levels as a function of distance and direction at 16 representative sites in the proposed survey area. For more detail, please see Appendix A of Spectrum’s application, as well as ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment,’’ later in this document. TGS—TGS proposes to conduct a 2D marine seismic survey off the U.S. east coast from Delaware to northern Florida, extending throughout BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas (see Figure 1–1 of TGS’s application). The survey would involve two source vessels operating independently of one another (expected to operate at least 100 km apart), with each attended by one chase vessel. This approach was selected to allow TGS to complete the survey plan within one year rather than spread over multiple years. The survey plan consists of two contiguous survey grids with differently spaced lines (see Figures 1–1 to 1–4 of TGS’s application). Lines are spaced 100 km apart in approximately the eastern half of the project area and approximately 25 km apart in the western portion of the survey area. A third, more detailed grid (6–10 km spacing) covers the continental shelf drop-off, approximately near the center of the proposed survey area from north to south. The closest trackline to the coast would be 25 km. The survey plan includes a total of 55,133 km of data acquisition line plus an additional 3,167 km of trackline expected for run-in/runout, for a total of 58,300 km. Water depths range from 25–5,500 m. There would be limited additional operations VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 associated with equipment testing, startup, line changes, and repeat coverage of any areas where initial data quality is sub-standard. The acoustic sources planned for deployment are 48-airgun arrays with a total volume of 4,808 in3. However, only 40 individual airguns would be used at any given time, with remaining airguns held in reserve in case of equipment failure. The source vessels would tow a single 12-km long hydrophone streamer. The airgun array would use Sodera Ggun II airguns ranging in volume from 22 in3 to 250 in3. The airguns would be configured as four identical subarrays (see Figure 3 in Appendix B of TGS’s application), with individual elements spaced 8 m apart and arranged such that the largest elements are in the middle of each subarray and smaller sources at the front and end. The four airgun strings would be towed behind the vessel at 7m depth. The airgun array would fire every 25 m (approximately every 10 s, depending on vessel speed), with expected transit speed of 4–5 kn. More detail regarding TGS’s acoustic source and modeling related to TGS’s application is provided in ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment,’’ later in this document, as well as Appendix B of TGS’s application. Western—Western proposes to conduct a 2D marine seismic survey off the U.S. east coast from Maryland to northern Florida, extending through the majority of BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas (see Figure 1–1 of Western’s application). The survey plan consists of a survey grid with differently spaced lines (see Figures 1–1 to 1–4 of Western’s application). Lines are spaced 25 km apart in approximately the southwestern third of the project area and approximately 6 km apart in the remainder of the survey area. The closest trackline to the coast would be 30 km. The survey plan includes a total of 26,641 km of data acquisition line plus an additional 689 km of lines expected for run-in/run-out, for a total of 27,330 km. Water depths range from 20–4,700 m. The survey would involve one source vessel, the M/V Western Pride, as well as two chase vessels, the M/V Michael Lawrence and M/V Amber G, and a supply vessel, the M/V Melinda B. Adams or similar (see Appendix B of Western’s application for vessel details). There would be limited additional operations associated with equipment testing, startup, and repeat coverage of any areas where initial data quality is sub-standard. PO 00000 Frm 00007 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26249 The seismic source planned for deployment is a 24-airgun array with a total volume of 5,085 in3. The source vessel would tow a single 10.5-km hydrophone streamer. The 24-airgun array would consist of individual Bolt v5085 airguns. The airguns would be configured as three identical subarrays of eight airguns each with 8 m spacing between strings. The three airgun strings would be towed at 10-m depth and the airgun array would fire every 37.5 m (approximately every 16 s, depending on vessel speed), with expected transit speed of 4–5 kn. More detail regarding Western’s acoustic source and modeling related to Western’s application is provided in ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment,’’ later in this document, as well as Appendix B of Western’s application. CGG—CGG proposes to conduct a 2D marine seismic survey off the U.S. east coast from Virginia to Georgia, extending through the majority of BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas (see Figure 3 of CGG’s application). The survey plan consists of 53 survey tracklines in a 20 km by 20 km orthogonal grid (see Figure 3 of CGG’s application). The tracklines would be 300 to 750 km in length, with the closest trackline to the coast at 80 km. The survey plan includes a total of 28,670 km of data acquisition line, in water depths ranging from 100–5,000 m. The survey would involve one source vessel, as well as two support vessels. There would be limited additional operations associated with equipment testing, startup, and repeat coverage of any areas where initial data quality is sub-standard. The seismic source planned for deployment is a 36-airgun array with a total volume of 5,400 in.3 The source vessel would tow a single 10 to 12-km hydrophone streamer. The 36-airgun array would consist of individual Bolt 1900/1500 airguns. The airguns would be configured as four subarrays of nine airguns each (see Figure 2 in CGG’s application), with total dimensions of 24 m width by 16.5 m length and 8 m separation between strings. The four airgun strings would be towed at 7-m depth and the airgun array would fire every 25 m (approximately every 16 s, depending on vessel speed), with expected transit speed of 4.5 kn. More detail regarding CGG’s acoustic source and modeling related to CGG’s application is provided in ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment,’’ later in this document, as well as CGG’s application. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26250 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices TABLE 1—SURVEY AND AIRGUN ARRAY CHARACTERISTICS Total planned survey (km) Company ION ........................................................ Spectrum ............................................... TGS ....................................................... Western ................................................. CGG ...................................................... BOEM 2 .................................................. Total volume (in3) 13,062 21,635 58,300 27,330 28,670 n/a 6,420 4,920 4,808 5,085 5,400 5,400 Number of guns 36 32 40 24 36 18 Number of strings 4 4 4 3 4 3 Nominal source output (downward) 1 0-pk pk-pk rms 257 266 255 263 272 3 262 259 3 3 3 247 Shot interval (m) 4 247 243 240 235 3 4 243 233 50 25 25 37.5 25 n/a Tow depth (m) 10 6–10 7 10 7 6.5 1 See ‘‘Description of Active Acoustic Sound Sources,’’ later in this document, for discussion of these concepts. array characteristics modeled and source characterization outputs from BOEM’s PEIS (2014a) provided for comparison. not given; however, SPL (pk-pk) is usually considered to be approximately 6 dB higher than SPL (0-pk) (Greene, 1997). 4 Value decreased from modeled 0-pk value by minimum 10 dB (Greene, 1997). 2 Notional 3 Values sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Proposed Mitigation In order to issue an IHA under Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, ‘‘and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking’’ for certain subsistence uses. NMFS regulations require applicants for incidental take authorizations to include information about the availability and feasibility (economic and technological) of equipment, methods, and manner of conducting such activity or other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact upon the affected species or stocks and their habitat (50 CFR 216.104(a)(11)). Here we provide a single description of proposed mitigation measures, including those contained in the applicants’ requests, as we propose to require the same measures of all applicants. We reviewed the applicants’ proposals, the requirements specified in BOEM’s PEIS, seismic mitigation protocols required or recommended elsewhere (e.g., DOC, 2013; IBAMA, 2005; Kyhn et al., 2011; JNCC, 2010; DEWHA, 2008; BOEM, 2016a; DFO, 2008; MMOA, 2015; Nowacek and Southall, 2016), and the available scientific literature. We also considered recommendations given in a number of review articles (e.g., Weir and Dolman, 2007; Compton et al., 2008; Parsons et al., 2009; Wright and Cosentino, 2015; Stone, 2015). The suite of mitigation measures proposed here differs in some cases from the measures proposed by the applicants and/or those specified by BOEM in their PEIS and Record of Decision (ROD) in order to reflect what we believe to be the most appropriate suite of measures to satisfy the requirements of the MMPA. In carrying out the MMPA’s mandate, we apply a VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 context-specific balance between the manner in which and the degree to which measures are expected to reduce impacts to the affected species or stocks and their habitat and practicability for the applicant. (The framework for such an evaluation is explained further in 82 FR 19460, 19502 (April 27, 2017) (Proposed Rule for Take of Marine Mammals Incidental to U.S. Navy Operation of Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active (SURTASS LFA) Sonar.) Both of these facets point to the need for a basic system of seismic mitigation protocols (which may be augmented as necessary) that may be implemented in the field, reduce subjective decision-making for observers to the extent possible, and appropriately weighs a range of potential outcomes from sound exposure in determining what should be avoided or minimized where possible. Past mitigation protocols for geophysical survey activities using airgun arrays have focused on avoidance of exposures to received sound levels exceeding NMFS’s historical injury criteria (e.g., 180 dB rms), rather than also weighing the potentially detrimental effects of increased input of sound at lower levels into the environment (e.g., through use of mitigation guns or extended periods on the water to reshoot lines following shutdowns of the acoustic source), while also unrealistically assuming that shutdown protocols are capable of avoiding all potential for auditory injury. In addition to a basic suite of seismic mitigation protocols, we also include measures that might not be required for other activities (e.g., timearea closures specific to the proposed surveys discussed here) but that are warranted here given the proposed spatiotemporal scope of these specified activities and associated potential for population-level effects and/or take of large numbers of individuals of certain species. PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Mitigation-Related Monitoring Monitoring by independent, dedicated, trained marine mammal observers is required. Note that, although we propose requirements related only to observation of marine mammals, we hereafter use the generic term ‘‘protected species observer’’ (PSO) to avoid confusion with protocols that may be required of the applicants pursuant to other relevant statutes. Independent observers are employed by a third-party observer provider; vessel crew may not serve as PSOs. Dedicated observers are those who have no tasks other than to conduct observational effort, record observational data, and communicate with and instruct the seismic survey operator (i.e., vessel captain and crew) with regard to the presence of marine mammals and mitigation requirements. Communication with the operator may include brief alerts regarding maritime hazards. Trained PSOs have successfully completed an approved PSO training course (see ‘‘Proposed Monitoring and Reporting’’), and experienced PSOs have additionally gained a minimum of 90 days at-sea experience working as a PSO during a deep penetration seismic survey, with no more than 18 months elapsed since the conclusion of the at-sea experience. Both visual and acoustic monitoring is required; training and experience is specific to either visual or acoustic PSO duties. An experienced visual PSO must have completed approved, relevant training and gained the requisite experience working as a visual PSO. An experienced acoustic PSO must have completed a passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) operator training course and gained the requisite experience working as an acoustic PSO (i.e., PAM operator). NMFS does not currently approve specific training courses; observers may be considered appropriately trained by having satisfactorily completed training that meets all the requirements specified E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices herein (see ‘‘Proposed Monitoring and Reporting’’). In order for PSOs to be approved, NMFS must review and approve PSO resumes accompanied by a relevant training course information packet that includes the name and qualifications (i.e., experience, training completed, or educational background) of the instructor(s), the course outline or syllabus, and course reference material as well as a document stating successful completion of the course. A PSO may be trained and/or experienced as both a visual PSO and PAM operator and may perform either duty, pursuant to scheduling requirements. PSO watch schedules shall be devised in consideration of the following restrictions: (1) A maximum of two consecutive hours on watch followed by a break of at least one hour between watches for visual PSOs; (2) a maximum of four consecutive hours on watch followed by a break of at least two consecutive hours between watches for PAM operators; and (3) a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. Further information regarding PSO requirements may be found in the ‘‘Proposed Monitoring and Reporting’’ section, later in this document. Visual—All source vessels must carry a minimum of one experienced visual PSO, who shall be designated as the lead PSO, coordinate duty schedules and roles, and serve as primary point of contact for the operator. While it is desirable for all PSOs to be qualified through experience, we do not wish to foreclose opportunity for newly trained PSOs to gain the requisite experience. Therefore, the lead PSO shall devise the duty schedule such that experienced PSOs are on duty with trained PSOs (i.e., those PSOs with appropriate training but who have not yet gained relevant experience) to the maximum extent practicable in order to provide necessary mentorship. During survey operations (e.g., any day on which use of the acoustic source is planned to occur; whenever the acoustic source is in the water, whether activated or not), a minimum of two PSOs must be on duty and conducting visual observations at all times during daylight hours (i.e., from 30 minutes prior to sunrise through 30 minutes following sunset) and 30 minutes prior to and during nighttime ramp-ups of the airgun array (see ‘‘Ramp-ups’’ below). PSOs should use NOAA’s solar calculator (www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/grad/solcalc/) to determine sunrise and sunset times at their specific location. We recognize that certain daytime conditions (e.g., fog, heavy rain) may reduce or eliminate effectiveness of visual observations; VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 however, on-duty PSOs shall remain alert for marine mammal observational cues and/or a change in conditions. With regard to specific observational protocols, we largely follow those described in Appendix C of BOEM’s PEIS (BOEM, 2014a). The lead PSO shall determine the most appropriate observation posts that will not interfere with navigation or operation of the vessel while affording an optimal, elevated view of the sea surface. PSOs shall coordinate to ensure 360° visual coverage around the vessel, and shall conduct visual observations using binoculars and the naked eye while free from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, and diligent manner. Within these broad outlines, the lead PSO and PSO team will have discretion to determine the most appropriate vesseland survey-specific system for implementing effective marine mammal observational effort. Any observations of marine mammals by crew members aboard any vessel associated with the survey, including chase vessels, should be relayed to the source vessel and to the PSO team. Visual monitoring must begin not less than 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and must continue until one hour after use of the acoustic source ceases or until 30 minutes past sunset. If any marine mammal is observed at any distance from the vessel, a PSO would record the observation and monitor the animal’s position (including latitude/longitude of the vessel and relative bearing and estimated distance to the animal) until the animal dives or moves out of visual range of the observer. A PSO would continue to observe the area to watch for the animal to resurface or for additional animals that may surface in the area. Visual PSOs shall communicate all observations to PAM operators, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state (BSS) 3 or less), PSOs should conduct observations when the acoustic source is not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and without use of the acoustic source and between acquisition periods. Acoustic—All source vessels must use a towed PAM system for potential detection of marine mammals. The system must be monitored at all times during use of the acoustic source, and acoustic monitoring must begin at least 30 minutes prior to ramp-up. All source vessels shall carry a minimum of one experienced PAM operator. PAM operators shall communicate all PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26251 detections to visual PSOs, when visual PSOs are on duty, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. We acknowledge generally that PAM has significant limitations. For example, animals may only be detected when vocalizing, species making directional vocalizations must vocalize towards the array to be detected, species identification and localization may be difficult, etc. However, we believe that for certain species and in appropriate environmental conditions it is a useful complement to visual monitoring during good sighting conditions and that it is the only meaningful monitoring technique during periods of poor visibility. Further detail regarding PAM system requirements may be found in the ‘‘Proposed Monitoring’’ section, later in this document. The effectiveness of PAM depends to a certain extent on the equipment and methods used and competency of the PAM operator, but no established standards are currently in place. We do offer some specifications later in this document and each applicant has provided a PAM plan. Following protocols described by the New Zealand Department of Conservation for seismic surveys conducted in New Zealand waters (DOC, 2013), survey activity may continue for brief periods of time when the PAM system malfunctions or is damaged. Activity may continue for 30 minutes without PAM while the PAM operator diagnoses the issue. If the diagnosis indicates that the PAM system must be repaired to solve the problem, operations may continue for an additional two hours without acoustic monitoring under the following conditions: • Daylight hours and sea state is less than or equal to Beaufort sea state (BSS) 4; • No marine mammals (excluding small delphinoids; see below) detected solely by PAM in the exclusion zone (see below) in the previous two hours; • NMFS is notified via email as soon as practicable with the time and location in which operations began without an active PAM system; and • Operations with an active acoustic source, but without an operating PAM system, do not exceed a cumulative total of four hours in any 24-hour period. As noted previously, all source vessels must carry a minimum of one experienced visual PSO and one experienced PAM operator. Although a given PSO may carry out either visual PSO or PAM operator duties during a survey (assuming appropriate training), E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26252 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices the required experienced PSOs may not be the same person. The observer designated as lead PSO (including the full team of visual PSOs and PAM operators) must be an experienced visual PSO. The applicant may determine how many PSOs are required to adequately fulfill the requirements specified here. To summarize, these requirements are: (1) Separate experienced visual PSOs and PAM operators; (2) 24-hour acoustic monitoring during use of the acoustic source; (3) visual monitoring during use of the acoustic source by two PSOs during all daylight hours and during nighttime ramp-ups; (4) maximum of two consecutive hours on watch followed by a minimum of one hour off watch for visual PSOs and a maximum of four consecutive hours on watch followed by a minimum of two consecutive hours off watch for PAM operators; and (5) maximum of 12 hours of observational effort per 24-hour period for any PSO, regardless of duties. sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Buffer Zone and Exclusion Zone The PSOs shall establish and monitor a 500-m exclusion zone and a 1,000-m buffer zone. These zones shall be based upon radial distance from any element of the airgun array (rather than being based on the center of the array or around the vessel itself). During use of the acoustic source, occurrence of marine mammals within the buffer zone (but outside the exclusion zone) should be communicated to the operator to prepare for the potential shutdown of the acoustic source. Use of the buffer zone in relation to ramp-up is discussed under ‘‘Ramp-up.’’ Further detail regarding the exclusion zone and shutdown requirements is given under ‘‘Exclusion Zone and Shutdown Requirements.’’ Ramp-Up Ramp-up of an acoustic source is intended to provide a gradual increase in sound levels, enabling animals to move away from the source if the signal is sufficiently aversive prior to its reaching full intensity. We infer on the basis of behavioral avoidance studies and observations that this measure results in some reduced potential for auditory injury and/or more severe behavioral reactions. Dunlop et al. (2016) studied the effect of ramp-up during a seismic airgun survey on migrating humpback whales, finding that although behavioral response indicating potential avoidance was observed, there was no evidence that ramp-up was more effective at causing aversion than was a constant source. Regardless, the majority of whale groups VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 did avoid the source vessel at distances greater than the radius of most mitigation zones (Dunlop et al., 2016). Although this measure is not proven and some arguments have been made that use of ramp-up may not have the desired effect of aversion (which is itself a potentially negative impact assumed to be better than the alternative), rampup remains a relatively low cost, common sense component of standard mitigation. Ramp-up is most likely to be effective for more sensitive species (e.g., beaked whales) with known behavioral responses at greater distances from an acoustic source (e.g., Tyack et al., 2011; DeRuiter et al., 2013; Miller et al., 2015). The ramp-up procedure involves a step-wise increase in the number of airguns firing and total array volume until all operational airguns are activated and the full volume is achieved. Ramp-up is required at all times as part of the activation of the acoustic source (including source tests; see ‘‘Miscellaneous Protocols’’ for more detail) and may occur at times of poor visibility, assuming appropriate acoustic monitoring with no detections in the 30 minutes prior to beginning ramp-up. Acoustic source activation should only occur at night where operational planning cannot reasonably avoid such circumstances. For example, a nighttime initial ramp-up following port departure is reasonably avoidable and may not occur. Ramp-up may occur at night following acoustic source deactivation due to line turn or mechanical difficulty. The operator must notify a designated PSO of the planned start of ramp-up as agreed-upon with the lead PSO; the notification time should not be less than 60 minutes prior to the planned ramp-up. A designated PSO must be notified again immediately prior to initiating ramp-up procedures and the operator must receive confirmation from the PSO to proceed. Ramp-up procedures follow the recommendations of IAGC (2015). Ramp-up would begin by activating a single airgun (i.e., array element) of the smallest volume in the array. Ramp-up continues in stages by doubling the number of active elements at the commencement of each stage, with each stage of approximately the same duration. Total duration should be approximately 20 minutes. There will generally be one stage in which doubling the number of elements is not possible because the total number is not even. This should be the last stage of the ramp-up sequence. These requirements may be modified on the basis of any new information presented that justifies a different protocol. The operator must provide information to the PSO PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 documenting that appropriate procedures were followed. Ramp-ups should be scheduled so as to minimize the time spent with source activated prior to reaching the designated run-in. We adopt this approach to ramp-up (increments of array elements) because it is relatively simple to implement for the operator as compared with more complex schemes involving activation by increments of array volume, or activation on the basis of element location or size. Such approaches may also be more likely to result in irregular leaps in sound output due to variations in size between individual elements within an array and their geometric interaction as more elements are recruited. It may be argued whether smooth incremental increase is necessary, but stronger aversion than is necessary should be avoided. The approach proposed here is intended to ensure a perceptible increase in sound output per increment while employing increments that produce similar degrees of increase at each step. PSOs must monitor a 1,000-m buffer zone for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to ramp-up (i.e., pre-clearance). The preclearance period may occur during any vessel activity (i.e., transit, line turn). Ramp-up should be planned to occur during periods of good visibility when possible; operators should not target the period just after visual PSOs have gone off duty. Following deactivation of the source for reasons other than mitigation, the operator must communicate the near-term operational plan to the lead PSO with justification for any planned nighttime ramp-up. Any suspected patterns of abuse should be reported by the lead PSO and would be investigated by NMFS. Ramp-up may not be initiated if any marine mammal (including small delphinoids) is within the designated buffer zone. If a marine mammal is observed within the buffer zone during the pre-clearance period, ramp-up may not begin until the animal(s) has been observed exiting the buffer zone or until an additional time period has elapsed with no further sightings (i.e., 15 minutes for small odontocetes and 30 minutes for all other species). PSOs will monitor the buffer zone during ramp-up, and ramp-up must cease and the source shut down upon observation of marine mammals within or approaching the buffer zone. Exclusion Zone and Shutdown Requirements An exclusion zone is a defined area within which occurrence of a marine mammal triggers mitigation action intended to reduce potential for certain outcomes, e.g., auditory injury, E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices disruption of critical behaviors. The PSOs must establish a minimum exclusion zone with a 500 m radius as a perimeter around the airgun array (rather than being centered on the array or around the vessel itself). If a marine mammal appears within, enters, or appears on a course to enter this zone, the acoustic source must be shut down (i.e., power to the acoustic source must be immediately turned off). If a marine mammal is detected acoustically, the acoustic source must be shut down, unless the PAM operator is confident that the animal detected is outside the exclusion zone or that the detected species is not subject to the shutdown requirement (see below). This shutdown requirement is in place for all marine mammals, with the exception of small delphinoids under certain circumstances. As defined here, the small delphinoid group is intended to encompass those members of the Family Delphinidae most likely to voluntarily approach the source vessel for purposes of interacting with the vessel and/or airgun array (e.g., bow riding). This exception to the shutdown requirement applies solely to specific genera of small dolphins—Steno, Tursiops, Stenella, Delphinus, Lagenodelphis, and Lagenorhynchus (see Table 4)—and only applies if the animals are traveling, including approaching the vessel. If, for example, an animal or group of animals is stationary for some reason (e.g., feeding) and the source vessel approaches the animals, the shutdown requirement applies. An animal with sufficient incentive to remain in an area rather than avoid an otherwise aversive stimulus could either incur auditory injury or disruption of important behavior. If there is uncertainty regarding identification (i.e., whether the observed animal(s) belongs to the group described above) or whether the animals are traveling, shutdown must be implemented. We do not require that a PSO determine the intent of the animal(s)—an inherently subjective proposition—but simply whether any potential intersection of the animal with the 500-m exclusion zone would be caused due to the vessel’s approach towards relatively stationary animals. We propose this small delphinoid exception because a shutdown requirement for small delphinoids under all circumstances is of known concern regarding practicability for the applicant due to increased shutdowns, without likely commensurate benefit for the animals in question. Small delphinoids are generally the most commonly observed marine mammals in the specific geographic region and VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 would typically be the only marine mammals likely to intentionally approach the vessel. As described below, auditory injury is extremely unlikely to occur for mid-frequency cetaceans (e.g., delphinids), as this group is relatively insensitive to sound produced at the predominant frequencies in an airgun pulse while also having a relatively high threshold for the onset of auditory injury (i.e., permanent threshold shift). Please see ‘‘Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals’’ later in this document for further discussion of sound metrics and thresholds and marine mammal hearing. A large body of anecdotal evidence indicates that small delphinoids commonly approach vessels and/or towed arrays during active sound production for purposes of bow riding, with no apparent effect observed in those delphinoids (e.g., Barkaszi et al., 2012). The increased shutdowns resulting from such a measure would require source vessels to revisit the missed track line to reacquire data, resulting in an overall increase in the total sound energy input to the marine environment and an increase in the total duration over which the survey is active in a given area. Although other mid-frequency hearing specialists (e.g., large delphinoids) are no more likely to incur auditory injury than are small delphinoids, they are much less likely to approach vessels. Therefore, retaining a shutdown requirement for large delphinoids would not have similar impacts in terms of either practicability for the applicant or corollary increase in sound energy output and time on the water. We do anticipate some benefit for a shutdown requirement for large delphinoids in that it simplifies somewhat the total array of decisionmaking for PSOs and may preclude any potential for physiological effects other than to the auditory system as well as some more severe behavioral reactions for any such animals in close proximity to the source vessel. BOEM’s PEIS (BOEM, 2014a) provided modeling results for auditory injury zones on the basis of auditory injury criteria described by Southall et al. (2007). These zones were less than 10 m on the basis of maximum peak pressure, and a maximum of 18 m on the basis of cumulative sound exposure level (including application of relevant M-weighting filters). However, the recent finalization of NMFS’s new technical acoustic guidance made these predictions irrelevant (NMFS, 2016). We calculated potential radial distances to auditory injury zones on the basis of maximum peak pressure using values PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26253 provided by the applicants (Table 1) and assuming a simple model of spherical spreading propagation. These are as follows: Low-frequency cetaceans, 50– 224 m; mid-frequency cetaceans, 14–63 m; and high-frequency cetaceans, 355– 1,585 m. The 500-m radial distance of the standard exclusion zone is intended to be precautionary in the sense that it would be expected to contain sound exceeding peak pressure injury criteria for all hearing groups other than highfrequency cetaceans, while also providing a consistent, reasonably observable zone within which PSOs would typically be able to conduct effective observational effort. Although significantly greater distances may be observed from an elevated platform under good conditions, we believe that 500 m is likely regularly attainable for PSOs using the naked eye during typical conditions. An appropriate exclusion zone based on cumulative sound exposure level (cSEL) criteria would be dependent on the animal’s applied hearing range and how that overlaps with the frequencies produced by the sound source of interest (i.e., via marine mammal auditory weighting functions) (NMFS, 2016), and may be larger in some cases than the zones calculated on the basis of the peak pressure thresholds (and larger than 500 m) depending on the species in question and the characteristics of the specific airgun array. In particular, it is likely that exclusion zone radii would be larger for low-frequency cetaceans, because their most susceptible hearing range overlaps the low frequencies produced by airguns, but that the zones would remain very small for mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., including the ‘‘small delphinoids’’ described above), whose range of best hearing largely does not overlap with frequencies produced by airguns. In order to more realistically incorporate the technical guidance’s weighting functions over a seismic array’s full acoustic band, we obtained unweighted spectrum data (modeled in 1 Hz bands) for a reasonably equivalent acoustic source (i.e., a 36-airgun array with total volume of 6,600 in3. Using these data, we made adjustments (dB) to the unweighted spectrum levels, by frequency, according to the weighting functions for each relevant marine mammal hearing group. We then converted these adjusted/weighted spectrum levels to pressures (micropascals) in order to integrate them over the entire broadband spectrum, resulting in broadband weighted source levels by hearing group that could be directly incorporated within NMFS’s E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26254 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices User Spreadsheet (i.e., override the Spreadsheet’s more simple weighting factor adjustment). Using the User Spreadsheet’s ‘‘safe distance’’ methodology for mobile sources (described by Sivle et al., 2014) with the hearing group-specific weighted source levels, and inputs assuming spherical spreading propagation, a source velocity of 4.5 kn, shot intervals specified by the applicants, and pulse duration of 100 ms, we then calculated potential radial distances to auditory injury zones. These distances were smaller than those calculated on the basis of the peak pressure criterion, with the exception of the low-frequency cetacean hearing group (calculated zones range from 80– 4,766 m). Therefore, our proposed 500m exclusion zone contains the entirety of any potential injury zone for midfrequency cetaceans, while the zones within which injury could occur may be larger for high-frequency cetaceans (on the basis of peak pressure and depending on the specific array) and for low-frequency cetaceans (on the basis of cumulative sound exposure). Only three species of high-frequency cetacean could occur in the proposed survey areas: the harbor porpoise and two species of the Family Kogiidae. Harbor porpoise are expected to occur rarely and only in the northern portion of the survey area. However, we propose a shutdown measure for Kogia spp. to address these potential injury concerns (described later in this section). However, it is important to note that consideration of exclusion zone distances is inherently an essentially instantaneous proposition—a rule or set of rules that requires mitigation action upon detection of an animal. This indicates that consideration of peak pressure thresholds is most relevant, as compared with cumulative sound exposure level thresholds, as the latter requires that an animal accumulate some level of sound energy exposure over some period of time (e.g., 24 hours). A PSO aboard a mobile source will typically have no ability to monitor an animal’s position relative to the acoustic source over relevant time periods for purposes of understanding whether auditory injury is likely to occur on the basis of cumulative sound exposure and, therefore, whether action should be taken to avoid such potential. Therefore, definition of an exclusion zone based on cSEL thresholds is of questionable relevance given relative motion of the source and receiver (i.e., the animal). Cumulative SEL thresholds are likely more relevant for purposes of modeling the potential for auditory injury than they are for informing real- VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 time mitigation. We recognize the importance of the accumulation of sound energy to an understanding of the potential for auditory injury and that it is likely that, at least for low-frequency and high-frequency cetaceans, some potential auditory injury is likely impossible to mitigate and should be considered for authorization. In summary, our intent in prescribing a standard exclusion zone distance is to (1) encompass zones for most species within which auditory injury could occur on the basis of instantaneous exposure; (2) provide additional protection from the potential for more severe behavioral reactions (e.g., panic, antipredator response) for marine mammals at relatively close range to the acoustic source; (3) provide consistency for PSOs, who need to monitor and implement the exclusion zone; and (4) to define a distance within which detection probabilities are reasonably high for most species under typical conditions. Our use of 500 m as the zone is not based directly on any quantitative understanding of the range at which auditory injury would be entirely precluded or any range specifically related to disruption of behavioral patterns. Rather, we believe it is a reasonable combination of factors. This zone would contain all potential auditory injury for mid-frequency cetaceans, would contain all potential auditory injury for both low- and midfrequency cetaceans as assessed against peak pressure thresholds (NMFS, 2016), and has been proven as a feasible measure through past implementation by operators in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM; as regulated by BOEM pursuant to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) (43 U.S.C. 1331–1356)). In summary, a practicable criterion such as this has the advantage of familiarity and simplicity while still providing in most cases a zone larger than relevant auditory injury zones, given realistic movement of source and receiver. Increased shutdowns, without a firm idea of the outcome the measure seeks to avoid, simply displace seismic activity in time and increase the total duration of acoustic influence as well as total sound energy in the water (due to additional ramp-up and overlap where data acquisition was interrupted). Shutdown of the acoustic source is also required (at any distance) in other circumstances: • Upon observation of a right whale at any distance. Recent data concerning the North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered whale species (Best et al., 2001), indicate uncertainty regarding the population’s recovery and a possibility of decline (Kraus et al., PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 2005; Waring et al., 2016; Pettis and Hamilton, 2016). We believe it appropriate to eliminate potential effects to individual right whales to the extent possible. • For TGS only, due to a high predicted amount of exposures (Table 10), we propose that shutdown be required upon observation of a fin whale at any distance. If the observed fin whale is within the behavioral harassment zone, it would still be considered to have experienced harassment, but by immediately shutting down the acoustic source the duration of harassment is minimized and the significance of the harassment event reduced as much as possible. This measure is not proposed for implementation by Spectrum, ION, CGG, or Western. • Upon observation of a large whale (i.e., sperm whale or any baleen whale) with calf at any distance, with ‘‘calf’’ defined as an animal less than twothirds the body size of an adult observed to be in close association with an adult. Disturbance of cow-calf pairs, for example, could potentially result in separation of vulnerable calves from adults. Given the endangered status of most large whale species and the difficulty of correctly identifying some rorquals at greater distances, as well as the functional sensitivity of the mysticete whales to frequencies associated with the subject geophysical survey activity, we believe this measure is necessary. • Upon observation of a diving sperm whale at any distance centered on the forward track of the source vessel. Disturbance of deep-diving species such as sperm whales could result in avoidance behavior such as diving and, given their diving capabilities, it is possible that the vessel’s course could take it closer to the submerged animals. As noted by Weir and Dolman (2007), a whale diving ahead of the source vessel within 2 km may remain on the vessel trackline until the ship approaches the whale’s position before beginning horizontal movement. If undetected by PAM, it is possible that a shutdown might not be triggered and a severe behavioral response caused. • Upon any observation (visual or acoustic) of a beaked whale or Kogia spp. Similar to the sperm whale measure described above, these species are deep divers and it is possible that disturbance could provoke a severe behavioral response leading to injury. Unlike the sperm whale, we recognize that there are generally low detection probabilities for beaked whales and Kogia spp., meaning that many animals of these species may go undetected. For E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices example, Barlow and Gisiner (2006) predict a roughly 24–48 percent reduction in the probability of detecting beaked whales during seismic mitigation monitoring efforts as compared with typical research survey efforts (Barlow (1999) estimates such probabilities at 0.23 to 0.45 for Cuvier’s and Mesoplodont beaked whales, respectively). Similar detection probabilities have been noted for Kogia spp., though they typically travel in smaller groups and are less vocal, thus making detection more difficult (Barlow and Forney, 2007). As discussed later in this document (see ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment’’), there are high levels of predicted exposures for beaked whales in particular. Because it is likely that only a small proportion of beaked whales and Kogia spp. potentially affected by the proposed surveys would actually be detected, it is important to avoid potential impacts when possible. Additionally for Kogia spp.—the one species of high-frequency cetacean likely to be encountered—auditory injury zones relative to peak pressure thresholds may range from approximately 350–1,500 m from the acoustic source, depending on the specific array characteristics (NMFS, 2016). • Upon observation of an aggregation of marine mammals of any species that does not appear to be traveling. Under these circumstances, we assume that the animals are engaged in some important behavior (e.g., feeding, socializing) that should not be disturbed. By convention, we define an aggregation as six or more animals. This definition may be modified on the basis of any new information presented that justifies a different assumption. Any PSO on duty has the authority to delay the start of survey operations or to call for shutdown of the acoustic source (visual PSOs on duty should be in agreement on the need for delay or shutdown before requiring such action). When shutdown is called for by a PSO, the acoustic source must be immediately deactivated and any dispute resolved only following deactivation. The operator must establish and maintain clear lines of communication directly between PSOs on duty and crew controlling the acoustic source to ensure that shutdown commands are conveyed swiftly while allowing PSOs to maintain watch; handheld UHF radios are recommended. When both visual PSOs and PAM operators are on duty, all detections must be immediately communicated to the remainder of the on-duty team for potential verification of visual observations by the PAM operator or of VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 acoustic detections by visual PSOs and initiation of dialogue as necessary. When there is certainty regarding the need for mitigation action on the basis of either visual or acoustic detection alone, the relevant PSO(s) must call for such action immediately. When only the PAM operator is on duty and a detection is made, if there is uncertainty regarding species identification or distance to the vocalizing animal(s), the acoustic source must be shut down as a precaution. Upon implementation of shutdown, the source may be reactivated after the animal(s) has been observed exiting the exclusion zone or following a 30-minute clearance period with no further observation of the animal(s). Where there is no relevant zone (e.g., shutdowns at any distance), a 30-minute clearance period must be observed following the last observation of the animal(s). We recognize that BOEM may require a longer clearance period (e.g., 60 minutes). However, at typical survey speed of approximately 4.5 kn, the vessel would cover greater than 4 km during the 30-minute clearance period. Although some deep-diving species are capable of remaining submerged for periods up to an hour, it is unlikely that they would do so both while experiencing potential adverse reaction to the acoustic stimulus and remaining within the exclusion zone of the moving vessel. Extending the clearance period would not appreciably increase the likelihood of detecting the animals prior to reactivating the acoustic source. If the acoustic source is shut down for reasons other than mitigation (e.g., mechanical difficulty) for brief periods (i.e., less than 30 minutes), it may be activated again without ramp-up if PSOs have maintained constant visual and acoustic observation and no visual detections of any marine mammal have occurred within the exclusion zone and no acoustic detections have occurred. We define ‘‘brief periods’’ in keeping with other clearance watch periods and to avoid unnecessary complexity in protocols for PSOs. For any longer shutdown (e.g., during line turns), preclearance watch and ramp-up are required. For any shutdown at night or in periods of poor visibility (e.g., BSS 4 or greater), ramp-up is required but if the shutdown period was brief and constant observation maintained, preclearance watch is not required. Power-Down Power-down can be used either as a reverse ramp-up or may simply involve reducing the array to a single element or ‘‘mitigation source,’’ and has been allowed in past MMPA authorizations as a substitute for full shutdown. We PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26255 address use of a mitigation source below. In a power-down scenario, it is assumed that turning off power to individual array elements reduces the size of the ensonified area such that an observed animal is then outside some designated area. However, we have no information as to the effect of powering down the array on the resulting sound field. In 2012, NMFS and BOEM held a monitoring and mitigation workshop focused on seismic survey activity. Industry representatives indicated that the end result may ultimately be increased sound input to the marine environment due to the need to re-shoot the trackline to prevent gaps in data acquisition (unpublished workshop report, 2012). For this reason and because a power-down may not actually be useful, our proposal requires full shutdown in all applicable circumstances; power-down is not allowed. Mitigation Source Mitigation sources may be separate individual airguns or may be an airgun of the smallest volume in the array, and are often used when the full array is not being used (e.g., during line turns) in order to allow ramp-up during poor visibility. The general premise is that this lower-intensity source, if operated continuously, would be sufficiently aversive to marine mammals to ensure that they are not within an exclusion zone, and therefore, ramp-up may occur at times when pre-clearance visual watch is minimally effective. There is no information to suggest that this is an effective protective strategy, yet we are certain that this technique involves input of extraneous sound energy into the marine environment, even when use of the mitigation source is limited to some maximum time period. For these reasons, we do not believe use of the mitigation source is appropriate and do not propose to allow its use. However, as noted above, ramp-up may occur under periods of poor visibility assuming that no acoustic or visual detections are made during a 30-minute pre-clearance period. This is a change from how mitigation sources have been considered in the past in that the visual pre-clearance period is typically assumed to be highly effective during good visibility conditions and viewed as critical to avoiding auditory injury and, therefore, maintaining some likelihood of aversion through use of mitigation sources during poor visibility conditions is valuable. In light of the available information, we think it more appropriate to acknowledge the limitations of visual observations—even under good E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26256 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 conditions, not all animals will be observed and cryptic species may not be observed at all—and recognize that while visual observation is a common sense mitigation measure its presence should not be determinative of when survey effort may occur. Given the lack of proven efficacy of visual observation in preventing auditory injury, its absence should not imply such potentially detrimental impacts on marine mammals, nor should use of a mitigation source be deemed a sensible substitute component of seismic mitigation protocols. We also believe that consideration of mitigation sources in the past has reflected an outdated balance, in which the possible prevention of relatively few instances of auditory injury is outweighed by many more instances of unnecessary behavioral disturbance of animals and degradation of acoustic habitat. Miscellaneous Protocols The acoustic source must be deactivated when not acquiring data or preparing to acquire data, except as necessary for testing. Unnecessary use of the acoustic source should be avoided. Firing of the acoustic source at any volume above the stated production volume is not authorized for these proposed IHAs; the operator must provide information to the lead PSO at regular intervals confirming the firing volume. Testing of the acoustic source involving all elements requires normal mitigation protocols (e.g., ramp-up). Testing limited to individual source elements or strings does not require ramp-up but does require pre-clearance. We encourage the applicant companies and operators to pursue the following objectives in designing, tuning, and operating acoustic sources: (1) Use the minimum amount of energy necessary to achieve operational objectives (i.e., lowest practicable source level); (2) minimize horizontal propagation of sound energy; and (3) minimize the amount of energy at frequencies above those necessary for the purpose of the survey. However, we are not aware of available specific measures by which to achieve such certifications. In fact, BOEM recently announced that an expert panel convened to determine whether it would be feasible to develop standards to determine a lowest practicable source level has determined that it would not be reasonable or practicable to develop such metrics (see Appendix L in BOEM, 2016b). Minimizing production of sound at frequencies higher than are necessary would likely require design, testing, and use of wholly different VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 airguns than are proposed for use by the applicants. At minimum, notified operational capacity (not including redundant backup airguns) must not be exceeded during the survey, except where unavoidable for source testing and calibration purposes. All occasions where activated source volume exceeds notified operational capacity must be noticed to the PSO(s) on duty and fully documented for reporting. The lead PSO must be granted access to relevant instrumentation documenting acoustic source power and/or operational volume. There has been some attention paid to the establishment of minimum separation distances between operating source vessels, and BOEM may require a minimum 40-km geographic separation distance (BOEM, 2014b). The premise regarding this measure is either to provide a relatively noise-free corridor between vessels conducting simultaneous surveys such that animals may pass through rather than traveling larger distances to go around the source vessels or to reduce the cumulative sound exposure for an animal in a given location. There is no information supporting the effectiveness of this measure, and participants in a 2012 monitoring and mitigation workshop focused on seismic survey activity held by NMFS and BOEM were skeptical regarding potential efficacy of this measure (unpublished workshop report, 2012). Unintended consequences were a concern of some participants, including the possibility that converging sound fields could confuse animals and/or prevent egress from an area. In fact, it may be more effective as a protective measure to group acoustic sources as closely together as possible, in which case the SEL exposure would not be appreciably louder and an animal would have a better chance of avoiding exposure than through the supposed corridor (thus also potentially shortening total duration of sound exposure). The desired effect of such a measure is too speculative and would impose additional burden on applicants. Therefore, we do not propose to require any minimum separation distance between source vessels. Operators do typically maintain a minimum separation of about 17.5 km between concurrent surveys to avoid interference (i.e., overlapping reflections received from multiple source arrays) (BOEM, 2014a). As noted previously, TGS (the only company proposing to use two source vessels) plans to maintain a minimum separation of approximately 100 km between their own source vessels. PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Closure Areas Coastal Restriction—No seismic survey effort may occur within 30 km of the coast. The intent of this restriction is to provide additional protection for coastal stocks of bottlenose dolphin, all of which are designated as depleted under the MMPA because they were determined to be below their optimum sustainable population level (i.e., the number of animals that will result in the maximum productivity of the population, keeping in mind the carrying capacity of their ecosystem). Already designated as depleted, an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) affected bottlenose dolphins along the Atlantic coast, from New York to Florida, from 2013–15. Genetic analyses performed to date indicate that 99 percent of dolphins impacted were of the coastal ecotype, which may be expected to typically occur within 20 km of the coast. A 10 km buffer is provided to encompass the area within which sound exceeding 160 dB rms would reasonably be expected to occur (see additional discussion in next section). Further discussion of this UME is provided under ‘‘Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity,’’ later in this document. The coastal form of bottlenose dolphin is known to occur further offshore than 20 km, but available information suggests that exclusion of harassing sound from a 20 km coastal zone would avoid the vast majority of impacts. There is generally a discontinuity in bottlenose dolphin distribution between nearshore areas inhabited by coastal ecotype dolphins and the deeper offshore waters inhabited by offshore ecotype dolphins (Kenney, 1990; Roberts et al., 2016), with some possibility that this discontinuity represents habitat partitioning between bottlenose dolphins and Atlantic spotted dolphins (which occur in high density on the shelf in areas where there is generally low density of bottlenose dolphin). The separation between offshore and coastal morphotypes varies depending on location and season, with the ranges overlapping to some degree south of Cape Hatteras. Coastwide, systematic biopsy collection surveys were conducted during the summer and winter to evaluate the degree of spatial overlap between the two morphotypes. North of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, there was a clear discontinuity with coastal ecotype dolphins found in waters less than 20 m depth and offshore ecotype dolphins found in waters greater than 40 m depth. South of Cape Lookout, spatial overlap was E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 found although the probability of a sampled group being from the coastal ecotype decreased with increasing depth (Garrison et al., 2003). Prior to these surveys, coastal ecotype dolphins were provisionally assumed to occur within a spatial boundary of 27 km from shore for the region south of Cape Hatteras during winter and a boundary of 12 km from shore for the region north of Cape Hatteras during summer (Garrison, 2001 in Garrison et al., 2003). Here, we adopt a coastwide 20 km spatial boundary for simplicity and under the assumption that it would contain the vast majority of coastal bottlenose dolphins. Proposal of this measure should not be interpreted as NMFS’s determination that harassment of coastal bottlenose dolphins cannot be authorized. However, when considering the likely benefit to the species against the impact to applicants, we believe that inclusion of this measure is warranted. Approximately 1,650 dolphin carcasses were recovered during the UME, and it is likely that many more dolphins died whose carcasses were not recovered. Considering just the known dead could represent greater than five percent of the pre-UME abundance for all coastal ecotype dolphins within the affected area. Ongoing areas of research related to the UME include understanding its impacts on the status of the affected stocks, as well as continuing monitoring and modeling designed to inform understanding of impacts on the surviving population. Given this uncertainty, a precautionary approach is warranted. We note that three applicants, Spectrum, CGG, and Western, do not propose to conduct survey effort within 30 km of the coast, and effort within 30 km for the other two applicants would represent a small fraction of overall survey effort. North Atlantic Right Whale—We propose seasonal restriction of survey effort such that particular areas of expected importance for North Atlantic VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 right whales are not ensonified by levels of sound expected to result in behavioral harassment, including designated critical habitat, vessel speed limit seasonal management areas (SMAs), a coastal strip containing SMAs, and vessel speed limit dynamic management areas (DMAs). Although right whales may also use areas farther offshore, these areas are expected to provide substantial protection of right whales within the migratory corridor and calving and nursery grounds and, when coupled with the absolute shutdown provision described previously for right whales, may reasonably be expected to eliminate most potential for behavioral harassment of right whales. The North Atlantic right whale was severely depleted by historical whaling, and currently has a small population abundance (i.e., less than 500 individuals) that is considered to be extremely low relative to the optimum sustainable population (Waring et al., 2016). Surveys in recent years have detected an important shift in habitat use patterns, with fewer whales observed in feeding areas and counts for calves and adults on the southeastern calving grounds the lowest recorded since those surveys began (Waring et al., 2016). At the same time, the current estimate of the minimum number of whales alive (as described in NMFS’s draft 2016 stock assessment report) suggests that abundance has declined. While the authors caution that this apparent decrease should be interpreted with caution and in conjunction with apparent shifts in habitat use, it is possible that the population has declined. An increased number of carcasses were recovered in 2004–05, including six adult females. Kraus et al. (2005) determined that this mortality rate increase would reduce population growth by approximately ten percent per year, a trend not detected in subsequent years. Furthermore, the current annual estimate of PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26257 anthropogenic mortality is over five times the potential biological removal level (see ‘‘Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity’’ for further discussion of these concepts). The small population size and low annual reproductive rate of right whales suggest that human sources of mortality may have a greater effect relative to population growth rates than for other whales (Waring et al., 2016). Given these considerations, and the likelihood that any disturbance of right whales is consequential, here we take a precautionary approach to mitigation. Mid-Atlantic SMAs for vessel speed limits are in effect from November 1 through April 30, while southeast SMAs are in effect from November 15 through April 15 (see 50 CFR 224.105). However, as a precautionary approach all areas discussed here for proposed mitigation would be in effect from November 1 through April 30. Because we intend to use these areas to reduce the likelihood of exposing right whales to noise from airgun arrays that might result in harassment, we require that source vessels maintain a minimum standoff of 10 km from the area. Sound propagation modeling results provided for a notional large airgun array in BOEM’s PEIS indicate that a 10 km distance would likely contain received levels of sound exceeding 160 dB rms under a wide variety of conditions (e.g., 21 scenarios encompassing four depth regimes, four seasons, two bottom types). See Appendix D of BOEM’s PEIS for more detail. The 95 percent ranges (i.e., the radius of a circle encompassing 95 percent of grid points equal to or greater than the 160 dB threshold value) provided in Table D–22 of BOEM’s PEIS range from 4,959–9,122 m, with mean of 6,838 m. Restricting scenario results to fall/winter and water depths <1,000 m reduces the number of relevant scenarios to six, with the range of radial distances from 8,083–8,896 m (mean of 8,454 m). BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26258 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices Atlantic Right Whale Critical Habitat nn1eas•ter·n U.S. Calving Area .... .,.FT"'" Unit 2 GEORGfA FLORIDA Detail of North Atlantic whale critical habitat. refer to the narretlve delilcriintlnn. nal~ttatt~ O!l&all;e Figure 2. North Atlantic Right Whale Critical Habitat, Southeast U.S. BILLING CODE 3510–22–C The portion of critical habitat within the proposed survey area includes nearshore and offshore waters of the southeastern U.S., extending from Cape VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 Fear, North Carolina south to 28° N. The specific area designated as critical habitat, as defined by regulation (81 FR 4838; January 27, 2016), is demarcated by rhumb lines connecting the specific PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 points identified in Table 2. This area is depicted in Figure 2, and the restriction on survey effort within 10 km of this area would be in effect from November E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 EN06JN17.001</GPH> sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 critical Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 through April, when right whales are known to use the area. A coastal strip containing all SMAs would also be avoided by a minimum standoff distance of 10 km, as would DMAs. These are areas in which right whales are likely to be present when such areas are in effect; mandatory or voluntary speed restrictions for certain vessels are in place in these areas respectively when in effect to reduce the risk of ship strike. Because these areas are intended to reduce the risk of ship strike involving right whales, they are designated in consideration of both right whale presence during migratory periods and commercial shipping traffic. Our concern is not limited to ship strike; therefore the standoff areas based on the SMAs are extended to a continuous coastal strip with a 10 km buffer. Mid-Atlantic SMAs (from Delaware to northern Georgia) are intended to protect whales on the migratory route and are generally defined as a 20 nmi (37 km) radial distance around the entrance to certain ports. Therefore, no survey effort may occur within 47 km of the coast between November and April. This strip is superseded where either designated critical habitat or the southeast SMA provides a larger restricted area. The VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 southeast SMA, intended to protect whales on the calving and nursery grounds, includes the area bounded to the north by 31°27′ N., to the south by 29°45′ N., and to the east by 80°51′36″ W. No survey effort may occur within 10 km of this area between November and April. The combined area of our proposed restriction—composed of the greater of designated critical habitat, the 20 nmi coastal strip, and the southeastern SMA (all buffered by 10 km)—is depicted in Figure 3. TABLE 2—BOUNDARIES OF DESIGNATED CRITICAL HABITAT FOR NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALES Latitude Longitude Latitude Longitude 33°51′ N. 29°08′ N. 80°51′ W. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. At shoreline 77°43′ W. 77°47′ W. 78°33′ W. 78°50′ W. 79°53′ W. 80°33′ W. 80°49′ W. 81°01′ W. 81°01′ W. 28°50′ 28°38′ 28°28′ 28°24′ 28°21′ 28°16′ 28°11′ 28°00′ 28°00′ 80°39′ W. 80°30′ W. 80°26′ W. 80°27′ W. 80°31′ W. 80°31′ W. 80°33′ W. 80°29′ W. At shoreline. 29°15′ N. DMAs are also associated with a scheme established by the final rule for vessel speed limits (73 FR 60173; October 10, 2008; extended by 78 FR 73726; December 9, 2013) to reduce the risk of ship strike for right whales. In association with those regulations, NMFS established a program whereby vessels are requested, but not required, to abide by speed restrictions or avoid locations when certain aggregations of right whales are detected outside SMAs. Generally, the DMA construct is intended to acknowledge that right whales can occur outside of areas where they predictably and consistently occur due to, e.g., varying oceanographic conditions that dictate prey concentrations. NMFS establishes DMAs by surveying right whale habitat and, when a specific aggregation is sighted, creating a temporary zone (i.e., DMA) around the aggregation. DMAs are in effect for 15 days when designated and automatically expire at the end of the period, but may be extended if whales are re-sighted in the same area. 80°55′ W. 33°42′ 33°37′ 33°28′ 32°59′ 32°17′ 31°31′ 30°43′ 30°30′ 29°45′ N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P Reproduced from 50 CFR 226.203(b)(2). PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26259 E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26260 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices OO"O'O"W 70"0'0"W 0 100 0 I 150 200 400 Miles 300 600 Kilometers I I 0 Figure 3. Proposed Time-area Restriction for North Atlantic Right Whale. BILLING CODE 3510–22–C Designation of DMAs follows certain protocols identified in 73 FR 60173 (October 10, 2008): VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 1. A circle with a radius of at least 3 nmi (5.6 km) is drawn around each observed group. This radius is adjusted for the number of right whales seen in the group such that the density of four PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 right whales per 100 nmi2 (185 km2) is maintained. The length of the radius is determined by taking the inverse of the four right whales per 100 nmi2 density (24 nmi2 per whale). That figure is E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 EN06JN17.002</GPH> sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Coordinate System: GCS North American Datum 1983 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices equivalent to an effective radial distance of 3 nmi for a single right whale sighted, 4 nmi for two whales, 5 nmi for three whales, etc. 2. If any circle or group of contiguous circles includes three or more right whales, this core area and its surrounding waters become a candidate temporary zone. After NMFS identifies a core area containing three or more right whales, as described here, it will expand this initial core area to provide a buffer area in which the right whales could move and still be protected. NMFS determines the extent of the DMA zone by: 3. Establishing a 15-nmi (27.8-km) radius from the sighting location used to draw a larger circular zone around each core area encompassing a concentration of right whales. The sighting location is the geographic center of all sightings on the first day of an event; and 4. Identifying latitude and longitude lines drawn outside but tangential to the circular buffer zone(s). NMFS issues announcements of DMAs to mariners via its customary maritime communication media (e.g., NOAA Weather radio, Web sites, email and fax distribution lists) and any other available media outlets. Information on the possibility of establishment of such zones is provided to mariners through written media such as U.S. Coast Pilots and Notice to Mariners including, in particular, information on the media mariners should monitor for notification of the establishment of a DMA. Upon notice via the above media of DMA designation, survey operators must cease operation if within 10 km of the boundary of a designated DMA and may not conduct survey operations within 10 km of a designated DMA during the period in which the DMA is active. It is the responsibility of the survey operators to monitor appropriate media and to be aware of designated DMAs. Proposal of this measure should not be interpreted as NMFS’s determination that harassment of right whales cannot be authorized. However, when considering the current status of the species, likely benefit of the measure to the species, and likely impact to applicants, we believe that inclusion of this measure is warranted. Other Species—Predicted acoustic exposures are moderate to high for certain potentially affected marine mammal species (see Table 10) and, regardless of the absolute numbers of predicted exposures, the scope of proposed activities (i.e., proposed survey activity throughout substantial portions of many species range and for substantial portions of the year) gives rise to concern regarding the impact on VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 certain potentially affected stocks. Therefore, we take the necessary step of identifying additional spatiotemporal restrictions on survey effort, as described here (Figure 4 and Table 3). Our qualitative assessment leads us to believe that implementation of these measures is expected to provide both meaningful control on the numbers of animals affected as well as biologically meaningful benefit for the affected animals by restricting survey activity and the effects of the sound produced in areas of residency and/or preferred habitat that support higher densities for the stocks during substantial portions of the year. The restrictions described here are primarily targeted towards protection of sperm whales, beaked whales (i.e., Cuvier’s beaked whale or Mesoplodon spp. but not the northern bottlenose whale; see ‘‘Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity’’), Atlantic spotted dolphin, and pilot whales. For all four species or guilds, the amount of predicted exposures is moderate to high. For the Atlantic spotted dolphin, our impetus in delineating a restriction on survey effort is solely due to this high amount of predicted exposures to survey noise. For other species, the moderate to high amount of predicted exposures in conjunction with other contextual elements provides the impetus to develop appropriate restrictions. Beaked whales are considered to be a particularly acoustically sensitive species. The sperm whale is an endangered species, also considered to be acoustically sensitive and potentially subject to significant disturbance of important foraging behavior. Pilot whale populations in U.S. waters of the Atlantic are considered vulnerable due to high levels of mortality in commercial fisheries, and are therefore likely to be less resilient to other stressors, such as disturbance from the proposed surveys. In some cases, we expect substantial subsidiary benefit for additional species that also find preferred habitat in the designated area of restriction. In particular, Area #5 (Figure 4), although delineated in order to specifically provide an area of anticipated benefit to beaked whales, sperm whales, and pilot whales, is expected to host a diverse cetacean fauna (e.g., McAlarney et al., 2015). Our analysis (described below) indicates that species most likely to derive subsidiary benefit from this timearea restriction include the bottlenose dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, and common dolphin. For species with density predicted through stratified models, similar analysis is not possible and PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26261 assumptions regarding potential benefit of time-area restrictions are based on known ecology of the species and sightings patterns and are less robust. Nevertheless, subsidiary benefit for Areas #2–4 (Figure 4) should be expected for species known to be present in these areas (e.g., assumed affinity for slope/abyss areas off Cape Hatteras): Kogia spp., pantropical spotted dolphin, Clymene dolphin, and rough-toothed dolphin. In order to consider potential restriction of survey effort in time and space, we considered the outputs of habitat-based predictive density models (Roberts et al., 2016) as well as available information concerning focused marine mammal studies within the proposed survey areas, e.g., photo-identification, telemetry, acoustic monitoring. The latter information was used primarily to provide verification for some of the areas and times considered, and helps to confirm that areas of high predicted density are in fact preferred habitat for these species. Please see ‘‘Marine Mammal Density Information,’’ later in this document, for a full description of the density models. We used the density model outputs by creating core abundance areas, i.e., an area that contains some percentage of predicted abundance for a given species or species group. The purpose of a core abundance area is to represent the smallest area containing some percentage of the predicted abundance of each species. Summing all the cells (pixels) in the species distribution product gives the total predicted abundance. Core area is calculated by ranking cells by their abundance value from greatest to least, then summing cells with the highest abundance values until the total is equal to or greater than the specified percentage of the total predicted abundance. For example, if a 50 percent core abundance area is produced, half of the predicted abundance falls within the identified core area, and half occurs outside of it. In creating core abundance areas, we considered data outputs over the entire Atlantic coast scale rather than limiting to the proposed survey areas. This is appropriate because we are concerned with impacts to a stock as a whole, and therefore were interested in core abundance based on total predicted abundance rather than just abundance predicted over some subset of a stock’s range. We were not able to consider core abundance areas for species with stratified models showing uniform density; however, this information informs us as to whether those species may receive subsidiary E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26262 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 benefit from a given time-area restriction. To determine core abundance areas, we follow a three-step process: • Determine the predicted total abundance of a species/time period by adding up all cells of the density raster (grid) for the species/time period. For the Roberts et al. (2016) density rasters, density is specified as the number of animals per 100 km2 cell. • Sort the cells of the species/time period density raster from highest density to the lowest. • Sum and select the raster cells from highest to lowest until a certain percentage of the total abundance is reached. The selected cells represent the smallest area that represents a given percentage of abundance. We created a range of core abundance areas for each species of interest, but ultimately determined that 25 percent core abundance area was appropriate in most cases for our purpose. The larger the percentage of abundance captured, the larger the area. Generally speaking, we found that 25 percent core abundance provided the best balance between the areas given by larger (impracticably large areas for purposes of restricting VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 survey effort) and smaller (ineffective areas for purposes of providing meaningful protection) areas. However, for sperm whales, our analysis showed that the 25 percent core abundance area covered a large portion of slope waters in the northern mid-Atlantic region and, therefore, what we believe to be an impracticably large area for potential restriction of survey effort. Although sperm whales are broadly distributed on the slope throughout the year, at the five percent core abundance threshold we found that the model predictions indicate a relatively restricted area of preferred habitat across all seasons in the vicinity of the shelf break to the north of Cape Hatteras. This area, together with spatially separated canyon features contained within the 25 percent core abundance areas and previously identified as preferred habitat for beaked whales, form the basis for our proposed time-space restriction for sperm whales. Core abundance maps are provided online at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ pr/permits/incidental/oilgas.htm. In summary, we propose the following closure areas (depicted in Figure 4): • In order to protect coastal bottlenose dolphins, a 30-km coastal PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 strip (20 km plus 10 km buffer) would be closed to use of the acoustic source year-round. • An area proposed for protection of the North Atlantic right whale (Figure 3). The area is comprised of the furthest extent at any location of three distinct components: (1) A 47-km coastal strip (20-nmi plus 10 km buffer) throughout the entire Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas; (2) designated critical habitat, buffered by 10 km; and (3) the designated southeastern seasonal management area, buffered by 10 km. This area would be closed to use of the acoustic source from November through April. Dynamic management areas (buffered by 10 km) are also closed to use of the acoustic source when in effect. The 10-km buffer (intended to reasonably prevent sound output from the acoustic source exceeding received levels expected to result in behavioral harassment from entering the proposed closure areas) is built into the areas defined below and in Table 3. Therefore, we do not separately mention the addition of the buffer. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26263 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices 100 0 0 150 I 200 400 Miles 300 600 Kilometers I I () Figure 4. Proposed Time-area Restrictions. BILLING CODE 3510–22–C • An area proposed for protection of Atlantic spotted dolphin (Area #1, Figure 4). The area contains the on-shelf portion of a 25 percent core abundance area for the species, and is comprised of VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 lines that demarcate the northern and southern extent of this area, connected by a line marking 100 km distance from shore (as indicated in Table 3). This area would be closed to use of the acoustic PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 source from June through August. This restriction would not be required for ION or CGG. • Deepwater canyon areas. Areas #2– 4 (Figure 4) are proposed as defined in Table 3 and would be closed to use of E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 EN06JN17.003</GPH> sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Coordinate System: GCS North American Datum 1983 26264 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 the acoustic source year-round. Although they may be protective of additional species (e.g., Kogia spp.), Area #2 is expected to be particularly beneficial for beaked whales and Areas #3–4 are expected to be particularly beneficial for both beaked whales and sperm whales. • Shelf break off Cape Hatteras and to the north, including slope waters around ‘‘The Point.’’ Area #5 is proposed as defined in Table 3 and would be closed to use of the acoustic source from July through September. Although this closure is expected to be beneficial for a diverse species assemblage, Area #5 is expected to be particularly beneficial for beaked whales, sperm whales, and pilot whales. Beaked Whale Beaked whales are typically deep divers, foraging for mesopelagic squid and fish, and are often found in deep water near high-relief bathymetric features, such as slopes, canyons, and escarpments where these prey are found (e.g., Madsen et al., 2014; MacLeod and D’Amico, 2006; Moors-Murphy, 2014). Sightings of Cuvier’s beaked whale are almost exclusively in the continental shelf edge and continental slope areas, while Mesoplodon spp. sightings have occurred principally along the shelfedge and deeper oceanic waters (CETAP, 1982; Waring et al., 1992; Tove, 1995; Waring et al., 2001; Hamazaki, 2002; Palka, 2006; Waring et al., 2014). Roberts et al. (2016)’s results suggest that beaked whales do not undertake large seasonal migrations, and are therefore associated with significant habitat features year-round or with some degree of residency (Roberts et al., 2015l; Gowans et al., 2000; MacLeod and D’Amico, 2006). In support of patterns seen in the density model outputs, MacLeod and D’Amico (2006) state that beaked whale occurrence is linked particularly to features such as slopes, canyons, escarpments and oceanic islands. Northern bottlenose whales and Sowerby’s beaked whales were found to preferentially occur in a marine canyon rather than the neighboring shelf, slope and abyssal areas (Hooker et al., 1999, 2002). Cuvier’s beaked whales are also known to associate with canyons (D’Amico et al., 2003; Williams et al., 1999), and Blainville’s beaked whales were also found to preferentially occur over the upper reaches of a canyon (MacLeod and Zuur, 2005). Sighting rates of beaked whales in the western North Atlantic are significantly higher within canyon areas than non-canyon areas (Waring et al., 2001). It is possible, however, that such occurrence patterns VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 are linked more strongly to oceanographic features influencing prey distribution, which may or may not be permanently linked to seabed topography (MacLeod and D’Amico, 2006). Submarine canyons are important features of the shelf and slope region from Cape Hatteras to the north, with both major and minor canyons abundant in the region. Roberts et al. (2016) predicted beaked whale density at yearround temporal resolution, with model predictions showing concentrated distribution in deep waters over highrelief bathymetry where high prey density would be expected due to entrainment of nutrient-rich sediments and organic material (Moors-Murphy, 2014). Highest densities were predicted in areas along the continental slope and in and around submarine canyons (Roberts et al., 2016). The core abundance area analysis highlighted three such submarine canyon areas as being of year-round importance to beaked whales (Areas #2–4, see Figure 4). Area #3 is centered on Hatteras Canyon, a major canyon system that cuts a deep valley across the upper continental rise before terminating on the lower rise. Area #2, in deeper water, encompasses the Hatteras Transverse Canyon (HTC). HTC is downslope of and fed by both Hatteras and Albemarle Canyons (which dissect the slope) and their channel extensions, as well as smaller unnamed canyons and canyon channels, and is bounded by the Hatteras Ridge, which is a major transverse barrier deflecting turbidity currents into the HTC (Gardner et al., 2016). Area #4 is centered on a large, deepwater valley system that is fed by a complex series of canyons and gullies incising the slope between Hendrickson and Baltimore Canyons (note that the entire shelf break north of Cape Hatteras, including many of these canyons and gullies, is included in our Area #5 (Figure 4) which is discussed below). In delineating the actual area proposed for restriction on survey effort, we expanded from 10 x 10 km grid cells specifically predicted as being within the beaked whale 25 percent core abundance area to include adjacent cells that also cover the relevant bathymetric feature. Assuming that beaked whales are present in these areas, their use of these habitat areas would not be expected to be restricted within the feature and we delineate the proposed closure areas accordingly. We assume that beaked whales associate with these features year-round, and each of the three areas is proposed as a year-round closure. PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Area #5 (Figure 4) was designed as a multi-species area, primarily focused on pilot whales, beaked whales, and sperm whales. This area is focused on a particularly dynamic and highly productive environment off of Cape Hatteras (sometimes referred to as ‘‘Hatteras Corner’’ or ‘‘The Point’’) and the shelf break environment running to the north (to the boundary of BOEM’s Mid-Atlantic OCS planning area) and to the south. This environment off of Cape Hatteras is created through the confluence of multiple currents and water masses, including the Gulf Stream (SAFMC, 2003), over complex bottom topography and hosts a high density and diversity of cetaceans (e.g., McAlarney et al., 2015). For beaked whales, our core abundance area analysis predicts that the shelf break area running from The Point to the southern extent of Area #5 would be within the 25 percent core abundance area, while the remainder of the shelf break to the north would be within the 50 percent core abundance area. This finding is supported by passive acoustic monitoring effort, which detected echolocation signals from Cuvier’s beaked whales consistently throughout the year (95 percent of 741 recording days across all seasons), suggesting that beaked whales are resident to this area (Stanistreet et al., 2015). Gervais’ beaked whales were detected more sporadically (33 percent of recording days). Monthly aerial surveys conducted from 2011–2014 in the same region, from shallow continental shelf waters across the continental shelf break and into deep pelagic waters, also detected beaked whales in all months of the year (McLellan et al., 2015). All beaked whale sightings occurred along the continental shelf break. Baird et al. (2015) reported results from three tagged Cuvier’s beaked whales, which largely remained in slope waters off the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. Although this limited number of tags makes it difficult to draw conclusions, the authors hypothesize that the observed movements may be representative of a resident population. Although beaked whales are likely present in this area year-round, there is significant overlap between this proposed restriction and the area of highest interest by the applicant companies. Therefore, we determined that practicability concerns dictate that we establish a temporal component to this closure rather than designate this area as a year-round closure (as is the case for Areas #2–4). Roberts et al. (2016) predicted density for pilot whales and beaked whales at year-round E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 temporal resolution; therefore, the output of those models does not help to designate a temporal aspect to this proposed restriction. However, the model produced for sperm whales predicts density at a monthly resolution and informed our delineation of temporal bounds for this closure. The model predicts the greatest density of sperm whales in this region from June through October, with the highest overall abundance predicted for July through September (Roberts et al., 2015n). Therefore, we propose that Area #5 be in effect as a seasonal area closure from July through September. Sperm Whale Although sperm whales are one of the most widely distributed marine mammals, they are typically more abundant in areas of high primary productivity (Jaquet et al., 1996) and thus may be expected to occur in greater numbers in areas where physiographic and oceanographic features serve to aggregate prey (e.g., squid). Sperm whales are in fact commonly associated with submarine canyons (MoorsMurphy, 2014) and, specifically in this region, have been found to be associated with canyons (Whitehead et al., 1992), the north wall of the Gulf Stream (Waring et al., 1993), and temperature fronts and warm-core eddies (Waring et al., 2001; Griffin, 1999). Areas #3–4 (Figure 4), described above for beaked whales, were also identified as areas of high predicted density for sperm whales. Roberts et al. (2016) predicted sperm whale density at monthly temporal resolution, and core abundance analysis conducted at a monthly time-step predicts that Area #3 is of year-round importance for sperm whales, while Area #4 is within the sperm whale 25 percent core abundance area for seven months of the year (JunDec). CETAP (1982) reported sightings of sperm whales north of Cape Hatteras off the shelf and along the shelf break during all four seasons, while acoustic monitoring detected sperm whales every month of the year off the shelf near Onslow Bay, North Carolina (Stanistreet et al., 2012; Hodge and Read, 2014; Debich et al., 2014; Hodge et al., 2015). As noted above, Area #5 (Figure 4) is a multi-species area, primarily focused on pilot whales, beaked whales, and sperm whales, and is proposed to be in effect from July through September. In particular, Area #5’s ‘‘bulge’’ to the north and east of Cape Hatteras was indicated as high-density sperm whale habitat contained within the five percent core abundance area in all months, but as a larger area and with higher predicted density during July VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 26265 through September, as discussed above. During these months, the 25 percent core abundance area for sperm whales is predicted as covering a large swath of the region from the region of The Point off and to the south of Cape Hatteras north to the planning area boundary and including shelf break waters east over the entire slope and into abyssal waters in some locations. As described previously, due to the large size of this area, we based this component of Area #5 on the relevant portion of the five percent core abundance are for sperm whales. This area, predicted to host the highest density of sperm whales, was contiguous to and somewhat overlapping with the shelf break strip suggested by core abundance area analysis for beaked whales and pilot whales. We believe this reflects the appropriate balance between necessary protective measures for this species and practicability for the applicant companies, which would be severely restricted in their ability to survey the area of interest were our proposed closure larger in terms of either space or time. their habitat use relative to environmental variables. Results showed that pilot whales have a strong affinity for the shelf break, with more than 90 percent of locations occurring within 20 km of the shelf break (i.e., 1,000 m depth contour) and more than 65 percent occurring within 5 km of the shelf break, and highlight the importance of static habitat features for the species. As a result of similar tagging work, Foley et al. (2015) found that, despite long-distance movements, pilot whales displayed a high degree of site fidelity off Cape Hatteras. Intra- and inter-annual as well as intra- and interseasonal matches to an existing photoidentification catalog were made, and some individuals were matched over periods of up to eight years. The authors hypothesize that that the shelf break offshore of Cape Hatteras is an important area for this species, to which individuals return frequently. Area #5 (Figure 4) was designed accordingly to encompass these important pilot whale habitat areas and, as described previously, is proposed to be in effect from July through September. Pilot Whale Pilot whales are distributed primarily along the continental shelf edge, occupying areas of high relief or submerged banks, and are also associated with the Gulf Stream wall and thermal fronts along the shelf edge (Waring et al., 2016). Roberts et al. (2016) predicted pilot whale density at year-round temporal resolution. High pilot whale density was predicted throughout the year at an area of the shelf break and continental slope north of where the Gulf Stream separates from the shelf at Cape Hatteras. Sightings were reported in this vicinity in nearly every month of the year (Roberts et al., 2015c).The entire shelf break area from Cape Hatteras north to the boundary of the planning area was predicted as being within the pilot whale 25 percent core abundance area. However, within this predicted core abundance area, the region immediately offshore of the Cape Hatteras shelf break and to the north extending into waters over the slope was predicted as containing notably higher density of pilot whales. This area is retained within the core abundance area even when the threshold is reduced to 5 percent, indicating that it is one of the most important areas in the region for any species. These patterns are supported by observation, including telemetry. Thorne et al. (2015) tracked the movements of 18 short-finned pilot whales off Cape Hatteras between May and December 2014 (mean tag deployment of 57 days) and quantified Atlantic Spotted Dolphin PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Atlantic spotted dolphins are widely distributed in tropical and warm temperate waters of the western North Atlantic, and regularly occur in continental shelf waters south of Cape Hatteras and in continental shelf edge and continental slope waters north of this region (Payne et al., 1984; Mullin and Fulling, 2003). Sightings have also been made along the north wall of the Gulf Stream and warm-core ring features (Waring et al., 1992). This disjunct distribution may be due to the occurrence of two ecotypes of the species: A larger form that inhabits the continental shelf and is usually found inside or near the 200-m isobath and a smaller offshore form (Mullin and Fulling, 2003; Waring et al., 2014). Morphometric, genetic, and acoustic data support the suggestion that two ecotypes inhabit this region (Baron et al., 2008; Viricel and Rosel, 2014) and observational data are consistent with this distribution pattern. Existing data show a dense cluster of observations along the continental shelf between Florida and Virginia and a second, more dispersed cluster off the shelf and north of the Gulf Stream (north of Cape Hatteras) (Roberts et al., 2015o). As would be expected from these patterns, results from Roberts et al. (2016) predict the following density pattern: Low near the shore, high in the mid-shelf, low near the shelf break, then higher again offshore. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26266 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices Although there are no relevant considerations with regard to population context or specific stressors that lead us to develop mitigation focused on Atlantic spotted dolphins, the predicted amount of acoustic exposure for the species is among the highest for all species across three of the five applicant companies. Therefore, we believe it appropriate to delineate a time-area restriction for the sole purpose of reducing likely acoustic exposures for the species, for those three companies (i.e., we propose that this restriction be implemented for Spectrum, TGS, and Western but not for CGG or ION). As noted above, observational data indicate that the area of likely highest density for Atlantic spotted dolphin is on-shelf south of Cape Hatteras. This is also an area of relatively little interest to the applicant companies (in contrast with the second area of relatively high density for Atlantic spotted dolphin, off the shelf to the north of the Gulf Stream). Our core abundance area analysis indeed suggests that the two areas comprise the 25 percent core abundance area for the species, with the on-shelf region roughly contained by the 100-m isobath offshore of Georgia and South Carolina. We thus delineate our proposed closure area by the northern and southern extent of the predicted onshelf component of the 35 percent core abundance area, bounded by a line 100 km from shore (which roughly corresponds with the 100-m isobath). We assume that this may present a simpler, more practicable way for vessel operators to mark the area to be avoided, but invite public comment regarding operators’ capacity to mark areas to be avoided using different methods (e.g., coordinates, depth contours, specific distances from shore, shapefiles). Our assumption here is that given the absence of other contextual factors demanding special protection of spotted dolphins, a seasonal restriction would be sufficient to guarantee that the species is afforded some protection from harassment in one of the areas most important for it. Because there is little information about the species migration patterns, and Roberts et al. (2016) predicted density at a year-round temporal resolution, we delineate the proposed closure on the basis of NMFS’ observational data. Current shipboard observational data was collected during June-August 2011 (Waring et al., 2014). Although Roberts et al. (2015o) suggest that monthly model results should not be relied upon, we note that these results do show likely highest abundance in this portion of the proposed survey areas in the summer months (June through September). Therefore, we propose that Area #1 be in effect from June through August. TABLE 3—BOUNDARIES OF PROPOSED TIME-AREA RESTRICTIONS DEPICTED IN FIGURE 4 Area Latitude 1 ...................................... 1 1 .................................... 1 1 .................................... 1 ...................................... 2 ...................................... 2 ...................................... 2 ...................................... 2 ...................................... 2 ...................................... 2 ...................................... 2 ...................................... 2 ...................................... 2 ...................................... 3 ...................................... 3 ...................................... 3 ...................................... 3 ...................................... 4 ...................................... 4 ...................................... sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 1 These 30° 30° 33° 33° 33° 33° 33° 33° 33° 34° 34° 34° 33° 34° 34° 34° 34° 36° 36° 20′ 22′ 17′ 45′ 31′ 10′ 11′ 43′ 59′ 15′ 14′ 03′ 53′ 13′ 00′ 38′ 53′ 41′ 43′ 50″ 25″ 03″ 01″ 16″ 05″ 23″ 34″ 43″ 10″ 02″ 33″ 00″ 21″ 07″ 40″ 24″ 17″ 20″ Longitude N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. At shoreline 80° 19′ 55″ W. 78° 04′ 00″ W. At shoreline 72° 52′ 07″ W. 72° 59′ 59″ W. 73° 19′ 36″ W. 73° 17′ 43″ W. 73° 10′ 16″ W. 72° 55′ 37″ W. 72° 36′ 00″ W. 72° 37′ 27″ W. 72° 44′ 31″ W. 74° 07′ 33″ W. 74° 26′ 41″ W. 75° 05′ 52″ W. 74° 51′ 11″ W. 71° 25′ 47″ W. 72° 13′ 25″ W. Area 4 4 4 4 4 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 Latitude ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... ...................................... 36° 37° 37° 37° 37° 36° 37° 36° 35° 34° 33° 33° 34° 35° 36° 37° 37° 38° 38° 55′ 52′ 43′ 43′ 09′ 52′ 08′ 15′ 53′ 23′ 47′ 48′ 23′ 22′ 32′ 05′ 27′ 23′ 11′ 20″ 21″ 53″ 54″ 52″ 01″ 30″ 12″ 14″ 07″ 37″ 31″ 57″ 29″ 31″ 39″ 53″ 15″ 17″ N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. Longitude 72° 72° 72° 72° 72° 71° 74° 73° 73° 75° 75° 75° 75° 74° 74° 74° 74° 73° 73° 26′ 22′ 00′ 00′ 04′ 24′ 01′ 48′ 49′ 21′ 27′ 52′ 52′ 51′ 49′ 45′ 32′ 45′ 06′ 18″ 31″ 32″ 40″ 31″ 31″ 42″ 37″ 02″ 33″ 25″ 58″ 50″ 50″ 31″ 37″ 40″ 06″ 36″ W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. W. two points are connected by a line marking 100 km distance from shoreline. National Marine Sanctuaries—As a result of consultation between BOEM and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, all surveys would maintain a minimum buffer of 15 km around the boundaries of the Gray’s Reef and Monitor National Marine Sanctuaries. Gray’s Reef NMS is located approximately 26 km off the Georgia coast and protects 57 km2. The Monitor NMS is located approximately 26 km off the North Carolina coast and protects the wreck of the USS Monitor. Any benefit to marine mammals from these restrictions would likely be minimal. Coastal Zone Management Act—As a result of coordination with relevant states pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management Act, Spectrum agreed to VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 certain closure requirements (which may be partially or entirely subsumed by proposed closures described above): • No survey operations within 125 nmi (232 km) of Maryland’s coast from April 15 to November 15. • No survey operations within the 30m depth isobath off the South Carolina coast. • No survey operations within 20 nmi (37 km) of Georgia’s coast from April 1 to September 15 and within 30 nmi (56 km) of Georgia’s coast from November 15 to April 15. Vessel Strike Avoidance These proposed measures generally follow those described in BOEM’s PEIS. These measures apply to all vessels associated with the proposed survey PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 activity (e.g., source vessels, chase vessels, supply vessels) and include the following: 1. Vessel operators and crews must maintain a vigilant watch for all marine mammals and slow down or stop their vessel or alter course, as appropriate and regardless of vessel size, to avoid striking any marine mammal. A visual observer aboard the vessel must monitor a vessel strike avoidance zone around the vessel, according to the parameters stated below, to ensure the potential for strike is minimized. Visual observers monitoring the vessel strike avoidance zone can be either third-party observers or crew members, but crew members responsible for these duties must be provided sufficient training to E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices distinguish marine mammals from other phenomena and broadly to identify a marine mammal as a right whale, other whale, or other marine mammal (i.e., non-whale cetacean or pinniped). In this context, ‘‘other whales’’ includes sperm whales and all baleen whales other than right whales. 2. All vessels, regardless of size, must observe the 10 kn speed restriction in DMAs, the Mid-Atlantic SMA (from November 1 through April 30), and critical habitat and the Southeast SMA (from November 15 through April 15). See www.fisheries.noaa.gov/pr/ shipstrike/ for more information on these areas. 3. Vessel speeds must also be reduced to 10 kn or less when mother/calf pairs, pods, or large assemblages of cetaceans are observed near a vessel. A single cetacean at the surface may indicate the presence of submerged animals in the vicinity of the vessel; therefore, precautionary measures should be exercised when an animal is observed. 4. All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 500 m from right whales. If a whale is observed but cannot be confirmed as a species other than a right whale, the vessel operator must assume that it is a right whale and take appropriate action. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a right whale is within 500 m of any vessel: a. While underway, the vessel operator must steer a course away from the whale at 10 kn or less until the minimum separation distance has been established. b. If a whale is spotted in the path of a vessel or within 500 m of a vessel underway, the operator shall reduce speed and shift engines to neutral. The operator shall re-engage engines only after the whale has moved out of the path of the vessel and is more than 500 m away. If the whale is still within 500 m of the vessel, the vessel must select a course away from the whale’s course at a speed of 10 kn or less. This procedure must also be followed if a whale is spotted while a vessel is stationary. Whenever possible, a vessel should remain parallel to the whale’s course while maintaining the 500-m distance as it travels, avoiding abrupt changes in direction until the whale is no longer in the area. 5. All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 100 m from other whales. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a whale other than a right whale is within 100 m of any vessel: a. The vessel underway must reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral, and must not engage the engines until VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 the whale has moved outside of the vessel’s path and the minimum separation distance has been established. b. If a vessel is stationary, the vessel must not engage engines until the whale(s) has moved out of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. 6. All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 50 m from all other marine mammals, with an exception made for those animals that approach the vessel. If an animal is encountered during transit, a vessel shall attempt to remain parallel to the animal’s course, avoiding excessive speed or abrupt changes in course. General Measures All vessels associated with survey activity (e.g., source vessels, chase vessels, supply vessels) must have a functioning Automatic Identification System (AIS) onboard and operating at all times, regardless of whether AIS would otherwise be required. Vessel names and call signs must be provided to NMFS, and applicants must notify NMFS when survey vessels are operating. We have carefully evaluated the suite of mitigation measures described here to preliminarily determine whether they are likely to effect 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: (1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals, (2) the proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; and (3) the practicability of the measure for applicant implementation. Any mitigation measure(s) we prescribe should be able to accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of the general goals listed below: (1) Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal). (2) A reduction in the number (total number or number at biologically important time or location) of individual marine mammals exposed to stimuli expected to result in incidental take (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing takes by behavioral harassment only). (3) A reduction in the number (total number or number at biologically PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26267 important time or location) of times any individual marine mammal would be exposed to stimuli expected to result in incidental take (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing takes by behavioral harassment only). (4) A reduction in the intensity of exposure to stimuli expected to result in incidental take (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing the severity of behavioral harassment only). (5) Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal habitat, paying particular attention to the prey base, blockage or limitation of passage to or from biologically important areas, permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary disturbance of habitat during a biologically important time. (6) For monitoring directly related to mitigation, an increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation. Based on our evaluation of these measures, we have preliminarily determined that they provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. We recognize that BOEM may require more stringent measures through survey-specific permits issued to applicant companies under its authorities pursuant to the OCSLA (43 U.S.C. 1331–1356). NMFS’s Endangered Species Act Interagency Cooperation Division (Interagency Cooperation Division) may also require that more stringent or additional measures be included in any issued IHAs via any required consultation pursuant to section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Please see ‘‘Proposed Authorizations,’’ below, for requirements specific to each proposed IHA. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity We have reviewed the applicants’ species descriptions—which summarize available information regarding status and trends, distribution and habitat preferences, behavior and life history, and auditory capabilities of the potentially affected species—for accuracy and completeness and refer the reader to Sections 3 and 4 of the applications, as well as to NMFS’s Stock Assessment Reports (SAR; www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/), instead of reprinting the information here. Additional general information about these species (e.g., physical and behavioral descriptions) may be found E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26268 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices on NMFS’s Web site (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/ mammals/), in BOEM’s PEIS, or in the U.S. Navy’s Marine Resource Assessments (MRA) for relevant operating areas (i.e., Virginia Capes, Cherry Point, and Charleston/ Jacksonville (DoN, 2008a,b,c)). The MRAs are available online at: www.navfac.navy.mil/products_and_ services/ev/products_and_services/ marine_resources/marine_resource_ assessments.html. Table 4 lists all species with expected potential for occurrence in the mid- and south Atlantic and summarizes information related to the population or stock, including potential biological removal (PBR). For taxonomy, we follow Committee on Taxonomy (2016). PBR, defined by the MMPA as the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population, is considered in concert with known sources of ongoing anthropogenic mortality (as described in NMFS’s SARs). Species that could potentially occur in the proposed survey areas but are not expected to have reasonable potential to be harassed by any proposed survey are described briefly but omitted from further analysis. These include extralimital species, which are species that do not normally occur in a given area but for which there are one or more occurrence records that are considered beyond the normal range of the species. For status of species, we provide information regarding U.S. regulatory status under the MMPA and ESA. Marine mammal abundance estimates presented in this document represent the total number of individuals that make up a given stock or the total number estimated within a particular study area. NMFS’s stock abundance estimates for most species represent the total estimate of individuals within the geographic area, if known, that comprises that stock. For some species, this geographic area may extend beyond U.S. waters. Survey abundance (as compared to stock or species abundance) is the total number of individuals estimated within the survey area, which may or may not align completely with a stock’s geographic range as defined in the SARs. These VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 surveys may also extend beyond U.S. waters. In some cases, species are treated as guilds. In general ecological terms, a guild is a group of species that have similar requirements and play a similar role within a community. However, for purposes of stock assessment or abundance prediction, certain species may be treated together as a guild because they are difficult to distinguish visually and many observations are ambiguous. For example, NMFS’s Atlantic SARs assess Mesoplodon spp. and Kogia spp. as guilds. Here, we consider pilot whales, beaked whales (excluding the northern bottlenose whale), and Kogia spp. as guilds. In the following discussion, reference to ‘‘pilot whales’’ includes both the long-finned and short-finned pilot whale, reference to ‘‘beaked whales’’ includes the Cuvier’s, Blainville’s, Gervais, Sowerby’s, and True’s beaked whales, and reference to ‘‘Kogia spp.’’ includes both the dwarf and pygmy sperm whale. Thirty-four species (with 39 managed stocks) are considered to have the potential to co-occur with the proposed survey activities. Extralimital species or stocks unlikely to co-occur with survey activity include nine estuarine bottlenose dolphin stocks, four pinniped species, the white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris), and the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas). The white-beaked dolphin is generally found only to southern New England, with sightings concentrated in the Gulf of Maine and around Cape Cod. Beluga whales have rarely been sighted as far south as New Jersey, but are considered extralimital in New England. Seals in the western Atlantic are, in general, occurring more frequently in areas further south than are considered typical and increases in pinniped sightings and stranding events have been documented in the mid-Atlantic. However, all seals are considered rare or extralimital in the mid-Atlantic and, further, would generally be expected to occur in relatively shallow nearshore waters outside the proposed survey areas (note also that we propose a restriction on survey activity in coastal waters ranging from a minimum of 30 km (year-round) out to 47 km (November–April)). The gray seal’s (Halichoerus grypus grypus) winter range extends south to New Jersey, while the harp seal (Pagophilus PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 groenlandicus) is generally found in Canada, although individual seals are observed as far south as New Jersey during January–May. The harbor seal’s (Phoca vitulina concolor) winter range is generally from southern New England to New Jersey, though it may occasionally extend south to northern North Carolina. Unpublished marine mammal stranding records for the most recent five-year period (2011–2015) for the Atlantic coast from Delaware to Georgia show 38, 24, and 44 strandings for these three species, respectively (with one additional record of an unidentified seal). These occurrences are generally limited to the mid-Atlantic (Delaware to North Carolina), with one harbor seal recorded from South Carolina and no records from Georgia. The hooded seal (Cystophora cristata) generally remains near Newfoundland in winter and spring, and visits the Denmark Strait for molting in summer. However, hooded seals are highly migratory, preferring deeper water than other seals, and individuals have been observed in deep water as far south as Florida and the Caribbean. Such observations are rare and unpredictable, and there were no recorded strandings of hooded seals during the 2011–2015 period. Estuarine stocks of bottlenose dolphin primarily inhabit inshore waters of bays, sounds, and estuaries, and stocks are defined adjacent to the proposed survey area from Pamlico Sound, North Carolina to Indian River Lagoon, Florida. However, NMFS’s SARs generally describe estuarine stock ranges as including coastal waters to 1 km (though North Carolina stocks are described as occurring out to 3 km at certain times of year). Therefore, these stocks would not be impacted by the proposed seismic surveys. In addition, the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) may be found in coastal waters of the Atlantic. However, manatees are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are not considered further in this document. All managed stocks in this region are assessed in NMFS’s U.S. Atlantic SARs (e.g., Waring et al., 2016). All values presented in Table 4 are the most recent available at the time of publication and are available in the 2015 SARs (Waring et al., 2016) and draft 2016 SARs (available online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/draft.htm). E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26269 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices TABLE 4—MARINE MAMMALS POTENTIALLY PRESENT IN THE VICINITY OF PROPOSED SURVEY ACTIVITIES Common name Scientific name ESA/MMPA status; strategic (Y/N) 1 Stock NMFS stock abundance (CV, Nmin, most recent abundance survey) 2 Predicted abundance (CV) 3 Annual M/SI (CV) 4 PBR Order Cetartiodactyla—Cetacea—Superfamily Mysticeti (baleen whales) Family Balaenidae North Atlantic right whale. Eubalaena glacialis .......... Western North Atlantic (WNA). E/D; Y 440 (n/a; 440; n/a) ..... * 535 (0.45) 1.0 5.66 Family Balaenopteridae (rorquals) Humpback whale .. Bryde’s whale ....... Sei whale .............. Fin whale .............. Megaptera novaeangliae novaeangliae. Balaenoptera acutorostrata acutorostrata. B. edeni brydei ................. B. borealis borealis .......... B. physalus physalus ....... Blue whale ............ B. musculus musculus ..... Minke whale ......... Gulf of Maine .................... -; N 823 (n/a; 823; 2008) .. * 1,637 (0.07) 13 9.05 Canadian East Coast ....... -; N 2,591 (0.81; 1,425; 2011). * 2,112 (0.05) 14 8.25 None defined 5 .................. Nova Scotia ...................... WNA ................................. -; n/a E/D; Y E/D; Y 7 (0.58) * 717 (0.30) 4,633 (0.08) n/a 0.5 2.5 n/a 0.8 3.8 WNA ................................. E/D; Y n/a .............................. 357 (0.52; 236; 2011) 1,618 (0.33; 1,234; 2011). Unknown (n/a; 440; n/ a). 11 (0.41) 0.9 Unk 5,353 (0.12) 3.6 0.8 Superfamily Odontoceti (toothed whales, dolphins, and porpoises) Family Physeteridae Sperm whale ........ Physeter macrocephalus .. North Atlantic .................... E/D; Y Pygmy sperm whale. Dwarf sperm whale. Kogia breviceps ................ WNA ................................. -; N K. sima ............................. WNA ................................. 2,288 (0.28; 1,815; 2011). -; N Family Kogiidae 3,785 (0.47; 2,598; 2011) 6. 6 678 (0.23) 21 3.5 (1.0) 6 14,491 (0.17) 50 0.4 46 0.2 90 (0.63) Undet. 0 532 (0.36) 1.3 0 561 39.4 (0.29) 86 1.0–7.5 63 0–12 31 1.2–1.6 7 0.4 29 0.2 12,515 (0.56) Undet. 0 55,436 (0.32) 316 0 4,436 (0.33) 17 0 262 (0.93) 75,657 (0.21) Undet. 428 0 0 86,098 (0.12) 557 409 (0.10) 492 (0.76) Undet. 0 Family Ziphiidae (beaked whales) Cuvier’s beaked whale. Gervais beaked whale. Blainville’s beaked whale. Sowerby’s beaked whale. True’s beaked whale. Northern bottlenose whale. Ziphius cavirostris ............ WNA ................................. -; N Mesoplodon europaeus .... WNA ................................. -; N M. densirostris .................. WNA ................................. -; N M. bidens .......................... WNA ................................. -; N M. mirus ........................... WNA ................................. -; N Hyperoodon ampullatus ... WNA ................................. 6,532 (0.32; 5,021; 2011). 7,092 (0.54; 4,632; 2011) 6. -; N Unknown .................... Family Delphinidae Rough-toothed dolphin. Common bottlenose dolphin. Steno bredanensis ........... Tursiops truncatus truncatus. WNA ................................. -; N WNA Offshore .................. -; N 77,532 (0.40; 56,053; 2011). D; Y -; N 11,548 (0.36; 8,620; 2010–11). 9,173 (0.46; 6,326; 2010–11). 4,377 (0.43; 3,097; 2010–11). 1,219 (0.67; 730; 2010–11). 4,895 (0.71; 2,851; 2010–11). 6,086 (0.93; 3,132; 1998) 7. 44,715 (0.43; 31,610; 2011). 3,333 (0.91; 1,733; 2011). Unknown .................... 54,807 (0.3; 42,804; 2011). 70,184 (0.28; 55,690; 2011). Unknown .................... Clymene dolphin .. sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 271 (1.0; 134; 2011) .. Stenella clymene .............. WNA Coastal, Northern Migratory. WNA Coastal, Southern Migratory. WNA Coastal, South Carolina/Georgia. WNA Coastal, Northern Florida. WNA Coastal, Central Florida. WNA ................................. Atlantic spotted dolphin. Pantropical spotted dolphin. Spinner dolphin .... Striped dolphin ..... S. frontalis ........................ WNA ................................. -; N S. attenuata attenuata ...... WNA ................................. -; N S. longirostris longirostris S. coeruleoalba ................ WNA ................................. WNA ................................. -; N -; N Short-beaked common dolphin. Fraser’s dolphin .... Delphinus delphis delphis WNA ................................. -; N Lagenodelphis hosei ........ WNA ................................. -; N VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 PO 00000 Frm 00027 D; Y D; Y D; Y D; Y Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 6 97,476 06JNN2 (0.06) 26270 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices TABLE 4—MARINE MAMMALS POTENTIALLY PRESENT IN THE VICINITY OF PROPOSED SURVEY ACTIVITIES—Continued ESA/MMPA status; strategic (Y/N) 1 Common name Scientific name Stock Atlantic whitesided dolphin. Risso’s dolphin ..... Lagenorhynchus acutus ... WNA ................................. Grampus griseus .............. WNA ................................. Melon-headed whale. Pygmy killer whale False killer whale Killer whale ........... Short-finned pilot whale. Long-finned pilot whale. Peponocephala electra .... WNA ................................. -; N Feresa attenuata .............. Pseudorca crassidens ...... Orcinus orca ..................... Globicephala macrorhynchus. G. melas melas ................ WNA WNA WNA WNA -; -; -; -; Harbor porpoise ... Phocoena phocoena phocoena. Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy. ................................. ................................. ................................. ................................. WNA ................................. N Y N Y -; Y 37,180 (0.07) 304 74 (0.2) 7,732 (0.09) 126 53.6 (0.28) 1,175 (0.50) Undet. 0 Unknown .................... 442 (1.06; 212; 2011) Unknown .................... 21,515 (0.37; 15,913; 2011). 5,636 (0.63; 3,464; 2011). -; N Predicted abundance (CV) 3 48,819 (0.61; 30,403; 2011). 18,250 (0.46; 12,619; 2011). Unknown .................... -; N NMFS stock abundance (CV, Nmin, most recent abundance survey) 2 n/a 95 (0.84) 11 (0.82) 6 18,977 (0.11) Undet. 2.1 Undet. 159 0 Unk 0 192 (0.17) 35 38 (0.15) 706 437 (0.18) Annual M/SI (CV) 4 PBR Family Phocoenidae (porpoises) -; N 79,833 (0.32; 61,415; 2011). * 45,089 (0.12) sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 1 Endangered Species Act (ESA) status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (-) indicates that the species is not listed under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one for which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds PBR or which is determined to be declining and likely to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed under the ESA is automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock. 2 NMFS marine mammal stock assessment reports online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. CV is coefficient of variation; N min is the minimum estimate of stock abundance. In some cases, CV is not applicable. For the right whale, the abundance value represents a count of individually identifiable animals; therefore there is only a single abundance estimate with no associated CV. For humpback whales, the stock abundance estimate of 823 is based on photo-identification evidence and represents the minimum number alive in 2008, specific to the Gulf of Maine stock. The minimum estimate of 440 blue whales represents recognizable photo-identified individuals. 3 This information represents species- or guild-specific abundance predicted by recent habitat-based cetacean density models (Roberts et al., 2016). These models provide the best available scientific information regarding predicted density patterns of cetaceans in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean, and we provide the corresponding abundance predictions as a point of reference. Total abundance estimates were produced by computing the mean density of all pixels in the modeled area and multiplying by its area. Roberts et al. (2016) did not produce a density model for pygmy killer whales off the east coast. For those species marked with an asterisk, the available information supported development of either two or four seasonal models; each model has an associated abundance prediction. Here, we report the maximum predicted abundance. 4 These values, found in NMFS’s SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g., commercial fisheries, ship strike). Annual M/SI often cannot be determined precisely and is in some cases presented as a minimum value or range. A CV associated with estimated mortality due to commercial fisheries is presented in some cases. 5 Bryde’s whales are occasionally reported off the southeastern U.S. and southern West Indies. NMFS defines and manages a stock of Bryde’s whales believed to be resident in the northern Gulf of Mexico, but does not define a separate stock in the Atlantic Ocean. 6 Abundance estimates are in some cases reported for a guild or group of species when those species are difficult to differentiate at sea. Similarly, the habitatbased cetacean density models produced by Roberts et al. (2016) are based in part on available observational data which, in some cases, is limited to genus or guild in terms of taxonomic definition. NMFS’s SARs present pooled abundance estimates for Kogia spp. and Mesoplodon spp., while Roberts et al. (2016) produced density models to genus level for Kogia spp. and Globicephala spp. and as a guild for most beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris and Mesoplodon spp.). Finally, Roberts et al. (2016) produced a density model for bottlenose dolphins that does not differentiate between offshore and coastal stocks. 7 NMFS’s abundance estimates for the Clymene dolphin is greater than eight years old and not considered current. PBR is therefore considered undetermined for this stock, as there is no current minimum abundance estimate for use in calculation. We nevertheless present the most recent abundance estimate. For the majority of species potentially present in the specific geographic region, NMFS has designated only a single generic stock (e.g., ‘‘western North Atlantic’’) for management purposes. This includes the ‘‘Canadian east coast’’ stock of minke whales, which includes all minke whales found in U.S. waters. For the humpback and sei whales, NMFS defines stocks on the basis of feeding locations, i.e., Gulf of Maine and Nova Scotia, respectively. However, our reference to humpback whales and sei whales in this document refers to any individuals of the species that are found in the specific geographic region. For the bottlenose dolphin, NMFS defines an oceanic stock and multiple coastal stocks. In Table 4 above, we report two sets of abundance estimates: Those from NMFS’s SARs and those predicted by Roberts et al. (2016). Please see footnotes 2–3 for more detail. The estimates found in NMFS’s SARs remain the best estimates of current stock abundance in most cases. These VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 estimates are typically generated from the most recent shipboard and/or aerial surveys conducted, and often incorporate correction for detection bias. However, for purposes of assessing estimated exposures relative to abundance—used in this case to understand the scale of the predicted takes compared to the population and to inform our small numbers finding—we generally believe that the Roberts et al. (2016) abundance predictions are most appropriate because the outputs of these models were used in most cases to generate the exposure estimates and therefore provide the most appropriate comparison. The Roberts et al. (2016) abundance estimates represent the output of predictive models derived from observations and associated environmental parameters and are in fact based on substantially more data than are NMFS’s SAR abundance estimates, which are typically derived from only the most recent survey effort. In some cases, the use of more data to inform an abundance estimate can lead PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 to a conclusion that there may be a more appropriate abundance estimate to use for the specific comparison to exposure estimates noted above than that provided in the SARs. For example, NMFS’s pilot whale abundance estimates show substantial year-to-year variability. For the Florida to Bay of Fundy region, single-year estimates from 2004 and 2011 (the most recent offered in the SARs) differed by 21 percent, indicating that it may be more appropriate to use the model prediction, as the model incorporates data from 1992–2013. As a further illustration of the distinction between the SARs and model-predicted abundance estimates, the current NMFS stock abundance estimate for the Atlantic spotted dolphin is based on direct observations from shipboard and aerial surveys conducted in 2011 and corrected for detection bias whereas the exposure estimates presented herein for Atlantic spotted dolphin are based on the abundance predicted by a density E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices surface model informed by observations from 1992–2014 and covariates associated at the observation level. To directly compare the estimated exposures predicted by the outputs of the Roberts et al. (2016) model to NMFS’s SAR abundance would therefore not be meaningful. However, our use of the Roberts et al. (2016) abundance predictions for this purpose should not be interpreted as a statement that those predictions are considered to be more accurate than those presented in NMFS’s SARs; rather they are a different set of information entirely and more appropriate, at times, for our analysis. For the example of Atlantic spotted dolphin, we make relative comparisons between the exposures predicted by the outputs of the model and the overall abundance predicted by the model. The best current abundance estimate for the western North Atlantic stock of Atlantic spotted dolphins is still appropriately considered to be that presented in the SAR. Where there are other considerations that lead us to believe that an abundance other than that predicted by Roberts et al. (2016) is most appropriate for use here, we provide additional discussion below. NMFS’s abundance estimate for the North Atlantic right whale is based on a census of individual whales identified using photo-identification techniques and is therefore the most appropriate abundance estimate; the current estimate represents whales known to be alive in 2012 (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ sars/draft.htm). The 2007 Canadian Trans-North Atlantic Sighting Survey (TNASS), which provided full coverage of the Atlantic Canadian coast (Lawson and Gosselin, 2009), provided abundance estimates for multiple stocks. The abundance estimates from this survey were corrected for perception and availability bias, when possible. In general, where the TNASS survey effort provided superior coverage of a stock’s range (as compared with NOAA shipboard survey effort), we elect to use the resulting abundance estimate over either the current NMFS abundance estimate (derived from survey effort with inferior coverage of the stock range) or the Roberts et al. (2016) prediction. The TNASS data were not made available to the model authors (Roberts et al., 2015a). We use the TNASS abundance estimate for the Canadian North Atlantic stock of minke whales and for the shortbeaked common dolphin. The TNASS survey also produced an abundance estimate of 3,522 (CV = 0.27) fin whales. Although Waring et al. (2016) suggest that the current abundance estimate of VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 1,618 fin whales, derived from 2011 NOAA shipboard surveys, is the best because it represents the most current data (despite not including a significant portion of the stock’s range), we believe the TNASS estimate is most appropriate for use here precisely because it better covered the stock’s range. Note that, while the same TNASS survey produced an abundance estimate of 2,612 (CV = 0.26) humpback whales, the survey did not provide superior coverage of the stock’s range in the same way that it did for minke and fin whales (Waring et al., 2016; Lawson and Gosselin, 2011). In addition, based on photo-identification only 39 percent of individual humpback whales observed along the mid- and south Atlantic U.S. coast are from the Gulf of Maine stock (Barco et al., 2002). Therefore, we use the Roberts et al. (2016) prediction for humpback whales. The TNASS also provided an abundance estimate for pilot whales (16,058; CV = 0.79), but covered habitats expected to contain long-finned pilot whales exclusively (Waring et al., 2016). Pilot whale biopsy samples collected from 1998–2007 and analyzed to support an analysis of the likelihood that a sample is from a given species of pilot whale as a function of sea surface temperature and water depth showed that all pilot whales observed in offshore waters near the Gulf Stream are most likely short-finned pilot whales, though there is an area of overlap between the two species primarily along the shelf break off the coast of New Jersey (between 38–40° N.) (Waring et al., 2016). Therefore, most pilot whales potentially affected by the proposed surveys would likely be short-finned pilot whales. NMFS’s current abundance estimate for Kogia spp. is substantially higher than that provided by Roberts et al. (2016). However, the data from which NMFS’s estimate is derived was not made available to the authors (Roberts et al., 2015h), and those more recent surveys reported observing substantially greater numbers of Kogia spp. than did earlier surveys (43 sightings, more than the combined total of 31 reported from all surveys from 1992–2014 considered by Roberts et al. (2016)) (NMFS, 2011). A 2013 NOAA survey, also not available to the model authors, reported 68 sightings of Kogia spp. (NMFS, 2013a). In addition, the SARs report an increase in Kogia spp. strandings (92 from 2001– 05; 187 from 2007–11) (Waring et al., 2007; 2013). A simultaneous increase in at-sea observations and strandings suggests increased abundance of Kogia spp., though NMFS has not conducted any trend analysis (Waring et al., 2013). Therefore, we believe the most PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26271 appropriate abundance estimate for use here is that currently reported by NMFS. In fact, Waring et al. (2013) suggest that because this estimate was corrected for perception bias but not availability bias, the true estimate could be two to four times larger. Biologically Important Areas—Several biologically important areas for marine mammals are recognized from proposed survey areas in the mid- and south Atlantic. As referenced previously under ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’, critical habitat is designated for the North Atlantic right whale within the southeast U.S. (81 FR 4838; January 27, 2016). Critical habitat is defined by section 3 of the ESA as (1) the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed, on which are found those physical or biological features (a) essential to the conservation of the species and (b) which may require special management considerations or protection; and (2) specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a determination by the Secretary that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species. Critical habitat for the right whale in the southeast U.S. (i.e., Unit 2) encompasses calving habitat and is designated on the basis of the following essential features: (1) Calm sea surface conditions of Force 4 or less on the Beaufort Wind Scale; (2) sea surface temperatures from a minimum of 7 °C, and never more than 17 °C; and (3) water depths of 6 to 28 m, where these features simultaneously co-occur over contiguous areas of at least 231 nmi2 of ocean waters during the months of November through April. When these features are available, they are selected by right whale cows and calves in dynamic combinations that are suitable for calving, nursing, and rearing, and which vary, within the ranges specified, depending on factors such as weather and age of the calves. The specific area associated with such features and designated as critical habitat was described previously under ‘‘Proposed Mitigation.’’ There is no critical habitat designated for any other species within the proposed survey area. Biologically important areas for North Atlantic right whales in the mid- and south Atlantic were further described by LaBrecque et al. (2015). The authors describe an area of importance for reproduction that somewhat expands the boundaries of the critical habitat designation, including waters out to the 25-m isobath from Cape Canaveral to Cape Lookout from mid-November to mid-April, on the basis of habitat analyses (Good, 2008; Keller et al., E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26272 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices 2012) and sightings data (e.g., Keller et al., 2006; Schulte and Taylor, 2012) indicating that sea surface temperatures between 13 to 15 °C and water depths between 10–20 m are critical parameters for calving. Right whales leave northern feeding grounds in November and December to migrate along the continental shelf to the calving grounds or to unknown winter areas before returning to northern areas by late spring. Right whales are known to travel along the continental shelf, but it is unknown whether they use the entire shelf area or are restricted to nearshore waters (Schick et al., 2009; Whitt et al., 2013). LaBrecque et al. (2015) define an important area for migratory behavior on the basis of aerial and vessel-based survey data, photo-identification data, radio-tracking data, and expert judgment; we compared our composite right whale closure area (described previously under ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’) in a GIS to that defined by the authors and found that it is contained within our area. As noted by LaBrecque et al. (2015), although additional cetacean species are known to have strong links to bathymetric features, there is currently insufficient information to specifically identify these areas. For example, pilot whales and Risso’s dolphins aggregate at the shelf break in the proposed survey area, and Atlantic spotted dolphins occupy the shelf region from southern Virginia to Florida. These and other locations predicted as areas of high abundance (Roberts et al., 2016) form the basis of proposed spatiotemporal restrictions on survey effort as described under ‘‘Proposed Mitigation.’’ In addition, other data indicate potential areas of importance that are not yet fully described. Risch et al. (2014) describe minke whale presence offshore of the shelf break (evidenced by passive acoustic recorders), which may be indicative of a migratory area, while other data provides evidence that sei whales aggregate near meandering frontal eddies over the continental shelf in the Mid-Atlantic Bight (Newhall et al., 2012). Unusual Mortality Events (UME)—A UME is defined under the MMPA as ‘‘a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.’’ From 1991 to the present, there have been approximately ten formally recognized UMEs affecting marine mammals in the proposed survey area and involving species under NMFS’s jurisdiction. One involves ongoing investigation. The most recent of these, which is ongoing, involves VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 humpback whales. A recently ended UME involved bottlenose dolphins. Since January 2016, elevated humpback whale mortalities have occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine through North Carolina. Partial or full necropsy examinations have been conducted on approximately half of the 42 known cases. Of the 20 cases examined, 10 cases had evidence of blunt force trauma or pre-mortem propeller wounds indicative of vessel strike, which is over six times above the 16-year average of 1.5 whales showing signs of vessel strike in this region. Because this finding of pre-mortem vessel strike is not consistent across all of the whales examined, more research is needed. NOAA is consulting with researchers that are conducting studies on the humpback whale populations, and these efforts may provide information on changes in whale distribution and habitat use that could provide additional insight into how these vessel interactions occurred. Three previous UMEs involving humpback whales have occurred since 2000, in 2003, 2005, and 2006. More information is available at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/ 2017humpbackatlanticume.html (accessed May 22, 2017). Beginning in July 2013, elevated strandings of bottlenose dolphins were observed along the Atlantic coast from New York to Florida. The investigation was closed in 2015, with the UME ultimately being attributed to cetacean morbillivirus (though additional contributory factors are under investigation; www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ health/mmume/ midatldolphins2013.html; accessed June 21, 2016). Dolphin strandings during 2013–15 were greater than six times higher than the average from 2007–12, with the most strandings reported from Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. A total of approximately 1,650 bottlenose dolphins stranded from June 2013 to March 2015 and, additionally, a small number of individuals of several other cetacean species stranded during the UME and tested positive for morbillivirus (humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, pygmy sperm whale, and striped dolphin). Only one offshore ecotype dolphin has been identified, meaning that over 99 percent of affected dolphins were of the coastal ecotype (D. Fauquier; pers. comm.). Research, to include analyses of stranding samples and post-UME monitoring and modeling of surviving populations, will continue in order to better understand the impacts of the UME on the affected stocks. Notably, an earlier major UME in 1987–88 was also PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 caused by morbillivirus. Over 740 stranded dolphins were recovered during that event. Additional recent UMEs include various localized events with undetermined cause involving bottlenose dolphins (e.g., South Carolina in 2011; Virginia in 2009); an event affecting common dolphins and Atlantic white-sided dolphins from North Carolina to New Jersey (2008; undetermined); and humpback whales in the North Atlantic (2006; undetermined). For more information on UMEs, please visit: www.nmfs. noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/. Take Reduction Planning—Take reduction plans are designed to help recover and prevent the depletion of strategic marine mammal stocks that interact with certain U.S. commercial fisheries, as required by Section 118 of the MMPA. The immediate goal of a take reduction plan is to reduce, within six months of its implementation, the mortality and serious injury of marine mammals incidental to commercial fishing to less than the potential biological removal level. The long-term goal is to reduce, within five years of its implementation, the mortality and serious injury of marine mammals incidental to commercial fishing to insignificant levels, approaching a zero serious injury and mortality rate, taking into account the economics of the fishery, the availability of existing technology, and existing state or regional fishery management plans. Take reduction teams are convened to develop these plans. There are several take reduction plans in place for marine mammals in the proposed survey areas of the mid- and south Atlantic. We described these here briefly in order to fully describe, in conjunction with referenced material, the baseline conditions for the affected marine mammal stocks. The Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP) was implemented in 1997 to reduce injuries and deaths of large whales due to incidental entanglement in fishing gear. The ALWTRP is an evolving plan that changes as we learn more about why whales become entangled and how fishing practices might be modified to reduce the risk of entanglement. It has several components, including restrictions on where and how gear can be set and requirements for entangling gears (i.e., trap/pot and gillnet gears). The ALWTRP addresses those species most affected by fishing gear entanglements, i.e., North Atlantic right whale, humpback whale, fin whale, and minke whale. Annual human-caused mortality exceeds PBR for the first three of these E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 species, all of which are listed as endangered under the ESA. More information is available online at: www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/ protected/whaletrp/. NMFS implemented a Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan (HPTRP) to reduce interactions between harbor porpoise and commercial gillnet gear in both New England and the mid-Atlantic. The HPTRP has several components including restrictions on where, when, and how gear can be set, and in some areas requires the use of acoustic deterrent devices. More information is available online at: www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/ protected/porptrp/. The Atlantic Trawl Gear Take Reduction Team was developed to address the incidental mortality and serious injury of pilot whales, common dolphins, and white-sided dolphins incidental to Atlantic trawl fisheries. More information is available online at: www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/ Protected/mmp/atgtrp/. Separately, NMFS established a Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Plan (PLTRP) to address the incidental mortality and serious injury of pilot whales in the midAtlantic region of the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery. The PLTRP includes a special research area, gear modifications, outreach material, observer coverage, and captains’ communications. Pilot whales incur substantial incidental mortality and serious injury due to commercial fishing (annual human-caused mortality equal to 121 and 109 percent of PBR for shortand long-finned pilot whales, respectively), and therefore are of particular concern. More information is available online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ pr/interactions/trt/pl-trt.html. Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that components of the specified activity may impact marine mammals and their habitat. 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 Analyses’’ section will include an analysis of how these specific activities will impact marine mammals and will consider the content of this section, the ‘‘Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment’’ section, and the ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’ section, to draw conclusions regarding the likely impacts of these activities on the reproductive success or survivorship of individuals VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 and from that on the affected marine mammal populations or stocks. In the following discussion, we provide general background information on sound and marine mammal hearing before considering potential effects to marine mammals from ship strike and sound produced through use of airgun arrays. Description of Active Acoustic Sound Sources This section contains a brief technical background on sound, the characteristics of certain sound types, and on metrics used in this proposal inasmuch as the information is relevant to the specified activity and to a discussion of the potential effects of the specified activity on marine mammals found later in this document. Sound travels in waves, the basic components of which are frequency, wavelength, velocity, and amplitude. Frequency is the number of pressure waves that pass by a reference point per unit of time and is measured in hertz (Hz) or cycles per second. Wavelength is the distance between two peaks or corresponding points of a sound wave (length of one cycle). Higher frequency sounds have shorter wavelengths than lower frequency sounds, and typically attenuate (decrease) more rapidly, except in certain cases in shallower water. Amplitude is the height of the sound pressure wave or the ‘‘loudness’’ of a sound and is typically described using the relative unit of the decibel (dB). A sound pressure level (SPL) in dB is described as the ratio between a measured pressure and a reference pressure (for underwater sound, this is 1 microPascal (mPa)), and is a logarithmic unit that accounts for large variations in amplitude; therefore, a relatively small change in dB corresponds to large changes in sound pressure. The source level (SL) represents the SPL referenced at a distance of 1 m from the source (referenced to 1 mPa), while the received level is the SPL at the listener’s position (referenced to 1 mPa). 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, 1983). 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 (Hastings and Popper, 2005). This measurement is often used in the context of discussing behavioral effects, in part because behavioral effects, PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26273 which often result from auditory cues, may be better expressed through averaged units than by peak pressures. Sound exposure level (SEL; represented as dB re 1 mPa2-s) represents the total energy contained within a pulse, and considers both intensity and duration of exposure. Peak sound pressure (also referred to as zero-to-peak sound pressure or 0-p) is the maximum instantaneous sound pressure measurable in the water at a specified distance from the source, and is represented in the same units as the rms sound pressure. Another common metric is peak-to-peak sound pressure (pk-pk), which is the algebraic difference between the peak positive and peak negative sound pressures. Peak-to-peak pressure is typically approximately 6 dB higher than peak pressure (Southall et al., 2007). When underwater objects vibrate or activity occurs, sound-pressure waves are created. These waves alternately compress and decompress the water as the sound wave travels. Underwater sound waves radiate in a manner similar to ripples on the surface of a pond and may be either directed in a beam or beams or may radiate in all directions (omnidirectional sources), as is the case for pulses produced by the airgun arrays considered here. The compressions and decompressions associated with sound waves are detected as changes in pressure by aquatic life and man-made sound receptors such as hydrophones. Even in the absence of sound from the specified activity, the underwater environment is typically loud due to ambient sound. Ambient sound is defined as environmental background sound levels lacking a single source or point (Richardson et al., 1995), and the sound level of a region is defined by the total acoustical energy being generated by known and unknown sources. These sources may include physical (e.g., wind and waves, earthquakes, ice, atmospheric sound), biological (e.g., sounds produced by marine mammals, fish, and invertebrates), and anthropogenic (e.g., vessels, dredging, construction) sound. A number of sources contribute to ambient sound, including the following (Richardson et al., 1995): • Wind and waves: The complex interactions between wind and water surface, including processes such as breaking waves and wave-induced bubble oscillations and cavitation, are a main source of naturally occurring ambient sound for frequencies between 200 Hz and 50 kHz (Mitson, 1995). In general, ambient sound levels tend to increase with increasing wind speed and wave height. Surf sound becomes E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26274 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices important near shore, with measurements collected at a distance of 8.5 km from shore showing an increase of 10 dB in the 100 to 700 Hz band during heavy surf conditions. • Precipitation: Sound from rain and hail impacting the water surface can become an important component of total sound at frequencies above 500 Hz, and possibly down to 100 Hz during quiet times. • Biological: Marine mammals can contribute significantly to ambient sound levels, as can some fish and snapping shrimp. The frequency band for biological contributions is from approximately 12 Hz to over 100 kHz. • Anthropogenic: Sources of ambient sound related to human activity include transportation (surface vessels), dredging and construction, oil and gas drilling and production, seismic surveys, sonar, explosions, and ocean acoustic studies. Vessel noise typically dominates the total ambient sound for frequencies between 20 and 300 Hz. In general, the frequencies of anthropogenic sounds are below 1 kHz and, if higher frequency sound levels are created, they attenuate rapidly. Sound from identifiable anthropogenic sources other than the activity of interest (e.g., a passing vessel) is sometimes termed background sound, as opposed to ambient sound. The sum of the various natural and anthropogenic sound sources at any given location and time—which comprise ‘‘ambient’’ or ‘‘background’’ sound—depends not only on the source levels (as determined by current weather conditions and levels of biological and human activity) but also on the ability of sound to propagate through the environment. In turn, sound propagation is dependent on the spatially and temporally varying properties of the water column and sea floor, and is frequency-dependent. As a result of the dependence on a large number of varying factors, ambient sound levels can be expected to vary widely over both coarse and fine spatial and temporal scales. Sound levels at a given frequency and location can vary by 10–20 dB from day to day (Richardson et al., 1995). The result is that, depending on the source type and its intensity, sound from a given activity may be a negligible addition to the local environment or could form a distinctive signal that may affect marine mammals. Details of source types are described in the following text. Sounds are often considered to fall into one of two general types: Pulsed and non-pulsed (defined in the following). The distinction between these two sound types is important VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 because they have differing potential to cause physical effects, particularly with regard to hearing (e.g., Ward, 1997 in Southall et al., 2007). Please see Southall et al. (2007) for an in-depth discussion of these concepts. Pulsed sound sources (e.g., airguns, explosions, gunshots, sonic booms, impact pile driving) produce signals that are brief (typically considered to be less than one second), broadband, atonal transients (ANSI, 1986, 2005; Harris, 1998; NIOSH, 1998; ISO, 2003) and occur either as isolated events or repeated in some succession. Pulsed sounds are all characterized by a relatively rapid rise from ambient pressure to a maximal pressure value followed by a rapid decay period that may include a period of diminishing, oscillating maximal and minimal pressures, and generally have an increased capacity to induce physical injury as compared with sounds that lack these features. Non-pulsed sounds can be tonal, narrowband, or broadband, brief or prolonged, and may be either continuous or non-continuous (ANSI, 1995; NIOSH, 1998). Some of these nonpulsed sounds can be transient signals of short duration but without the essential properties of pulses (e.g., rapid rise time). Examples of non-pulsed sounds include those produced by vessels, aircraft, machinery operations such as drilling or dredging, vibratory pile driving, and active sonar systems (such as those used by the U.S. Navy). The duration of such sounds, as received at a distance, can be greatly extended in a highly reverberant environment. The active acoustic sound sources proposed for use (i.e., airgun arrays) produce pulsed signals. No other active acoustic systems are proposed for use for data acquisition purposes. Airguns produce sound with energy in a frequency range from about 10–2,000 Hz, with most energy radiated at frequencies below 200 Hz. The amplitude of the acoustic wave emitted from the source is equal in all directions (i.e., omnidirectional), but airgun arrays do possess some directionality due to different phase delays between guns in different directions. Airgun arrays are typically tuned to maximize functionality for data acquisition purposes, meaning that sound transmitted in horizontal directions and at higher frequencies is minimized to the extent possible. Vessel noise, produced largely by cavitation of propellers and by machinery inside the hull, is considered a non-pulsed sound. Sounds emitted by survey vessels are low frequency and PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 continuous, but would be widely dispersed in both space and time. Survey vessel traffic is of very low density compared to commercial shipping traffic or commercial fishing vessels and would therefore be expected to represent an insignificant incremental increase in the total amount of anthropogenic sound input to the marine environment. We do not consider vessel noise further in this analysis. Acoustic Effects Here, we first provide background information on marine mammal hearing before discussing the potential effects of the use of active acoustic sources on marine mammals. Marine Mammal Hearing—Hearing is the most important sensory modality for marine mammals underwater, and exposure to anthropogenic sound can have deleterious effects. To appropriately assess the potential effects of exposure to sound, it is necessary to understand the frequency ranges marine mammals are able to hear. Current data indicate that not all marine mammal species have equal hearing capabilities (e.g., Richardson et al., 1995; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999; Au and Hastings, 2008). To reflect this, Southall et al. (2007) recommended that marine mammals be divided into functional hearing groups based on directly measured or estimated hearing ranges on the basis of available behavioral response data, audiograms derived using auditory evoked potential techniques, anatomical modeling, and other data. Note that no direct measurements of hearing ability have been successfully completed for mysticetes (i.e., low-frequency cetaceans). Subsequently, NMFS (2016) described generalized hearing ranges for these marine mammal hearing groups. Generalized hearing ranges were chosen based on the approximately 65 dB threshold from the normalized composite audiograms, with the exception for lower limits for lowfrequency cetaceans where the lower bound was deemed to be biologically implausible and the lower bound from Southall et al. (2007) retained. Pinniped functional hearing is not discussed here, as no pinnipeds are expected to be affected by the specified activity. The functional groups and the associated frequencies are indicated below (note that these frequency ranges correspond to the range for the composite group, with the entire range not necessarily reflecting the capabilities of every species within that group): • Low-frequency cetaceans (mysticetes): Generalized hearing is E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices estimated to occur between approximately 7 Hz and 35 kHz, with best hearing estimated to be from 100 Hz to 8 kHz; • Mid-frequency cetaceans (larger toothed whales, beaked whales, and most delphinids): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 150 Hz and 160 kHz, with best hearing from 10 to less than 100 kHz; • High-frequency cetaceans (porpoises, river dolphins, and members of the genera Kogia and Cephalorhynchus; including two members of the genus Lagenorhynchus, on the basis of recent echolocation data and genetic data): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 275 Hz and 160 kHz. For more detail concerning these groups and associated frequency ranges, please see NMFS (2016) for a review of available information. Thirty-four marine mammal species, all cetaceans, have the reasonable potential to cooccur with the proposed survey activities. Please refer to Table 4. Of the species that may be present, seven are classified as low-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all mysticete species), 24 are classified as mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all delphinid and ziphiid species and the sperm whale), and three are classified as high-frequency cetaceans (i.e., harbor porpoise and Kogia spp.). Potential Effects of Underwater Sound—Please refer to the information given previously (‘‘Description of Active Acoustic Sources’’) regarding sound, characteristics of sound types, and metrics used in this document. Note that, in the following discussion, we refer in many cases to a recent review article concerning studies of noiseinduced hearing loss conducted from 1996–2015 (i.e., Finneran, 2015). For study-specific citations, please see that work. Anthropogenic sounds cover a broad range of frequencies and sound levels and can have a range of highly variable impacts on marine life, from none or minor to potentially severe responses, depending on received levels, duration of exposure, behavioral context, and various other factors. The potential effects of underwater sound from active acoustic sources can potentially result in one or more of the following: Temporary or permanent hearing impairment, non-auditory physical or physiological effects, behavioral disturbance, stress, and masking (Richardson et al., 1995; Gordon et al., 2004; Nowacek et al., ¨ 2007; Southall et al., 2007; Gotz et al., 2009). The degree of effect is intrinsically related to the signal characteristics, received level, distance VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 from the source, and duration of the sound exposure. In general, sudden, high level sounds can cause hearing loss, as can longer exposures to lower level sounds. Temporary or permanent loss of hearing will occur almost exclusively for noise within an animal’s hearing range. We first describe specific manifestations of acoustic effects before providing discussion specific to the use of airgun arrays. Richardson et al. (1995) described zones of increasing intensity of effect that might be expected to occur, in relation to distance from a source and assuming that the signal is within an animal’s hearing range. First is the area within which the acoustic signal would be audible (potentially perceived) to the animal, but not strong enough to elicit any overt behavioral or physiological response. The next zone corresponds with the area where the signal is audible to the animal and of sufficient intensity to elicit behavioral or physiological responsiveness. Third is a zone within which, for signals of high intensity, the received level is sufficient to potentially cause discomfort or tissue damage to auditory or other systems. Overlaying these zones to a certain extent is the area within which masking (i.e., when a sound interferes with or masks the ability of an animal to detect a signal of interest that is above the absolute hearing threshold) may occur; the masking zone may be highly variable in size. We describe the more severe effects certain non-auditory physical or physiological effects only briefly as we do not expect that use of airgun arrays are reasonably likely to result in such effects (see below for further discussion). Potential effects from impulsive sound sources can range in severity from effects such as behavioral disturbance or tactile perception to physical discomfort, slight injury of the internal organs and the auditory system, or mortality (Yelverton et al., 1973). Non-auditory physiological effects or injuries that theoretically might occur in marine mammals exposed to high level underwater sound or as a secondary effect of extreme behavioral reactions (e.g., change in dive profile as a result of an avoidance reaction) caused by exposure to sound include neurological effects, bubble formation, resonance effects, and other types of organ or tissue damage (Cox et al., 2006; Southall et al., 2007; Zimmer and Tyack, 2007; Tal et al., 2015). The survey activities considered here do not involve the use of devices such as explosives or midfrequency tactical sonar that are associated with these types of effects. PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26275 When a live or dead marine mammal swims or floats onto shore and is incapable of returning to sea, the event is termed a ‘‘stranding’’ (16 U.S.C. 1421h(3)). Marine mammals are known to strand for a variety of reasons, such as infectious agents, biotoxicosis, starvation, fishery interaction, ship strike, unusual oceanographic or weather events, sound exposure, or combinations of these stressors sustained concurrently or in series (e.g., Geraci et al., 1999). However, the cause or causes of most strandings are unknown (e.g., Best, 1982). Combinations of dissimilar stressors may combine to kill an animal or dramatically reduce its fitness, even though one exposure without the other would not be expected to produce the same outcome (e.g., Sih et al., 2004). For further description of specific stranding events see, e.g., Southall et al., 2006, 2013; Jepson et al., 2013; Wright et al., 2013. Use of military tactical sonar has been implicated in a majority of investigated stranding events, although one stranding event was associated with the use of seismic airguns. This event occurred in the Gulf of California, coincident with seismic reflection profiling by the R/V Maurice Ewing operated by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and involved two Cuvier’s beaked whales (Hildebrand, 2004). The vessel had been firing an array of 20 airguns with a total volume of 8,500 in3 (Hildebrand, 2004; Taylor et al., 2004). Most known stranding events have involved beaked whales, though a small number have involved deep-diving delphinids or sperm whales (e.g., Mazzariol et al., 2010; Southall et al., 2013). In general, long duration (∼1 second) and highintensity sounds (>235 dB SPL) have been implicated in stranding events (Hildebrand, 2004). With regard to beaked whales, mid-frequency sound is typically implicated (when causation can be determined) (Hildebrand, 2004). Although seismic airguns create predominantly low-frequency energy, the signal does include a mid-frequency component. 1. Threshold Shift—Marine mammals exposed to high-intensity sound, or to lower-intensity sound for prolonged periods, can experience hearing threshold shift (TS), which is the loss of hearing sensitivity at certain frequency ranges (Finneran, 2015). TS can be permanent (PTS), in which case the loss of hearing sensitivity is not fully recoverable, or temporary (TTS), in which case the animal’s hearing threshold would recover over time (Southall et al., 2007). Repeated sound E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26276 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices exposure that leads to TTS could cause PTS. In severe cases of PTS, there can be total or partial deafness, while in most cases the animal has an impaired ability to hear sounds in specific frequency ranges (Kryter, 1985). When PTS occurs, there is physical damage to the sound receptors in the ear (i.e., tissue damage), whereas TTS represents primarily tissue fatigue and is reversible (Southall et al., 2007). In addition, other investigators have suggested that TTS is within the normal bounds of physiological variability and tolerance and does not represent physical injury (e.g., Ward, 1997). Therefore, NMFS does not consider TTS to constitute auditory injury. Relationships between TTS and PTS thresholds have not been studied in marine mammals, and there is no PTS data for cetaceans, but such relationships are assumed to be similar to those in humans and other terrestrial mammals. PTS typically occurs at exposure levels at least several decibels above (a 40-dB threshold shift approximates PTS onset; e.g., Kryter et al., 1966; Miller, 1974) that inducing mild TTS (a 6-dB threshold shift approximates TTS onset; e.g., Southall et al. 2007). Based on data from terrestrial mammals, a precautionary assumption is that the PTS thresholds for impulse sounds (such as airgun pulses as received close to the source) are at least 6 dB higher than the TTS threshold on a peak-pressure basis and PTS cumulative sound exposure level thresholds are 15 to 20 dB higher than TTS cumulative sound exposure level thresholds (Southall et al., 2007). Given the higher level of sound or longer exposure duration necessary to cause PTS as compared with TTS, it is considerably less likely that PTS could occur. For mid-frequency cetaceans in particular, potential protective mechanisms may help limit onset of TTS or prevent onset of PTS. Such mechanisms include dampening of hearing, auditory adaptation, or behavioral amelioration (e.g., Nachtigall and Supin, 2013; Miller et al., 2012; Finneran et al., 2015; Popov et al., 2016). TTS is the mildest form of hearing impairment that can occur during exposure to sound (Kryter, 1985). While experiencing TTS, the hearing threshold rises, and a sound must be at a higher level in order to be heard. In terrestrial and marine mammals, TTS can last from minutes or hours to days (in cases of strong TTS). In many cases, hearing sensitivity recovers rapidly after exposure to the sound ends. Few data on sound levels and durations necessary VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 to elicit mild TTS have been obtained for marine mammals. Marine mammal hearing plays a critical role in communication with conspecifics, and interpretation of environmental cues for purposes such as predator avoidance and prey capture. Depending on the degree (elevation of threshold in dB), duration (i.e., recovery time), and frequency range of TTS, and the context in which it is experienced, TTS can have effects on marine mammals ranging from discountable to serious. For example, a marine mammal may be able to readily compensate for a brief, relatively small amount of TTS in a non-critical frequency range that occurs during a time where ambient noise is lower and there are not as many competing sounds present. Alternatively, a larger amount and longer duration of TTS sustained during time when communication is critical for successful mother/calf interactions could have more serious impacts. Finneran et al. (2015) measured hearing thresholds in three captive bottlenose dolphins before and after exposure to ten pulses produced by a seismic airgun in order to study TTS induced after exposure to multiple pulses. Exposures began at relatively low levels and gradually increased over a period of several months, with the highest exposures at peak SPLs from 196 to 210 dB and cumulative (unweighted) SELs from 193–195 dB. No substantial TTS was observed. In addition, behavioral reactions were observed that indicated that animals can learn behaviors that effectively mitigate noise exposures (although exposure patterns must be learned, which is less likely in wild animals than for the captive animals considered in this study). The authors note that the failure to induce more significant auditory effects likely due to the intermittent nature of exposure, the relatively low peak pressure produced by the acoustic source, and the low-frequency energy in airgun pulses as compared with the frequency range of best sensitivity for dolphins and other mid-frequency cetaceans. Currently, TTS data only exist for four species of cetaceans (bottlenose dolphin, beluga whale, harbor porpoise, and Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocoena asiaeorientalis)) exposed to a limited number of sound sources (i.e., mostly tones and octave-band noise) in laboratory settings (Finneran, 2015). In general, harbor porpoises have a lower TTS onset than other measured cetacean species (Finneran, 2015). Additionally, the existing marine mammal TTS data come from a limited number of individuals within these PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 species. There are no data available on noise-induced hearing loss for mysticetes. Critical questions remain regarding the rate of TTS growth and recovery after exposure to intermittent noise and the effects of single and multiple pulses. Data at present are also insufficient to construct generalized models for recovery and determine the time necessary to treat subsequent exposures as independent events. More information is needed on the relationship between auditory evoked potential and behavioral measures of TTS for various stimuli. 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), Finneran (2015), and NMFS (2016). 2. Behavioral Effects—Behavioral disturbance may include a variety of effects, including subtle changes in behavior (e.g., minor or brief avoidance of an area or changes in vocalizations), more conspicuous changes in similar behavioral activities, and more sustained and/or potentially severe reactions, such as displacement from or abandonment of high-quality habitat. Behavioral responses to sound are highly variable and context-specific and any reactions depend on numerous intrinsic and extrinsic factors (e.g., species, state of maturity, experience, current activity, reproductive state, auditory sensitivity, time of day), as well as the interplay between factors (e.g., Richardson et al., 1995; Wartzok et al., 2003; Southall et al., 2007; Weilgart, 2007; Archer et al., 2010). Behavioral reactions can vary not only among individuals but also within an individual, depending on previous experience with a sound source, context, and numerous other factors (Ellison et al., 2012), and can vary depending on characteristics associated with the sound source (e.g., whether it is moving or stationary, number of sources, distance from the source). Please see Appendices B–C of Southall et al. (2007) for a review of studies involving marine mammal behavioral responses to sound. Habituation can occur when an animal’s response to a stimulus wanes with repeated exposure, usually in the absence of unpleasant associated events (Wartzok et al., 2003). Animals are most likely to habituate to sounds that are predictable and unvarying. It is important to note that habituation is appropriately considered as a ‘‘progressive reduction in response to stimuli that are perceived as neither aversive nor beneficial,’’ rather than as, more generally, moderation in response E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices to human disturbance (Bejder et al., 2009). The opposite process is sensitization, when an unpleasant experience leads to subsequent responses, often in the form of avoidance, at a lower level of exposure. As noted, behavioral state may affect the type of response. For example, animals that are resting may show greater behavioral change in response to disturbing sound levels than animals that are highly motivated to remain in an area for feeding (Richardson et al., 1995; NRC, 2003; Wartzok et al., 2003). Controlled experiments with captive marine mammals have showed pronounced behavioral reactions, including avoidance of loud sound sources (Ridgway et al., 1997). Observed responses of wild marine mammals to loud pulsed sound sources (typically seismic airguns or acoustic harassment devices) have been varied but often consist of avoidance behavior or other behavioral changes suggesting discomfort (Morton and Symonds, 2002; see also Richardson et al., 1995; Nowacek et al., 2007). However, many delphinids approach acoustic source vessels with no apparent discomfort or obvious behavioral change (e.g., Barkaszi et al., 2012). Available studies show wide variation in response to underwater sound; therefore, it is difficult to predict specifically how any given sound in a particular instance might affect marine mammals perceiving the signal. 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; NRC, 2005). However, there are broad categories of potential response, which we describe in greater detail here, that include alteration of dive behavior, alteration of foraging behavior, effects to breathing, interference with or alteration of vocalization, avoidance, and flight. Changes in dive behavior can vary widely, and may consist of increased or decreased dive times and surface intervals as well as changes in the rates of ascent and descent during a dive (e.g., Frankel and Clark, 2000; Ng and Leung, 2003; Nowacek et al.; 2004; Goldbogen et al., 2013a, b). Variations in dive behavior may reflect interruptions in biologically significant activities (e.g., foraging) or they may be of little biological significance. The impact of an VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 alteration to dive behavior resulting from an acoustic exposure depends on what the animal is doing at the time of the exposure and the type and magnitude of the response. Disruption of feeding behavior can be difficult to correlate with anthropogenic sound exposure, so it is usually inferred by observed displacement from known foraging areas, the appearance of secondary indicators (e.g., bubble nets or sediment plumes), or changes in dive behavior. As for other types of behavioral response, the frequency, duration, and temporal pattern of signal presentation, as well as differences in species sensitivity, are likely contributing factors to differences in response in any given circumstance (e.g., Croll et al., 2001; Nowacek et al.; 2004; Madsen et al., 2006; Yazvenko et al., 2007). A determination of whether foraging disruptions incur fitness consequences would require information on or estimates of the energetic requirements of the affected individuals and the relationship between prey availability, foraging effort and success, and the life history stage of the animal. Visual tracking, passive acoustic monitoring, and movement recording tags were used to quantify sperm whale behavior prior to, during, and following exposure to airgun arrays at received levels in the range 140–160 dB at distances of 7–13 km, following a phasein of sound intensity and full array exposures at 1–13 km (Madsen et al., 2006; Miller et al., 2009). Sperm whales did not exhibit horizontal avoidance behavior at the surface. However, foraging behavior may have been affected. The sperm whales exhibited 19 percent less vocal (buzz) rate during full exposure relative to post exposure, and the whale that was approached most closely had an extended resting period and did not resume foraging until the airguns had ceased firing. The remaining whales continued to execute foraging dives throughout exposure; however, swimming movements during foraging dives were 6 percent lower during exposure than control periods (Miller et al., 2009). These data raise concerns that seismic surveys may impact foraging behavior in sperm whales, although more data are required to understand whether the differences were due to exposure or natural variation in sperm whale behavior (Miller et al., 2009). Variations in respiration naturally vary with different behaviors and alterations to breathing rate as a function of acoustic exposure can be expected to co-occur with other behavioral reactions, such as a flight PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26277 response or an alteration in diving. However, respiration rates in and of themselves may be representative of annoyance or an acute stress response. Various studies have shown that respiration rates may either be unaffected or could increase, depending on the species and signal characteristics, again highlighting the importance in understanding species differences in the tolerance of underwater noise when determining the potential for impacts resulting from anthropogenic sound exposure (e.g., Kastelein et al., 2001, 2005, 2006; Gailey et al., 2007; Gailey et al., 2016). Marine mammals vocalize for different purposes and across multiple modes, such as whistling, echolocation click production, calling, and singing. Changes in vocalization behavior in response to anthropogenic noise can occur for any of these modes and may result from a need to compete with an increase in background noise or may reflect increased vigilance or a startle response. For example, in the presence of potentially masking signals, humpback whales and killer whales have been observed to increase the length of their songs (Miller et al., 2000; Fristrup et al., 2003; Foote et al., 2004), while right whales have been observed to shift the frequency content of their calls upward while reducing the rate of calling in areas of increased anthropogenic noise (Parks et al., 2007). In some cases, animals may cease sound production during production of aversive signals (Bowles et al., 1994). Cerchio et al. (2014) used passive acoustic monitoring to document the presence of singing humpback whales off the coast of northern Angola and to opportunistically test for the effect of seismic survey activity on the number of singing whales. Two recording units were deployed between March and December 2008 in the offshore environment; numbers of singers were counted every hour. Generalized Additive Mixed Models were used to assess the effect of survey day (seasonality), hour (diel variation), moon phase, and received levels of noise (measured from a single pulse during each ten minute sampled period) on singer number. The number of singers significantly decreased with increasing received level of noise, suggesting that humpback whale breeding activity was disrupted to some extent by the survey activity. Castellote et al. (2012) reported acoustic and behavioral changes by fin whales in response to shipping and airgun noise. Acoustic features of fin whale song notes recorded in the Mediterranean Sea and northeast E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26278 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices Atlantic Ocean were compared for areas with different shipping noise levels and traffic intensities and during a seismic airgun survey. During the first 72 h of the survey, a steady decrease in song received levels and bearings to singers indicated that whales moved away from the acoustic source and out of the study area. This displacement persisted for a time period well beyond the 10-day duration of seismic airgun activity, providing evidence that fin whales may avoid an area for an extended period in the presence of increased noise. The authors hypothesize that fin whale acoustic communication is modified to compensate for increased background noise and that a sensitization process may play a role in the observed temporary displacement. Seismic pulses at average received levels of 131 dB re 1 mPa2-s caused blue whales to increase call production (Di Iorio and Clark, 2010). In contrast, McDonald et al. (1995) tracked a blue whale with seafloor seismometers and reported that it stopped vocalizing and changed its travel direction at a range of 10 km from the acoustic source vessel (estimated received level 143 dB pk-pk). Blackwell et al. (2013) found that bowhead whale call rates dropped significantly at onset of airgun use at sites with a median distance of 41–45 km from the survey. Blackwell et al. (2015) expanded this analysis to show that whales actually increased calling rates as soon as airgun signals were detectable before ultimately decreasing calling rates at higher received levels (i.e., 10-minute cSEL of ∼127 dB). Overall, these results suggest that bowhead whales may adjust their vocal output in an effort to compensate for noise before ceasing vocalization effort and ultimately deflecting from the acoustic source (Blackwell et al., 2013, 2015). These studies demonstrate that even low levels of noise received far from the source can induce changes in vocalization and/or behavior for mysticetes. Avoidance is the displacement of an individual from an area or migration path as a result of the presence of a sound or other stressors, and is one of the most obvious manifestations of disturbance in marine mammals (Richardson et al., 1995). For example, gray whales are known to change direction—deflecting from customary migratory paths—in order to avoid noise from seismic surveys (Malme et al., 1984). Humpback whales showed avoidance behavior in the presence of an active seismic array during observational studies and controlled exposure experiments in western Australia (McCauley et al., 2000). VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 Avoidance may be short-term, with animals returning to the area once the noise has ceased (e.g., Bowles et al., 1994; Goold, 1996; Stone et al., 2000; Morton and Symonds, 2002; Gailey et al., 2007). Longer-term displacement is possible, however, which may lead to changes in abundance or distribution patterns of the affected species in the affected region if habituation to the presence of the sound does not occur (e.g., Bejder et al., 2006; Teilmann et al., 2006). Forney et al. (2017) detail the potential effects of noise on marine mammal populations with high site fidelity, including displacement and auditory masking, noting that a lack of observed response does not imply absence of fitness costs and that apparent tolerance of disturbance may have population-level impacts that are less obvious and difficult to document. As we discuss in describing our proposed mitigation earlier in this document, avoidance of overlap between disturbing noise and areas and/ or times of particular importance for sensitive species may be critical to avoiding population-level impacts and because, particularly for animals with high site fidelity, there may be a strong motivation to remain in the area despite negative impacts. Forney et al. (2017) state that, for these animals, remaining in a disturbed area may reflect a lack of alternatives rather than a lack of effects. Among other case studies, the authors discuss beaked whales off Cape Hatteras, noting the apparent importance of this area to the species and citing studies indicating long-term, year-round fidelity. This information leads the authors to conclude that failure to appropriately address potential effects in this particular area could lead to severe biological consequences for these beaked whales, in part because displacement may adversely affect foraging rates, reproduction, or health, while an overriding instinct to remain could lead to more severe acute effects (Forney et al., 2017). A flight response is a dramatic change in normal movement to a directed and rapid movement away from the perceived location of a sound source. The flight response differs from other avoidance responses in the intensity of the response (e.g., directed movement, rate of travel). Relatively little information on flight responses of marine mammals to anthropogenic signals exist, although observations of flight responses to the presence of predators have occurred (Connor and Heithaus, 1996). The result of a flight response could range from brief, PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 temporary exertion and displacement from the area where the signal provokes flight to, in extreme cases, marine mammal strandings (Evans and England, 2001). However, it should be noted that response to a perceived predator does not necessarily invoke flight (Ford and Reeves, 2008), and whether individuals are solitary or in groups may influence the response. Behavioral disturbance can also impact marine mammals in more subtle ways. Increased vigilance may result in costs related to diversion of focus and attention (i.e., when a response consists of increased vigilance, it may come at the cost of decreased attention to other critical behaviors such as foraging or resting). These effects have generally not been demonstrated for marine mammals, but studies involving fish and terrestrial animals have shown that increased vigilance may substantially reduce feeding rates (e.g., Beauchamp and Livoreil, 1997; Fritz et al., 2002; Purser and Radford, 2011). In addition, chronic disturbance can cause population declines through reduction of fitness (e.g., decline in body condition) and subsequent reduction in reproductive success, survival, or both (e.g., Harrington and Veitch, 1992; Daan et al., 1996; Bradshaw et al., 1998). However, Ridgway et al. (2006) reported that increased vigilance in bottlenose dolphins exposed to sound over a fiveday period did not cause any sleep deprivation or stress effects. Many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, traveling, and socializing, on a diel cycle (24-hour cycle). Disruption of such functions resulting from reactions to stressors such as sound exposure are more likely to be significant if they last more than one diel cycle or recur on subsequent days (Southall et al., 2007). Consequently, a behavioral response lasting less than one day and not recurring on subsequent days is not considered particularly severe unless it could directly affect reproduction or survival (Southall et al., 2007). Note that there is a difference between multi-day substantive behavioral reactions and multi-day anthropogenic activities. For example, just because an activity lasts for multiple days does not necessarily mean that individual animals are either exposed to activity-related stressors for multiple days or, further, exposed in a manner resulting in sustained multi-day substantive behavioral responses. Stone (2015) reported data from at-sea observations during 1,196 seismic surveys from 1994 to 2010. When large arrays of airguns (considered to be 500 in3 or more) were firing, lateral displacement, more localized E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices avoidance, or other changes in behavior were evident for most odontocetes. However, significant responses to large arrays were found only for the minke whale and fin whale. Behavioral responses observed included changes in swimming or surfacing behavior, with indications that cetaceans remained near the water surface at these times. Cetaceans were recorded as feeding less often when large arrays were active. Behavioral observations of gray whales during a seismic survey monitored whale movements and respirations pre-, during and post-seismic survey (Gailey et al., 2016). Behavioral state and water depth were the best ‘natural’ predictors of whale movements and respiration and, after considering natural variation, none of the response variables were significantly associated with seismic survey or vessel sounds. 3. Stress Responses—An animal’s perception of a threat may be sufficient to trigger stress responses consisting of some combination of behavioral responses, autonomic nervous system responses, neuroendocrine responses, or immune responses (e.g., Seyle, 1950; Moberg, 2000). In many cases, an animal’s first and sometimes most economical (in terms of energetic costs) response is behavioral avoidance of the potential stressor. Autonomic nervous system responses to stress typically involve changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and gastrointestinal activity. These responses have a relatively short duration and may or may not have a significant long-term effect on an animal’s fitness. Neuroendocrine stress responses often involve the hypothalamus-pituitaryadrenal system. Virtually all neuroendocrine 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, altered metabolism, reduced immune competence, and behavioral disturbance (e.g., Moberg, 1987; Blecha, 2000). Increases in the circulation of glucocorticoids are also equated with stress (Romano et al., 2004). The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does not normally place an animal at risk) and ‘‘distress’’ is the 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 serious fitness consequences. However, when an animal does not have sufficient energy reserves to satisfy the energetic VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 costs of a stress response, energy resources must be diverted from other functions. This state of distress will last until the animal replenishes its energetic reserves sufficiently to restore normal function. Relationships between these physiological mechanisms, animal behavior, and the costs of stress responses are well-studied through controlled experiments and for both laboratory and free-ranging animals (e.g., Holberton et al., 1996; Hood et al., 1998; Jessop et al., 2003; Krausman et al., 2004; Lankford et al., 2005). Stress responses due to exposure to anthropogenic sounds or other stressors and their effects on marine mammals have also been reviewed (Fair and Becker, 2000; Romano et al., 2002b) and, more rarely, studied in wild populations (e.g., Romano et al., 2002a). 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. These and other studies lead to a reasonable expectation that some marine mammals will experience physiological stress responses upon exposure to acoustic stressors and that it is possible that some of these would be classified as ‘‘distress.’’ In addition, any animal experiencing TTS would likely also experience stress responses (NRC, 2003). 4. Auditory Masking—Sound can disrupt behavior through masking, or interfering with, an animal’s ability to detect, recognize, or discriminate between acoustic signals of interest (e.g., those used for intraspecific communication and social interactions, prey detection, predator avoidance, navigation) (Richardson et al., 1995; Erbe et al., 2016). Masking occurs when the receipt of a sound is interfered with by another coincident sound at similar frequencies and at similar or higher intensity, and may occur whether the sound is natural (e.g., snapping shrimp, wind, waves, precipitation) or anthropogenic (e.g., shipping, sonar, seismic exploration) in origin. The ability of a noise source to mask biologically important sounds depends on the characteristics of both the noise source and the signal of interest (e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, temporal variability, direction), in relation to each other and to an animal’s hearing abilities (e.g., sensitivity, frequency range, critical ratios, frequency discrimination, directional discrimination, age or TTS hearing loss), and existing ambient noise and propagation conditions. PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26279 Under certain circumstances, marine mammals experiencing significant masking could also be impaired from maximizing their performance fitness in survival and reproduction. Therefore, when the coincident (masking) sound is man-made, it may be considered harassment when disrupting or altering critical behaviors. It is important to distinguish TTS and PTS, which persist after the sound exposure, from masking, which occurs during the sound exposure. Because masking (without resulting in TS) is not associated with abnormal physiological function, it is not considered a physiological effect, but rather a potential behavioral effect. The frequency range of the potentially masking sound is important in determining any potential behavioral impacts. For example, low-frequency signals may have less effect on highfrequency echolocation sounds produced by odontocetes but are more likely to affect detection of mysticete communication calls and other potentially important natural sounds such as those produced by surf and some prey species. The masking of communication signals by anthropogenic noise may be considered as a reduction in the communication space of animals (e.g., Clark et al., 2009) and may result in energetic or other costs as animals change their vocalization behavior (e.g., Miller et al., 2000; Foote et al., 2004; Parks et al., 2007; Di Iorio and Clark, 2009; Holt et al., 2009). Masking can be reduced in situations where the signal and noise come from different directions (Richardson et al., 1995), through amplitude modulation of the signal, or through other compensatory behaviors (Houser and Moore, 2014). Masking can be tested directly in captive species (e.g., Erbe, 2008), but in wild populations it must be either modeled or inferred from evidence of masking compensation. There are few studies addressing real-world masking sounds likely to be experienced by marine mammals in the wild (e.g., Branstetter et al., 2013). Masking affects both senders and receivers of acoustic signals and can potentially have long-term chronic effects on marine mammals at the population level as well as at the individual level. Low-frequency ambient sound levels have increased by as much as 20 dB (more than three times in terms of SPL) in the world’s ocean from pre-industrial periods, with most of the increase from distant commercial shipping (Hildebrand, 2009). All anthropogenic sound sources, but especially chronic and lower-frequency signals (e.g., from vessel traffic), E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26280 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 contribute to elevated ambient sound levels, thus intensifying masking. Ship Strike Vessel collisions with marine mammals, or ship strikes, can result in death or serious injury of the animal. Wounds resulting from ship strike may include massive trauma, hemorrhaging, broken bones, or propeller lacerations (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001). An animal at the surface may be struck directly by a vessel, a surfacing animal may hit the bottom of a vessel, or an animal just below the surface may be cut by a vessel’s propeller. Superficial strikes may not kill or result in the death of the animal. These interactions are typically associated with large whales (e.g., fin whales), which are occasionally found draped across the bulbous bow of large commercial ships upon arrival in port. Although smaller cetaceans are more maneuverable in relation to large vessels than are large whales, they may also be susceptible to strike. The severity of injuries typically depends on the size and speed of the vessel, with the probability of death or serious injury increasing as vessel speed increases (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Laist et al., 2001; Vanderlaan and Taggart, 2007; Conn and Silber, 2013). Impact forces increase with speed, as does the probability of a strike at a given distance (Silber et al., 2010; Gende et al., 2011). Pace and Silber (2005) also found that the probability of death or serious injury increased rapidly with increasing vessel speed. Specifically, the predicted probability of serious injury or death increased from 45 to 75 percent as vessel speed increased from 10 to 14 kn, and exceeded 90 percent at 17 kn. Higher speeds during collisions result in greater force of impact, but higher speeds also appear to increase the chance of severe injuries or death through increased likelihood of collision by pulling whales toward the vessel (Clyne, 1999; Knowlton et al., 1995). In a separate study, Vanderlaan and Taggart (2007) analyzed the probability of lethal mortality of large whales at a given speed, showing that the greatest rate of change in the probability of a lethal injury to a large whale as a function of vessel speed occurs between 8.6 and 15 kn. The chances of a lethal injury decline from approximately 80 percent at 15 kn to approximately 20 percent at 8.6 kn. At speeds below 11.8 kn, the chances of lethal injury drop below 50 percent, while the probability asymptotically increases toward one hundred percent above 15 kn. In an effort to reduce the number and severity of strikes of the endangered VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 North Atlantic right whale, NMFS implemented speed restrictions in 2008 (73 FR 60173; October 10, 2008). These restrictions require that vessels greater than or equal to 65 ft (19.8 m) in length travel at less than or equal to 10 kn near key port entrances and in certain areas of right whale aggregation along the U.S. eastern seaboard. Conn and Silber (2013) estimated that these restrictions reduced total ship strike mortality risk levels by 80 to 90 percent. For vessels used in seismic survey activities, vessel speed while towing gear is typically only 4–5 kn. At these speeds, both the possibility of striking a marine mammal and the possibility of a strike resulting in serious injury or mortality are discountable. At average transit speed, the probability of serious injury or mortality resulting from a strike is less than 50 percent. However, the likelihood of a strike actually happening is again discountable. Ship strikes, as analyzed in the studies cited above, generally involve commercial shipping, which is much more common in both space and time than is geophysical survey activity. Jensen and Silber (2004) summarized ship strikes of large whales worldwide from 1975– 2003 and found that most collisions occurred in the open ocean and involved large vessels (e.g., commercial shipping). Commercial fishing vessels were responsible for three percent of recorded collisions, while no such incidents were reported for geophysical survey vessels during that time period. It is possible for ship strikes to occur while traveling at slow speeds. For example, a hydrographic survey vessel traveling at low speed (5.5 kn) while conducting mapping surveys off the central California coast struck and killed a blue whale in 2009. The State of California determined that the whale had suddenly and unexpectedly surfaced beneath the hull, with the result that the propeller severed the whale’s vertebrae, and that this was an unavoidable event. This strike represents the only such incident in approximately 540,000 hours of similar coastal mapping activity (p = 1.9 × 10¥6; 95% CI = 0–5.5 × 10¥6; NMFS, 2013b). In addition, a research vessel reported a fatal strike in 2011 of a dolphin in the Atlantic, demonstrating that it is possible for strikes involving smaller cetaceans to occur. In that case, the incident report indicated that an animal apparently was struck by the vessel’s propeller as it was intentionally swimming near the vessel. While indicative of the type of unusual events that cannot be ruled out, neither of these instances represents a circumstance that would be considered reasonably PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 foreseeable or that would be considered preventable. Although the likelihood of vessels associated with seismic surveys striking a marine mammal are low, we require a robust ship strike avoidance protocol (see ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’), which we believe eliminates any foreseeable risk of ship strike. We anticipate that vessel collisions involving seismic data acquisition vessels towing gear, while not impossible, represent unlikely, unpredictable events for which there are no preventive measures. Given the required mitigation measures, the relatively slow speeds of vessels towing gear, the presence of bridge crew watching for obstacles at all times (including marine mammals), the presence of marine mammal observers, and the small number of seismic survey cruises, we believe that the possibility of ship strike is discountable and, further, that were a strike of a large whale to occur, it would be unlikely to result in serious injury or mortality. No incidental take resulting from ship strike is anticipated, and this potential effect of the specified activity will not be discussed further in the following analysis. Other Potential Impacts—Here, we briefly address the potential risks due to entanglement and contaminant spills. We are not aware of any records of marine mammal entanglement in towed arrays such as those considered here. The discharge of trash and debris is prohibited (33 CFR 151.51–77) unless it is passed through a machine that breaks up solids such that they can pass through a 25-mm mesh screen. All other trash and debris must be returned to shore for proper disposal with municipal and solid waste. Some personal items may be accidentally lost overboard. However, U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Act regulations require operators to become proactive in avoiding accidental loss of solid waste items by developing waste management plans, posting informational placards, manifesting trash sent to shore, and using special precautions such as covering outside trash bins to prevent accidental loss of solid waste. Any permits issued by BOEM would include guidance for the handling and disposal of marine trash and debris, similar to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) NTL 2012–G01 (‘‘Marine Trash and Debris Awareness and Elimination’’) (BSEE, 2012; BOEM, 2014b). There are no meaningful entanglement risks posed by the described activity, and entanglement risks are not discussed further in this document. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Marine mammals could be affected by accidentally spilled diesel fuel from a vessel associated with proposed survey activities. Quantities of diesel fuel on the sea surface may affect marine mammals through various pathways: Surface contact of the fuel with skin and other mucous membranes, inhalation of concentrated petroleum vapors, or ingestion of the fuel (direct ingestion or by the ingestion of oiled prey) (e.g., Geraci and St. Aubin, 1980, 1985, 1990). However, the likelihood of a fuel spill during any particular geophysical survey is considered to be remote, and the potential for impacts to marine mammals would depend greatly on the size and location of a spill and meteorological conditions at the time of the spill. Spilled fuel would rapidly spread to a layer of varying thickness and break up into narrow bands or windrows parallel to the wind direction. The rate at which the fuel spreads would be determined by the prevailing conditions such as temperature, water currents, tidal streams, and wind speeds. Lighter, volatile components of the fuel would evaporate to the atmosphere almost completely in a few days. Evaporation rate may increase as the fuel spreads because of the increased surface area of the slick. Rougher seas, high wind speeds, and high temperatures also tend to increase the rate of evaporation and the proportion of fuel lost by this process (Scholz et al., 1999). We do not anticipate potentially meaningful effects to marine mammals as a result of any contaminant spill resulting from the proposed survey activities, and contaminant spills are not discussed further in this document. Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat Effects to Prey—Marine mammal prey varies by species, season, and location and, for some, is not well documented. Fish react to sounds which are especially strong and/or intermittent low-frequency sounds. Short duration, sharp sounds can cause overt or subtle changes in fish behavior and local distribution. Hastings and Popper (2005) identified several studies that suggest fish may relocate to avoid certain areas of sound energy. Additional studies have documented effects of pulsed sound on fish, although several are based on studies in support of construction projects (e.g., Scholik and Yan, 2001, 2002; Popper and Hastings, 2009). Sound pulses at received levels of 160 dB may cause subtle changes in fish behavior. SPLs of 180 dB may cause noticeable changes in behavior (Pearson et al., 1992; Skalski et al., 1992). SPLs VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 of sufficient strength have been known to cause injury to fish and fish mortality. The most likely impact to fish from survey activities at the project area would be temporary avoidance of the area. The duration of fish avoidance of a given area after survey effort stops is unknown, but a rapid return to normal recruitment, distribution and behavior is anticipated. In general, impacts to marine mammal prey species are expected to be minor and temporary due to the short timeframe in which any given acoustic source vessel would be operating in any given area. However, adverse impacts may occur to a few species of fish which may still be present in the project area despite operating in a reduced work window in an attempt to avoid important fish spawning time periods. Acoustic Habitat—Acoustic habitat is the soundscape—which encompasses all of the sound present in a particular location and time, as a whole—when considered from the perspective of the animals experiencing it. Animals produce sound for, or listen for sounds produced by, conspecifics (communication during feeding, mating, and other social activities), other animals (finding prey or avoiding predators), and the physical environment (finding suitable habitats, navigating). Together, sounds made by animals and the geophysical environment (e.g., produced by earthquakes, lightning, wind, rain, waves) make up the natural contributions to the total acoustics of a place. These acoustic conditions, termed acoustic habitat, are one attribute of an animal’s total habitat. Soundscapes are also defined by, and acoustic habitat influenced by, the total contribution of anthropogenic sound. This may include incidental emissions from sources such as vessel traffic, or may be intentionally introduced to the marine environment for data acquisition purposes (as in the use of airgun arrays). Anthropogenic noise varies widely in its frequency content, duration, and loudness and these characteristics greatly influence the potential habitatmediated effects to marine mammals (please see also the previous discussion on masking under ‘‘Acoustic Effects’’), which may range from local effects for brief periods of time to chronic effects over large areas and for long durations. Depending on the extent of effects to habitat, animals may alter their communications signals (thereby potentially expending additional energy) or miss acoustic cues (either conspecific or adventitious). For more detail on these concepts see, e.g., Barber et al., 2010; Pijanowski et al., 2011; PO 00000 Frm 00039 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26281 Francis and Barber, 2013; Lillis et al., 2014. Problems arising from a failure to detect cues are more likely to occur when noise stimuli are chronic and overlap with biologically relevant cues used for communication, orientation, and predator/prey detection (Francis and Barber, 2013). Although the signals emitted by seismic airgun arrays are generally low frequency, they would also likely be of short duration and transient in any given area due to the nature of these surveys. As described previously, exploratory surveys such as these cover a large area but would be transient rather than focused in a given location over time and therefore would not be considered chronic in any given location. In summary, activities associated with the proposed action are not likely to have a permanent, adverse effect on any fish habitat or populations of fish species or on the quality of acoustic habitat. Thus, any impacts to marine mammal habitat are not expected to cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, section 3(18) of 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).’’ Anticipated takes would primarily be by Level B harassment, as use of the acoustic source (i.e., airgun array) has the potential to result in disruption of behavioral patterns for individual marine mammals. There is also some potential for auditory injury (Level A harassment) to result from use of the acoustic source, primarily for either high-frequency or low-frequency hearing specialists due to larger predicted auditory injury zones (on the basis of peak pressure and cumulative SEL, respectively). Auditory injury is unlikely to occur for most midfrequency hearing specialists (e.g., dolphins, sperm whale). The proposed mitigation and monitoring measures are expected to minimize the severity of such taking to the extent practicable. It is unlikely that lethal takes would occur E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26282 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices even in the absence of the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures, and no such takes are anticipated or proposed for authorization. Sound Thresholds We have historically used generic acoustic thresholds (see Table 5) to determine when an activity that produces sound might result in impacts to a marine mammal such that a take by harassment might occur. These thresholds should be considered guidelines for estimating when harassment may occur (i.e., when an animal is exposed to levels equal to or exceeding the relevant criterion) in specific contexts; however, useful contextual information that may inform our assessment of effects is typically lacking and we consider these thresholds as step functions. We are aware of suggestions regarding new criteria concerning behavioral disruption (e.g., Nowacek et al., 2015), but there is currently no scientific agreement on the matter. NMFS will consider potential changes to the historical criteria for behavioral harassment in the future. TABLE 5—HISTORICAL ACOUSTIC EXPOSURE CRITERIA FOR IMPULSIVE SOURCES Criterion Definition Level A harassment ........................ Injury (onset PTS—any level above that which is known to cause TTS). Behavioral disruption ............................................................................. sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Level B harassment ........................ However, NMFS has recently introduced new technical guidance for auditory injury (equating to Level A harassment under the MMPA); for more information, please visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/ guidelines.htm (NMFS, 2016). Historical threshold levels for auditory injury were developed in the late 1990s using the best information available at the time (e.g., HESS, 1999). Since the adoption of these historical thresholds, our understanding of the effects of noise on marine mammal hearing has greatly advanced (e.g., Southall et al., 2007; Finneran, 2015). The new technical guidance identifies the received levels, or thresholds, above which individual marine mammals are predicted to experience changes in their hearing sensitivity for all underwater anthropogenic sound sources, reflects the best available science, and better predicts the potential for auditory injury than does NMFS’s historical criteria. The technical guidance reflects the best available science on the potential for noise to affect auditory sensitivity by: • Dividing sound sources into two groups (i.e., impulsive and nonimpulsive) based on their potential to affect hearing sensitivity; • Choosing metrics that better address the impacts of noise on hearing sensitivity, i.e., peak sound pressure level (peak SPL) (better reflects the physical properties of impulsive sound sources, to affect hearing sensitivity) and cumulative sound exposure level (cSEL) (accounts for not only level of exposure but also durations of exposure); • Dividing marine mammals into hearing groups and developing auditory weighting functions based on the science supporting that not all marine mammals hear and use sound in the same manner. VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 Threshold NMFS’s new technical guidance (NMFS, 2016) builds upon the foundation provided by Southall et al. (2007), while incorporating new information available since development of that work (e.g., Finneran, 2015). Southall et al. (2007) recommended specific thresholds under the dual metric approach (i.e., peak SPL and cumulative SEL) and that marine mammals be divided into functional hearing groups based on measured or estimated functional hearing ranges. The premise of the dual criteria approach is that, while there is no definitive answer to the question of which acoustic metric is most appropriate for assessing the potential for injury, both the received level and duration of received signals are important to an understanding of the potential for auditory injury. Therefore, peak SPL is used to define a pressure criterion above which auditory injury is predicted to occur, regardless of exposure duration (i.e., any single exposure at or above this level is considered to cause auditory injury), and cSEL is used to account for the total energy received over the duration of sound exposure (i.e., both received level and duration of exposure) (Southall et al., 2007; NMFS, 2016). As a general principle, whichever criterion is exceeded first (i.e., results in the largest isopleth) would be used as the effective injury criterion (i.e., the more precautionary of the criteria). Note that cSEL acoustic threshold levels incorporate marine mammal auditory weighting functions, while peak pressure thresholds do not (i.e., flat or unweighted). NMFS (2016) recommends 24 hours as a maximum accumulation period relative to cSEL thresholds. For further discussion of auditory weighting functions and their application, please see NMFS (2016). Table 6 displays thresholds provided by NMFS (2016). PO 00000 Frm 00040 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 180 dB rms (cetaceans). 160 dB rms (impulse sources). TABLE 6—EXPOSURE CRITERIA FOR AUDITORY INJURY FOR IMPULSIVE SOURCES Hearing group Low-frequency cetaceans ...... Mid-frequency cetaceans ...... High-frequency cetaceans ...... Peak pressure 1 (dB) Cumulative sound exposure level 2 (dB) 219 183 230 185 202 155 to 1 μPa; unweighted within generalized hearing range. 2 Referenced to 1 μPa2s; weighted according to appropriate auditory weighting function. 1 Referenced NMFS considers these updated thresholds and associated weighting functions to be the best available information for assessing whether exposure to specific activities is likely to result in changes in marine mammal hearing sensitivity. However, all applications were submitted and declared adequate and complete prior to finalization of the technical guidance, based on the best available information at the time. BOEM’s PEIS (BOEM, 2014a) does provide information enabling a reasonable approximation of potential acoustic exposures relative to the ‘‘Southall criteria.’’ While the peerreviewed criteria provided by Southall et al. (2007) differ from that described by NMFS (2016), they do function substantively as a reasonable precursor to the new technical guidance. We derived applicant specific exposure estimates for Level A harassment from BOEM’s PEIS and then corrected these to reasonably account for NMFS’s new technical guidance. This process is described below (see ‘‘Level A Harassment’’). E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Sound Field Modeling BOEM’s PEIS (BOEM, 2014a) provides information related to estimation of the sound fields that would be generated by potential geophysical survey activity on the mid- and south Atlantic OCS. We provide a summary description of that modeling effort here; for more information, please see Appendix D of BOEM’s PEIS (Zykov and Carr, 2014 in BOEM, 2014a). The acoustic modeling generated a three-dimensional acoustic propagation field as a function of source characteristics and physical properties of the ocean for later integration with marine mammal density information in an animal movement model to estimate potential acoustic exposures. The authors selected 15 modeling sites throughout BOEM’s Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic OCS planning areas for use in modeling predicted sound fields resulting from use of the airgun array. The water depth at the sites varied from 30–5,400 m. Two types of bottom composition were considered: Sand and clay, their selection depending on the water depth at the source. Twelve possible sound speed profiles for the water column were used to cover the variation of the sound velocity distribution in the water with location and season. Twenty-one distinct propagation scenarios resulted from considering different sound speed profiles at some of the modeling sites. Two acoustic propagation models were employed to estimate the acoustic field radiated by the sound sources. A version of JASCO Applied Science’s Marine Operations Noise Model (MONM), based on the Rangedependent Acoustic Model (RAM) parabolic-equations model, MONM– RAM, was used to estimate the SELs for low-frequency sources (below 2 kHz) such as an airgun array. For more information on sound propagation model types, please see, e.g., Etter (2013). The model takes into account the geoacoustic properties of the sea bottom, vertical sound speed profile in the water column, range-dependent bathymetry, and the directivity of the source. The directional source levels for the airgun array was modeled using the Airgun Array Source Model (AASM) based on the specifications of the source such as the arrangement and volume of the guns, firing pressure, and depth below the sea surface. The modeled directional source levels were used as the input for the acoustic propagation model. For background information on major factors affecting underwater sound propagation, please see Zykov and Carr (2014). VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 The modeling used a 5,400 in3 airgun array as a representative example. The array has dimensions of 16 x 15 m and consists of 18 air guns placed in three identical strings of six air guns each (please see Figure D–6 of Zykov and Carr (2014)). The volume of individual air guns ranges from 105–660 in3. Firing pressure for all elements is 2,000 psi. The depth below the sea surface for the array was set at 6.5 m. Please see Table 1 for a comparison to the airgun arrays proposed for use by the applicant companies. Horizontal third-octave band directionality plots resulting from source modeling are shown in Figure D– 8 of Zykov and Carr (2014). As noted, the AASM was used to predict the directional source level (SL) of the airgun array. The MONM was then used to estimate the acoustic field at any range from the source. MONM– RAM was used to predict the directional transmission loss (TL) footprint from various source locations corresponding to the selected modeling sites. The received level (RL) at any 3D location away from the source is calculated by combining the SL and TL, both of which are direction dependent, using the fundamental relation RL = SL¥TL. Acoustic TL and RL are a function of depth, range, bearing, and environmental properties of the propagation medium. The RLs estimated by MONM, like the SLs from which they are computed, are expressed in terms of the SEL metric over the duration of a single source pulse. Sound exposure level is expressed in units of dB re 1 mPa2 · s. For the purposes of this study, the SEL results were converted to the rms SPL metric using a range dependent conversion coefficient. The U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office’s Generalized Digital Environmental Model database was used to extract sound velocity profiles for the mid- and south Atlantic in order to characterize the entire water body into a discreet number of specific propagation regions. The profiles were selected to reflect the variation of sea water properties at the different locations selected throughout the midand south Atlantic OCS as well as seasonal variation at the same location (i.e., winter, spring, summer, fall). The profiles for each season were grouped into about 17 regions with similar propagation characteristics and representative profiles for each region were selected. Finally, the bottom characteristics for each of these 17 regions were examined to determine if any region needed to be divided to accommodate the influence of the various bottom types on that region’s propagation. The result was 21 separate PO 00000 Frm 00041 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26283 modeling regions that in sum captured the propagation for the entire area; therefore, taken in conjunction with the 15 applicable sites there were a total of 21 modeling scenarios applicable to the airgun array. These scenarios are detailed in Table D–21 in Zykov and Carr (2014). Each acoustic modeling scenario is characterized by a unique combination of parameters. The main variables in the environment configuration are the bathymetry and the sound velocity profile in the water column. The geoacoustic properties of the sea bottom are directly correlated with the water depth of the modeling site. Four depth regions were classified based on bathymetry: Shallow continental shelf (<60 m); continental shelf (60–150 m); continental slope (150–1,000 m); and deep ocean (>1,000 m). The modeling results show that the largest threshold radii are typically associated with sites in intermediate water depths (250 and 900 m). Low frequencies propagate relatively poorly in shallow water (i.e., water depths on the same order as or less than the wavelength). At intermediate water depths, this stripping of low-frequency sound no longer occurs, and longerrange propagation can be enhanced by the channeling of sound caused by reflection from the surface and seafloor (depending on the nature of the sound speed profile and sediment type). Table 7 shows scenario-specific modeling results for distances to the 160 dB level; results presented are for the 95 percent range to threshold. Given a regularly gridded spatial distribution of modeled RLs, the 95 percent range is defined as the radius of a circle that encompasses 95 percent of the grid points whose value is equal to or greater than the threshold value. This definition is meaningful in terms of potential impact to an animal because, regardless of the geometrical shape of the noise footprint for a given threshold level, it always provides a range beyond which no more than five percent of a uniformly distributed population would be exposed to sound at or above that level. The maximum range, which is simply the distance to the farthest occurrence of the threshold level, is the more conservative but may misrepresent the effective exposure zone. For example, there are cases where the volume ensonified to a specific level may not be continuous and small pockets of higher RLs may be found far outside the main ensonified volume (for example, because of convergence). If only the maximum range is presented, a false impression of the extent of the acoustic E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26284 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices field can be given (Zykov and Carr, 2014). TABLE 7—MODELING SCENARIOS AND SITE-SPECIFIC MODELED THRESHOLD RADII FROM BOEM’S PEIS Scenario No. Site No.1 Water depth (m) Season Bottom type 1 ........................................................................................... 2 ........................................................................................... 3 ........................................................................................... 4 ........................................................................................... 5 ........................................................................................... 6 ........................................................................................... 7 ........................................................................................... 8 ........................................................................................... 9 ........................................................................................... 10 ......................................................................................... 11 ......................................................................................... 12 ......................................................................................... 13 ......................................................................................... 14 ......................................................................................... 15 ......................................................................................... 16 ......................................................................................... 17 ......................................................................................... 18 ......................................................................................... 19 ......................................................................................... 20 ......................................................................................... 21 ......................................................................................... Mean .................................................................................... 1 2 3 4 5 1 6 3 7 8 1 6 3 9 10 11 12 13 3 14 15 ........................ 5,390 2,560 880 249 288 5,390 3,200 880 251 249 5,390 3,200 880 275 4,300 3,010 4,890 3,580 880 100 51 ........................ Winter ............ Winter ............ Winter ............ Winter ............ Winter ............ Spring ............ Spring ............ Spring ............ Spring ............ Spring ............ Summer ......... Summer ......... Summer ......... Summer ......... Fall ................. Fall ................. Fall ................. Fall ................. Fall ................. Fall ................. Fall ................. ........................ Clay ................ Clay ................ Sand .............. Sand .............. Sand .............. Clay ................ Clay ................ Sand .............. Sand .............. Sand .............. Clay ................ Clay ................ Sand .............. Sand .............. Clay ................ Clay ................ Clay ................ Clay ................ Sand .............. Sand .............. Sand .............. ........................ Threshold radii (m)2 4,969 5,184 8,104 8,725 8,896 4,989 5,026 8,056 8,593 8,615 4,973 5,013 8,095 9,122 5,121 5,098 4,959 5,069 8,083 8,531 8,384 6,838 Adapted from Tables D–21 and D–22 of Zykov and Carr (2014). 1 Please see Figure D–35 of Zykov and Carr (2014) for site locations. 2 Threshold radii to 160 dB (rms) SPL, 95 percent range. We provide this description of the modeling performed for BOEM’s PEIS as a general point of reference for the proposed surveys, and also because three of the applicant companies—TGS, CGG, and Western—directly use these results to inform their exposure modeling, rather than performing separate sound field modeling. As described by BOEM (2014a), the modeled array was selected to be representative of the large airgun arrays likely to be used by geophysical exploration companies in the mid- and south Atlantic OCS. Therefore, we use the BOEM (2014a) results as a reasonable proxy for those two companies (please see ‘‘Detailed Description of Activities’’ for further description of the acoustic sources proposed for use by these two companies). ION and Spectrum elected to perform separate sound field modeling efforts, and these are described below. For generally applicable conclusions, as summarized from Appendix A of ION’s application, see below. ION—ION provided information related to estimation of the sound fields that would be generated by their proposed geophysical survey activity on the mid- and south Atlantic OCS. We provide a summary description of that modeling effort here; for more information, please see Appendix A of ION’s application (Li, 2014; referred to hereafter as Appendix A of ION’s application). ION proposes to use a 36element airgun array with a 6,420 in3 total firing volume (please see ‘‘Detailed Description of Activities’’ for further description of ION’s acoustic source). The modeling assumed that ION would operate from July to December. Sixteen representative sites were selected along survey track lines planned by ION for use in modeling predicted sound fields resulting from use of the airgun array (see Figure 2 in Appendix A of ION’s application for site locations). Two acoustic propagation models were employed to estimate the acoustic field radiated by the sound sources. As was described above for BOEM’s PEIS, the acoustic signature of the airgun array was predicted using AASM and MONM was used to calculate the sound propagation and acoustic field near each defined site. The modeling process follows generally that described previously for BOEM’s PEIS. Key differences are the characteristics of the acoustic source (see Table 1), locations of the modeled sites, and the use of a restricted set of sound velocity profiles (e.g., fall and winter). Table 8 shows site-specific modeling results for distances to the 160 dB level; results presented are for the 95 percent range to threshold. sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 TABLE 8—SITE-SPECIFIC MODELED THRESHOLD RADII FOR ION Water depth (m) Site No.1 1 ................................................................................................................................................... 45 2 ................................................................................................................................................... 820 3 ................................................................................................................................................... 1,000 VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 PO 00000 Frm 00042 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 Season Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Threshold radii (m) 2 4,740 5,270 7,470 7,490 7,530 7,480 26285 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices TABLE 8—SITE-SPECIFIC MODELED THRESHOLD RADII FOR ION—Continued Water depth (m) Site No.1 4 ................................................................................................................................................... 40 5 ................................................................................................................................................... 650 6 ................................................................................................................................................... 1,500 7 ................................................................................................................................................... 2,600 8 ................................................................................................................................................... 30 9 ................................................................................................................................................... 700 10 ................................................................................................................................................. 3,300 11 ................................................................................................................................................. 4,200 12 ................................................................................................................................................. 30 13 ................................................................................................................................................. 140 14 ................................................................................................................................................. 2,400 17 3 ............................................................................................................................................... 2,200 18 3 ............................................................................................................................................... 4,180 Mean ............................................................................................................................................ ........................ Season Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Fall ................. Winter ............ Overall ........... Threshold radii (m) 2 4,200 5,220 7,270 7,370 5,210 5,250 5,420 5,390 4,480 4,770 8,210 8,250 5,410 5,380 5,390 5,360 3,250 4,860 6,470 6,750 5,460 5,450 5,600 5,570 5,400 5,380 5,383 5,953 5,836 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Adapted from Tables 1 and 17 of Appendix A in ION’s application. 1 Please see Figure 2 of Appendix A in ION’s application for site locations. 2 Threshold radii to 160 dB (rms) SPL, 95 percent range. 3 Results for sites 15 and 16 are not presented, as the sites are outside the proposed survey area. Spectrum—Spectrum provided information related to estimation of the sound fields that would be generated by their proposed geophysical survey activity on the mid- and south Atlantic OCS. We provide a summary description of that modeling effort here; for more information, please see Appendix A of Spectrum’s application (Frankel et al., 2015; referred to hereafter as Appendix A of Spectrum’s application). Spectrum plans to use a 32-element airgun array with a 4,920 in3 total firing volume (please see ‘‘Detailed Description of Activities’’ for further description of Spectrum’s acoustic source). Array characteristics were input into the GUNDALF model to calculate the source level and predict the array signature. The directivity pattern of the airgun array was calculated using the beamforming module in the CASS-GRAB acoustic propagation model. These models provided source input information for the range-dependent acoustic model (RAM), which was then used to predict acoustic propagation and estimate the resulting sound field. The RAM model creates frequency-specific, three-dimensional directivity patterns (sound field) based VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 upon the size and location of each airgun in the array. As described previously, physical characteristics of the underwater environment (e.g., sound velocity profile, bathymetry, substrate composition) are critical to understanding acoustic propagation; 16 modeling locations were selected that span the acoustic conditions of the proposed seismic survey area. ION and Spectrum used the same modeling locations (Table 8). In contrast to ION’s approach, Spectrum elected to use sound velocity profiles for winter and spring and assumed that half of the survey would occur in winter and half in spring. Table 9 shows site-specific modeling results for distances to the 160 dB level; results presented are for the 95 percent range to threshold. TABLE 9—SITE-SPECIFIC MODELED THRESHOLD RADII FOR SPECTRUM Water depth (m) Site No.1 1 2 3 4 ............................ ............................ ............................ ............................ PO 00000 Frm 00043 Fmt 4701 45 820 1,000 40 Sfmt 4703 Threshold radii (m)2 12,400 9,900 9,600 7,850 TABLE 9—SITE-SPECIFIC MODELED THRESHOLD RADII FOR SPECTRUM— Continued Site No.1 Water depth (m) 5 ............................ 6 ............................ 7 ............................ 8 ............................ 9 ............................ 10 .......................... 11 .......................... 12 .......................... 13 .......................... 14 .......................... 17 3 ........................ 18 3 ........................ Mean ..................... 650 1,500 2,600 30 700 3,300 4,200 30 140 2,400 2,200 4,180 .................. Threshold radii (m)2 9,350 7,600 6,700 7,650 9,150 6,700 7,000 24,300 14,750 7,650 8,600 7,200 9,775 Adapted from Table 6 of Spectrum’s application. 1 Please see Figure 5 of Appendix A in Spectrum’s application for site locations. 2 Threshold radii to 160 dB (rms) SPL, 95 percent range. 3 Results for sites 15 and 16 are not presented, as the sites are outside the proposed survey area. Generally applicable conclusions were discussed in Appendix A of ION’s application, and are summarized here. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26286 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 At shallow water sites, the sound field at long distances is dominated by intermediate frequencies (i.e., 100–500 Hz) and the sound field varies significantly with direction because of the correspondingly high directivity of the source at these frequencies. Lower frequency energy is more rapidly attenuated and so is not able to propagate to very long distances. In contrast, the long-range spectra at deeper-water sites contain more lowfrequency energy, resulting in longer propagation distances, and the shape of the sound field is also more strongly influenced by the directionality of the airgun array at low frequencies (i.e., tens of hertz). Differences across seasons and sites are generally not great due to similar sound velocity profiles (e.g., dominant downward refraction for depths greater than approximately 100 m) and counter-balancing effects of depth versus substrate composition. Shallow-water sites have mostly sandy sediments, which are more acoustically reflective, but low frequencies (as are produced by airguns) propagate relatively poorly in shallow water. Deep-water sites are located over clay sediments, which are associated with greater bottom loss, but this is balanced by the better low-frequency propagation in deep water. The largest threshold radii are seen in intermediate depths, because these sites are located over acoustically reflective sand sediments but in depths at which low-frequency sound is no longer stripped out. Further, longer-range propagation at these sites can be increased by sound channeling due to reflection from the sea surface and seabed (depending on the sound velocity profiles and sediment types). Marine Mammal Density Information The best available scientific information was considered in conducting marine mammal exposure estimates (the basis for estimating take). Historically, distance sampling methodology (Buckland et al., 2001) has been applied to visual line-transect survey data to estimate abundance within large geographic strata (e.g., Fulling et al., 2003; Mullin and Fulling, 2004; Palka, 2006). Design-based surveys that apply such sampling techniques produce stratified abundance estimates and do not provide information at appropriate spatiotemporal scales for assessing environmental risk of a planned survey. To address this issue of scale, efforts were developed to relate animal observations and environmental correlates such as sea surface temperature in order to develop predictive models used to produce fine- VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 scale maps of habitat suitability (e.g., Waring et al., 2001; Hamazaki, 2002; Best et al., 2012). However, these studies generally produce relative estimates that cannot be directly used to quantify potential exposures of marine mammals to sound, for example. A more recent approach known as density surface modeling, as seen in DoN (2007) and Roberts et al. (2016), couples traditional distance sampling with multivariate regression modeling to produce density maps predicted from fine-scale environmental covariates (e.g., Becker et al., 2014). At the time the applications were initially developed, the best available information concerning marine mammal densities in the proposed survey area was the U.S. Navy’s Navy Operating Area (OPAREA) Density Estimates (NODEs) (DoN, 2007). These habitatbased cetacean density models utilized vessel-based and aerial survey data collected by NMFS from 1998–2005 during broad-scale abundance studies. Modeling methodology is detailed in DoN (2007). A more advanced cetacean density modeling effort, described in Roberts et al. (2016), was ongoing during initial development of the applications, and the model outputs were made available to the applicant companies. All information relating to this effort was made publically available in March 2016. The Roberts et al. (2016) modeling effort provided several key improvements with respect to the NODEs effort. While the NODEs effort utilized a robust collection of NMFS survey data, Roberts et al. (2016) expanded on this by incorporating additional aerial and shipboard survey data from NMFS and from other organizations collected over the period 1992–2014, ultimately incorporating 60 percent more shipboard and five hundred percent more aerial survey hours than did NODEs. In addition, Roberts et al. (2016) controlled for the influence of sea state, group size, availability bias, and perception bias on the probability of making a sighting, whereas NODEs controlled for none of these. There are multiple reasons why marine mammals may be undetected by observers. Animals are missed because they are underwater (availability bias) or because they are available to be seen, but are missed by observers (perception and detection biases) (e.g., Marsh and Sinclair, 1989). Negative bias on perception or detection of an available animal may result from environmental conditions, limitations inherent to the observation platform, or observer ability. Therefore, failure to correct for these biases may lead to underestimates PO 00000 Frm 00044 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 of cetacean abundance. Use of additional data was used to improve detection functions for taxa that were rarely sighted in specific survey platform configurations. The degree of underestimation would likely be particularly impactful for species that exhibit long dive times, such as sperm and beaked whales, or are hard for observers to detect, such as harbor porpoises. Roberts et al. (2016) modeled density from eight physiographic and 16 dynamic oceanographic and biological covariates, as compared with two dynamic environmental covariates considered in NODEs. In summary, consideration of additional survey data and an improved modeling strategy allowed for an increased number of taxa modeled and better spatiotemporal resolutions of the resulting predictions. In general, we consider the models produced by Roberts et al. (2016) to be the best available source of data regarding cetacean density in the Atlantic. More information, including the model results and supplementary information for each model, is available at seamap.env.duke.edu/models/DukeEC-GOM-2015/. Aerial and shipboard survey data produced by the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) program provides an additional source of information regarding marine mammal presence in the proposed survey areas. These surveys represent a collaborative effort between NMFS, BOEM, and the Navy. Although the cetacean density models described above do include survey data from 2010–14, the AMAPPS data was not made available to the model authors. Future model updates will incorporate these data, but as of this writing the AMAPPS data comprises a separate source of information (NMFS, 2010a, 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2014, 2015a). Description of Exposure Estimates Here, we provide applicant-specific descriptions of the processes employed to estimate potential exposures of marine mammals to given levels of received sound. The discussions provided here are specific to estimated exposures to NMFS criterion for Level B harassment (i.e., 160 dB rms); we provide a separate discussion below regarding our process for estimating potential incidents of Level A harassment. We first describe the exposure modeling process performed for BOEM’s PEIS as point of reference. Appendix E of the PEIS (BOEM, 2014a) provides full details. This description builds on the description of sound field modeling provided earlier in this section and in E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices Appendix D of BOEM’s PEIS. As described previously, 21 distinct acoustic propagation regions were defined. Reflecting seasonal differences in sound velocity profiles, these regions were specific to each season—there were five acoustic propagation regions in both winter and spring, four in summer, and seven propagation regions in fall (see Figures E–11 through E–14 in Appendix E of BOEM’s PEIS). The seasonal distribution of marine mammals was examined using the NODEs database (DoN, 2007) to see if there was any additional correlation with the propagation regions. The seasonal distribution for each species was examined by overlaying the charts of the 21 acoustic modeling regions and the average density of each species was then numerically determined for each region. For each species modeled through the NODEs effort, the model outputs are four seasonal surface density plots (e.g., Figure E–15 in Appendix E of BOEM’s PEIS). However, the NODEs models do not provide outputs for the extended continental shelf areas seaward of the EEZ; therefore, known density information at the edge of the area modeled by NODEs was extrapolated to the remainder of the study area. The results of the acoustic modeling exercise (i.e., estimated 3D sound field) and the region-specific density estimates were then input into Marine Acoustics, Inc.’s Acoustic Integration Model (AIM). AIM is a software package developed to predict the exposure of receivers (e.g., an animal) to any stimulus propagating through space and time through use of a four-dimensional, individual-based, Monte Carlo-based statistical model. Within the model, simulated marine animals (i.e., animats) may be programmed to behave in specific ways on the basis of measured field data. An animat movement engine controls the geographic and vertical movements (e.g., speed and direction) of sound sources and animats through four dimensions (time and space) according to user inputs. Species that normally inhabit specific environments can be constrained in the model to stay within that habitat (e.g., deep-water species may be restricted from entering shallow waters where they would not be found). Species-specific animats were created with programmed behavioral parameters describing dive depth, surfacing and dive durations, swimming speed, course change, and behavioral aversions (e.g., water too shallow). The programmed animats were then randomly distributed over a given bounded simulation area; boundaries extend at least one degree of latitude or longitude beyond the extent VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 of the vessel track to ensure an adequate number of animats in all directions, and to ensure that the simulation areas extend beyond the area where substantial behavioral reactions might be anticipated. Because the exact positions of sound sources and animals are not known in advance for proposed activities, multiple runs of realistic predictions are used to provide statistical validity to the simulated scenarios. Each species-specific simulation is seeded with a given density of animats; in this case, approximately 4,000 animats. In most cases, this represents a higher density of animats in the simulation (0.1 animats/ km2) than occurs in the real environment. A separate simulation was created and run for each combination of location, movement pattern, and marine mammal species. A model run consists of a userspecified number of steps forward in time, in which each animat is moved according to the rules describing its behavior. For each time step of the model run, the received sound levels at each animat (i.e., each marine mammal) are calculated. AIM returns the movement patterns of the animats, and the received sound levels are calculated separately using the given acoustic propagation predictions at different locations. At the end of each time step, an animat ‘‘evaluates’’ its environment, including its 3D location, the time, and any received sound level, and may alter its course to react to the environment per any programmed aversions. Animat positions relative to the acoustic source (i.e., range, bearing, and depth) were used to extract received level estimates from the acoustic propagation modeling results. The source levels, and therefore subsequently the received levels, include the embedded corrections for signal pulse length and M-weighting. Mweighting is a type of frequency weighting curve intended to reflect the differential potential for sound to affect marine mammals based on their sensitivity to the particular frequencies produced (Southall et al., 2007). Please see Appendix D of BOEM’s PEIS for further description of the application of M-weighting filters. For each bearing, distance, and depth from the source, the received level values were expressed as SPLs (rms) with units of dB re 1m Pa. These are then converted back to intensity and summed over the duration of the exercise to generate an integrated energy level, expressed in terms of dB re 1 mPa2-sec or dB SEL. The number of animats per species that exceeded a given criterion (e.g., 160 dB rms; 198 dB cSEL) may then be determined, and PO 00000 Frm 00045 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26287 these results scaled according to the relationship of model-to-real world densities per species. That is, the exposure results are corrected using the actual species- and region-specific density derived from the density model outputs to give real-world estimates of exposure to sound exceeding a given received level. In this case, the userspecified densities are typically at least an order of magnitude greater than the real-world densities to ensure a statistically valid result; therefore, the modeling result is corrected or scaled by the ratio of the actual density divided by the modeled density. Although there is substantial uncertainty associated with both the acoustic sound field estimation and animal movement modeling steps, confidence intervals were not developed for the exposure estimate results, in part because calculating confidence limits for numbers of Level B harassment takes would imply a level of quantification and statistical certainty that does not currently exist (BOEM, 2014a). Further detail regarding all aspects of the modeling process is provided in Appendix E of BOEM’s PEIS. As noted previously, the NODEs models (DoN, 2007) provided the best available information at the time of initial development for these applications. Outputs of the cetacean density models described by Roberts et al. (2016) were subsequently made available to the applicant companies. Two applicants (TGS and Western) elected to consider the new information and produced revised applications accordingly. CGG also used the new information in developing their application. Two applicants (Spectrum and ION) declined to use the Roberts et al. (2016) density models. However, because NMFS determined that the Roberts et al. (2016) density models represent the best available information (in relation to the NODEs models) we worked with Marine Acoustics, Inc.— which performed the initial exposure modeling provided in the Spectrum and ION applications—to produce revised exposure estimates utilizing the outputs of the Roberts et al. (2016) density models. In order to revise the exposure estimates for Spectrum and ION, we first needed to extract appropriate density estimates from the Roberts et al. (2016) model outputs. Because both Spectrum and ION used modeling processes conceptually similar to that described above for BOEM’s PEIS, these density estimates would replace those previously derived from the NODEs models in rescaling the exposure estimation results from those derived from animal movement modeling using E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26288 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices a user-specified density. We summarize the steps involved in calculating mean marine mammal densities over the 21 modeling areas used in both BOEM’s PEIS and the applications here: • Roberts et al. (2016) predicted densities on an annual or monthly time period. When the time period was annual, we used the same density for all seasons. When the time period was monthly, we calculated the mean density for each season (using ArcGIS’ cell statistics tool). • We converted the Roberts et al. (2016) density units (animals/100 km2) to animals/km2. • As was the case for the NODEs model outputs, the Roberts et al. (2016) model outputs are restricted to the U.S. EEZ. Although relevant information regarding cetacean densities in areas of the western North Atlantic beyond the EEZ was recently provided by Mannocci et al. (2017), this information was not available to the applicants in developing their applications and was not available to NMFS in preparing this document. Therefore, we similarly extended the edge densities to cover the area outside of the data extent. This was performed by converting the seasonal rasters to numeric Python arrays, then using Python array functions to extend the edge cells. • With new density values covering the entire modeling extent, we then calculated the average density for each of the 21 modeling areas (using ArcGIS’ Zonal Statistics as Table tool). Spectrum—Spectrum’s sound field estimation process was previously described, and their exposure modeling process is substantially similar to that described above for BOEM’s PEIS. The exposure estimation results described in Spectrum’s application are based on the NODEs models. Because the NODEs model outputs do not cover the full extent of the proposed survey area, density estimates from the eastern-most edge where data are known were extrapolated seaward to the spatial extent of the proposed survey area. The same acoustic propagation regions described for BOEM’s PEIS were used by Spectrum for exposure modeling; however, Spectrum limited their analysis to winter and spring seasons and therefore used only ten of the 21 regions. Half of proposed survey activity was assumed to occur in winter and half in spring. As was described for BOEM’s PEIS, Spectrum used AIM to model animal movements within the estimated 3D sound field. However, Spectrum elected to seed the simulations with a lower animat density (0.05 animats/km2) than was used for BOEM’s PEIS modeling VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 effort. Spectrum stated that the modeled animat density value was determined through a sensitivity analysis that examined the stability of the predicted exposure estimates as a function of animat density and that the modeled density was determined to accurately capture the full distributional range of probabilities of exposure for the proposed survey. Similar to the modeling performed for BOEM’s PEIS, the source levels and therefore subsequently the received levels include the embedded corrections for Mweighting (Southall et al., 2007). AIM simulations consisted of 25 hours of survey track for each modeling site and animal group. This duration was selected to use a 24-hour sound energy accumulation period for exposure estimation. The first hour of model output is then discarded, as animal distributions will be unduly influenced by initial conditions. In addition, there was a difference between the amount of modeled survey trackline within each modeling region and the actual proposed amount of survey trackline. The potential impacts were scaled by the ratio of the total length of proposed trackline to the modeled length of trackline in each modeling region. Spectrum elected to program certain species’ animats with one aversion; normally deep-water species were not allowed to move into waters shallower than 100 m. Avoidance of right whales as indicated by the timearea restrictions required by BOEM’s ROD (BOEM, 2014b) was also accounted for. Similar to modeling conducted for BOEM’s PEIS, received sound level and 3D position of each animat were recorded to calculate exposure estimates at each time step. Thus unweighted SPL(rms) and SEL values, as well as M-weighted SEL values, were calculated and compared with their respective criteria. The SEL values at each time step were converted back to intensity and summed, to produce the 24-hr cSEL value for each individual animat. The numbers of animats with SPL(rms) and cSEL values that exceeded their respective regulatory criteria were considered exposed for that criteria. Spectrum also included a mitigation simulation in their modeling process, i.e., they attempted to quantify the effects that a shutdown for marine mammals occurring within a 500 m exclusion zone and subsequent 60 minute clearance period would have on exposure estimates. As was described for BOEM’s PEIS, dataset outputs of the AIM simulation model contain an animat’s received sound level (SEL or SPL), the distance between the source PO 00000 Frm 00046 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 and the animat, and the depth of the animat. Spectrum used the distance value to determine if the animat was in the 500-m exclusion zone and the depth of the animat was used to determine if it was at or near the surface. If both of these conditions were true, then the animat was considered ‘available’ to be observed. However, an animal that is available to be observed may still be missed by an observer due to perception bias. Therefore, Spectrum attempted to model the probability that an animal available for observation would in fact be observed. A random number was generated and compared to the detection probability for the species being modeled (P(detect); detection probabilities are shown in Table 14 of Appendix A in Spectrum’s application). If the random number was less than the P(detect) value then the animal was considered to have been detected; if greater, the animal was considered undetected. If an animat was detected, AIM would simulate the effect of the acoustic source being shut down by setting the received sound levels of all animats in the model run to zero for the next 60 minutes. Predicted exposures without this mitigation simulation were also presented (see Tables 15–16 in Appendix A of Spectrum’s application for a comparison of the mitigation simulation effect). In summary, the original exposure results were obtained using AIM to model source and animat movements, with received SEL for each animat predicted at a 30-second time step. This predicted SEL history was used to determine the maximum SPL (rms or peak) and cSEL for each animat, and the number of exposures exceeding relevant criteria recorded. The number of exposures are summed for all animats to get the number of exposures for each species, with that summed value then scaled by the ratio of real-world density to the model density value. The final scaling value was the ratio of the length of the modeled survey line and the length of proposed survey line in each modeling region. As described above, the exposure estimates provided in Spectrum’s application were based on the NODEs model outputs. In order to make use of the best available information (i.e., Roberts et al. (2016)), we extracted species- and regionspecific density values as described above. These were provided to Marine Acoustics, Inc. in order to rescale the original exposure results produced using the seeded animat density; revised exposure estimates are shown in Table 10. ION—ION’s sound field estimation process was previously described, and E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices their exposure modeling process is substantially similar to that described above for BOEM’s PEIS (and for Spectrum). We do not repeat those descriptions in full but summarize some key elements and differences relating to ION’s approach. Further detail may be found in Appendix B of ION’s application. The exposure estimation results described in ION’s application are based on the NODEs models. The same acoustic propagation regions described for BOEM’s PEIS were used by ION for exposure modeling; however, ION limited their analysis to summer and fall seasons and therefore used only 11 of the 21 regions. Whichever season returned the higher number of estimated exposures for a given species was assumed to be the season in which the survey occurred, i.e., ION’s requested take authorization corresponds to the higher of the two seasonal speciesspecific exposure estimates. As was described for BOEM’s PEIS, ION used AIM to model animal movements within the estimated 3D sound field. ION proposes to conduct survey effort along lines roughly parallel to and roughly perpendicular to the east coast. Because a number of these lines are similar to each other in terms of direction and location, a reduced number of modeling lines—five alongshore and five perpendicular to shore—were created to represent all of the proposed survey lines. The lines were then further broken into segments that correspond to the boundaries of the modeling regions (see Figure 4 in Appendix B of ION’s application). Simulation durations varied depending on model line length. After models were run for each line segment and subsegment, the results from all segments in each of the survey areas were scaled to reflect the actual length of proposed survey lines and then combined. ION elected to seed the simulations with a variable animat density because of the variable length of the tracks and the varied habitat of some species. ION did not account for potential effectiveness of mitigation in their modeling effort. In summary, the original exposure results were obtained using AIM to model source and animat movements, with received SEL for each animat predicted at a 30-second time step. This predicted SEL history was used to determine the maximum SPL (rms or peak) and cSEL for each animat, and the number of exposures exceeding relevant criteria recorded. The number of exposures are summed for all animats to get the number of exposures for each species, with that summed value then VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 scaled by the ratio of real-world density to the model density value. The final scaling value was the ratio of the length of the modeled survey line and the length of proposed survey line in each modeling region. As described above, the exposure estimates provided in ION’s application were based on the NODEs model outputs. In order to make use of the best available information (i.e., Roberts et al. (2016)), we extracted species- and region-specific density values as described above. These were provided to Marine Acoustics, Inc. in order to rescale the original exposure results produced using the seeded animat density; revised exposure estimates are shown in Table 10. TGS and Western—Because TGS and Western follow the same approach to estimating potential marine mammal exposures to underwater sound, we provide a single description. It is also important to note that both companies propose the use of a mitigation source (i.e., 90 in3 airgun) for line turns and transits not exceeding three hours and produced exposure estimates for such use of the source. As described previously in ‘‘Proposed Mitigation,’’ we do not propose to allow use of the mitigation source. Therefore, exposure estimates produced by both companies that account for proposed use of the source will be slightly overestimated. This applies only to the ten species whose exposure estimates are based on the Roberts et al. (2016) density models, as we were not presented with exposure estimates specific to the full-power array versus the mitigation source. The companies assumed that the sound field estimates provided by BOEM (2014a) would be applicable and consider three depth bins: <880 m, 880–2,560 m, >2,560 m. The 15 modeling sites have a notable depth discontinuity within the overall range (51–5,390 m), with no sites at depths between 880–2,560 m. When considering the 21 modeling scenarios across the 15 sites, threshold radii shown in Table 7 break down evenly with 11 at depths ≤880 m and ten at depths ≥2,560 m. The mean threshold radius for the scenarios at shallow sites is 8,473 m; for the scenarios at deep sites the average is 5,040 m. The overall mean for all scenarios is 6,838 m. Because there are no sites for depths between 880–2,560 m, we assume that the overall mean threshold distance is appropriate. Because both applications were prepared by Smultea Environmental Sciences, LLC (SES) under contract to the applicant companies, in this section we refer hereafter to ‘‘SES’’ rather than to ‘‘TGS and Western.’’ SES considered both the Roberts et al. (2016) density PO 00000 Frm 00047 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26289 models as well as the AMAPPS data (NMFS, 2010a, 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2014). In so doing, SES determined that there are aspects of the Roberts et al. (2016) methodology that limit the model outputs’ applicability to estimating marine mammal exposures to underwater sound. In summary, SES described the following issues: • There are very few sightings of some species despite substantial survey effort; • The modeling approach extrapolates based on habitat associations and assumes some species’ occurrence in areas where they have never been or were rarely documented (despite substantial effort); • In some cases, uniform density models spread densities of species with small sample sizes across large areas of the EEZ without regard to habitat, and; • The most recent NOAA shipboard and aerial survey data (i.e., AMAPPS) were not included in model development. In response to these general concerns regarding suitability of model outputs for exposure estimation, SES developed a scheme related to the number of observations in the dataset available to Roberts et al. (2016) for use in developing the density models. Extremely rare species (i.e., less than four sightings in the proposed survey area) were considered to have a very low probability of encounter, and it was assumed that the species might be encountered once. Therefore, a single group of the species was considered as expected to be exposed to sound exceeding the 160 dB rms harassment criterion. We agree with this approach and further describe relevant information related to these species in subsequent sections below. As described previously, marine mammal abundance has traditionally been estimated by applying distance sampling methodology (Buckland et al., 2001) to visual line-transect survey data. Buckland et al. (2001) recommend a minimum sample size of 60–80 sightings to provide reasonably robust estimates of density and abundance to fit the mathematical detection function required for this estimation; smaller sample sizes result in higher variance and thus less confidence and less accurate estimates. For species meeting this guideline within the proposed survey area, SES used Roberts et al. (2016)’s model. For species with fewer sightings (but with greater than four sightings in the proposed survey area), SES used what they refer to as ‘‘Line Transect Theory’’ in conjunction with AMAPPS data to estimate species E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26290 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices density within the assumed 160 dB rms zone of ensonification. Ten species or species groups met SES’ requirement of having at least 60 sightings within the proposed survey area in the dataset available to Roberts et al. (2016): Atlantic spotted dolphin, pilot whales, striped dolphin, beaked whales, bottlenose dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, short-beaked common dolphin, sperm whale, humpback whale, and North Atlantic right whale. Roberts et al. (2016) were able to produce models at annual resolution for the first four species and at monthly resolution for the latter six. Because of proposed measures to avoid most impacts to the right whale, SES used monthly data only for May to October to estimate potential exposures. As an aside, we acknowledge that this approach is not correct. Rather than ignoring the months November–April, we believe the correct approach would be to use the results for those months, but only for the grid cells outside of the proposed closure areas. However, we do not believe that this is a meaningful error, as our proposed mitigation measures related to right whales (i.e., avoidance of sound input into areas where right whales are expected to occur and an absolute shutdown requirement upon observation of any right whale at any distance) are anticipated to substantially avoid acute effects to right whales. SES summarizes the steps involved in this process as follows: • Calculate area of ensonification to ≥160 dB (rms) around the operating acoustic source, including all track lines, run-outs, and ramp-ups/run-ins, assuming depth-specific isopleth distances described above. Overlapping areas were treated as if they did not overlap (i.e., they were added together as separate polygon areas to account for multiple exposures in the same location), and were thus included in the total area used to estimate exposures. • Calculate species-specific density estimates for each of the 10 km x 10 km grid cells used in the density models. For species with monthly resolution, an annual average was calculated, with the exception of the right whale which used the May–October average only. • The density models’ area of data coverage does not extend outside of the EEZ. As noted previously, although relevant information regarding cetacean densities in areas of the western North Atlantic beyond the EEZ was recently provided by Mannocci et al. (2017), this information was not available to SES in developing these applications. Therefore, available sighting data were used to evaluate whether a species had been observed offshore close to the EEZ; VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 no specific distance was used because it was impossible to determine exact distances from the EEZ using available reports. For the humpback whale and right whale, available information indicated that the species would not be expected to occur outside the EEZ. For the remaining species, SES extrapolated density from the nearest neighbor grid cell. Assuming such uniform density swaths over long range outside the area of data coverage may overestimate potential exposures. • For each 10 km x 10 km grid cell and for the areas of extrapolation outside the EEZ, SES then multiplied the estimated ensonified area by the appropriate density to produce estimates of exposure exceeding the 160 dB rms criterion. • The projected ensonified area was mapped relative to right whale closure areas described by BOEM (2014b); therefore, this element of proposed mitigation was accounted for to a certain extent. Seven species or species groups met SES’ criterion for conducting exposure modeling, but did not have the recommended 60 sightings in the survey area: minke whale, fin whale, Kogia spp., harbor porpoise, pantropical spotted dolphin, clymene dolphin, and rough-toothed dolphin. For these species, SES did not feel use of the density models was appropriate and developed a method using the available data instead (i.e., AMAPPS data as well as data considered by Roberts et al. (2016), excluding results of surveys conducted entirely outside of an area roughly coincident with the proposed survey area); species-specific rationale is provided in section 6.3 of either application. Please see section 6.3 of either application for further details regarding the AMAPPS survey effort considered by SES. Table 6–1 in either application summarizes the AMAPPS data available for consideration by the authors. Although Roberts et al. (2016) developed detection functions for these species by using proxies as necessary, SES suggests that the fact that sightings of these species are not common indicate the species are less common than the density models show. SES states further that, while use of the density models for these species may be appropriate for localized activities, using them over broad geographical scales ultimately grossly overestimates the likely exposures of these species. SES summarizes the steps involved in this process as follows (see Table 6–4 in either application for numerical process details): • Calculate the transect area, specific to aerial and vessel surveys, that would PO 00000 Frm 00048 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 be considered to include sightings of all animals present for each species based on effective strip widths (ESW; the distance at which missed sightings made inside the distance is equal to detected sightings outside of it) obtained from the literature. The transect area is equal to twice the ESW multiplied by the length of transect (see Table 6–3 in either application for ESW values and citations). • Calculate the mean density (in groups/km2) for each species for aerial and vessel surveys; multiply by mean group size to get an individual-based density estimate. • Adjust the densities using a correction factor (g(0)) to account for animals missed due to observation biases. General g(0) values for aerial and vessel surveys for each species from the literature were used (see Table 6–3 in either application for g(0) values and citations). Densities for vessel-based and aerial surveys were then averaged for each species; proposed survey lines cover areas included in both aerial and vessel survey effort and this method accounts for high and low density areas across the survey. • Calculate the number of animals of each species that would potentially occur within the previously determined 160-dB depth-specific radii and sum for an estimate of total incidents of exposure. To be clear, we believe the density models described by Roberts et al. (2016) provide the best available information and recommend their use for species other than those expected to be extremely rare in a given area. However, SES used the most recent observational data available. We acknowledge their concerns regarding use of predictive density models for species with relatively few observations in the proposed survey area, e.g., that model-derived density estimates must be applied cautiously on a species-byspecies basis with the recognition that in some cases the out-of-bound predictions could produce unrealistic results (Becker et al., 2014). Further, use of uniform (i.e., stratified) density models assumes a given density over a large geographic range which may include areas where the species has rarely or never been observed. For the seven species or species groups that SES applied their alternative approach to, five are modeled in whole or part through use of stratified models. We also acknowledge (as do Roberts et al. (2016)) that predicted habitat may not be occupied at expected densities or that models may not agree in all cases with known occurrence patterns, and that there is uncertainty associated with E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices predictive habitat modeling (e.g., Becker et al., 2010; Forney et al., 2012). Overall, SES suggest that it is more appropriate in some circumstances to use less complex models requiring less knowledge of habitat preferences that do not risk overprediction of occurrence in areas that are suitable but for which there is no indication the species is common (or sometimes even present). We determined that their alternative approach (for seven species or species groups) is acceptable and provide further discussion. Importantly, we recognize that there is no model or approach that is always the most appropriate and that there may be multiple approaches that may be considered acceptable. As described previously in this document, on July 29, 2015, we published a Federal Register notice inviting public review and comment on the applications we had received. In response to this opportunity to comment, J.J. Roberts and P.N. Halpin of Duke University’s Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab submitted a public comment letter, which is available online with all other comments received at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/oilgas.htm. In part, Roberts and Halpin offered a critique of SES’ methods and rationale while also commending their use of the AMAPPS data. We discussed the points raised by Roberts and Halpin with SES, which subsequently made certain corrections and prepared revised versions of the TGS and Western applications. M. Smultea and S. Courbis of SES submitted a letter (available on the same Web site) detailing their responses to these points. However, the use of an alternative methodology for the seven species is fundamentally the same and forms the basis for our proposed take authorization for those species (for TGS and Western). Roberts and Halpin raised several key points (we also include any resolution in the bulleted points below): • The Buckland et al. (2001) recommendation that sample size should generally be at least 60–80 should be considered as general guidance but not an absolute rule and, in fact, Buckland et al. (2001) provide no theoretical proof for it. Miller and Thomas (2015) provide an example where a detection function fitted to 30 sightings resulted in a detection function with low bias. NMFS’s linetransect abundance estimates are in some cases based on many fewer sightings, e.g., stock assessments based on Palka (2012). Roberts and Halpin also point out that SES used certain detection functions from Mullin and VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 Fulling (2003), which were based on fewer than 60 observations. Please see the letters provided by Duke University and SES, respectively, for opposing points of view on this issue. • SES does not correct for observation bias, resulting in underestimation of density. SES subsequently corrected this issue by using estimates of g(0) to correct for bias, as described above. • SES used erroneous or inappropriate ESWs for several species, resulting in an overestimate of effective survey area and therefore an underestimate of density. SES subsequently incorporated additional ESW information and addressed these issues to the extent possible given the available data. • Following on the first point described above, ESWs used by SES are based on less robust detection functions than those used by Roberts et al. (2016). • SES did not take into account what is known about the habitat of the species it modeled using this method. For example, Roberts et al. (2016) appropriately assumed an on-shelf density of zero for Kogia spp., whereas SES derived a Kogia spp. density estimate by including on-shelf survey effort, where Kogia spp. would not be expected. SES countered that, for Kogia spp. in particular, the more recent AMAPPS data provides substantial new information regarding Kogia spp. due to the increased sightings in recent years and suggest that for exposure estimation exercises over broad scales such as these, it is less important where a species is encountered in relation to how many will be encountered. • SES declined to use density models for certain species on the basis of a lack of observations within the proposed survey area, although the models are based on numerous observations overall. Roberts and Halpin state that, because the models incorporate substantial survey effort within the proposed survey area, they are wellinformed with regard to the likelihood of species occurrence under relevant environmental conditions. However, this does not alter the fact that these species have only rarely been observed within the proposed survey area and, therefore, SES’ contention that use of a predictive density model to estimate potential acoustic exposures is not the most appropriate method for some species. • SES’ combination of aerial and vessel-based densities is inappropriate, due to substantial biases in terms of distribution of survey effort, i.e., aerial surveys occurred primarily on-shelf while vessel-based surveys mainly occurred off-shelf. Therefore, use of a PO 00000 Frm 00049 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26291 simple mean can result in unknown bias for species with either oceanic or onshelf distribution. Roberts and Halpin suggest combining density estimates by dividing survey transects into segments, estimating density separately for aerial and shipboard surveys, and producing a combined estimate that accounts for the area effectively surveyed by each. However, because the proposed surveys would occur both on and off the shelf, it does not seem that any potential bias would unduly influence the overall results obtained by SES. • SES does not adequately consider available information (i.e., acoustic monitoring results; Risch et al., 2014) for the minke whale. However, while available acoustic monitoring data suggests seasonal presence of minke whales, it remains unclear in the absence of visual observations where the whales are in relation to the acoustic recorders and how many may be present. CGG—CGG used applicable results from BOEM’s sound field modeling exercise in conjunction with the outputs of models described by Roberts et al. (2016) to inform their estimates of likely acoustic exposures. Considering only the BOEM modeling sites that are in or near CGG’s proposed survey area provided a mean radial distance to the 160 dB rms criterion of 6,751 m (range 5,013–8,593 m). CGG used ArcGIS (further detail regarding CGG’s spatial analysis is provided as an appendix to CGG’s application) to conduct an exposure analysis as described in their application and summarized as follows: • A circle with a 6,751 m radius (representing the extent of the average expected 160 dB rms ensonification zone) was drawn around each trackline, effectively resulting in a survey track with 13,502 m total width. Taxonspecific model outputs, averaged over the six-month period planned for the survey (i.e., July–December) where relevant, were uploaded into ArcGIS with the assumed ensonification zone to provide estimates of marine mammal exposures to noise above the 160 dB rms threshold. • The Roberts et al. (2016) 100 km2 grid cells—the spatial scale on which taxon-specific predicted abundance information is provided—were converted into a compatible format and then spatially referenced over the tracklines and associated areas of ensonification. The tracklines and associated areas of ensonification were populated with the cetacean density grids by calculating the difference between the pre- and post-extracted area. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26292 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 • Roberts et al. (2016) did not provide predicted abundance information for areas beyond the EEZ. As noted previously, although relevant information regarding cetacean densities in areas of the western North Atlantic beyond the EEZ was recently provided by Mannocci et al. (2017), this information was not available to CGG in developing their application. Therefore, CGG performed an interpolation analysis to estimate density values for the approximately 11 percent of planned survey area outside the EEZ that was not included in Roberts et al. (2016). Level A Harassment As discussed earlier in this document, BOEM’s PEIS (2014a) provides auditory injury exposure results on the basis of the Southall et al. (2007) guidance. In order to use the results provided by BOEM (2014a) in a way that adequately takes NMFS’s technical acoustic guidance into consideration, we considered the total potential exposure of marine mammals to sound exceeding the relevant criterion and estimated such exposures that may occur as a result of each specific survey as a relative proportion of total line-km. We compiled predicted 2D seismic survey activity across all years considered in BOEM’s PEIS (see Table E–11 of Appendix E in BOEM’s PEIS), which yields a potential total of 616,174 linekm. We divided each company’s proposed total trackline by this total before multiplying the total speciesspecific estimated exposures across years by this proportion to yield a total survey-specific estimate of potential Level A harassment on the basis of the Southall received energy criterion (for low-frequency cetaceans) and the 180dB rms criterion (for mid- and highfrequency cetaceans) (see Tables Attachment E–4 and Attachment E–5 of Appendix E in BOEM’s PEIS). Whether using the Southall guidance (Southall et al., 2007) or NMFS’s new technical guidance (NMFS, 2016) (i.e., in consideration of both auditory weighting functions for cSEL and thresholds for both cSEL and peak pressure), accumulation of energy would be considered to be the predominant source of potential auditory injury for low-frequency cetaceans, while instantaneous exposure to peak pressure received levels would be considered to be the predominant source of injury for both mid- and highfrequency cetaceans. Although NMFS’s historical 180-dB rms injury criterion is no longer reflective of the best available science, the exposure results provided in BOEM’s PEIS relative to the criterion VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 are the most appropriate for use in providing ‘‘corrected’’ estimates based on the relevant peak pressure thresholds. Use of these results provides a proxy for the highly uncertain risk of auditory injury due to any proposed survey, which we then adjusted to reasonably account for NMFS’s new technical acoustic guidance. For low-frequency cetaceans, in order to ‘‘correct’’ these estimates of potential Level A exposure to account for NMFS’s new technical acoustic guidance, we followed the process outlined previously under ‘‘Exclusion Zone and Shutdown Requirements.’’ We obtained spectrum data (in 1 Hz bands) for a reasonably equivalent acoustic source in order to appropriately incorporate weighting functions (i.e., those described in NMFS (2016) and Southall et al. (2007)) over the source’s full acoustic band. Using these data, we made adjustments (dB) to the spectrum levels, by frequency, according to the weighting functions for each relevant hearing group. We then converted these adjusted/weighted spectrum levels to pressures (micropascals) in order to integrate them over the entire broadband spectrum, resulting in weighted source levels by hearing group. Using the safe distance methodology described by Sivle et al. (2014) with the hearing group-specific weighted source levels, and assuming spherical spreading propagation, source velocity of 4.5 kn, pulse duration of 100 milliseconds (ms), and applicantspecific shot intervals, we then calculated potential radial distances to auditory injury zones on the basis of the two separate sets of weighting functions and thresholds. Comparison of the predicted hearing group-specific areas ensonified above thresholds defined in Southall et al. (2007) and NMFS (2016) provided correction factors that we then applied to the exposure results calculated on the basis of the Southall et al. (2007) criteria. These ‘‘corrected’’ results are provided in Table 11. For mid- and high-frequency cetaceans, we also calculated potential radial distances to auditory injury zones on the basis of the relevant peak pressure thresholds alone, assuming spherical spreading propagation (auditory weighting functions are not used in considering potential injury due to peak pressure received levels). Comparison of the predicted hearing group-specific areas ensonified above thresholds defined by the historical NMFS criterion (i.e., 180-dB rms) and NMFS (2016) provided correction factors that we then applied to the BOEM PEIS exposure results calculated on the basis of the 180-dB rms criterion. PO 00000 Frm 00050 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 These ‘‘corrected’’ results, which are more conservative than results for these two hearing groups calculated on the basis of the cSEL approach, are provided in Table 11. We recognize that the Level A exposure estimates provided here are a rough approximation of actual exposures, for several reasons. First, specific trackline locations proposed by the applicant companies may differ somewhat from those considered in BOEM’s PEIS. However, as noted above, BOEM’s PEIS assumes a total of 616,174 line-km of 2D survey effort conducted over seven years. Therefore, it is likely that all portions of the proposed survey area are considered in the PEIS analysis. Second, the PEIS exposure estimates are based on outputs of the NODEs models (DoN, 2007) versus the density models described by Roberts et al. (2016), which we believe represent the best available information for purposes of exposure estimation. There are additional reasons why any estimate of exposures to levels of sound exceeding the Level A harassment criteria is likely an approximation: We do not have sufficient information to approximate the probability of marine mammal aversion and subsequent likelihood of Level A exposure and we do not generally incorporate the effects of mitigation on the likelihood of Level A exposure (though this is of less importance when considering the potential for Level A exposure due to cumulative exposure of sound energy). Our intention is to use the information available to us, in reflection of available science regarding the potential for auditory injury, to acknowledge the potential for such outcomes in a way that we think is a reasonable approximation. We note here that four of the five applicant companies (excepting Spectrum) declined to request authorization of take by Level A harassment. Although ION’s proposed survey is smaller in terms of survey line-km, their source is larger in terms of predicted acoustic output (see Table 1). TGS, CGG, and Western claim, in summary, that Level A exposures will not occur largely due to the effectiveness of proposed mitigation. We do not find this assertion credible and propose to authorize take by Level A harassment, as displayed in Table 11. Rare Species Certain species potentially present in the proposed survey areas are expected to be encountered only extremely rarely, if at all. Although Roberts et al. (2016) provide density models for these species (with the exception of the pygmy killer E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices whale), due to the small numbers of sightings that underlie these models’ predictions we believe it appropriate to account for the small likelihood that these species would be encountered by assuming that these species might be encountered once by a given survey, and that Level A harassment would not occur for these species. With the exception of the northern bottlenose whale, none of these species should be considered cryptic (i.e., difficult to observe when present) versus rare (i.e., not likely to be present). Average group size was determined by considering known sightings in the western North Atlantic (CETAP, 1982; Hansen et al, 1994; NMFS, 2010a, 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2014, 2015a; Waring et al., 2007, 2015). It is important to note that our proposal to authorize take equating to harassment of one group of each of these species is not equivalent to expected exposure. We do not expect that these rarely occurring (in the proposed survey area) species will be exposed at all, but provide a precautionary authorization of take. We provide a brief description for each of these species. Sei Whale—Very little is known of sei whales in the western North Atlantic outside of northern feeding grounds, and much of what is known of sei whale distribution and movements is based on whaling records (Prieto et al., 2012). Spring is the period of greatest abundance in U.S. waters, but sightings are concentrated on feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine and in the vicinity of Georges Bank, outside the proposed survey areas (CETAP, 1982; Hain et al., 1985). There are no definitive sightings reported south of 40° N., i.e., no sightings reported from the proposed survey areas, although NOAA surveys in 1992 and 1995 reported four ambiguous sightings of ‘‘Bryde’s or sei whales’’ between Florida and Cape Hatteras in winter (Roberts et al., 2015j). Additionally, passive acoustic monitoring has detected sei whales in the winter near Onslow Bay, North Carolina, and near the shelf break off of Jacksonville, Florida (e.g., Read et al., 2010, 2012; Frasier et al., 2016; Debich et al., 2013, 2014; Norris et al., 2014), and one sei whale stranding is reported from North Carolina (Byrd et al., 2014). It is worth noting that the model authors include the four ambiguous sightings in both the sei whale and Bryde’s whale models, thereby potentially overestimating the density of one species or the other but acknowledging the potential presence of both species in the area (Roberts et al., 2015j). Schilling et al. (1992) report a mean group size of 1.8 sei whales, similar to the average VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 group size of 2.2 whales across all NMFS observations in the Atlantic. We assume an average group size of two whales. Bryde’s Whale—NMFS defines and manages a stock of Bryde’s whales believed to be resident in the northern Gulf of Mexico, but does not define a separate stock in the western North Atlantic Ocean. Bryde’s whales are occasionally reported off the southeastern U.S. and southern West Indies (Leatherwood and Reeves, 1983). Genetic analysis suggests that Bryde’s whales from the northern Gulf of Mexico represent a unique evolutionary lineage distinct from other recognized Bryde’s whale subspecies, including those found in the southern Caribbean and southwestern Atlantic off Brazil (Rosel and Wilcox, 2014). Two strandings from the southeastern U.S. Atlantic coast share the same genetic characteristics with those from the northern Gulf of Mexico but it is unclear whether these are extralimital strays or they indicate the population extends from the northeastern Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic coast of the southern U.S. (Byrd et al., 2014; Rosel and Wilcox, 2014). There are no definitive sightings of Bryde’s whales from the U.S. Atlantic reported from surveys considered by Roberts et al. (2016), although, as noted above for the sei whale, NOAA surveys in 1992 and 1995 reported four ambiguous sightings of ‘‘Bryde’s or sei whales’’ between Florida and Cape Hatteras in winter. These four ambiguous sightings provide the basis for a stratified density model (Roberts et al., 2016). There are no NMFS observations of Bryde’s whales outside the Gulf of Mexico, but Silber et al. (1994) reported an average group size of 1.2 whales from the Gulf of California. Given the similarities to sei whales, we assume an average group size of two whales. Blue Whale—The blue whale is best considered as an occasional visitor in US Atlantic waters, which may represent the current southern limit of its feeding range (CETAP, 1982; Wenzel et al., 1988). NMFS’s minimum population abundance estimate is based on photo-identification of recognizable individuals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Waring et al., 2010), and the few sightings in U.S. waters occurred in the vicinity of the Gulf of Maine. All sightings have occurred north of 40° N. (Roberts et al., 2015e). However, blue whales have been detected acoustically in deep waters north of the West Indies and east of the U.S. EEZ (Clark, 1995). Roberts et al. (2016) produced a stratified density model on the basis of a few blue whale sightings in the PO 00000 Frm 00051 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26293 vicinity of the Gulf of Maine (Roberts et al., 2015e). Reports of blue whales in the eastern tropical Pacific and off of Australia are typically of lone whales or groups of two (Reilly and Thayer, 1990; Gill, 2002); NMFS sightings in the Atlantic are only of lone whales. Therefore, we assume an average group size of one whale. Northern Bottlenose Whale—Northern bottlenose whales are considered extremely rare in U.S. Atlantic waters, with only five NMFS sightings. The southern extent of distribution is generally considered to be approximately Nova Scotia (though Mitchell and Kozicki (1975) reported stranding records as far south as Rhode Island), and there have been no sightings within the proposed survey areas. Whitehead and Wimmer (2005) estimated the size of the population on the Scotian Shelf at 163 whales (95 percent CI 119–214). Whitehead and Hooker (2012) report that northern bottlenose whales are found north of approximately 37.5° N. and prefer deep waters along the continental slope. Roberts et al. (2016) produced a stratified density model on the basis of four sightings in the vicinity of Georges Bank (Roberts et al., 2015b). The five sightings in U.S. waters yield a mean group size of 2.2 whales, while MacLeod and D’Amico report a mean group size of 3.6 (n = 895). Here, we assume an average group size of four whales. Killer Whale—Killer whales are also considered rare in U.S. Atlantic waters (Katona et al., 1988; Forney and Wade, 2006), constituting 0.1 percent of marine mammal sightings in the 1978–81 Cetacean and Turtle Assessment Program surveys (CETAP, 1982). Roberts et al. (2016) produced a stratified density model on the basis of four killer whale sightings (Roberts et al., 2015g), though Lawson and Stevens (2014) provide a minimum abundance estimate of 67 photo-identified individual killer whales. Available information suggests that survey encounters with killer whales would be unlikely but could occur anywhere within the proposed survey area and at any time of year (e.g., Lawson and Stevens, 2014). Silber et al. (1994) reported observations of two and 15 killer whales in the Gulf of California (mean group size 8.5), while MayCollado et al. (2005) described mean group size of 3.6 whales off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Based on 12 CETAP sightings and one group observed during NOAA surveys (CETAP, 1982; NMFS, 2014), the average group size in the Atlantic is 6.8 whales. Therefore, we assume an average group size of seven whales. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26294 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices False Killer Whale—Although records of false killer whales from the U.S. Atlantic are uncommon, a combination of sighting, stranding, and bycatch records indicates that this species does occur in the western North Atlantic (Waring et al., 2015). Baird (2009) suggests that false killer whales may be naturally uncommon throughout their range. Roberts et al. (2016) produced a stratified density model on the basis of two false killer whale sightings (Roberts et al., 2015m), and NMFS produced the first abundance estimate for false killer whales on the basis of one sighting during 2011 shipboard surveys (Waring et al., 2015). Similar to the killer whale, we believe survey encounters would be unlikely but could occur anywhere within the proposed survey area and at any time of year. Mullin et al. (2004) reported a mean false killer whale group size of 27.5 from the Gulf of Mexico, and May-Collado et al. (2005) described mean group size of 36.2 whales off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The few sightings from CETAP (1982) and from NOAA shipboard surveys give an average group size of 10.3 whales. As a precaution, we will assume an average group size of 28 whales, as reported from the Gulf of Mexico. Pygmy Killer Whale—The pygmy killer whale is distributed worldwide in tropical to sub-tropical waters, and is assumed to be part of the cetacean fauna of the tropical western North Atlantic (Jefferson et al. 1994; Waring et al., 2007). Pygmy killer whales are rarely observed by NOAA surveys outside the Gulf of Mexico—one group was observed off of Cape Hatteras in 1992— and the rarity of such sightings may be due to a naturally low number of groups compared to other cetacean species (Waring et al., 2007). NMFS has never produced an abundance estimate for this species and Roberts et al. (2016) were not able to produce a density model for the species. The 1992 sighting was of six whales; therefore, we assume an average group size of six. Melon-headed Whale—Similar to the pygmy killer whale, the melon-headed whale is distributed worldwide in tropical to sub-tropical waters, and is assumed to be part of the cetacean fauna of the tropical western North Atlantic (Jefferson et al. 1994; Waring et al., 2007). Melon-headed whales are rarely observed by NOAA surveys outside the Gulf of Mexico—groups were observed off of Cape Hatteras in 1999 and 2002— and the rarity of such sightings may be due to a naturally low number of groups VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 compared to other cetacean species (Waring et al., 2007). NMFS has never produced an abundance estimate for this species and Roberts et al. (2016) produced a stratified density model on the basis of four sightings (Roberts et al., 2015d). The two sightings reported by Waring et al. (2007) yield an average group size of 50 whales. Spinner Dolphin—Distribution of spinner dolphins in the Atlantic is poorly known, but they are thought to occur in deep water along most of the U.S. coast south to the West Indies and Venezuela (Waring et al., 2014). There have been a handful of sightings in deeper waters off the northeast U.S. and one sighting during a 2011 NOAA shipboard survey off North Carolina, as well as stranding records from North Carolina south to Florida and Puerto Rico (Waring et al., 2014). Roberts et al. (2016) provide a stratified density model on the basis of two sightings (Roberts et al., 2015i). Regarding group size, Mullin et al. (2004) report a mean of 91.3 in the Gulf of Mexico; MayCollado (2005) describe a mean of 100.6 off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica; and CETAP (1982) sightings in the Atlantic yield a mean group size of 42.5 dolphins. As a precaution, we will assume an average group size of 91 dolphins, as reported from the Gulf of Mexico. Fraser’s Dolphin—As was stated for both the pygmy killer whale and melonheaded whale, the Fraser’s dolphin is distributed worldwide in tropical waters, and is assumed to be part of the cetacean fauna of the tropical western North Atlantic (Perrin et al., 1994; Waring et al., 2007). The paucity of sightings of this species may be due to naturally low abundance compared to other cetacean species (Waring et al., 2007). Despite possibly being more common in the Gulf of Mexico than in other parts of its range (Dolar, 2009), there were only five reported sightings during NOAA surveys from 1992–2009. In the Atlantic, NOAA surveys have yielded only two sightings (Roberts et al., 2015f). May-Collado et al. (2005) reported a single observation of 158 Fraser’s dolphins off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and Waring et al. (2007) describe a single observation of 250 Fraser’s dolphins in the Atlantic, off Cape Hatteras. Therefore, we assume an average group size of 204 dolphins. Atlantic White-sided Dolphin—Whitesided dolphins are found in temperate and sub-polar continental shelf waters of the North Atlantic, primarily in the PO 00000 Frm 00052 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Gulf of Maine and north into Canadian waters (Waring et al., 2016). Palka et al. (1997) suggest the existence of stocks in the Gulf of Maine, Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Labrador Sea. Stranding records from Virginia and North Carolina suggest a southerly winter range extent of approximately 35° N. (Waring et al., 2016); therefore, it is possible that the proposed surveys could encounter white-sided dolphins. Roberts et al. (2016) elected to split their study area at the north wall of the Gulf Stream, separating the cold northern waters, representing probable habitat, from warm southern waters, where whitesided dolphins are likely not present (Roberts et al., 2015k). Over 600 observations of Atlantic white-sided dolphins during CETAP (1982) and during NMFS surveys provide a mean group size estimate of 47.7 dolphins, while Weinrich et al. (2001) reported a mean group size of 52 dolphins. Here, we assume an average group size of 48 dolphins. Table 10 displays the estimated incidents of potential exposures above given received levels of sound that are used to estimate Level B harassment, as derived by various methods described above. We do not include the 11 rarely occurring species described above, because our assumption that a single group of each species would be encountered does not constitute an exposure estimate (however they are considered in Table 11 for our proposed take authorizations). Total applicantspecific exposure estimates as a proportion of the most appropriate abundance estimate are presented. As described previously, for most species these estimated exposure levels apply to a generic western North Atlantic stock defined by NMFS for management purposes. For the humpback and sei whale, any takes are assumed to occur to individuals of the species occurring in the specific geographic region (which may or may not be individuals from the Gulf of Maine and Nova Scotia stocks, respectively). For bottlenose dolphins, NMFS defines an offshore stock and multiple coastal stocks of dolphins, and we are not able to quantitatively determine the extent to which the estimated exposures may accrue to the oceanic versus various coastal stocks. However, because of the spatial distribution of proposed survey effort and our proposed mitigation, we assume that almost all incidents of take for bottlenose dolphins would accrue to the offshore stock. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26295 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices TABLE 10—ESTIMATED INCIDENTS OF POTENTIAL EXPOSURE FOR LEVEL B HARASSMENT Abundance estimate Common name North Atlantic right whale ...... Humpback whale ................... Minke whale .......................... Fin whale ............................... Sperm whale ......................... Kogia spp .............................. Beaked whales ...................... Rough-toothed dolphin .......... Common bottlenose dolphin Clymene dolphin ................... Atlantic spotted dolphin ......... Pantropical spotted dolphin ... Striped dolphin ...................... Short-beaked common dolphin .................................... Risso’s dolphin ...................... Globicephala spp .................. Harbor porpoise .................... Spectrum Level B TGS % Level B ION % Western Level B % Level B CGG % Level B % 440 1,637 20,741 3,522 5,353 3,785 14,491 532 97,476 12,515 55,436 4,436 75,657 64 46 428 341 1,145 211 3,497 206 38,091 6,613 17,421 1,671 8,339 15 3 2 10 21 6 24 39 39 53 31 38 11 12 72 219 1,148 3,974 1,232 13,423 270 45,041 1,102 45,594 1,542 26,136 3 4 1 33 74 33 93 52 46 9 82 35 35 11 7 12 5 39 31 516 13 2,646 273 639 84 233 3 <1 <1 <1 1 1 4 2 3 2 1 2 <1 6 49 103 538 2,001 577 5,095 127 23,849 517 19,063 723 9,191 1 3 <1 15 37 15 35 24 24 4 34 16 12 1 7 134 50 1,406 249 3,722 183 9,276 6,609 6,880 1,623 6,722 <1 <1 1 1 26 7 26 34 10 53 12 37 9 173,486 7,732 18,977 45,089 11,312 772 2,841 637 7 10 15 1 57,793 3,563 9,834 334 33 46 52 1 428 95 217 21 <1 1 1 <1 20,936 1,627 4,766 157 12 21 25 <1 6,220 831 2,043 32 4 11 11 <1 ‘‘Abundance estimate’’ reflects what we believe is the most appropriate abundance estimate against which to compare each applicant’s estimated exposures exceeding the 160 dB rms criterion. ‘‘%’’ represents predicted exposures exceeding the Level B harassment criterion as a percentage of abundance. We do not include predicted Level A exposures because these incidents are also included as Level B exposures and inclusion of these numbers would result in double-counting. Table 11 provides the numbers of take by Level A and Level B harassment proposed for authorization. The proposed take authorizations combine the exposure estimates displayed in Table 10, estimated potential incidents of Level A harassment derived as described above, and the average group size information discussed previously in this section for sei whale, Bryde’s whale, blue whale, northern bottlenose whale, Fraser’s dolphin, melon-headed whale, false killer whale, pygmy killer whale, killer whale, spinner dolphin, and white-sided dolphin. For applicantand species-specific proposed take authorizations marked by an asterisk, the predicted exposures (Table 10) have been reduced to 30 percent of the abundance estimate. The MMPA limits our ability to authorize take incidental to a specified activity to ‘‘small numbers’’ of marine mammals and, although this concept is not defined in the statute, NMFS interprets the concept in relative terms through comparison of the estimated number of individuals expected to be taken to an estimation of the relevant species or stock size. A relative approach to small numbers has been upheld in past litigation (see, e.g., CBD v. Salazar, 695 F.3d 893 (9th Cir. 2012)). Here, we propose a take authorization limit of 30 percent of a stock abundance estimate. Although 30 percent is not a hard and fast cut-off, in cases such as this where exposure estimates constitute sizable percentages of the stock abundance and there are no qualitative factors to inform why the actual percentages are likely to be lower in fact, we believe it is appropriate to limit our proposed take authorizations to reasonably ensure the levels do not exceed ‘‘small numbers.’’ Proposed mechanisms to limit take to this amount are discussed further under ‘‘Small Numbers Analyses’’ and ‘‘Proposed Monitoring and Reporting.’’ TABLE 11—NUMBERS OF POTENTIAL INCIDENTAL TAKE PROPOSED FOR AUTHORIZATION Spectrum TGS ION Western CGG Common name sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Level A North Atlantic right whale .......................... Humpback whale ....................................... Minke whale .............................................. Bryde’s whale ............................................ Sei whale ................................................... Fin whale ................................................... Blue whale ................................................. Sperm whale ............................................. Kogia spp .................................................. Beaked whales .......................................... Northern bottlenose whale ........................ Rough-toothed dolphin .............................. Common bottlenose dolphin ..................... Clymene dolphin ....................................... Atlantic spotted dolphin ............................. Pantropical spotted dolphin ....................... Spinner dolphin ......................................... Striped dolphin .......................................... Short-beaked common dolphin ................. Fraser’s dolphin ......................................... Atlantic white-sided dolphin ...................... Risso’s dolphin .......................................... Melon-headed whale ................................. Pygmy killer whale .................................... False killer whale ...................................... Killer whale ................................................ Pilot whales ............................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 0 16 0 0 0 0 0 5 14 13 0 0 210 7 102 15 0 67 113 0 0 56 0 0 0 0 94 Level B Level A 64 46 428 2 2 341 1 1,145 211 3,497 4 * 160 * 29,243 * 3,755 * 16,631 * 1,331 91 8,339 11,312 204 48 772 50 6 28 7 2,841 PO 00000 Frm 00053 0 22 1 0 0 0 0 4 10 10 0 0 162 5 78 12 0 52 87 0 0 43 0 0 0 0 72 Fmt 4701 Level B 12 72 219 2 2 * 1,057 1 * 1,606 * 1,136 * 4,347 4 * 160 * 29,243 1,102 * 16,631 * 1,331 91 * 22,697 * 52,046 204 48 * 2,320 50 6 28 7 * 5,693 Sfmt 4703 Level A 0 12 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 44 1 21 3 0 14 24 0 0 12 0 0 0 0 20 Level B 11 7 12 2 2 5 1 39 31 516 4 2 14 2,646 273 639 84 91 233 428 204 48 95 50 6 28 7 217 E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM Level A 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 5 5 0 0 84 3 41 6 0 27 45 0 0 22 0 0 0 0 38 06JNN2 Level B 6 49 103 2 2 538 1 * 1,606 577 * 4,347 4 127 23,849 517 * 16,631 723 91 9,191 20,936 204 48 1,627 50 6 28 7 4,766 Level A 0 22 1 0 0 0 0 1 4 4 0 0 62 2 30 4 0 20 33 0 0 17 0 0 0 0 28 Level B 12 7 134 2 2 50 1 1,406 249 3,722 4 * 160 9,276 * 3,755 6,880 * 1,331 91 6,722 6,220 204 48 831 50 6 28 7 2,043 26296 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices TABLE 11—NUMBERS OF POTENTIAL INCIDENTAL TAKE PROPOSED FOR AUTHORIZATION—Continued Spectrum TGS ION Western CGG Common name Level A Harbor porpoise ........................................ Level B 6 Level A 637 Level B 4 334 Level A Level B 1 21 Level A Level B 2 157 Level A Level B 2 32 * Proposed take authorization limited to 30 percent of best population abundance estimate. 1 Increased from predicted exposure of one whale (Table 10) to account for assumed minimum group size (e.g., Parks and Tyack, 2005). 2 Exposure estimate (Table 10) increased by one to account for average group size observed during AMAPPS survey effort. Analyses and Preliminary Determinations sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Negligible Impact Analyses 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.’’ 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. In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be ‘‘taken’’ through harassment, we consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context of any responses (e.g., critical reproductive time or location, migration), as well as effects on habitat. We also assess the number, intensity, and context of estimated takes by VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 evaluating this information relative to population status. Consistent with the 1989 preamble for NMFS’s implementing regulations (54 FR 40338; September 29, 1989), the impacts from other past and ongoing anthropogenic activities are incorporated into these analyses via their impacts on the environmental baseline (e.g., as reflected in the regulatory status of the species, population size and growth rate where known, ongoing sources of human-caused mortality). We first provide a generic description of our approach to the negligible impact analyses for this action, which incorporates elements of the impact assessment methodology described by Wood et al. (2012), before providing applicant-specific analysis. For each potential activity-related stressor, we consider the potential impacts on affected marine mammals and the likely significance of those impacts to the affected stock or population as a whole. Potential risk due to vessel collision and related mitigation measures as well as potential risk due to entanglement and contaminant spills were addressed PO 00000 Frm 00054 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 under ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’ and ‘‘Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals’’ and are not discussed further, as there are minimal risks expected from these potential stressors. Our analyses incorporate a simple matrix assessment approach to generate relative impact ratings that couple potential magnitude of effect on a stock and likely consequences of those effects for individuals, given biologically relevant information (e.g., compensatory ability). Impact ratings are then combined with consideration of contextual information, such as the status of the stock or species, in conjunction with our proposed mitigation strategy, to ultimately inform our preliminary determinations. Figure 5 provides an overview of this framework. Elements of this approach are subjective and relative within the context of these particular actions and, overall, these analyses necessarily require the application of professional judgment. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 BILLING CODE 3510–22–C Spatial Extent Magnitude—We consider magnitude of effect as a semi-quantitative evaluation of measurable factors presented as relative ratings that address the extent of expected impacts to a species or stock and their habitat. Magnitude ratings are developed as a combination of measurable factors: The amount of take, the spatial extent of the effects in the context of the species range, and the duration of effects. sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Amount of Take We consider authorized Level B take less than five percent of population abundance to be de minimis, while authorized Level B taking between 5-15 percent is low. A moderate amount of authorized taking by Level B harassment would be from 15–25 percent, and high above 25 percent. Although we do not define quantitative metrics relating to amount of potential take by Level A harassment, for all applicant companies the expected potential for Level A harassment is expected to be low (Table 11). VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 Spatial extent relates to overlap of the expected range of the affected stock with the expected footprint of the stressor. While we do not define quantitative metrics relative to assessment of spatial extent, a relatively low impact would be a localized effect on the stock’s range, a relatively moderate impact would be a regionalscale effect (meaning that the overlap between stressor and range was partial), and a relatively high impact would be one in which the degree of overlap between stressor and range is near total. For a mobile activity occurring over a relatively large, regional-scale area, this categorization is made largely on the basis of the stock range in relation to the action area. For example, the harbor porpoise is expected to occur almost entirely outside of the proposed survey areas (Waring et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2016) and therefore despite the large extent of proposed survey activity, the spatial extent of potential stressor effect would be low. A medium degree of effect would be expected for a species such as the Risso’s dolphin, which has a distribution in shelf and slope waters PO 00000 Frm 00055 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26297 along the majority of the U.S. Atlantic coast, and which also would be expected to have greater abundance in mid-Atlantic waters north of the proposed survey areas in the summer (Waring et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2016). This means that the extent of potential stressor for this species would at all times be expected to have some overlap with a portion of the stock, while some portion (increasing in summer and fall months) would at all times be outside the stressor footprint. A higher degree of impact with regard to spatial extent would be expected for a species such as the Clymene dolphin, which is expected to have a generally more southerly distribution (Waring et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2016) and thus more nearly complete overlap with the expected stressor footprint in BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic planning areas. In Tables 14–18 below, spatial extent is presented as a range for certain species with known migratory patterns. We expect spatial extent (overlap of stock range with proposed survey area) to be low for right whales from May through October but moderate from November through April, due to right E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 EN06JN17.004</GPH> Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices 26298 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices whale movements into southeastern shelf waters in the winter for calving. The overlap is considered moderate during winter because not all right whales make this winter migration, and those that do are largely found in shallow waters where little survey effort is planned. Spatial extent for humpback whales is expected to be low for most of the year, but likely moderate during winter, while spatial extent for minke whales is likely low in summer, moderate in spring and fall, and high in winter. While we consider spatial extent to be low year-round for fin whales, their range overlap with the proposed survey area does vary across the seasons and is closer to moderate in winter and spring. We expect spatial extent for common dolphins to be lower in fall but generally moderate. Similarly, we expect spatial extent for Risso’s dolphins to be lower in summer but generally moderate. Although proposed survey plans differ across applicant companies, all cover large spatial scales that extend throughout much of BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas, and we do not expect meaningful differences across surveys with regard to spatial extent. Temporal Extent We consider a temporary effect lasting up to one month (prior to the animal or habitat reverting to a ‘‘normal’’ condition) to be short-term, whereas long-term effects are more permanent, lasting beyond one season (with animals or habitat potentially reverting to a ‘‘normal’’ condition). Moderate-term is therefore defined as between 1-3 months. Duration describes how long the effects of the stressor last. Temporal frequency may range from continuous to isolated (may occur one or two times), or may be intermittent. These metrics and their potential combinations help to derive the ratings summarized in Table 12. Temporal extent is not indicated in Tables 14–18 below, as it did not affect the magnitude rating for each applicant. TABLE 12—MAGNITUDE RATING Amount of take Spatial extent Duration and frequency High ........................................................ Any except de minimis ........................... Moderate ................................................ Moderate ................................................ Moderate ................................................ Low ......................................................... Low ......................................................... Any ......................................................... High ....................................................... Moderate ................................................ Moderate ................................................ Low ........................................................ Moderate ................................................ Low ........................................................ Low ......................................................... De minimis .............................................. Low ........................................................ Any ......................................................... Any ......................................................... Any. Any except short-term/isolated Short-term/isolated ................................ Any. Any. Any except short-term/intermittent or isolated Short-term/intermittent or isolated ......... Any ......................................................... Magnitude rating High. Medium. Low. De minimis. sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Adapted from Table 3.4 of Wood et al. (2012). Likely Consequences—These considerations of amount, extent, and duration give an understanding of expected magnitude of effect for the stock or species and their habitat, which is then considered in context of the likely consequences of those effects for individuals. We consider likely relative consequences through a qualitative evaluation of species-specific information that helps predict the consequences of the known information addressed through the magnitude rating, i.e., expected effects. This evaluation considers factors including acoustic sensitivity, communication range, known aspects of behavior relevant to a consideration of consequences of effects, and assumed compensatory abilities to engage in important behaviors (e.g., breeding, foraging) in alternate areas. The magnitude rating and likely consequences are combined to produce an impact rating (Table 13). For example, if a delphinid species is predicted to have a high amount of disturbance and over a high degree of spatial extent, that stock would receive a high magnitude rating for that particular proposed survey. However, we may then assess that the species may have a high degree of compensatory ability; therefore, our conclusion would be that the consequences of any effects VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 are likely low. The overall impact rating in this scenario would be moderate. Table 13 summarizes impact rating scenarios. TABLE 13—IMPACT RATING Magnitude rating Consequences (for individuals) High .............. High .............. Medium ......... Low ............... Medium ......... Low ............... De minimis ... High/medium .......... Low ........................ High/medium High Low ........................ Medium/low Any ......................... Impact rating High. Moderate. Low. De minimis. Adapted from Table 3.5 of Wood et al. (2012). Likely consequences, as presented in Tables 14–18 below, are considered medium for each species of mysticete whales with greater than a de minimis amount of exposure, due to the greater potential that survey noise may subject individuals of these species to masking of acoustic space for social purposes (i.e., they are low frequency hearing specialists). Likely consequences are considered medium for sperm whales due to potential for survey noise to disrupt foraging activity. The likely consequences are considered high for beaked whales due to the combination of known acoustic sensitivity and expected residency patterns, as we PO 00000 Frm 00056 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 expect that compensatory ability for beaked whales will be low due to presumed residency in certain shelf break and deepwater canyon areas covered by the proposed survey area. Similarly, Kogia spp. are presumed to be a more acoustically sensitive species, but unlike beaked whales we expect that Kogia spp. would have a reasonable compensatory ability to perform important behavior in alternate areas, as they are expected to occur broadly over the continental slope (e.g., Bloodworth and Odell, 2008)—therefore, we assume that consequences would be low for Kogia spp. generally. Consequences are considered low for most delphinids, as it is unlikely that disturbance due to survey noise would entail significant disruption of normal behavioral patterns, long-term displacement, or significant potential for masking of acoustic space. However, for pilot whales we believe likely consequences to be medium due to expected residency in areas of importance and, therefore, lack of compensatory ability. Because the nature of the stressor is the same across applicant companies, we do not expect meaningful differences with regard to likely consequences. Context—In addition to impact ratings, we then also consider additional relevant contextual factors in a E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices qualitative fashion. This consideration of context is applied to a given impact rating in order to produce a final assessment of impact to the stock or species, i.e., our preliminary negligible impact determinations. Relevant contextual factors include population status, other stressors, and proposed mitigation. Here, we reiterate discussion relating to our development of targeted mitigation measures and note certain contextual factors, which are applicable to negligible impact analyses for all five applicant companies. Applicant-specific analyses are provided later. • We developed mitigation requirements (i.e., time-area restrictions) designed specifically to provide benefit to certain species or stocks for which we predict a relatively moderate to high amount of exposure to survey noise and/or which have contextual factors that we believe necessitate special consideration. The proposed time-area restrictions, described in detail in ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’ and depicted in Figures 3–4), are designed specifically to provide benefit to the North Atlantic right whale, bottlenose dolphin, sperm whale, beaked whales, pilot whales, and Atlantic spotted dolphin. In addition, we expect these areas to provide some subsidiary benefit to additional species that may be present. In particular, Area #5 (Figure 4), although delineated in order to specifically provide an area of anticipated benefit to beaked whales, sperm whales, and pilot whales, is expected to host a diverse assemblage of cetacean species. The output of the Roberts et al. (2016) models, as used in core abundance area analyses (described in detail in ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’), indicates that species most likely to derive subsidiary benefit from this timearea restriction include the bottlenose dolphin (offshore stock), Risso’s dolphin, and common dolphin. For species with density predicted through stratified models, core abundance analysis is not possible and assumptions regarding potential benefit of time-area restrictions are based on known ecology of the species and sightings patterns and are less robust. Nevertheless, subsidiary benefit for Areas #2–5 (Figure 4) should be expected for species known to be present in these areas (e.g., assumed affinity for shelf/slope/abyss areas off Cape Hatteras): Kogia spp., pantropical spotted dolphin, Clymene dolphin, and rough-toothed dolphin. These proposed measures benefit both the primary species for which they were designed and the species that may benefit secondarily by reducing the likely number of individuals exposed to survey noise and, for resident species in VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 areas where seasonal closures are proposed, reducing the numbers of times that individuals are exposed to survey noise (also discussed in ‘‘Small Numbers Analyses,’’ below). However, and perhaps of greater importance, we expect that these restrictions will reduce disturbance of these species in the places most important to them for critical behaviors such as foraging and socialization. Area #2 (Figure 4), which is proposed as a year-round closure, is assumed to be an area important for beaked whale foraging, while Areas #3– 4 (also proposed as year-round closures) are assumed to provide important foraging opportunities for sperm whales as well as beaked whales. Area #5, proposed as a seasonal closure, is comprised of shelf-edge habitat where beaked whales and pilot whales are believed to be year-round residents as well as slope and abyss habitat predicted to contain high abundance of sperm whales during the period of closure. Further detail regarding rationale for these closures is provided under ‘‘Proposed Mitigation.’’ • The North Atlantic right whale, sei whale, fin whale, blue whale, and sperm whale are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and all coastal stocks of bottlenose dolphin are designated as depleted under the MMPA (and have recently experienced an unusual mortality event, described earlier in this document). However, sei whales and blue whales are unlikely to be meaningfully impacted by the proposed activities (see ‘‘Rare Species’’ below). All four mysticete species are also classified as endangered (i.e., ‘‘considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild’’) on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, whereas the sperm whale is classified as vulnerable (i.e., ‘‘considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild’’) (IUCN, 2016). Our proposed mitigation is designed to avoid impacts to the right whale and to depleted stocks of bottlenose dolphin. Survey activities must avoid all areas where the right whale and coastal stocks of bottlenose dolphin may be reasonably expected to occur, and we propose to require shutdown of the acoustic source upon observation of any right whale at any distance. If the observed right whale is within the behavioral harassment zone, it would still be considered to have experienced harassment, but by immediately shutting down the acoustic source the duration of harassment is minimized and the significance of the harassment event reduced as much as possible. PO 00000 Frm 00057 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26299 Although listed as endangered, the primary threat faced by the sperm whale (i.e., commercial whaling) has been eliminated and, further, sperm whales in the western North Atlantic were little affected by modern whaling (Taylor et al., 2008). Current potential threats to the species globally include vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, anthropogenic noise, exposure to contaminants, climate change, and marine debris. However, for the North Atlantic stock, the most recent estimate of annual human-caused mortality and serious injury (M/SI) is just 22 percent of the potential biological removal (PBR) level for the stock. As described previously, PBR is defined as ‘‘the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population.’’ For depleted stocks, levels of human-caused mortality and serious injury exceeding the PBR level are likely to delay restoration of the stock to OSP level by more than ten percent in comparison with recovery time in the absence of human-caused M/SI. The most recent status review for the species stated that existing regulatory mechanisms appear to minimize threats to sperm whales and that, despite uncertainty regarding threats such as climate change, contaminants, and anthropogenic noise, the significance of threat facing the species should be considered low to moderate (NMFS, 2015b). Nevertheless, existing empirical data (e.g., Miller et al., 2009) highlight the potential for seismic survey activity to negatively impact foraging behavior of sperm whales. In consideration of this likelihood, the species status, and the relatively high amount of predicted exposures to survey noise, we have given special consideration to mitigation focused on sperm whales and have defined time-area restrictions (see ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’ and Figure 4) specifically designed to reduce such impacts on sperm whales in areas expected to be of greatest importance (i.e., slope habitat and deepwater canyons). Although the primary direct threat to fin whales was addressed through the moratorium on commercial whaling, vessel strike and entanglement in commercial fishing gear remain as substantive direct threats for the species in the western North Atlantic. As noted below, the most recent estimate of annual average human-caused mortality for the fin whale in U.S. waters is above the PBR value (Table 4). In addition, the mysticete whales are particularly sensitive to sound in the frequency E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26300 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices range output from use of airgun arrays (e.g., NMFS, 2016). However, there is conflicting evidence regarding the degree to which this sound source may significantly disrupt the behavior of mysticete whales. Generally speaking, mysticete whales have been observed to react to seismic vessels but have also been observed continuing normal behavior in the presence of seismic vessels, and behavioral context at the time of acoustic exposure may be influential in the degree to which whales display significant behavioral reactions. In addition, while Edwards et al. (2015) found that fin whales were likely present in all seasons in U.S. waters north of 35° N., most important habitat areas are not expected to occur in the proposed survey areas. Primary feeding areas are outside the project area in the Gulf of Maine and off Long Island (LaBrecque et al., 2015) and, while Hain et al. (1992) suggested that calving occurs during winter in the midAtlantic, Waring et al. (2016) state that it is unknown where calving, mating, and wintering occur for most of the population. Further, fin whales are not considered to engage in regular mass movements along well-defined migratory corridors (NMFS, 2010b). The model described by Roberts et al. (2016), which predicted density at a monthly time step, suggests an expectation that, while fin whales may be present year-round in shelf and slope waters north of Cape Hatteras, the large majority of predicted abundance in U.S. waters would be found outside the proposed survey areas to the north. Very few fin whales are likely present in the proposed survey areas in summer months. Therefore, we have determined that development of time-area restriction specific to fin whales is not warranted. However, fin whales present along the shelf break north of Cape Hatteras during the closure period associated with Area #5 (Figure 4) would be expected to benefit from the time-area restriction designed primarily to benefit pilot whales, beaked whales, and sperm whales. • Critical habitat is designated only for the North Atlantic right whale, and there are no biologically important areas (BIA) described within the region (other than for the right whale, and the described BIA is similar to designated critical habitat). Our proposed mitigation is designed to minimize impacts to important habitat for the North Atlantic right whale. • Average annual human-caused M/ SI exceeds the PBR level for the North VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 Atlantic right whale, sei whale, fin whale, and for both long-finned and short-finned pilot whales (see Table 4). Average annual M/SI is considered unknown for the blue whale and the false killer whale (PBR is undetermined for a number of other species (Table 4), but average annual human-caused M/SI is zero for all of these). Although threats are considered poorly known for North Atlantic blue whales, PBR is less than one and ship strike is a known cause of mortality for all mysticete whales. The most recent record of ship strike mortality for a blue whale in the U.S. EEZ is from 1998 (Waring et al., 2010). False killer whales also have a low PBR value (2.1), and may be susceptible to mortality in commercial fisheries. One false killer whale was reported as entangled in the pelagic longline fishery in 2011, but was released alive and not seriously injured. Separately, a stranded false killer whale in 2009 was classified as due to a fishery interaction. Incidental take of the sei whale, blue whale, false killer whale, and longfinned pilot whale is considered unlikely and we propose to authorize take by behavioral harassment only for a single group of each of the first three species as a precaution. Although longfinned pilot whales are unlikely to occur in the action area in significant numbers, the density models that inform our exposure estimates consider pilot whales as a guild. It is important to note that our discussion of M/SI in relation to PBR values provides necessary contextual information related to the status of stocks; we do not equate harassment (as defined by the MMPA) with M/SI. We addressed our consideration of specific mitigation efforts for the right whale and fin whale above. In response to this population context concern for pilot whales, in conjunction with relatively medium to high amount of predicted exposures to survey noise for pilot whales, we have given special consideration to mitigation focused on pilot whales and have defined time-area restrictions (see ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’ and Figure 4) specifically designed to reduce such impacts on pilot whales in areas expected to be of greatest importance (i.e., shelf edge north of Cape Hatteras). • Beaked whales are considered to be particularly acoustically sensitive (e.g., Tyack et al., 2011; DeRuiter et al., 2013; Stimpert et al., 2014; Miller et al., 2015). Considering this sensitivity in conjunction with the relatively high amount of predicted exposures to PO 00000 Frm 00058 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 survey noise we have given special consideration to mitigation focused on beaked whales and have defined timearea restrictions (see ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’ and Figure 4) specifically designed to reduce such impacts on beaked whales in areas expected to be of greatest importance (i.e., shelf edge south of Cape Hatteras and deepwater canyon areas). Rare Species—As described previously, there are multiple species that should be considered rare in the proposed survey areas and for which we propose to authorize only nominal and precautionary take of a single group. Specific to each of the five applicant companies, we do not expect meaningful impacts to these species (i.e., sei whale, Bryde’s whale, blue whale, killer whale, false killer whale, pygmy killer whale, melon-headed whale, northern bottlenose whale, spinner dolphin, Fraser’s dolphin, Atlantic white-sided dolphin) and preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from each of the specified activities will have a negligible impact on these marine mammal species. We do not discuss these 11 species further in these analyses. Spectrum—Spectrum proposes a 165day survey program, or 45 percent of the year (approximately two seasons). However, the proposed survey would cover a large spatial extent (i.e., a majority of the mid- and south Atlantic; see Figure 1 of Spectrum’s application). Therefore, although the survey would be long-term (i.e., greater than one season) in total duration, we would not expect the duration of effect to be greater than moderate and intermittent in any given area. Table 14 displays relevant information leading to impact ratings for each species resulting from Spectrum’s proposed survey. In general, we note that although the temporal and spatial scale of the proposed survey activity is large, the fact that this mobile acoustic source would be moving across large areas (as compared with geophysical surveys with different objectives that may require focused effort over long periods of time in smaller areas) means that many individuals may receive limited exposure to survey noise. The nature of such potentially transitory exposure (which we nevertheless assume here is of moderate duration and intermittent, versus isolated) means that the potential significance of behavioral disruption and potential for longer-term avoidance of important areas is limited. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices 26301 TABLE 14—MAGNITUDE AND IMPACT RATINGS, SPECTRUM Amount Spatial extent Magnitude rating Consequences North Atlantic right whale ..................... Humpback whale ................................. Minke whale ......................................... Fin whale .............................................. Sperm whale ........................................ Kogia spp ............................................. Beaked whales ..................................... Rough-toothed dolphin ......................... Common bottlenose dolphin ................ Clymene dolphin .................................. Atlantic spotted dolphin ........................ Pantropical spotted dolphin ................. Striped dolphin ..................................... Short-beaked common dolphin ............ Risso’s dolphin ..................................... Pilot whales .......................................... Harbor porpoise ................................... sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Species Low ........................ De minimis ............. De minimis ............. Low ........................ Moderate ................ Low ........................ Moderate ............... High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... Low ........................ Low ........................ Low ........................ Low ........................ De minimis ............. Low-Moderate ....... Low-Moderate ....... Low-High .............. Low ....................... Moderate .............. High ...................... Moderate .............. High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... Moderate .............. High ...................... Low ....................... Low-moderate ....... Low-moderate ....... Moderate .............. Low ....................... Medium ................. De minimis ............ De minimis ............ Medium ................. High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... Medium ................. Medium ................. Medium ................. Medium ................. De minimis ............ Medium ................... n/a ........................... n/a ........................... Medium ................... Medium ................... Low ......................... High ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Medium ................... n/a ........................... The North Atlantic right whale is endangered, has a very low population size, and faces significant additional stressors. Therefore, regardless of impact rating, we believe that the proposed mitigation described previously is important in order for us to make the necessary finding and, in consideration of the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Spectrum’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the North Atlantic right whale. The fin whale receives a moderate impact rating overall, but we expect that for two seasons (summer and fall) almost no fin whales will be present in the proposed survey area. For the remainder of the year, it is likely that less than one quarter of the population will be present within the proposed survey area (Roberts et al., 2016), meaning that despite medium rankings for magnitude and likely consequences, these impacts would be experienced by only a small subset of the overall population. In consideration of the moderate impact rating, the likely proportion of the population that may be affected by the specified activities, and the lack of evidence that the proposed survey area is host to important behavior that may be disrupted, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Spectrum’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the fin whale. Magnitude ratings for the sperm whale and beaked whales are high and, further, consequence factors reinforce high impact ratings for both. Magnitude rating for pilot whales is medium but, similar to beaked whales, we expect that compensatory ability will be low due to presumed residency in areas targeted by the proposed survey—leading to a VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 moderate impact rating. However, regardless of impact rating, the consideration of likely consequences and contextual factors leads us to conclude that targeted mitigation is important to support a finding that the effects of the proposed survey will have a negligible impact on these species. As described previously, sperm whales are an endangered species with particular susceptibility to disruption of foraging behavior, beaked whales are particularly acoustically sensitive (with presumed low compensatory ability), and pilot whales are sensitive to additional stressors due to a high degree of mortality in commercial fisheries (and also with low compensatory ability). Finally, due to their acoustic sensitivity, we have proposed shutdown of the acoustic source upon observation of a beaked whale at any distance from the source vessel. In consideration of the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Spectrum’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the sperm whale, beaked whales (i.e., Ziphius cavirostris and Mesoplodon spp.), and pilot whales (i.e., Globicephala spp.). Kogia spp. receive a moderate impact rating. However, although NMFS does not currently identify a trend for these populations, recent survey effort and stranding data show a simultaneous increase in at-sea abundance and strandings, suggesting growing Kogia spp. abundance (NMFS, 2011; 2013a; Waring et al., 2007; 2013). Finally, we expect that Kogia spp. will receive subsidiary benefit from the proposed mitigation targeted for sperm whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales and, although minimally effective due to the difficulty of at-sea observation of Kogia spp., we have proposed shutdown of the PO 00000 Frm 00059 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Impact rating Moderate. De minimis. De minimis. Moderate. High. Moderate. High. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate. Low. Low. Low. Moderate. De minimis. acoustic source upon observation of Kogia spp. at any distance from the source vessel. In consideration of these factors—likely population increase and proposed mitigation—we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Spectrum’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on Kogia spp. Despite medium to high magnitude ratings, remaining delphinid species receive low to moderate impact ratings due to a lack of propensity for behavioral disruption due to geophysical survey activity and our expectation that these species would generally have relatively high compensatory ability. In addition, these species do not have significant issues relating to population status or context. Many oceanic delphinid species are generally more associated with dynamic oceanographic characteristics rather than static physical features, and those species (such as common dolphin) with substantial distribution to the north of the proposed survey area would likely be little affected at the population level by the proposed activity. For example, both species of spotted dolphin and the offshore stock of bottlenose dolphin range widely over slope and abyssal waters (e.g., Waring et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2016), while the rough-toothed dolphin does not appear bound by water depth in its range (Ritter, 2002; Wells et al., 2008). Our proposed mitigation largely eliminates potential effects to depleted coastal stocks of bottlenose dolphin, and provides substantial benefit to the on-shelf portion of the Atlantic spotted dolphin population. We also expect that meaningful subsidiary benefit will accrue to certain species from the proposed mitigation targeted for sperm whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales, most notably E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26302 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices to species presumed to have greater association with shelf break waters north of Cape Hatteras (e.g., offshore bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins). In consideration of these factors—overall impact ratings and proposed mitigation—we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Spectrum’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on remaining delphinid species (i.e., all stocks of bottlenose dolphin, two species of spotted dolphin, roughtoothed dolphin, striped dolphin, common dolphin, Clymene dolphin, and Risso’s dolphin). For those species with de minimis impact ratings we believe that, absent additional relevant concerns related to population status or context, the rating implies that a negligible impact should be expected as a result of the specified activity. No such concerns exist for these species, and we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Spectrum’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the humpback whale, minke whale, and harbor porpoise. In summary, 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, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Spectrum’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on all affected marine mammal species or stocks. TGS—TGS proposes a 308-day survey program, or 84 percent of the year (slightly more than three seasons). However, the proposed survey would cover a large spatial extent (i.e., a majority of the mid- and south Atlantic; see Figures 1–1 to 1–4 of TGS’s application). Therefore, although the survey would be long-term (i.e., greater than one season) in total duration, we would not expect the duration of effect to be greater than moderate and intermittent in any given area. We note that TGS proposes to deploy two independent source vessels, which would in effect increase the spatial extent of survey noise at any one time but, because the vessels would not be operating within the same area or reshooting lines already covered, this would not be expected to increase the duration or frequency of exposure experienced by individual animals. Table 15 displays relevant information leading to impact ratings for each species resulting from TGS’s proposed survey. In general, we note that although the temporal and spatial scale of the proposed survey activity is large, the fact that the mobile acoustic sources would be moving across large areas (as compared with geophysical surveys with different objectives that may require focused effort over long periods of time in smaller areas) means that many individuals may receive limited exposure to survey noise. The nature of such potentially transitory exposure (which we nevertheless assume here is of moderate duration and intermittent, versus isolated) means that the potential significance of behavioral disruption and potential for longer-term avoidance of important areas is limited. TABLE 15—MAGNITUDE AND IMPACT RATINGS, TGS Amount Spatial extent Magnitude rating Consequences North Atlantic right whale ..................... Humpback whale ................................. Minke whale ......................................... Fin whale .............................................. Sperm whale ........................................ Kogia spp ............................................. Beaked whales ..................................... Rough-toothed dolphin ......................... Common bottlenose dolphin ................ Clymene dolphin .................................. Atlantic spotted dolphin ........................ Pantropical spotted dolphin ................. Striped dolphin ..................................... Short-beaked common dolphin ............ Risso’s dolphin ..................................... Pilot whales .......................................... Harbor porpoise ................................... sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Species De minimis ............. De minimis ............. De minimis ............. High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... Low ........................ High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... High ....................... De minimis ............. Low-Moderate ....... Low-Moderate ....... Low-High .............. Low ....................... Moderate .............. High ...................... Moderate .............. High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... Moderate .............. High ...................... Low ....................... Low-moderate ....... Low-moderate ....... Moderate .............. Low ....................... De minimis ............ De minimis ............ De minimis ............ High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... De minimis ............ n/a ........................... n/a ........................... n/a ........................... Medium ................... Medium ................... Low ......................... High ........................ Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Medium ................... n/a ........................... The North Atlantic right whale is endangered, has a very low population size, and faces significant additional stressors. Therefore, regardless of impact rating, we believe that the proposed mitigation described previously is important in order for us to make the necessary finding and, in consideration of the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from TGS’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the North Atlantic right whale. The fin whale receives a high impact rating overall, due to the high amount of exposure predicted for TGS’s proposed survey VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 activity. As described previously, we expect that for two seasons (summer and fall) almost no fin whales will be present in the proposed survey area and that, for the remainder of the year, it is likely that less than one quarter of the population will be present within the proposed survey area (Roberts et al., 2016), meaning that these impacts would be experienced by only a small subset of the overall population. However, given the high amount of predicted exposure, we believe that additional mitigation requirements are warranted and propose that TGS be subject to a shutdown requirement for fin whales. If the observed fin whale is PO 00000 Frm 00060 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Impact rating De minimis. De minimis. De minimis. High. High. Moderate. High. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate. High. De minimis. within the behavioral harassment zone, it would still be considered to have experienced harassment, but by immediately shutting down the acoustic source the duration of harassment is minimized and the significance of the harassment event reduced as much as possible. In consideration of the likely proportion of the population that may be affected by the specified activities, the lack of evidence that the proposed survey area is host to important behavior that may be disrupted, and the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from TGS’s proposed survey activities E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26303 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices will have a negligible impact on the fin whale. Magnitude ratings for the sperm whale, beaked whales, and pilot whales are high and, further, consequence factors reinforce high impact ratings for all three. In addition, regardless of impact rating, the consideration of likely consequences and contextual factors leads us to conclude that targeted mitigation is important to support a finding that the effects of the proposed survey will have a negligible impact on these species. As described previously, sperm whales are an endangered species with particular susceptibility to disruption of foraging behavior, beaked whales are particularly acoustically sensitive (with presumed low compensatory ability), and pilot whales are sensitive to additional stressors due to a high degree of mortality in commercial fisheries (and also with low compensatory ability). Finally, due to their acoustic sensitivity, we have proposed shutdown of the acoustic source upon observation of a beaked whale at any distance from the source vessel. In consideration of the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from TGS’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the sperm whale, beaked whales (i.e., Ziphius cavirostris and Mesoplodon spp.), and pilot whales (i.e., Globicephala spp.). Kogia spp. receive a moderate impact rating. However, although NMFS does not currently identify a trend for these populations, recent survey effort and stranding data show a simultaneous increase in at-sea abundance and strandings, suggesting growing Kogia spp. abundance (NMFS, 2011; 2013a; Waring et al., 2007; 2013). Finally, we expect that Kogia spp. will receive subsidiary benefit from the proposed mitigation targeted for sperm whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales and, although minimally effective due to the difficulty of at-sea observation of Kogia spp., we have proposed shutdown of the acoustic source upon observation of Kogia spp. at any distance from the source vessel. In consideration of these factors—likely population increase and proposed mitigation—we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from TGS’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on Kogia spp. Despite high magnitude ratings, remaining delphinid species receive moderate impact ratings due to a lack of propensity for behavioral disruption due to geophysical survey activity and our expectation that these species would generally have relatively high compensatory ability. In addition, these species do not have significant issues relating to population status or context. Many oceanic delphinid species are generally more associated with dynamic oceanographic characteristics rather than static physical features, and those species (such as common dolphin) with substantial distribution to the north of the proposed survey area would likely be little affected at the population level by the proposed activity. For example, both species of spotted dolphin and the offshore stock of bottlenose dolphin range widely over slope and abyssal waters (e.g., Waring et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2016), while the rough-toothed dolphin does not appear bound by water depth in its range (Ritter, 2002; Wells et al., 2008). Our proposed mitigation largely eliminates potential effects to depleted coastal stocks of bottlenose dolphin, and provides substantial benefit to the on-shelf portion of the Atlantic spotted dolphin population. We also expect that meaningful subsidiary benefit will accrue to certain species from the proposed mitigation targeted for sperm whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales, most notably to species presumed to have greater association with shelf break waters north of Cape Hatteras (e.g., offshore bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins). In consideration of these factors—overall impact ratings and proposed mitigation—we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from TGS’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on remaining delphinid species (i.e., all stocks of bottlenose dolphin, two species of spotted dolphin, roughtoothed dolphin, striped dolphin, common dolphin, Clymene dolphin, and Risso’s dolphin). For those species with de minimis impact ratings we believe that, absent additional relevant concerns related to population status or context, the rating implies that a negligible impact should be expected as a result of the specified activity. No such concerns exist for these species, and we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from TGS’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the humpback whale, minke whale, and harbor porpoise. In summary, 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, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from TGS’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on all affected marine mammal species or stocks. ION—ION proposes a 70-day survey program, or 19 percent of the year (slightly less than one season). However, the proposed survey would cover a large spatial extent (i.e., a majority of the midand south Atlantic; see Figure 1 of ION’s application). Therefore, although the survey would be moderate-term (i.e., from 1–3 months) in total duration, we would not expect the duration of effect to be greater than short and isolated to intermittent in any given area. Table 16 displays relevant information leading to impact ratings for each species resulting from ION’s proposed survey. In general, we note that although the spatial scale of the proposed survey activity is large, the fact that this mobile acoustic source would be moving across large areas (as compared with geophysical surveys with different objectives that may require focused effort over long periods of time in smaller areas) means that many individuals may receive limited exposure to survey noise. The nature of such potentially transitory exposure means that the potential significance of behavioral disruption and potential for longer-term avoidance of important areas is limited. sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 TABLE 16—MAGNITUDE AND IMPACT RATINGS, ION Species Amount North Atlantic right whale ..................... Humpback whale ................................. Minke whale ......................................... Fin whale .............................................. Sperm whale ........................................ Kogia spp ............................................. Beaked whales ..................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 De De De De De De De Jkt 241001 minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis PO 00000 ............. ............. ............. ............. ............. ............. ............. Frm 00061 Spatial extent Low-Moderate ....... Low-Moderate ....... Low-High .............. Low ....................... Moderate .............. High ...................... Moderate .............. Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Magnitude rating De De De De De De De minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis ............ ............ ............ ............ ............ ............ ............ E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM Consequences n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... 06JNN2 Impact rating De De De De De De De minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. 26304 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices TABLE 16—MAGNITUDE AND IMPACT RATINGS, ION—Continued Species Amount Rough-toothed dolphin ......................... Common bottlenose dolphin ................ Clymene dolphin .................................. Atlantic spotted dolphin ........................ Pantropical spotted dolphin ................. Striped dolphin ..................................... Short-beaked common dolphin ............ Risso’s dolphin ..................................... Pilot whales .......................................... Harbor porpoise ................................... De De De De De De De De De De minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis The North Atlantic right whale is endangered, has a very low population size, and faces significant additional stressors. Therefore, regardless of impact rating, we believe that the proposed mitigation described previously is important in order for us to make the necessary finding and, in consideration of the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from ION’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the North Atlantic right whale. Also regardless of impact rating, consideration of assumed behavioral susceptibility and lack of compensatory ability (i.e., the consequence factors that are disregarded in our matrix assessment for ION) as well as additional contextual factors leads us to conclude that the proposed targeted time-area mitigation described previously is important to support a finding that the effects of the proposed survey will have a negligible impact for the sperm whale, beaked whales (i.e., Ziphius cavirostris and Mesoplodon spp.), and pilot whales (i.e., Globicephala spp.). As described previously, sperm whales are an endangered species with particular susceptibility to disruption of foraging behavior, beaked whales are particularly acoustically sensitive, and pilot whales are sensitive to additional stressors due to a high degree of mortality in commercial fisheries. Further, we expect that compensatory ability for beaked whales will be low due to presumed residency in certain shelf ............. ............. ............. ............. ............. ............. ............. ............. ............. ............. Spatial extent High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... Moderate .............. High ...................... Low ....................... Low-moderate ....... Low-moderate ....... Moderate .............. Low ....................... Magnitude rating De De De De De De De De De De minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis minimis break and deepwater canyon areas covered by the proposed survey area and that compensatory ability for pilot whales will also be low due to presumed residency in areas targeted by the proposed survey. Kogia spp. are also considered to have heightened acoustic sensitivity and therefore we have proposed shutdown of the acoustic source upon observation of a beaked whale or a Kogia spp. at any distance from the source vessel. In consideration of the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from ION’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the sperm whale, beaked whales, pilot whales, and Kogia spp. For those species with de minimis impact ratings we believe that, absent additional relevant concerns related to population status or context, the rating implies that a negligible impact should be expected as a result of the specified activity. No such concerns exist for these species, and we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from ION’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on all stocks of bottlenose dolphin, two species of spotted dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, striped dolphin, common dolphin, Clymene dolphin, Risso’s dolphin humpback whale, minke whale, fin whale, and harbor porpoise. In summary, 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 Consequences ............ ............ ............ ............ ............ ............ ............ ............ ............ ............ n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... ........................... Impact rating De De De De De De De De De De minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. minimis. mitigation measures, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from ION’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on all affected marine mammal species or stocks. Western—Western proposes a 208-day survey program, or 57 percent of the year (slightly more than two seasons). However, the proposed survey would cover a large spatial extent (i.e., a majority of the mid- and south Atlantic; see Figures 1–1 to 1–4 of Western’s application). Therefore, although the survey would be long-term (i.e., greater than one season) in total duration, we would not expect the duration of effect to be greater than moderate and intermittent in any given area. Table 17 displays relevant information leading to impact ratings for each species resulting from Western’s proposed survey. In general, we note that although the temporal and spatial scale of the proposed survey activity is large, the fact that this mobile acoustic source would be moving across large areas (as compared with geophysical surveys with different objectives that may require focused effort over long periods of time in smaller areas) means that many individuals may receive limited exposed to survey noise. The nature of such potentially transitory exposure (which we nevertheless assume here is of moderate duration and intermittent, versus isolated) means that the potential significance of behavioral disruption and potential for longer-term avoidance of important areas is limited. TABLE 17—MAGNITUDE AND IMPACT RATINGS, WESTERN sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Species Amount Spatial extent Magnitude rating Consequences North Atlantic right whale ..................... Humpback whale ................................. Minke whale ......................................... Fin whale .............................................. Sperm whale ........................................ Kogia spp ............................................. Beaked whales ..................................... Rough-toothed dolphin ......................... De minimis ............. De minimis ............. De minimis ............. Low ........................ High ....................... Low ........................ High ....................... Moderate ............... Low-Moderate ....... Low-Moderate ....... Low-High .............. Low ....................... Moderate .............. High ...................... Moderate .............. High ...................... De minimis ............ De minimis ............ De minimis ............ Medium ................. High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... n/a ........................... n/a ........................... n/a ........................... Medium ................... Medium ................... Low ......................... High ........................ Low ......................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 PO 00000 Frm 00062 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 Impact rating De minimis. De minimis. De minimis. Moderate. High. Moderate. High. Moderate. Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices 26305 TABLE 17—MAGNITUDE AND IMPACT RATINGS, WESTERN—Continued Amount Spatial extent Magnitude rating Consequences Common bottlenose dolphin ................ Clymene dolphin .................................. Atlantic spotted dolphin ........................ Pantropical spotted dolphin ................. Striped dolphin ..................................... Short-beaked common dolphin ............ Risso’s dolphin ..................................... Pilot whales .......................................... Harbor porpoise ................................... sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Species Moderate ................ De minimis ............. High ....................... Moderate ............... Low ........................ Low ........................ Moderate ............... Moderate ................ De minimis ............. High ...................... High ...................... Moderate .............. High ...................... Low ....................... Low-moderate ....... Low-moderate ....... Moderate .............. Low ....................... High ...................... De minimis ............ High ...................... High ...................... Medium ................. Medium ................. High ...................... High ...................... De minimis ............ Low ......................... n/a ........................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Medium ................... n/a ........................... The North Atlantic right whale is endangered, has a very low population size, and faces significant additional stressors. Therefore, regardless of impact rating, we believe that the proposed mitigation described previously is important in order for us to make the necessary finding and, in consideration of the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Western’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the North Atlantic right whale. The fin whale receives a moderate impact rating overall, but we expect that for two seasons (summer and fall) almost no fin whales will be present in the proposed survey area. For the remainder of the year, it is likely that less than one quarter of the population will be present within the proposed survey area (Roberts et al., 2016), meaning that despite medium rankings for magnitude and likely consequences, these impacts would be experienced by only a small subset of the overall population. In consideration of the moderate impact rating, the likely proportion of the population that may be affected by the specified activities, and the lack of evidence that the proposed survey area is host to important behavior that may be disrupted, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Western’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the fin whale. Magnitude ratings for the sperm whale, beaked whales, and pilot whales are high and, further, consequence factors reinforce high impact ratings for all three. In addition, regardless of impact rating, the consideration of likely consequences and contextual factors leads us to conclude that targeted mitigation is important to support a finding that the effects of the proposed survey will have a negligible impact on these species. As described previously, sperm whales are an endangered species with particular susceptibility to disruption of foraging behavior, beaked whales are particularly VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 acoustically sensitive (with presumed low compensatory ability), and pilot whales are sensitive to additional stressors due to a high degree of mortality in commercial fisheries (and also with low compensatory ability). Finally, due to their acoustic sensitivity, we have proposed shutdown of the acoustic source upon observation of a beaked whale at any distance from the source vessel. In consideration of the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Western’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the sperm whale, beaked whales (i.e., Ziphius cavirostris and Mesoplodon spp.), and pilot whales (i.e., Globicephala spp.). Kogia spp. receive a moderate impact rating. However, although NMFS does not currently identify a trend for these populations, recent survey effort and stranding data show a simultaneous increase in at-sea abundance and strandings, suggesting growing Kogia spp. abundance (NMFS, 2011; 2013a; Waring et al., 2007; 2013). Finally, we expect that Kogia spp. will receive subsidiary benefit from the proposed mitigation targeted for sperm whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales and, although minimally effective due to the difficulty of at-sea observation of Kogia spp., we have proposed shutdown of the acoustic source upon observation of Kogia spp. at any distance from the source vessel. In consideration of these factors—likely population increase and proposed mitigation—we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Western’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on Kogia spp. Despite medium to high magnitude ratings (with the exception of the Clymene dolphin), remaining delphinid species receive low to moderate impact ratings due to a lack of propensity for behavioral disruption due to geophysical survey activity and our expectation that these species would generally have relatively high compensatory ability. In addition, these PO 00000 Frm 00063 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Impact rating Moderate. De minimis. Moderate. Moderate. Low. Low. Moderate. High. De minimis. species do not have significant issues relating to population status or context. Many oceanic delphinid species are generally more associated with dynamic oceanographic characteristics rather than static physical features, and those species (such as common dolphin) with substantial distribution to the north of the proposed survey area would likely be little affected at the population level by the proposed activity. For example, both species of spotted dolphin and the offshore stock of bottlenose dolphin range widely over slope and abyssal waters (e.g., Waring et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2016), while the rough-toothed dolphin does not appear bound by water depth in its range (Ritter, 2002; Wells et al., 2008). Our proposed mitigation largely eliminates potential effects to depleted coastal stocks of bottlenose dolphin, and provides substantial benefit to the on-shelf portion of the Atlantic spotted dolphin population. We also expect that meaningful subsidiary benefit will accrue to certain species from the proposed mitigation targeted for sperm whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales, most notably to species presumed to have greater association with shelf break waters north of Cape Hatteras (e.g., offshore bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins). In consideration of these factors—overall impact ratings and proposed mitigation—we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Western’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on remaining delphinid species (i.e., all stocks of bottlenose dolphin, two species of spotted dolphin, roughtoothed dolphin, striped dolphin, common dolphin, and Risso’s dolphin). For those species with de minimis impact ratings we believe that, absent additional relevant concerns related to population status or context, the rating implies that a negligible impact should be expected as a result of the specified activity. No such concerns exist for these species, and we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Western’s proposed survey activities E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26306 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices will have a negligible impact on the humpback whale, minke whale, Clymene dolphin, and harbor porpoise. In summary, 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, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from Western’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on all affected marine mammal species or stocks. CGG—CGG proposes an approximately 155-day survey program, or 42 percent of the year (approximately two seasons). However, the proposed survey would cover a large spatial extent (i.e., a majority of the mid- and south Atlantic; see Figure 3 of CGG’s application). Therefore, although the survey would be long-term (i.e., greater than one season) in total duration, we would not expect the duration of effect to be greater than moderate and intermittent in any given area. Table 18 displays relevant information leading to impact ratings for each species resulting from CGG’s proposed survey. In general, we note that although the temporal and spatial scale of the proposed survey activity is large, the fact that this mobile acoustic source would be moving across large areas (as compared with geophysical surveys with different objectives that may require focused effort over long periods of time in smaller areas) means that many individuals may receive limited exposure to survey noise. The nature of such potentially transitory exposure means that the potential significance of behavioral disruption and potential for longer-term avoidance of important areas is limited. TABLE 18—MAGNITUDE AND IMPACT RATINGS, CGG Amount Spatial extent Magnitude rating Consequences North Atlantic right whale ..................... Humpback whale ................................. Minke whale ......................................... Fin whale .............................................. Sperm whale ........................................ Kogia spp ............................................. Beaked whales ..................................... Rough-toothed dolphin ......................... Common bottlenose dolphin ................ Clymene dolphin .................................. Atlantic spotted dolphin ........................ Pantropical spotted dolphin ................. Striped dolphin ..................................... Short-beaked common dolphin ............ Risso’s dolphin ..................................... Pilot whales .......................................... Harbor porpoise ................................... sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Species De minimis ............. De minimis ............. De minimis ............. De minimis ............. High ....................... Low ........................ High ....................... High ....................... Low ........................ High ....................... Low ........................ High ....................... Low ........................ De minimis ............. Low ........................ Low ........................ De minimis ............. Low-Moderate ....... Low-Moderate ....... Low-High .............. Low ....................... Moderate .............. High ...................... Moderate .............. High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... Moderate .............. High ...................... Low ....................... Low-moderate ....... Low-moderate ....... Moderate .............. Low ....................... De minimis ............ De minimis ............ De minimis ............ De minimis ............ High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... High ...................... Medium ................. High ...................... Medium ................. De minimis ............ Medium ................. Medium ................. De minimis ............ n/a ........................... n/a ........................... n/a ........................... n/a ........................... Medium ................... Low ......................... High ........................ Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... Low ......................... n/a ........................... Low ......................... Medium ................... n/a ........................... The North Atlantic right whale is endangered, has a very low population size, and faces significant additional stressors. Therefore, regardless of impact rating, we believe that the proposed mitigation described previously is important in order for us to make the necessary finding and, in consideration of the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from CGG’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the North Atlantic right whale. Magnitude ratings for the sperm whale and beaked whales are high and, further, consequence factors reinforce high impact ratings for both. Magnitude rating for pilot whales is medium but, similar to beaked whales, we expect that compensatory ability will be low due to presumed residency in areas targeted by the proposed survey—leading to a moderate impact rating. However, regardless of impact rating, the consideration of likely consequences and contextual factors leads us to conclude that targeted mitigation is important to support a finding that the effects of the proposed survey will have VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 a negligible impact on these species. As described previously, sperm whales are an endangered species with particular susceptibility to disruption of foraging behavior, beaked whales are particularly acoustically sensitive (with presumed low compensatory ability), and pilot whales are sensitive to additional stressors due to a high degree of mortality in commercial fisheries (and also with low compensatory ability). Finally, due to their acoustic sensitivity, we have proposed shutdown of the acoustic source upon observation of a beaked whale at any distance from the source vessel. In consideration of the proposed mitigation, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from CGG’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the sperm whale, beaked whales (i.e., Ziphius cavirostris and Mesoplodon spp.), and pilot whales (i.e., Globicephala spp.). Kogia spp. receive a moderate impact rating. However, although NMFS does not currently identify a trend for these populations, recent survey effort and stranding data show a simultaneous increase in at-sea abundance and PO 00000 Frm 00064 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 Impact rating De minimis. De minimis. De minimis. De minimis. High. Moderate. High. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate. Low. Moderate. Low. De minimis. Low. Moderate. De minimis. strandings, suggesting growing Kogia spp. abundance (NMFS, 2011; 2013a; Waring et al., 2007; 2013). Finally, we expect that Kogia spp. will receive subsidiary benefit from the proposed mitigation targeted for sperm whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales and, although minimally effective due to the difficulty of at-sea observation of Kogia spp., we have proposed shutdown of the acoustic source upon observation of Kogia spp. at any distance from the source vessel. In consideration of these factors—likely population increase and proposed mitigation—we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from CGG’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on Kogia spp. Despite medium to high magnitude ratings (with the exception of the shortbeaked common dolphin), remaining delphinid species receive low to moderate impact ratings due to a lack of propensity for behavioral disruption due to geophysical survey activity and our expectation that these species would generally have relatively high compensatory ability. In addition, these species do not have significant issues E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices relating to population status or context. Many oceanic delphinid species are generally more associated with dynamic oceanographic characteristics rather than static physical features, and those species (such as common dolphin) with substantial distribution to the north of the proposed survey area would likely be little affected at the population level by the proposed activity. For example, both species of spotted dolphin and the offshore stock of bottlenose dolphin range widely over slope and abyssal waters (e.g., Waring et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2016), while the rough-toothed dolphin does not appear bound by water depth in its range (Ritter, 2002; Wells et al., 2008). Our proposed mitigation largely eliminates potential effects to depleted coastal stocks of bottlenose dolphin. We also expect that meaningful subsidiary benefit will accrue to certain species from the proposed mitigation targeted for sperm whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales, most notably to species presumed to have greater association with shelf break waters north of Cape Hatteras (e.g., offshore bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins). In consideration of these factors—overall impact ratings and proposed mitigation—we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from CGG’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on remaining delphinid species (i.e., all stocks of bottlenose dolphin, two species of spotted dolphin, roughtoothed dolphin, striped dolphin, Clymene dolphin, and Risso’s dolphin). For those species with de minimis impact ratings we believe that, absent additional relevant concerns related to population status or context, the rating implies that a negligible impact should be expected as a result of the specified activity. No such concerns exist for these species, and we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from CGG’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on the humpback whale, minke whale, fin whale, short-beaked common dolphin, and harbor porpoise. In summary, 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, we preliminarily find that the total marine mammal take from CGG’s proposed survey activities will have a negligible impact on all affected marine mammal species or stocks. VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 Small Numbers Analyses Please see Tables 10 and 11 and the related text for information relating to the basis for our small numbers analyses. Table 10 provides the numbers of predicted exposures above specified received levels, while Table 11 provides numbers of take by Level A and Level B harassment proposed for authorization. The latter is what we consider for purposes of small numbers analysis for each proposed IHA. For the sei whale, Bryde’s whale, blue whale, northern bottlenose whale, Fraser’s dolphin, melon-headed whale, false killer whale, pygmy killer whale, killer whale, spinner dolphin, and whitesided dolphin, we propose to authorize take resulting from a single exposure of one group of each species or stock, as appropriate (using average group size), for each applicant. We believe that a single incident of take of one group of any of these species represents take of small numbers for that species. Therefore, for each applicant, based on the analyses contained herein of their specified activity, we preliminarily find that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken for each of these 11 affected species or stocks for each specified activity. We do not discuss these 11 species further in the applicant-specific analyses that follow. As discussed previously, the MMPA does not define small numbers. NMFS compares the estimated numbers of individuals expected to be taken to the most appropriate estimation of the relevant species or stock size in our determination of whether an authorization is limited to small numbers of marine mammals. In that regard, NMFS proposes to limit its authorization of take to 30 percent of the most appropriate stock abundance estimate, assuming no other relevant factors that provide more context for the estimate, e.g., information that the take numbers represent instances of multiple exposures of the same animals. For these proposed IHAs, the proposed take authorizations (Table 11) have been limited to a threshold of 30 percent. In order to limit actual take to this proportion of estimated stock abundance, we propose to require monthly reporting from those applicants with predicted exposures of any species exceeding this threshold (i.e., Spectrum, TGS, CGG, and Western). These interim reports would include amount and location of line-kms surveyed, all marine mammal observations with closest approach distance, and corrected numbers of marine mammals ‘‘taken.’’ Upon reaching the pre-determined take threshold, any issued IHA would be PO 00000 Frm 00065 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26307 withdrawn. This proposed mechanism to limit actual take is discussed further under ‘‘Proposed Monitoring and Reporting.’’ In addition, we have proposed timearea restrictions targeted at certain species (see ‘‘Proposed Mitigation’’). In particular, one such proposed restriction is targeted towards on-shelf Atlantic spotted dolphins specifically to reduce the likely number of individuals taken. This measure is proposed for implementation for Spectrum, TGS, and Western, due to the uniformly high number of predicted exposures of Atlantic spotted dolphins across all three applicants. In addition, we have proposed time-area restrictions targeted towards sperm whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales. While these restrictions are primarily intended to provide protections important to our preliminary negligible impact findings for each applicant, they would also be expected to reduce the total number of individuals taken (of the three target species/guilds as well as other species likely to be present in those areas). While we are unable to quantify the likely reduction in individuals taken as a result of the proposed mitigation, we believe that the combination of the proposed mitigation and the controls on taking through proposed monitoring and reporting requirements will be effective in limiting the taking of individuals of any species to small numbers. Applicant-specific analyses follow. Spectrum—The total amount of taking proposed for authorization for a majority of affected stocks ranges from 1 to 24 percent of the most appropriate population abundance estimate. The total amount of taking proposed for authorization for remaining stocks (i.e., rough-toothed dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Clymene dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin, and pantropical spotted dolphin) is limited to 30 percent of the most appropriate population abundance estimate, through mitigation and monitoring mechanisms described previously. Based on the analysis contained herein of Spectrum’s specified activity, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, we preliminarily find that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to each of the affected species or stocks. TGS—The total amount of taking proposed for authorization for the harbor porpoise, North Atlantic right whale, humpback whale, minke whale, and Clymene dolphin ranges from one to nine percent of the most appropriate population abundance estimate. The total amount of taking proposed for E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26308 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices authorization for all remaining stocks is limited to 30 percent of the most appropriate population abundance estimate, through mitigation and monitoring mechanisms described previously. Based on the analysis contained herein of TGS’s specified activity, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, we preliminarily find that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to each of the affected species or stocks. ION—The total amount of taking proposed for authorization for all affected stocks ranges from less than one to four percent of the most appropriate population abundance estimate. Therefore, based on the analysis contained herein of ION’s specified activity, we preliminarily find that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to each of the affected species or stocks. Western—The total amount of taking proposed for authorization for a majority of affected stocks ranges from less than 1 to 25 percent of the most appropriate population abundance estimate. The total amount of taking proposed for authorization for remaining stocks (i.e., sperm whale, beaked whales, and Atlantic spotted dolphin) is limited to 30 percent of the most appropriate population abundance estimate, through mitigation and monitoring mechanisms described previously. Based on the analysis contained herein of Western’s specified activity, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, we preliminarily find that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to each of the affected species or stocks. CGG—The total amount of taking proposed for authorization for a majority of affected stocks ranges from less than 1 to 26 percent of the most appropriate population abundance estimate. The total amount of taking proposed for authorization for remaining stocks (i.e., rough-toothed dolphin, Clymene dolphin, and pantropical spotted dolphin) is limited to 30 percent of the most appropriate population abundance estimate, through mitigation and monitoring mechanisms described previously. Based on the analysis contained herein of CGG’s specified activity, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, we preliminarily find that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to each of the affected species or stocks. VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 Proposed 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 incidental take authorizations must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area. Effective reporting is critical both to compliance as well as ensuring that the most value is obtained from the required monitoring. Any monitoring requirement we prescribe should improve our understanding of one or more of the following: • Occurrence of marine mammal species in action area (e.g., presence, abundance, distribution, density). • Nature, scope, or context of likely marine mammal exposure to potential stressors/impacts (individual or cumulative, acute or chronic), through better understanding of: (1) Action or environment (e.g., source characterization, propagation, ambient noise); (2) affected species (e.g., life history, dive patterns); (3) co-occurrence of marine mammal species with the action; or (4) biological or behavioral context of exposure (e.g., age, calving or feeding areas). • Individual responses to acute stressors, or impacts of chronic exposures (behavioral or physiological). • How anticipated responses to stressors impact either: (1) Long-term fitness and survival of an individual; or (2) population, species, or stock. • Effects on marine mammal habitat and resultant impacts to marine mammals. • Mitigation and monitoring effectiveness. Proposed monitoring requirements are the same for all applicants (except as noted), and a single discussion is provided here. PSO Eligibility and Qualifications All PSO resumes must be submitted to NMFS and PSOs must be approved by NMFS after a review of their qualifications. PSOs should provide a current resume and information related to PSO training, if available. The latter should include (1) a course information packet that includes the name and qualifications (e.g., experience, training, PO 00000 Frm 00066 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 or education) of the instructor(s), the course outline or syllabus, and course reference material; and (2) a document stating successful completion of the course. PSOs must be trained biologists, with the following minimum qualifications: • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a major in one of the natural sciences and a minimum of 30 semester hours or equivalent in the biological sciences and at least one undergraduate course in math or statistics; • Experience and ability to conduct field observations and collect data according to assigned protocols (may include academic experience; required for visual PSOs only) and experience with data entry on computers; • Visual acuity in both eyes (correction is permissible) sufficient for discernment of moving targets at the water’s surface with ability to estimate target size and distance; use of binoculars may be necessary to correctly identify the target (required for visual PSOs only); • Experience or training in the field identification of marine mammals, including the identification of behaviors (required for visual PSOs only); • Sufficient training, orientation, or experience with the survey operation to provide for personal safety during observations; • Writing skills sufficient to prepare a report of observations including but not limited to the number and species of marine mammals observed; marine mammal behavior; and descriptions of activity conducted and implementation of mitigation; • Ability to communicate orally, by radio or in person, with survey personnel to provide real-time information on marine mammals observed in the area as necessary; and • Successful completion of relevant training (described below), including completion of all required coursework and passing (80 percent or greater) a written and/or oral examination developed for the training program. The educational requirements may be waived if the PSO has acquired the relevant skills through alternate experience. Requests for such a waiver must include written justification, and prospective PSOs granted waivers must satisfy training requirements described below. Alternate experience that may be considered includes, but is not limited to, the following: • Secondary education and/or experience comparable to PSO duties. • Previous work experience conducting academic, commercial, or E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices government-sponsored marine mammal surveys. • Previous work experience as a PSO; the PSO should demonstrate good standing and consistently good performance of PSO duties. Training—NMFS does not currently approve specific training programs; however, acceptable training may include training previously approved by BSEE, or training that adheres generally to the recommendations provided by Baker et al. (2013). Those recommendations include the following topics for training programs: • Life at sea, duties, and authorities; • Ethics, conflicts of interest, standards of conduct, and data confidentiality; • Offshore survival and safety training; • Overview of oil and gas activities (including geophysical data acquisition operations, theory, and principles) and types of relevant sound source technology and equipment; • Overview of the MMPA and ESA as they relate to protection of marine mammals; • Mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements as they pertain to geophysical surveys; • Marine mammal identification, biology and behavior; • Background on underwater sound; • Visual surveying protocols, distance calculations and determination, cues, and search methods for locating and tracking different marine mammal species (visual PSOs only); • Optimized deployment and configuration of PAM equipment to ensure effective detections of cetaceans for mitigation purposes (PAM operators only); • Detection and identification of vocalizing species or cetacean groups (PAM operators only); • Measuring distance and bearing of vocalizing cetaceans while accounting for vessel movement (PAM operators only); • Data recording and protocols, including standard forms and reports, determining range, distance, direction, and bearing of marine mammals and vessels; recording GPS location coordinates, weather conditions, Beaufort wind force and sea state, etc.; • Proficiency with relevant software tools; • Field communication/support with appropriate personnel, and using communication devices (e.g., two-way radios, satellite phones, Internet, email, facsimile); • Reporting of violations, noncompliance, and coercion; and • Conflict resolution. VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 PAM operators should regularly refresh their detection skills through practice with simulation-modelling software, and should keep up to date with training on the latest software/ hardware advances. Visual Monitoring The lead PSO is responsible for establishing and maintaining clear lines of communication with vessel crew. The vessel operator shall work with the lead PSO to accomplish this and shall ensure any necessary briefings are provided for vessel crew to understand mitigation requirements and protocols. While on duty, PSOs would continually scan the water surface in all directions around the acoustic source and vessel for presence of marine mammals, using a combination of the naked eye and highquality binoculars, from optimum vantage points for unimpaired visual observations with minimum distractions. PSOs would collect observational data for all marine mammals observed, regardless of distance from the vessel, including species, group size, presence of calves, distance from vessel and direction of travel, and any observed behavior (including an assessment of behavioral responses to survey activity). Upon observation of marine mammal(s), a PSO would record the observation and monitor the animal’s position (including latitude/longitude of the vessel and relative bearing and estimated distance to the animal) until the animal dives or moves out of visual range of the observer, and a PSO would continue to observe the area to watch for the animal to resurface or for additional animals that may surface in the area. PSOs would also record environmental conditions at the beginning and end of the observation period and at the time of any observations, as well as whenever conditions change significantly in the judgment of the PSO on duty. The vessel operator must provide bigeye binoculars (e.g., 25 x 150; 2.7 view angle; individual ocular focus; height control) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent) solely for PSO use. These should be pedestalmounted on the deck at the most appropriate vantage point that provides for optimal sea surface observation, PSO safety, and safe operation of the vessel. The operator must also provide a nightvision device suited for the marine environment for use during nighttime ramp-up pre-clearance, at the discretion of the PSOs. NVDs may include night vision binoculars or monocular or forward-looking infrared device (e.g., Exelis PVS–7 night vision goggles; Night Optics D–300 night vision monocular; PO 00000 Frm 00067 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26309 FLIR M324XP thermal imaging camera or equivalents). At minimum, the device should feature automatic brightness and gain control, bright light protection, infrared illumination, and optics suited for low-light situations. Other required equipment, which should be made available to PSOs by the third-party observer provider, includes reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 x 50) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent), GPS, digital single-lens reflex camera of appropriate quality (i.e., Canon or equivalent), compass, and any other tools necessary to adequately perform the tasks described above, including accurate determination of distance and bearing to observed marine mammals. Individuals implementing the monitoring protocol will assess its effectiveness using an adaptive approach. Monitoring biologists will use their best professional judgment throughout implementation and seek improvements to these methods when deemed appropriate. Any modifications to protocol will be coordinated between NMFS and the applicant. Acoustic Monitoring Monitoring of a towed PAM system is required at all times, from 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and throughout all use of the acoustic source. Towed PAM systems generally consist of hardware (e.g., hydrophone array, cables) and software (e.g., data processing and monitoring system). While not required, we recommend use of industry standard software (e.g., PAMguard, which is open source). Hydrophone signals are processed for output to the PAM operator with software designed to detect marine mammal vocalizations. Current PAM technology has some limitations (e.g., limited directional capabilities and detection range, masking of signals due to noise from the vessel, source, and/or flow, localization) and there are no formal guidelines currently in place regarding specifications for hardware, software, or operator training requirements. However, a working group (led by A.M. Thode) is developing formal standards under the auspices of the Acoustical Society of America’s (ASA) Accredited Standards Committee on Animal Bioacoustics (ANSI S3/SC1/WG3; ‘‘Towed Array Passive Acoustic Operations for Bioacoustics Applications’’). While no formal standards have yet been completed, a ‘‘roadmap’’ was developed during a 2016 workshop held for the express purpose of continuing development of such standards. A workshop report (Thode et al., 2017) provides a highly detailed preview of what the scope and E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26310 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices structure of the standard would be, including operator training, planning, hardware, real-time operations, localization, and performance validation. NMFS will review this document, and recommends that applicants do the same in developing or refining their PAM plans, as appropriate. Our requirement to use PAM refers to the use of calibrated hydrophone arrays with full system redundancy to detect, identify and estimate distance and bearing to vocalizing cetaceans, to the extent possible. With regard to calibration, the PAM system should have at least one calibrated hydrophone, sufficient for determining whether background noise levels on the towed PAM system are sufficiently low to meet performance expectations. Additionally, if multiple hydrophone types occur in a system (i.e., monitor different bandwidths), then one hydrophone from each such type should be calibrated, and whenever sets of hydrophones (of the same type) are sufficiently spatially separated such that they would be expected to experience ambient noise environments that differ by 6 dB or more across any integrated species cluster bandwidth, then at least one hydrophone from each set should be calibrated. The arrays should incorporate appropriate hydrophone elements (1 Hz to 180 kHz range) and sound data acquisition card technology for sampling relevant frequencies (i.e., to 360 kHz). This hardware should be coupled with appropriate software to aid monitoring and listening by a PAM operator skilled in bioacoustics analysis and computer system specifications capable of running appropriate software. In the absence of a formally defined set of prescriptions addressing any of these three facets of PAM technology, all applicants must provide a description of the hardware and software proposed for use prior to proceeding with any BOEMpermitted survey. Applicant-specific PAM plans are available for review online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental/oilgas.htm. Spectrum and ION submitted separate plans, while TGS and Western included their plans in Section 11 of their respective applications. CGG discusses PAM in Section 13 of their application. As noted above, we recommend that each applicant produce a revised plan prior to a final decision on these requests. As recommended by Thode et al. (2017), the revised plans should, at minimum, adequately address and describe (1) the hardware and software planned for use, including a hardware performance diagram demonstrating VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 that the sensitivity and dynamic range of the hardware is appropriate for the operation; (2) deployment methodology, including target depth/tow distance; (3) definitions of expected operational conditions, used to summarize background noise statistics; (4) proposed detection-classificationlocalization methodology, including anticipated species clusters (using a cluster definition table), target minimum detection range for each cluster, and the proposed localization method for each cluster; (5) operation plans, including the background noise sampling schedule; and (6) clusterspecific details regarding which realtime displays and automated detectors the operator would monitor. In coordination with vessel crew, the lead PAM operator should be responsible for deployment, retrieval, and testing and optimization of the hydrophone array. While on duty, the PAM operator should diligently listen to received signals and/or monitoring display screens in order to detect vocalizing cetaceans, except as required to attend to PAM equipment. The PAM operator should use appropriate sample analysis and filtering techniques and, as described below, must report all cetacean detections. While not required prior to development of formal standards for PAM use, we recommend that vessel self-noise assessments are undertaken during mobilization in order to optimize PAM array configuration according to the specific noise characteristics of the vessel and equipment involved, and to refine expectations for distance/bearing estimations for cetacean species during the survey. Copies of any vessel selfnoise assessment reports should be included with the summary trip report. Data Collection PSOs must use standardized data forms, whether hard copy or electronic. PSOs will record detailed information about any implementation of mitigation requirements, including the distance of animals to the acoustic source and description of specific actions that ensued, the behavior of the animal(s), any observed changes in behavior before and after implementation of mitigation, and if shutdown was implemented, the length of time before any subsequent ramp-up of the acoustic source to resume survey. If required mitigation was not implemented, PSOs should submit a description of the circumstances. We require that, at a minimum, the following information be reported: PO 00000 Frm 00068 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 • Vessel names (source vessel and other vessels associated with survey) and call signs • PSO names and affiliations • Dates of departures and returns to port with port name • Dates and times (Greenwich Mean Time) of survey effort and times corresponding with PSO effort • Vessel location (latitude/longitude) when survey effort begins and ends; vessel location at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts • Vessel heading and speed at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts and upon any line change • Environmental conditions while on visual survey (at beginning and end of PSO shift and whenever conditions change significantly), including wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, Beaufort wind force, swell height, weather conditions, cloud cover, sun glare, and overall visibility to the horizon • Factors that may be contributing to impaired observations during each PSO shift change or as needed as environmental conditions change (e.g., vessel traffic, equipment malfunctions) • Survey activity information, such as acoustic source power output while in operation, number and volume of airguns operating in the array, tow depth of the array, and any other notes of significance (i.e., pre-rampup survey, ramp-up, shutdown, testing, shooting, ramp-up completion, end of operations, streamers, etc.) • If a marine mammal is sighted, the following information should be recorded: Æ Watch status (sighting made by PSO on/off effort, opportunistic, crew, alternate vessel/platform) Æ PSO who sighted the animal Æ Time of sighting Æ Vessel location at time of sighting Æ Water depth Æ Direction of vessel’s travel (compass direction) Æ Direction of animal’s travel relative to the vessel Æ Pace of the animal Æ Estimated distance to the animal and its heading relative to vessel at initial sighting Æ Identification of the animal (e.g., genus/species, lowest possible taxonomic level, or unidentified); also note the composition of the group if there is a mix of species Æ Estimated number of animals (high/ low/best) Æ Estimated number of animals by cohort (adults, yearlings, juveniles, E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26311 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices calves, group composition, etc.) Æ Description (as many distinguishing features as possible of each individual seen, including length, shape, color, pattern, scars or markings, shape and size of dorsal fin, shape of head, and blow characteristics) Æ Detailed behavior observations (e.g., number of blows, number of surfaces, breaching, spyhopping, diving, feeding, traveling; as explicit and detailed as possible; note any observed changes in behavior) Æ Animal’s closest point of approach (CPA) and/or closest distance from the center point of the acoustic source; Æ Platform activity at time of sighting (e.g., deploying, recovering, testing, shooting, data acquisition, other) Æ Description of any actions implemented in response to the sighting (e.g., delays, shutdown, ramp-up, speed or course alteration, etc.); time and location of the action should also be recorded • If a marine mammal is detected while using the PAM system, the following information should be recorded: Æ An acoustic encounter identification number, and whether the detection was linked with a visual sighting Æ Time when first and last heard Æ Types and nature of sounds heard (e.g., clicks, whistles, creaks, burst pulses, continuous, sporadic, strength of signal, etc.) Æ Any additional information recorded such as water depth of the hydrophone array, bearing of the animal to the vessel (if determinable), species or taxonomic group (if determinable), and any other notable information. Reporting PSO effort, survey details, and sightings data should be recorded continuously during surveys and reports prepared each day during which survey effort is conducted. As described previously, applicants with predicted exposures of any species exceeding the 30-percent threshold (i.e., Spectrum, TGS, CGG, and Western) must submit regular interim reports. These interim reports would include amount and location of line-kms surveyed, all marine mammal observations with closest approach distance, and corrected numbers of marine mammals ‘‘taken.’’ We propose submission of such interim reports to NMFS on a monthly basis. There are multiple reasons why marine mammals may be present and yet be undetected by observers. Animals are missed because they are underwater (availability bias) or because they are available to be seen, but are missed by observers (perception and detection biases) (e.g., Marsh and Sinclair, 1989). Negative bias on perception or detection of an available animal may result from environmental conditions, limitations inherent to the observation platform, or observer ability. In this case, we do not have prior knowledge of any potential negative bias on detection probability due to observation platform or observer ability. Therefore, observational data corrections must be made with respect to assumed species-specific detection probability as evaluated through consideration of environmental factors (e.g., f (0)). We propose that corrections be made using detection probabilities found in Carr et al. (2011), which are based on f (0) values from line-transect survey studies described in Koski et al. (1998), Barlow (1999), and Thomas et al. (2002). Carr et al. (2011) derived detection probabilities (shown in Table 19) as follows: • 1/f (0) is the effective strip width. • The effective strip width was divided by the truncation distance used to calculate f (0). • This value is detection probability or the average probability that an animal would be seen within the truncation distance from the vessel. • For cryptic species where only sea states 0 to 2 were used to calculate f (0), detection probability was arbitrarily divided by 3 to account for the higher probability that animals would be missed during the survey whenever sea states were greater than 2. • Different detection probability values were calculated for groups with 1–16, 17–60 and greater than 60 individuals based on the different f (0) values for those group sizes. • The mean group size for the species or guild determined the appropriate detection probability that was used for that species or guild. TABLE 19—DETECTION PROBABILITIES Detection probability Common name Mysticete whales (except minke whale) .................................................................................................................. Minke whale ............................................................................................................................................................. Sperm whale ............................................................................................................................................................ Kogia spp. ................................................................................................................................................................ Beaked whales ........................................................................................................................................................ Small delphinids, medium group size (all but common, spinner, and Fraser’s dolphin) ........................................ Small delphinids, large group size .......................................................................................................................... Large delphinids, small group size (all but Risso’s dolphin and killer whale) ........................................................ Large delphinids, medium group size ..................................................................................................................... Harbor porpoise ....................................................................................................................................................... 0.259 0.244 0.259 0.055 0.244 0.524 0.926 0.309 0.524 0.055 Assumed group size 1–16 1–16 1–16 1–16 1–16 17–60 >60 1–16 17–60 1–16 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Adapted from Table B–6, Carr et al. (2011). A draft comprehensive report would be submitted to NMFS within 90 days of the completion of survey effort, and must include all information described above under ‘‘Data Collection.’’ The report will describe the operations conducted and sightings of marine mammals near the operations. The report will provide full documentation of methods, results, and interpretation VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 pertaining to all monitoring. The report will summarize the dates and locations of survey operations, and all marine mammal sightings (dates, times, locations, activities, associated survey activities); geospatial data regarding locations where the acoustic source was used must be provided as an ESRI shapefile with all necessary files and appropriate metadata. In addition to the PO 00000 Frm 00069 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 report, all raw observational data shall be made available to NMFS. This report must also include a validation document concerning the use of PAM, which should include necessary noise validation diagrams and demonstrate whether background noise levels on the PAM deployment limited achievement of the planned detection goals. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26312 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices The report will also include estimates of the number of takes based on the observations and in consideration of the detectability of the marine mammal species observed (e.g., in consideration of f (0)). Applicants must provide an estimate of the number (by species) of marine mammals that may have been exposed (based on observational data and accounting for animals present but unavailable for sighting (i.e., f(0) values)) to the survey activity at received levels greater than or equal to the harassment threshold (i.e., 160 dB rms). The draft report must be accompanied by a certification from the lead PSO as to the accuracy of the report. A final report must be submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report. In the event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner not permitted by the authorization (if issued), such as a serious injury or mortality, the applicant shall immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the take to NMFS. The report must include the following information: • Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; • Name and type of vessel involved; • Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; • Description of the incident; • Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; • Water depth; • Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); • Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; • Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; • Fate of the animal(s); and • Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if equipment is available). The applicant shall not resume its activities until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS would work with the applicant to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. The applicant may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS. In the event that the applicant discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a moderate state of decomposition as we describe in the next paragraph), the applicant will immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 same information identified in the paragraph above this section. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work with the applicant to determine whether modifications to the activities are appropriate. In the event that the applicant discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the specified activities (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), the applicant would report the incident to NMFS within 24 hours of the discovery. The applicant would provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the animal to NMFS. Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence Uses There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by these actions. Therefore, relevant to the Spectrum, TGS, ION, CGG, and Western proposed IHAs, we have 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 (ESA) There are six marine mammal species listed as endangered under the ESA that may occur in the proposed survey areas. Under section 7 of the ESA, BOEM requested initiation of formal consultation (on behalf of itself and BSEE) in 2012 with NMFS’s Office of Protected Resources, Endangered Species Act Interagency Cooperation Division (Interagency Cooperation Division) on the proposed authorization of geological and geophysical survey activities under its oil and gas, renewable energy and marine minerals programs. These activities were described in BOEM’s Draft PEIS for Atlantic OCS Proposed Geological and Geophysical Activities in the MidAtlantic and South Atlantic Planning Areas. NMFS concluded formal consultation by issuing a final Biological Opinion to BOEM and BSEE on July 19, 2013, determining that the proposed activities were not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of threatened or endangered species nor destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat under NMFS’s jurisdiction. On October 16, 2015, BOEM and BSEE reinitiated consultation with NMFS. NMFS’s Office of Protected Resources, Permits and Conservation Division will PO 00000 Frm 00070 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 also consult internally with Interagency Cooperation Division on the proposed issuance of authorizations under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA. NMFS will conclude the consultation prior to reaching a determination regarding the proposed issuance of the authorizations. National Environmental Policy Act In 2014, the BOEM produced a PEIS to evaluate potential significant environmental effects of G&G activities on the Mid- and South Atlantic OCS, pursuant to requirements of NEPA. These activities include geophysical surveys in support of hydrocarbon exploration, as are proposed in the MMPA applications before NMFS. The PEIS is available at: www.boem.gov/ Atlantic-G-G-PEIS/. NMFS participated in development of the PEIS as a cooperating agency and believes it appropriate to adopt the analysis in order to assess the impacts to the human environment of issuance of the subject IHAs. Information in the IHA applications, BOEM’s PEIS, and this notice collectively provide the environmental information related to proposed issuance of these IHAs for public review and comment. We will review all comments submitted in response to this notice as we complete the NEPA process, including a final decision of whether to adopt BOEM’s PEIS and sign a Record of Decision related to issuance of IHAs, prior to a final decision on the incidental take authorization requests. Proposed Authorizations As a result of these preliminary determinations, we propose to issue five separate IHAs to the aforementioned applicant companies for conducting the described geophysical survey activities in the Atlantic Ocean within BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. Specific language from the proposed IHAs is provided next. This section contains drafts of the IHAs. The wording contained in this section is proposed for inclusion in the IHAs (if issued). Spectrum 1. This incidental harassment authorization (IHA) is valid for a period of one year from the date of issuance. 2. This IHA is valid only for marine geophysical survey activity, as specified in Spectrum’s IHA application and using an array with characteristics specified in the application, in the Atlantic Ocean within BOEM’s Midand South Atlantic OCS planning areas. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices 3. General Conditions (a) A copy of this IHA must be in the possession of Spectrum, the vessel operator and other relevant personnel, the lead protected species observer (PSO), and any other relevant designees of Spectrum operating under the authority of this IHA. (b) The species authorized for taking are listed in Table 11. The taking, by Level A and Level B harassment only, is limited to the species and numbers listed in Table 11. (c) The taking by serious injury or death of any of the species listed in Table 11 or any taking of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. Any taking exceeding the authorized amounts listed in Table 11 is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. (d) Spectrum shall ensure that the vessel operator and other relevant vessel personnel are briefed on all responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, operational procedures, and IHA requirements prior to the start of survey activity, and when relevant new personnel join the survey operations. Spectrum shall instruct relevant vessel personnel with regard to the authority of the protected species monitoring team, and shall ensure that relevant vessel personnel and protected species monitoring team participate in a joint onboard briefing led by the vessel operator and lead PSO to ensure that responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, operational procedures, and IHA requirements are clearly understood. This briefing must be repeated when relevant new personnel join the survey operations. (e) During use of the acoustic source, if the source vessel encounters any marine mammal species that are not listed in Table 11, then the acoustic source must be shut down to avoid unauthorized take. 4. Mitigation Requirements The holder of this Authorization is required to implement the following mitigation measures: (a) Spectrum must use independent, dedicated, trained PSOs, meaning that the PSOs must be employed by a thirdparty observer provider, may have no tasks other than to conduct observational effort, record observational data, and communicate with and instruct relevant vessel crew with regard to the presence of marine mammals and mitigation requirements (including brief alerts regarding maritime hazards), and must have VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 successfully completed an approved PSO training course. NMFS must review and approve PSO resumes accompanied by a relevant training course information packet that includes the name and qualifications (i.e., experience, training completed, or educational background) of the instructor(s), the course outline or syllabus, and course reference material as well as a document stating successful completion of the course. (b) At least two PSOs must have a minimum of 90 days at-sea experience working as PSOs during a deep penetration seismic survey, with no more than eighteen months elapsed since the conclusion of the at-sea experience. At least one of these must have relevant experience as a visual PSO and at least one must have relevant experience as an acoustic PSO. One ‘‘experienced’’ visual PSO shall be designated as the lead for the entire protected species observation team. The lead shall coordinate duty schedules and roles for the PSO team and serve as primary point of contact for the vessel operator. The lead PSO shall devise the duty schedule such that ‘‘experienced’’ PSOs are on duty with those PSOs with appropriate training but who have not yet gained relevant experience to the maximum extent practicable. (c) Visual Observation (i) During survey operations (e.g., any day on which use of the acoustic source is planned to occur; whenever the acoustic source is in the water, whether activated or not), a minimum of two PSOs must be on duty and conducting visual observations at all times during daylight hours (i.e., from 30 minutes prior to sunrise through 30 minutes following sunset) and 30 minutes prior to and during nighttime ramp-ups of the airgun array. (ii) Visual monitoring must begin not less than 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and must continue until one hour after use of the acoustic source ceases or until 30 minutes past sunset. (iii) Visual PSOs shall coordinate to ensure 360° visual coverage around the vessel from the most appropriate observation posts, and shall conduct visual observations using binoculars and the naked eye while free from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, and diligent manner. (iv) Visual PSOs shall communicate all observations to acoustic PSOs, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. (v) Visual PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of two consecutive hours followed by a break of at least one hour PO 00000 Frm 00071 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26313 between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. (vi) Any observations of marine mammals by crew members aboard any vessel associated with the survey, including chase vessels, shall be relayed to the source vessel and to the PSO team. (vii) During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state (BSS) 3 or less), visual PSOs shall conduct observations when the acoustic source is not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and without use of the acoustic source and between acquisition periods, to the maximum extent practicable. (d) Acoustic Observation (i) The source vessel must use a towed passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) system, which must be monitored beginning at least 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and at all times during use of the acoustic source. (ii) Acoustic PSOs shall communicate all detections to visual PSOs, when visual PSOs are on duty, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. (iii) Acoustic PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of four consecutive hours followed by a break of at least two hours between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. (iv) Survey activity may continue for brief periods of time when the PAM system malfunctions or is damaged. Activity may continue for 30 minutes without PAM while the PAM operator diagnoses the issue. If the diagnosis indicates that the PAM system must be repaired to solve the problem, operations may continue for an additional two hours without acoustic monitoring under the following conditions: (A) Daylight hours and sea state is less than or equal to BSS 4; (B) No marine mammals (excluding small delphinoids) detected solely by PAM in the exclusion zone in the previous two hours; (C) NMFS is notified via email as soon as practicable with the time and location in which operations began without an active PAM system; and (D) Operations with an active acoustic source, but without an operating PAM system, do not exceed a cumulative total of four hours in any 24-hour period. (e) Buffer Zone and Exclusion Zone— The PSOs shall establish and monitor a 500-m exclusion zone and a 1,000-m buffer zone. These zones shall be based upon radial distance from any element E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26314 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices of the airgun array (rather than being based on the center of the array or around the vessel itself). During use of the acoustic source, occurrence of marine mammals within the buffer zone (but outside the exclusion zone) shall be communicated to the operator to prepare for the potential shutdown of the acoustic source. PSOs must monitor the buffer zone for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to ramp-up (i.e., preclearance). (f) Ramp-up—A ramp-up procedure, involving a step-wise increase in the number of airguns firing and total array volume until all operational airguns are activated and the full volume is achieved, is required at all times as part of the activation of the acoustic source. Ramp-up may not be initiated if any marine mammal is within the designated buffer zone. If a marine mammal is observed within the buffer zone during the pre-clearance period, ramp-up may not begin until the animal(s) has been observed exiting the buffer zone or until an additional time period has elapsed with no further sightings (i.e., 15 minutes for small odontocetes and 30 minutes for all other species). PSOs would monitor the buffer zone during ramp-up, and ramp-up must cease and the source shut down upon observation of marine mammals within or approaching the buffer zone. Ramp-up may occur at times of poor visibility if appropriate acoustic monitoring has occurred with no detections in the 30 minutes prior to beginning ramp-up. Acoustic source activation may only occur at times of poor visibility where operational planning cannot reasonably avoid such circumstances. The operator must notify a designated PSO of the planned start of ramp-up as agreed-upon with the lead PSO; the notification time should not be less than 60 minutes prior to the planned ramp-up. A designated PSO must be notified again immediately prior to initiating ramp-up procedures and the operator must receive confirmation from the PSO to proceed. Ramp-up shall begin by activating a single airgun of the smallest volume in the array and shall continue in stages by doubling the number of active elements at the commencement of each stage, with each stage of approximately the same duration. Total duration should be approximately 20 minutes. The operator must provide information to the PSO documenting that appropriate procedures were followed. Ramp-ups shall be scheduled so as to minimize the time spent with source activated prior to reaching the designated run-in. (g) Shutdown Requirements VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 (i) Any PSO on duty has the authority to delay the start of survey operations or to call for shutdown of the acoustic source (visual PSOs on duty should be in agreement on the need for delay or shutdown before requiring such action). When shutdown is called for by a PSO, the acoustic source must be immediately deactivated and any dispute resolved only following deactivation. The operator must establish and maintain clear lines of communication directly between PSOs on duty and crew controlling the acoustic source to ensure that shutdown commands are conveyed swiftly while allowing PSOs to maintain watch. When both visual and acoustic PSOs are on duty, all detections must be immediately communicated to the remainder of the on-duty PSO team for potential verification of visual observations by the acoustic PSO or of acoustic detections by visual PSOs and initiation of dialogue as necessary. When there is certainty regarding the need for mitigation action on the basis of either visual or acoustic detection alone, the relevant PSO(s) must call for such action immediately. When only the acoustic PSO is on duty and a detection is made, if there is uncertainty regarding species identification or distance to the vocalizing animal(s), the acoustic source must be shut down as a precaution. (ii) Upon completion of ramp-up, if a marine mammal appears within, enters, or appears on a course to enter the exclusion zone, the acoustic source must be shut down (i.e., power to the acoustic source must be immediately turned off). If a marine mammal is detected acoustically, the acoustic source must be shut down, unless the acoustic PSO is confident that the animal detected is outside the exclusion zone or that the detected species is not subject to the shutdown requirement. (A) This shutdown requirement is waived for dolphins of the following genera: Steno, Tursiops, Stenella, Delphinus, Lagenodelphis, and Lagenorhynchus. The shutdown waiver only applies if the animals are traveling, including approaching the vessel. If animals are stationary and the source vessel approaches the animals, the shutdown requirement applies. If there is uncertainty regarding identification (i.e., whether the observed animal(s) belongs to the group described above) or whether the animals are traveling, shutdown must be implemented. (iii) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a right whale at any distance. (iv) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a whale (i.e., sperm whale or any baleen whale) PO 00000 Frm 00072 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 with calf at any distance, with ‘‘calf’’ defined as an animal less than twothirds the body size of an adult observed to be in close association with an adult. (v) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a diving sperm whale at any distance centered on the forward track of the source vessel. (vi) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation (visual or acoustic) of a beaked whale or Kogia spp. at any distance. (vii) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of an aggregation (i.e., six or more animals) of marine mammals of any species that does not appear to be traveling. (viii) Upon implementation of shutdown, the source may be reactivated after the animal(s) has been observed exiting the exclusion zone or following a 30-minute clearance period with no further observation of the animal(s). Where there is no relevant zone (e.g., shutdown due to observation of a right whale), a 30-minute clearance period must be observed following the last observation of the animal(s). (ix) If the acoustic source is shut down for reasons other than mitigation (e.g., mechanical difficulty) for brief periods (i.e., less than 30 minutes), it may be activated again without ramp-up if PSOs have maintained constant visual and acoustic observation and no visual detections of any marine mammal have occurred within the exclusion zone and no acoustic detections have occurred. For any longer shutdown, pre-clearance watch and ramp-up are required. For any shutdown at night or in periods of poor visibility (e.g., BSS 4 or greater), ramp-up is required but if the shutdown period was brief and constant observation maintained, pre-clearance watch is not required. (h) Miscellaneous Protocols (i) The acoustic source must be deactivated when not acquiring data or preparing to acquire data, except as necessary for testing. Unnecessary use of the acoustic source shall be avoided. Notified operational capacity (not including redundant backup airguns) must not be exceeded during the survey, except where unavoidable for source testing and calibration purposes. All occasions where activated source volume exceeds notified operational capacity must be noticed to the PSO(s) on duty and fully documented. The lead PSO must be granted access to relevant instrumentation documenting acoustic source power and/or operational volume. (ii) Testing of the acoustic source involving all elements requires normal mitigation protocols (e.g., ramp-up). E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices Testing limited to individual source elements or strings does not require ramp-up but does require pre-clearance. (i) Closure Areas (i) No use of the acoustic source may occur within 30 km of the coast. (ii) From November 1 through April 30, no use of the acoustic source may occur within an area bounded by the greater of three distinct components at any location: (1) A 47-km wide coastal strip throughout the entire Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas; (2) Unit 2 of designated critical habitat for the North Atlantic right whale, buffered by 10 km; and (3) the designated southeastern seasonal management area (SMA) for the North Atlantic right whale, buffered by 10 km. North Atlantic right whale dynamic management areas (DMA; buffered by 10 km) are also closed to use of the acoustic source when in effect. It is the responsibility of the survey operators to monitor appropriate media and to be aware of designated DMAs. (iii) No use of the acoustic source may occur within the areas designated by coordinates in Table 3 during applicable time periods. Area #1 is in effect from June 1 through August 31. Areas #2–4 are in effect year-round. Area #5 is in effect from July 1 through September 30. (j) Vessel Strike Avoidance (i) Vessel operators and crews must maintain a vigilant watch for all marine mammals and slow down or stop their vessel or alter course, as appropriate and regardless of vessel size, to avoid striking any marine mammal. A visual observer aboard the vessel must monitor a vessel strike avoidance zone around the vessel according to the parameters stated below. Visual observers monitoring the vessel strike avoidance zone can be either third-party observers or crew members, but crew members responsible for these duties must be provided sufficient training to distinguish marine mammals from other phenomena and broadly to identify a marine mammal as a right whale, other whale, or other marine mammal (i.e., non-whale cetacean or pinniped). In this context, ‘‘other whales’’ includes sperm whales and all baleen whales other than right whales. (ii) All vessels, regardless of size, must observe the 10 kn speed restriction in DMAs, the Mid-Atlantic SMA (from November 1 through April 30), and critical habitat and the Southeast SMA (from November 15 through April 15). (iii) Vessel speeds must also be reduced to 10 kn or less when mother/ calf pairs, pods, or large assemblages of cetaceans are observed near a vessel. (iv) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 500 m VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 from right whales. If a whale is observed but cannot be confirmed as a species other than a right whale, the vessel operator must assume that it is a right whale and take appropriate action. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a right whale is within 500 m of any vessel: (A) While underway, the vessel operator must steer a course away from the whale at 10 kn or less until the minimum separation distance has been established. (B) If a whale is spotted in the path of a vessel or within 100 m of a vessel underway, the operator shall reduce speed and shift engines to neutral. The operator shall re-engage engines only after the whale has moved out of the path of the vessel and is more than 100 m away. If the whale is still within 500 m of the vessel, the vessel must select a course away from the whale’s course at a speed of 10 kn or less. This procedure must also be followed if a whale is spotted while a vessel is stationary. Whenever possible, a vessel should remain parallel to the whale’s course while maintaining the 500-m distance as it travels, avoiding abrupt changes in direction until the whale is no longer in the area. (v) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 100 m from other whales. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a whale other than a right whale is within 100 m of any vessel: (A) The vessel underway must reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral, and must not engage the engines until the whale has moved outside of the vessel’s path and the minimum separation distance has been established. (B) If a vessel is stationary, the vessel must not engage engines until the whale(s) has moved out of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. (vi) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 50 m from all other marine mammals, with an exception made for those animals that approach the vessel. If an animal is encountered during transit, a vessel shall attempt to remain parallel to the animal’s course, avoiding excessive speed or abrupt changes in course. (k) All vessels associated with survey activity (e.g., source vessels, chase vessels, supply vessels) must have a functioning Automatic Identification System (AIS) onboard and operating at all times, regardless of whether AIS would otherwise be required. Vessel names and call signs must be provided to NMFS, and applicants must notify NMFS when survey vessels are operating. PO 00000 Frm 00073 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26315 5. Monitoring Requirements The holder of this Authorization is required to conduct marine mammal monitoring during survey activity. Monitoring shall be conducted in accordance with the following requirements: (a) The operator must provide bigeye binoculars (e.g., 25 × 150; 2.7 view angle; individual ocular focus; height control) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent) solely for PSO use. These shall be pedestal-mounted on the deck at the most appropriate vantage point that provides for optimal sea surface observation, PSO safety, and safe operation of the vessel. The operator must also provide a nightvision device suited for the marine environment for use during nighttime ramp-up pre-clearance, at the discretion of the PSOs. At minimum, the device should feature automatic brightness and gain control, bright light protection, infrared illumination, and optics suited for low-light situations. (b) PSOs must also be equipped with reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 × 50) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent), GPS, digital single-lens reflex camera of appropriate quality (i.e., Canon or equivalent), compass, and any other tools necessary to adequately perform necessary tasks, including accurate determination of distance and bearing to observed marine mammals. (c) PSO Qualifications (i) PSOs must successfully complete relevant training, including completion of all required coursework and passing (80 percent or greater) a written and/or oral examination developed for the training program. (ii) PSOs must have successfully attained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a major in one of the natural sciences and a minimum of 30 semester hours or equivalent in the biological sciences and at least one undergraduate course in math or statistics. The educational requirements may be waived if the PSO has acquired the relevant skills through alternate experience. Requests for such a waiver must include written justification. Alternate experience that may be considered includes, but is not limited to (1) secondary education and/ or experience comparable to PSO duties; (2) previous work experience conducting academic, commercial, or government-sponsored marine mammal surveys; or (3) previous work experience as a PSO; the PSO should demonstrate good standing and consistently good performance of PSO duties. (d) Data Collection—PSOs must use standardized data forms, whether hard copy or electronic. PSOs shall record E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26316 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices detailed information about any implementation of mitigation requirements, including the distance of animals to the acoustic source and description of specific actions that ensued, the behavior of the animal(s), any observed changes in behavior before and after implementation of mitigation, and if shutdown was implemented, the length of time before any subsequent ramp-up of the acoustic source to resume survey. If required mitigation was not implemented, PSOs should submit a description of the circumstances. We require that, at a minimum, the following information be reported: (i) Vessel names (source vessel and other vessels associated with survey) and call signs (ii) PSO names and affiliations (iii) Dates of departures and returns to port with port name (iv) Dates and times (Greenwich Mean Time) of survey effort and times corresponding with PSO effort (v) Vessel location (latitude/ longitude) when survey effort begins and ends; vessel location at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts (vi) Vessel heading and speed at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts and upon any line change (vii) Environmental conditions while on visual survey (at beginning and end of PSO shift and whenever conditions change significantly), including wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, Beaufort wind force, swell height, weather conditions, cloud cover, sun glare, and overall visibility to the horizon (viii) Factors that may be contributing to impaired observations during each PSO shift change or as needed as environmental conditions change (e.g., vessel traffic, equipment malfunctions) (ix) Survey activity information, such as acoustic source power output while in operation, number and volume of airguns operating in the array, tow depth of the array, and any other notes of significance (i.e., pre-ramp-up survey, ramp-up, shutdown, testing, shooting, ramp-up completion, end of operations, streamers, etc.) (x) If a marine mammal is sighted, the following information should be recorded: (A) Watch status (sighting made by PSO on/off effort, opportunistic, crew, alternate vessel/platform) (B) PSO who sighted the animal (C) Time of sighting (D) Vessel location at time of sighting (E) Water depth (F) Direction of vessel’s travel (compass direction) (G) Direction of animal’s travel relative to the vessel VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 (H) Pace of the animal (I) Estimated distance to the animal and its heading relative to vessel at initial sighting (J) Identification of the animal (e.g., genus/species, lowest possible taxonomic level, or unidentified); also note the composition of the group if there is a mix of species (K) Estimated number of animals (high/low/best) (L) Estimated number of animals by cohort (adults, yearlings, juveniles, calves, group composition, etc.) (M) Description (as many distinguishing features as possible of each individual seen, including length, shape, color, pattern, scars or markings, shape and size of dorsal fin, shape of head, and blow characteristics) (N) Detailed behavior observations (e.g., number of blows, number of surfaces, breaching, spyhopping, diving, feeding, traveling; as explicit and detailed as possible; note any observed changes in behavior) (O) Animal’s closest point of approach (CPA) and/or closest distance from the center point of the acoustic source; (P) Platform activity at time of sighting (e.g., deploying, recovering, testing, shooting, data acquisition, other) (Q) Description of any actions implemented in response to the sighting (e.g., delays, shutdown, ramp-up, speed or course alteration, etc.); time and location of the action should also be recorded (xi) If a marine mammal is detected while using the PAM system, the following information should be recorded: (A) An acoustic encounter identification number, and whether the detection was linked with a visual sighting (B) Time when first and last heard (C) Types and nature of sounds heard (e.g., clicks, whistles, creaks, burst pulses, continuous, sporadic, strength of signal, etc.) (D) Any additional information recorded such as water depth of the hydrophone array, bearing of the animal to the vessel (if determinable), species or taxonomic group (if determinable), and any other notable information. 6. Reporting (a) Spectrum shall submit monthly interim reports detailing the amount and location of line-kms surveyed, all marine mammal observations with closest approach distance, and corrected numbers of marine mammals ‘‘taken,’’ using correction factors given in Table 19. (b) Spectrum shall submit a draft comprehensive report on all activities PO 00000 Frm 00074 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 and monitoring results within 90 days of the completion of the survey or expiration of the IHA, whichever comes sooner. The report must describe all activities conducted and sightings of marine mammals near the activities, must provide full documentation of methods, results, and interpretation pertaining to all monitoring, and must summarize the dates and locations of survey operations and all marine mammal sightings (dates, times, locations, activities, associated survey activities). Geospatial data regarding locations where the acoustic source was used must be provided as an ESRI shapefile with all necessary files and appropriate metadata. In addition to the report, all raw observational data shall be made available to NMFS. The report must summarize the information submitted in interim monthly reports as well as additional data collected as required under condition 5(d) of this IHA. The draft report must be accompanied by a certification from the lead PSO as to the accuracy of the report, and the lead PSO may submit directly to NMFS a statement concerning implementation and effectiveness of the required mitigation and monitoring. A final report must be submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report. (c) Reporting injured or dead marine mammals: (i) In the event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner not prohibited by this IHA (if issued), such as serious injury or mortality, Spectrum shall immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the following information: (A) Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; (B) Name and type of vessel involved; (C) Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; (D) Description of the incident; (E) Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (F) Water depth; (G) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); (H) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (I) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (J) Fate of the animal(s); and (K) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices NMFS will work with Spectrum to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Spectrum may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS. (ii) In the event that Spectrum discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), Spectrum shall immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the same information identified in condition 6(c)(1) of this IHA. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with Spectrum to determine whether additional mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate. (iii) In the event that Spectrum discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the specified activities (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), Spectrum shall report the incident to NMFS within 24 hours of the discovery. Spectrum shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. 7. 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. TGS 1. This incidental harassment authorization (IHA) is valid for a period of one year from the date of issuance. 2. This IHA is valid only for marine geophysical survey activity, as specified in TGS’s IHA application and using an array with characteristics specified in the application, in the Atlantic Ocean within BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas. 3. General Conditions (a) A copy of this IHA must be in the possession of TGS, the vessel operator and other relevant personnel, the lead protected species observer (PSO), and any other relevant designees of TGS operating under the authority of this IHA. (b) The species authorized for taking are listed in Table 11. The taking, by Level A and Level B harassment only, is limited to the species and numbers listed in Table 11. VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 (c) The taking by serious injury or death of any of the species listed in Table 11 or any taking of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. Any taking exceeding the authorized amounts listed in Table 11 is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. (d) TGS shall ensure that the vessel operator and other relevant vessel personnel are briefed on all responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, operational procedures, and IHA requirements prior to the start of survey activity, and when relevant new personnel join the survey operations. TGS shall instruct relevant vessel personnel with regard to the authority of the protected species monitoring team, and shall ensure that relevant vessel personnel and protected species monitoring team participate in a joint onboard briefing led by the vessel operator and lead PSO to ensure that responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, operational procedures, and IHA requirements are clearly understood. This briefing must be repeated when relevant new personnel join the survey operations. (e) During use of the acoustic source, if the source vessel encounters any marine mammal species that are not listed in Table 11, then the acoustic source must be shut down to avoid unauthorized take. 4. Mitigation Requirements The holder of this Authorization is required to implement the following mitigation measures: (a) TGS must use independent, dedicated, trained PSOs, meaning that the PSOs must be employed by a thirdparty observer provider, may have no tasks other than to conduct observational effort, record observational data, and communicate with and instruct relevant vessel crew with regard to the presence of marine mammals and mitigation requirements (including brief alerts regarding maritime hazards), and must have successfully completed an approved PSO training course. NMFS must review and approve PSO resumes accompanied by a relevant training course information packet that includes the name and qualifications (i.e., experience, training completed, or educational background) of the instructor(s), the course outline or syllabus, and course reference material as well as a document stating successful completion of the course. PO 00000 Frm 00075 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26317 (b) At least two PSOs must have a minimum of 90 days at-sea experience working as PSOs during a deep penetration seismic survey, with no more than 18 months elapsed since the conclusion of the at-sea experience. At least one of these must have relevant experience as a visual PSO and at least one must have relevant experience as an acoustic PSO. One ‘‘experienced’’ visual PSO shall be designated as the lead for the entire protected species observation team. The lead shall coordinate duty schedules and roles for the PSO team and serve as primary point of contact for the vessel operator. The lead PSO shall devise the duty schedule such that ‘‘experienced’’ PSOs are on duty with those PSOs with appropriate training but who have not yet gained relevant experience to the maximum extent practicable. (c) Visual Observation (i) During survey operations (e.g., any day on which use of the acoustic source is planned to occur; whenever the acoustic source is in the water, whether activated or not), a minimum of two PSOs must be on duty and conducting visual observations at all times during daylight hours (i.e., from 30 minutes prior to sunrise through 30 minutes following sunset) and 30 minutes prior to and during nighttime ramp-ups of the airgun array. (ii) Visual monitoring must begin not less than 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and must continue until one hour after use of the acoustic source ceases or until 30 minutes past sunset. (iii) Visual PSOs shall coordinate to ensure 360° visual coverage around the vessel from the most appropriate observation posts, and shall conduct visual observations using binoculars and the naked eye while free from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, and diligent manner. (iv) Visual PSOs shall communicate all observations to acoustic PSOs, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. (v) Visual PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of two consecutive hours followed by a break of at least one hour between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. (vi) Any observations of marine mammals by crew members aboard any vessel associated with the survey, including chase vessels, shall be relayed to the source vessel and to the PSO team. (vii) During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state (BSS) 3 or less), visual PSOs shall conduct E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26318 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices observations when the acoustic source is not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and without use of the acoustic source and between acquisition periods, to the maximum extent practicable. (d) Acoustic Observation (i) The source vessel must use a towed passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) system, which must be monitored beginning at least 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and at all times during use of the acoustic source. (ii) Acoustic PSOs shall communicate all detections to visual PSOs, when visual PSOs are on duty, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. (iii) Acoustic PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of four consecutive hours followed by a break of at least two hours between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. (iv) Survey activity may continue for brief periods of time when the PAM system malfunctions or is damaged. Activity may continue for 30 minutes without PAM while the PAM operator diagnoses the issue. If the diagnosis indicates that the PAM system must be repaired to solve the problem, operations may continue for an additional two hours without acoustic monitoring under the following conditions: (A) Daylight hours and sea state is less than or equal to BSS 4; (B) No marine mammals (excluding small delphinoids) detected solely by PAM in the exclusion zone in the previous two hours; (C) NMFS is notified via email as soon as practicable with the time and location in which operations began without an active PAM system; and (D) Operations with an active acoustic source, but without an operating PAM system, do not exceed a cumulative total of four hours in any 24-hour period. (e) Buffer Zone and Exclusion Zone— The PSOs shall establish and monitor a 500-m exclusion zone and a 1,000-m buffer zone. These zones shall be based upon radial distance from any element of the airgun array (rather than being based on the center of the array or around the vessel itself). During use of the acoustic source, occurrence of marine mammals within the buffer zone (but outside the exclusion zone) shall be communicated to the operator to prepare for the potential shutdown of the acoustic source. PSOs must monitor the buffer zone for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to ramp-up (i.e., preclearance). VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 (f) Ramp-up—A ramp-up procedure, involving a step-wise increase in the number of airguns firing and total array volume until all operational airguns are activated and the full volume is achieved, is required at all times as part of the activation of the acoustic source. Ramp-up may not be initiated if any marine mammal is within the designated buffer zone. If a marine mammal is observed within the buffer zone during the pre-clearance period, ramp-up may not begin until the animal(s) has been observed exiting the buffer zone or until an additional time period has elapsed with no further sightings (i.e., 15 minutes for small odontocetes and 30 minutes for all other species). PSOs would monitor the buffer zone during ramp-up, and ramp-up must cease and the source shut down upon observation of marine mammals within or approaching the buffer zone. Ramp-up may occur at times of poor visibility if appropriate acoustic monitoring has occurred with no detections in the 30 minutes prior to beginning ramp-up. Acoustic source activation may only occur at times of poor visibility where operational planning cannot reasonably avoid such circumstances. The operator must notify a designated PSO of the planned start of ramp-up as agreed-upon with the lead PSO; the notification time should not be less than 60 minutes prior to the planned ramp-up. A designated PSO must be notified again immediately prior to initiating ramp-up procedures and the operator must receive confirmation from the PSO to proceed. Ramp-up shall begin by activating a single airgun of the smallest volume in the array and shall continue in stages by doubling the number of active elements at the commencement of each stage, with each stage of approximately the same duration. Total duration should be approximately 20 minutes. The operator must provide information to the PSO documenting that appropriate procedures were followed. Ramp-ups shall be scheduled so as to minimize the time spent with source activated prior to reaching the designated run-in. (g) Shutdown Requirements (i) Any PSO on duty has the authority to delay the start of survey operations or to call for shutdown of the acoustic source (visual PSOs on duty should be in agreement on the need for delay or shutdown before requiring such action). When shutdown is called for by a PSO, the acoustic source must be immediately deactivated and any dispute resolved only following deactivation. The operator must establish and maintain clear lines of communication directly between PSOs PO 00000 Frm 00076 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 on duty and crew controlling the acoustic source to ensure that shutdown commands are conveyed swiftly while allowing PSOs to maintain watch. When both visual and acoustic PSOs are on duty, all detections must be immediately communicated to the remainder of the on-duty PSO team for potential verification of visual observations by the acoustic PSO or of acoustic detections by visual PSOs and initiation of dialogue as necessary. When there is certainty regarding the need for mitigation action on the basis of either visual or acoustic detection alone, the relevant PSO(s) must call for such action immediately. When only the acoustic PSO is on duty and a detection is made, if there is uncertainty regarding species identification or distance to the vocalizing animal(s), the acoustic source must be shut down as a precaution. (ii) Upon completion of ramp-up, if a marine mammal appears within, enters, or appears on a course to enter the exclusion zone, the acoustic source must be shut down (i.e., power to the acoustic source must be immediately turned off). If a marine mammal is detected acoustically, the acoustic source must be shut down, unless the acoustic PSO is confident that the animal detected is outside the exclusion zone or that the detected species is not subject to the shutdown requirement. (A) This shutdown requirement is waived for dolphins of the following genera: Steno, Tursiops, Stenella, Delphinus, Lagenodelphis, and Lagenorhynchus. The shutdown waiver only applies if the animals are traveling, including approaching the vessel. If animals are stationary and the source vessel approaches the animals, the shutdown requirement applies. If there is uncertainty regarding identification (i.e., whether the observed animal(s) belongs to the group described above) or whether the animals are traveling, shutdown must be implemented. (iii) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a right whale or fin whale at any distance. (iv) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a whale (i.e., sperm whale or any baleen whale) with calf at any distance, with ‘‘calf’’ defined as an animal less than twothirds the body size of an adult observed to be in close association with an adult. (v) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a diving sperm whale at any distance centered on the forward track of the source vessel. (vi) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation (visual or acoustic) of a beaked whale or Kogia spp. at any distance. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices (vii) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of an aggregation (i.e., six or more animals) of marine mammals of any species that does not appear to be traveling. (viii) Upon implementation of shutdown, the source may be reactivated after the animal(s) has been observed exiting the exclusion zone or following a 30-minute clearance period with no further observation of the animal(s). Where there is no relevant zone (e.g., shutdown due to observation of a right whale), a 30-minute clearance period must be observed following the last observation of the animal(s). (ix) If the acoustic source is shut down for reasons other than mitigation (e.g., mechanical difficulty) for brief periods (i.e., less than 30 minutes), it may be activated again without ramp-up if PSOs have maintained constant visual and acoustic observation and no visual detections of any marine mammal have occurred within the exclusion zone and no acoustic detections have occurred. For any longer shutdown, pre-clearance watch and ramp-up are required. For any shutdown at night or in periods of poor visibility (e.g., BSS 4 or greater), ramp-up is required but if the shutdown period was brief and constant observation maintained, pre-clearance watch is not required. (h) Miscellaneous Protocols (i) The acoustic source must be deactivated when not acquiring data or preparing to acquire data, except as necessary for testing. Unnecessary use of the acoustic source shall be avoided. Notified operational capacity (not including redundant backup airguns) must not be exceeded during the survey, except where unavoidable for source testing and calibration purposes. All occasions where activated source volume exceeds notified operational capacity must be noticed to the PSO(s) on duty and fully documented. The lead PSO must be granted access to relevant instrumentation documenting acoustic source power and/or operational volume. (ii) Testing of the acoustic source involving all elements requires normal mitigation protocols (e.g., ramp-up). Testing limited to individual source elements or strings does not require ramp-up but does require pre-clearance. (i) Closure Areas (i) No use of the acoustic source may occur within 30 km of the coast. (ii) From November 1 through April 30, no use of the acoustic source may occur within an area bounded by the greater of three distinct components at any location: (1) A 47-km wide coastal strip throughout the entire Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas; (2) VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 Unit 2 of designated critical habitat for the North Atlantic right whale, buffered by 10 km; and (3) the designated southeastern seasonal management area (SMA) for the North Atlantic right whale, buffered by 10 km. North Atlantic right whale dynamic management areas (DMA; buffered by 10 km) are also closed to use of the acoustic source when in effect. It is the responsibility of the survey operators to monitor appropriate media and to be aware of designated DMAs. (iii) No use of the acoustic source may occur within the areas designated by coordinates in Table 3 during applicable time periods. Area #1 is in effect from June 1 through August 31. Areas #2–4 are in effect year-round. Area #5 is in effect from July 1 through September 30. (j) Vessel Strike Avoidance (i) Vessel operators and crews must maintain a vigilant watch for all marine mammals and slow down or stop their vessel or alter course, as appropriate and regardless of vessel size, to avoid striking any marine mammal. A visual observer aboard the vessel must monitor a vessel strike avoidance zone around the vessel according to the parameters stated below. Visual observers monitoring the vessel strike avoidance zone can be either third-party observers or crew members, but crew members responsible for these duties must be provided sufficient training to distinguish marine mammals from other phenomena and broadly to identify a marine mammal as a right whale, other whale, or other marine mammal (i.e., non-whale cetacean or pinniped). In this context, ‘‘other whales’’ includes sperm whales and all baleen whales other than right whales. (ii) All vessels, regardless of size, must observe the 10 kn speed restriction in DMAs, the Mid-Atlantic SMA (from November 1 through April 30), and critical habitat and the Southeast SMA (from November 15 through April 15). (iii) Vessel speeds must also be reduced to 10 kn or less when mother/ calf pairs, pods, or large assemblages of cetaceans are observed near a vessel. (iv) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 500 m from right whales. If a whale is observed but cannot be confirmed as a species other than a right whale, the vessel operator must assume that it is a right whale and take appropriate action. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a right whale is within 500 m of any vessel: (A) While underway, the vessel operator must steer a course away from the whale at 10 kn or less until the minimum separation distance has been established. PO 00000 Frm 00077 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26319 (B) If a whale is spotted in the path of a vessel or within 100 m of a vessel underway, the operator shall reduce speed and shift engines to neutral. The operator shall re-engage engines only after the whale has moved out of the path of the vessel and is more than 100 m away. If the whale is still within 500 m of the vessel, the vessel must select a course away from the whale’s course at a speed of 10 kn or less. This procedure must also be followed if a whale is spotted while a vessel is stationary. Whenever possible, a vessel should remain parallel to the whale’s course while maintaining the 500-m distance as it travels, avoiding abrupt changes in direction until the whale is no longer in the area. (v) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 100 m from other whales. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a whale other than a right whale is within 100 m of any vessel: (A) The vessel underway must reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral, and must not engage the engines until the whale has moved outside of the vessel’s path and the minimum separation distance has been established. (B) If a vessel is stationary, the vessel must not engage engines until the whale(s) has moved out of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. (vi) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 50 m from all other marine mammals, with an exception made for those animals that approach the vessel. If an animal is encountered during transit, a vessel shall attempt to remain parallel to the animal’s course, avoiding excessive speed or abrupt changes in course. (k) All vessels associated with survey activity (e.g., source vessels, chase vessels, supply vessels) must have a functioning Automatic Identification System (AIS) onboard and operating at all times, regardless of whether AIS would otherwise be required. Vessel names and call signs must be provided to NMFS, and applicants must notify NMFS when survey vessels are operating. 5. Monitoring Requirements The holder of this Authorization is required to conduct marine mammal monitoring during survey activity. Monitoring shall be conducted in accordance with the following requirements: (a) The operator must provide bigeye binoculars (e.g., 25 x 150; 2.7 view angle; individual ocular focus; height control) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent) solely for PSO use. These shall be pedestal-mounted on E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26320 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices the deck at the most appropriate vantage point that provides for optimal sea surface observation, PSO safety, and safe operation of the vessel. The operator must also provide a nightvision device suited for the marine environment for use during nighttime ramp-up pre-clearance, at the discretion of the PSOs. At minimum, the device should feature automatic brightness and gain control, bright light protection, infrared illumination, and optics suited for low-light situations. (b) PSOs must also be equipped with reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 x 50) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent), GPS, digital single-lens reflex camera of appropriate quality (i.e., Canon or equivalent), compass, and any other tools necessary to adequately perform necessary tasks, including accurate determination of distance and bearing to observed marine mammals. (c) PSO Qualifications (i) PSOs must successfully complete relevant training, including completion of all required coursework and passing (80 percent or greater) a written and/or oral examination developed for the training program. (ii) PSOs must have successfully attained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a major in one of the natural sciences and a minimum of 30 semester hours or equivalent in the biological sciences and at least one undergraduate course in math or statistics. The educational requirements may be waived if the PSO has acquired the relevant skills through alternate experience. Requests for such a waiver must include written justification. Alternate experience that may be considered includes, but is not limited to (1) secondary education and/ or experience comparable to PSO duties; (2) previous work experience conducting academic, commercial, or government-sponsored marine mammal surveys; or (3) previous work experience as a PSO; the PSO should demonstrate good standing and consistently good performance of PSO duties. (d) Data Collection—PSOs must use standardized data forms, whether hard copy or electronic. PSOs shall record detailed information about any implementation of mitigation requirements, including the distance of animals to the acoustic source and description of specific actions that ensued, the behavior of the animal(s), any observed changes in behavior before and after implementation of mitigation, and if shutdown was implemented, the length of time before any subsequent ramp-up of the acoustic source to resume survey. If required mitigation was not implemented, PSOs should VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 submit a description of the circumstances. We require that, at a minimum, the following information be reported: (i) Vessel names (source vessel and other vessels associated with survey) and call signs (ii) PSO names and affiliations (iii) Dates of departures and returns to port with port name (iv) Dates and times (Greenwich Mean Time) of survey effort and times corresponding with PSO effort (v) Vessel location (latitude/ longitude) when survey effort begins and ends; vessel location at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts (vi) Vessel heading and speed at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts and upon any line change (vii) Environmental conditions while on visual survey (at beginning and end of PSO shift and whenever conditions change significantly), including wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, Beaufort wind force, swell height, weather conditions, cloud cover, sun glare, and overall visibility to the horizon (viii) Factors that may be contributing to impaired observations during each PSO shift change or as needed as environmental conditions change (e.g., vessel traffic, equipment malfunctions) (ix) Survey activity information, such as acoustic source power output while in operation, number and volume of airguns operating in the array, tow depth of the array, and any other notes of significance (i.e., pre-ramp-up survey, ramp-up, shutdown, testing, shooting, ramp-up completion, end of operations, streamers, etc.) (x) If a marine mammal is sighted, the following information should be recorded: (A) Watch status (sighting made by PSO on/off effort, opportunistic, crew, alternate vessel/platform) (B) PSO who sighted the animal (C) Time of sighting (D) Vessel location at time of sighting (E) Water depth (F) Direction of vessel’s travel (compass direction) (G) Direction of animal’s travel relative to the vessel (H) Pace of the animal (I) Estimated distance to the animal and its heading relative to vessel at initial sighting (J) Identification of the animal (e.g., genus/species, lowest possible taxonomic level, or unidentified); also note the composition of the group if there is a mix of species (K) Estimated number of animals (high/low/best) PO 00000 Frm 00078 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 (L) Estimated number of animals by cohort (adults, yearlings, juveniles, calves, group composition, etc.) (M) Description (as many distinguishing features as possible of each individual seen, including length, shape, color, pattern, scars or markings, shape and size of dorsal fin, shape of head, and blow characteristics) (N) Detailed behavior observations (e.g., number of blows, number of surfaces, breaching, spyhopping, diving, feeding, traveling; as explicit and detailed as possible; note any observed changes in behavior) (O) Animal’s closest point of approach (CPA) and/or closest distance from the center point of the acoustic source; (P) Platform activity at time of sighting (e.g., deploying, recovering, testing, shooting, data acquisition, other) (Q) Description of any actions implemented in response to the sighting (e.g., delays, shutdown, ramp-up, speed or course alteration, etc.); time and location of the action should also be recorded (xi) If a marine mammal is detected while using the PAM system, the following information should be recorded: (A) An acoustic encounter identification number, and whether the detection was linked with a visual sighting (B) Time when first and last heard (C) Types and nature of sounds heard (e.g., clicks, whistles, creaks, burst pulses, continuous, sporadic, strength of signal, etc.) (D) Any additional information recorded such as water depth of the hydrophone array, bearing of the animal to the vessel (if determinable), species or taxonomic group (if determinable), and any other notable information. 6. Reporting (a) TGS shall submit monthly interim reports detailing the amount and location of line-kms surveyed, all marine mammal observations with closest approach distance, and corrected numbers of marine mammals ‘‘taken,’’ using correction factors given in Table 19. (b) TGS shall submit a draft comprehensive report on all activities and monitoring results within 90 days of the completion of the survey or expiration of the IHA, whichever comes sooner. The report must describe all activities conducted and sightings of marine mammals near the activities, must provide full documentation of methods, results, and interpretation pertaining to all monitoring, and must summarize the dates and locations of E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices survey operations and all marine mammal sightings (dates, times, locations, activities, associated survey activities). Geospatial data regarding locations where the acoustic source was used must be provided as an ESRI shapefile with all necessary files and appropriate metadata. In addition to the report, all raw observational data shall be made available to NMFS. The report must summarize the information submitted in interim monthly reports as well as additional data collected as required under condition 5(d) of this IHA. The draft report must be accompanied by a certification from the lead PSO as to the accuracy of the report, and the lead PSO may submit directly to NMFS a statement concerning implementation and effectiveness of the required mitigation and monitoring. A final report must be submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report. (c) Reporting injured or dead marine mammals: (i) In the event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner not prohibited by this IHA (if issued), such as serious injury or mortality, TGS shall immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the following information: (A) Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; (B) Name and type of vessel involved; (C) Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; (D) Description of the incident; (E) Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (F) Water depth; (G) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); (H) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (I) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (J) Fate of the animal(s); and (K) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with TGS to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. TGS may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS. (ii) In the event that TGS discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), TGS shall immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the same information identified in condition 6(c)(1) of this IHA. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with TGS to determine whether additional mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate. (iii) In the event that TGS discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the specified activities (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), TGS shall report the incident to NMFS within 24 hours of the discovery. TGS shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. 7. 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. ION 1. This incidental harassment authorization (IHA) is valid for a period of one year from the date of issuance. 2. This IHA is valid only for marine geophysical survey activity, as specified in ION’s IHA application and using an array with characteristics specified in the application, in the Atlantic Ocean within BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas. 3. General Conditions (a) A copy of this IHA must be in the possession of ION, the vessel operator and other relevant personnel, the lead protected species observer (PSO), and any other relevant designees of ION operating under the authority of this IHA. (b) The species authorized for taking are listed in Table 11. The taking, by Level A and Level B harassment only, is limited to the species and numbers listed in Table 11. (c) The taking by serious injury or death of any of the species listed in Table 11 or any taking of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. Any taking exceeding the authorized amounts listed in Table 11 is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. PO 00000 Frm 00079 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26321 (d) ION shall ensure that the vessel operator and other relevant vessel personnel are briefed on all responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, operational procedures, and IHA requirements prior to the start of survey activity, and when relevant new personnel join the survey operations. ION shall instruct relevant vessel personnel with regard to the authority of the protected species monitoring team, and shall ensure that relevant vessel personnel and protected species monitoring team participate in a joint onboard briefing led by the vessel operator and lead PSO to ensure that responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, operational procedures, and IHA requirements are clearly understood. This briefing must be repeated when relevant new personnel join the survey operations. (e) During use of the acoustic source, if the source vessel encounters any marine mammal species that are not listed in Table 11, then the acoustic source must be shut down to avoid unauthorized take. 4. Mitigation Requirements The holder of this Authorization is required to implement the following mitigation measures: (a) ION must use independent, dedicated, trained PSOs, meaning that the PSOs must be employed by a thirdparty observer provider, may have no tasks other than to conduct observational effort, record observational data, and communicate with and instruct relevant vessel crew with regard to the presence of marine mammals and mitigation requirements (including brief alerts regarding maritime hazards), and must have successfully completed an approved PSO training course. NMFS must review and approve PSO resumes accompanied by a relevant training course information packet that includes the name and qualifications (i.e., experience, training completed, or educational background) of the instructor(s), the course outline or syllabus, and course reference material as well as a document stating successful completion of the course. (b) At least two PSOs must have a minimum of 90 days at-sea experience working as PSOs during a deep penetration seismic survey, with no more than 18 months elapsed since the conclusion of the at-sea experience. At least one of these must have relevant experience as a visual PSO and at least one must have relevant experience as an acoustic PSO. One ‘‘experienced’’ visual PSO shall be designated as the lead for E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26322 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices the entire protected species observation team. The lead shall coordinate duty schedules and roles for the PSO team and serve as primary point of contact for the vessel operator. The lead PSO shall devise the duty schedule such that ‘‘experienced’’ PSOs are on duty with those PSOs with appropriate training but who have not yet gained relevant experience to the maximum extent practicable. (c) Visual Observation (i) During survey operations (e.g., any day on which use of the acoustic source is planned to occur; whenever the acoustic source is in the water, whether activated or not), a minimum of two PSOs must be on duty and conducting visual observations at all times during daylight hours (i.e., from 30 minutes prior to sunrise through 30 minutes following sunset) and 30 minutes prior to and during nighttime ramp-ups of the airgun array. (ii) Visual monitoring must begin not less than 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and must continue until one hour after use of the acoustic source ceases or until 30 minutes past sunset. (iii) Visual PSOs shall coordinate to ensure 360° visual coverage around the vessel from the most appropriate observation posts, and shall conduct visual observations using binoculars and the naked eye while free from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, and diligent manner. (iv) Visual PSOs shall communicate all observations to acoustic PSOs, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. (v) Visual PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of two consecutive hours followed by a break of at least one hour between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. (vi) Any observations of marine mammals by crew members aboard any vessel associated with the survey, including chase vessels, shall be relayed to the source vessel and to the PSO team. (vii) During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state (BSS) 3 or less), visual PSOs shall conduct observations when the acoustic source is not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and without use of the acoustic source and between acquisition periods, to the maximum extent practicable. (d) Acoustic Observation (i) The source vessel must use a towed passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) system, which must be monitored beginning at least 30 minutes prior to VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 ramp-up and at all times during use of the acoustic source. (ii) Acoustic PSOs shall communicate all detections to visual PSOs, when visual PSOs are on duty, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. (iii) Acoustic PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of four consecutive hours followed by a break of at least two hours between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. (iv) Survey activity may continue for brief periods of time when the PAM system malfunctions or is damaged. Activity may continue for 30 minutes without PAM while the PAM operator diagnoses the issue. If the diagnosis indicates that the PAM system must be repaired to solve the problem, operations may continue for an additional two hours without acoustic monitoring under the following conditions: (A) Daylight hours and sea state is less than or equal to BSS 4; (B) No marine mammals (excluding small delphinoids) detected solely by PAM in the exclusion zone in the previous two hours; (C) NMFS is notified via email as soon as practicable with the time and location in which operations began without an active PAM system; and (D) Operations with an active acoustic source, but without an operating PAM system, do not exceed a cumulative total of four hours in any 24-hour period. (e) Buffer Zone and Exclusion Zone— The PSOs shall establish and monitor a 500-m exclusion zone and a 1,000-m buffer zone. These zones shall be based upon radial distance from any element of the airgun array (rather than being based on the center of the array or around the vessel itself). During use of the acoustic source, occurrence of marine mammals within the buffer zone (but outside the exclusion zone) shall be communicated to the operator to prepare for the potential shutdown of the acoustic source. PSOs must monitor the buffer zone for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to ramp-up (i.e., preclearance). (f) Ramp-up—A ramp-up procedure, involving a step-wise increase in the number of airguns firing and total array volume until all operational airguns are activated and the full volume is achieved, is required at all times as part of the activation of the acoustic source. Ramp-up may not be initiated if any marine mammal is within the designated buffer zone. If a marine mammal is observed within the buffer PO 00000 Frm 00080 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 zone during the pre-clearance period, ramp-up may not begin until the animal(s) has been observed exiting the buffer zone or until an additional time period has elapsed with no further sightings (i.e., 15 minutes for small odontocetes and 30 minutes for all other species). PSOs would monitor the buffer zone during ramp-up, and ramp-up must cease and the source shut down upon observation of marine mammals within or approaching the buffer zone. Ramp-up may occur at times of poor visibility if appropriate acoustic monitoring has occurred with no detections in the 30 minutes prior to beginning ramp-up. Acoustic source activation may only occur at times of poor visibility where operational planning cannot reasonably avoid such circumstances. The operator must notify a designated PSO of the planned start of ramp-up as agreed-upon with the lead PSO; the notification time should not be less than 60 minutes prior to the planned ramp-up. A designated PSO must be notified again immediately prior to initiating ramp-up procedures and the operator must receive confirmation from the PSO to proceed. Ramp-up shall begin by activating a single airgun of the smallest volume in the array and shall continue in stages by doubling the number of active elements at the commencement of each stage, with each stage of approximately the same duration. Total duration should be approximately 20 minutes. The operator must provide information to the PSO documenting that appropriate procedures were followed. Ramp-ups shall be scheduled so as to minimize the time spent with source activated prior to reaching the designated run-in. (g) Shutdown Requirements (i) Any PSO on duty has the authority to delay the start of survey operations or to call for shutdown of the acoustic source (visual PSOs on duty should be in agreement on the need for delay or shutdown before requiring such action). When shutdown is called for by a PSO, the acoustic source must be immediately deactivated and any dispute resolved only following deactivation. The operator must establish and maintain clear lines of communication directly between PSOs on duty and crew controlling the acoustic source to ensure that shutdown commands are conveyed swiftly while allowing PSOs to maintain watch. When both visual and acoustic PSOs are on duty, all detections must be immediately communicated to the remainder of the on-duty PSO team for potential verification of visual observations by the acoustic PSO or of acoustic detections by visual PSOs and E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices initiation of dialogue as necessary. When there is certainty regarding the need for mitigation action on the basis of either visual or acoustic detection alone, the relevant PSO(s) must call for such action immediately. When only the acoustic PSO is on duty and a detection is made, if there is uncertainty regarding species identification or distance to the vocalizing animal(s), the acoustic source must be shut down as a precaution. (ii) Upon completion of ramp-up, if a marine mammal appears within, enters, or appears on a course to enter the exclusion zone, the acoustic source must be shut down (i.e., power to the acoustic source must be immediately turned off). If a marine mammal is detected acoustically, the acoustic source must be shut down, unless the acoustic PSO is confident that the animal detected is outside the exclusion zone or that the detected species is not subject to the shutdown requirement. (A) This shutdown requirement is waived for dolphins of the following genera: Steno, Tursiops, Stenella, Delphinus, Lagenodelphis, and Lagenorhynchus. The shutdown waiver only applies if the animals are traveling, including approaching the vessel. If animals are stationary and the source vessel approaches the animals, the shutdown requirement applies. If there is uncertainty regarding identification (i.e., whether the observed animal(s) belongs to the group described above) or whether the animals are traveling, shutdown must be implemented. (iii) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a right whale at any distance. (iv) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a whale (i.e., sperm whale or any baleen whale) with calf at any distance, with ‘‘calf’’ defined as an animal less than twothirds the body size of an adult observed to be in close association with an adult. (v) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a diving sperm whale at any distance centered on the forward track of the source vessel. (vi) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation (visual or acoustic) of a beaked whale or Kogia spp. at any distance. (vii) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of an aggregation (i.e., six or more animals) of marine mammals of any species that does not appear to be traveling. (viii) Upon implementation of shutdown, the source may be reactivated after the animal(s) has been observed exiting the exclusion zone or following a 30-minute clearance period with no further observation of the VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 animal(s). Where there is no relevant zone (e.g., shutdown due to observation of a right whale), a 30-minute clearance period must be observed following the last observation of the animal(s). (ix) If the acoustic source is shut down for reasons other than mitigation (e.g., mechanical difficulty) for brief periods (i.e., less than 30 minutes), it may be activated again without ramp-up if PSOs have maintained constant visual and acoustic observation and no visual detections of any marine mammal have occurred within the exclusion zone and no acoustic detections have occurred. For any longer shutdown, pre-clearance watch and ramp-up are required. For any shutdown at night or in periods of poor visibility (e.g., BSS 4 or greater), ramp-up is required but if the shutdown period was brief and constant observation maintained, pre-clearance watch is not required. (h) Miscellaneous Protocols (i) The acoustic source must be deactivated when not acquiring data or preparing to acquire data, except as necessary for testing. Unnecessary use of the acoustic source shall be avoided. Notified operational capacity (not including redundant backup airguns) must not be exceeded during the survey, except where unavoidable for source testing and calibration purposes. All occasions where activated source volume exceeds notified operational capacity must be noticed to the PSO(s) on duty and fully documented. The lead PSO must be granted access to relevant instrumentation documenting acoustic source power and/or operational volume. (ii) Testing of the acoustic source involving all elements requires normal mitigation protocols (e.g., ramp-up). Testing limited to individual source elements or strings does not require ramp-up but does require pre-clearance. (i) Closure Areas (i) No use of the acoustic source may occur within 30 km of the coast. (ii) From November 1 through April 30, no use of the acoustic source may occur within an area bounded by the greater of three distinct components at any location: (1) A 47-km wide coastal strip throughout the entire Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas; (2) Unit 2 of designated critical habitat for the North Atlantic right whale, buffered by 10 km; and (3) the designated southeastern seasonal management area (SMA) for the North Atlantic right whale, buffered by 10 km. North Atlantic right whale dynamic management areas (DMA; buffered by 10 km) are also closed to use of the acoustic source when in effect. It is the responsibility of the survey operators to PO 00000 Frm 00081 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26323 monitor appropriate media and to be aware of designated DMAs. (iii) No use of the acoustic source may occur within Areas #2–5, as designated by coordinates in Table 3 during applicable time periods. Areas #2–4 are in effect year-round. Area #5 is in effect from July 1 through September 30. (j) Vessel Strike Avoidance (i) Vessel operators and crews must maintain a vigilant watch for all marine mammals and slow down or stop their vessel or alter course, as appropriate and regardless of vessel size, to avoid striking any marine mammal. A visual observer aboard the vessel must monitor a vessel strike avoidance zone around the vessel according to the parameters stated below. Visual observers monitoring the vessel strike avoidance zone can be either third-party observers or crew members, but crew members responsible for these duties must be provided sufficient training to distinguish marine mammals from other phenomena and broadly to identify a marine mammal as a right whale, other whale, or other marine mammal (i.e., non-whale cetacean or pinniped). In this context, ‘‘other whales’’ includes sperm whales and all baleen whales other than right whales. (ii) All vessels, regardless of size, must observe the 10 kn speed restriction in DMAs, the Mid-Atlantic SMA (from November 1 through April 30), and critical habitat and the Southeast SMA (from November 15 through April 15). (iii) Vessel speeds must also be reduced to 10 kn or less when mother/ calf pairs, pods, or large assemblages of cetaceans are observed near a vessel. (iv) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 500 m from right whales. If a whale is observed but cannot be confirmed as a species other than a right whale, the vessel operator must assume that it is a right whale and take appropriate action. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a right whale is within 500 m of any vessel: (A) While underway, the vessel operator must steer a course away from the whale at 10 kn or less until the minimum separation distance has been established. (B) If a whale is spotted in the path of a vessel or within 100 m of a vessel underway, the operator shall reduce speed and shift engines to neutral. The operator shall re-engage engines only after the whale has moved out of the path of the vessel and is more than 100 m away. If the whale is still within 500 m of the vessel, the vessel must select a course away from the whale’s course at a speed of 10 kn or less. This procedure must also be followed if a E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26324 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices whale is spotted while a vessel is stationary. Whenever possible, a vessel should remain parallel to the whale’s course while maintaining the 500-m distance as it travels, avoiding abrupt changes in direction until the whale is no longer in the area. (v) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 100 m from other whales. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a whale other than a right whale is within 100 m of any vessel: (A) The vessel underway must reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral, and must not engage the engines until the whale has moved outside of the vessel’s path and the minimum separation distance has been established. (B) If a vessel is stationary, the vessel must not engage engines until the whale(s) has moved out of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. (vi) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 50 m from all other marine mammals, with an exception made for those animals that approach the vessel. If an animal is encountered during transit, a vessel shall attempt to remain parallel to the animal’s course, avoiding excessive speed or abrupt changes in course. (k) All vessels associated with survey activity (e.g., source vessels, chase vessels, supply vessels) must have a functioning Automatic Identification System (AIS) onboard and operating at all times, regardless of whether AIS would otherwise be required. Vessel names and call signs must be provided to NMFS, and applicants must notify NMFS when survey vessels are operating. 5. Monitoring Requirements The holder of this Authorization is required to conduct marine mammal monitoring during survey activity. Monitoring shall be conducted in accordance with the following requirements: (a) The operator must provide bigeye binoculars (e.g., 25 x 150; 2.7 view angle; individual ocular focus; height control) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent) solely for PSO use. These shall be pedestal-mounted on the deck at the most appropriate vantage point that provides for optimal sea surface observation, PSO safety, and safe operation of the vessel. The operator must also provide a nightvision device suited for the marine environment for use during nighttime ramp-up pre-clearance, at the discretion of the PSOs. At minimum, the device should feature automatic brightness and gain control, bright light protection, VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 infrared illumination, and optics suited for low-light situations. (b) PSOs must also be equipped with reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 x 50) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent), GPS, digital single-lens reflex camera of appropriate quality (i.e., Canon or equivalent), compass, and any other tools necessary to adequately perform necessary tasks, including accurate determination of distance and bearing to observed marine mammals. (c) PSO Qualifications (i) PSOs must successfully complete relevant training, including completion of all required coursework and passing (80 percent or greater) a written and/or oral examination developed for the training program. (ii) PSOs must have successfully attained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a major in one of the natural sciences and a minimum of 30 semester hours or equivalent in the biological sciences and at least one undergraduate course in math or statistics. The educational requirements may be waived if the PSO has acquired the relevant skills through alternate experience. Requests for such a waiver must include written justification. Alternate experience that may be considered includes, but is not limited to (1) secondary education and/ or experience comparable to PSO duties; (2) previous work experience conducting academic, commercial, or government-sponsored marine mammal surveys; or (3) previous work experience as a PSO; the PSO should demonstrate good standing and consistently good performance of PSO duties. (d) Data Collection—PSOs must use standardized data forms, whether hard copy or electronic. PSOs shall record detailed information about any implementation of mitigation requirements, including the distance of animals to the acoustic source and description of specific actions that ensued, the behavior of the animal(s), any observed changes in behavior before and after implementation of mitigation, and if shutdown was implemented, the length of time before any subsequent ramp-up of the acoustic source to resume survey. If required mitigation was not implemented, PSOs should submit a description of the circumstances. We require that, at a minimum, the following information be reported: (i) Vessel names (source vessel and other vessels associated with survey) and call signs (ii) PSO names and affiliations (iii) Dates of departures and returns to port with port name PO 00000 Frm 00082 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 (iv) Dates and times (Greenwich Mean Time) of survey effort and times corresponding with PSO effort (v) Vessel location (latitude/ longitude) when survey effort begins and ends; vessel location at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts (vi) Vessel heading and speed at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts and upon any line change (vii) Environmental conditions while on visual survey (at beginning and end of PSO shift and whenever conditions change significantly), including wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, Beaufort wind force, swell height, weather conditions, cloud cover, sun glare, and overall visibility to the horizon (viii) Factors that may be contributing to impaired observations during each PSO shift change or as needed as environmental conditions change (e.g., vessel traffic, equipment malfunctions) (ix) Survey activity information, such as acoustic source power output while in operation, number and volume of airguns operating in the array, tow depth of the array, and any other notes of significance (i.e., pre-ramp-up survey, ramp-up, shutdown, testing, shooting, ramp-up completion, end of operations, streamers, etc.) (x) If a marine mammal is sighted, the following information should be recorded: (A) Watch status (sighting made by PSO on/off effort, opportunistic, crew, alternate vessel/platform) (B) PSO who sighted the animal (C) Time of sighting (D) Vessel location at time of sighting (E) Water depth (F) Direction of vessel’s travel (compass direction) (G) Direction of animal’s travel relative to the vessel (H) Pace of the animal (I) Estimated distance to the animal and its heading relative to vessel at initial sighting (J) Identification of the animal (e.g., genus/species, lowest possible taxonomic level, or unidentified); also note the composition of the group if there is a mix of species (K) Estimated number of animals (high/low/best) (L) Estimated number of animals by cohort (adults, yearlings, juveniles, calves, group composition, etc.) (M) Description (as many distinguishing features as possible of each individual seen, including length, shape, color, pattern, scars or markings, shape and size of dorsal fin, shape of head, and blow characteristics) (N) Detailed behavior observations (e.g., number of blows, number of E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices surfaces, breaching, spyhopping, diving, feeding, traveling; as explicit and detailed as possible; note any observed changes in behavior) (O) Animal’s closest point of approach (CPA) and/or closest distance from the center point of the acoustic source; (P) Platform activity at time of sighting (e.g., deploying, recovering, testing, shooting, data acquisition, other) (Q) Description of any actions implemented in response to the sighting (e.g., delays, shutdown, ramp-up, speed or course alteration, etc.); time and location of the action should also be recorded (xi) If a marine mammal is detected while using the PAM system, the following information should be recorded: (A) An acoustic encounter identification number, and whether the detection was linked with a visual sighting (B) Time when first and last heard (C) Types and nature of sounds heard (e.g., clicks, whistles, creaks, burst pulses, continuous, sporadic, strength of signal, etc.) (D) Any additional information recorded such as water depth of the hydrophone array, bearing of the animal to the vessel (if determinable), species or taxonomic group (if determinable), and any other notable information. 6. Reporting (a) ION shall submit a draft comprehensive report on all activities and monitoring results within 90 days of the completion of the survey or expiration of the IHA, whichever comes sooner. The report must describe all activities conducted and sightings of marine mammals near the activities, must provide full documentation of methods, results, and interpretation pertaining to all monitoring, and must summarize the dates and locations of survey operations and all marine mammal sightings (dates, times, locations, activities, associated survey activities). Geospatial data regarding locations where the acoustic source was used must be provided as an ESRI shapefile with all necessary files and appropriate metadata. In addition to the report, all raw observational data shall be made available to NMFS. The report must summarize data collected as required under condition 5(d) of this IHA and must provide corrected numbers of marine mammals ‘‘taken,’’ using correction factors given in Table 19. The draft report must be accompanied by a certification from the lead PSO as to the accuracy of the report, and the lead PSO may submit VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 directly to NMFS a statement concerning implementation and effectiveness of the required mitigation and monitoring. A final report must be submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report. (b) Reporting injured or dead marine mammals: (i) In the event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner not prohibited by this IHA (if issued), such as serious injury or mortality, ION shall immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the following information: (A) Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; (B) Name and type of vessel involved; (C) Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; (D) Description of the incident; (E) Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (F) Water depth; (G) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); (H) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (I) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (J) Fate of the animal(s); and (K) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with ION to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. ION may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS. (ii) In the event that ION discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), ION shall immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the same information identified in condition 6(b)(1) of this IHA. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with ION to determine whether additional mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate. (iii) In the event that ION discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the specified activities (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass PO 00000 Frm 00083 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26325 with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), ION shall report the incident to NMFS within 24 hours of the discovery. ION shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. 7. 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. Western 1. This incidental harassment authorization (IHA) is valid for a period of one year from the date of issuance. 2. This IHA is valid only for marine geophysical survey activity, as specified in Western’s IHA application and using an array with characteristics specified in the application, in the Atlantic Ocean within BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas. 3. General Conditions (a) A copy of this IHA must be in the possession of Western, the vessel operator and other relevant personnel, the lead protected species observer (PSO), and any other relevant designees of Western operating under the authority of this IHA. (b) The species authorized for taking are listed in Table 11. The taking, by Level A and Level B harassment only, is limited to the species and numbers listed in Table 11. (c) The taking by serious injury or death of any of the species listed in Table 11 or any taking of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. Any taking exceeding the authorized amounts listed in Table 11 is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. (d) Western shall ensure that the vessel operator and other relevant vessel personnel are briefed on all responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, operational procedures, and IHA requirements prior to the start of survey activity, and when relevant new personnel join the survey operations. Western shall instruct relevant vessel personnel with regard to the authority of the protected species monitoring team, and shall ensure that relevant vessel personnel and protected species monitoring team participate in a joint onboard briefing led by the vessel operator and lead PSO to ensure that responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26326 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices protocol, operational procedures, and IHA requirements are clearly understood. This briefing must be repeated when relevant new personnel join the survey operations. (e) During use of the acoustic source, if the source vessel encounters any marine mammal species that are not listed in Table 11, then the acoustic source must be shut down to avoid unauthorized take. 4. Mitigation Requirements The holder of this Authorization is required to implement the following mitigation measures: (a) Western must use independent, dedicated, trained PSOs, meaning that the PSOs must be employed by a thirdparty observer provider, may have no tasks other than to conduct observational effort, record observational data, and communicate with and instruct relevant vessel crew with regard to the presence of marine mammals and mitigation requirements (including brief alerts regarding maritime hazards), and must have successfully completed an approved PSO training course. NMFS must review and approve PSO resumes accompanied by a relevant training course information packet that includes the name and qualifications (i.e., experience, training completed, or educational background) of the instructor(s), the course outline or syllabus, and course reference material as well as a document stating successful completion of the course. (b) At least two PSOs must have a minimum of 90 days at-sea experience working as PSOs during a deep penetration seismic survey, with no more than 18 months elapsed since the conclusion of the at-sea experience. At least one of these must have relevant experience as a visual PSO and at least one must have relevant experience as an acoustic PSO. One ‘‘experienced’’ visual PSO shall be designated as the lead for the entire protected species observation team. The lead shall coordinate duty schedules and roles for the PSO team and serve as primary point of contact for the vessel operator. The lead PSO shall devise the duty schedule such that ‘‘experienced’’ PSOs are on duty with those PSOs with appropriate training but who have not yet gained relevant experience to the maximum extent practicable. (c) Visual Observation (i) During survey operations (e.g., any day on which use of the acoustic source is planned to occur; whenever the acoustic source is in the water, whether activated or not), a minimum of two PSOs must be on duty and conducting visual observations at all times during VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 daylight hours (i.e., from 30 minutes prior to sunrise through 30 minutes following sunset) and 30 minutes prior to and during nighttime ramp-ups of the airgun array. (ii) Visual monitoring must begin not less than 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and must continue until one hour after use of the acoustic source ceases or until 30 minutes past sunset. (iii) Visual PSOs shall coordinate to ensure 360° visual coverage around the vessel from the most appropriate observation posts, and shall conduct visual observations using binoculars and the naked eye while free from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, and diligent manner. (iv) Visual PSOs shall communicate all observations to acoustic PSOs, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. (v) Visual PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of two consecutive hours followed by a break of at least one hour between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. (vi) Any observations of marine mammals by crew members aboard any vessel associated with the survey, including chase vessels, shall be relayed to the source vessel and to the PSO team. (vii) During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state (BSS) 3 or less), visual PSOs shall conduct observations when the acoustic source is not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and without use of the acoustic source and between acquisition periods, to the maximum extent practicable. (d) Acoustic Observation (i) The source vessel must use a towed passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) system, which must be monitored beginning at least 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and at all times during use of the acoustic source. (ii) Acoustic PSOs shall communicate all detections to visual PSOs, when visual PSOs are on duty, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. (iii) Acoustic PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of four consecutive hours followed by a break of at least two hours between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. (iv) Survey activity may continue for brief periods of time when the PAM system malfunctions or is damaged. Activity may continue for 30 minutes PO 00000 Frm 00084 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 without PAM while the PAM operator diagnoses the issue. If the diagnosis indicates that the PAM system must be repaired to solve the problem, operations may continue for an additional two hours without acoustic monitoring under the following conditions: (A) Daylight hours and sea state is less than or equal to BSS 4; (B) No marine mammals (excluding small delphinoids) detected solely by PAM in the exclusion zone in the previous two hours; (C) NMFS is notified via email as soon as practicable with the time and location in which operations began without an active PAM system; and (D) Operations with an active acoustic source, but without an operating PAM system, do not exceed a cumulative total of four hours in any 24-hour period. (e) Buffer Zone and Exclusion Zone— The PSOs shall establish and monitor a 500-m exclusion zone and a 1,000-m buffer zone. These zones shall be based upon radial distance from any element of the airgun array (rather than being based on the center of the array or around the vessel itself). During use of the acoustic source, occurrence of marine mammals within the buffer zone (but outside the exclusion zone) shall be communicated to the operator to prepare for the potential shutdown of the acoustic source. PSOs must monitor the buffer zone for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to ramp-up (i.e., preclearance). (f) Ramp-up—A ramp-up procedure, involving a step-wise increase in the number of airguns firing and total array volume until all operational airguns are activated and the full volume is achieved, is required at all times as part of the activation of the acoustic source. Ramp-up may not be initiated if any marine mammal is within the designated buffer zone. If a marine mammal is observed within the buffer zone during the pre-clearance period, ramp-up may not begin until the animal(s) has been observed exiting the buffer zone or until an additional time period has elapsed with no further sightings (i.e., 15 minutes for small odontocetes and 30 minutes for all other species). PSOs would monitor the buffer zone during ramp-up, and ramp-up must cease and the source shut down upon observation of marine mammals within or approaching the buffer zone. Ramp-up may occur at times of poor visibility if appropriate acoustic monitoring has occurred with no detections in the 30 minutes prior to beginning ramp-up. Acoustic source activation may only occur at times of poor visibility where operational E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices planning cannot reasonably avoid such circumstances. The operator must notify a designated PSO of the planned start of ramp-up as agreed-upon with the lead PSO; the notification time should not be less than 60 minutes prior to the planned ramp-up. A designated PSO must be notified again immediately prior to initiating ramp-up procedures and the operator must receive confirmation from the PSO to proceed. Ramp-up shall begin by activating a single airgun of the smallest volume in the array and shall continue in stages by doubling the number of active elements at the commencement of each stage, with each stage of approximately the same duration. Total duration should be approximately 20 minutes. The operator must provide information to the PSO documenting that appropriate procedures were followed. Ramp-ups shall be scheduled so as to minimize the time spent with source activated prior to reaching the designated run-in. (g) Shutdown Requirements (i) Any PSO on duty has the authority to delay the start of survey operations or to call for shutdown of the acoustic source (visual PSOs on duty should be in agreement on the need for delay or shutdown before requiring such action). When shutdown is called for by a PSO, the acoustic source must be immediately deactivated and any dispute resolved only following deactivation. The operator must establish and maintain clear lines of communication directly between PSOs on duty and crew controlling the acoustic source to ensure that shutdown commands are conveyed swiftly while allowing PSOs to maintain watch. When both visual and acoustic PSOs are on duty, all detections must be immediately communicated to the remainder of the on-duty PSO team for potential verification of visual observations by the acoustic PSO or of acoustic detections by visual PSOs and initiation of dialogue as necessary. When there is certainty regarding the need for mitigation action on the basis of either visual or acoustic detection alone, the relevant PSO(s) must call for such action immediately. When only the acoustic PSO is on duty and a detection is made, if there is uncertainty regarding species identification or distance to the vocalizing animal(s), the acoustic source must be shut down as a precaution. (ii) Upon completion of ramp-up, if a marine mammal appears within, enters, or appears on a course to enter the exclusion zone, the acoustic source must be shut down (i.e., power to the acoustic source must be immediately turned off). If a marine mammal is detected acoustically, the acoustic VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 source must be shut down, unless the acoustic PSO is confident that the animal detected is outside the exclusion zone or that the detected species is not subject to the shutdown requirement. (A) This shutdown requirement is waived for dolphins of the following genera: Steno, Tursiops, Stenella, Delphinus, Lagenodelphis, and Lagenorhynchus. The shutdown waiver only applies if the animals are traveling, including approaching the vessel. If animals are stationary and the source vessel approaches the animals, the shutdown requirement applies. If there is uncertainty regarding identification (i.e., whether the observed animal(s) belongs to the group described above) or whether the animals are traveling, shutdown must be implemented. (iii) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a right whale at any distance. (iv) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a whale (i.e., sperm whale or any baleen whale) with calf at any distance, with ‘‘calf’’ defined as an animal less than twothirds the body size of an adult observed to be in close association with an adult. (v) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a diving sperm whale at any distance centered on the forward track of the source vessel. (vi) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation (visual or acoustic) of a beaked whale or Kogia spp. at any distance. (vii) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of an aggregation (i.e., six or more animals) of marine mammals of any species that does not appear to be traveling. (viii) Upon implementation of shutdown, the source may be reactivated after the animal(s) has been observed exiting the exclusion zone or following a 30-minute clearance period with no further observation of the animal(s). Where there is no relevant zone (e.g., shutdown due to observation of a right whale), a 30-minute clearance period must be observed following the last observation of the animal(s). (ix) If the acoustic source is shut down for reasons other than mitigation (e.g., mechanical difficulty) for brief periods (i.e., less than 30 minutes), it may be activated again without ramp-up if PSOs have maintained constant visual and acoustic observation and no visual detections of any marine mammal have occurred within the exclusion zone and no acoustic detections have occurred. For any longer shutdown, pre-clearance watch and ramp-up are required. For any shutdown at night or in periods of poor visibility (e.g., BSS 4 or greater), PO 00000 Frm 00085 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26327 ramp-up is required but if the shutdown period was brief and constant observation maintained, pre-clearance watch is not required. (h) Miscellaneous Protocols (i) The acoustic source must be deactivated when not acquiring data or preparing to acquire data, except as necessary for testing. Unnecessary use of the acoustic source shall be avoided. Notified operational capacity (not including redundant backup airguns) must not be exceeded during the survey, except where unavoidable for source testing and calibration purposes. All occasions where activated source volume exceeds notified operational capacity must be noticed to the PSO(s) on duty and fully documented. The lead PSO must be granted access to relevant instrumentation documenting acoustic source power and/or operational volume. (ii) Testing of the acoustic source involving all elements requires normal mitigation protocols (e.g., ramp-up). Testing limited to individual source elements or strings does not require ramp-up but does require pre-clearance. (i) Closure Areas (i) No use of the acoustic source may occur within 30 km of the coast. (ii) From November 1 through April 30, no use of the acoustic source may occur within an area bounded by the greater of three distinct components at any location: (1) A 47-km wide coastal strip throughout the entire Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas; (2) Unit 2 of designated critical habitat for the North Atlantic right whale, buffered by 10 km; and (3) the designated southeastern seasonal management area (SMA) for the North Atlantic right whale, buffered by 10 km. North Atlantic right whale dynamic management areas (DMA; buffered by 10 km) are also closed to use of the acoustic source when in effect. It is the responsibility of the survey operators to monitor appropriate media and to be aware of designated DMAs. (iii) No use of the acoustic source may occur within the areas designated by coordinates in Table 3 during applicable time periods. Area #1 is in effect from June 1 through August 31. Areas #2–4 are in effect year-round. Area #5 is in effect from July 1 through September 30. (j) Vessel Strike Avoidance (i) Vessel operators and crews must maintain a vigilant watch for all marine mammals and slow down or stop their vessel or alter course, as appropriate and regardless of vessel size, to avoid striking any marine mammal. A visual observer aboard the vessel must monitor a vessel strike avoidance zone around the vessel according to the parameters E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26328 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices stated below. Visual observers monitoring the vessel strike avoidance zone can be either third-party observers or crew members, but crew members responsible for these duties must be provided sufficient training to distinguish marine mammals from other phenomena and broadly to identify a marine mammal as a right whale, other whale, or other marine mammal (i.e., non-whale cetacean or pinniped). In this context, ‘‘other whales’’ includes sperm whales and all baleen whales other than right whales. (ii) All vessels, regardless of size, must observe the 10 kn speed restriction in DMAs, the Mid-Atlantic SMA (from November 1 through April 30), and critical habitat and the Southeast SMA (from November 15 through April 15). (iii) Vessel speeds must also be reduced to 10 kn or less when mother/ calf pairs, pods, or large assemblages of cetaceans are observed near a vessel. (iv) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 500 m from right whales. If a whale is observed but cannot be confirmed as a species other than a right whale, the vessel operator must assume that it is a right whale and take appropriate action. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a right whale is within 500 m of any vessel: (A) While underway, the vessel operator must steer a course away from the whale at 10 kn or less until the minimum separation distance has been established. (B) If a whale is spotted in the path of a vessel or within 100 m of a vessel underway, the operator shall reduce speed and shift engines to neutral. The operator shall re-engage engines only after the whale has moved out of the path of the vessel and is more than 100 m away. If the whale is still within 500 m of the vessel, the vessel must select a course away from the whale’s course at a speed of 10 kn or less. This procedure must also be followed if a whale is spotted while a vessel is stationary. Whenever possible, a vessel should remain parallel to the whale’s course while maintaining the 500-m distance as it travels, avoiding abrupt changes in direction until the whale is no longer in the area. (v) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 100 m from other whales. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a whale other than a right whale is within 100 m of any vessel: (A) The vessel underway must reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral, and must not engage the engines until the whale has moved outside of the vessel’s path and the minimum VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 separation distance has been established. (B) If a vessel is stationary, the vessel must not engage engines until the whale(s) has moved out of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. (vi) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 50 m from all other marine mammals, with an exception made for those animals that approach the vessel. If an animal is encountered during transit, a vessel shall attempt to remain parallel to the animal’s course, avoiding excessive speed or abrupt changes in course. (k) All vessels associated with survey activity (e.g., source vessels, chase vessels, supply vessels) must have a functioning Automatic Identification System (AIS) onboard and operating at all times, regardless of whether AIS would otherwise be required. Vessel names and call signs must be provided to NMFS, and applicants must notify NMFS when survey vessels are operating. 5. Monitoring Requirements The holder of this Authorization is required to conduct marine mammal monitoring during survey activity. Monitoring shall be conducted in accordance with the following requirements: (a) The operator must provide bigeye binoculars (e.g., 25 x 150; 2.7 view angle; individual ocular focus; height control) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent) solely for PSO use. These shall be pedestal-mounted on the deck at the most appropriate vantage point that provides for optimal sea surface observation, PSO safety, and safe operation of the vessel. The operator must also provide a nightvision device suited for the marine environment for use during nighttime ramp-up pre-clearance, at the discretion of the PSOs. At minimum, the device should feature automatic brightness and gain control, bright light protection, infrared illumination, and optics suited for low-light situations. (b) PSOs must also be equipped with reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 x 50) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent), GPS, digital single-lens reflex camera of appropriate quality (i.e., Canon or equivalent), compass, and any other tools necessary to adequately perform necessary tasks, including accurate determination of distance and bearing to observed marine mammals. (c) PSO Qualifications (i) PSOs must successfully complete relevant training, including completion of all required coursework and passing (80 percent or greater) a written and/or oral examination developed for the training program. PO 00000 Frm 00086 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 (ii) PSOs must have successfully attained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a major in one of the natural sciences and a minimum of 30 semester hours or equivalent in the biological sciences and at least one undergraduate course in math or statistics. The educational requirements may be waived if the PSO has acquired the relevant skills through alternate experience. Requests for such a waiver must include written justification. Alternate experience that may be considered includes, but is not limited to (1) secondary education and/ or experience comparable to PSO duties; (2) previous work experience conducting academic, commercial, or government-sponsored marine mammal surveys; or (3) previous work experience as a PSO; the PSO should demonstrate good standing and consistently good performance of PSO duties. (d) Data Collection—PSOs must use standardized data forms, whether hard copy or electronic. PSOs shall record detailed information about any implementation of mitigation requirements, including the distance of animals to the acoustic source and description of specific actions that ensued, the behavior of the animal(s), any observed changes in behavior before and after implementation of mitigation, and if shutdown was implemented, the length of time before any subsequent ramp-up of the acoustic source to resume survey. If required mitigation was not implemented, PSOs should submit a description of the circumstances. We require that, at a minimum, the following information be reported: (i) Vessel names (source vessel and other vessels associated with survey) and call signs (ii) PSO names and affiliations (iii) Dates of departures and returns to port with port name (iv) Dates and times (Greenwich Mean Time) of survey effort and times corresponding with PSO effort (v) Vessel location (latitude/ longitude) when survey effort begins and ends; vessel location at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts (vi) Vessel heading and speed at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts and upon any line change (vii) Environmental conditions while on visual survey (at beginning and end of PSO shift and whenever conditions change significantly), including wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, Beaufort wind force, swell height, weather conditions, cloud cover, sun glare, and overall visibility to the horizon E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices (viii) Factors that may be contributing to impaired observations during each PSO shift change or as needed as environmental conditions change (e.g., vessel traffic, equipment malfunctions) (ix) Survey activity information, such as acoustic source power output while in operation, number and volume of airguns operating in the array, tow depth of the array, and any other notes of significance (i.e., pre-ramp-up survey, ramp-up, shutdown, testing, shooting, ramp-up completion, end of operations, streamers, etc.) (x) If a marine mammal is sighted, the following information should be recorded: (A) Watch status (sighting made by PSO on/off effort, opportunistic, crew, alternate vessel/platform) (B) PSO who sighted the animal (C) Time of sighting (D) Vessel location at time of sighting (E) Water depth (F) Direction of vessel’s travel (compass direction) (G) Direction of animal’s travel relative to the vessel (H) Pace of the animal (I) Estimated distance to the animal and its heading relative to vessel at initial sighting (J) Identification of the animal (e.g., genus/species, lowest possible taxonomic level, or unidentified); also note the composition of the group if there is a mix of species (K) Estimated number of animals (high/low/best) (L) Estimated number of animals by cohort (adults, yearlings, juveniles, calves, group composition, etc.) (M) Description (as many distinguishing features as possible of each individual seen, including length, shape, color, pattern, scars or markings, shape and size of dorsal fin, shape of head, and blow characteristics) (N) Detailed behavior observations (e.g., number of blows, number of surfaces, breaching, spyhopping, diving, feeding, traveling; as explicit and detailed as possible; note any observed changes in behavior) (O) Animal’s closest point of approach (CPA) and/or closest distance from the center point of the acoustic source; (P) Platform activity at time of sighting (e.g., deploying, recovering, testing, shooting, data acquisition, other) (Q) Description of any actions implemented in response to the sighting (e.g., delays, shutdown, ramp-up, speed or course alteration, etc.); time and location of the action should also be recorded (xi) If a marine mammal is detected while using the PAM system, the VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 following information should be recorded: (A) An acoustic encounter identification number, and whether the detection was linked with a visual sighting (B) Time when first and last heard (C) Types and nature of sounds heard (e.g., clicks, whistles, creaks, burst pulses, continuous, sporadic, strength of signal, etc.) (D) Any additional information recorded such as water depth of the hydrophone array, bearing of the animal to the vessel (if determinable), species or taxonomic group (if determinable), and any other notable information. 6. Reporting (a) Western shall submit monthly interim reports detailing the amount and location of line-kms surveyed, all marine mammal observations with closest approach distance, and corrected numbers of marine mammals ‘‘taken,’’ using correction factors given in Table 19. (b) Western shall submit a draft comprehensive report on all activities and monitoring results within 90 days of the completion of the survey or expiration of the IHA, whichever comes sooner. The report must describe all activities conducted and sightings of marine mammals near the activities, must provide full documentation of methods, results, and interpretation pertaining to all monitoring, and must summarize the dates and locations of survey operations and all marine mammal sightings (dates, times, locations, activities, associated survey activities). Geospatial data regarding locations where the acoustic source was used must be provided as an ESRI shapefile with all necessary files and appropriate metadata. In addition to the report, all raw observational data shall be made available to NMFS. The report must summarize the information submitted in interim monthly reports as well as additional data collected as required under condition 5(d) of this IHA. The draft report must be accompanied by a certification from the lead PSO as to the accuracy of the report, and the lead PSO may submit directly to NMFS a statement concerning implementation and effectiveness of the required mitigation and monitoring. A final report must be submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report. (c) Reporting injured or dead marine mammals: (i) In the event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner not prohibited by this IHA (if issued), such PO 00000 Frm 00087 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26329 as serious injury or mortality, Western shall immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the following information: (A) Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; (B) Name and type of vessel involved; (C) Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; (D) Description of the incident; (E) Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (F) Water depth; (G) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); (H) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (I) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (J) Fate of the animal(s); and (K) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with Western to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Western may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS. (ii) In the event that Western discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), Western shall immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the same information identified in condition 6(c)(1) of this IHA. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with Western to determine whether additional mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate. (iii) In the event that Western discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the specified activities (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), Western shall report the incident to NMFS within 24 hours of the discovery. Western shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. 7. This Authorization may be modified, suspended or withdrawn if the holder fails to abide by the conditions prescribed herein, or if E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26330 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 NMFS determines the authorized taking is having more than a negligible impact on the species or stock of affected marine mammals. CGG 1. This incidental harassment authorization (IHA) is valid for a period of one year from the date of issuance. 2. This IHA is valid only for marine geophysical survey activity, as specified in CGG’s IHA application and using an array with characteristics specified in the application, in the Atlantic Ocean within BOEM’s Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas. 3. General Conditions (a) A copy of this IHA must be in the possession of CGG, the vessel operator and other relevant personnel, the lead protected species observer (PSO), and any other relevant designees of CGG operating under the authority of this IHA. (b) The species authorized for taking are listed in Table 11. The taking, by Level A and Level B harassment only, is limited to the species and numbers listed in Table 11. (c) The taking by serious injury or death of any of the species listed in Table 11 or any taking of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. Any taking exceeding the authorized amounts listed in Table 11 is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this IHA. (d) CGG shall ensure that the vessel operator and other relevant vessel personnel are briefed on all responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, operational procedures, and IHA requirements prior to the start of survey activity, and when relevant new personnel join the survey operations. CGG shall instruct relevant vessel personnel with regard to the authority of the protected species monitoring team, and shall ensure that relevant vessel personnel and protected species monitoring team participate in a joint onboard briefing led by the vessel operator and lead PSO to ensure that responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, operational procedures, and IHA requirements are clearly understood. This briefing must be repeated when relevant new personnel join the survey operations. (e) During use of the acoustic source, if the source vessel encounters any marine mammal species that are not listed in Table 11, then the acoustic source must be shut down to avoid unauthorized take. VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 4. Mitigation Requirements The holder of this Authorization is required to implement the following mitigation measures: (a) CGG must use independent, dedicated, trained PSOs, meaning that the PSOs must be employed by a thirdparty observer provider, may have no tasks other than to conduct observational effort, record observational data, and communicate with and instruct relevant vessel crew with regard to the presence of marine mammals and mitigation requirements (including brief alerts regarding maritime hazards), and must have successfully completed an approved PSO training course. NMFS must review and approve PSO resumes accompanied by a relevant training course information packet that includes the name and qualifications (i.e., experience, training completed, or educational background) of the instructor(s), the course outline or syllabus, and course reference material as well as a document stating successful completion of the course. (b) At least two PSOs must have a minimum of 90 days at-sea experience working as PSOs during a deep penetration seismic survey, with no more than eighteen months elapsed since the conclusion of the at-sea experience. At least one of these must have relevant experience as a visual PSO and at least one must have relevant experience as an acoustic PSO. One ‘‘experienced’’ visual PSO shall be designated as the lead for the entire protected species observation team. The lead shall coordinate duty schedules and roles for the PSO team and serve as primary point of contact for the vessel operator. The lead PSO shall devise the duty schedule such that ‘‘experienced’’ PSOs are on duty with those PSOs with appropriate training but who have not yet gained relevant experience to the maximum extent practicable. (c) Visual Observation (i) During survey operations (e.g., any day on which use of the acoustic source is planned to occur; whenever the acoustic source is in the water, whether activated or not), a minimum of two PSOs must be on duty and conducting visual observations at all times during daylight hours (i.e., from 30 minutes prior to sunrise through 30 minutes following sunset) and 30 minutes prior to and during nighttime ramp-ups of the airgun array. (ii) Visual monitoring must begin not less than 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and must continue until one hour after use of the acoustic source ceases or until 30 minutes past sunset. PO 00000 Frm 00088 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 (iii) Visual PSOs shall coordinate to ensure 360° visual coverage around the vessel from the most appropriate observation posts, and shall conduct visual observations using binoculars and the naked eye while free from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, and diligent manner. (iv) Visual PSOs shall communicate all observations to acoustic PSOs, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. (v) Visual PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of two consecutive hours followed by a break of at least one hour between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. (vi) Any observations of marine mammals by crew members aboard any vessel associated with the survey, including chase vessels, shall be relayed to the source vessel and to the PSO team. (vii) During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state (BSS) 3 or less), visual PSOs shall conduct observations when the acoustic source is not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and without use of the acoustic source and between acquisition periods, to the maximum extent practicable. (d) Acoustic Observation (i) The source vessel must use a towed passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) system, which must be monitored beginning at least 30 minutes prior to ramp-up and at all times during use of the acoustic source. (ii) Acoustic PSOs shall communicate all detections to visual PSOs, when visual PSOs are on duty, including any determination by the PSO regarding species identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in the determination. (iii) Acoustic PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of four consecutive hours followed by a break of at least two hours between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. (iv) Survey activity may continue for brief periods of time when the PAM system malfunctions or is damaged. Activity may continue for 30 minutes without PAM while the PAM operator diagnoses the issue. If the diagnosis indicates that the PAM system must be repaired to solve the problem, operations may continue for an additional two hours without acoustic monitoring under the following conditions: (A) Daylight hours and sea state is less than or equal to BSS 4; E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices (B) No marine mammals (excluding small delphinoids) detected solely by PAM in the exclusion zone in the previous two hours; (C) NMFS is notified via email as soon as practicable with the time and location in which operations began without an active PAM system; and (D) Operations with an active acoustic source, but without an operating PAM system, do not exceed a cumulative total of four hours in any 24-hour period. (e) Buffer Zone and Exclusion Zone— The PSOs shall establish and monitor a 500-m exclusion zone and a 1,000-m buffer zone. These zones shall be based upon radial distance from any element of the airgun array (rather than being based on the center of the array or around the vessel itself). During use of the acoustic source, occurrence of marine mammals within the buffer zone (but outside the exclusion zone) shall be communicated to the operator to prepare for the potential shutdown of the acoustic source. PSOs must monitor the buffer zone for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to ramp-up (i.e., preclearance). (f) Ramp-up—A ramp-up procedure, involving a step-wise increase in the number of airguns firing and total array volume until all operational airguns are activated and the full volume is achieved, is required at all times as part of the activation of the acoustic source. Ramp-up may not be initiated if any marine mammal is within the designated buffer zone. If a marine mammal is observed within the buffer zone during the pre-clearance period, ramp-up may not begin until the animal(s) has been observed exiting the buffer zone or until an additional time period has elapsed with no further sightings (i.e., 15 minutes for small odontocetes and 30 minutes for all other species). PSOs would monitor the buffer zone during ramp-up, and ramp-up must cease and the source shut down upon observation of marine mammals within or approaching the buffer zone. Ramp-up may occur at times of poor visibility if appropriate acoustic monitoring has occurred with no detections in the 30 minutes prior to beginning ramp-up. Acoustic source activation may only occur at times of poor visibility where operational planning cannot reasonably avoid such circumstances. The operator must notify a designated PSO of the planned start of ramp-up as agreed-upon with the lead PSO; the notification time should not be less than 60 minutes prior to the planned ramp-up. A designated PSO must be notified again immediately prior to initiating ramp-up procedures and the operator must receive VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 confirmation from the PSO to proceed. Ramp-up shall begin by activating a single airgun of the smallest volume in the array and shall continue in stages by doubling the number of active elements at the commencement of each stage, with each stage of approximately the same duration. Total duration should be approximately 20 minutes. The operator must provide information to the PSO documenting that appropriate procedures were followed. Ramp-ups shall be scheduled so as to minimize the time spent with source activated prior to reaching the designated run-in. (g) Shutdown Requirements (i) Any PSO on duty has the authority to delay the start of survey operations or to call for shutdown of the acoustic source (visual PSOs on duty should be in agreement on the need for delay or shutdown before requiring such action). When shutdown is called for by a PSO, the acoustic source must be immediately deactivated and any dispute resolved only following deactivation. The operator must establish and maintain clear lines of communication directly between PSOs on duty and crew controlling the acoustic source to ensure that shutdown commands are conveyed swiftly while allowing PSOs to maintain watch. When both visual and acoustic PSOs are on duty, all detections must be immediately communicated to the remainder of the on-duty PSO team for potential verification of visual observations by the acoustic PSO or of acoustic detections by visual PSOs and initiation of dialogue as necessary. When there is certainty regarding the need for mitigation action on the basis of either visual or acoustic detection alone, the relevant PSO(s) must call for such action immediately. When only the acoustic PSO is on duty and a detection is made, if there is uncertainty regarding species identification or distance to the vocalizing animal(s), the acoustic source must be shut down as a precaution. (ii) Upon completion of ramp-up, if a marine mammal appears within, enters, or appears on a course to enter the exclusion zone, the acoustic source must be shut down (i.e., power to the acoustic source must be immediately turned off). If a marine mammal is detected acoustically, the acoustic source must be shut down, unless the acoustic PSO is confident that the animal detected is outside the exclusion zone or that the detected species is not subject to the shutdown requirement. (A) This shutdown requirement is waived for dolphins of the following genera: Steno, Tursiops, Stenella, Delphinus, Lagenodelphis, and Lagenorhynchus. The shutdown waiver PO 00000 Frm 00089 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26331 only applies if the animals are traveling, including approaching the vessel. If animals are stationary and the source vessel approaches the animals, the shutdown requirement applies. If there is uncertainty regarding identification (i.e., whether the observed animal(s) belongs to the group described above) or whether the animals are traveling, shutdown must be implemented. (iii) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a right whale at any distance. (iv) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a whale (i.e., sperm whale or any baleen whale) with calf at any distance, with ‘‘calf’’ defined as an animal less than twothirds the body size of an adult observed to be in close association with an adult. (v) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of a diving sperm whale at any distance centered on the forward track of the source vessel. (vi) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation (visual or acoustic) of a beaked whale or Kogia spp. at any distance. (vii) Shutdown of the acoustic source is required upon observation of an aggregation (i.e., six or more animals) of marine mammals of any species that does not appear to be traveling. (viii) Upon implementation of shutdown, the source may be reactivated after the animal(s) has been observed exiting the exclusion zone or following a 30-minute clearance period with no further observation of the animal(s). Where there is no relevant zone (e.g., shutdown due to observation of a right whale), a 30-minute clearance period must be observed following the last observation of the animal(s). (ix) If the acoustic source is shut down for reasons other than mitigation (e.g., mechanical difficulty) for brief periods (i.e., less than 30 minutes), it may be activated again without ramp-up if PSOs have maintained constant visual and acoustic observation and no visual detections of any marine mammal have occurred within the exclusion zone and no acoustic detections have occurred. For any longer shutdown, pre-clearance watch and ramp-up are required. For any shutdown at night or in periods of poor visibility (e.g., BSS 4 or greater), ramp-up is required but if the shutdown period was brief and constant observation maintained, pre-clearance watch is not required. (h) Miscellaneous Protocols (i) The acoustic source must be deactivated when not acquiring data or preparing to acquire data, except as necessary for testing. Unnecessary use of the acoustic source shall be avoided. E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 26332 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices Notified operational capacity (not including redundant backup airguns) must not be exceeded during the survey, except where unavoidable for source testing and calibration purposes. All occasions where activated source volume exceeds notified operational capacity must be noticed to the PSO(s) on duty and fully documented. The lead PSO must be granted access to relevant instrumentation documenting acoustic source power and/or operational volume. (ii) Testing of the acoustic source involving all elements requires normal mitigation protocols (e.g., ramp-up). Testing limited to individual source elements or strings does not require ramp-up but does require pre-clearance. (i) Closure Areas (i) No use of the acoustic source may occur within 30 km of the coast. (ii) From November 1 through April 30, no use of the acoustic source may occur within an area bounded by the greater of three distinct components at any location: (1) A 47-km wide coastal strip throughout the entire Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas; (2) Unit 2 of designated critical habitat for the North Atlantic right whale, buffered by 10 km; and (3) the designated southeastern seasonal management area (SMA) for the North Atlantic right whale, buffered by 10 km. North Atlantic right whale dynamic management areas (DMA; buffered by 10 km) are also closed to use of the acoustic source when in effect. It is the responsibility of the survey operators to monitor appropriate media and to be aware of designated DMAs. (iii) No use of the acoustic source may occur within Areas #2–5, as designated by coordinates in Table 3 during applicable time periods. Areas #2–4 are in effect year-round. Area #5 is in effect from July 1 through September 30. (j) Vessel Strike Avoidance (i) Vessel operators and crews must maintain a vigilant watch for all marine mammals and slow down or stop their vessel or alter course, as appropriate and regardless of vessel size, to avoid striking any marine mammal. A visual observer aboard the vessel must monitor a vessel strike avoidance zone around the vessel according to the parameters stated below. Visual observers monitoring the vessel strike avoidance zone can be either third-party observers or crew members, but crew members responsible for these duties must be provided sufficient training to distinguish marine mammals from other phenomena and broadly to identify a marine mammal as a right whale, other whale, or other marine mammal (i.e., non-whale cetacean or pinniped). In this VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 context, ‘‘other whales’’ includes sperm whales and all baleen whales other than right whales. (ii) All vessels, regardless of size, must observe the 10 kn speed restriction in DMAs, the Mid-Atlantic SMA (from November 1 through April 30), and critical habitat and the Southeast SMA (from November 15 through April 15). (iii) Vessel speeds must also be reduced to 10 kn or less when mother/ calf pairs, pods, or large assemblages of cetaceans are observed near a vessel. (iv) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 500 m from right whales. If a whale is observed but cannot be confirmed as a species other than a right whale, the vessel operator must assume that it is a right whale and take appropriate action. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a right whale is within 500 m of any vessel: (A) While underway, the vessel operator must steer a course away from the whale at 10 kn or less until the minimum separation distance has been established. (B) If a whale is spotted in the path of a vessel or within 100 m of a vessel underway, the operator shall reduce speed and shift engines to neutral. The operator shall re-engage engines only after the whale has moved out of the path of the vessel and is more than 100 m away. If the whale is still within 500 m of the vessel, the vessel must select a course away from the whale’s course at a speed of 10 kn or less. This procedure must also be followed if a whale is spotted while a vessel is stationary. Whenever possible, a vessel should remain parallel to the whale’s course while maintaining the 500-m distance as it travels, avoiding abrupt changes in direction until the whale is no longer in the area. (v) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 100 m from other whales. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a whale other than a right whale is within 100 m of any vessel: (A) The vessel underway must reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral, and must not engage the engines until the whale has moved outside of the vessel’s path and the minimum separation distance has been established. (B) If a vessel is stationary, the vessel must not engage engines until the whale(s) has moved out of the vessel’s path and beyond 100 m. (vi) All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 50 m from all other marine mammals, with an exception made for those animals that approach the vessel. If an animal is PO 00000 Frm 00090 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 encountered during transit, a vessel shall attempt to remain parallel to the animal’s course, avoiding excessive speed or abrupt changes in course. (k) All vessels associated with survey activity (e.g., source vessels, chase vessels, supply vessels) must have a functioning Automatic Identification System (AIS) onboard and operating at all times, regardless of whether AIS would otherwise be required. Vessel names and call signs must be provided to NMFS, and applicants must notify NMFS when survey vessels are operating. 5. Monitoring Requirements The holder of this Authorization is required to conduct marine mammal monitoring during survey activity. Monitoring shall be conducted in accordance with the following requirements: (a) The operator must provide bigeye binoculars (e.g., 25 x 150; 2.7 view angle; individual ocular focus; height control) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent) solely for PSO use. These shall be pedestal-mounted on the deck at the most appropriate vantage point that provides for optimal sea surface observation, PSO safety, and safe operation of the vessel. The operator must also provide a nightvision device suited for the marine environment for use during nighttime ramp-up pre-clearance, at the discretion of the PSOs. At minimum, the device should feature automatic brightness and gain control, bright light protection, infrared illumination, and optics suited for low-light situations. (b) PSOs must also be equipped with reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 x 50) of appropriate quality (i.e., Fujinon or equivalent), GPS, digital single-lens reflex camera of appropriate quality (i.e., Canon or equivalent), compass, and any other tools necessary to adequately perform necessary tasks, including accurate determination of distance and bearing to observed marine mammals. (c) PSO Qualifications (i) PSOs must successfully complete relevant training, including completion of all required coursework and passing (80 percent or greater) a written and/or oral examination developed for the training program. (ii) PSOs must have successfully attained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a major in one of the natural sciences and a minimum of 30 semester hours or equivalent in the biological sciences and at least one undergraduate course in math or statistics. The educational requirements may be waived if the PSO has acquired the relevant skills through alternate experience. Requests for such E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices a waiver must include written justification. Alternate experience that may be considered includes, but is not limited to (1) secondary education and/ or experience comparable to PSO duties; (2) previous work experience conducting academic, commercial, or government-sponsored marine mammal surveys; or (3) previous work experience as a PSO; the PSO should demonstrate good standing and consistently good performance of PSO duties. (d) Data Collection—PSOs must use standardized data forms, whether hard copy or electronic. PSOs shall record detailed information about any implementation of mitigation requirements, including the distance of animals to the acoustic source and description of specific actions that ensued, the behavior of the animal(s), any observed changes in behavior before and after implementation of mitigation, and if shutdown was implemented, the length of time before any subsequent ramp-up of the acoustic source to resume survey. If required mitigation was not implemented, PSOs should submit a description of the circumstances. We require that, at a minimum, the following information be reported: (i) Vessel names (source vessel and other vessels associated with survey) and call signs (ii) PSO names and affiliations (iii) Dates of departures and returns to port with port name (iv) Dates and times (Greenwich Mean Time) of survey effort and times corresponding with PSO effort (v) Vessel location (latitude/ longitude) when survey effort begins and ends; vessel location at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts (vi) Vessel heading and speed at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts and upon any line change (vii) Environmental conditions while on visual survey (at beginning and end of PSO shift and whenever conditions change significantly), including wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, Beaufort wind force, swell height, weather conditions, cloud cover, sun glare, and overall visibility to the horizon (viii) Factors that may be contributing to impaired observations during each PSO shift change or as needed as environmental conditions change (e.g., vessel traffic, equipment malfunctions) (ix) Survey activity information, such as acoustic source power output while in operation, number and volume of airguns operating in the array, tow depth of the array, and any other notes of significance (i.e., pre-ramp-up survey, ramp-up, shutdown, testing, shooting, VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 ramp-up completion, end of operations, streamers, etc.) (x) If a marine mammal is sighted, the following information should be recorded: (A) Watch status (sighting made by PSO on/off effort, opportunistic, crew, alternate vessel/platform) (B) PSO who sighted the animal (C) Time of sighting (D) Vessel location at time of sighting (E) Water depth (F) Direction of vessel’s travel (compass direction) (G) Direction of animal’s travel relative to the vessel (H) Pace of the animal (I) Estimated distance to the animal and its heading relative to vessel at initial sighting (J) Identification of the animal (e.g., genus/species, lowest possible taxonomic level, or unidentified); also note the composition of the group if there is a mix of species (K) Estimated number of animals (high/low/best) (L) Estimated number of animals by cohort (adults, yearlings, juveniles, calves, group composition, etc.) (M) Description (as many distinguishing features as possible of each individual seen, including length, shape, color, pattern, scars or markings, shape and size of dorsal fin, shape of head, and blow characteristics) (N) Detailed behavior observations (e.g., number of blows, number of surfaces, breaching, spyhopping, diving, feeding, traveling; as explicit and detailed as possible; note any observed changes in behavior) (O) Animal’s closest point of approach (CPA) and/or closest distance from the center point of the acoustic source; (P) Platform activity at time of sighting (e.g., deploying, recovering, testing, shooting, data acquisition, other) (Q) Description of any actions implemented in response to the sighting (e.g., delays, shutdown, ramp-up, speed or course alteration, etc.); time and location of the action should also be recorded (xi) If a marine mammal is detected while using the PAM system, the following information should be recorded: (A) An acoustic encounter identification number, and whether the detection was linked with a visual sighting (B) Time when first and last heard (C) Types and nature of sounds heard (e.g., clicks, whistles, creaks, burst pulses, continuous, sporadic, strength of signal, etc.) PO 00000 Frm 00091 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4703 26333 (D) Any additional information recorded such as water depth of the hydrophone array, bearing of the animal to the vessel (if determinable), species or taxonomic group (if determinable), and any other notable information. 6. Reporting (a) CGG shall submit monthly interim reports detailing the amount and location of line-kms surveyed, all marine mammal observations with closest approach distance, and corrected numbers of marine mammals ‘‘taken,’’ using correction factors given in Table 19. (b) CGG shall submit a draft comprehensive report on all activities and monitoring results within 90 days of the completion of the survey or expiration of the IHA, whichever comes sooner. The report must describe all activities conducted and sightings of marine mammals near the activities, must provide full documentation of methods, results, and interpretation pertaining to all monitoring, and must summarize the dates and locations of survey operations and all marine mammal sightings (dates, times, locations, activities, associated survey activities). Geospatial data regarding locations where the acoustic source was used must be provided as an ESRI shapefile with all necessary files and appropriate metadata. In addition to the report, all raw observational data shall be made available to NMFS. The report must summarize the information submitted in interim monthly reports as well as additional data collected as required under condition 5(d) of this IHA. The draft report must be accompanied by a certification from the lead PSO as to the accuracy of the report, and the lead PSO may submit directly to NMFS a statement concerning implementation and effectiveness of the required mitigation and monitoring. A final report must be submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report. (c) Reporting injured or dead marine mammals: (i) In the event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner not prohibited by this IHA (if issued), such as serious injury or mortality, CGG shall immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the following information: (A) Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; (B) Name and type of vessel involved; (C) Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; (D) Description of the incident; E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2 26334 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES2 (E) Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (F) Water depth; (G) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); (H) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (I) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (J) Fate of the animal(s); and (K) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with CGG to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. CGG may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS. (ii) In the event that CGG discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:35 Jun 05, 2017 Jkt 241001 cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), CGG shall immediately report the incident to NMFS. The report must include the same information identified in condition 6(c)(1) of this IHA. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with CGG to determine whether additional mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate. (iii) In the event that CGG discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead observer determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the specified activities (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), CGG shall report the incident to NMFS within 24 hours of the discovery. CGG shall provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. PO 00000 Frm 00092 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 9990 7. 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. Request for Public Comments We request comment on our analyses, the draft authorizations, and any other aspect of this Notice of Proposed IHAs for the proposed geophysical survey activities. Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision on the individual requests for MMPA authorization. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2017–11542 Filed 6–5–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\06JNN2.SGM 06JNN2

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 107 (Tuesday, June 6, 2017)]
[Notices]
[Pages 26244-26334]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-11542]



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Vol. 82

Tuesday,

No. 107

June 6, 2017

Part II





Department of Commerce





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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration





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Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking 
Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys in the Atlantic Ocean; 
Notice

Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 107 / Tuesday, June 6, 2017 / 
Notices

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE283


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys in the Atlantic 
Ocean

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

ACTION: Notice; five proposed incidental harassment authorizations; 
request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS has received five requests for authorization to take 
marine mammals incidental to conducting geophysical survey activity in 
the Atlantic Ocean. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act 
(MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue incidental 
harassment authorizations (IHA) to incidentally take marine mammals 
during the specified activities.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than July 6, 
2017.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, 
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, 
National Marine Fisheries Service. Physical comments should be sent to 
1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and electronic comments 
should be sent to ITP.Laws@noaa.gov.
    Instructions: NMFS is not responsible for comments sent by any 
other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the 
end of the comment period. Comments received electronically, including 
all attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size. Attachments 
to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel or 
Adobe PDF file formats only. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted online at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/oilgas.htm without change. All personal 
identifying information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by 
the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential 
business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    Information Solicited: NMFS is seeking public input on these 
requests for authorization as outlined below and request that 
interested persons submit information, suggestions, and comments 
concerning the applications. We will only consider comments that are 
relevant to marine mammal species that occur in U.S. waters of the Mid- 
and South Atlantic and the potential effects of geophysical survey 
activities on those species and their habitat.
    Comments indicating general support for or opposition to 
hydrocarbon exploration or any comments relating to hydrocarbon 
development (e.g., leasing, drilling) are not relevant to this request 
for comments and will not be considered. Comments should indicate 
whether they are general to the proposed authorizations described 
herein or are specific to one or more of the five proposed 
authorizations, and should be supported by data or literature citations 
as appropriate.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Availability

    Electronic copies of the applications and supporting documents, as 
well as a list of the references cited in this document, may be 
obtained online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/oilgas.htm. 
In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact 
listed above.

National Environmental Policy Act

    In 2014, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) produced a 
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to evaluate 
potential significant environmental effects of geological and 
geophysical (G&G) activities on the Mid- and South Atlantic Outer 
Continental Shelf (OCS), pursuant to requirements of the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These activities include geophysical 
surveys in support of hydrocarbon exploration, as are proposed in the 
MMPA applications before NMFS. The PEIS is available online at: 
www.boem.gov/Atlantic-G-G-PEIS/. NMFS participated in development of 
the PEIS as a cooperating agency and believes it appropriate to adopt 
the analysis in order to assess the impacts to the human environment of 
issuance of the subject IHAs. Information in the IHA applications, 
BOEM's PEIS, and this notice collectively provide the environmental 
information related to proposed issuance of these IHAs for public 
review and comment.
    We will review all comments submitted in response to this notice as 
we complete the NEPA process, including a final decision of whether to 
adopt BOEM's PEIS and sign a Record of Decision related to issuance of 
IHAs, prior to a final decision on the incidental take authorization 
requests.

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 Requests

    In 2014-15, we received five separate requests for authorization 
for take of marine mammals incidental to geophysical surveys in support 
of hydrocarbon exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. The applicants are 
companies that provide services, such as geophysical data acquisition, 
to the oil and gas industry. Upon review of these requests, we 
submitted questions, comments, and requests for additional information 
to the individual applicant companies. As a result of these 
interactions, the applicant companies

[[Page 26245]]

provided revised versions of the applications that we determined were 
adequate and complete.
    On August 18, 2014, we received an application from Spectrum Geo 
Inc. (Spectrum), followed by revised versions on November 25, 2014, May 
14, 2015, and July 6, 2015. TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company (TGS) 
submitted an application on August 25, 2014, followed by revised 
versions on November 17, 2014, and July 21, 2015. We also received a 
request from ION GeoVentures (ION) on September 5, 2014, followed by a 
revised version on June 24, 2015.
    We subsequently posted these applications for public review and 
sought public input (80 FR 45195; July 29, 2015), stating that we would 
only consider comments relevant to marine mammal species that occur in 
U.S. waters of the Mid- and South Atlantic and the potential effects of 
geophysical survey activities on those species. We stated further that 
any comments should be supported by data or literature citations as 
appropriate, that comments indicating general support for or opposition 
to oil and gas exploration and development would not be considered 
inasmuch as such comments are not relevant to our consideration of the 
requests under the MMPA, and that we were particularly interested in 
information addressing the following topics:
    1. Best available scientific information and appropriate use of 
such information in assessing potential effects of the specified 
activities on marine mammals and their habitat;
    2. Application approaches to estimating acoustic exposure and take 
of marine mammals; and,
    3. Appropriate mitigation measures and monitoring requirements for 
these activities.
    We note that this notice for proposed IHAs does not concern one 
additional company (TDI-Brooks International, Inc. (TDI Brooks)) whose 
application was referenced in our July 29, 2015, Federal Register 
notice, and includes two other companies (WesternGeco, LLC (Western) 
and CGG) whose applications were not included in our July 29, 2015, 
notice. TDI-Brooks International, Inc. submitted a request for 
authorization related to a proposed survey to conduct deep water 
multibeam bathymetry and sub-bottom profiler data acquisition on 
October 22, 2014. However, public comment indicated that this 
application was improperly considered adequate and complete, and we 
subsequently concurred with this assessment and returned the 
application to TDI-Brooks for revision. We will provide separate notice 
of any proposed authorization related to this applicant upon receipt of 
an adequate and complete application, if appropriate.
    The comments and information received during this public review 
period informed development of the proposed IHAs discussed in this 
notice, and all letters received are available online at 
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/oilgas.htm.
    Following the close of the public review period, we received 
revised versions of several applications: From Spectrum on September 
18, 2015, and from TGS on February 10, 2016. We received additional 
information from ION on February 29, 2016. Spectrum revised the scope 
of their proposed survey effort, while TGS and ION revised their 
estimates of the number of potential incidents of marine mammal 
exposure to underwater noise. Western submitted a request for 
authorization on March 3, 2015, followed by a revised version on 
February 17, 2016, that we determined was adequate and complete. CGG 
submitted a request for authorization on December 21, 2015, followed by 
revised versions on February 18, 2016, April 6, 2016, and May 26, 2016. 
These applications are adequate and complete at this time and are 
substantially similar to other applications previously released for 
public review. We do not anticipate offering additional discretionary 
public review of applications should we receive further requests for 
authorization related to proposed geophysical survey activity in the 
Atlantic Ocean.
    All requested authorizations would be valid for the statutory 
maximum of one year from the date of effectiveness. All applicants 
propose to conduct two-dimensional (2D) marine seismic surveys using 
airgun arrays. Generally speaking, these surveys may occur within the 
U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (i.e., to 200 nautical miles (nmi)) from 
Delaware to approximately Cape Canaveral, Florida and corresponding 
with BOEM's Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas, as well as 
additional waters out to 350 nmi from shore (Figure 1). Please see the 
applications for specific details of survey design. The use of airgun 
arrays is expected to produce underwater sound at levels that have the 
potential to result in harassment of marine mammals. Multiple cetacean 
species with the expected potential to be present during all or a 
portion of the proposed surveys are described below.
    Because the specified activity, specified geographic region, and 
proposed dates of activity are substantially similar for the five 
separate requests for authorization, we have determined it appropriate 
to provide a joint notice for the five proposed authorizations. 
However, while we provide relevant information together, we consider 
the potential impacts of the specified activities independently and 
make preliminary determinations specific to each request for 
authorization, as required by the MMPA.

Description of the Specified Activities

    In this section, we provide a generalized discussion that is 
broadly applicable to all five requests for authorization, with 
project-specific portions indicated.

Overview

    The five applicants propose to conduct deep penetration seismic 
surveys using airgun arrays as an acoustic source. Seismic surveys are 
one method of obtaining geophysical data used to characterize the 
subsurface structure, in this case in support of hydrocarbon 
exploration. The proposed surveys would be 2D surveys, designed to 
acquire data over large areas in order to screen for potential 
hydrocarbon prospectivity. To contrast, three-dimensional surveys may 
use similar acoustic sources but are designed to cover smaller areas 
with greater resolution (e.g., with closer survey line spacing). A deep 
penetration survey uses an acoustic source suited to provide data on 
geological formations that may be thousands of meters (m) beneath the 
seafloor, as compared with a survey that may be intended to evaluate 
shallow subsurface formations or the seafloor itself (e.g., for 
hazards).
    An airgun is a device used to emit acoustic energy pulses into the 
seafloor, and generally consists of a steel cylinder that is charged 
with high-pressure air. Release of the compressed air into the water 
column generates a signal that reflects (or refracts) off of the 
seafloor and/or subsurface layers having acoustic impedance contrast. 
When fired, a brief (~0.1 second (s)) pulse of sound is emitted by all 
airguns nearly simultaneously. The airguns are silent during the 
intervening periods, with the array typically fired on a fixed distance 
(or shot point) interval. This interval may vary depending on survey 
objectives, but a typical interval for a 2D survey in relatively deep 
water might be 25 m (approximately every 10 s, depending on vessel 
speed). The return signal is recorded by a listening device and later 
analyzed with computer interpretation and mapping systems used to 
depict the subsurface. In this

[[Page 26246]]

case, towed streamers contain hydrophones that would record the return 
signal.
    Individual airguns are available in different volumetric sizes and, 
for deep penetration seismic surveys, are towed in arrays (i.e., a 
certain number of airguns of varying sizes in a certain arrangement) 
designed according to a given company's method of data acquisition, 
seismic target, and data processing capabilities. A typical large 
airgun array, as was considered in BOEM's PEIS (BOEM, 2014a), may have 
a total volume of approximately 5,400 in\3\. The notional array modeled 
by BOEM consists of 18 airguns in three identical strings of six 
airguns each, with individual airguns ranging in volume from 105-660 
in\3\. Sound levels for airgun arrays are typically modeled or measured 
at some distance from the source and a nominal source level then back-
calculated. Because these arrays constitute a distributed acoustic 
source rather than a single point source (i.e., the ``source'' is 
actually comprised of multiple sources with some pre-determined spatial 
arrangement), the highest sound levels measurable at any location in 
the water will be less than the nominal source level. A common analogy 
is to an array of light bulbs; at sufficient distance the array will 
appear to be a single point source of light but individual sources, 
each with less intensity than that of the whole, may be discerned at 
closer distances. In addition, the effective source level for sound 
propagating in near-horizontal directions (i.e., directions likely to 
impact most marine mammals in the vicinity of an array) is likely to be 
substantially lower than the nominal source level applicable to 
downward propagation because of the directional nature of the sound 
from the airgun array. The horizontal propagation of sound is reduced 
by noise cancellation effects created when sound from neighboring 
airguns on the same horizontal plane partially cancel each other out.
    Survey protocols generally involve a predetermined set of survey, 
or track, lines. The seismic acquisition vessel (source vessel) will 
travel down a linear track for some distance until a line of data is 
acquired, then turn and acquire data on a different track. In addition 
to the line over which data acquisition is desired, full-power 
operation may include run-in and run-out. Run-in is approximately 1 
kilometer (km) of full-power source operation before starting a new 
line to ensure equipment is functioning properly, and run-out is 
additional full-power operation beyond the conclusion of a trackline 
(typically half the distance of the acquisition streamer behind the 
source vessel) to ensure that all data along the trackline are 
collected by the streamer. Line turns typically require two to three 
hours due to the long trailing streamers (e.g., 10 km). Spacing and 
length of tracks varies by survey. Survey operations often involve the 
source vessel, supported by a chase vessel. Chase vessels typically 
support the source vessel by protecting the long hydrophone streamer 
from damage (e.g., from other vessels) and otherwise lending logistical 
support (e.g., returning to port for fuel, supplies, or any necessary 
personnel transfers). Chase vessels do not deploy acoustic sources for 
data acquisition purposes; the only potential effects of the chase 
vessels are those associated with normal vessel operations.

Dates and Duration

    All companies requested IHAs covering the statutory maximum of one 
year from the date of issuance, but the expected temporal extent of 
survey activity varies by company and may be subject to 
unpredictability due to inclement weather days, equipment maintenance 
and/or repair, transit to and from ports to survey locations, and other 
contingencies. Spectrum plans a six-month data acquisition program, 
consisting of an expected 165 days of seismic operations. TGS plans a 
full year data acquisition program, with an estimated 308 days of 
seismic operations. ION plans a six-month data acquisition program, 
with an estimated 70 days of seismic data collection. Western plans a 
full year data acquisition program, with an estimated 208 days of 
seismic operations. CGG plans a six-month data acquisition program 
(July-December), with an estimated 155 days of seismic operations. 
Seismic operations would typically occur 24 hours per day.

Specific Geographic Region

    The proposed survey activities would occur off the Atlantic coast 
of the U.S., within BOEM's Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic OCS planning 
areas (i.e., from Delaware to Cape Canaveral, FL), and out to 350 nmi 
(648 km) (see Figure 1, reproduced from BOEM, 2014a). The seaward limit 
of the region is based on the maximum constraint line for the extended 
continental shelf (ECS) under the United Nations Convention on the Law 
of the Sea. Until such time as an ECS is established by the U.S., the 
region between the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundary and the 
ECS maximum constraint line (i.e., 200-350 nmi from shore) is part of 
the global commons, and BOEM determined it appropriate to include this 
area within the area of interest for geophysical survey activity.
    The specific survey areas differ within this region; please see 
maps provided in the individual applications (Spectrum: Figure 1; 
Western: Figures 1-1 to 1-4; TGS: Figures 1-1 to 1-4; ION: Figure 1; 
CGG: Figure 3). A map of all proposed surveys may be viewed online at: 
www.boem.gov/Atlantic-G-and-G-Permitting/ (accessed on October 18, 
2016); however, note that this map displays all permits requested from 
BOEM, including potential surveys for companies who have not yet 
requested authorization under the MMPA. The survey shown as 
``GXTechnology'' on the referenced map is the same as what we describe 
here as being proposed by ION. In addition to general knowledge and 
other citations contained herein, this section relies upon the 
descriptions found in Sherman and Hempel (2009) and Wilkinson et al. 
(2009). As referred to here, productivity refers to fixated carbon 
(i.e., g C/m\2\/yr) which relates to the carrying capacity of an 
ecosystem.
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

[[Page 26247]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TN06JN17.000

BILLING CODE 3510-22-C
    The entire U.S. Atlantic coast region extends from the Gulf of 
Maine past Cape Hatteras to Florida. The region is characterized by its 
temperate climate and proximity to the Gulf Stream Current, and is 
generally considered to be of moderately high productivity, although 
the portion of the region from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras is one of the 
most productive areas in the world due to upwellings along the shelf 
break created by the western edge of the Gulf Stream. Sea surface 
temperatures (SST) exhibit a broad range across this region, with 
winter temperatures ranging from 2-20 [deg]C in the north and 15-22 
[deg]C in the south, while summer temperatures, consistent in the south 
at approximately 28 [deg]C, range from 15-27 [deg]C in the northern 
portion.

[[Page 26248]]

    The northern portion of this region (i.e., north of Cape Hatteras) 
is more complex, with four major sub-areas, only one of which is within 
the specified geographic region: The Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB). South of 
Cape Cod, there is strong stratification along the coast where large 
estuaries occur (e.g., Chesapeake Bay, Pamlico Sound). The Gulf Stream 
is highly influential on both the northern and southern portions of the 
region, but in different ways. Meanders of the current directly affect 
the southern portion of the region, where the Gulf Stream is closer to 
shore, while warm-core rings indirectly affect the northern portion 
(Belkin et al., 2009). In addition, subarctic influences can reach as 
far south as the MAB, but the convergence of the Gulf Stream with the 
coast near Cape Hatteras does not allow for significant northern 
influence into waters of the South Atlantic Bight.
    The MAB includes the continental shelf and slope waters from 
Georges Bank to Cape Hatteras, NC. The retreat of the last ice sheet 
shaped the morphology and sediments of this area. The continental shelf 
south of New England is broad and flat, dominated by fine grained 
sediments (sand and silt). The shelf slopes gently away from the shore 
out to approximately 100 to 200 km offshore, where it transforms into 
the continental slope at the shelf break (at water depths of 100 to 200 
m). Along the shelf break, numerous deep-water canyons incise the slope 
and shelf. The sediments and topography of the canyons are much more 
heterogeneous than the predominantly sandy top of the shelf, with steep 
walls and outcroppings of bedrock and deposits of clay.
    The southwestern flow of cold shelf water feeding out of the Gulf 
of Maine and off Georges Bank dominates the circulatory patterns in 
this area. The countervailing Gulf Stream provides a source of warmer 
water along the coast as warm-core rings and meanders break off from 
the Gulf Stream and move shoreward, mixing with the colder shelf and 
slope water. As the shelf plain narrows to the south (the extent of the 
continental shelf is narrowest at Cape Hatteras), the warmer Gulf 
Stream waters run closer to shore.
    The southeast continental shelf area extends approximately 1,500 km 
from Cape Hatteras, NC south to the Straits of Florida (Yoder, 1991). 
The continental shelf in the region reaches up to approximately 200 km 
offshore. The Gulf Stream influences the region with minor upwelling 
occurring along the Gulf Stream front. The area is approximately 
300,000 km\2\, includes several protected areas and coral reefs 
(Aquarone, 2008); numerous estuaries and bays, nearshore and barrier 
islands; and extensive coastal marshes that provide habitats for 
numerous marine and estuarine species. A 10-20 km wide coastal zone is 
characterized by high levels of primary production throughout the year, 
while offshore, on the middle and outer shelf, upwelling along the Gulf 
Stream front and intrusions from the Gulf Stream cause seasonal 
phytoplankton blooms. Because of its high productivity, this sub-region 
supports active commercial and recreational fisheries (Shertzer et al., 
2009).

Detailed Description of Activities

    Detailed survey descriptions, as given in specific applications, 
are provided here without regard for the mitigation measures proposed 
by NMFS. In some cases, our proposed mitigation measures may affect the 
proposed survey plan (e.g., distance from coast, areas to be avoided at 
certain times of year). Please see ``Proposed Mitigation,'' later in 
this document, for details on those proposed mitigation requirements. 
Please see Table 1 for a summary of airgun array characteristics.
    ION--ION proposes to conduct a 2D marine seismic survey off the 
U.S. east coast from Delaware to northern Florida (~38.5[deg] N. to 
~27.9[deg] N.), and from 20 km from the coast to >600 km from the coast 
(see Figure 1 of ION's application). The survey would involve one 
source vessel, the M/V Discoverer, and one chase vessel, the M/V 
Octopus, or similar (see ION's application for vessel details). The 
Discoverer has a cruising speed of 9.5 knots (kn), maximum speed of 10 
kn, and would tow gear during data acquisition at ~4 kn. The survey 
plan consists of five widely-spaced transect lines (~20-190 km apart) 
roughly parallel to the coast and 14 widely-spaced transect lines (~30-
220 km apart) in the onshore-offshore direction totaling ~13,062 km of 
data acquisition line. Effort planned by depth bin is as follows: ~48 
percent >3,000 m; ~18 percent 1,000-3,000 m; ~22 percent 100-1,000 m; 
~12 percent <100 m. There would be limited additional operations 
associated with equipment testing, startup, line changes, and repeat 
coverage of any areas where initial data quality is sub-standard. 
Therefore, there could be some small amount of use of the acoustic 
source not accounted for in the total estimated line-km; however, this 
activity is difficult to quantify in advance and would represent an 
insignificant increase in effort.
    The acoustic source planned for deployment is a 36-airgun array 
with a total volume of 6,420 in\3\. The source vessel would tow a 
single hydrophone streamer, up to 12 km long. The 36-airgun array would 
consist of a mixture of Bolt 1500LL and sleeve airguns ranging in 
volume from 40 in\3\ to 380 in\3\; the larger (300-380 in\3\) airguns 
would be Bolt airguns, and the smaller (40-150 in\3\) airguns would be 
sleeve airguns. The difference between the two types of airguns is in 
the mechanical parts that release the pressurized air; however, the 
bubble and acoustic energy released by the two types of airguns are 
effectively the same. The airguns would be configured as four identical 
linear arrays or ``strings'' (see Figure 3 of ION's application). Each 
string would have nine airguns; the first and last airguns in the 
strings would be spaced ~15.5 m apart.
    The four airgun strings would be distributed across an approximate 
area of 34 x 15.5 m behind the vessel and would be towed ~50-100 m 
behind the vessel at 10-m depth. The firing pressure of the array would 
be 2,000 pounds per square inch (psi). The airgun array would fire 
every 50 m or 20-24 s, depending on exact vessel speed--a longer 
interval than is typical of most industry seismic surveys. ION provided 
modeling results for their array, including notional source signatures, 
1/3-octave band source levels as a function of azimuth angle, and 
received sound levels as a function of distance and direction at 16 
representative sites in the proposed survey area. For more detail, 
please see ``Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment,'' later in this 
document, as well as Figures 4-6 and Appendix A of ION's application.
    Spectrum--Spectrum proposes to conduct a 2D marine seismic survey 
off the U.S. east coast from Delaware to northern Florida, extending 
throughout BOEM's Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas. The 
survey would be conducted on an approximately 25 x 32 km grid; grid 
size may vary to minimize overall survey distance (see Figure 1 of 
Spectrum's application). The closest trackline to shore would be 
approximately 35 km (off Cape Hatteras). The survey would involve one 
source vessel and one chase vessel (see Spectrum's application for 
vessel details). The survey plan includes a total of approximately 
21,635 km of data acquisition line, including allowance for lines 
expected to be resurveyed due to environmental or technical reasons. 
Water depths range from 30 to 5,410 m. There would be limited 
additional operations associated with equipment testing, startup, and 
repeat coverage of any areas where initial data quality is sub-
standard.

[[Page 26249]]

    The acoustic source planned for deployment is a 32-airgun array 
with a total volume of 4,920 in\3\. The source vessel would tow a 
single 12-km hydrophone streamer. The 32-airgun array would consist of 
individual airguns ranging in volume from 50 in\3\ to 250 in\3\. The 
firing pressure of the array would be 2,000 psi. The airguns would be 
configured as four subarrays (see Figure 2 in Appendix A of Spectrum's 
application). Each string would have eight to ten airguns and strings 
would be spaced 10 m apart; the total array dimensions would be 40 m 
wide x 30 m long.
    The four airgun strings would be towed at 6 to 10-m depth and the 
airgun array would fire every 25 m or 10 s, depending on exact vessel 
speed (expected to be 4-5 kn). Spectrum provided modeling results for 
their array, including notional source signatures, 1/3-octave band 
source levels as a function of azimuth angle, and received sound levels 
as a function of distance and direction at 16 representative sites in 
the proposed survey area. For more detail, please see Appendix A of 
Spectrum's application, as well as ``Estimated Take by Incidental 
Harassment,'' later in this document.
    TGS--TGS proposes to conduct a 2D marine seismic survey off the 
U.S. east coast from Delaware to northern Florida, extending throughout 
BOEM's Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas (see Figure 1-1 of 
TGS's application). The survey would involve two source vessels 
operating independently of one another (expected to operate at least 
100 km apart), with each attended by one chase vessel. This approach 
was selected to allow TGS to complete the survey plan within one year 
rather than spread over multiple years. The survey plan consists of two 
contiguous survey grids with differently spaced lines (see Figures 1-1 
to 1-4 of TGS's application). Lines are spaced 100 km apart in 
approximately the eastern half of the project area and approximately 25 
km apart in the western portion of the survey area. A third, more 
detailed grid (6-10 km spacing) covers the continental shelf drop-off, 
approximately near the center of the proposed survey area from north to 
south. The closest trackline to the coast would be 25 km. The survey 
plan includes a total of 55,133 km of data acquisition line plus an 
additional 3,167 km of trackline expected for run-in/run-out, for a 
total of 58,300 km. Water depths range from 25-5,500 m. There would be 
limited additional operations associated with equipment testing, 
startup, line changes, and repeat coverage of any areas where initial 
data quality is sub-standard.
    The acoustic sources planned for deployment are 48-airgun arrays 
with a total volume of 4,808 in\3\. However, only 40 individual airguns 
would be used at any given time, with remaining airguns held in reserve 
in case of equipment failure. The source vessels would tow a single 12-
km long hydrophone streamer. The airgun array would use Sodera G-gun II 
airguns ranging in volume from 22 in\3\ to 250 in\3\. The airguns would 
be configured as four identical subarrays (see Figure 3 in Appendix B 
of TGS's application), with individual elements spaced 8 m apart and 
arranged such that the largest elements are in the middle of each 
subarray and smaller sources at the front and end. The four airgun 
strings would be towed behind the vessel at 7-m depth. The airgun array 
would fire every 25 m (approximately every 10 s, depending on vessel 
speed), with expected transit speed of 4-5 kn. More detail regarding 
TGS's acoustic source and modeling related to TGS's application is 
provided in ``Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment,'' later in this 
document, as well as Appendix B of TGS's application.
    Western--Western proposes to conduct a 2D marine seismic survey off 
the U.S. east coast from Maryland to northern Florida, extending 
through the majority of BOEM's Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning 
areas (see Figure 1-1 of Western's application). The survey plan 
consists of a survey grid with differently spaced lines (see Figures 1-
1 to 1-4 of Western's application). Lines are spaced 25 km apart in 
approximately the southwestern third of the project area and 
approximately 6 km apart in the remainder of the survey area. The 
closest trackline to the coast would be 30 km. The survey plan includes 
a total of 26,641 km of data acquisition line plus an additional 689 km 
of lines expected for run-in/run-out, for a total of 27,330 km. Water 
depths range from 20-4,700 m. The survey would involve one source 
vessel, the M/V Western Pride, as well as two chase vessels, the M/V 
Michael Lawrence and M/V Amber G, and a supply vessel, the M/V Melinda 
B. Adams or similar (see Appendix B of Western's application for vessel 
details). There would be limited additional operations associated with 
equipment testing, startup, and repeat coverage of any areas where 
initial data quality is sub-standard.
    The seismic source planned for deployment is a 24-airgun array with 
a total volume of 5,085 in\3\. The source vessel would tow a single 
10.5-km hydrophone streamer. The 24-airgun array would consist of 
individual Bolt v5085 airguns. The airguns would be configured as three 
identical subarrays of eight airguns each with 8 m spacing between 
strings. The three airgun strings would be towed at 10-m depth and the 
airgun array would fire every 37.5 m (approximately every 16 s, 
depending on vessel speed), with expected transit speed of 4-5 kn. More 
detail regarding Western's acoustic source and modeling related to 
Western's application is provided in ``Estimated Take by Incidental 
Harassment,'' later in this document, as well as Appendix B of 
Western's application.
    CGG--CGG proposes to conduct a 2D marine seismic survey off the 
U.S. east coast from Virginia to Georgia, extending through the 
majority of BOEM's Mid- and South Atlantic OCS planning areas (see 
Figure 3 of CGG's application). The survey plan consists of 53 survey 
tracklines in a 20 km by 20 km orthogonal grid (see Figure 3 of CGG's 
application). The tracklines would be 300 to 750 km in length, with the 
closest trackline to the coast at 80 km. The survey plan includes a 
total of 28,670 km of data acquisition line, in water depths ranging 
from 100-5,000 m. The survey would involve one source vessel, as well 
as two support vessels. There would be limited additional operations 
associated with equipment testing, startup, and repeat coverage of any 
areas where initial data quality is sub-standard.
    The seismic source planned for deployment is a 36-airgun array with 
a total volume of 5,400 in.\3\ The source vessel would tow a single 10 
to 12-km hydrophone streamer. The 36-airgun array would consist of 
individual Bolt 1900/1500 airguns. The airguns would be configured as 
four subarrays of nine airguns each (see Figure 2 in CGG's 
application), with total dimensions of 24 m width by 16.5 m length and 
8 m separation between strings. The four airgun strings would be towed 
at 7-m depth and the airgun array would fire every 25 m (approximately 
every 16 s, depending on vessel speed), with expected transit speed of 
4.5 kn. More detail regarding CGG's acoustic source and modeling 
related to CGG's application is provided in ``Estimated Take by 
Incidental Harassment,'' later in this document, as well as CGG's 
application.

[[Page 26250]]



                                                    Table 1--Survey and Airgun Array Characteristics
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Total        Total                              Nominal source output (downward) \1\       Shot
                Company                    planned       volume    Number of  Number of -------------------------------------------  interval  Tow depth
                                         survey (km)    (in\3\)       guns     strings      0-pk         pk-pk            rms          (m)        (m)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ION....................................       13,062        6,420         36          4        257             263           4 247         50         10
Spectrum...............................       21,635        4,920         32          4        266             272             243         25       6-10
TGS....................................       58,300        4,808         40          4        255             \3\             240         25          7
Western................................       27,330        5,085         24          3        \3\             262             235       37.5         10
CGG....................................       28,670        5,400         36          4        \3\             259         3 4 243         25          7
BOEM \2\...............................          n/a        5,400         18          3        247             \3\             233        n/a        6.5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ See ``Description of Active Acoustic Sound Sources,'' later in this document, for discussion of these concepts.
\2\ Notional array characteristics modeled and source characterization outputs from BOEM's PEIS (2014a) provided for comparison.
\3\ Values not given; however, SPL (pk-pk) is usually considered to be approximately 6 dB higher than SPL (0-pk) (Greene, 1997).
\4\ Value decreased from modeled 0-pk value by minimum 10 dB (Greene, 1997).

Proposed Mitigation

    In order to issue an IHA under Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, 
NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such 
activity, ``and other means of effecting the least practicable impact 
on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention 
to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on 
the availability of such species or stock for taking'' for certain 
subsistence uses. NMFS regulations require applicants for incidental 
take authorizations to include information about the availability and 
feasibility (economic and technological) of equipment, methods, and 
manner of conducting such activity or other means of effecting the 
least practicable adverse impact upon the affected species or stocks 
and their habitat (50 CFR 216.104(a)(11)). Here we provide a single 
description of proposed mitigation measures, including those contained 
in the applicants' requests, as we propose to require the same measures 
of all applicants.
    We reviewed the applicants' proposals, the requirements specified 
in BOEM's PEIS, seismic mitigation protocols required or recommended 
elsewhere (e.g., DOC, 2013; IBAMA, 2005; Kyhn et al., 2011; JNCC, 2010; 
DEWHA, 2008; BOEM, 2016a; DFO, 2008; MMOA, 2015; Nowacek and Southall, 
2016), and the available scientific literature. We also considered 
recommendations given in a number of review articles (e.g., Weir and 
Dolman, 2007; Compton et al., 2008; Parsons et al., 2009; Wright and 
Cosentino, 2015; Stone, 2015). The suite of mitigation measures 
proposed here differs in some cases from the measures proposed by the 
applicants and/or those specified by BOEM in their PEIS and Record of 
Decision (ROD) in order to reflect what we believe to be the most 
appropriate suite of measures to satisfy the requirements of the MMPA. 
In carrying out the MMPA's mandate, we apply a context-specific balance 
between the manner in which and the degree to which measures are 
expected to reduce impacts to the affected species or stocks and their 
habitat and practicability for the applicant. (The framework for such 
an evaluation is explained further in 82 FR 19460, 19502 (April 27, 
2017) (Proposed Rule for Take of Marine Mammals Incidental to U.S. Navy 
Operation of Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency 
Active (SURTASS LFA) Sonar.) Both of these facets point to the need for 
a basic system of seismic mitigation protocols (which may be augmented 
as necessary) that may be implemented in the field, reduce subjective 
decision-making for observers to the extent possible, and appropriately 
weighs a range of potential outcomes from sound exposure in determining 
what should be avoided or minimized where possible.
    Past mitigation protocols for geophysical survey activities using 
airgun arrays have focused on avoidance of exposures to received sound 
levels exceeding NMFS's historical injury criteria (e.g., 180 dB rms), 
rather than also weighing the potentially detrimental effects of 
increased input of sound at lower levels into the environment (e.g., 
through use of mitigation guns or extended periods on the water to 
reshoot lines following shutdowns of the acoustic source), while also 
unrealistically assuming that shutdown protocols are capable of 
avoiding all potential for auditory injury. In addition to a basic 
suite of seismic mitigation protocols, we also include measures that 
might not be required for other activities (e.g., time-area closures 
specific to the proposed surveys discussed here) but that are warranted 
here given the proposed spatiotemporal scope of these specified 
activities and associated potential for population-level effects and/or 
take of large numbers of individuals of certain species.

Mitigation-Related Monitoring

    Monitoring by independent, dedicated, trained marine mammal 
observers is required. Note that, although we propose requirements 
related only to observation of marine mammals, we hereafter use the 
generic term ``protected species observer'' (PSO) to avoid confusion 
with protocols that may be required of the applicants pursuant to other 
relevant statutes. Independent observers are employed by a third-party 
observer provider; vessel crew may not serve as PSOs. Dedicated 
observers are those who have no tasks other than to conduct 
observational effort, record observational data, and communicate with 
and instruct the seismic survey operator (i.e., vessel captain and 
crew) with regard to the presence of marine mammals and mitigation 
requirements. Communication with the operator may include brief alerts 
regarding maritime hazards. Trained PSOs have successfully completed an 
approved PSO training course (see ``Proposed Monitoring and 
Reporting''), and experienced PSOs have additionally gained a minimum 
of 90 days at-sea experience working as a PSO during a deep penetration 
seismic survey, with no more than 18 months elapsed since the 
conclusion of the at-sea experience. Both visual and acoustic 
monitoring is required; training and experience is specific to either 
visual or acoustic PSO duties. An experienced visual PSO must have 
completed approved, relevant training and gained the requisite 
experience working as a visual PSO. An experienced acoustic PSO must 
have completed a passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) operator training 
course and gained the requisite experience working as an acoustic PSO 
(i.e., PAM operator).
    NMFS does not currently approve specific training courses; 
observers may be considered appropriately trained by having 
satisfactorily completed training that meets all the requirements 
specified

[[Page 26251]]

herein (see ``Proposed Monitoring and Reporting''). In order for PSOs 
to be approved, NMFS must review and approve PSO resumes accompanied by 
a relevant training course information packet that includes the name 
and qualifications (i.e., experience, training completed, or 
educational background) of the instructor(s), the course outline or 
syllabus, and course reference material as well as a document stating 
successful completion of the course. A PSO may be trained and/or 
experienced as both a visual PSO and PAM operator and may perform 
either duty, pursuant to scheduling requirements. PSO watch schedules 
shall be devised in consideration of the following restrictions: (1) A 
maximum of two consecutive hours on watch followed by a break of at 
least one hour between watches for visual PSOs; (2) a maximum of four 
consecutive hours on watch followed by a break of at least two 
consecutive hours between watches for PAM operators; and (3) a maximum 
of 12 hours observation per 24-hour period. Further information 
regarding PSO requirements may be found in the ``Proposed Monitoring 
and Reporting'' section, later in this document.
    Visual--All source vessels must carry a minimum of one experienced 
visual PSO, who shall be designated as the lead PSO, coordinate duty 
schedules and roles, and serve as primary point of contact for the 
operator. While it is desirable for all PSOs to be qualified through 
experience, we do not wish to foreclose opportunity for newly trained 
PSOs to gain the requisite experience. Therefore, the lead PSO shall 
devise the duty schedule such that experienced PSOs are on duty with 
trained PSOs (i.e., those PSOs with appropriate training but who have 
not yet gained relevant experience) to the maximum extent practicable 
in order to provide necessary mentorship. During survey operations 
(e.g., any day on which use of the acoustic source is planned to occur; 
whenever the acoustic source is in the water, whether activated or 
not), a minimum of two PSOs must be on duty and conducting visual 
observations at all times during daylight hours (i.e., from 30 minutes 
prior to sunrise through 30 minutes following sunset) and 30 minutes 
prior to and during nighttime ramp-ups of the airgun array (see ``Ramp-
ups'' below). PSOs should use NOAA's solar calculator 
(www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/grad/solcalc/) to determine sunrise and sunset 
times at their specific location. We recognize that certain daytime 
conditions (e.g., fog, heavy rain) may reduce or eliminate 
effectiveness of visual observations; however, on-duty PSOs shall 
remain alert for marine mammal observational cues and/or a change in 
conditions.
    With regard to specific observational protocols, we largely follow 
those described in Appendix C of BOEM's PEIS (BOEM, 2014a). The lead 
PSO shall determine the most appropriate observation posts that will 
not interfere with navigation or operation of the vessel while 
affording an optimal, elevated view of the sea surface. PSOs shall 
coordinate to ensure 360[deg] visual coverage around the vessel, and 
shall conduct visual observations using binoculars and the naked eye 
while free from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, and 
diligent manner. Within these broad outlines, the lead PSO and PSO team 
will have discretion to determine the most appropriate vessel- and 
survey-specific system for implementing effective marine mammal 
observational effort. Any observations of marine mammals by crew 
members aboard any vessel associated with the survey, including chase 
vessels, should be relayed to the source vessel and to the PSO team.
    Visual monitoring must begin not less than 30 minutes prior to 
ramp-up and must continue until one hour after use of the acoustic 
source ceases or until 30 minutes past sunset. If any marine mammal is 
observed at any distance from the vessel, a PSO would record the 
observation and monitor the animal's position (including latitude/
longitude of the vessel and relative bearing and estimated distance to 
the animal) until the animal dives or moves out of visual range of the 
observer. A PSO would continue to observe the area to watch for the 
animal to resurface or for additional animals that may surface in the 
area. Visual PSOs shall communicate all observations to PAM operators, 
including any determination by the PSO regarding species 
identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in 
the determination.
    During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state 
(BSS) 3 or less), PSOs should conduct observations when the acoustic 
source is not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior 
with and without use of the acoustic source and between acquisition 
periods.
    Acoustic--All source vessels must use a towed PAM system for 
potential detection of marine mammals. The system must be monitored at 
all times during use of the acoustic source, and acoustic monitoring 
must begin at least 30 minutes prior to ramp-up. All source vessels 
shall carry a minimum of one experienced PAM operator. PAM operators 
shall communicate all detections to visual PSOs, when visual PSOs are 
on duty, including any determination by the PSO regarding species 
identification, distance, and bearing and the degree of confidence in 
the determination. We acknowledge generally that PAM has significant 
limitations. For example, animals may only be detected when vocalizing, 
species making directional vocalizations must vocalize towards the 
array to be detected, species identification and localization may be 
difficult, etc. However, we believe that for certain species and in 
appropriate environmental conditions it is a useful complement to 
visual monitoring during good sighting conditions and that it is the 
only meaningful monitoring technique during periods of poor visibility. 
Further detail regarding PAM system requirements may be found in the 
``Proposed Monitoring'' section, later in this document. The 
effectiveness of PAM depends to a certain extent on the equipment and 
methods used and competency of the PAM operator, but no established 
standards are currently in place. We do offer some specifications later 
in this document and each applicant has provided a PAM plan.
    Following protocols described by the New Zealand Department of 
Conservation for seismic surveys conducted in New Zealand waters (DOC, 
2013), survey activity may continue for brief periods of time when the 
PAM system malfunctions or is damaged. Activity may continue for 30 
minutes without PAM while the PAM operator diagnoses the issue. If the 
diagnosis indicates that the PAM system must be repaired to solve the 
problem, operations may continue for an additional two hours without 
acoustic monitoring under the following conditions:
     Daylight hours and sea state is less than or equal to 
Beaufort sea state (BSS) 4;
     No marine mammals (excluding small delphinoids; see below) 
detected solely by PAM in the exclusion zone (see below) in the 
previous two hours;
     NMFS is notified via email as soon as practicable with the 
time and location in which operations began without an active PAM 
system; and
     Operations with an active acoustic source, but without an 
operating PAM system, do not exceed a cumulative total of four hours in 
any 24-hour period.
    As noted previously, all source vessels must carry a minimum of one 
experienced visual PSO and one experienced PAM operator. Although a 
given PSO may carry out either visual PSO or PAM operator duties during 
a survey (assuming appropriate training),

[[Page 26252]]

the required experienced PSOs may not be the same person. The observer 
designated as lead PSO (including the full team of visual PSOs and PAM 
operators) must be an experienced visual PSO. The applicant may 
determine how many PSOs are required to adequately fulfill the 
requirements specified here. To summarize, these requirements are: (1) 
Separate experienced visual PSOs and PAM operators; (2) 24-hour 
acoustic monitoring during use of the acoustic source; (3) visual 
monitoring during use of the acoustic source by two PSOs during all 
daylight hours and during nighttime ramp-ups; (4) maximum of two 
consecutive hours on watch followed by a minimum of one hour off watch 
for visual PSOs and a maximum of four consecutive hours on watch 
followed by a minimum of two consecutive hours off watch for PAM 
operators; and (5) maximum of 12 hours of observational effort per 24-
hour period for any PSO, regardless of duties.

Buffer Zone and Exclusion Zone

    The PSOs shall establish and monitor a 500-m exclusion zone and a 
1,000-m buffer zone. These zones shall be based upon radial distance 
from any element of the airgun array (rather than being based on the 
center of the array or around the vessel itself). During use of the 
acoustic source, occurrence of marine mammals within the buffer zone 
(but outside the exclusion zone) should be communicated to the operator 
to prepare for the potential shutdown of the acoustic source. Use of 
the buffer zone in relation to ramp-up is discussed under ``Ramp-up.'' 
Further detail regarding the exclusion zone and shutdown requirements 
is given under ``Exclusion Zone and Shutdown Requirements.''

Ramp-Up

    Ramp-up of an acoustic source is intended to provide a gradual 
increase in sound levels, enabling animals to move away from the source 
if the signal is sufficiently aversive prior to its reaching full 
intensity. We infer on the basis of behavioral avoidance studies and 
observations that this measure results in some reduced potential for 
auditory injury and/or more severe behavioral reactions. Dunlop et al. 
(2016) studied the effect of ramp-up during a seismic airgun survey on 
migrating humpback whales, finding that although behavioral response 
indicating potential avoidance was observed, there was no evidence that 
ramp-up was more effective at causing aversion than was a constant 
source. Regardless, the majority of whale groups did avoid the source 
vessel at distances greater than the radius of most mitigation zones 
(Dunlop et al., 2016). Although this measure is not proven and some 
arguments have been made that use of ramp-up may not have the desired 
effect of aversion (which is itself a potentially negative impact 
assumed to be better than the alternative), ramp-up remains a 
relatively low cost, common sense component of standard mitigation. 
Ramp-up is most likely to be effective for more sensitive species 
(e.g., beaked whales) with known behavioral responses at greater 
distances from an acoustic source (e.g., Tyack et al., 2011; DeRuiter 
et al., 2013; Miller et al., 2015).
    The ramp-up procedure involves a step-wise increase in the number 
of airguns firing and total array volume until all operational airguns 
are activated and the full volume is achieved. Ramp-up is required at 
all times as part of the activation of the acoustic source (including 
source tests; see ``Miscellaneous Protocols'' for more detail) and may 
occur at times of poor visibility, assuming appropriate acoustic 
monitoring with no detections in the 30 minutes prior to beginning 
ramp-up. Acoustic source activation should only occur at night where 
operational planning cannot reasonably avoid such circumstances. For 
example, a nighttime initial ramp-up following port departure is 
reasonably avoidable and may not occur. Ramp-up may occur at night 
following acoustic source deactivation due to line turn or mechanical 
difficulty. The operator must notify a designated PSO of the planned 
start of ramp-up as agreed-upon with the lead PSO; the notification 
time should not be less than 60 minutes prior to the planned ramp-up. A 
designated PSO must be notified again immediately prior to initiating 
ramp-up procedures and the operator must receive confirmation from the 
PSO to proceed.
    Ramp-up procedures follow the recommendations of IAGC (2015). Ramp-
up would begin by activating a single airgun (i.e., array element) of 
the smallest volume in the array. Ramp-up continues in stages by 
doubling the number of active elements at the commencement of each 
stage, with each stage of approximately the same duration. Total 
duration should be approximately 20 minutes. There will generally be 
one stage in which doubling the number of elements is not possible 
because the total number is not even. This should be the last stage of 
the ramp-up sequence. These requirements may be modified on the basis 
of any new information presented that justifies a different protocol. 
The operator must provide information to the PSO documenting that 
appropriate procedures were followed. Ramp-ups should be scheduled so 
as to minimize the time spent with source activated prior to reaching 
the designated run-in. We adopt this approach to ramp-up (increments of 
array elements) because it is relatively simple to implement for the 
operator as compared with more complex schemes involving activation by 
increments of array volume, or activation on the basis of element 
location or size. Such approaches may also be more likely to result in 
irregular leaps in sound output due to variations in size between 
individual elements within an array and their geometric interaction as 
more elements are recruited. It may be argued whether smooth 
incremental increase is necessary, but stronger aversion than is 
necessary should be avoided. The approach proposed here is intended to 
ensure a perceptible increase in sound output per increment while 
employing increments that produce similar degrees of increase at each 
step.
    PSOs must monitor a 1,000-m buffer zone for a minimum of 30 minutes 
prior to ramp-up (i.e., pre-clearance). The pre-clearance period may 
occur during any vessel activity (i.e., transit, line turn). Ramp-up 
should be planned to occur during periods of good visibility when 
possible; operators should not target the period just after visual PSOs 
have gone off duty. Following deactivation of the source for reasons 
other than mitigation, the operator must communicate the near-term 
operational plan to the lead PSO with justification for any planned 
nighttime ramp-up. Any suspected patterns of abuse should be reported 
by the lead PSO and would be investigated by NMFS. Ramp-up may not be 
initiated if any marine mammal (including small delphinoids) is within 
the designated buffer zone. If a marine mammal is observed within the 
buffer zone during the pre-clearance period, ramp-up may not begin 
until the animal(s) has been observed exiting the buffer zone or until 
an additional time period has elapsed with no further sightings (i.e., 
15 minutes for small odontocetes and 30 minutes for all other species). 
PSOs will monitor the buffer zone during ramp-up, and ramp-up must 
cease and the source shut down upon observation of marine mammals 
within or approaching the buffer zone.

Exclusion Zone and Shutdown Requirements

    An exclusion zone is a defined area within which occurrence of a 
marine mammal triggers mitigation action intended to reduce potential 
for certain outcomes, e.g., auditory injury,

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disruption of critical behaviors. The PSOs must establish a minimum 
exclusion zone with a 500 m radius as a perimeter around the airgun 
array (rather than being centered on the array or around the vessel 
itself). If a marine mammal appears within, enters, or appears on a 
course to enter this zone, the acoustic source must be shut down (i.e., 
power to the acoustic source must be immediately turned off). If a 
marine mammal is detected acoustically, the acoustic source must be 
shut down, unless the PAM operator is confident that the animal 
detected is outside the exclusion zone or that the detected species is 
not subject to the shutdown requirement (see below).
    This shutdown requirement is in place for all marine mammals, with 
the exception of small delphinoids under certain circumstances. As 
defined here, the small delphinoid group is intended to encompass those 
members of the Family Delphinidae most likely to voluntarily approach 
the source vessel for purposes of interacting with the vessel and/or 
airgun array (e.g., bow riding). This exception to the shutdown 
requirement applies solely to specific genera of small dolphins--Steno, 
Tursiops, Stenella, Delphinus, Lagenodelphis, and Lagenorhynchus (see 
Table 4)--and only applies if the animals are traveling, including 
approaching the vessel. If, for example, an animal or group of animals 
is stationary for some reason (e.g., feeding) and the source vessel 
approaches the animals, the shutdown requirement applies. An animal 
with sufficient incentive to remain in an area rather than avoid an 
otherwise aversive stimulus could either incur auditory injury or 
disruption of important behavior. If there is uncertainty regarding 
identification (i.e., whether the observed animal(s) belongs to the 
group described above) or whether the animals are traveling, shutdown 
must be implemented. We do not require that a PSO determine the intent 
of the animal(s)--an inherently subjective proposition--but simply 
whether any potential intersection of the animal with the 500-m 
exclusion zone would be caused due to the vessel's approach towards 
relatively stationary animals.
    We propose this small delphinoid exception because a shutdown 
requirement for small delphinoids under all circumstances is of known 
concern regarding practicability for the applicant due to increased 
shutdowns, without likely commensurate benefit for the animals in 
question. Small delphinoids are generally the most commonly observed 
marine mammals in the specific geographic region and would typically be 
the only marine mammals likely to intentionally approach the vessel. As 
described below, auditory injury is extremely unlikely to occur for 
mid-frequency cetaceans (e.g., delphinids), as this group is relatively 
insensitive to sound produced at the predominant frequencies in an 
airgun pulse while also having a relatively high threshold for the 
onset of auditory injury (i.e., permanent threshold shift). Please see 
``Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals'' later 
in this document for further discussion of sound metrics and thresholds 
and marine mammal hearing. A large body of anecdotal evidence indicates 
that small delphinoids commonly approach vessels and/or towed arrays 
during active sound production for purposes of bow riding, with no 
apparent effect observed in those delphinoids (e.g., Barkaszi et al., 
2012). The increased shutdowns resulting from such a measure would 
require source vessels to revisit the missed track line to reacquire 
data, resulting in an overall increase in the total sound energy input 
to the marine environment and an increase in the total duration over 
which the survey is active in a given area. Although other mid-
frequency hearing specialists (e.g., large delphinoids) are no more 
likely to incur auditory injury than are small delphinoids, they are 
much less likely to approach vessels. Therefore, retaining a shutdown 
requirement for large delphinoids would not have similar impacts in 
terms of either practicability for the applicant or corollary increase 
in sound energy output and time on the water. We do anticipate some 
benefit for a shutdown requirement for large delphinoids in that it 
simplifies somewhat the total array of decision-making for PSOs and may 
preclude any potential for physiological effects other than to the 
auditory system as well as some more severe behavioral reactions for 
any such animals in close proximity to the source vessel.
    BOEM's PEIS (BOEM, 2014a) provided modeling results for auditory 
injury zones on the basis of auditory injury criteria described by 
Southall et al. (2007). These zones were less than 10 m on the basis of 
maximum peak pressure, and a maximum of 18 m on the basis of cumulative 
sound exposure level (including application of relevant M-weighting 
filters). However, the recent finalization of NMFS's new technical 
acoustic guidance made these predictions irrelevant (NMFS, 2016). We 
calculated potential radial distances to auditory injury zones on the 
basis of maximum peak pressure using values provided by the applicants 
(Table 1) and assuming a simple model of spherical spreading 
propagation. These are as follows: Low-frequency cetaceans, 50-224 m; 
mid-frequency cetaceans, 14-63 m; and high-frequency cetaceans, 355-
1,585 m. The 500-m radial distance of the standard exclusion zone is 
intended to be precautionary in the sense that it would be expected to 
contain sound exceeding peak pressure injury criteria for all hearing 
groups other than high-frequency cetaceans, while also providing a 
consistent, reasonably observable zone within which PSOs would 
typically be able to conduct effective observational effort. Although 
significantly greater distances may be observed from an elevated 
platform under good conditions, we believe that 500 m is likely 
regularly attainable for PSOs using the naked eye during typical 
conditions.
    An appropriate exclusion zone based on cumulative sound exposure 
level (cSEL) criteria would be dependent on the animal's applied 
hearing range and how that overlaps with the frequencies produced by 
the sound source of interest (i.e., via marine mammal auditory 
weighting functions) (NMFS, 2016), and may be larger in some cases than 
the zones calculated on the basis of the peak pressure thresholds (and 
larger than 500 m) depending on the species in question and the 
characteristics of the specific airgun array. In particular, it is 
likely that exclusion zone radii would be larger for low-frequency 
cetaceans, because their most susceptible hearing range overlaps the 
low frequencies produced by airguns, but that the zones would remain 
very small for mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., including the ``small 
delphinoids'' described above), whose range of best hearing largely 
does not overlap with frequencies produced by airguns. In order to more 
realistically incorporate the technical guidance's weighting functions 
over a seismic array's full acoustic band, we obtained unweighted 
spectrum data (modeled in 1 Hz bands) for a reasonably equivalent 
acoustic source (i.e., a 36-airgun array with total volume of 6,600 
in\3\. Using these data, we made adjustments (dB) to the unweighted 
spectrum levels, by frequency, according to the weighting functions for 
each relevant marine mammal hearing group. We then converted these 
adjusted/weighted spectrum levels to pressures (micropascals) in order 
to integrate them over the entire broadband spectrum, resulting in 
broadband weighted source levels by hearing group that could be 
directly incorporated within NMFS's

[[Page 26254]]

User Spreadsheet (i.e., override the Spreadsheet's more simple 
weighting factor adjustment). Using the User Spreadsheet's ``safe 
distance'' methodology for mobile sources (described by Sivle et al., 
2014) with the hearing group-specific weighted source levels, and 
inputs assuming spherical spreading propagation, a source velocity of 
4.5 kn, shot intervals specified by the applicants, and pulse duration 
of 100 ms, we then calculated potential radial distances to auditory 
injury zones. These distances were smaller than those calculated on the 
basis of the peak pressure criterion, with the exception of the low-
frequency cetacean hearing group (calculated zones range from 80-4,766 
m). Therefore, our proposed 500-m exclusion zone contains the entirety 
of any potential injury zone for mid-frequency cetaceans, while the 
zones within which injury could occur may be larger for high-frequency 
cetaceans (on the basis of peak pressure and depending on the specific 
array) and for low-frequency cetaceans (on the basis of cumulative 
sound exposure). Only three species of high-frequency cetacean could 
occur in the proposed survey areas: the harbor porpoise and two species 
of the Family Kogiidae. Harbor porpoise are expected to occur rarely 
and only in the northern portion of the survey area. However, we 
propose a shutdown measure for Kogia spp. to address these potential 
injury concerns (described later in this section).
    However, it is important to note that consideration of exclusion 
zone distances is inherently an essentially instantaneous proposition--
a rule or set of rules that requires mitigation action upon detection 
of an animal. This indicates that consideration of peak pressure 
thresholds is most relevant, as compared with cumulative sound exposure 
level thresholds, as the latter requires that an animal accumulate some 
level of sound energy exposure over some period of time (e.g., 24 
hours). A PSO aboard a mobile source will typically have no ability to 
monitor an animal's position relative to the acoustic source over 
relevant time periods for purposes of understanding whether auditory 
injury is likely to occur on the basis of cumulative sound exposure 
and, therefore, whether action should be taken to avoid such potential. 
Therefore, definition of an exclusion zone based on cSEL thresholds is 
of questionable relevance given relative motion of the source and 
receiver (i.e., the animal). Cumulative SEL thresholds are likely more 
relevant for purposes of modeling the potential for auditory injury 
than they are for informing real-time mitigation. We recognize the 
importance of the accumulation of sound energy to an understanding of 
the potential for auditory injury and that it is likely that, at least 
for low-frequency and high-frequency cetaceans, some potential auditory 
injury is likely impossible to mitigate and should be considered for 
authorization.
    In summary, our intent in prescribing a standard exclusion zone 
distance is to (1) encompass zones for most species within which 
auditory injury could occur on the basis of instantaneous exposure; (2) 
provide additional protection from the potential for more severe 
behavioral reactions (e.g., panic, antipredator response) for marine 
mammals at relatively close range to the acoustic source; (3) provide 
consistency for PSOs, who need to monitor and implement the exclusion 
zone; and (4) to define a distance within which detection probabilities 
are reasonably high for most species under typical conditions. Our use 
of 500 m as the zone is not based directly on any quantitative 
understanding of the range at which auditory injury would be entirely 
precluded or any range specifically related to disruption of behavioral 
patterns. Rather, we believe it is a reasonable combination of factors. 
This zone would contain all potential auditory injury for mid-frequency 
cetaceans, would contain all potential auditory injury for both low- 
and mid-frequency cetaceans as assessed against peak pressure 
thresholds (NMFS, 2016), and has been proven as a feasible measure 
through past implementation by operators in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM; as 
regulated by BOEM pursuant to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act 
(OCSLA) (43 U.S.C. 1331-1356)). In summary, a practicable criterion 
such as this has the advantage of familiarity and simplicity while 
still providing in most cases a zone larger than relevant auditory 
injury zones, given realistic movement of source and receiver. 
Increased shutdowns, without a firm idea of the outcome the measure 
seeks to avoid, simply displace seismic activity in time and increase 
the total duration of acoustic influence as well as total sound energy 
in the water (due to additional ramp-up and overlap where data 
acquisition was interrupted).
    Shutdown of the acoustic source is also required (at any distance) 
in other circumstances:
     Upon observation of a right whale at any distance. Recent 
data concerning the North Atlantic right whale, one of the most 
endangered whale species (Best et al., 2001), indicate uncertainty 
regarding the population's recovery and a possibility of decline (Kraus 
et al., 2005; Waring et al., 2016; Pettis and Hamilton, 2016). We 
believe it appropriate to eliminate potential effects to individual 
right whales to the extent possible.
     For TGS only, due to a high predicted amount of exposures 
(Table 10), we propose that shutdown be required upon observation of a 
fin whale at any distance. If the observed fin whale is within the 
behavioral harassment zone, it would still be considered to have 
experienced harassment, but by immediately shutting down the acoustic 
source the duration of harassment is minimized and the significance of 
the harassment event reduced as much as possible. This measure is not 
proposed for implementation by Spectrum, ION, CGG, or Western.
     Upon observation of a large whale (i.e., sperm whale or 
any baleen whale) with calf at any distance, with ``calf'' defined as 
an animal less than two-thirds the body size of an adult observed to be 
in close association with an adult. Disturbance of cow-calf pairs, for 
example, could potentially result in separation of vulnerable calves 
from adults. Given the endangered status of most large whale species 
and the difficulty of correctly identifying some rorquals at greater 
distances, as well as the functional sensitivity of the mysticete 
whales to frequencies associated with the subject geophysical survey 
activity, we believe this measure is necessary.
     Upon observation of a diving sperm whale at any distance 
centered on the forward track of the source vessel. Disturbance of 
deep-diving species such as sperm whales could result in avoidance 
behavior such as diving and, given their diving capabilities, it is 
possible that the vessel's course could take it closer to the submerged 
animals. As noted by Weir and Dolman (2007), a whale diving ahead of 
the source vessel within 2 km may remain on the vessel trackline until 
the ship approaches the whale's position before beginning horizontal 
movement. If undetected by PAM, it is possible that a shutdown might 
not be triggered and a severe behavioral response caused.
     Upon any observation (visual or acoustic) of a beaked 
whale or Kogia spp. Similar to the sperm whale measure described above, 
these species are deep divers and it is possible that disturbance could 
provoke a severe behavioral response leading to injury. Unlike the 
sperm whale, we recognize that there are generally low detection 
probabilities for beaked whales and Kogia spp., meaning that many 
animals of these species may go undetected. For

[[Page 26255]]

example, Barlow and Gisiner (2006) predict a roughly 24-48 percent 
reduction in the probability of detecting beaked whales during seismic 
mitigation monitoring efforts as compared with typical research survey 
efforts (Barlow (1999) estimates such probabilities at 0.23 to 0.45 for 
Cuvier's and Mesoplodont beaked whales, respectively). Similar 
detection probabilities have been noted for Kogia spp., though they 
typically travel in smaller groups and are less vocal, thus making 
detection more difficult (Barlow and Forney, 2007). As discussed later 
in this document (see ``Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment''), 
there are high levels of predicted exposures for beaked whales in 
particular. Because it is likely that only a small proportion of beaked 
whales and Kogia spp. potentially affected by the proposed surveys 
would actually be detected, it is important to avoid potential impacts 
when possible. Additionally for Kogia spp.--the one species of high-
frequency cetacean likely to be encountered--auditory injury zones 
relative to peak pressure thresholds may range from approximately 350-
1,500 m from the acoustic source, depending on the specific array 
characteristics (NMFS, 2016).
     Upon observation of an aggregation of marine mammals of 
any species that does not appear to be traveling. Under these 
circumstances, we assume that the animals are engaged in some important 
behavior (e.g., feeding, socializing) that should not be disturbed. By 
convention, we define an aggregation as six or more animals. This 
definition may be modified on the basis of any new information 
presented that justifies a different assumption.
    Any PSO on duty has the authority to delay the start of survey 
operations or to call for shutdown of the acoustic source (visual PSOs 
on duty should be in agreement on the need for delay or shutdown before 
requiring such action). When shutdown is called for by a PSO, the 
acoustic source must be immediately deactivated and any dispute 
resolved only following deactivation. The operator must establish and 
maintain clear lines of communication directly between PSOs on duty and 
crew controlling the acoustic source to ensure that shutdown commands 
are conveyed swiftly while allowing PSOs to maintain watch; hand-held 
UHF radios are recommended. When both visual PSOs and PAM operators are 
on duty, all detections must be immediately communicated to the 
remainder of the on-duty team for potential verification of visual 
observations by the PAM operator or of acoustic detections by visual 
PSOs and initiation of dialogue as necessary. When there is certainty 
regarding the need for mitigation action on the basis of either visual 
or acoustic detection alone, the relevant PSO(s) must call for such 
action immediately. When only the PAM operator is on duty and a 
detection is made, if there is uncertainty regarding species 
identification or distance to the vocalizing animal(s), the acoustic 
source must be shut down as a precaution.
    Upon implementation of shutdown, the source may be reactivated 
after the animal(s) has been observed exiting the exclusion zone or 
following a 30-minute clearance period with no further observation of 
the animal(s). Where there is no relevant zone (e.g., shutdowns at any 
distance), a 30-minute clearance period must be observed following the 
last observation of the animal(s). We recognize that BOEM may require a 
longer clearance period (e.g., 60 minutes). However, at typical survey 
speed of approximately 4.5 kn, the vessel would cover greater than 4 km 
during the 30-minute clearance period. Although some deep-diving 
species are capable of remaining submerged for periods up to an hour, 
it is unlikely that they would do so both while experiencing potential 
adverse reaction to the acoustic stimulus and remaining within the 
exclusion zone of the moving vessel. Extending the clearance period 
would not appreciably increase the likelihood of detecting the animals 
prior to reactivating the acoustic source.
    If the acoustic source is shut down for reasons other than 
mitigation (e.g., mechanical difficulty) for brief periods (i.e., less 
than 30 minutes), it may be activated again without ramp-up if PSOs 
have maintained constant visual and acoustic observation and no visual 
detections of any marine mammal have occurred within the exclusion zone 
and no acoustic detections have occurred. We define ``brief periods'' 
in keeping with other clearance watch periods and to avoid unnecessary 
complexity in protocols for PSOs. For any longer shutdown (e.g., during 
line turns), pre-clearance watch and ramp-up are required. For any 
shutdown at night or in periods of poor visibility (e.g., BSS 4 or 
greater), ramp-up is required but if the shutdown period was brief and 
constant observation maintained, pre-clearance watch is not required.

Power-Down

    Power-down can be used either as a reverse ramp-up or may simply 
involve reducing the array to a single element or ``mitigation 
source,'' and has been allowed in past MMPA authorizations as a 
substitute for full shutdown. We address use of a mitigation source 
below. In a power-down scenario, it is assumed that turning off power 
to individual array elements reduces the size of the ensonified area 
such that an observed animal is then outside some designated area. 
However, we have no information as to the effect of powering down the 
array on the resulting sound field. In 2012, NMFS and BOEM held a 
monitoring and mitigation workshop focused on seismic survey activity. 
Industry representatives indicated that the end result may ultimately 
be increased sound input to the marine environment due to the need to 
re-shoot the trackline to prevent gaps in data acquisition (unpublished 
workshop report, 2012). For this reason and because a power-down may 
not actually be useful, our proposal requires full shutdown in all 
applicable circumstances; power-down is not allowed.

Mitigation Source

    Mitigation sources may be separate individual airguns or may be an 
airgun of the smallest volume in the array, and are often used when the 
full array is not being used (e.g., during line turns) in order to 
allow ramp-up during poor visibility. The general premise is that this 
lower-intensity source, if operated continuously, would be sufficiently 
aversive to marine mammals to ensure that they are not within an 
exclusion zone, and therefore, ramp-up may occur at times when pre-
clearance visual watch is minimally effective. There is no information 
to suggest that this is an effective protective strategy, yet we are 
certain that this technique involves input of extraneous sound energy 
into the marine environment, even when use of the mitigation source is 
limited to some maximum time period. For these reasons, we do not 
believe use of the mitigation source is appropriate and do not propose 
to allow its use. However, as noted above, ramp-up may occur under 
periods of poor visibility assuming that no acoustic or visual 
detections are made during a 30-minute pre-clearance period. This is a 
change from how mitigation sources have been considered in the past in 
that the visual pre-clearance period is typically assumed to be highly 
effective during good visibility conditions and viewed as critical to 
avoiding auditory injury and, therefore, maintaining some likelihood of 
aversion through use of mitigation sources during poor visibility 
conditions is valuable.
    In light of the available information, we think it more appropriate 
to acknowledge the limitations of visual observations--even under good

[[Page 26256]]

conditions, not all animals will be observed and cryptic species may 
not be observed at all--and recognize that while visual observation is 
a common sense mitigation measure its presence should not be 
determinative of when survey effort may occur. Given the lack of proven 
efficacy of visual observation in preventing auditory injury, its 
absence should not imply such potentially detrimental impacts on marine 
mammals, nor should use of a mitigation source be deemed a sensible 
substitute component of seismic mitigation protocols. We also believe 
that consideration of mitigation sources in the past has reflected an 
outdated balance, in which the possible prevention of relatively few 
instances of auditory injury is outweighed by many more instances of 
unnecessary behavioral disturbance of animals and degradation of 
acoustic habitat.

Miscellaneous Protocols

    The acoustic source must be deactivated when not acquiring data or 
preparing to acquire data, except as necessary for testing. Unnecessary 
use of the acoustic source should be avoided. Firing of the acoustic 
source at any volume above the stated production volume is not 
authorized for these proposed IHAs; the operator must provide 
information to the lead PSO at regular intervals confirming the firing 
volume.
    Testing of the acoustic source involving all elements requires 
normal mitigation protocols (e.g., ramp-up). Testing limited to 
individual source elements or strings does not require ramp-up but does 
require pre-clearance.
    We encourage the applicant companies and operators to pursue the 
following objectives in designing, tuning, and operating acoustic 
sources: (1) Use the minimum amount of energy necessary to achieve 
operational objectives (i.e., lowest practicable source level); (2) 
minimize horizontal propagation of sound energy; and (3) minimize the 
amount of energy at frequencies above those necessary for the purpose 
of the survey. However, we are not aware of available specific measures 
by which to achieve such certifications. In fact, BOEM recently 
announced that an expert panel convened to determine whether it would 
be feasible to develop standards to determine a lowest practicable 
source level has determined that it would not be reasonable or 
practicable to develop such metrics (see Appendix L in BOEM, 2016b). 
Minimizing production of sound at frequencies higher than are necessary 
would likely require design, testing, and use of wholly different 
airguns than are proposed for use by the applicants. At minimum, 
notified operational capacity (not including redundant backup airguns) 
must not be exceeded during the survey, except where unavoidable for 
source testing and calibration purposes. All occasions where activated 
source volume exceeds notified operational capacity must be noticed to 
the PSO(s) on duty and fully documented for reporting. The lead PSO 
must be granted access to relevant instrumentation documenting acoustic 
source power and/or operational volume.
    There has been some attention paid to the establishment of minimum 
separation distances between operating source vessels, and BOEM may 
require a minimum 40-km geographic separation distance (BOEM, 2014b). 
The premise regarding this measure is either to provide a relatively 
noise-free corridor between vessels conducting simultaneous surveys 
such that animals may pass through rather than traveling larger 
distances to go around the source vessels or to reduce the cumulative 
sound exposure for an animal in a given location. There is no 
information supporting the effectiveness of this measure, and 
participants in a 2012 monitoring and mitigation workshop focused on 
seismic survey activity held by NMFS and BOEM were skeptical regarding 
potential efficacy of this measure (unpublished workshop report, 2012). 
Unintended consequences were a concern of some participants, including 
the possibility that converging sound fields could confuse animals and/
or prevent egress from an area. In fact, it may be more effective as a 
protective measure to group acoustic sources as closely together as 
possible, in which case the SEL exposure would not be appreciably 
louder and an animal would have a better chance of avoiding exposure 
than through the supposed corridor (thus also potentially shortening 
total duration of sound exposure).
    The desired effect of such a measure is too speculative and would 
impose additional burden on applicants. Therefore, we do not propose to 
require any minimum separation distance between source vessels. 
Operators do typically maintain a minimum separation of about 17.5 km 
between concurrent surveys to avoid interference (i.e., overlapping 
reflections received from multiple source arrays) (BOEM, 2014a). As 
noted previously, TGS (the only company proposing to use two source 
vessels) plans to maintain a minimum separation of approximately 100 km 
between their own source vessels.

Closure Areas

    Coastal Restriction--No seismic survey effort may occur within 30 
km of the coast. The intent of this restriction is to provide 
additional protection for coastal stocks of bottlenose dolphin, all of 
which are designated as depleted under the MMPA because they were 
determined to be below their optimum sustainable population level 
(i.e., the number of animals that will result in the maximum 
productivity of the population, keeping in mind the carrying capacity 
of their ecosystem). Already designated as depleted, an Unusual 
Mortality Event (UME) affected bottlenose dolphins along the Atlantic 
coast, from New York to Florida, from 2013-15. Genetic analyses 
performed to date indicate that 99 percent of dolphins impacted were of 
the coastal ecotype, which may be expected to typically occur within 20 
km of the coast. A 10 km buffer is provided to encompass the area 
within which sound exceeding 160 dB rms would reasonably be expected to 
occur (see additional discussion in next section). Further discussion 
of this UME is provided under ``Description of Marine Mammals in the 
Area of the Specified Activity,'' later in this document.
    The coastal form of bottlenose dolphin is known to occur further 
offshore than 20 km, but available information suggests that exclusion 
of harassing sound from a 20 km coastal zone would avoid the vast 
majority of impacts. There is generally a discontinuity in bottlenose 
dolphin distribution between nearshore areas inhabited by coastal 
ecotype dolphins and the deeper offshore waters inhabited by offshore 
ecotype dolphins (Kenney, 1990; Roberts et al., 2016), with some 
possibility that this discontinuity represents habitat partitioning 
between bottlenose dolphins and Atlantic spotted dolphins (which occur 
in high density on the shelf in areas where there is generally low 
density of bottlenose dolphin). The separation between offshore and 
coastal morphotypes varies depending on location and season, with the 
ranges overlapping to some degree south of Cape Hatteras. Coastwide, 
systematic biopsy collection surveys were conducted during the summer 
and winter to evaluate the degree of spatial overlap between the two 
morphotypes. North of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, there was a clear 
discontinuity with coastal ecotype dolphins found in waters less than 
20 m depth and offshore ecotype dolphins found in waters greater than 
40 m depth. South of Cape Lookout, spatial overlap was

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found although the probability of a sampled group being from the 
coastal ecotype decreased with increasing depth (Garrison et al., 
2003). Prior to these surveys, coastal ecotype dolphins were 
provisionally assumed to occur within a spatial boundary of 27 km from 
shore for the region south of Cape Hatteras during winter and a 
boundary of 12 km from shore for the region north of Cape Hatteras 
during summer (Garrison, 2001 in Garrison et al., 2003). Here, we adopt 
a coastwide 20 km spatial boundary for simplicity and under the 
assumption that it would contain the vast majority of coastal 
bottlenose dolphins.
    Proposal of this measure should not be interpreted as NMFS's 
determination that harassment of coastal bottlenose dolphins cannot be 
authorized. However, when considering the likely benefit to the species 
against the impact to applicants, we believe that inclusion of this 
measure is warranted. Approximately 1,650 dolphin carcasses were 
recovered during the UME, and it is likely that many more dolphins died 
whose carcasses were not recovered. Considering just the known dead 
could represent greater than five percent of the pre-UME abundance for 
all coastal ecotype dolphins within the affected area. Ongoing areas of 
research related to the UME include understanding its impacts on the 
status of the affected stocks, as well as continuing monitoring and 
modeling designed to inform understanding of impacts on the surviving 
population. Given this uncertainty, a precautionary approach is 
warranted. We note that three applicants, Spectrum, CGG, and Western, 
do not propose to conduct survey effort within 30 km of the coast, and 
effort within 30 km for the other two applicants would represent a 
small fraction of overall survey effort.
    North Atlantic Right Whale--We propose seasonal restriction of 
survey effort such that particular areas of expected importance for 
North Atlantic right whales are not ensonified by levels of sound 
expected to result in behavioral harassment, including designated 
critical habitat, vessel speed limit seasonal management areas (SMAs), 
a coastal strip containing SMAs, and vessel speed limit dynamic 
management areas (DMAs). Although right whales may also use areas 
farther offshore, these areas are expected to provide substantial 
protection of right whales within the migratory corridor and calving 
and nursery grounds and, when coupled with the absolute shutdown 
provision described previously for right whales, may reasonably be 
expected to eliminate most potential for behavioral harassment of right 
whales.
    The North Atlantic right whale was severely depleted by historical 
whaling, and currently has a small population abundance (i.e., less 
than 500 individuals) that is considered to be extremely low relative 
to the optimum sustainable population (Waring et al., 2016). Surveys in 
recent years have detected an important shift in habitat use patterns, 
with fewer whales observed in feeding areas and counts for calves and 
adults on the southeastern calving grounds the lowest recorded since 
those surveys began (Waring et al., 2016). At the same time, the 
current estimate of the minimum number of whales alive (as described in 
NMFS's draft 2016 stock assessment report) suggests that abundance has 
declined. While the authors caution that this apparent decrease should 
be interpreted with caution and in conjunction with apparent shifts in 
habitat use, it is possible that the population has declined. An 
increased number of carcasses were recovered in 2004-05, including six 
adult females. Kraus et al. (2005) determined that this mortality rate 
increase would reduce population growth by approximately ten percent 
per year, a trend not detected in subsequent years. Furthermore, the 
current annual estimate of anthropogenic mortality is over five times 
the potential biological removal level (see ``Description of Marine 
Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity'' for further discussion 
of these concepts). The small population size and low annual 
reproductive rate of right whales suggest that human sources of 
mortality may have a greater effect relative to population growth rates 
than for other whales (Waring et al., 2016). Given these 
considerations, and the likelihood that any disturbance of right whales 
is consequential, here we take a precautionary approach to mitigation.
    Mid-Atlantic SMAs for vessel speed limits are in effect from 
November 1 through April 30, while southeast SMAs are in effect from 
November 15 through April 15 (see 50 CFR 224.105). However, as a 
precautionary approach all areas discussed here for proposed mitigation 
would be in effect from November 1 through April 30. Because we intend 
to use these areas to reduce the likelihood of exposing right whales to 
noise from airgun arrays that might result in harassment, we require 
that source vessels maintain a minimum standoff of 10 km from the area. 
Sound propagation modeling results provided for a notional large airgun 
array in BOEM's PEIS indicate that a 10 km distance would likely 
contain received levels of sound exceeding 160 dB rms under a wide 
variety of conditions (e.g., 21 scenarios encompassing four depth 
regimes, four seasons, two bottom types). See Appendix D of BOEM's PEIS 
for more detail. The 95 percent ranges (i.e., the radius of a circle 
encompassing 95 percent of grid points equal to or greater than the 160 
dB threshold value) provided in Table D-22 of BOEM's PEIS range from 
4,959-9,122 m, with mean of 6,838 m. Restricting scenario results to 
fall/winter and water depths <1,000 m reduces the number of relevant 
scenarios to six, with the range of radial distances from 8,083-8,896 m 
(mean of 8,454 m).
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    The portion of critical habitat within the proposed survey area 
includes nearshore and offshore waters of the southeastern U.S., 
extending from Cape Fear, North Carolina south to 28[deg] N. The 
specific area designated as critical habitat, as defined by regulation 
(81 FR 4838; January 27, 2016), is demarcated by rhumb lines connecting 
the specific points identified in Table 2. This area is depicted in 
Figure 2, and the restriction on survey effort within 10 km of this 
area would be in effect from November

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through April, when right whales are known to use the area.
    A coastal strip containing all SMAs would also be avoided by a 
minimum standoff distance of 10 km, as would DMAs. These are areas in 
which right whales are likely to be present when such areas are in 
effect; mandatory or voluntary speed restrictions for certain vessels 
are in place in these areas respectively when in effect to reduce the 
risk of ship strike. Because these areas are intended to reduce the 
risk of ship strike involving right whales, they are designated in 
consideration of both right whale presence during migratory periods and 
commercial shipping traffic. Our concern is not limited to ship strike; 
therefore the standoff areas based on the SMAs are extended to a 
continuous coastal strip with a 10 km buffer. Mid-Atlantic SMAs (from 
Delaware to northern Georgia) are intended to protect whales on the 
migratory route and are generally defined as a 20 nmi (37 km) radial 
distance around the entrance to certain ports. Therefore, no survey 
effort may occur within 47 km of the coast between November and April. 
This strip is superseded where either designated critical habitat or 
the southeast SMA provides a larger restricted area. The southeast SMA, 
intended to protect whales on the calving and nursery grounds, includes 
the area bounded to the north by 31[deg]27' N., to the south by 
29[deg]45' N., and to the east by 80[deg]51'36'' W. No survey effort 
may occur within 10 km of this area between November and April. The 
combined area of our proposed restriction--composed of the greater of 
designated critical habitat, the 20 nmi coastal strip, and the 
southeastern SMA (all buffered by 10 km)--is depicted in Figure 3.

  Table 2--Boundaries of Designated Critical Habitat for North Atlantic
                              Right Whales
------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Latitude          Longitude          Latitude          Longitude
------------------------------------------------------------------------
33[deg]51' N.     At shoreline       29[deg]08' N.     80[deg]51' W.
33[deg]42' N.     77[deg]43' W.      28[deg]50' N.     80[deg]39' W.
33[deg]37' N.     77[deg]47' W.      28[deg]38' N.     80[deg]30' W.
33[deg]28' N.     78[deg]33' W.      28[deg]28' N.     80[deg]26' W.
32[deg]59' N.     78[deg]50' W.      28[deg]24' N.     80[deg]27' W.
32[deg]17' N.     79[deg]53' W.      28[deg]21' N.     80[deg]31' W.
31[deg]31' N.     80[deg]33' W.      28[deg]16' N.     80[deg]31' W.
30[deg]43' N.     80[deg]49' W.      28[deg]11' N.     80[deg]33' W.
30[deg]30' N.     81[deg]01' W.      28[deg]00' N.     80[deg]29' W.
29[deg]45' N.     81[deg]01' W.      28[deg]00' N.     At shoreline.
29[deg]15' N.     80[deg]55' W.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reproduced from 50 CFR 226.203(b)(2).

    DMAs are also associated with a scheme established by the final 
rule for vessel speed limits (73 FR 60173; October 10, 2008; extended 
by 78 FR 73726; December 9, 2013) to reduce the risk of ship strike for 
right whales. In association with those regulations, NMFS established a 
program whereby vessels are requested, but not required, to abide by 
speed restrictions or avoid locations when certain aggregations of 
right whales are detected outside SMAs. Generally, the DMA construct is 
intended to acknowledge that right whales can occur outside of areas 
where they predictably and consistently occur due to, e.g., varying 
oceanographic conditions that dictate prey concentrations. NMFS 
establishes DMAs by surveying right whale habitat and, when a specific 
aggregation is sighted, creating a temporary zone (i.e., DMA) around 
the aggregation. DMAs are in effect for 15 days when designated and 
automatically expire at the end of the period, but may be extended if 
whales are re-sighted in the same area.
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    Designation of DMAs follows certain protocols identified in 73 FR 
60173 (October 10, 2008):
    1. A circle with a radius of at least 3 nmi (5.6 km) is drawn 
around each observed group. This radius is adjusted for the number of 
right whales seen in the group such that the density of four right 
whales per 100 nmi\2\ (185 km\2\) is maintained. The length of the 
radius is determined by taking the inverse of the four right whales per 
100 nmi\2\ density (24 nmi\2\ per whale). That figure is

[[Page 26261]]

equivalent to an effective radial distance of 3 nmi for a single right 
whale sighted, 4 nmi for two whales, 5 nmi for three whales, etc.
    2. If any circle or group of contiguous circles includes three or 
more right whales, this core area and its surrounding waters become a 
candidate temporary zone. After NMFS identifies a core area containing 
three or more right whales, as described here, it will expand this 
initial core area to provide a buffer area in which the right whales 
could move and still be protected.
    NMFS determines the extent of the DMA zone by:
    3. Establishing a 15-nmi (27.8-km) radius from the sighting 
location used to draw a larger circular zone around each core area 
encompassing a concentration of right whales. The sighting location is 
the geographic center of all sightings on the first day of an event; 
and
    4. Identifying latitude and longitude lines drawn outside but 
tangential to the circular buffer zone(s).
    NMFS issues announcements of DMAs to mariners via its customary 
maritime communication media (e.g., NOAA Weather radio, Web sites, 
email and fax distribution lists) and any other available media 
outlets. Information on the possibility of establishment of such zones 
is provided to mariners through written media such as U.S. Coast Pilots 
and Notice to Mariners including, in particular, information on the 
media mariners should monitor for notification of the establishment of 
a DMA. Upon notice via the above media of DMA designation, survey 
operators must cease operation if within 10 km of the boundary of a 
designated DMA and may not conduct survey operations within 10 km of a 
designated DMA during the period in which the DMA is active. It is the 
responsibility of the survey operators to monitor appropriate media and 
to be aware of designated DMAs.
    Proposal of this measure should not be interpreted as NMFS's 
determination that harassment of right whales cannot be authorized. 
However, when considering the current status of the species, likely 
benefit of the measure to the species, and likely impact to applicants, 
we believe that inclusion of this measure is warranted.
    Other Species--Predicted acoustic exposures are moderate to high 
for certain potentially affected marine mammal species (see Table 10) 
and, regardless of the absolute numbers of predicted exposures, the 
scope of proposed activities (i.e., proposed survey activity throughout 
substantial portions of many species range and for substantial portions 
of the year) gives rise to concern regarding the impact on certain 
potentially affected stocks. Therefore, we take the necessary step of 
identifying additional spatiotemporal restrictions on survey effort, as 
described here (Figure 4 and Table 3). Our qualitative assessment leads 
us to believe that implementation of these measures is expected to 
provide both meaningful control on the numbers of animals affected as 
well as biologically meaningful benefit for the affected animals by 
restricting survey activity and the effects of the sound produced in 
areas of residency and/or preferred habitat that support higher 
densities for the stocks during substantial portions of the year.
    The restrictions described here are primarily targeted towards 
protection of sperm whales, beaked whales (i.e., Cuvier's beaked whale 
or Mesoplodon spp. but not the northern bottlenose whale; see 
``Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified 
Activity''), Atlantic spotted dolphin, and pilot whales. For all four 
species or guilds, the amount of predicted exposures is moderate to 
high. For the Atlantic spotted dolphin, our impetus in delineating a 
restriction on survey effort is solely due to this high amount of 
predicted exposures to survey noise. For other species, the moderate to 
high amount of predicted exposures in conjunction with other contextual 
elements provides the impetus to develop appropriate restrictions. 
Beaked whales are considered to be a particularly acoustically 
sensitive species. The sperm whale is an endangered species, also 
considered to be acoustically sensitive and potentially subject to 
significant disturbance of important foraging behavior. Pilot whale 
populations in U.S. waters of the Atlantic are considered vulnerable 
due to high levels of mortality in commercial fisheries, and are 
therefore likely to be less resilient to other stressors, such as 
disturbance from the proposed surveys.
    In some cases, we expect substantial subsidiary benefit for 
additional species that also find preferred habitat in the designated 
area of restriction. In particular, Area #5 (Figure 4), although 
delineated in order to specifically provide an area of anticipated 
benefit to beaked whales, sperm whales, and pilot whales, is expected 
to host a diverse cetacean fauna (e.g., McAlarney et al., 2015). Our 
analysis (described below) indicates that species most likely to derive 
subsidiary benefit from this time-area restriction include the 
bottlenose dolphin, Risso's dolphin, and common dolphin. For species 
with density predicted through stratified models, similar analysis is 
not possible and assumptions regarding potential benefit of time-area 
restrictions are based on known ecology of the species and sightings 
patterns and are less robust. Nevertheless, subsidiary benefit for 
Areas #2-4 (Figure 4) should be expected for species known to be 
present in these areas (e.g., assumed affinity for slope/abyss areas 
off Cape Hatteras): Kogia spp., pantropical spotted dolphin, Clymene 
dolphin, and rough-toothed dolphin.
    In order to consider potential restriction of survey effort in time 
and space, we considered the outputs of habitat-based predictive 
density models (Roberts et al., 2016) as well as available information 
concerning focused marine mammal studies within the proposed survey 
areas, e.g., photo-identification, telemetry, acoustic monitoring. The 
latter information was used primarily to provide verification for some 
of the areas and times considered, and helps to confirm that areas of 
high predicted density are in fact preferred habitat for these species. 
Please see ``Marine Mammal Density Information,'' later in this 
document, for a full description of the density models. We used the 
density model outputs by creating core abundance areas, i.e., an area 
that contains some percentage of predicted abundance for a given 
species or species group. The purpose of a core abundance area is to 
represent the smallest area containing some percentage of the predicted 
abundance of each species. Summing all the cells (pixels) in the 
species distribution product gives the total predicted abundance. Core 
area is calculated by ranking cells by their abundance value from 
greatest to least, then summing cells with the highest abundance values 
until the total is equal to or greater than the specified percentage of 
the total predicted abundance. For example, if a 50 percent core 
abundance area is produced, half of the predicted abundance falls 
within the identified core area, and half occurs outside of it. In 
creating core abundance areas, we considered data outputs over the 
entire Atlantic coast scale rather than limiting to the proposed survey 
areas. This is appropriate because we are concerned with impacts to a 
stock as a whole, and therefore were interested in core abundance based 
on total predicted abundance rather than just abundance predicted over 
some subset of a stock's range. We were not able to consider core 
abundance areas for species with stratified models showing uniform 
density; however, this information informs us as to whether those 
species may receive subsidiary

[[Page 26262]]

benefit from a given time-area restriction.
    To determine core abundance areas, we follow a three-step process:
     Determine the predicted total abundance of a species/time 
period by adding up all cells of the density raster (grid) for the 
species/time period. For the Roberts et al. (2016) density rasters, 
density is specified as the number of animals per 100 km\2\ cell.
     Sort the cells of the species/time period density raster 
from highest density to the lowest.
     Sum and select the raster cells from highest to lowest 
until a certain percentage of the total abundance is reached.
    The selected cells represent the smallest area that represents a 
given percentage of abundance. We created a range of core abundance 
areas for each species of interest, but ultimately determined that 25 
percent core abundance area was appropriate in most cases for our 
purpose. The larger the percentage of abundance captured, the larger 
the area. Generally speaking, we found that 25 percent core abundance 
provided the best balance between the areas given by larger 
(impracticably large areas for purposes of restricting survey effort) 
and smaller (ineffective areas for purposes of providing meaningful 
protection) areas. However, for sperm whales, our analysis showed that 
the 25 percent core abundance area covered a large portion of slope 
waters in the northern mid-Atlantic region and, therefore, what we 
believe to be an impracticably large area for potential restriction of 
survey effort. Although sperm whales are broadly distributed on the 
slope throughout the year, at the five percent core abundance threshold 
we found that the model predictions indicate a relatively restricted 
area of preferred habitat across all seasons in the vicinity of the 
shelf break to the north of Cape Hatteras. This area, together with 
spatially separated canyon features contained within the 25 percent 
core abundance areas and previously identified as preferred habitat for 
beaked whales, form the basis for our proposed time-space restriction 
for sperm whales. Core abundance maps are provided online at 
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/oilgas.htm.
    In summary, we propose the following closure areas (depicted in 
Figure 4):
     In order to protect coastal bottlenose dolphins, a 30-km 
coastal strip (20 km plus 10 km buffer) would be closed to use of the 
acoustic source year-round.
     An area proposed for protection of the North Atlantic 
right whale (Figure 3). The area is comprised of the furthest extent at 
any location of three distinct components: (1) A 47-km coastal strip 
(20-nmi plus 10 km buffer) throughout the entire Mid- and South 
Atlantic OCS planning areas; (2) designated critical habitat, buffered 
by 10 km; and (3) the designated southeastern seasonal management area, 
buffered by 10 km. This area would be closed to use of the acoustic 
source from November through April. Dynamic management areas (buffered 
by 10 km) are also closed to use of the acoustic source when in effect.
    The 10-km buffer (intended to reasonably prevent sound output from 
the acoustic source exceeding received levels expected to result in 
behavioral harassment from entering the proposed closure areas) is 
built into the areas defined below and in Table 3. Therefore, we do not 
separately mention the addition of the buffer.
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     An area proposed for protection of Atlantic spotted 
dolphin (Area #1, Figure 4). The area contains the on-shelf portion of 
a 25 percent core abundance area for the species, and is comprised of 
lines that demarcate the northern and southern extent of this area, 
connected by a line marking 100 km distance from shore (as indicated in 
Table 3). This area would be closed to use of the acoustic source from 
June through August. This restriction would not be required for ION or 
CGG.
     Deepwater canyon areas. Areas #2-4 (Figure 4) are proposed 
as defined in Table 3 and would be closed to use of

[[Page 26264]]

the acoustic source year-round. Although they may be protective of 
additional species (e.g., Kogia spp.), Area #2 is expected to be 
particularly beneficial for beaked whales and Areas #3-4 are expected 
to be particularly beneficial for both beaked whales and sperm whales.
     Shelf break off Cape Hatteras and to the north, including 
slope waters around ``The Point.'' Area #5 is proposed as defined in 
Table 3 and would be closed to use of the acoustic source from July 
through September. Although this closure is expected to be beneficial 
for a diverse species assemblage, Area #5 is expected to be 
particularly beneficial for beaked whales, sperm whales, and pilot 
whales.
Beaked Whale
    Beaked whales are typically deep divers, foraging for mesopelagic 
squid and fish, and are often found in deep water near high-relief 
bathymetric features, such as slopes, canyons, and escarpments where 
these prey are found (e.g., Madsen et al., 2014; MacLeod and D'Amico, 
2006; Moors-Murphy, 2014). Sightings of Cuvier's beaked whale are 
almost exclusively in the continental shelf edge and continental slope 
areas, while Mesoplodon spp. sightings have occurred principally along 
the shelf-edge and deeper oceanic waters (CETAP, 1982; Waring et al., 
1992; Tove, 1995; Waring et al., 2001; Hamazaki, 2002; Palka, 2006; 
Waring et al., 2014). Roberts et al. (2016)'s results suggest that 
beaked whales do not undertake large seasonal migrations, and are 
therefore associated with significant habitat features year-round or 
with some degree of residency (Roberts et al., 2015l; Gowans et al., 
2000; MacLeod and D'Amico, 2006). In support of patterns seen in the 
density model outputs, MacLeod and D'Amico (2006) state that beaked 
whale occurrence is linked particularly to features such as slopes, 
canyons, escarpments and oceanic islands. Northern bottlenose whales 
and Sowerby's beaked whales were found to preferentially occur in a 
marine canyon rather than the neighboring shelf, slope and abyssal 
areas (Hooker et al., 1999, 2002). Cuvier's beaked whales are also 
known to associate with canyons (D'Amico et al., 2003; Williams et al., 
1999), and Blainville's beaked whales were also found to preferentially 
occur over the upper reaches of a canyon (MacLeod and Zuur, 2005). 
Sighting rates of beaked whales in the western North Atlantic are 
significantly higher within canyon areas than non-canyon areas (Waring 
et al., 2001). It is possible, however, that such occurrence patterns 
are linked more strongly to oceanographic features influencing prey 
distribution, which may or may not be permanently linked to seabed 
topography (MacLeod and D'Amico, 2006).
    Submarine canyons are important features of the shelf and slope 
region from Cape Hatteras to the north, with both major and minor 
canyons abundant in the region. Roberts et al. (2016) predicted beaked 
whale density at year-round temporal resolution, with model predictions 
showing concentrated distribution in deep waters over high-relief 
bathymetry where high prey density would be expected due to entrainment 
of nutrient-rich sediments and organic material (Moors-Murphy, 2014). 
Highest densities were predicted in areas along the continental slope 
and in and around submarine canyons (Roberts et al., 2016). The core 
abundance area analysis highlighted three such submarine canyon areas 
as being of year-round importance to beaked whales (Areas #2-4, see 
Figure 4). Area #3 is centered on Hatteras Canyon, a major canyon 
system that cuts a deep valley across the upper continental rise before 
terminating on the lower rise. Area #2, in deeper water, encompasses 
the Hatteras Transverse Canyon (HTC). HTC is downslope of and fed by 
both Hatteras and Albemarle Canyons (which dissect the slope) and their 
channel extensions, as well as smaller unnamed canyons and canyon 
channels, and is bounded by the Hatteras Ridge, which is a major 
transverse barrier deflecting turbidity currents into the HTC (Gardner 
et al., 2016). Area #4 is centered on a large, deepwater valley system 
that is fed by a complex series of canyons and gullies incising the 
slope between Hendrickson and Baltimore Canyons (note that the entire 
shelf break north of Cape Hatteras, including many of these canyons and 
gullies, is included in our Area #5 (Figure 4) which is discussed 
below). In delineating the actual area proposed for restriction on 
survey effort, we expanded from 10 x 10 km grid cells specifically 
predicted as being within the beaked whale 25 percent core abundance 
area to include adjacent cells that also cover the relevant bathymetric 
feature. Assuming that beaked whales are present in these areas, their 
use of these habitat areas would not be expected to be restricted 
within the feature and we delineate the proposed closure areas 
accordingly. We assume that beaked whales associate with these features 
year-round, and each of the three areas is proposed as a year-round 
closure.
    Area #5 (Figure 4) was designed as a multi-species area, primarily 
focused on pilot whales, beaked whales, and sperm whales. This area is 
focused on a particularly dynamic and highly productive environment off 
of Cape Hatteras (sometimes referred to as ``Hatteras Corner'' or ``The 
Point'') and the shelf break environment running to the north (to the 
boundary of BOEM's Mid-Atlantic OCS planning area) and to the south. 
This environment off of Cape Hatteras is created through the confluence 
of multiple currents and water masses, including the Gulf Stream 
(SAFMC, 2003), over complex bottom topography and hosts a high density 
and diversity of cetaceans (e.g., McAlarney et al., 2015). For beaked 
whales, our core abundance area analysis predicts that the shelf break 
area running from The Point to the southern extent of Area #5 would be 
within the 25 percent core abundance area, while the remainder of the 
shelf break to the north would be within the 50 percent core abundance 
area. This finding is supported by passive acoustic monitoring effort, 
which detected echolocation signals from Cuvier's beaked whales 
consistently throughout the year (95 percent of 741 recording days 
across all seasons), suggesting that beaked whales are resident to this 
area (Stanistreet et al., 2015). Gervais' beaked whales were detected 
more sporadically (33 percent of recording days). Monthly aerial 
surveys conducted from 2011-2014 in the same region, from shallow 
continental shelf waters across the continental shelf break and into 
deep pelagic waters, also detected beaked whales in all months of the 
year (McLellan et al., 2015). All beaked whale sightings occurred along 
the continental shelf break. Baird et al. (2015) reported results from 
three tagged Cuvier's beaked whales, which largely remained in slope 
waters off the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. 
Although this limited number of tags makes it difficult to draw 
conclusions, the authors hypothesize that the observed movements may be 
representative of a resident population.
    Although beaked whales are likely present in this area year-round, 
there is significant overlap between this proposed restriction and the 
area of highest interest by the applicant companies. Therefore, we 
determined that practicability concerns dictate that we establish a 
temporal component to this closure rather than designate this area as a 
year-round closure (as is the case for Areas #2-4). Roberts et al. 
(2016) predicted density for pilot whales and beaked whales at year-
round

[[Page 26265]]

temporal resolution; therefore, the output of those models does not 
help to designate a temporal aspect to this proposed restriction. 
However, the model produced for sperm whales predicts density at a 
monthly resolution and informed our delineation of temporal bounds for 
this closure. The model predicts the greatest density of sperm whales 
in this region from June through October, with the highest overall 
abundance predicted for July through September (Roberts et al., 2015n). 
Therefore, we propose that Area #5 be in effect as a seasonal area 
closure from July through September.
Sperm Whale
    Although sperm whales are one of the most widely distributed marine 
mammals, they are typically more abundant in areas of high primary 
productivity (Jaquet et al., 1996) and thus may be expected to occur in 
greater numbers in areas where physiographic and oceanographic features 
serve to aggregate prey (e.g., squid). Sperm whales are in fact 
commonly associated with submarine canyons (Moors-Murphy, 2014) and, 
specifically in this region, have been found to be associated with 
canyons (Whitehead et al., 1992), the north wall of the Gulf Stream 
(Waring et al., 1993), and temperature fronts and warm-core eddies 
(Waring et al., 2001; Griffin, 1999). Areas #3-4 (Figure 4), described 
above for beaked whales, were also identified as areas of high 
predicted density for sperm whales. Roberts et al. (2016) predicted 
sperm whale density at monthly temporal resolution, and core abundance 
analysis conducted at a monthly time-step predicts that Area #3 is of 
year-round importance for sperm whales, while Area #4 is within the 
sperm whale 25 percent core abundance area for seven months of the year 
(Jun-Dec). CETAP (1982) reported sightings of sperm whales north of 
Cape Hatteras off the shelf and along the shelf break during all four 
seasons, while acoustic monitoring detected sperm whales every month of 
the year off the shelf near Onslow Bay, North Carolina (Stanistreet et 
al., 2012; Hodge and Read, 2014; Debich et al., 2014; Hodge et al., 
2015).
    As noted above, Area #5 (Figure 4) is a multi-species area, 
primarily focused on pilot whales, beaked whales, and sperm whales, and 
is proposed to be in effect from July through September. In particular, 
Area #5's ``bulge'' to the north and east of Cape Hatteras was 
indicated as high-density sperm whale habitat contained within the five 
percent core abundance area in all months, but as a larger area and 
with higher predicted density during July through September, as 
discussed above. During these months, the 25 percent core abundance 
area for sperm whales is predicted as covering a large swath of the 
region from the region of The Point off and to the south of Cape 
Hatteras north to the planning area boundary and including shelf break 
waters east over the entire slope and into abyssal waters in some 
locations. As described previously, due to the large size of this area, 
we based this component of Area #5 on the relevant portion of the five 
percent core abundance are for sperm whales. This area, predicted to 
host the highest density of sperm whales, was contiguous to and 
somewhat overlapping with the shelf break strip suggested by core 
abundance area analysis for beaked whales and pilot whales. We believe 
this reflects the appropriate balance between necessary protective 
measures for this species and practicability for the applicant 
companies, which would be severely restricted in their ability to 
survey the area of interest were our proposed closure larger in terms 
of either space or time.
Pilot Whale
    Pilot whales are distributed primarily along the continental shelf 
edge, occupying areas of high relief or submerged banks, and are also 
associated with the Gulf Stream wall and thermal fronts along the shelf 
edge (Waring et al., 2016). Roberts et al. (2016) predicted pilot whale 
density at year-round temporal resolution. High pilot whale density was 
predicted throughout the year at an area of the shelf break and 
continental slope north of where the Gulf Stream separates from the 
shelf at Cape Hatteras. Sightings were reported in this vicinity in 
nearly every month of the year (Roberts et al., 2015c).The entire shelf 
break area from Cape Hatteras north to the boundary of the planning 
area was predicted as being within the pilot whale 25 percent core 
abundance area. However, within this predicted core abundance area, the 
region immediately offshore of the Cape Hatteras shelf break and to the 
north extending into waters over the slope was predicted as containing 
notably higher density of pilot whales. This area is retained within 
the core abundance area even when the threshold is reduced to 5 
percent, indicating that it is one of the most important areas in the 
region for any species. These patterns are supported by observation, 
including telemetry. Thorne et al. (2015) tracked the movements of 18 
short-finned pilot whales off Cape Hatteras between May and December 
2014 (mean tag deployment of 57 days) and quantified their habitat use 
relative to environmental variables. Results showed that pilot whales 
have a strong affinity for the shelf break, with more than 90 percent 
of locations occurring within 20 km of the shelf break (i.e., 1,000 m 
depth contour) and more than 65 percent occurring within 5 km of the 
shelf break, and highlight the importance of static habitat features 
for the species. As a result of similar tagging work, Foley et al. 
(2015) found that, despite long-distance movements, pilot whales 
displayed a high degree of site fidelity off Cape Hatteras. Intra- and 
inter-annual as well as intra- and inter-seasonal matches to an 
existing photo-identification catalog were made, and some individuals 
were matched over periods of up to eight years. The authors hypothesize 
that that the shelf break offshore of Cape Hatteras is an important 
area for this species, to which individuals return frequently. Area #5 
(Figure 4) was designed accordingly to encompass these important pilot 
whale habitat areas and, as described previously, is proposed to be in 
effect from July through September.
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
    Atlantic spotted dolphins are widely distributed in tropical and 
warm temperate waters of the western North Atlantic, and regularly 
occur in continental shelf waters south of Cape Hatteras and in 
continental shelf edge and continental slope waters north of this 
region (Payne et al., 1984; Mullin and Fulling, 2003). Sightings have 
also been made along the north wall of the Gulf Stream and warm-core 
ring features (Waring et al., 1992). This disjunct distribution may be 
due to the occurrence of two ecotypes of the species: A larger form 
that inhabits the continental shelf and is usually found inside or near 
the 200-m isobath and a smaller offshore form (Mullin and Fulling, 
2003; Waring et al., 2014). Morphometric, genetic, and acoustic data 
support the suggestion that two ecotypes inhabit this region (Baron et 
al., 2008; Viricel and Rosel, 2014) and observational data are 
consistent with this distribution pattern. Existing data show a dense 
cluster of observations along the continental shelf between Florida and 
Virginia and a second, more dispersed cluster off the shelf and north 
of the Gulf Stream (north of Cape Hatteras) (Roberts et al., 2015o). As 
would be expected from these patterns, results from Roberts et al. 
(2016) predict the following density pattern: Low near the shore, high 
in the mid-shelf, low near the shelf break, then higher again offshore.

[[Page 26266]]

    Although there are no relevant considerations with regard to 
population context or specific stressors that lead us to develop 
mitigation focused on Atlantic spotted dolphins, the predicted amount 
of acoustic exposure for the species is among the highest for all 
species across three of the five applicant companies. Therefore, we 
believe it appropriate to delineate a time-area restriction for the 
sole purpose of reducing likely acoustic exposures for the species, for 
those three companies (i.e., we propose that this restriction be 
implemented for Spectrum, TGS, and Western but not for CGG or ION). As 
noted above, observational data indicate that the area of likely 
highest density for Atlantic spotted dolphin is on-shelf south of Cape 
Hatteras. This is also an area of relatively little interest to the 
applicant companies (in contrast with the second area of relatively 
high density for Atlantic spotted dolphin, off the shelf to the north 
of the Gulf Stream). Our core abundance area analysis indeed suggests 
that the two areas comprise the 25 percent core abundance area for the 
species, with the on-shelf region roughly contained by the 100-m 
isobath offshore of Georgia and South Carolina. We thus delineate our 
proposed closure area by the northern and southern extent of the 
predicted on-shelf component of the 35 percent core abundance area, 
bounded by a line 100 km from shore (which roughly corresponds with the 
100-m isobath). We assume that this may present a simpler, more 
practicable way for vessel operators to mark the area to be avoided, 
but invite public comment regarding operators' capacity to mark areas 
to be avoided using different methods (e.g., coordinates, depth 
contours, specific distances from shore, shapefiles).
    Our assumption here is that given the absence of other contextual 
factors demanding special protection of spotted dolphins, a seasonal 
restriction would be sufficient to guarantee that the species is 
afforded some protection from harassment in one of the areas most 
important for it. Because there is little information about the species 
migration patterns, and Roberts et al. (2016) predicted density at a 
year-round temporal resolution, we delineate the proposed closure on 
the basis of NMFS' observational data. Current shipboard observational 
data was collected during June-August 2011 (Waring et al., 2014). 
Although Roberts et al. (2015o) suggest that monthly model results 
should not be relied upon, we note that these results do show likely 
highest abundance in this portion of the proposed survey areas in the 
summer months (June through September). Therefore, we propose that Area 
#1 be in effect from June through August.

                   Table 3--Boundaries of Proposed Time-Area Restrictions Depicted in Figure 4
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
               Area                  Latitude      Longitude            Area           Latitude      Longitude
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1................................  30[deg] 20'   At shoreline   4..................  36[deg] 55'   72[deg] 26'
                                    50'' N.                                           20'' N.       18'' W.
1 \1\............................  30[deg] 22'   80[deg] 19'    4..................  37[deg] 52'   72[deg] 22'
                                    25'' N.       55'' W.                             21'' N.       31'' W.
1 \1\............................  33[deg] 17'   78[deg] 04'    4..................  37[deg] 43'   72[deg] 00'
                                    03'' N.       00'' W.                             53'' N.       32'' W.
1................................  33[deg] 45'   At shoreline   4..................  37[deg] 43'   72[deg] 00'
                                    01'' N.                                           54'' N.       40'' W.
2................................  33[deg] 31'   72[deg] 52'    4..................  37[deg] 09'   72[deg] 04'
                                    16'' N.       07'' W.                             52'' N.       31'' W.
2................................  33[deg] 10'   72[deg] 59'    4..................  36[deg] 52'   71[deg] 24'
                                    05'' N.       59'' W.                             01'' N.       31'' W.
2................................  33[deg] 11'   73[deg] 19'    5..................  37[deg] 08'   74[deg] 01'
                                    23'' N.       36'' W.                             30'' N.       42'' W.
2................................  33[deg] 43'   73[deg] 17'    5..................  36[deg] 15'   73[deg] 48'
                                    34'' N.       43'' W.                             12'' N.       37'' W.
2................................  33[deg] 59'   73[deg] 10'    5..................  35[deg] 53'   73[deg] 49'
                                    43'' N.       16'' W.                             14'' N.       02'' W.
2................................  34[deg] 15'   72[deg] 55'    5..................  34[deg] 23'   75[deg] 21'
                                    10'' N.       37'' W.                             07'' N.       33'' W.
2................................  34[deg] 14'   72[deg] 36'    5..................  33[deg] 47'   75[deg] 27'
                                    02'' N.       00'' W.                             37'' N.       25'' W.
2................................  34[deg] 03'   72[deg] 37'    5..................  33[deg] 48'   75[deg] 52'
                                    33'' N.       27'' W.                             31'' N.       58'' W.
2................................  33[deg] 53'   72[deg] 44'    5..................  34[deg] 23'   75[deg] 52'
                                    00'' N.       31'' W.                             57'' N.       50'' W.
3................................  34[deg] 13'   74[deg] 07'    5..................  35[deg] 22'   74[deg] 51'
                                    21'' N.       33'' W.                             29'' N.       50'' W.
3................................  34[deg] 00'   74[deg] 26'    5..................  36[deg] 32'   74[deg] 49'
                                    07'' N.       41'' W.                             31'' N.       31'' W.
3................................  34[deg] 38'   75[deg] 05'    5..................  37[deg] 05'   74[deg] 45'
                                    40'' N.       52'' W.                             39'' N.       37'' W.
3................................  34[deg] 53'   74[deg] 51'    5..................  37[deg] 27'   74[deg] 32'
                                    24'' N.       11'' W.                             53'' N.       40'' W.
4................................  36[deg] 41'   71[deg] 25'    5..................  38[deg] 23'   73[deg] 45'
                                    17'' N.       47'' W.                             15'' N.       06'' W.
4................................  36[deg] 43'   72[deg] 13'    5..................  38[deg] 11'   73[deg] 06'
                                    20'' N.       25'' W.                             17'' N.       36'' W.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ These two points are connected by a line marking 100 km distance from shoreline.

    National Marine Sanctuaries--As a result of consultation between 
BOEM and NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, all surveys 
would maintain a minimum buffer of 15 km around the boundaries of the 
Gray's Reef and Monitor National Marine Sanctuaries. Gray's Reef NMS is 
located approximately 26 km off the Georgia coast and protects 57 
km\2\. The Monitor NMS is located approximately 26 km off the North 
Carolina coast and protects the wreck of the USS Monitor. Any benefit 
to marine mammals from these restrictions would likely be minimal.
    Coastal Zone Management Act--As a result of coordination with 
relevant states pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management Act, Spectrum 
agreed to certain closure requirements (which may be partially or 
entirely subsumed by proposed closures described above):
     No survey operations within 125 nmi (232 km) of Maryland's 
coast from April 15 to November 15.
     No survey operations within the 30-m depth isobath off the 
South Carolina coast.
     No survey operations within 20 nmi (37 km) of Georgia's 
coast from April 1 to September 15 and within 30 nmi (56 km) of 
Georgia's coast from November 15 to April 15.

Vessel Strike Avoidance

    These proposed measures generally follow those described in BOEM's 
PEIS. These measures apply to all vessels associated with the proposed 
survey activity (e.g., source vessels, chase vessels, supply vessels) 
and include the following:
    1. Vessel operators and crews must maintain a vigilant watch for 
all marine mammals and slow down or stop their vessel or alter course, 
as appropriate and regardless of vessel size, to avoid striking any 
marine mammal. A visual observer aboard the vessel must monitor a 
vessel strike avoidance zone around the vessel, according to the 
parameters stated below, to ensure the potential for strike is 
minimized. Visual observers monitoring the vessel strike avoidance zone 
can be either third-party observers or crew members, but crew members 
responsible for these duties must be provided sufficient training to

[[Page 26267]]

distinguish marine mammals from other phenomena and broadly to identify 
a marine mammal as a right whale, other whale, or other marine mammal 
(i.e., non-whale cetacean or pinniped). In this context, ``other 
whales'' includes sperm whales and all baleen whales other than right 
whales.
    2. All vessels, regardless of size, must observe the 10 kn speed 
restriction in DMAs, the Mid-Atlantic SMA (from November 1 through 
April 30), and critical habitat and the Southeast SMA (from November 15 
through April 15). See www.fisheries.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike/ for more 
information on these areas.
    3. Vessel speeds must also be reduced to 10 kn or less when mother/
calf pairs, pods, or large assemblages of cetaceans are observed near a 
vessel. A single cetacean at the surface may indicate the presence of 
submerged animals in the vicinity of the vessel; therefore, 
precautionary measures should be exercised when an animal is observed.
    4. All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 500 m 
from right whales. If a whale is observed but cannot be confirmed as a 
species other than a right whale, the vessel operator must assume that 
it is a right whale and take appropriate action. The following 
avoidance measures must be taken if a right whale is within 500 m of 
any vessel:
    a. While underway, the vessel operator must steer a course away 
from the whale at 10 kn or less until the minimum separation distance 
has been established.
    b. If a whale is spotted in the path of a vessel or within 500 m of 
a vessel underway, the operator shall reduce speed and shift engines to 
neutral. The operator shall re-engage engines only after the whale has 
moved out of the path of the vessel and is more than 500 m away. If the 
whale is still within 500 m of the vessel, the vessel must select a 
course away from the whale's course at a speed of 10 kn or less. This 
procedure must also be followed if a whale is spotted while a vessel is 
stationary. Whenever possible, a vessel should remain parallel to the 
whale's course while maintaining the 500-m distance as it travels, 
avoiding abrupt changes in direction until the whale is no longer in 
the area.
    5. All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 100 m 
from other whales. The following avoidance measures must be taken if a 
whale other than a right whale is within 100 m of any vessel:
    a. The vessel underway must reduce speed and shift the engine to 
neutral, and must not engage the engines until the whale has moved 
outside of the vessel's path and the minimum separation distance has 
been established.
    b. If a vessel is stationary, the vessel must not engage engines 
until the whale(s) has moved out of the vessel's path and beyond 100 m.
    6. All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 50 m 
from all other marine mammals, with an exception made for those animals 
that approach the vessel. If an animal is encountered during transit, a 
vessel shall attempt to remain parallel to the animal's course, 
avoiding excessive speed or abrupt changes in course.

General Measures

    All vessels associated with survey activity (e.g., source vessels, 
chase vessels, supply vessels) must have a functioning Automatic 
Identification System (AIS) onboard and operating at all times, 
regardless of whether AIS would otherwise be required. Vessel names and 
call signs must be provided to NMFS, and applicants must notify NMFS 
when survey vessels are operating.
    We have carefully evaluated the suite of mitigation measures 
described here to preliminarily determine whether they are likely to 
effect 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: (1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, the 
successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize 
adverse impacts to marine mammals, (2) the proven or likely efficacy of 
the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; and (3) 
the practicability of the measure for applicant implementation.
    Any mitigation measure(s) we prescribe should be able to 
accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on 
current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of 
the general goals listed below:
    (1) Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals 
wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal).
    (2) A reduction in the number (total number or number at 
biologically important time or location) of individual marine mammals 
exposed to stimuli expected to result in incidental take (this goal may 
contribute to 1, above, or to reducing takes by behavioral harassment 
only).
    (3) A reduction in the number (total number or number at 
biologically important time or location) of times any individual marine 
mammal would be exposed to stimuli expected to result in incidental 
take (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing takes by 
behavioral harassment only).
    (4) A reduction in the intensity of exposure to stimuli expected to 
result in incidental take (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to 
reducing the severity of behavioral harassment only).
    (5) Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal 
habitat, paying particular attention to the prey base, blockage or 
limitation of passage to or from biologically important areas, 
permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary disturbance of habitat 
during a biologically important time.
    (6) For monitoring directly related to mitigation, an increase in 
the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more 
effective implementation of the mitigation.
    Based on our evaluation of these measures, we have preliminarily 
determined that they provide the means of effecting the least 
practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their 
habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and 
areas of similar significance.
    We recognize that BOEM may require more stringent measures through 
survey-specific permits issued to applicant companies under its 
authorities pursuant to the OCSLA (43 U.S.C. 1331-1356). NMFS's 
Endangered Species Act Interagency Cooperation Division (Interagency 
Cooperation Division) may also require that more stringent or 
additional measures be included in any issued IHAs via any required 
consultation pursuant to section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. 
Please see ``Proposed Authorizations,'' below, for requirements 
specific to each proposed IHA.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    We have reviewed the applicants' species descriptions--which 
summarize available information regarding status and trends, 
distribution and habitat preferences, behavior and life history, and 
auditory capabilities of the potentially affected species--for accuracy 
and completeness and refer the reader to Sections 3 and 4 of the 
applications, as well as to NMFS's Stock Assessment Reports (SAR; 
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/), instead of reprinting the information 
here. Additional general information about these species (e.g., 
physical and behavioral descriptions) may be found

[[Page 26268]]

on NMFS's Web site (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/), in BOEM's 
PEIS, or in the U.S. Navy's Marine Resource Assessments (MRA) for 
relevant operating areas (i.e., Virginia Capes, Cherry Point, and 
Charleston/Jacksonville (DoN, 2008a,b,c)). The MRAs are available 
online at: www.navfac.navy.mil/products_and_services/ev/products_and_services/marine_resources/marine_resource_assessments.html. Table 4 lists all species with 
expected potential for occurrence in the mid- and south Atlantic and 
summarizes information related to the population or stock, including 
potential biological removal (PBR). For taxonomy, we follow Committee 
on Taxonomy (2016). PBR, defined by the MMPA as the maximum number of 
animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a 
marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its 
optimum sustainable population, is considered in concert with known 
sources of ongoing anthropogenic mortality (as described in NMFS's 
SARs). Species that could potentially occur in the proposed survey 
areas but are not expected to have reasonable potential to be harassed 
by any proposed survey are described briefly but omitted from further 
analysis. These include extralimital species, which are species that do 
not normally occur in a given area but for which there are one or more 
occurrence records that are considered beyond the normal range of the 
species. For status of species, we provide information regarding U.S. 
regulatory status under the MMPA and ESA.
    Marine mammal abundance estimates presented in this document 
represent the total number of individuals that make up a given stock or 
the total number estimated within a particular study area. NMFS's stock 
abundance estimates for most species represent the total estimate of 
individuals within the geographic area, if known, that comprises that 
stock. For some species, this geographic area may extend beyond U.S. 
waters. Survey abundance (as compared to stock or species abundance) is 
the total number of individuals estimated within the survey area, which 
may or may not align completely with a stock's geographic range as 
defined in the SARs. These surveys may also extend beyond U.S. waters.
    In some cases, species are treated as guilds. In general ecological 
terms, a guild is a group of species that have similar requirements and 
play a similar role within a community. However, for purposes of stock 
assessment or abundance prediction, certain species may be treated 
together as a guild because they are difficult to distinguish visually 
and many observations are ambiguous. For example, NMFS's Atlantic SARs 
assess Mesoplodon spp. and Kogia spp. as guilds. Here, we consider 
pilot whales, beaked whales (excluding the northern bottlenose whale), 
and Kogia spp. as guilds. In the following discussion, reference to 
``pilot whales'' includes both the long-finned and short-finned pilot 
whale, reference to ``beaked whales'' includes the Cuvier's, 
Blainville's, Gervais, Sowerby's, and True's beaked whales, and 
reference to ``Kogia spp.'' includes both the dwarf and pygmy sperm 
whale.
    Thirty-four species (with 39 managed stocks) are considered to have 
the potential to co-occur with the proposed survey activities. 
Extralimital species or stocks unlikely to co-occur with survey 
activity include nine estuarine bottlenose dolphin stocks, four 
pinniped species, the white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus 
albirostris), and the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas). The white-
beaked dolphin is generally found only to southern New England, with 
sightings concentrated in the Gulf of Maine and around Cape Cod. Beluga 
whales have rarely been sighted as far south as New Jersey, but are 
considered extralimital in New England. Seals in the western Atlantic 
are, in general, occurring more frequently in areas further south than 
are considered typical and increases in pinniped sightings and 
stranding events have been documented in the mid-Atlantic. However, all 
seals are considered rare or extralimital in the mid-Atlantic and, 
further, would generally be expected to occur in relatively shallow 
nearshore waters outside the proposed survey areas (note also that we 
propose a restriction on survey activity in coastal waters ranging from 
a minimum of 30 km (year-round) out to 47 km (November-April)). The 
gray seal's (Halichoerus grypus grypus) winter range extends south to 
New Jersey, while the harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus) is generally 
found in Canada, although individual seals are observed as far south as 
New Jersey during January-May. The harbor seal's (Phoca vitulina 
concolor) winter range is generally from southern New England to New 
Jersey, though it may occasionally extend south to northern North 
Carolina. Unpublished marine mammal stranding records for the most 
recent five-year period (2011-2015) for the Atlantic coast from 
Delaware to Georgia show 38, 24, and 44 strandings for these three 
species, respectively (with one additional record of an unidentified 
seal). These occurrences are generally limited to the mid-Atlantic 
(Delaware to North Carolina), with one harbor seal recorded from South 
Carolina and no records from Georgia. The hooded seal (Cystophora 
cristata) generally remains near Newfoundland in winter and spring, and 
visits the Denmark Strait for molting in summer. However, hooded seals 
are highly migratory, preferring deeper water than other seals, and 
individuals have been observed in deep water as far south as Florida 
and the Caribbean. Such observations are rare and unpredictable, and 
there were no recorded strandings of hooded seals during the 2011-2015 
period.
    Estuarine stocks of bottlenose dolphin primarily inhabit inshore 
waters of bays, sounds, and estuaries, and stocks are defined adjacent 
to the proposed survey area from Pamlico Sound, North Carolina to 
Indian River Lagoon, Florida. However, NMFS's SARs generally describe 
estuarine stock ranges as including coastal waters to 1 km (though 
North Carolina stocks are described as occurring out to 3 km at certain 
times of year). Therefore, these stocks would not be impacted by the 
proposed seismic surveys. In addition, the West Indian manatee 
(Trichechus manatus latirostris) may be found in coastal waters of the 
Atlantic. However, manatees are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service and are not considered further in this document. All managed 
stocks in this region are assessed in NMFS's U.S. Atlantic SARs (e.g., 
Waring et al., 2016). All values presented in Table 4 are the most 
recent available at the time of publication and are available in the 
2015 SARs (Waring et al., 2016) and draft 2016 SARs (available online 
at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/draft.htm).

[[Page 26269]]



                                Table 4--Marine Mammals Potentially Present in the Vicinity of Proposed Survey Activities
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                NMFS stock
                                                                          ESA/MMPA status;    abundance (CV,       Predicted
          Common name              Scientific name          Stock         strategic (Y/N)    Nmin, most recent  abundance (CV)      PBR      Annual M/SI
                                                                                \1\          abundance survey)        \3\                      (CV) \4\
                                                                                                    \2\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Order Cetartiodactyla--Cetacea--Superfamily Mysticeti (baleen whales)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                    Family Balaenidae
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Atlantic right whale.....  Eubalaena           Western North       E/D; Y             440 (n/a; 440; n/     * 535 (0.45)          1.0         5.66
                                  glacialis.          Atlantic (WNA).                        a).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            Family Balaenopteridae (rorquals)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Humpback whale.................  Megaptera           Gulf of Maine.....  -; N               823 (n/a; 823;      * 1,637 (0.07)           13         9.05
                                  novaeangliae                                               2008).
                                  novaeangliae.
Minke whale....................  Balaenoptera        Canadian East       -; N               2,591 (0.81;        * 2,112 (0.05)           14         8.25
                                  acutorostrata       Coast.                                 1,425; 2011).
                                  acutorostrata.
Bryde's whale..................  B. edeni brydei...  None defined \5\..  -; n/a             n/a...............        7 (0.58)          n/a          n/a
Sei whale......................  B. borealis         Nova Scotia.......  E/D; Y             357 (0.52; 236;       * 717 (0.30)          0.5          0.8
                                  borealis.                                                  2011).
Fin whale......................  B. physalus         WNA...............  E/D; Y             1,618 (0.33;          4,633 (0.08)          2.5          3.8
                                  physalus.                                                  1,234; 2011).
Blue whale.....................  B. musculus         WNA...............  E/D; Y             Unknown (n/a; 440;       11 (0.41)          0.9          Unk
                                  musculus.                                                  n/a).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Superfamily Odontoceti (toothed whales, dolphins, and porpoises)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                   Family Physeteridae
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sperm whale....................  Physeter            North Atlantic....  E/D; Y             2,288 (0.28;          5,353 (0.12)          3.6          0.8
                                  macrocephalus.                                             1,815; 2011).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                     Family Kogiidae
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pygmy sperm whale..............  Kogia breviceps...  WNA...............  -; N               3,785 (0.47;        \6\ 678 (0.23)           21    3.5 (1.0)
                                                                                             2,598; 2011) \6\.
Dwarf sperm whale..............  K. sima...........  WNA...............  -; N
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            Family Ziphiidae (beaked whales)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Cuvier's beaked whale..........  Ziphius             WNA...............  -; N               6,532 (0.32;            \6\ 14,491           50          0.4
                                  cavirostris.                                               5,021; 2011).              (0.17)
Gervais beaked whale...........  Mesoplodon          WNA...............  -; N               7,092 (0.54;                                 46          0.2
                                  europaeus.                                                 4,632; 2011) \6\.
Blainville's beaked whale......  M. densirostris...  WNA...............  -; N
Sowerby's beaked whale.........  M. bidens.........  WNA...............  -; N
True's beaked whale............  M. mirus..........  WNA...............  -; N
Northern bottlenose whale......  Hyperoodon          WNA...............  -; N               Unknown...........       90 (0.63)       Undet.            0
                                  ampullatus.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                   Family Delphinidae
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Rough-toothed dolphin..........  Steno bredanensis.  WNA...............  -; N               271 (1.0; 134;          532 (0.36)          1.3            0
                                                                                             2011).
Common bottlenose dolphin......  Tursiops truncatus  WNA Offshore......  -; N               77,532 (0.40;           \6\ 97,476          561  39.4 (0.29)
                                  truncatus.                                                 56,053; 2011).             (0.06)
                                                     WNA Coastal,        D; Y               11,548 (0.36;                                86      1.0-7.5
                                                      Northern                               8,620; 2010-11).
                                                      Migratory.
                                                     WNA Coastal,        D; Y               9,173 (0.46;                                 63         0-12
                                                      Southern                               6,326; 2010-11).
                                                      Migratory.
                                                     WNA Coastal, South  D; Y               4,377 (0.43;                                 31      1.2-1.6
                                                      Carolina/Georgia.                      3,097; 2010-11).
                                                     WNA Coastal,        D; Y               1,219 (0.67; 730;                             7          0.4
                                                      Northern Florida.                      2010-11).
                                                     WNA Coastal,        D; Y               4,895 (0.71;                                 29          0.2
                                                      Central Florida.                       2,851; 2010-11).
Clymene dolphin................  Stenella clymene..  WNA...............  -; N               6,086 (0.93;         12,515 (0.56)       Undet.            0
                                                                                             3,132; 1998) \7\.
Atlantic spotted dolphin.......  S. frontalis......  WNA...............  -; N               44,715 (0.43;        55,436 (0.32)          316            0
                                                                                             31,610; 2011).
Pantropical spotted dolphin....  S. attenuata        WNA...............  -; N               3,333 (0.91;          4,436 (0.33)           17            0
                                  attenuata.                                                 1,733; 2011).
Spinner dolphin................  S. longirostris     WNA...............  -; N               Unknown...........      262 (0.93)       Undet.            0
                                  longirostris.
Striped dolphin................  S. coeruleoalba...  WNA...............  -; N               54,807 (0.3;         75,657 (0.21)          428            0
                                                                                             42,804; 2011).
Short-beaked common dolphin....  Delphinus delphis   WNA...............  -; N               70,184 (0.28;        86,098 (0.12)          557   409 (0.10)
                                  delphis.                                                   55,690; 2011).
Fraser's dolphin...............  Lagenodelphis       WNA...............  -; N               Unknown...........      492 (0.76)       Undet.            0
                                  hosei.

[[Page 26270]]

 
Atlantic white-sided dolphin...  Lagenorhynchus      WNA...............  -; N               48,819 (0.61;        37,180 (0.07)          304     74 (0.2)
                                  acutus.                                                    30,403; 2011).
Risso's dolphin................  Grampus griseus...  WNA...............  -; N               18,250 (0.46;         7,732 (0.09)          126  53.6 (0.28)
                                                                                             12,619; 2011).
Melon-headed whale.............  Peponocephala       WNA...............  -; N               Unknown...........    1,175 (0.50)       Undet.            0
                                  electra.
Pygmy killer whale.............  Feresa attenuata..  WNA...............  -; N               Unknown...........             n/a       Undet.            0
False killer whale.............  Pseudorca           WNA...............  -; Y               442 (1.06; 212;          95 (0.84)          2.1          Unk
                                  crassidens.                                                2011).
Killer whale...................  Orcinus orca......  WNA...............  -; N               Unknown...........       11 (0.82)       Undet.            0
Short-finned pilot whale.......  Globicephala        WNA...............  -; Y               21,515 (0.37;           \6\ 18,977          159   192 (0.17)
                                  macrorhynchus.                                             15,913; 2011).             (0.11)
Long-finned pilot whale........  G. melas melas....  WNA...............  -; Y               5,636 (0.63;                                 35    38 (0.15)
                                                                                             3,464; 2011).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                             Family Phocoenidae (porpoises)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Harbor porpoise................  Phocoena phocoena   Gulf of Maine/Bay   -; N               79,833 (0.32;             * 45,089          706   437 (0.18)
                                  phocoena.           of Fundy.                              61,415; 2011).             (0.12)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Endangered Species Act (ESA) status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (-) indicates that the species is not listed
  under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one for which the level of direct human-caused mortality
  exceeds PBR or which is determined to be declining and likely to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed
  under the ESA is automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock.
\2\ NMFS marine mammal stock assessment reports online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. CV is coefficient of variation; Nmin is the minimum estimate of
  stock abundance. In some cases, CV is not applicable. For the right whale, the abundance value represents a count of individually identifiable
  animals; therefore there is only a single abundance estimate with no associated CV. For humpback whales, the stock abundance estimate of 823 is based
  on photo-identification evidence and represents the minimum number alive in 2008, specific to the Gulf of Maine stock. The minimum estimate of 440
  blue whales represents recognizable photo-identified individuals.
\3\ This information represents species- or guild-specific abundance predicted by recent habitat-based cetacean density models (Roberts et al., 2016).
  These models provide the best available scientific information regarding predicted density patterns of cetaceans in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean, and we
  provide the corresponding abundance predictions as a point of reference. Total abundance estimates were produced by computing the mean density of all
  pixels in the modeled area and multiplying by its area. Roberts et al. (2016) did not produce a density model for pygmy killer whales off the east
  coast. For those species marked with an asterisk, the available information supported development of either two or four seasonal models; each model
  has an associated abundance prediction. Here, we report the maximum predicted abundance.
\4\ These values, found in NMFS's SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g.,
  commercial fisheries, ship strike). Annual M/SI often cannot be determined precisely and is in some cases presented as a minimum value or range. A CV
  associated with estimated mortality due to commercial fisheries is presented in some cases.
\5\ Bryde's whales are occasionally reported off the southeastern U.S. and southern West Indies. NMFS defines and manages a stock of Bryde's whales
  believed to be resident in the northern Gulf of Mexico, but does not define a separate stock in the Atlantic Ocean.
\6\ Abundance estimates are in some cases reported for a guild or group of species when those species are difficult to differentiate at sea. Similarly,
  the habitat-based cetacean density models produced by Roberts et al. (2016) are based in part on available observational data which, in some cases, is
  limited to genus or guild in terms of taxonomic definition. NMFS's SARs present pooled abundance estimates for Kogia spp. and Mesoplodon spp., while
  Roberts et al. (2016) produced density models to genus level for Kogia spp. and Globicephala spp. and as a guild for most beaked whales (Ziphius
  cavirostris and Mesoplodon spp.). Finally, Roberts et al. (2016) produced a density model for bottlenose dolphins that does not differentiate between
  offshore and coastal stocks.
\7\ NMFS's abundance estimates for the Clymene dolphin is greater than eight years old and not considered current. PBR is therefore considered
  undetermined for this stock, as there is no current minimum abundance estimate for use in calculation. We nevertheless present the most recent
  abundance estimate.

    For the majority of species potentially present in the specific 
geographic region, NMFS has designated only a single generic stock 
(e.g., ``western North Atlantic'') for management purposes. This 
includes the ``Canadian east coast'' stock of minke whales, which 
includes all minke whales found in U.S. waters. For the humpback and 
sei whales, NMFS defines stocks on the basis of feeding locations, 
i.e., Gulf of Maine and Nova Scotia, respectively. However, our 
reference to humpback whales and sei whales in this document refers to 
any individuals of the species that are found in the specific 
geographic region. For the bottlenose dolphin, NMFS defines an oceanic 
stock and multiple coastal stocks.
    In Table 4 above, we report two sets of abundance estimates: Those 
from NMFS's SARs and those predicted by Roberts et al. (2016). Please 
see footnotes 2-3 for more detail. The estimates found in NMFS's SARs 
remain the best estimates of current stock abundance in most cases. 
These estimates are typically generated from the most recent shipboard 
and/or aerial surveys conducted, and often incorporate correction for 
detection bias. However, for purposes of assessing estimated exposures 
relative to abundance--used in this case to understand the scale of the 
predicted takes compared to the population and to inform our small 
numbers finding--we generally believe that the Roberts et al. (2016) 
abundance predictions are most appropriate because the outputs of these 
models were used in most cases to generate the exposure estimates and 
therefore provide the most appropriate comparison. The Roberts et al. 
(2016) abundance estimates represent the output of predictive models 
derived from observations and associated environmental parameters and 
are in fact based on substantially more data than are NMFS's SAR 
abundance estimates, which are typically derived from only the most 
recent survey effort. In some cases, the use of more data to inform an 
abundance estimate can lead to a conclusion that there may be a more 
appropriate abundance estimate to use for the specific comparison to 
exposure estimates noted above than that provided in the SARs. For 
example, NMFS's pilot whale abundance estimates show substantial year-
to-year variability. For the Florida to Bay of Fundy region, single-
year estimates from 2004 and 2011 (the most recent offered in the SARs) 
differed by 21 percent, indicating that it may be more appropriate to 
use the model prediction, as the model incorporates data from 1992-
2013.
    As a further illustration of the distinction between the SARs and 
model-predicted abundance estimates, the current NMFS stock abundance 
estimate for the Atlantic spotted dolphin is based on direct 
observations from shipboard and aerial surveys conducted in 2011 and 
corrected for detection bias whereas the exposure estimates presented 
herein for Atlantic spotted dolphin are based on the abundance 
predicted by a density

[[Page 26271]]

surface model informed by observations from 1992-2014 and covariates 
associated at the observation level. To directly compare the estimated 
exposures predicted by the outputs of the Roberts et al. (2016) model 
to NMFS's SAR abundance would therefore not be meaningful. However, our 
use of the Roberts et al. (2016) abundance predictions for this purpose 
should not be interpreted as a statement that those predictions are 
considered to be more accurate than those presented in NMFS's SARs; 
rather they are a different set of information entirely and more 
appropriate, at times, for our analysis. For the example of Atlantic 
spotted dolphin, we make relative comparisons between the exposures 
predicted by the outputs of the model and the overall abundance 
predicted by the model. The best current abundance estimate for the 
western North Atlantic stock of Atlantic spotted dolphins is still 
appropriately considered to be that presented in the SAR. Where there 
are other considerations that lead us to believe that an abundance 
other than that predicted by Roberts et al. (2016) is most appropriate 
for use here, we provide additional discussion below.
    NMFS's abundance estimate for the North Atlantic right whale is 
based on a census of individual whales identified using photo-
identification techniques and is therefore the most appropriate 
abundance estimate; the current estimate represents whales known to be 
alive in 2012 (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/draft.htm).
    The 2007 Canadian Trans-North Atlantic Sighting Survey (TNASS), 
which provided full coverage of the Atlantic Canadian coast (Lawson and 
Gosselin, 2009), provided abundance estimates for multiple stocks. The 
abundance estimates from this survey were corrected for perception and 
availability bias, when possible. In general, where the TNASS survey 
effort provided superior coverage of a stock's range (as compared with 
NOAA shipboard survey effort), we elect to use the resulting abundance 
estimate over either the current NMFS abundance estimate (derived from 
survey effort with inferior coverage of the stock range) or the Roberts 
et al. (2016) prediction. The TNASS data were not made available to the 
model authors (Roberts et al., 2015a).
    We use the TNASS abundance estimate for the Canadian North Atlantic 
stock of minke whales and for the short-beaked common dolphin. The 
TNASS survey also produced an abundance estimate of 3,522 (CV = 0.27) 
fin whales. Although Waring et al. (2016) suggest that the current 
abundance estimate of 1,618 fin whales, derived from 2011 NOAA 
shipboard surveys, is the best because it represents the most current 
data (despite not including a significant portion of the stock's 
range), we believe the TNASS estimate is most appropriate for use here 
precisely because it better covered the stock's range. Note that, while 
the same TNASS survey produced an abundance estimate of 2,612 (CV = 
0.26) humpback whales, the survey did not provide superior coverage of 
the stock's range in the same way that it did for minke and fin whales 
(Waring et al., 2016; Lawson and Gosselin, 2011). In addition, based on 
photo-identification only 39 percent of individual humpback whales 
observed along the mid- and south Atlantic U.S. coast are from the Gulf 
of Maine stock (Barco et al., 2002). Therefore, we use the Roberts et 
al. (2016) prediction for humpback whales.
    The TNASS also provided an abundance estimate for pilot whales 
(16,058; CV = 0.79), but covered habitats expected to contain long-
finned pilot whales exclusively (Waring et al., 2016). Pilot whale 
biopsy samples collected from 1998-2007 and analyzed to support an 
analysis of the likelihood that a sample is from a given species of 
pilot whale as a function of sea surface temperature and water depth 
showed that all pilot whales observed in offshore waters near the Gulf 
Stream are most likely short-finned pilot whales, though there is an 
area of overlap between the two species primarily along the shelf break 
off the coast of New Jersey (between 38-40[deg] N.) (Waring et al., 
2016). Therefore, most pilot whales potentially affected by the 
proposed surveys would likely be short-finned pilot whales.
    NMFS's current abundance estimate for Kogia spp. is substantially 
higher than that provided by Roberts et al. (2016). However, the data 
from which NMFS's estimate is derived was not made available to the 
authors (Roberts et al., 2015h), and those more recent surveys reported 
observing substantially greater numbers of Kogia spp. than did earlier 
surveys (43 sightings, more than the combined total of 31 reported from 
all surveys from 1992-2014 considered by Roberts et al. (2016)) (NMFS, 
2011). A 2013 NOAA survey, also not available to the model authors, 
reported 68 sightings of Kogia spp. (NMFS, 2013a). In addition, the 
SARs report an increase in Kogia spp. strandings (92 from 2001-05; 187 
from 2007-11) (Waring et al., 2007; 2013). A simultaneous increase in 
at-sea observations and strandings suggests increased abundance of 
Kogia spp., though NMFS has not conducted any trend analysis (Waring et 
al., 2013). Therefore, we believe the most appropriate abundance 
estimate for use here is that currently reported by NMFS. In fact, 
Waring et al. (2013) suggest that because this estimate was corrected 
for perception bias but not availability bias, the true estimate could 
be two to four times larger.
    Biologically Important Areas--Several biologically important areas 
for marine mammals are recognized from proposed survey areas in the 
mid- and south Atlantic. As referenced previously under ``Proposed 
Mitigation'', critical habitat is designated for the North Atlantic 
right whale within the southeast U.S. (81 FR 4838; January 27, 2016). 
Critical habitat is defined by section 3 of the ESA as (1) the specific 
areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time 
it is listed, on which are found those physical or biological features 
(a) essential to the conservation of the species and (b) which may 
require special management considerations or protection; and (2) 
specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at 
the time it is listed, upon a determination by the Secretary that such 
areas are essential for the conservation of the species. Critical 
habitat for the right whale in the southeast U.S. (i.e., Unit 2) 
encompasses calving habitat and is designated on the basis of the 
following essential features: (1) Calm sea surface conditions of Force 
4 or less on the Beaufort Wind Scale; (2) sea surface temperatures from 
a minimum of 7 [deg]C, and never more than 17 [deg]C; and (3) water 
depths of 6 to 28 m, where these features simultaneously co-occur over 
contiguous areas of at least 231 nmi\2\ of ocean waters during the 
months of November through April. When these features are available, 
they are selected by right whale cows and calves in dynamic 
combinations that are suitable for calving, nursing, and rearing, and 
which vary, within the ranges specified, depending on factors such as 
weather and age of the calves. The specific area associated with such 
features and designated as critical habitat was described previously 
under ``Proposed Mitigation.'' There is no critical habitat designated 
for any other species within the proposed survey area.
    Biologically important areas for North Atlantic right whales in the 
mid- and south Atlantic were further described by LaBrecque et al. 
(2015). The authors describe an area of importance for reproduction 
that somewhat expands the boundaries of the critical habitat 
designation, including waters out to the 25-m isobath from Cape 
Canaveral to Cape Lookout from mid-November to mid-April, on the basis 
of habitat analyses (Good, 2008; Keller et al.,

[[Page 26272]]

2012) and sightings data (e.g., Keller et al., 2006; Schulte and 
Taylor, 2012) indicating that sea surface temperatures between 13 to 15 
[deg]C and water depths between 10-20 m are critical parameters for 
calving. Right whales leave northern feeding grounds in November and 
December to migrate along the continental shelf to the calving grounds 
or to unknown winter areas before returning to northern areas by late 
spring. Right whales are known to travel along the continental shelf, 
but it is unknown whether they use the entire shelf area or are 
restricted to nearshore waters (Schick et al., 2009; Whitt et al., 
2013). LaBrecque et al. (2015) define an important area for migratory 
behavior on the basis of aerial and vessel-based survey data, photo-
identification data, radio-tracking data, and expert judgment; we 
compared our composite right whale closure area (described previously 
under ``Proposed Mitigation'') in a GIS to that defined by the authors 
and found that it is contained within our area.
    As noted by LaBrecque et al. (2015), although additional cetacean 
species are known to have strong links to bathymetric features, there 
is currently insufficient information to specifically identify these 
areas. For example, pilot whales and Risso's dolphins aggregate at the 
shelf break in the proposed survey area, and Atlantic spotted dolphins 
occupy the shelf region from southern Virginia to Florida. These and 
other locations predicted as areas of high abundance (Roberts et al., 
2016) form the basis of proposed spatiotemporal restrictions on survey 
effort as described under ``Proposed Mitigation.'' In addition, other 
data indicate potential areas of importance that are not yet fully 
described. Risch et al. (2014) describe minke whale presence offshore 
of the shelf break (evidenced by passive acoustic recorders), which may 
be indicative of a migratory area, while other data provides evidence 
that sei whales aggregate near meandering frontal eddies over the 
continental shelf in the Mid-Atlantic Bight (Newhall et al., 2012).
    Unusual Mortality Events (UME)--A UME is defined under the MMPA as 
``a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any 
marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.'' From 1991 
to the present, there have been approximately ten formally recognized 
UMEs affecting marine mammals in the proposed survey area and involving 
species under NMFS's jurisdiction. One involves ongoing investigation. 
The most recent of these, which is ongoing, involves humpback whales. A 
recently ended UME involved bottlenose dolphins.
    Since January 2016, elevated humpback whale mortalities have 
occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine through North Carolina. 
Partial or full necropsy examinations have been conducted on 
approximately half of the 42 known cases. Of the 20 cases examined, 10 
cases had evidence of blunt force trauma or pre-mortem propeller wounds 
indicative of vessel strike, which is over six times above the 16-year 
average of 1.5 whales showing signs of vessel strike in this region. 
Because this finding of pre-mortem vessel strike is not consistent 
across all of the whales examined, more research is needed. NOAA is 
consulting with researchers that are conducting studies on the humpback 
whale populations, and these efforts may provide information on changes 
in whale distribution and habitat use that could provide additional 
insight into how these vessel interactions occurred. Three previous 
UMEs involving humpback whales have occurred since 2000, in 2003, 2005, 
and 2006. More information is available at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/2017humpbackatlanticume.html (accessed May 22, 2017).
    Beginning in July 2013, elevated strandings of bottlenose dolphins 
were observed along the Atlantic coast from New York to Florida. The 
investigation was closed in 2015, with the UME ultimately being 
attributed to cetacean morbillivirus (though additional contributory 
factors are under investigation; www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/midatldolphins2013.html; accessed June 21, 2016). Dolphin strandings 
during 2013-15 were greater than six times higher than the average from 
2007-12, with the most strandings reported from Virginia, North 
Carolina, and Florida. A total of approximately 1,650 bottlenose 
dolphins stranded from June 2013 to March 2015 and, additionally, a 
small number of individuals of several other cetacean species stranded 
during the UME and tested positive for morbillivirus (humpback whale, 
fin whale, minke whale, pygmy sperm whale, and striped dolphin). Only 
one offshore ecotype dolphin has been identified, meaning that over 99 
percent of affected dolphins were of the coastal ecotype (D. Fauquier; 
pers. comm.). Research, to include analyses of stranding samples and 
post-UME monitoring and modeling of surviving populations, will 
continue in order to better understand the impacts of the UME on the 
affected stocks. Notably, an earlier major UME in 1987-88 was also 
caused by morbillivirus. Over 740 stranded dolphins were recovered 
during that event.
    Additional recent UMEs include various localized events with 
undetermined cause involving bottlenose dolphins (e.g., South Carolina 
in 2011; Virginia in 2009); an event affecting common dolphins and 
Atlantic white-sided dolphins from North Carolina to New Jersey (2008; 
undetermined); and humpback whales in the North Atlantic (2006; 
undetermined). For more information on UMEs, please visit: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/.
    Take Reduction Planning--Take reduction plans are designed to help 
recover and prevent the depletion of strategic marine mammal stocks 
that interact with certain U.S. commercial fisheries, as required by 
Section 118 of the MMPA. The immediate goal of a take reduction plan is 
to reduce, within six months of its implementation, the mortality and 
serious injury of marine mammals incidental to commercial fishing to 
less than the potential biological removal level. The long-term goal is 
to reduce, within five years of its implementation, the mortality and 
serious injury of marine mammals incidental to commercial fishing to 
insignificant levels, approaching a zero serious injury and mortality 
rate, taking into account the economics of the fishery, the 
availability of existing technology, and existing state or regional 
fishery management plans. Take reduction teams are convened to develop 
these plans.
    There are several take reduction plans in place for marine mammals 
in the proposed survey areas of the mid- and south Atlantic. We 
described these here briefly in order to fully describe, in conjunction 
with referenced material, the baseline conditions for the affected 
marine mammal stocks. The Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan 
(ALWTRP) was implemented in 1997 to reduce injuries and deaths of large 
whales due to incidental entanglement in fishing gear. The ALWTRP is an 
evolving plan that changes as we learn more about why whales become 
entangled and how fishing practices might be modified to reduce the 
risk of entanglement. It has several components, including restrictions 
on where and how gear can be set and requirements for entangling gears 
(i.e., trap/pot and gillnet gears). The ALWTRP addresses those species 
most affected by fishing gear entanglements, i.e., North Atlantic right 
whale, humpback whale, fin whale, and minke whale. Annual human-caused 
mortality exceeds PBR for the first three of these

[[Page 26273]]

species, all of which are listed as endangered under the ESA. More 
information is available online at: 
www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected/whaletrp/.
    NMFS implemented a Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan (HPTRP) to 
reduce interactions between harbor porpoise and commercial gillnet gear 
in both New England and the mid-Atlantic. The HPTRP has several 
components including restrictions on where, when, and how gear can be 
set, and in some areas requires the use of acoustic deterrent devices. 
More information is available online at: 
www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected/porptrp/.
    The Atlantic Trawl Gear Take Reduction Team was developed to 
address the incidental mortality and serious injury of pilot whales, 
common dolphins, and white-sided dolphins incidental to Atlantic trawl 
fisheries. More information is available online at: 
www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/Protected/mmp/atgtrp/. 
Separately, NMFS established a Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Plan 
(PLTRP) to address the incidental mortality and serious injury of pilot 
whales in the mid-Atlantic region of the Atlantic pelagic longline 
fishery. The PLTRP includes a special research area, gear 
modifications, outreach material, observer coverage, and captains' 
communications. Pilot whales incur substantial incidental mortality and 
serious injury due to commercial fishing (annual human-caused mortality 
equal to 121 and 109 percent of PBR for short- and long-finned pilot 
whales, respectively), and therefore are of particular concern. More 
information is available online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/interactions/trt/pl-trt.html.

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals

    This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that 
components of the specified activity may impact marine mammals and 
their habitat. 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 Analyses'' section will include an analysis of 
how these specific activities will impact marine mammals and will 
consider the content of this section, the ``Estimated Take by 
Incidental Harassment'' section, and the ``Proposed Mitigation'' 
section, to draw conclusions regarding the likely impacts of these 
activities on the reproductive success or survivorship of individuals 
and from that on the affected marine mammal populations or stocks. In 
the following discussion, we provide general background information on 
sound and marine mammal hearing before considering potential effects to 
marine mammals from ship strike and sound produced through use of 
airgun arrays.

Description of Active Acoustic Sound Sources

    This section contains a brief technical background on sound, the 
characteristics of certain sound types, and on metrics used in this 
proposal inasmuch as the information is relevant to the specified 
activity and to a discussion of the potential effects of the specified 
activity on marine mammals found later in this document.
    Sound travels in waves, the basic components of which are 
frequency, wavelength, velocity, and amplitude. Frequency is the number 
of pressure waves that pass by a reference point per unit of time and 
is measured in hertz (Hz) or cycles per second. Wavelength is the 
distance between two peaks or corresponding points of a sound wave 
(length of one cycle). Higher frequency sounds have shorter wavelengths 
than lower frequency sounds, and typically attenuate (decrease) more 
rapidly, except in certain cases in shallower water. Amplitude is the 
height of the sound pressure wave or the ``loudness'' of a sound and is 
typically described using the relative unit of the decibel (dB). A 
sound pressure level (SPL) in dB is described as the ratio between a 
measured pressure and a reference pressure (for underwater sound, this 
is 1 microPascal ([mu]Pa)), and is a logarithmic unit that accounts for 
large variations in amplitude; therefore, a relatively small change in 
dB corresponds to large changes in sound pressure. The source level 
(SL) represents the SPL referenced at a distance of 1 m from the source 
(referenced to 1 [mu]Pa), while the received level is the SPL at the 
listener's position (referenced to 1 [mu]Pa).
    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, 1983). 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 
(Hastings and Popper, 2005). 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 than by peak pressures.
    Sound exposure level (SEL; represented as dB re 1 [mu]Pa\2\-s) 
represents the total energy contained within a pulse, and considers 
both intensity and duration of exposure. Peak sound pressure (also 
referred to as zero-to-peak sound pressure or 0-p) is the maximum 
instantaneous sound pressure measurable in the water at a specified 
distance from the source, and is represented in the same units as the 
rms sound pressure. Another common metric is peak-to-peak sound 
pressure (pk-pk), which is the algebraic difference between the peak 
positive and peak negative sound pressures. Peak-to-peak pressure is 
typically approximately 6 dB higher than peak pressure (Southall et 
al., 2007).
    When underwater objects vibrate or activity occurs, sound-pressure 
waves are created. These waves alternately compress and decompress the 
water as the sound wave travels. Underwater sound waves radiate in a 
manner similar to ripples on the surface of a pond and may be either 
directed in a beam or beams or may radiate in all directions 
(omnidirectional sources), as is the case for pulses produced by the 
airgun arrays considered here. The compressions and decompressions 
associated with sound waves are detected as changes in pressure by 
aquatic life and man-made sound receptors such as hydrophones.
    Even in the absence of sound from the specified activity, the 
underwater environment is typically loud due to ambient sound. Ambient 
sound is defined as environmental background sound levels lacking a 
single source or point (Richardson et al., 1995), and the sound level 
of a region is defined by the total acoustical energy being generated 
by known and unknown sources. These sources may include physical (e.g., 
wind and waves, earthquakes, ice, atmospheric sound), biological (e.g., 
sounds produced by marine mammals, fish, and invertebrates), and 
anthropogenic (e.g., vessels, dredging, construction) sound. A number 
of sources contribute to ambient sound, including the following 
(Richardson et al., 1995):
     Wind and waves: The complex interactions between wind and 
water surface, including processes such as breaking waves and wave-
induced bubble oscillations and cavitation, are a main source of 
naturally occurring ambient sound for frequencies between 200 Hz and 50 
kHz (Mitson, 1995). In general, ambient sound levels tend to increase 
with increasing wind speed and wave height. Surf sound becomes

[[Page 26274]]

important near shore, with measurements collected at a distance of 8.5 
km from shore showing an increase of 10 dB in the 100 to 700 Hz band 
during heavy surf conditions.
     Precipitation: Sound from rain and hail impacting the 
water surface can become an important component of total sound at 
frequencies above 500 Hz, and possibly down to 100 Hz during quiet 
times.
     Biological: Marine mammals can contribute significantly to 
ambient sound levels, as can some fish and snapping shrimp. The 
frequency band for biological contributions is from approximately 12 Hz 
to over 100 kHz.
     Anthropogenic: Sources of ambient sound related to human 
activity include transportation (surface vessels), dredging and 
construction, oil and gas drilling and production, seismic surveys, 
sonar, explosions, and ocean acoustic studies. Vessel noise typically 
dominates the total ambient sound for frequencies between 20 and 300 
Hz. In general, the frequencies of anthropogenic sounds are below 1 kHz 
and, if higher frequency sound levels are created, they attenuate 
rapidly. Sound from identifiable anthropogenic sources other than the 
activity of interest (e.g., a passing vessel) is sometimes termed 
background sound, as opposed to ambient sound.
    The sum of the various natural and anthropogenic sound sources at 
any given location and time--which comprise ``ambient'' or 
``background'' sound--depends not only on the source levels (as 
determined by current weather conditions and levels of biological and 
human activity) but also on the ability of sound to propagate through 
the environment. In turn, sound propagation is dependent on the 
spatially and temporally varying properties of the water column and sea 
floor, and is frequency-dependent. As a result of the dependence on a 
large number of varying factors, ambient sound levels can be expected 
to vary widely over both coarse and fine spatial and temporal scales. 
Sound levels at a given frequency and location can vary by 10-20 dB 
from day to day (Richardson et al., 1995). The result is that, 
depending on the source type and its intensity, sound from a given 
activity may be a negligible addition to the local environment or could 
form a distinctive signal that may affect marine mammals. Details of 
source types are described in the following text.
    Sounds are often considered to fall into one of two general types: 
Pulsed and non-pulsed (defined in the following). The distinction 
between these two sound types is important because they have differing 
potential to cause physical effects, particularly with regard to 
hearing (e.g., Ward, 1997 in Southall et al., 2007). Please see 
Southall et al. (2007) for an in-depth discussion of these concepts.
    Pulsed sound sources (e.g., airguns, explosions, gunshots, sonic 
booms, impact pile driving) produce signals that are brief (typically 
considered to be less than one second), broadband, atonal transients 
(ANSI, 1986, 2005; Harris, 1998; NIOSH, 1998; ISO, 2003) and occur 
either as isolated events or repeated in some succession. Pulsed sounds 
are all characterized by a relatively rapid rise from ambient pressure 
to a maximal pressure value followed by a rapid decay period that may 
include a period of diminishing, oscillating maximal and minimal 
pressures, and generally have an increased capacity to induce physical 
injury as compared with sounds that lack these features.
    Non-pulsed sounds can be tonal, narrowband, or broadband, brief or 
prolonged, and may be either continuous or non-continuous (ANSI, 1995; 
NIOSH, 1998). Some of these non-pulsed sounds can be transient signals 
of short duration but without the essential properties of pulses (e.g., 
rapid rise time). Examples of non-pulsed sounds include those produced 
by vessels, aircraft, machinery operations such as drilling or 
dredging, vibratory pile driving, and active sonar systems (such as 
those used by the U.S. Navy). The duration of such sounds, as received 
at a distance, can be greatly extended in a highly reverberant 
environment.
    The active acoustic sound sources proposed for use (i.e., airgun 
arrays) produce pulsed signals. No other active acoustic systems are 
proposed for use for data acquisition purposes. Airguns produce sound 
with energy in a frequency range from about 10-2,000 Hz, with most 
energy radiated at frequencies below 200 Hz. The amplitude of the 
acoustic wave emitted from the source is equal in all directions (i.e., 
omnidirectional), but airgun arrays do possess some directionality due 
to different phase delays between guns in different directions. Airgun 
arrays are typically tuned to maximize functionality for data 
acquisition purposes, meaning that sound transmitted in horizontal 
directions and at higher frequencies is minimized to the extent 
possible.
    Vessel noise, produced largely by cavitation of propellers and by 
machinery inside the hull, is considered a non-pulsed sound. Sounds 
emitted by survey vessels are low frequency and continuous, but would 
be widely dispersed in both space and time. Survey vessel traffic is of 
very low density compared to commercial shipping traffic or commercial 
fishing vessels and would therefore be expected to represent an 
insignificant incremental increase in the total amount of anthropogenic 
sound input to the marine environment. We do not consider vessel noise 
further in this analysis.

Acoustic Effects

    Here, we first provide background information on marine mammal 
hearing before discussing the potential effects of the use of active 
acoustic sources on marine mammals.
    Marine Mammal Hearing--Hearing is the most important sensory 
modality for marine mammals underwater, and exposure to anthropogenic 
sound can have deleterious effects. To appropriately assess the 
potential effects of exposure to sound, it is necessary to understand 
the frequency ranges marine mammals are able to hear. Current data 
indicate that not all marine mammal species have equal hearing 
capabilities (e.g., Richardson et al., 1995; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999; 
Au and Hastings, 2008). To reflect this, Southall et al. (2007) 
recommended that marine mammals be divided into functional hearing 
groups based on directly measured or estimated hearing ranges on the 
basis of available behavioral response data, audiograms derived using 
auditory evoked potential techniques, anatomical modeling, and other 
data. Note that no direct measurements of hearing ability have been 
successfully completed for mysticetes (i.e., low-frequency cetaceans). 
Subsequently, NMFS (2016) described generalized hearing ranges for 
these marine mammal hearing groups. Generalized hearing ranges were 
chosen based on the approximately 65 dB threshold from the normalized 
composite audiograms, with the exception for lower limits for low-
frequency cetaceans where the lower bound was deemed to be biologically 
implausible and the lower bound from Southall et al. (2007) retained. 
Pinniped functional hearing is not discussed here, as no pinnipeds are 
expected to be affected by the specified activity. The functional 
groups and the associated frequencies are indicated below (note that 
these frequency ranges correspond to the range for the composite group, 
with the entire range not necessarily reflecting the capabilities of 
every species within that group):
     Low-frequency cetaceans (mysticetes): Generalized hearing 
is

[[Page 26275]]

estimated to occur between approximately 7 Hz and 35 kHz, with best 
hearing estimated to be from 100 Hz to 8 kHz;
     Mid-frequency cetaceans (larger toothed whales, beaked 
whales, and most delphinids): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur 
between approximately 150 Hz and 160 kHz, with best hearing from 10 to 
less than 100 kHz;
     High-frequency cetaceans (porpoises, river dolphins, and 
members of the genera Kogia and Cephalorhynchus; including two members 
of the genus Lagenorhynchus, on the basis of recent echolocation data 
and genetic data): Generalized hearing is estimated to occur between 
approximately 275 Hz and 160 kHz.
    For more detail concerning these groups and associated frequency 
ranges, please see NMFS (2016) for a review of available information. 
Thirty-four marine mammal species, all cetaceans, have the reasonable 
potential to co-occur with the proposed survey activities. Please refer 
to Table 4. Of the species that may be present, seven are classified as 
low-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all mysticete species), 24 are 
classified as mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all delphinid and ziphiid 
species and the sperm whale), and three are classified as high-
frequency cetaceans (i.e., harbor porpoise and Kogia spp.).
    Potential Effects of Underwater Sound--Please refer to the 
information given previously (``Description of Active Acoustic 
Sources'') regarding sound, characteristics of sound types, and metrics 
used in this document. Note that, in the following discussion, we refer 
in many cases to a recent review article concerning studies of noise-
induced hearing loss conducted from 1996-2015 (i.e., Finneran, 2015). 
For study-specific citations, please see that work. Anthropogenic 
sounds cover a broad range of frequencies and sound levels and can have 
a range of highly variable impacts on marine life, from none or minor 
to potentially severe responses, depending on received levels, duration 
of exposure, behavioral context, and various other factors. The 
potential effects of underwater sound from active acoustic sources can 
potentially result in one or more of the following: Temporary or 
permanent hearing impairment, non-auditory physical or physiological 
effects, behavioral disturbance, stress, and masking (Richardson et 
al., 1995; Gordon et al., 2004; Nowacek et al., 2007; Southall et al., 
2007; G[ouml]tz et al., 2009). The degree of effect is intrinsically 
related to the signal characteristics, received level, distance from 
the source, and duration of the sound exposure. In general, sudden, 
high level sounds can cause hearing loss, as can longer exposures to 
lower level sounds. Temporary or permanent loss of hearing will occur 
almost exclusively for noise within an animal's hearing range. We first 
describe specific manifestations of acoustic effects before providing 
discussion specific to the use of airgun arrays.
    Richardson et al. (1995) described zones of increasing intensity of 
effect that might be expected to occur, in relation to distance from a 
source and assuming that the signal is within an animal's hearing 
range. First is the area within which the acoustic signal would be 
audible (potentially perceived) to the animal, but not strong enough to 
elicit any overt behavioral or physiological response. The next zone 
corresponds with the area where the signal is audible to the animal and 
of sufficient intensity to elicit behavioral or physiological 
responsiveness. Third is a zone within which, for signals of high 
intensity, the received level is sufficient to potentially cause 
discomfort or tissue damage to auditory or other systems. Overlaying 
these zones to a certain extent is the area within which masking (i.e., 
when a sound interferes with or masks the ability of an animal to 
detect a signal of interest that is above the absolute hearing 
threshold) may occur; the masking zone may be highly variable in size.
    We describe the more severe effects certain non-auditory physical 
or physiological effects only briefly as we do not expect that use of 
airgun arrays are reasonably likely to result in such effects (see 
below for further discussion). Potential effects from impulsive sound 
sources can range in severity from effects such as behavioral 
disturbance or tactile perception to physical discomfort, slight injury 
of the internal organs and the auditory system, or mortality (Yelverton 
et al., 1973). Non-auditory physiological effects or injuries that 
theoretically might occur in marine mammals exposed to high level 
underwater sound or as a secondary effect of extreme behavioral 
reactions (e.g., change in dive profile as a result of an avoidance 
reaction) caused by exposure to sound include neurological effects, 
bubble formation, resonance effects, and other types of organ or tissue 
damage (Cox et al., 2006; Southall et al., 2007; Zimmer and Tyack, 
2007; Tal et al., 2015). The survey activities considered here do not 
involve the use of devices such as explosives or mid-frequency tactical 
sonar that are associated with these types of effects.
    When a live or dead marine mammal swims or floats onto shore and is 
incapable of returning to sea, the event is termed a ``stranding'' (16 
U.S.C. 1421h(3)). Marine mammals are known to strand for a variety of 
reasons, such as infectious agents, biotoxicosis, starvation, fishery 
interaction, ship strike, unusual oceanographic or weather events, 
sound exposure, or combinations of these stressors sustained 
concurrently or in series (e.g., Geraci et al., 1999). However, the 
cause or causes of most strandings are unknown (e.g., Best, 1982). 
Combinations of dissimilar stressors may combine to kill an animal or 
dramatically reduce its fitness, even though one exposure without the 
other would not be expected to produce the same outcome (e.g., Sih et 
al., 2004). For further description of specific stranding events see, 
e.g., Southall et al., 2006, 2013; Jepson et al., 2013; Wright et al., 
2013.
    Use of military tactical sonar has been implicated in a majority of 
investigated stranding events, although one stranding event was 
associated with the use of seismic airguns. This event occurred in the 
Gulf of California, coincident with seismic reflection profiling by the 
R/V Maurice Ewing operated by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty 
Earth Observatory and involved two Cuvier's beaked whales (Hildebrand, 
2004). The vessel had been firing an array of 20 airguns with a total 
volume of 8,500 in\3\ (Hildebrand, 2004; Taylor et al., 2004). Most 
known stranding events have involved beaked whales, though a small 
number have involved deep-diving delphinids or sperm whales (e.g., 
Mazzariol et al., 2010; Southall et al., 2013). In general, long 
duration (~1 second) and high-intensity sounds (>235 dB SPL) have been 
implicated in stranding events (Hildebrand, 2004). With regard to 
beaked whales, mid-frequency sound is typically implicated (when 
causation can be determined) (Hildebrand, 2004). Although seismic 
airguns create predominantly low-frequency energy, the signal does 
include a mid-frequency component.
    1. Threshold Shift--Marine mammals exposed to high-intensity sound, 
or to lower-intensity sound for prolonged periods, can experience 
hearing threshold shift (TS), which is the loss of hearing sensitivity 
at certain frequency ranges (Finneran, 2015). TS can be permanent 
(PTS), in which case the loss of hearing sensitivity is not fully 
recoverable, or temporary (TTS), in which case the animal's hearing 
threshold would recover over time (Southall et al., 2007). Repeated 
sound

[[Page 26276]]

exposure that leads to TTS could cause PTS. In severe cases of PTS, 
there can be total or partial deafness, while in most cases the animal 
has an impaired ability to hear sounds in specific frequency ranges 
(Kryter, 1985).
    When PTS occurs, there is physical damage to the sound receptors in 
the ear (i.e., tissue damage), whereas TTS represents primarily tissue 
fatigue and is reversible (Southall et al., 2007). In addition, other 
investigators have suggested that TTS is within the normal bounds of 
physiological variability and tolerance and does not represent physical 
injury (e.g., Ward, 1997). Therefore, NMFS does not consider TTS to 
constitute auditory injury.
    Relationships between TTS and PTS thresholds have not been studied 
in marine mammals, and there is no PTS data for cetaceans, but such 
relationships are assumed to be similar to those in humans and other 
terrestrial mammals. PTS typically occurs at exposure levels at least 
several decibels above (a 40-dB threshold shift approximates PTS onset; 
e.g., Kryter et al., 1966; Miller, 1974) that inducing mild TTS (a 6-dB 
threshold shift approximates TTS onset; e.g., Southall et al. 2007). 
Based on data from terrestrial mammals, a precautionary assumption is 
that the PTS thresholds for impulse sounds (such as airgun pulses as 
received close to the source) are at least 6 dB higher than the TTS 
threshold on a peak-pressure basis and PTS cumulative sound exposure 
level thresholds are 15 to 20 dB higher than TTS cumulative sound 
exposure level thresholds (Southall et al., 2007). Given the higher 
level of sound or longer exposure duration necessary to cause PTS as 
compared with TTS, it is considerably less likely that PTS could occur.
    For mid-frequency cetaceans in particular, potential protective 
mechanisms may help limit onset of TTS or prevent onset of PTS. Such 
mechanisms include dampening of hearing, auditory adaptation, or 
behavioral amelioration (e.g., Nachtigall and Supin, 2013; Miller et 
al., 2012; Finneran et al., 2015; Popov et al., 2016).
    TTS is the mildest form of hearing impairment that can occur during 
exposure to sound (Kryter, 1985). While experiencing TTS, the hearing 
threshold rises, and a sound must be at a higher level in order to be 
heard. In terrestrial and marine mammals, TTS can last from minutes or 
hours to days (in cases of strong TTS). In many cases, hearing 
sensitivity recovers rapidly after exposure to the sound ends. Few data 
on sound levels and durations necessary to elicit mild TTS have been 
obtained for marine mammals.
    Marine mammal hearing plays a critical role in communication with 
conspecifics, and interpretation of environmental cues for purposes 
such as predator avoidance and prey capture. Depending on the degree 
(elevation of threshold in dB), duration (i.e., recovery time), and 
frequency range of TTS, and the context in which it is experienced, TTS 
can have effects on marine mammals ranging from discountable to 
serious. For example, a marine mammal may be able to readily compensate 
for a brief, relatively small amount of TTS in a non-critical frequency 
range that occurs during a time where ambient noise is lower and there 
are not as many competing sounds present. Alternatively, a larger 
amount and longer duration of TTS sustained during time when 
communication is critical for successful mother/calf interactions could 
have more serious impacts.
    Finneran et al. (2015) measured hearing thresholds in three captive 
bottlenose dolphins before and after exposure to ten pulses produced by 
a seismic airgun in order to study TTS induced after exposure to 
multiple pulses. Exposures began at relatively low levels and gradually 
increased over a period of several months, with the highest exposures 
at peak SPLs from 196 to 210 dB and cumulative (unweighted) SELs from 
193-195 dB. No substantial TTS was observed. In addition, behavioral 
reactions were observed that indicated that animals can learn behaviors 
that effectively mitigate noise exposures (although exposure patterns 
must be learned, which is less likely in wild animals than for the 
captive animals considered in this study). The authors note that the 
failure to induce more significant auditory effects likely due to the 
intermittent nature of exposure, the relatively low peak pressure 
produced by the acoustic source, and the low-frequency energy in airgun 
pulses as compared with the frequency range of best sensitivity for 
dolphins and other mid-frequency cetaceans.
    Currently, TTS data only exist for four species of cetaceans 
(bottlenose dolphin, beluga whale, harbor porpoise, and Yangtze finless 
porpoise (Neophocoena asiaeorientalis)) exposed to a limited number of 
sound sources (i.e., mostly tones and octave-band noise) in laboratory 
settings (Finneran, 2015). In general, harbor porpoises have a lower 
TTS onset than other measured cetacean species (Finneran, 2015). 
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.
    Critical questions remain regarding the rate of TTS growth and 
recovery after exposure to intermittent noise and the effects of single 
and multiple pulses. Data at present are also insufficient to construct 
generalized models for recovery and determine the time necessary to 
treat subsequent exposures as independent events. More information is 
needed on the relationship between auditory evoked potential and 
behavioral measures of TTS for various stimuli. 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), Finneran (2015), and NMFS (2016).
    2. Behavioral Effects--Behavioral disturbance may include a variety 
of effects, including subtle changes in behavior (e.g., minor or brief 
avoidance of an area or changes in vocalizations), more conspicuous 
changes in similar behavioral activities, and more sustained and/or 
potentially severe reactions, such as displacement from or abandonment 
of high-quality habitat. Behavioral responses to sound are highly 
variable and context-specific and any reactions depend on numerous 
intrinsic and extrinsic factors (e.g., species, state of maturity, 
experience, current activity, reproductive state, auditory sensitivity, 
time of day), as well as the interplay between factors (e.g., 
Richardson et al., 1995; Wartzok et al., 2003; Southall et al., 2007; 
Weilgart, 2007; Archer et al., 2010). Behavioral reactions can vary not 
only among individuals but also within an individual, depending on 
previous experience with a sound source, context, and numerous other 
factors (Ellison et al., 2012), and can vary depending on 
characteristics associated with the sound source (e.g., whether it is 
moving or stationary, number of sources, distance from the source). 
Please see Appendices B-C of Southall et al. (2007) for a review of 
studies involving marine mammal behavioral responses to sound.
    Habituation can occur when an animal's response to a stimulus wanes 
with repeated exposure, usually in the absence of unpleasant associated 
events (Wartzok et al., 2003). Animals are most likely to habituate to 
sounds that are predictable and unvarying. It is important to note that 
habituation is appropriately considered as a ``progressive reduction in 
response to stimuli that are perceived as neither aversive nor 
beneficial,'' rather than as, more generally, moderation in response

[[Page 26277]]

to human disturbance (Bejder et al., 2009). The opposite process is 
sensitization, when an unpleasant experience leads to subsequent 
responses, often in the form of avoidance, at a lower level of 
exposure. As noted, behavioral state may affect the type of response. 
For example, animals that are resting may show greater behavioral 
change in response to disturbing sound levels than animals that are 
highly motivated to remain in an area for feeding (Richardson et al., 
1995; NRC, 2003; Wartzok et al., 2003). Controlled experiments with 
captive marine mammals have showed pronounced behavioral reactions, 
including avoidance of loud sound sources (Ridgway et al., 1997). 
Observed responses of wild marine mammals to loud pulsed sound sources 
(typically seismic airguns or acoustic harassment devices) have been 
varied but often consist of avoidance behavior or other behavioral 
changes suggesting discomfort (Morton and Symonds, 2002; see also 
Richardson et al., 1995; Nowacek et al., 2007). However, many 
delphinids approach acoustic source vessels with no apparent discomfort 
or obvious behavioral change (e.g., Barkaszi et al., 2012).
    Available studies show wide variation in response to underwater 
sound; therefore, it is difficult to predict specifically how any given 
sound in a particular instance might affect marine mammals perceiving 
the signal. 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; NRC, 
2005). However, there are broad categories of potential response, which 
we describe in greater detail here, that include alteration of dive 
behavior, alteration of foraging behavior, effects to breathing, 
interference with or alteration of vocalization, avoidance, and flight.
    Changes in dive behavior can vary widely, and may consist of 
increased or decreased dive times and surface intervals as well as 
changes in the rates of ascent and descent during a dive (e.g., Frankel 
and Clark, 2000; Ng and Leung, 2003; Nowacek et al.; 2004; Goldbogen et 
al., 2013a, b). Variations in dive behavior may reflect interruptions 
in biologically significant activities (e.g., foraging) or they may be 
of little biological significance. The impact of an alteration to dive 
behavior resulting from an acoustic exposure depends on what the animal 
is doing at the time of the exposure and the type and magnitude of the 
response.
    Disruption of feeding behavior can be difficult to correlate with 
anthropogenic sound exposure, so it is usually inferred by observed 
displacement from known foraging areas, the appearance of secondary 
indicators (e.g., bubble nets or sediment plumes), or changes in dive 
behavior. As for other types of behavioral response, the frequency, 
duration, and temporal pattern of signal presentation, as well as 
differences in species sensitivity, are likely contributing factors to 
differences in response in any given circumstance (e.g., Croll et al., 
2001; Nowacek et al.; 2004; Madsen et al., 2006; Yazvenko et al., 
2007). A determination of whether foraging disruptions incur fitness 
consequences would require information on or estimates of the energetic 
requirements of the affected individuals and the relationship between 
prey availability, foraging effort and success, and the life history 
stage of the animal.
    Visual tracking, passive acoustic monitoring, and movement 
recording tags were used to quantify sperm whale behavior prior to, 
during, and following exposure to airgun arrays at received levels in 
the range 140-160 dB at distances of 7-13 km, following a phase-in of 
sound intensity and full array exposures at 1-13 km (Madsen et al., 
2006; Miller et al., 2009). Sperm whales did not exhibit horizontal 
avoidance behavior at the surface. However, foraging behavior may have 
been affected. The sperm whales exhibited 19 percent less vocal (buzz) 
rate during full exposure relative to post exposure, and the whale that 
was approached most closely had an extended resting period and did not 
resume foraging until the airguns had ceased firing. The remaining 
whales continued to execute foraging dives throughout exposure; 
however, swimming movements during foraging dives were 6 percent lower 
during exposure than control periods (Miller et al., 2009). These data 
raise concerns that seismic surveys may impact foraging behavior in 
sperm whales, although more data are required to understand whether the 
differences were due to exposure or natural variation in sperm whale 
behavior (Miller et al., 2009).
    Variations in respiration naturally vary with different behaviors 
and alterations to breathing rate as a function of acoustic exposure 
can be expected to co-occur with other behavioral reactions, such as a 
flight response or an alteration in diving. However, respiration rates 
in and of themselves may be representative of annoyance or an acute 
stress response. Various studies have shown that respiration rates may 
either be unaffected or could increase, depending on the species and 
signal characteristics, again highlighting the importance in 
understanding species differences in the tolerance of underwater noise 
when determining the potential for impacts resulting from anthropogenic 
sound exposure (e.g., Kastelein et al., 2001, 2005, 2006; Gailey et 
al., 2007; Gailey et al., 2016).
    Marine mammals vocalize for different purposes and across multiple 
modes, such as whistling, echolocation click production, calling, and 
singing. Changes in vocalization behavior in response to anthropogenic 
noise can occur for any of these modes and may result from a need to 
compete with an increase in background noise or may reflect increased 
vigilance or a startle response. For example, in the presence of 
potentially masking signals, humpback whales and killer whales have 
been observed to increase the length of their songs (Miller et al., 
2000; Fristrup et al., 2003; Foote et al., 2004), while right whales 
have been observed to shift the frequency content of their calls upward 
while reducing the rate of calling in areas of increased anthropogenic 
noise (Parks et al., 2007). In some cases, animals may cease sound 
production during production of aversive signals (Bowles et al., 1994).
    Cerchio et al. (2014) used passive acoustic monitoring to document 
the presence of singing humpback whales off the coast of northern 
Angola and to opportunistically test for the effect of seismic survey 
activity on the number of singing whales. Two recording units were 
deployed between March and December 2008 in the offshore environment; 
numbers of singers were counted every hour. Generalized Additive Mixed 
Models were used to assess the effect of survey day (seasonality), hour 
(diel variation), moon phase, and received levels of noise (measured 
from a single pulse during each ten minute sampled period) on singer 
number. The number of singers significantly decreased with increasing 
received level of noise, suggesting that humpback whale breeding 
activity was disrupted to some extent by the survey activity.
    Castellote et al. (2012) reported acoustic and behavioral changes 
by fin whales in response to shipping and airgun noise. Acoustic 
features of fin whale song notes recorded in the Mediterranean Sea and 
northeast

[[Page 26278]]

Atlantic Ocean were compared for areas with different shipping noise 
levels and traffic intensities and during a seismic airgun survey. 
During the first 72 h of the survey, a steady decrease in song received 
levels and bearings to singers indicated that whales moved away from 
the acoustic source and out of the study area. This displacement 
persisted for a time period well beyond the 10-day duration of seismic 
airgun activity, providing evidence that fin whales may avoid an area 
for an extended period in the presence of increased noise. The authors 
hypothesize that fin whale acoustic communication is modified to 
compensate for increased background noise and that a sensitization 
process may play a role in the observed temporary displacement.
    Seismic pulses at average received levels of 131 dB re 1 [mu]Pa\2\-
s caused blue whales to increase call production (Di Iorio and Clark, 
2010). In contrast, McDonald et al. (1995) tracked a blue whale with 
seafloor seismometers and reported that it stopped vocalizing and 
changed its travel direction at a range of 10 km from the acoustic 
source vessel (estimated received level 143 dB pk-pk). Blackwell et al. 
(2013) found that bowhead whale call rates dropped significantly at 
onset of airgun use at sites with a median distance of 41-45 km from 
the survey. Blackwell et al. (2015) expanded this analysis to show that 
whales actually increased calling rates as soon as airgun signals were 
detectable before ultimately decreasing calling rates at higher 
received levels (i.e., 10-minute cSEL of ~127 dB). Overall, these 
results suggest that bowhead whales may adjust their vocal output in an 
effort to compensate for noise before ceasing vocalization effort and 
ultimately deflecting from the acoustic source (Blackwell et al., 2013, 
2015). These studies demonstrate that even low levels of noise received 
far from the source can induce changes in vocalization and/or behavior 
for mysticetes.
    Avoidance is the displacement of an individual from an area or 
migration path as a result of the presence of a sound or other 
stressors, and is one of the most obvious manifestations of disturbance 
in marine mammals (Richardson et al., 1995). For example, gray whales 
are known to change direction--deflecting from customary migratory 
paths--in order to avoid noise from seismic surveys (Malme et al., 
1984). Humpback whales showed avoidance behavior in the presence of an 
active seismic array during observational studies and controlled 
exposure experiments in western Australia (McCauley et al., 2000). 
Avoidance may be short-term, with animals returning to the area once 
the noise has ceased (e.g., Bowles et al., 1994; Goold, 1996; Stone et 
al., 2000; Morton and Symonds, 2002; Gailey et al., 2007). Longer-term 
displacement is possible, however, which may lead to changes in 
abundance or distribution patterns of the affected species in the 
affected region if habituation to the presence of the sound does not 
occur (e.g., Bejder et al., 2006; Teilmann et al., 2006).
    Forney et al. (2017) detail the potential effects of noise on 
marine mammal populations with high site fidelity, including 
displacement and auditory masking, noting that a lack of observed 
response does not imply absence of fitness costs and that apparent 
tolerance of disturbance may have population-level impacts that are 
less obvious and difficult to document. As we discuss in describing our 
proposed mitigation earlier in this document, avoidance of overlap 
between disturbing noise and areas and/or times of particular 
importance for sensitive species may be critical to avoiding 
population-level impacts and because, particularly for animals with 
high site fidelity, there may be a strong motivation to remain in the 
area despite negative impacts. Forney et al. (2017) state that, for 
these animals, remaining in a disturbed area may reflect a lack of 
alternatives rather than a lack of effects. Among other case studies, 
the authors discuss beaked whales off Cape Hatteras, noting the 
apparent importance of this area to the species and citing studies 
indicating long-term, year-round fidelity. This information leads the 
authors to conclude that failure to appropriately address potential 
effects in this particular area could lead to severe biological 
consequences for these beaked whales, in part because displacement may 
adversely affect foraging rates, reproduction, or health, while an 
overriding instinct to remain could lead to more severe acute effects 
(Forney et al., 2017).
    A flight response is a dramatic change in normal movement to a 
directed and rapid movement away from the perceived location of a sound 
source. The flight response differs from other avoidance responses in 
the intensity of the response (e.g., directed movement, rate of 
travel). Relatively little information on flight responses of marine 
mammals to anthropogenic signals exist, although observations of flight 
responses to the presence of predators have occurred (Connor and 
Heithaus, 1996). The result of a flight response could range from 
brief, temporary exertion and displacement from the area where the 
signal provokes flight to, in extreme cases, marine mammal strandings 
(Evans and England, 2001). However, it should be noted that response to 
a perceived predator does not necessarily invoke flight (Ford and 
Reeves, 2008), and whether individuals are solitary or in groups may 
influence the response.
    Behavioral disturbance can also impact marine mammals in more 
subtle ways. Increased vigilance may result in costs related to 
diversion of focus and attention (i.e., when a response consists of 
increased vigilance, it may come at the cost of decreased attention to 
other critical behaviors such as foraging or resting). These effects 
have generally not been demonstrated for marine mammals, but studies 
involving fish and terrestrial animals have shown that increased 
vigilance may substantially reduce feeding rates (e.g., Beauchamp and 
Livoreil, 1997; Fritz et al., 2002; Purser and Radford, 2011). In 
addition, chronic disturbance can cause population declines through 
reduction of fitness (e.g., decline in body condition) and subsequent 
reduction in reproductive success, survival, or both (e.g., Harrington 
and Veitch, 1992; Daan et al., 1996; Bradshaw et al., 1998). However, 
Ridgway et al. (2006) reported that increased vigilance in bottlenose 
dolphins exposed to sound over a five-day period did not cause any 
sleep deprivation or stress effects.
    Many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, 
traveling, and socializing, on a diel cycle (24-hour cycle). Disruption 
of such functions resulting from reactions to stressors such as sound 
exposure are more likely to be significant if they last more than one 
diel cycle or recur on subsequent days (Southall et al., 2007). 
Consequently, a behavioral response lasting less than one day and not 
recurring on subsequent days is not considered particularly severe 
unless it could directly affect reproduction or survival (Southall et 
al., 2007). Note that there is a difference between multi-day 
substantive behavioral reactions and multi-day anthropogenic 
activities. For example, just because an activity lasts for multiple 
days does not necessarily mean that individual animals are either 
exposed to activity-related stressors for multiple days or, further, 
exposed in a manner resulting in sustained multi-day substantive 
behavioral responses.
    Stone (2015) reported data from at-sea observations during 1,196 
seismic surveys from 1994 to 2010. When large arrays of airguns 
(considered to be 500 in\3\ or more) were firing, lateral displacement, 
more localized

[[Page 26279]]

avoidance, or other changes in behavior were evident for most 
odontocetes. However, significant responses to large arrays were found 
only for the minke whale and fin whale. Behavioral responses observed 
included changes in swimming or surfacing behavior, with indications 
that cetaceans remained near the water surface at these times. 
Cetaceans were recorded as feeding less often when large arrays were 
active. Behavioral observations of gray whales during a seismic survey 
monitored whale movements and respirations pre-, during and post-
seismic survey (Gailey et al., 2016). Behavioral state and water depth 
were the best `natural' predictors of whale movements and respiration 
and, after considering natural variation, none of the response 
variables were significantly associated with seismic survey or vessel 
sounds.
    3. Stress Responses--An animal's perception of a threat may be 
sufficient to trigger stress responses consisting of some combination 
of behavioral responses, autonomic nervous system responses, 
neuroendocrine responses, or immune responses (e.g., Seyle, 1950; 
Moberg, 2000). In many cases, an animal's first and sometimes most 
economical (in terms of energetic costs) response is behavioral 
avoidance of the potential stressor. Autonomic nervous system responses 
to stress typically involve changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and 
gastrointestinal activity. These responses have a relatively short 
duration and may or may not have a significant long-term effect on an 
animal's fitness.
    Neuroendocrine stress responses often involve the hypothalamus-
pituitary-adrenal system. Virtually all neuroendocrine 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, altered metabolism, reduced immune 
competence, and behavioral disturbance (e.g., Moberg, 1987; Blecha, 
2000). Increases in the circulation of glucocorticoids are also equated 
with stress (Romano et al., 2004).
    The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does 
not normally place an animal at risk) and ``distress'' is the 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 serious 
fitness consequences. 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 functions. This state of 
distress will last until the animal replenishes its energetic reserves 
sufficiently to restore normal function.
    Relationships between these physiological mechanisms, animal 
behavior, and the costs of stress responses are well-studied through 
controlled experiments and for both laboratory and free-ranging animals 
(e.g., Holberton et al., 1996; Hood et al., 1998; Jessop et al., 2003; 
Krausman et al., 2004; Lankford et al., 2005). Stress responses due to 
exposure to anthropogenic sounds or other stressors and their effects 
on marine mammals have also been reviewed (Fair and Becker, 2000; 
Romano et al., 2002b) and, more rarely, studied in wild populations 
(e.g., Romano et al., 2002a). 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. These 
and other studies lead to a reasonable expectation that some marine 
mammals will experience physiological stress responses upon exposure to 
acoustic stressors and that it is possible that some of these would be 
classified as ``distress.'' In addition, any animal experiencing TTS 
would likely also experience stress responses (NRC, 2003).
    4. Auditory Masking--Sound can disrupt behavior through masking, or 
interfering with, an animal's ability to detect, recognize, or 
discriminate between acoustic signals of interest (e.g., those used for 
intraspecific communication and social interactions, prey detection, 
predator avoidance, navigation) (Richardson et al., 1995; Erbe et al., 
2016). Masking occurs when the receipt of a sound is interfered with by 
another coincident sound at similar frequencies and at similar or 
higher intensity, and may occur whether the sound is natural (e.g., 
snapping shrimp, wind, waves, precipitation) or anthropogenic (e.g., 
shipping, sonar, seismic exploration) in origin. The ability of a noise 
source to mask biologically important sounds depends on the 
characteristics of both the noise source and the signal of interest 
(e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, temporal variability, direction), in 
relation to each other and to an animal's hearing abilities (e.g., 
sensitivity, frequency range, critical ratios, frequency 
discrimination, directional discrimination, age or TTS hearing loss), 
and existing ambient noise and propagation conditions.
    Under certain circumstances, marine mammals experiencing 
significant masking could also be impaired from maximizing their 
performance fitness in survival and reproduction. Therefore, when the 
coincident (masking) sound is man-made, it may be considered harassment 
when disrupting or altering critical behaviors. It is important to 
distinguish TTS and PTS, which persist after the sound exposure, from 
masking, which occurs during the sound exposure. Because masking 
(without resulting in TS) is not associated with abnormal physiological 
function, it is not considered a physiological effect, but rather a 
potential behavioral effect.
    The frequency range of the potentially masking sound is important 
in determining any potential behavioral impacts. For example, low-
frequency signals may have less effect on high-frequency echolocation 
sounds produced by odontocetes but are more likely to affect detection 
of mysticete communication calls and other potentially important 
natural sounds such as those produced by surf and some prey species. 
The masking of communication signals by anthropogenic noise may be 
considered as a reduction in the communication space of animals (e.g., 
Clark et al., 2009) and may result in energetic or other costs as 
animals change their vocalization behavior (e.g., Miller et al., 2000; 
Foote et al., 2004; Parks et al., 2007; Di Iorio and Clark, 2009; Holt 
et al., 2009). Masking can be reduced in situations where the signal 
and noise come from different directions (Richardson et al., 1995), 
through amplitude modulation of the signal, or through other 
compensatory behaviors (Houser and Moore, 2014). Masking can be tested 
directly in captive species (e.g., Erbe, 2008), but in wild populations 
it must be either modeled or inferred from evidence of masking 
compensation. There are few studies addressing real-world masking 
sounds likely to be experienced by marine mammals in the wild (e.g., 
Branstetter et al., 2013).
    Masking affects both senders and receivers of acoustic signals and 
can potentially have long-term chronic effects on marine mammals at the 
population level as well as at the individual level. Low-frequency 
ambient sound levels have increased by as much as 20 dB (more than 
three times in terms of SPL) in the world's ocean from pre-industrial 
periods, with most of the increase from distant commercial shipping 
(Hildebrand, 2009). All anthropogenic sound sources, but especially 
chronic and lower-frequency signals (e.g., from vessel traffic),

[[Page 26280]]

contribute to elevated ambient sound levels, thus intensifying masking.

Ship Strike

    Vessel collisions with marine mammals, or ship strikes, can result 
in death or serious injury of the animal. Wounds resulting from ship 
strike may include massive trauma, hemorrhaging, broken bones, or 
propeller lacerations (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001). An animal at the 
surface may be struck directly by a vessel, a surfacing animal may hit 
the bottom of a vessel, or an animal just below the surface may be cut 
by a vessel's propeller. Superficial strikes may not kill or result in 
the death of the animal. These interactions are typically associated 
with large whales (e.g., fin whales), which are occasionally found 
draped across the bulbous bow of large commercial ships upon arrival in 
port. Although smaller cetaceans are more maneuverable in relation to 
large vessels than are large whales, they may also be susceptible to 
strike. The severity of injuries typically depends on the size and 
speed of the vessel, with the probability of death or serious injury 
increasing as vessel speed increases (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Laist 
et al., 2001; Vanderlaan and Taggart, 2007; Conn and Silber, 2013). 
Impact forces increase with speed, as does the probability of a strike 
at a given distance (Silber et al., 2010; Gende et al., 2011).
    Pace and Silber (2005) also found that the probability of death or 
serious injury increased rapidly with increasing vessel speed. 
Specifically, the predicted probability of serious injury or death 
increased from 45 to 75 percent as vessel speed increased from 10 to 14 
kn, and exceeded 90 percent at 17 kn. Higher speeds during collisions 
result in greater force of impact, but higher speeds also appear to 
increase the chance of severe injuries or death through increased 
likelihood of collision by pulling whales toward the vessel (Clyne, 
1999; Knowlton et al., 1995). In a separate study, Vanderlaan and 
Taggart (2007) analyzed the probability of lethal mortality of large 
whales at a given speed, showing that the greatest rate of change in 
the probability of a lethal injury to a large whale as a function of 
vessel speed occurs between 8.6 and 15 kn. The chances of a lethal 
injury decline from approximately 80 percent at 15 kn to approximately 
20 percent at 8.6 kn. At speeds below 11.8 kn, the chances of lethal 
injury drop below 50 percent, while the probability asymptotically 
increases toward one hundred percent above 15 kn.
    In an effort to reduce the number and severity of strikes of the 
endangered North Atlantic right whale, NMFS implemented speed 
restrictions in 2008 (73 FR 60173; October 10, 2008). These 
restrictions require that vessels greater than or equal to 65 ft (19.8 
m) in length travel at less than or equal to 10 kn near key port 
entrances and in certain areas of right whale aggregation along the 
U.S. eastern seaboard. Conn and Silber (2013) estimated that these 
restrictions reduced total ship strike mortality risk levels by 80 to 
90 percent.
    For vessels used in seismic survey activities, vessel speed while 
towing gear is typically only 4-5 kn. At these speeds, both the 
possibility of striking a marine mammal and the possibility of a strike 
resulting in serious injury or mortality are discountable. At average 
transit speed, the probability of serious injury or mortality resulting 
from a strike is less than 50 percent. However, the likelihood of a 
strike actually happening is again discountable. Ship strikes, as 
analyzed in the studies cited above, generally involve commercial 
shipping, which is much more common in both space and time than is 
geophysical survey activity. Jensen and Silber (2004) summarized ship 
strikes of large whales worldwide from 1975-2003 and found that most 
collisions occurred in the open ocean and involved large vessels (e.g., 
commercial shipping). Commercial fishing vessels were responsible for 
three percent of recorded collisions, while no such incidents were 
reported for geophysical survey vessels during that time period.
    It is possible for ship strikes to occur while traveling at slow 
speeds. For example, a hydrographic survey vessel traveling at low 
speed (5.5 kn) while conducting mapping surveys off the central 
California coast struck and killed a blue whale in 2009. The State of 
California determined that the whale had suddenly and unexpectedly 
surfaced beneath the hull, with the result that the propeller severed 
the whale's vertebrae, and that this was an unavoidable event. This 
strike represents the only such incident in approximately 540,000 hours 
of similar coastal mapping activity (p = 1.9 x 10-6; 95% CI 
= 0-5.5 x 10-6; NMFS, 2013b). In addition, a research vessel 
reported a fatal strike in 2011 of a dolphin in the Atlantic, 
demonstrating that it is possible for strikes involving smaller 
cetaceans to occur. In that case, the incident report indicated that an 
animal apparently was struck by the vessel's propeller as it was 
intentionally swimming near the vessel. While indicative of the type of 
unusual events that cannot be ruled out, neither of these instances 
represents a circumstance that would be considered reasonably 
foreseeable or that would be considered preventable.
    Although the likelihood of vessels associated with seismic surveys 
striking a marine mammal are low, we require a robust ship strike 
avoidance protocol (see ``Proposed Mitigation''), which we believe 
eliminates any foreseeable risk of ship strike. We anticipate that 
vessel collisions involving seismic data acquisition vessels towing 
gear, while not impossible, represent unlikely, unpredictable events 
for which there are no preventive measures. Given the required 
mitigation measures, the relatively slow speeds of vessels towing gear, 
the presence of bridge crew watching for obstacles at all times 
(including marine mammals), the presence of marine mammal observers, 
and the small number of seismic survey cruises, we believe that the 
possibility of ship strike is discountable and, further, that were a 
strike of a large whale to occur, it would be unlikely to result in 
serious injury or mortality. No incidental take resulting from ship 
strike is anticipated, and this potential effect of the specified 
activity will not be discussed further in the following analysis.
    Other Potential Impacts--Here, we briefly address the potential 
risks due to entanglement and contaminant spills. We are not aware of 
any records of marine mammal entanglement in towed arrays such as those 
considered here. The discharge of trash and debris is prohibited (33 
CFR 151.51-77) unless it is passed through a machine that breaks up 
solids such that they can pass through a 25-mm mesh screen. All other 
trash and debris must be returned to shore for proper disposal with 
municipal and solid waste. Some personal items may be accidentally lost 
overboard. However, U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Act 
regulations require operators to become proactive in avoiding 
accidental loss of solid waste items by developing waste management 
plans, posting informational placards, manifesting trash sent to shore, 
and using special precautions such as covering outside trash bins to 
prevent accidental loss of solid waste. Any permits issued by BOEM 
would include guidance for the handling and disposal of marine trash 
and debris, similar to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental 
Enforcement's (BSEE) NTL 2012-G01 (``Marine Trash and Debris Awareness 
and Elimination'') (BSEE, 2012; BOEM, 2014b). There are no meaningful 
entanglement risks posed by the described activity, and entanglement 
risks are not discussed further in this document.

[[Page 26281]]

    Marine mammals could be affected by accidentally spilled diesel 
fuel from a vessel associated with proposed survey activities. 
Quantities of diesel fuel on the sea surface may affect marine mammals 
through various pathways: Surface contact of the fuel with skin and 
other mucous membranes, inhalation of concentrated petroleum vapors, or 
ingestion of the fuel (direct ingestion or by the ingestion of oiled 
prey) (e.g., Geraci and St. Aubin, 1980, 1985, 1990). However, the 
likelihood of a fuel spill during any particular geophysical survey is 
considered to be remote, and the potential for impacts to marine 
mammals would depend greatly on the size and location of a spill and 
meteorological conditions at the time of the spill. Spilled fuel would 
rapidly spread to a layer of varying thickness and break up into narrow 
bands or windrows parallel to the wind direction. The rate at which the 
fuel spreads would be determined by the prevailing conditions such as 
temperature, water currents, tidal streams, and wind speeds. Lighter, 
volatile components of the fuel would evaporate to the atmosphere 
almost completely in a few days. Evaporation rate may increase as the 
fuel spreads because of the increased surface area of the slick. 
Rougher seas, high wind speeds, and high temperatures also tend to 
increase the rate of evaporation and the proportion of fuel lost by 
this process (Scholz et al., 1999). We do not anticipate potentially 
meaningful effects to marine mammals as a result of any contaminant 
spill resulting from the proposed survey activities, and contaminant 
spills are not discussed further in this document.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    Effects to Prey--Marine mammal prey varies by species, season, and 
location and, for some, is not well documented. Fish react to sounds 
which are especially strong and/or intermittent low-frequency sounds. 
Short duration, sharp sounds can cause overt or subtle changes in fish 
behavior and local distribution. Hastings and Popper (2005) identified 
several studies that suggest fish may relocate to avoid certain areas 
of sound energy. Additional studies have documented effects of pulsed 
sound on fish, although several are based on studies in support of 
construction projects (e.g., Scholik and Yan, 2001, 2002; Popper and 
Hastings, 2009). Sound pulses at received levels of 160 dB may cause 
subtle changes in fish behavior. SPLs of 180 dB may cause noticeable 
changes in behavior (Pearson et al., 1992; Skalski et al., 1992). SPLs 
of sufficient strength have been known to cause injury to fish and fish 
mortality. The most likely impact to fish from survey activities at the 
project area would be temporary avoidance of the area. The duration of 
fish avoidance of a given area after survey effort stops is unknown, 
but a rapid return to normal recruitment, distribution and behavior is 
anticipated. In general, impacts to marine mammal prey species are 
expected to be minor and temporary due to the short timeframe in which 
any given acoustic source vessel would be operating in any given area. 
However, adverse impacts may occur to a few species of fish which may 
still be present in the project area despite operating in a reduced 
work window in an attempt to avoid important fish spawning time 
periods.
    Acoustic Habitat--Acoustic habitat is the soundscape--which 
encompasses all of the sound present in a particular location and time, 
as a whole--when considered from the perspective of the animals 
experiencing it. Animals produce sound for, or listen for sounds 
produced by, conspecifics (communication during feeding, mating, and 
other social activities), other animals (finding prey or avoiding 
predators), and the physical environment (finding suitable habitats, 
navigating). Together, sounds made by animals and the geophysical 
environment (e.g., produced by earthquakes, lightning, wind, rain, 
waves) make up the natural contributions to the total acoustics of a 
place. These acoustic conditions, termed acoustic habitat, are one 
attribute of an animal's total habitat.
    Soundscapes are also defined by, and acoustic habitat influenced 
by, the total contribution of anthropogenic sound. This may include 
incidental emissions from sources such as vessel traffic, or may be 
intentionally introduced to the marine environment for data acquisition 
purposes (as in the use of airgun arrays). Anthropogenic noise varies 
widely in its frequency content, duration, and loudness and these 
characteristics greatly influence the potential habitat-mediated 
effects to marine mammals (please see also the previous discussion on 
masking under ``Acoustic Effects''), which may range from local effects 
for brief periods of time to chronic effects over large areas and for 
long durations. Depending on the extent of effects to habitat, animals 
may alter their communications signals (thereby potentially expending 
additional energy) or miss acoustic cues (either conspecific or 
adventitious). For more detail on these concepts see, e.g., Barber et 
al., 2010; Pijanowski et al., 2011; Francis and Barber, 2013; Lillis et 
al., 2014.
    Problems arising from a failure to detect cues are more likely to 
occur when noise stimuli are chronic and overlap with biologically 
relevant cues used for communication, orientation, and predator/prey 
detection (Francis and Barber, 2013). Although the signals emitted by 
seismic airgun arrays are generally low frequency, they would also 
likely be of short duration and transient in any given area due to the 
nature of these surveys. As described previously, exploratory surveys 
such as these cover a large area but would be transient rather than 
focused in a given location over time and therefore would not be 
considered chronic in any given location.
    In summary, activities associated with the proposed action are not 
likely to have a permanent, adverse effect on any fish habitat or 
populations of fish species or on the quality of acoustic habitat. 
Thus, any impacts to marine mammal habitat are not expected to cause 
significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or 
their populations.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, 
section 3(18) of 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).''
    Anticipated takes would primarily be by Level B harassment, as use 
of the acoustic source (i.e., airgun array) has the potential to result 
in disruption of behavioral patterns for individual marine mammals. 
There is also some potential for auditory injury (Level A harassment) 
to result from use of the acoustic source, primarily for either high-
frequency or low-frequency hearing specialists due to larger predicted 
auditory injury zones (on the basis of peak pressure and cumulative 
SEL, respectively). Auditory injury is unlikely to occur for most mid-
frequency hearing specialists (e.g., dolphins, sperm whale). The 
proposed mitigation and monitoring measures are expected to minimize 
the severity of such taking to the extent practicable. It is unlikely 
that lethal takes would occur

[[Page 26282]]

even in the absence of the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures, 
and no such takes are anticipated or proposed for authorization.

Sound Thresholds

    We have historically used generic acoustic thresholds (see Table 5) 
to determine when an activity that produces sound might result in 
impacts to a marine mammal such that a take by harassment might occur. 
These thresholds should be considered guidelines for estimating when 
harassment may occur (i.e., when an animal is exposed to levels equal 
to or exceeding the relevant criterion) in specific contexts; however, 
useful contextual information that may inform our assessment of effects 
is typically lacking and we consider these thresholds as step 
functions. We are aware of suggestions regarding new criteria 
concerning behavioral disruption (e.g., Nowacek et al., 2015), but 
there is currently no scientific agreement on the matter. NMFS will 
consider potential changes to the historical criteria for behavioral 
harassment in the future.

  Table 5--Historical Acoustic Exposure Criteria for Impulsive Sources
------------------------------------------------------------------------
           Criterion                  Definition            Threshold
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level A harassment............  Injury (onset PTS--any  180 dB rms
                                 level above that        (cetaceans).
                                 which is known to
                                 cause TTS).
Level B harassment............  Behavioral disruption.  160 dB rms
                                                         (impulse
                                                         sources).
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    However, NMFS has recently introduced new technical guidance for 
auditory injury (equating to Level A harassment under the MMPA); for 
more information, please visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/guidelines.htm (NMFS, 2016). Historical threshold levels for auditory 
injury were developed in the late 1990s using the best information 
available at the time (e.g., HESS, 1999). Since the adoption of these 
historical thresholds, our understanding of the effects of noise on 
marine mammal hearing has greatly advanced (e.g., Southall et al., 
2007; Finneran, 2015). The new technical guidance identifies the 
received levels, or thresholds, above which individual marine mammals 
are predicted to experience changes in their hearing sensitivity for 
all underwater anthropogenic sound sources, reflects the best available 
science, and better predicts the potential for auditory injury than 
does NMFS's historical criteria. The technical guidance reflects the 
best available science on the potential for noise to affect auditory 
sensitivity by:
     Dividing sound sources into two groups (i.e., impulsive 
and non-impulsive) based on their potential to affect hearing 
sensitivity;
     Choosing metrics that better address the impacts of noise 
on hearing sensitivity, i.e., peak sound pressure level (peak SPL) 
(better reflects the physical properties of impulsive sound sources, to 
affect hearing sensitivity) and cumulative sound exposure level (cSEL) 
(accounts for not only level of exposure but also durations of 
exposure);
     Dividing marine mammals into hearing groups and developing 
auditory weighting functions based on the science supporting that not 
all marine mammals hear and use sound in the same manner.
    NMFS's new technical guidance (NMFS, 2016) builds upon the 
foundation provided by Southall et al. (2007), while incorporating new 
information available since development of that work (e.g., Finneran, 
2015). Southall et al. (2007) recommended specific thresholds under the 
dual metric approach (i.e., peak SPL and cumulative SEL) and that 
marine mammals be divided into functional hearing groups based on 
measured or estimated functional hearing ranges. The premise of the 
dual criteria approach is that, while there is no definitive answer to 
the question of which acoustic metric is most appropriate for assessing 
the potential for injury, both the received level and duration of 
received signals are important to an understanding of the potential for 
auditory injury. Therefore, peak SPL is used to define a pressure 
criterion above which auditory injury is predicted to occur, regardless 
of exposure duration (i.e., any single exposure at or above this level 
is considered to cause auditory injury), and cSEL is used to account 
for the total energy received over the duration of sound exposure 
(i.e., both received level and duration of exposure) (Southall et al., 
2007; NMFS, 2016). As a general principle, whichever criterion is 
exceeded first (i.e., results in the largest isopleth) would be used as 
the effective injury criterion (i.e., the more precautionary of the 
criteria). Note that cSEL acoustic threshold levels incorporate marine 
mammal auditory weighting functions, while peak pressure thresholds do 
not (i.e., flat or unweighted). NMFS (2016) recommends 24 hours as a 
maximum accumulation period relative to cSEL thresholds. For further 
discussion of auditory weighting functions and their application, 
please see NMFS (2016). Table 6 displays thresholds provided by NMFS 
(2016).

  Table 6--Exposure Criteria for Auditory Injury for Impulsive Sources
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                              Cumulative
                                                    Peak        sound
                 Hearing group                    pressure     exposure
                                                  \1\ (dB)    level \2\
                                                                 (dB)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Low-frequency cetaceans.......................          219          183
Mid-frequency cetaceans.......................          230          185
High-frequency cetaceans......................          202          155
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Referenced to 1 [mu]Pa; unweighted within generalized hearing range.
\2\ Referenced to 1 [mu]Pa\2\s; weighted according to appropriate
  auditory weighting function.

    NMFS considers these updated thresholds and associated weighting 
functions to be the best available information for assessing whether 
exposure to specific activities is likely to result in changes in 
marine mammal hearing sensitivity. However, all applications were 
submitted and declared adequate and complete prior to finalization of 
the technical guidance, based on the best available information at the 
time. BOEM's PEIS (BOEM, 2014a) does provide information enabling a 
reasonable approximation of potential acoustic exposures relative to 
the ``Southall criteria.'' While the peer-reviewed criteria provided by 
Southall et al. (2007) differ from that described by NMFS (2016), they 
do function substantively as a reasonable precursor to the new 
technical guidance. We derived applicant specific exposure estimates 
for Level A harassment from BOEM's PEIS and then corrected these to 
reasonably account for NMFS's new technical guidance. This process is 
described below (see ``Level A Harassment'').

[[Page 26283]]

Sound Field Modeling

    BOEM's PEIS (BOEM, 2014a) provides information related to 
estimation of the sound fields that would be generated by potential 
geophysical survey activity on the mid- and south Atlantic OCS. We 
provide a summary description of that modeling effort here; for more 
information, please see Appendix D of BOEM's PEIS (Zykov and Carr, 2014 
in BOEM, 2014a). The acoustic modeling generated a three-dimensional 
acoustic propagation field as a function of source characteristics and 
physical properties of the ocean for later integration with marine 
mammal density information in an animal movement model to estimate 
potential acoustic exposures.
    The authors selected 15 modeling sites throughout BOEM's Mid-
Atlantic and South Atlantic OCS planning areas for use in modeling 
predicted sound fields resulting from use of the airgun array. The 
water depth at the sites varied from 30-5,400 m. Two types of bottom 
composition were considered: Sand and clay, their selection depending 
on the water depth at the source. Twelve possible sound speed profiles 
for the water column were used to cover the variation of the sound 
velocity distribution in the water with location and season. Twenty-one 
distinct propagation scenarios resulted from considering different 
sound speed profiles at some of the modeling sites. Two acoustic 
propagation models were employed to estimate the acoustic field 
radiated by the sound sources. A version of JASCO Applied Science's 
Marine Operations Noise Model (MONM), based on the Range-dependent 
Acoustic Model (RAM) parabolic-equations model, MONM-RAM, was used to 
estimate the SELs for low-frequency sources (below 2 kHz) such as an 
airgun array. For more information on sound propagation model types, 
please see, e.g., Etter (2013). The model takes into account the 
geoacoustic properties of the sea bottom, vertical sound speed profile 
in the water column, range-dependent bathymetry, and the directivity of 
the source. The directional source levels for the airgun array was 
modeled using the Airgun Array Source Model (AASM) based on the 
specifications of the source such as the arrangement and volume of the 
guns, firing pressure, and depth below the sea surface. The modeled 
directional source levels were used as the input for the acoustic 
propagation model. For background information on major factors 
affecting underwater sound propagation, please see Zykov and Carr 
(2014).
    The modeling used a 5,400 in\3\ airgun array as a representative 
example. The array has dimensions of 16 x 15 m and consists of 18 air 
guns placed in three identical strings of six air guns each (please see 
Figure D-6 of Zykov and Carr (2014)). The volume of individual air guns 
ranges from 105-660 in\3\. Firing pressure for all elements is 2,000 
psi. The depth below the sea surface for the array was set at 6.5 m. 
Please see Table 1 for a comparison to the airgun arrays proposed for 
use by the applicant companies. Horizontal third-octave band 
directionality plots resulting from source modeling are shown in Figure 
D-8 of Zykov and Carr (2014).
    As noted, the AASM was used to predict the directional source level 
(SL) of the airgun array. The MONM was then used to estimate the 
acoustic field at any range from the source. MONM-RAM was used to 
predict the directional transmission loss (TL) footprint from various 
source locations corresponding to the selected modeling sites. The 
received level (RL) at any 3D location away from the source is 
calculated by combining the SL and TL, both of which are direction 
dependent, using the fundamental relation RL = SL-TL. Acoustic TL and 
RL are a function of depth, range, bearing, and environmental 
properties of the propagation medium. The RLs estimated by MONM, like 
the SLs from which they are computed, are expressed in terms of the SEL 
metric over the duration of a single source pulse. Sound exposure level 
is expressed in units of dB re 1 [mu]Pa\2\ [middot] s. For the purposes 
of this study, the SEL results were converted to the rms SPL metric 
using a range dependent conversion coefficient.
    The U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office's Generalized Digital 
Environmental Model database was used to extract sound velocity 
profiles for the mid- and south Atlantic in order to characterize the 
entire water body into a discreet number of specific propagation 
regions. The profiles were selected to reflect the variation of sea 
water properties at the different locations selected throughout the 
mid- and south Atlantic OCS as well as seasonal variation at the same 
location (i.e., winter, spring, summer, fall). The profiles for each 
season were grouped into about 17 regions with similar propagation 
characteristics and representative profiles for each region were 
selected. Finally, the bottom characteristics for each of these 17 
regions were examined to determine if any region needed to be divided 
to accommodate the influence of the various bottom types on that 
region's propagation. The result was 21 separate modeling regions that 
in sum captured the propagation for the entire area; therefore, taken 
in conjunction with the 15 applicable sites there were a total of 21 
modeling scenarios applicable to the airgun array. These scenarios are 
detailed in Table D-21 in Zykov and Carr (2014). Each acoustic modeling 
scenario is characterized by a unique combination of parameters. The 
main variables in the environment configuration are the bathymetry and 
the sound velocity profile in the water column. The geoacoustic 
properties of the sea bottom are directly correlated with the water 
depth of the modeling site. Four depth regions were classified based on 
bathymetry: Shallow continental shelf (<60 m); continental shelf (60-
150 m); continental slope (150-1,000 m); and deep ocean (>1,000 m). The 
modeling results show that the largest threshold radii are typically 
associated with sites in intermediate water depths (250 and 900 m). Low 
frequencies propagate relatively poorly in shallow water (i.e., water 
depths on the same order as or less than the wavelength). At 
intermediate water depths, this stripping of low-frequency sound no 
longer occurs, and longer-range propagation can be enhanced by the 
channeling of sound caused by reflection from the surface and seafloor 
(depending on the nature of the sound speed profile and sediment type).
    Table 7 shows scenario-specific modeling results for distances to 
the 160 dB level; results presented are for the 95 percent range to 
threshold. Given a regularly gridded spatial distribution of modeled 
RLs, the 95 percent range is defined as the radius of a circle that 
encompasses 95 percent of the grid points whose value is equal to or 
greater than the threshold value. This definition is meaningful in 
terms of potential impact to an animal because, regardless of the 
geometrical shape of the noise footprint for a given threshold level, 
it always provides a range beyond which no more than five percent of a 
uniformly distributed population would be exposed to sound at or above 
that level. The maximum range, which is simply the distance to the 
farthest occurrence of the threshold level, is the more conservative 
but may misrepresent the effective exposure zone. For example, there 
are cases where the volume ensonified to a specific level may not be 
continuous and small pockets of higher RLs may be found far outside the 
main ensonified volume (for example, because of convergence). If only 
the maximum range is presented, a false impression of the extent of the 
acoustic

[[Page 26284]]

field can be given (Zykov and Carr, 2014).

                                 Table 7--Modeling Scenarios and Site-Specific Modeled Threshold Radii From BOEM's PEIS
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            Water depth                                                                      Threshold
              Scenario No.                  Site No.\1\         (m)                   Season                        Bottom type            radii  (m)\2\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1.......................................               1           5,390  Winter........................  Clay..........................           4,969
2.......................................               2           2,560  Winter........................  Clay..........................           5,184
3.......................................               3             880  Winter........................  Sand..........................           8,104
4.......................................               4             249  Winter........................  Sand..........................           8,725
5.......................................               5             288  Winter........................  Sand..........................           8,896
6.......................................               1           5,390  Spring........................  Clay..........................           4,989
7.......................................               6           3,200  Spring........................  Clay..........................           5,026
8.......................................               3             880  Spring........................  Sand..........................           8,056
9.......................................               7             251  Spring........................  Sand..........................           8,593
10......................................               8             249  Spring........................  Sand..........................           8,615
11......................................               1           5,390  Summer........................  Clay..........................           4,973
12......................................               6           3,200  Summer........................  Clay..........................           5,013
13......................................               3             880  Summer........................  Sand..........................           8,095
14......................................               9             275  Summer........................  Sand..........................           9,122
15......................................              10           4,300  Fall..........................  Clay..........................           5,121
16......................................              11           3,010  Fall..........................  Clay..........................           5,098
17......................................              12           4,890  Fall..........................  Clay..........................           4,959
18......................................              13           3,580  Fall..........................  Clay..........................           5,069
19......................................               3             880  Fall..........................  Sand..........................           8,083
20......................................              14             100  Fall..........................  Sand..........................           8,531
21......................................              15              51  Fall..........................  Sand..........................           8,384
Mean....................................  ..............  ..............  ..............................  ..............................           6,838
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Adapted from Tables D-21 and D-22 of Zykov and Carr (2014).
\1\ Please see Figure D-35 of Zykov and Carr (2014) for site locations.
\2\ Threshold radii to 160 dB (rms) SPL, 95 percent range.

    We provide this description of the modeling performed for BOEM's 
PEIS as a general point of reference for the proposed surveys, and also 
because three of the applicant companies--TGS, CGG, and Western--
directly use these results to inform their exposure modeling, rather 
than performing separate sound field modeling. As described by BOEM 
(2014a), the modeled array was selected to be representative of the 
large airgun arrays likely to be used by geophysical exploration 
companies in the mid- and south Atlantic OCS. Therefore, we use the 
BOEM (2014a) results as a reasonable proxy for those two companies 
(please see ``Detailed Description of Activities'' for further 
description of the acoustic sources proposed for use by these two 
companies). ION and Spectrum elected to perform separate sound field 
modeling efforts, and these are described below. For generally 
applicable conclusions, as summarized from Appendix A of ION's 
application, see below.
    ION--ION provided information related to estimation of the sound 
fields that would be generated by their proposed geophysical survey 
activity on the mid- and south Atlantic OCS. We provide a summary 
description of that modeling effort here; for more information, please 
see Appendix A of ION's application (Li, 2014; referred to hereafter as 
Appendix A of ION's application). ION proposes to use a 36-element 
airgun array with a 6,420 in\3\ total firing volume (please see 
``Detailed Description of Activities'' for further description of ION's 
acoustic source). The modeling assumed that ION would operate from July 
to December. Sixteen representative sites were selected along survey 
track lines planned by ION for use in modeling predicted sound fields 
resulting from use of the airgun array (see Figure 2 in Appendix A of 
ION's application for site locations). Two acoustic propagation models 
were employed to estimate the acoustic field radiated by the sound 
sources. As was described above for BOEM's PEIS, the acoustic signature 
of the airgun array was predicted using AASM and MONM was used to 
calculate the sound propagation and acoustic field near each defined 
site. The modeling process follows generally that described previously 
for BOEM's PEIS. Key differences are the characteristics of the 
acoustic source (see Table 1), locations of the modeled sites, and the 
use of a restricted set of sound velocity profiles (e.g., fall and 
winter). Table 8 shows site-specific modeling results for distances to 
the 160 dB level; results presented are for the 95 percent range to 
threshold.

                             Table 8--Site-Specific Modeled Threshold Radii for ION
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                Water depth                                          Threshold
                 Site No.\1\                        (m)                     Season                radii  (m) \2\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1...........................................              45  Fall..............................           4,740
                                              ..............  Winter............................           5,270
2...........................................             820  Fall..............................           7,470
                                              ..............  Winter............................           7,490
3...........................................           1,000  Fall..............................           7,530
                                              ..............  Winter............................           7,480

[[Page 26285]]

 
4...........................................              40  Fall..............................           4,200
                                              ..............  Winter............................           5,220
5...........................................             650  Fall..............................           7,270
                                              ..............  Winter............................           7,370
6...........................................           1,500  Fall..............................           5,210
                                              ..............  Winter............................           5,250
7...........................................           2,600  Fall..............................           5,420
                                              ..............  Winter............................           5,390
8...........................................              30  Fall..............................           4,480
                                              ..............  Winter............................           4,770
9...........................................             700  Fall..............................           8,210
                                              ..............  Winter............................           8,250
10..........................................           3,300  Fall..............................           5,410
                                              ..............  Winter............................           5,380
11..........................................           4,200  Fall..............................           5,390
                                              ..............  Winter............................           5,360
12..........................................              30  Fall..............................           3,250
                                              ..............  Winter............................           4,860
13..........................................             140  Fall..............................           6,470
                                              ..............  Winter............................           6,750
14..........................................           2,400  Fall..............................           5,460
                                              ..............  Winter............................           5,450
17 \3\......................................           2,200  Fall..............................           5,600
                                              ..............  Winter............................           5,570
18 \3\......................................           4,180  Fall..............................           5,400
                                              ..............  Winter............................           5,380
Mean........................................  ..............  Fall..............................           5,383
                                              ..............  Winter............................           5,953
                                              ..............  Overall...........................           5,836
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Adapted from Tables 1 and 17 of Appendix A in ION's application.
\1\ Please see Figure 2 of Appendix A in ION's application for site locations.
\2\ Threshold radii to 160 dB (rms) SPL, 95 percent range.
\3\ Results for sites 15 and 16 are not presented, as the sites are outside the proposed survey area.

    Spectrum--Spectrum provided information related to estimation of 
the sound fields that would be generated by their proposed geophysical 
survey activity on the mid- and south Atlantic OCS. We provide a 
summary description of that modeling effort here; for more information, 
please see Appendix A of Spectrum's application (Frankel et al., 2015; 
referred to hereafter as Appendix A of Spectrum's application). 
Spectrum plans to use a 32-element airgun array with a 4,920 in\3\ 
total firing volume (please see ``Detailed Description of Activities'' 
for further description of Spectrum's acoustic source). Array 
characteristics were input into the GUNDALF model to calculate the 
source level and predict the array signature. The directivity pattern 
of the airgun array was calculated using the beamforming module in the 
CASS[hyphen]GRAB acoustic propagation model. These models provided 
source input information for the range[hyphen]dependent acoustic model 
(RAM), which was then used to predict acoustic propagation and estimate 
the resulting sound field. The RAM model creates frequency-specific, 
three-dimensional directivity patterns (sound field) based upon the 
size and location of each airgun in the array. As described previously, 
physical characteristics of the underwater environment (e.g., sound 
velocity profile, bathymetry, substrate composition) are critical to 
understanding acoustic propagation; 16 modeling locations were selected 
that span the acoustic conditions of the proposed seismic survey area. 
ION and Spectrum used the same modeling locations (Table 8). In 
contrast to ION's approach, Spectrum elected to use sound velocity 
profiles for winter and spring and assumed that half of the survey 
would occur in winter and half in spring. Table 9 shows site-specific 
modeling results for distances to the 160 dB level; results presented 
are for the 95 percent range to threshold.

       Table 9--Site-Specific Modeled Threshold Radii for Spectrum
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                               Threshold
                   Site No.\1\                       Water       radii
                                                  depth  (m)    (m)\2\
------------------------------------------------------------------------
1...............................................          45      12,400
2...............................................         820       9,900
3...............................................       1,000       9,600
4...............................................          40       7,850
5...............................................         650       9,350
6...............................................       1,500       7,600
7...............................................       2,600       6,700
8...............................................          30       7,650
9...............................................         700       9,150
10..............................................       3,300       6,700
11..............................................       4,200       7,000
12..............................................          30      24,300
13..............................................         140      14,750
14..............................................       2,400       7,650
17 \3\..........................................       2,200       8,600
18 \3\..........................................       4,180       7,200
Mean............................................  ..........       9,775
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Adapted from Table 6 of Spectrum's application.
\1\ Please see Figure 5 of Appendix A in Spectrum's application for site
  locations.
\2\ Threshold radii to 160 dB (rms) SPL, 95 percent range.
\3\ Results for sites 15 and 16 are not presented, as the sites are
  outside the proposed survey area.

    Generally applicable conclusions were discussed in Appendix A of 
ION's application, and are summarized here.

[[Page 26286]]

At shallow water sites, the sound field at long distances is dominated 
by intermediate frequencies (i.e., 100-500 Hz) and the sound field 
varies significantly with direction because of the correspondingly high 
directivity of the source at these frequencies. Lower frequency energy 
is more rapidly attenuated and so is not able to propagate to very long 
distances. In contrast, the long-range spectra at deeper-water sites 
contain more low-frequency energy, resulting in longer propagation 
distances, and the shape of the sound field is also more strongly 
influenced by the directionality of the airgun array at low frequencies 
(i.e., tens of hertz). Differences across seasons and sites are 
generally not great due to similar sound velocity profiles (e.g., 
dominant downward refraction for depths greater than approximately 100 
m) and counter-balancing effects of depth versus substrate composition. 
Shallow-water sites have mostly sandy sediments, which are more 
acoustically reflective, but low frequencies (as are produced by 
airguns) propagate relatively poorly in shallow water. Deep-water sites 
are located over clay sediments, which are associated with greater 
bottom loss, but this is balanced by the better low-frequency 
propagation in deep water. The largest threshold radii are seen in 
intermediate depths, because these sites are located over acoustically 
reflective sand sediments but in depths at which low-frequency sound is 
no longer stripped out. Further, longer-range propagation at these 
sites can be increased by sound channeling due to reflection from the 
sea surface and seabed (depending on the sound velocity profiles and 
sediment types).

Marine Mammal Density Information

    The best available scientific information was considered in 
conducting marine mammal exposure estimates (the basis for estimating 
take). Historically, distance sampling methodology (Buckland et al., 
2001) has been applied to visual line-transect survey data to estimate 
abundance within large geographic strata (e.g., Fulling et al., 2003; 
Mullin and Fulling, 2004; Palka, 2006). Design-based surveys that apply 
such sampling techniques produce stratified abundance estimates and do 
not provide information at appropriate spatiotemporal scales for 
assessing environmental risk of a planned survey. To address this issue 
of scale, efforts were developed to relate animal observations and 
environmental correlates such as sea surface temperature in order to 
develop predictive models used to produce fine-scale maps of habitat 
suitability (e.g., Waring et al., 2001; Hamazaki, 2002; Best et al., 
2012). However, these studies generally produce relative estimates that 
cannot be directly used to quantify potential exposures of marine 
mammals to sound, for example. A more recent approach known as density 
surface modeling, as seen in DoN (2007) and Roberts et al. (2016), 
couples traditional distance sampling with multivariate regression 
modeling to produce density maps predicted from fine-scale 
environmental covariates (e.g., Becker et al., 2014).
    At the time the applications were initially developed, the best 
available information concerning marine mammal densities in the 
proposed survey area was the U.S. Navy's Navy Operating Area (OPAREA) 
Density Estimates (NODEs) (DoN, 2007). These habitat-based cetacean 
density models utilized vessel-based and aerial survey data collected 
by NMFS from 1998-2005 during broad-scale abundance studies. Modeling 
methodology is detailed in DoN (2007). A more advanced cetacean density 
modeling effort, described in Roberts et al. (2016), was ongoing during 
initial development of the applications, and the model outputs were 
made available to the applicant companies. All information relating to 
this effort was made publically available in March 2016.
    The Roberts et al. (2016) modeling effort provided several key 
improvements with respect to the NODEs effort. While the NODEs effort 
utilized a robust collection of NMFS survey data, Roberts et al. (2016) 
expanded on this by incorporating additional aerial and shipboard 
survey data from NMFS and from other organizations collected over the 
period 1992-2014, ultimately incorporating 60 percent more shipboard 
and five hundred percent more aerial survey hours than did NODEs. In 
addition, Roberts et al. (2016) controlled for the influence of sea 
state, group size, availability bias, and perception bias on the 
probability of making a sighting, whereas NODEs controlled for none of 
these. There are multiple reasons why marine mammals may be undetected 
by observers. Animals are missed because they are underwater 
(availability bias) or because they are available to be seen, but are 
missed by observers (perception and detection biases) (e.g., Marsh and 
Sinclair, 1989). Negative bias on perception or detection of an 
available animal may result from environmental conditions, limitations 
inherent to the observation platform, or observer ability. Therefore, 
failure to correct for these biases may lead to underestimates of 
cetacean abundance. Use of additional data was used to improve 
detection functions for taxa that were rarely sighted in specific 
survey platform configurations. The degree of underestimation would 
likely be particularly impactful for species that exhibit long dive 
times, such as sperm and beaked whales, or are hard for observers to 
detect, such as harbor porpoises. Roberts et al. (2016) modeled density 
from eight physiographic and 16 dynamic oceanographic and biological 
covariates, as compared with two dynamic environmental covariates 
considered in NODEs. In summary, consideration of additional survey 
data and an improved modeling strategy allowed for an increased number 
of taxa modeled and better spatiotemporal resolutions of the resulting 
predictions. In general, we consider the models produced by Roberts et 
al. (2016) to be the best available source of data regarding cetacean 
density in the Atlantic. More information, including the model results 
and supplementary information for each model, is available at 
seamap.env.duke.edu/models/Duke-EC-GOM-2015/.
    Aerial and shipboard survey data produced by the Atlantic Marine 
Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) program provides an 
additional source of information regarding marine mammal presence in 
the proposed survey areas. These surveys represent a collaborative 
effort between NMFS, BOEM, and the Navy. Although the cetacean density 
models described above do include survey data from 2010-14, the AMAPPS 
data was not made available to the model authors. Future model updates 
will incorporate these data, but as of this writing the AMAPPS data 
comprises a separate source of information (NMFS, 2010a, 2011, 2012, 
2013a, 2014, 2015a).

Description of Exposure Estimates

    Here, we provide applicant-specific descriptions of the processes 
employed to estimate potential exposures of marine mammals to given 
levels of received sound. The discussions provided here are specific to 
estimated exposures to NMFS criterion for Level B harassment (i.e., 160 
dB rms); we provide a separate discussion below regarding our process 
for estimating potential incidents of Level A harassment. We first 
describe the exposure modeling process performed for BOEM's PEIS as 
point of reference. Appendix E of the PEIS (BOEM, 2014a) provides full 
details.
    This description builds on the description of sound field modeling 
provided earlier in this section and in

[[Page 26287]]

Appendix D of BOEM's PEIS. As described previously, 21 distinct 
acoustic propagation regions were defined. Reflecting seasonal 
differences in sound velocity profiles, these regions were specific to 
each season--there were five acoustic propagation regions in both 
winter and spring, four in summer, and seven propagation regions in 
fall (see Figures E-11 through E-14 in Appendix E of BOEM's PEIS). The 
seasonal distribution of marine mammals was examined using the NODEs 
database (DoN, 2007) to see if there was any additional correlation 
with the propagation regions. The seasonal distribution for each 
species was examined by overlaying the charts of the 21 acoustic 
modeling regions and the average density of each species was then 
numerically determined for each region. For each species modeled 
through the NODEs effort, the model outputs are four seasonal surface 
density plots (e.g., Figure E-15 in Appendix E of BOEM's PEIS). 
However, the NODEs models do not provide outputs for the extended 
continental shelf areas seaward of the EEZ; therefore, known density 
information at the edge of the area modeled by NODEs was extrapolated 
to the remainder of the study area.
    The results of the acoustic modeling exercise (i.e., estimated 3D 
sound field) and the region-specific density estimates were then input 
into Marine Acoustics, Inc.'s Acoustic Integration Model (AIM). AIM is 
a software package developed to predict the exposure of receivers 
(e.g., an animal) to any stimulus propagating through space and time 
through use of a four-dimensional, individual-based, Monte Carlo-based 
statistical model. Within the model, simulated marine animals (i.e., 
animats) may be programmed to behave in specific ways on the basis of 
measured field data. An animat movement engine controls the geographic 
and vertical movements (e.g., speed and direction) of sound sources and 
animats through four dimensions (time and space) according to user 
inputs. Species that normally inhabit specific environments can be 
constrained in the model to stay within that habitat (e.g., deep-water 
species may be restricted from entering shallow waters where they would 
not be found).
    Species-specific animats were created with programmed behavioral 
parameters describing dive depth, surfacing and dive durations, 
swimming speed, course change, and behavioral aversions (e.g., water 
too shallow). The programmed animats were then randomly distributed 
over a given bounded simulation area; boundaries extend at least one 
degree of latitude or longitude beyond the extent of the vessel track 
to ensure an adequate number of animats in all directions, and to 
ensure that the simulation areas extend beyond the area where 
substantial behavioral reactions might be anticipated. Because the 
exact positions of sound sources and animals are not known in advance 
for proposed activities, multiple runs of realistic predictions are 
used to provide statistical validity to the simulated scenarios. Each 
species-specific simulation is seeded with a given density of animats; 
in this case, approximately 4,000 animats. In most cases, this 
represents a higher density of animats in the simulation (0.1 animats/
km\2\) than occurs in the real environment. A separate simulation was 
created and run for each combination of location, movement pattern, and 
marine mammal species.
    A model run consists of a user-specified number of steps forward in 
time, in which each animat is moved according to the rules describing 
its behavior. For each time step of the model run, the received sound 
levels at each animat (i.e., each marine mammal) are calculated. AIM 
returns the movement patterns of the animats, and the received sound 
levels are calculated separately using the given acoustic propagation 
predictions at different locations. At the end of each time step, an 
animat ``evaluates'' its environment, including its 3D location, the 
time, and any received sound level, and may alter its course to react 
to the environment per any programmed aversions.
    Animat positions relative to the acoustic source (i.e., range, 
bearing, and depth) were used to extract received level estimates from 
the acoustic propagation modeling results. The source levels, and 
therefore subsequently the received levels, include the embedded 
corrections for signal pulse length and M-weighting. M-weighting is a 
type of frequency weighting curve intended to reflect the differential 
potential for sound to affect marine mammals based on their sensitivity 
to the particular frequencies produced (Southall et al., 2007). Please 
see Appendix D of BOEM's PEIS for further description of the 
application of M-weighting filters. For each bearing, distance, and 
depth from the source, the received level values were expressed as SPLs 
(rms) with units of dB re 1[mu] Pa. These are then converted back to 
intensity and summed over the duration of the exercise to generate an 
integrated energy level, expressed in terms of dB re 1 [mu]Pa\2\-sec or 
dB SEL. The number of animats per species that exceeded a given 
criterion (e.g., 160 dB rms; 198 dB cSEL) may then be determined, and 
these results scaled according to the relationship of model-to-real 
world densities per species. That is, the exposure results are 
corrected using the actual species- and region-specific density derived 
from the density model outputs to give real-world estimates of exposure 
to sound exceeding a given received level. In this case, the user-
specified densities are typically at least an order of magnitude 
greater than the real-world densities to ensure a statistically valid 
result; therefore, the modeling result is corrected or scaled by the 
ratio of the actual density divided by the modeled density. Although 
there is substantial uncertainty associated with both the acoustic 
sound field estimation and animal movement modeling steps, confidence 
intervals were not developed for the exposure estimate results, in part 
because calculating confidence limits for numbers of Level B harassment 
takes would imply a level of quantification and statistical certainty 
that does not currently exist (BOEM, 2014a). Further detail regarding 
all aspects of the modeling process is provided in Appendix E of BOEM's 
PEIS.
    As noted previously, the NODEs models (DoN, 2007) provided the best 
available information at the time of initial development for these 
applications. Outputs of the cetacean density models described by 
Roberts et al. (2016) were subsequently made available to the applicant 
companies. Two applicants (TGS and Western) elected to consider the new 
information and produced revised applications accordingly. CGG also 
used the new information in developing their application. Two 
applicants (Spectrum and ION) declined to use the Roberts et al. (2016) 
density models. However, because NMFS determined that the Roberts et 
al. (2016) density models represent the best available information (in 
relation to the NODEs models) we worked with Marine Acoustics, Inc.--
which performed the initial exposure modeling provided in the Spectrum 
and ION applications--to produce revised exposure estimates utilizing 
the outputs of the Roberts et al. (2016) density models.
    In order to revise the exposure estimates for Spectrum and ION, we 
first needed to extract appropriate density estimates from the Roberts 
et al. (2016) model outputs. Because both Spectrum and ION used 
modeling processes conceptually similar to that described above for 
BOEM's PEIS, these density estimates would replace those previously 
derived from the NODEs models in rescaling the exposure estimation 
results from those derived from animal movement modeling using

[[Page 26288]]

a user-specified density. We summarize the steps involved in 
calculating mean marine mammal densities over the 21 modeling areas 
used in both BOEM's PEIS and the applications here:
     Roberts et al. (2016) predicted densities on an annual or 
monthly time period. When the time period was annual, we used the same 
density for all seasons. When the time period was monthly, we 
calculated the mean density for each season (using ArcGIS' cell 
statistics tool).
     We converted the Roberts et al. (2016) density units 
(animals/100 km\2\) to animals/km\2\.
     As was the case for the NODEs model outputs, the Roberts 
et al. (2016) model outputs are restricted to the U.S. EEZ. Although 
relevant information regarding cetacean densities in areas of the 
western North Atlantic beyond the EEZ was recently provided by Mannocci 
et al. (2017), this information was not available to the applicants in 
developing their applications and was not available to NMFS in 
preparing this document. Therefore, we similarly extended the edge 
densities to cover the area outside of the data extent. This was 
performed by converting the seasonal rasters to numeric Python arrays, 
then using Python array functions to extend the edge cells.
     With new density values covering the entire modeling 
extent, we then calculated the average density for each of the 21 
modeling areas (using ArcGIS' Zonal Statistics as Table tool).
    Spectrum--Spectrum's sound field estimation process was previously 
described, and their exposure modeling process is substantially similar 
to that described above for BOEM's PEIS. The exposure estimation 
results described in Spectrum's application are based on the NODEs 
models. Because the NODEs model outputs do not cover the full extent of 
the proposed survey area, density estimates from the eastern-most edge 
where data are known were extrapolated seaward to the spatial extent of 
the proposed survey area. The same acoustic propagation regions 
described for BOEM's PEIS were used by Spectrum for exposure modeling; 
however, Spectrum limited their analysis to winter and spring seasons 
and therefore used only ten of the 21 regions. Half of proposed survey 
activity was assumed to occur in winter and half in spring.
    As was described for BOEM's PEIS, Spectrum used AIM to model animal 
movements within the estimated 3D sound field. However, Spectrum 
elected to seed the simulations with a lower animat density (0.05 
animats/km\2\) than was used for BOEM's PEIS modeling effort. Spectrum 
stated that the modeled animat density value was determined through a 
sensitivity analysis that examined the stability of the predicted 
exposure estimates as a function of animat density and that the modeled 
density was determined to accurately capture the full distributional 
range of probabilities of exposure for the proposed survey. Similar to 
the modeling performed for BOEM's PEIS, the source levels and therefore 
subsequently the received levels include the embedded corrections for 
M-weighting (Southall et al., 2007).
    AIM simulations consisted of 25 hours of survey track for each 
modeling site and animal group. This duration was selected to use a 
24[hyphen]hour sound energy accumulation period for exposure 
estimation. The first hour of model output is then discarded, as animal 
distributions will be unduly influenced by initial conditions. In 
addition, there was a difference between the amount of modeled survey 
trackline within each modeling region and the actual proposed amount of 
survey trackline. The potential impacts were scaled by the ratio of the 
total length of proposed trackline to the modeled length of trackline 
in each modeling region. Spectrum elected to program certain species' 
animats with one aversion; normally deep-water species were not allowed 
to move into waters shallower than 100 m. Avoidance of right whales as 
indicated by the time-area restrictions required by BOEM's ROD (BOEM, 
2014b) was also accounted for.
    Similar to modeling conducted for BOEM's PEIS, received sound level 
and 3D position of each animat were recorded to calculate exposure 
estimates at each time step. Thus unweighted SPL(rms) and SEL values, 
as well as M[hyphen]weighted SEL values, were calculated and compared 
with their respective criteria. The SEL values at each time step were 
converted back to intensity and summed, to produce the 24[hyphen]hr 
cSEL value for each individual animat. The numbers of animats with 
SPL(rms) and cSEL values that exceeded their respective regulatory 
criteria were considered exposed for that criteria.
    Spectrum also included a mitigation simulation in their modeling 
process, i.e., they attempted to quantify the effects that a shutdown 
for marine mammals occurring within a 500 m exclusion zone and 
subsequent 60 minute clearance period would have on exposure estimates. 
As was described for BOEM's PEIS, dataset outputs of the AIM simulation 
model contain an animat's received sound level (SEL or SPL), the 
distance between the source and the animat, and the depth of the 
animat. Spectrum used the distance value to determine if the animat was 
in the 500-m exclusion zone and the depth of the animat was used to 
determine if it was at or near the surface. If both of these conditions 
were true, then the animat was considered `available' to be observed. 
However, an animal that is available to be observed may still be missed 
by an observer due to perception bias. Therefore, Spectrum attempted to 
model the probability that an animal available for observation would in 
fact be observed. A random number was generated and compared to the 
detection probability for the species being modeled (P(detect); 
detection probabilities are shown in Table 14 of Appendix A in 
Spectrum's application). If the random number was less than the 
P(detect) value then the animal was considered to have been detected; 
if greater, the animal was considered undetected. If an animat was 
detected, AIM would simulate the effect of the acoustic source being 
shut down by setting the received sound levels of all animats in the 
model run to zero for the next 60 minutes. Predicted exposures without 
this mitigation simulation were also presented (see Tables 15-16 in 
Appendix A of Spectrum's application for a comparison of the mitigation 
simulation effect).
    In summary, the original exposure results were obtained using AIM 
to model source and animat movements, with received SEL for each animat 
predicted at a 30-second time step. This predicted SEL history was used 
to determine the maximum SPL (rms or peak) and cSEL for each animat, 
and the number of exposures exceeding relevant criteria recorded. The 
number of exposures are summed for all animats to get the number of 
exposures for each species, with that summed value then scaled by the 
ratio of real-world density to the model density value. The final 
scaling value was the ratio of the length of the modeled survey line 
and the length of proposed survey line in each modeling region. As 
described above, the exposure estimates provided in Spectrum's 
application were based on the NODEs model outputs. In order to make use 
of the best available information (i.e., Roberts et al. (2016)), we 
extracted species- and region-specific density values as described 
above. These were provided to Marine Acoustics, Inc. in order to 
rescale the original exposure results produced using the seeded animat 
density; revised exposure estimates are shown in Table 10.
    ION--ION's sound field estimation process was previously described, 
and

[[Page 26289]]

their exposure modeling process is substantially similar to that 
described above for BOEM's PEIS (and for Spectrum). We do not repeat 
those descriptions in full but summarize some key elements and 
differences relating to ION's approach. Further detail may be found in 
Appendix B of ION's application.
    The exposure estimation results described in ION's application are 
based on the NODEs models. The same acoustic propagation regions 
described for BOEM's PEIS were used by ION for exposure modeling; 
however, ION limited their analysis to summer and fall seasons and 
therefore used only 11 of the 21 regions. Whichever season returned the 
higher number of estimated exposures for a given species was assumed to 
be the season in which the survey occurred, i.e., ION's requested take 
authorization corresponds to the higher of the two seasonal species-
specific exposure estimates.
    As was described for BOEM's PEIS, ION used AIM to model animal 
movements within the estimated 3D sound field. ION proposes to conduct 
survey effort along lines roughly parallel to and roughly perpendicular 
to the east coast. Because a number of these lines are similar to each 
other in terms of direction and location, a reduced number of modeling 
lines--five alongshore and five perpendicular to shore--were created to 
represent all of the proposed survey lines. The lines were then further 
broken into segments that correspond to the boundaries of the modeling 
regions (see Figure 4 in Appendix B of ION's application). Simulation 
durations varied depending on model line length. After models were run 
for each line segment and subsegment, the results from all segments in 
each of the survey areas were scaled to reflect the actual length of 
proposed survey lines and then combined. ION elected to seed the 
simulations with a variable animat density because of the variable 
length of the tracks and the varied habitat of some species. ION did 
not account for potential effectiveness of mitigation in their modeling 
effort.
    In summary, the original exposure results were obtained using AIM 
to model source and animat movements, with received SEL for each animat 
predicted at a 30-second time step. This predicted SEL history was used 
to determine the maximum SPL (rms or peak) and cSEL for each animat, 
and the number of exposures exceeding relevant criteria recorded. The 
number of exposures are summed for all animats to get the number of 
exposures for each species, with that summed value then scaled by the 
ratio of real-world density to the model density value. The final 
scaling value was the ratio of the length of the modeled survey line 
and the length of proposed survey line in each modeling region. As 
described above, the exposure estimates provided in ION's application 
were based on the NODEs model outputs. In order to make use of the best 
available information (i.e., Roberts et al. (2016)), we extracted 
species- and region-specific density values as described above. These 
were provided to Marine Acoustics, Inc. in order to rescale the 
original exposure results produced using the seeded animat density; 
revised exposure estimates are shown in Table 10.
    TGS and Western--Because TGS and Western follow the same approach 
to estimating potential marine mammal exposures to underwater sound, we 
provide a single description. It is also important to note that both 
companies propose the use of a mitigation source (i.e., 90 in\3\ 
airgun) for line turns and transits not exceeding three hours and 
produced exposure estimates for such use of the source. As described 
previously in ``Proposed Mitigation,'' we do not propose to allow use 
of the mitigation source. Therefore, exposure estimates produced by 
both companies that account for proposed use of the source will be 
slightly overestimated. This applies only to the ten species whose 
exposure estimates are based on the Roberts et al. (2016) density 
models, as we were not presented with exposure estimates specific to 
the full-power array versus the mitigation source. The companies 
assumed that the sound field estimates provided by BOEM (2014a) would 
be applicable and consider three depth bins: <880 m, 880-2,560 m, 
>2,560 m. The 15 modeling sites have a notable depth discontinuity 
within the overall range (51-5,390 m), with no sites at depths between 
880-2,560 m. When considering the 21 modeling scenarios across the 15 
sites, threshold radii shown in Table 7 break down evenly with 11 at 
depths <=880 m and ten at depths >=2,560 m. The mean threshold radius 
for the scenarios at shallow sites is 8,473 m; for the scenarios at 
deep sites the average is 5,040 m. The overall mean for all scenarios 
is 6,838 m. Because there are no sites for depths between 880-2,560 m, 
we assume that the overall mean threshold distance is appropriate.
    Because both applications were prepared by Smultea Environmental 
Sciences, LLC (SES) under contract to the applicant companies, in this 
section we refer hereafter to ``SES'' rather than to ``TGS and 
Western.'' SES considered both the Roberts et al. (2016) density models 
as well as the AMAPPS data (NMFS, 2010a, 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2014). In 
so doing, SES determined that there are aspects of the Roberts et al. 
(2016) methodology that limit the model outputs' applicability to 
estimating marine mammal exposures to underwater sound. In summary, SES 
described the following issues:
     There are very few sightings of some species despite 
substantial survey effort;
     The modeling approach extrapolates based on habitat 
associations and assumes some species' occurrence in areas where they 
have never been or were rarely documented (despite substantial effort);
     In some cases, uniform density models spread densities of 
species with small sample sizes across large areas of the EEZ without 
regard to habitat, and;
     The most recent NOAA shipboard and aerial survey data 
(i.e., AMAPPS) were not included in model development.
    In response to these general concerns regarding suitability of 
model outputs for exposure estimation, SES developed a scheme related 
to the number of observations in the dataset available to Roberts et 
al. (2016) for use in developing the density models. Extremely rare 
species (i.e., less than four sightings in the proposed survey area) 
were considered to have a very low probability of encounter, and it was 
assumed that the species might be encountered once. Therefore, a single 
group of the species was considered as expected to be exposed to sound 
exceeding the 160 dB rms harassment criterion. We agree with this 
approach and further describe relevant information related to these 
species in subsequent sections below.
    As described previously, marine mammal abundance has traditionally 
been estimated by applying distance sampling methodology (Buckland et 
al., 2001) to visual line-transect survey data. Buckland et al. (2001) 
recommend a minimum sample size of 60-80 sightings to provide 
reasonably robust estimates of density and abundance to fit the 
mathematical detection function required for this estimation; smaller 
sample sizes result in higher variance and thus less confidence and 
less accurate estimates. For species meeting this guideline within the 
proposed survey area, SES used Roberts et al. (2016)'s model. For 
species with fewer sightings (but with greater than four sightings in 
the proposed survey area), SES used what they refer to as ``Line 
Transect Theory'' in conjunction with AMAPPS data to estimate species

[[Page 26290]]

density within the assumed 160 dB rms zone of ensonification.
    Ten species or species groups met SES' requirement of having at 
least 60 sightings within the proposed survey area in the dataset 
available to Roberts et al. (2016): Atlantic spotted dolphin, pilot 
whales, striped dolphin, beaked whales, bottlenose dolphin, Risso's 
dolphin, short-beaked common dolphin, sperm whale, humpback whale, and 
North Atlantic right whale. Roberts et al. (2016) were able to produce 
models at annual resolution for the first four species and at monthly 
resolution for the latter six. Because of proposed measures to avoid 
most impacts to the right whale, SES used monthly data only for May to 
October to estimate potential exposures. As an aside, we acknowledge 
that this approach is not correct. Rather than ignoring the months 
November-April, we believe the correct approach would be to use the 
results for those months, but only for the grid cells outside of the 
proposed closure areas. However, we do not believe that this is a 
meaningful error, as our proposed mitigation measures related to right 
whales (i.e., avoidance of sound input into areas where right whales 
are expected to occur and an absolute shutdown requirement upon 
observation of any right whale at any distance) are anticipated to 
substantially avoid acute effects to right whales. SES summarizes the 
steps involved in this process as follows:
     Calculate area of ensonification to >=160 dB (rms) around 
the operating acoustic source, including all track lines, run-outs, and 
ramp-ups/run-ins, assuming depth-specific isopleth distances described 
above. Overlapping areas were treated as if they did not overlap (i.e., 
they were added together as separate polygon areas to account for 
multiple exposures in the same location), and were thus included in the 
total area used to estimate exposures.
     Calculate species-specific density estimates for each of 
the 10 km x 10 km grid cells used in the density models. For species 
with monthly resolution, an annual average was calculated, with the 
exception of the right whale which used the May-October average only.
     The density models' area of data coverage does not extend 
outside of the EEZ. As noted previously, although relevant information 
regarding cetacean densities in areas of the western North Atlantic 
beyond the EEZ was recently provided by Mannocci et al. (2017), this 
information was not available to SES in developing these applications. 
Therefore, available sighting data were used to evaluate whether a 
species had been observed offshore close to the EEZ; no specific 
distance was used because it was impossible to determine exact 
distances from the EEZ using available reports. For the humpback whale 
and right whale, available information indicated that the species would 
not be expected to occur outside the EEZ. For the remaining species, 
SES extrapolated density from the nearest neighbor grid cell. Assuming 
such uniform density swaths over long range outside the area of data 
coverage may overestimate potential exposures.
     For each 10 km x 10 km grid cell and for the areas of 
extrapolation outside the EEZ, SES then multiplied the estimated 
ensonified area by the appropriate density to produce estimates of 
exposure exceeding the 160 dB rms criterion.
     The projected ensonified area was mapped relative to right 
whale closure areas described by BOEM (2014b); therefore, this element 
of proposed mitigation was accounted for to a certain extent.
    Seven species or species groups met SES' criterion for conducting 
exposure modeling, but did not have the recommended 60 sightings in the 
survey area: minke whale, fin whale, Kogia spp., harbor porpoise, 
pantropical spotted dolphin, clymene dolphin, and rough-toothed 
dolphin. For these species, SES did not feel use of the density models 
was appropriate and developed a method using the available data instead 
(i.e., AMAPPS data as well as data considered by Roberts et al. (2016), 
excluding results of surveys conducted entirely outside of an area 
roughly coincident with the proposed survey area); species-specific 
rationale is provided in section 6.3 of either application. Please see 
section 6.3 of either application for further details regarding the 
AMAPPS survey effort considered by SES. Table 6-1 in either application 
summarizes the AMAPPS data available for consideration by the authors. 
Although Roberts et al. (2016) developed detection functions for these 
species by using proxies as necessary, SES suggests that the fact that 
sightings of these species are not common indicate the species are less 
common than the density models show. SES states further that, while use 
of the density models for these species may be appropriate for 
localized activities, using them over broad geographical scales 
ultimately grossly overestimates the likely exposures of these species. 
SES summarizes the steps involved in this process as follows (see Table 
6-4 in either application for numerical process details):
     Calculate the transect area, specific to aerial and vessel 
surveys, that would be considered to include sightings of all animals 
present for each species based on effective strip widths (ESW; the 
distance at which missed sightings made inside the distance is equal to 
detected sightings outside of it) obtained from the literature. The 
transect area is equal to twice the ESW multiplied by the length of 
transect (see Table 6-3 in either application for ESW values and 
citations).
     Calculate the mean density (in groups/km\2\) for each 
species for aerial and vessel surveys; multiply by mean group size to 
get an individual-based density estimate.
     Adjust the densities using a correction factor (g(0)) to 
account for animals missed due to observation biases. General g(0) 
values for aerial and vessel surveys for each species from the 
literature were used (see Table 6-3 in either application for g(0) 
values and citations). Densities for vessel-based and aerial surveys 
were then averaged for each species; proposed survey lines cover areas 
included in both aerial and vessel survey effort and this method 
accounts for high and low density areas across the survey.
     Calculate the number of animals of each species that would 
potentially occur within the previously determined 160-dB depth-
specific radii and sum for an estimate of total incidents of exposure.
    To be clear, we believe the density models described by Roberts et 
al. (2016) provide the best available information and recommend their 
use for species other than those expected to be extremely rare in a 
given area. However, SES used the most recent observational data 
available. We acknowledge their concerns regarding use of predictive 
density models for species with relatively few observations in the 
proposed survey area, e.g., that model-derived density estimates must 
be applied cautiously on a species-by-species basis with the 
recognition that in some cases the out-of-bound predictions could 
produce unrealistic results (Becker et al., 2014). Further, use of 
uniform (i.e., stratified) density models assumes a given density over 
a large geographic range which may include areas where the species has 
rarely or never been observed. For the seven species or species groups 
that SES applied their alternative approach to, five are modeled in 
whole or part through use of stratified models. We also acknowledge (as 
do Roberts et al. (2016)) that predicted habitat may not be occupied at 
expected densities or that models may not agree in all cases with known 
occurrence patterns, and that there is uncertainty associated with

[[Page 26291]]

predictive habitat modeling (e.g., Becker et al., 2010; Forney et al., 
2012). Overall, SES suggest that it is more appropriate in some 
circumstances to use less complex models requiring less knowledge of 
habitat preferences that do not risk overprediction of occurrence in 
areas that are suitable but for which there is no indication the 
species is common (or sometimes even present). We determined that their 
alternative approach (for seven species or species groups) is 
acceptable and provide further discussion. Importantly, we recognize 
that there is no model or approach that is always the most appropriate 
and that there may be multiple approaches that may be considered 
acceptable.
    As described previously in this document, on July 29, 2015, we 
published a Federal Register notice inviting public review and comment 
on the applications we had received. In response to this opportunity to 
comment, J.J. Roberts and P.N. Halpin of Duke University's Marine 
Geospatial Ecology Lab submitted a public comment letter, which is 
available online with all other comments received at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/oilgas.htm. In part, Roberts and Halpin offered a 
critique of SES' methods and rationale while also commending their use 
of the AMAPPS data. We discussed the points raised by Roberts and 
Halpin with SES, which subsequently made certain corrections and 
prepared revised versions of the TGS and Western applications. M. 
Smultea and S. Courbis of SES submitted a letter (available on the same 
Web site) detailing their responses to these points. However, the use 
of an alternative methodology for the seven species is fundamentally 
the same and forms the basis for our proposed take authorization for 
those species (for TGS and Western).
    Roberts and Halpin raised several key points (we also include any 
resolution in the bulleted points below):
     The Buckland et al. (2001) recommendation that sample size 
should generally be at least 60-80 should be considered as general 
guidance but not an absolute rule and, in fact, Buckland et al. (2001) 
provide no theoretical proof for it. Miller and Thomas (2015) provide 
an example where a detection function fitted to 30 sightings resulted 
in a detection function with low bias. NMFS's line-transect abundance 
estimates are in some cases based on many fewer sightings, e.g., stock 
assessments based on Palka (2012). Roberts and Halpin also point out 
that SES used certain detection functions from Mullin and Fulling 
(2003), which were based on fewer than 60 observations. Please see the 
letters provided by Duke University and SES, respectively, for opposing 
points of view on this issue.
     SES does not correct for observation bias, resulting in 
underestimation of density. SES subsequently corrected this issue by 
using estimates of g(0) to correct for bias, as described above.
     SES used erroneous or inappropriate ESWs for several 
species, resulting in an overestimate of effective survey area and 
therefore an underestimate of density. SES subsequently incorporated 
additional ESW information and addressed these issues to the extent 
possible given the available data.
     Following on the first point described above, ESWs used by 
SES are based on less robust detection functions than those used by 
Roberts et al. (2016).
     SES did not take into account what is known about the 
habitat of the species it modeled using this method. For example, 
Roberts et al. (2016) appropriately assumed an on-shelf density of zero 
for Kogia spp., whereas SES derived a Kogia spp. density estimate by 
including on-shelf survey effort, where Kogia spp. would not be 
expected. SES countered that, for Kogia spp. in particular, the more 
recent AMAPPS data provides substantial new information regarding Kogia 
spp. due to the increased sightings in recent years and suggest that 
for exposure estimation exercises over broad scales such as these, it 
is less important where a species is encountered in relation to how 
many will be encountered.
     SES declined to use density models for certain species on 
the basis of a lack of observations within the proposed survey area, 
although the models are based on numerous observations overall. Roberts 
and Halpin state that, because the models incorporate substantial 
survey effort within the proposed survey area, they are well-informed 
with regard to the likelihood of species occurrence under relevant 
environmental conditions. However, this does not alter the fact that 
these species have only rarely been observed within the proposed survey 
area and, therefore, SES' contention that use of a predictive density 
model to estimate potential acoustic exposures is not the most 
appropriate method for some species.
     SES' combination of aerial and vessel-based densities is 
inappropriate, due to substantial biases in terms of distribution of 
survey effort, i.e., aerial surveys occurred primarily on-shelf while 
vessel-based surveys mainly occurred off-shelf. Therefore, use of a 
simple mean can result in unknown bias for species with either oceanic 
or on-shelf distribution. Roberts and Halpin suggest combining density 
estimates by dividing survey transects into segments, estimating 
density separately for aerial and shipboard surveys, and producing a 
combined estimate that accounts for the area effectively surveyed by 
each. However, because the proposed surveys would occur both on and off 
the shelf, it does not seem that any potential bias would unduly 
influence the overall results obtained by SES.
     SES does not adequately consider available information 
(i.e., acoustic monitoring results; Risch et al., 2014) for the minke 
whale. However, while available acoustic monitoring data suggests 
seasonal presence of minke whales, it remains unclear in the absence of 
visual observations where the whales are in relation to the acoustic 
recorders and how many may be present.
    CGG--CGG used applicable results from BOEM's sound field modeling 
exercise in conjunction with the outputs of models described by Roberts 
et al. (2016) to inform their estimates of likely acoustic exposures. 
Considering only the BOEM modeling sites that are in or near CGG's 
proposed survey area provided a mean radial distance to the 160 dB rms 
criterion of 6,751 m (range 5,013-8,593 m). CGG used ArcGIS (further 
detail regarding CGG's spatial analysis is provided as an appendix to 
CGG's application) to conduct an exposure analysis as described in 
their application and summarized as follows:
     A circle with a 6,751 m radius (representing the extent of 
the average expected 160 dB rms ensonification zone) was drawn around 
each trackline, effectively resulting in a survey track with 13,502 m 
total width. Taxon-specific model outputs, averaged over the six-month 
period planned for the survey (i.e., July-December) where relevant, 
were uploaded into ArcGIS with the assumed ensonification zone to 
provide estimates of marine mammal exposures to noise above the 160 dB 
rms threshold.
     The Roberts et al. (2016) 100 km\2\ grid cells--the 
spatial scale on which taxon-specific predicted abundance information 
is provided--were converted into a compatible format and then spatially 
referenced over the tracklines and associated areas of ensonification. 
The tracklines and associated areas of ensonification were populated 
with the cetacean density grids by calculating the difference between 
the pre- and post-extracted area.

[[Page 26292]]

     Roberts et al. (2016) did not provide predicted abundance 
information for areas beyond the EEZ. As noted previously, although 
relevant information regarding cetacean densities in areas of the 
western North Atlantic beyond the EEZ was recently provided by Mannocci 
et al. (2017), this information was not available to CGG in developing 
their application. Therefore, CGG performed an interpolation analysis 
to estimate density values for the approximately 11 percent of planned 
survey area outside the EEZ that was not included in Roberts et al. 
(2016).

Level A Harassment

    As discussed earlier in this document, BOEM's PEIS (2014a) provides 
auditory injury exposure results on the basis of the Southall et al. 
(2007) guidance. In order to use the results provided by BOEM (2014a) 
in a way that adequately takes NMFS's technical acoustic guidance into 
consideration, we considered the total potential exposure of marine 
mammals to sound exceeding the relevant criterion and estimated such 
exposures that may occur as a result of each specific survey as a 
relative proportion of total line-km. We compiled predicted 2D seismic 
survey activity across all years considered in BOEM's PEIS (see Table 
E-11 of Appendix E in BOEM's PEIS), which yields a potential total of 
616,174 line-km. We divided each company's proposed total trackline by 
this total before multiplying the total species-specific estimated 
exposures across years by this proportion to yield a total survey-
specific estimate of potential Level A harassment on the basis of the 
Southall received energy criterion (for low-frequency cetaceans) and 
the 180-dB rms criterion (for mid- and high-frequency cetaceans) (see 
Tables Attachment E-4 and Attachment E-5 of Appendix E in BOEM's PEIS). 
Whether using the Southall guidance (Southall et al., 2007) or NMFS's 
new technical guidance (NMFS, 2016) (i.e., in consideration of both 
auditory weighting functions for cSEL and thresholds for both cSEL and 
peak pressure), accumulation of energy would be considered to be the 
predominant source of potential auditory injury for low-frequency 
cetaceans, while instantaneous exposure to peak pressure received 
levels would be considered to be the predominant source of injury for 
both mid- and high-frequency cetaceans. Although NMFS's historical 180-
dB rms injury criterion is no longer reflective of the best available 
science, the exposure results provided in BOEM's PEIS relative to the 
criterion are the most appropriate for use in providing ``corrected'' 
estimates based on the relevant peak pressure thresholds. Use of these 
results provides a proxy for the highly uncertain risk of auditory 
injury due to any proposed survey, which we then adjusted to reasonably 
account for NMFS's new technical acoustic guidance.
    For low-frequency cetaceans, in order to ``correct'' these 
estimates of potential Level A exposure to account for NMFS's new 
technical acoustic guidance, we followed the process outlined 
previously under ``Exclusion Zone and Shutdown Requirements.'' We 
obtained spectrum data (in 1 Hz bands) for a reasonably equivalent 
acoustic source in order to appropriately incorporate weighting 
functions (i.e., those described in NMFS (2016) and Southall et al. 
(2007)) over the source's full acoustic band. Using these data, we made 
adjustments (dB) to the spectrum levels, by frequency, according to the 
weighting functions for each relevant hearing group. We then converted 
these adjusted/weighted spectrum levels to pressures (micropascals) in 
order to integrate them over the entire broadband spectrum, resulting 
in weighted source levels by hearing group. Using the safe distance 
methodology described by Sivle et al. (2014) with the hearing group-
specific weighted source levels, and assuming spherical spreading 
propagation, source velocity of 4.5 kn, pulse duration of 100 
milliseconds (ms), and applicant-specific shot intervals, we then 
calculated potential radial distances to auditory injury zones on the 
basis of the two separate sets of weighting functions and thresholds. 
Comparison of the predicted hearing group-specific areas ensonified 
above thresholds defined in Southall et al. (2007) and NMFS (2016) 
provided correction factors that we then applied to the exposure 
results calculated on the basis of the Southall et al. (2007) criteria. 
These ``corrected'' results are provided in Table 11.
    For mid- and high-frequency cetaceans, we also calculated potential 
radial distances to auditory injury zones on the basis of the relevant 
peak pressure thresholds alone, assuming spherical spreading 
propagation (auditory weighting functions are not used in considering 
potential injury due to peak pressure received levels). Comparison of 
the predicted hearing group-specific areas ensonified above thresholds 
defined by the historical NMFS criterion (i.e., 180-dB rms) and NMFS 
(2016) provided correction factors that we then applied to the BOEM 
PEIS exposure results calculated on the basis of the 180-dB rms 
criterion. These ``corrected'' results, which are more conservative 
than results for these two hearing groups calculated on the basis of 
the cSEL approach, are provided in Table 11.
    We recognize that the Level A exposure estimates provided here are 
a rough approximation of actual exposures, for several reasons. First, 
specific trackline locations proposed by the applicant companies may 
differ somewhat from those considered in BOEM's PEIS. However, as noted 
above, BOEM's PEIS assumes a total of 616,174 line-km of 2D survey 
effort conducted over seven years. Therefore, it is likely that all 
portions of the proposed survey area are considered in the PEIS 
analysis. Second, the PEIS exposure estimates are based on outputs of 
the NODEs models (DoN, 2007) versus the density models described by 
Roberts et al. (2016), which we believe represent the best available 
information for purposes of exposure estimation. There are additional 
reasons why any estimate of exposures to levels of sound exceeding the 
Level A harassment criteria is likely an approximation: We do not have 
sufficient information to approximate the probability of marine mammal 
aversion and subsequent likelihood of Level A exposure and we do not 
generally incorporate the effects of mitigation on the likelihood of 
Level A exposure (though this is of less importance when considering 
the potential for Level A exposure due to cumulative exposure of sound 
energy). Our intention is to use the information available to us, in 
reflection of available science regarding the potential for auditory 
injury, to acknowledge the potential for such outcomes in a way that we 
think is a reasonable approximation.
    We note here that four of the five applicant companies (excepting 
Spectrum) declined to request authorization of take by Level A 
harassment. Although ION's proposed survey is smaller in terms of 
survey line-km, their source is larger in terms of predicted acoustic 
output (see Table 1). TGS, CGG, and Western claim, in summary, that 
Level A exposures will not occur largely due to the effectiveness of 
proposed mitigation. We do not find this assertion credible and propose 
to authorize take by Level A harassment, as displayed in Table 11.

Rare Species

    Certain species potentially present in the proposed survey areas 
are expected to be encountered only extremely rarely, if at all. 
Although Roberts et al. (2016) provide density models for these species 
(with the exception of the pygmy killer

[[Page 26293]]

whale), due to the small numbers of sightings that underlie these 
models' predictions we believe it appropriate to account for the small 
likelihood that these species would be encountered by assuming that 
these species might be encountered once by a given survey, and that 
Level A harassment would not occur for these species. With the 
exception of the northern bottlenose whale, none of these species 
should be considered cryptic (i.e., difficult to observe when present) 
versus rare (i.e., not likely to be present). Average group size was 
determined by considering known sightings in the western North Atlantic 
(CETAP, 1982; Hansen et al, 1994; NMFS, 2010a, 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2014, 
2015a; Waring et al., 2007, 2015). It is important to note that our 
proposal to authorize take equating to harassment of one group of each 
of these species is not equivalent to expected exposure. We do not 
expect that these rarely occurring (in the proposed survey area) 
species will be exposed at all, but provide a precautionary 
authorization of take. We provide a brief description for each of these 
species.
    Sei Whale--Very little is known of sei whales in the western North 
Atlantic outside of northern feeding grounds, and much of what is known 
of sei whale distribution and movements is based on whaling records 
(Prieto et al., 2012). Spring is the period of greatest abundance in 
U.S. waters, but sightings are concentrated on feeding grounds in the 
Gulf of Maine and in the vicinity of Georges Bank, outside the proposed 
survey areas (CETAP, 1982; Hain et al., 1985). There are no definitive 
sightings reported south of 40[deg] N., i.e., no sightings reported 
from the proposed survey areas, although NOAA surveys in 1992 and 1995 
reported four ambiguous sightings of ``Bryde's or sei whales'' between 
Florida and Cape Hatteras in winter (Roberts et al., 2015j). 
Additionally, passive acoustic monitoring has detected sei whales in 
the winter near Onslow Bay, North Carolina, and near the shelf break 
off of Jacksonville, Florida (e.g., Read et al., 2010, 2012; Frasier et 
al., 2016; Debich et al., 2013, 2014; Norris et al., 2014), and one sei 
whale stranding is reported from North Carolina (Byrd et al., 2014). It 
is worth noting that the model authors include the four ambiguous 
sightings in both the sei whale and Bryde's whale models, thereby 
potentially overestimating the density of one species or the other but 
acknowledging the potential presence of both species in the area 
(Roberts et al., 2015j). Schilling et al. (1992) report a mean group 
size of 1.8 sei whales, similar to the average group size of 2.2 whales 
across all NMFS observations in the Atlantic. We assume an average 
group size of two whales.
    Bryde's Whale--NMFS defines and manages a stock of Bryde's whales 
believed to be resident in the northern Gulf of Mexico, but does not 
define a separate stock in the western North Atlantic Ocean. Bryde's 
whales are occasionally reported off the southeastern U.S. and southern 
West Indies (Leatherwood and Reeves, 1983). Genetic analysis suggests 
that Bryde's whales from the northern Gulf of Mexico represent a unique 
evolutionary lineage distinct from other recognized Bryde's whale 
subspecies, including those found in the southern Caribbean and 
southwestern Atlantic off Brazil (Rosel and Wilcox, 2014). Two 
strandings from the southeastern U.S. Atlantic coast share the same 
genetic characteristics with those from the northern Gulf of Mexico but 
it is unclear whether these are extralimital strays or they indicate 
the population extends from the northeastern Gulf of Mexico to the 
Atlantic coast of the southern U.S. (Byrd et al., 2014; Rosel and 
Wilcox, 2014). There are no definitive sightings of Bryde's whales from 
the U.S. Atlantic reported from surveys considered by Roberts et al. 
(2016), although, as noted above for the sei whale, NOAA surveys in 
1992 and 1995 reported four ambiguous sightings of ``Bryde's or sei 
whales'' between Florida and Cape Hatteras in winter. These four 
ambiguous sightings provide the basis for a stratified density model 
(Roberts et al., 2016). There are no NMFS observations of Bryde's 
whales outside the Gulf of Mexico, but Silber et al. (1994) reported an 
average group size of 1.2 whales from the Gulf of California. Given the 
similarities to sei whales, we assume an average group size of two 
whales.
    Blue Whale--The blue whale is best considered as an occasional 
visitor in US Atlantic waters, which may represent the current southern 
limit of its feeding range (CETAP, 1982; Wenzel et al., 1988). NMFS's 
minimum population abundance estimate is based on photo-identification 
of recognizable individuals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Waring et al., 
2010), and the few sightings in U.S. waters occurred in the vicinity of 
the Gulf of Maine. All sightings have occurred north of 40[deg] N. 
(Roberts et al., 2015e). However, blue whales have been detected 
acoustically in deep waters north of the West Indies and east of the 
U.S. EEZ (Clark, 1995). Roberts et al. (2016) produced a stratified 
density model on the basis of a few blue whale sightings in the 
vicinity of the Gulf of Maine (Roberts et al., 2015e). Reports of blue 
whales in the eastern tropical Pacific and off of Australia are 
typically of lone whales or groups of two (Reilly and Thayer, 1990; 
Gill, 2002); NMFS sightings in the Atlantic are only of lone whales. 
Therefore, we assume an average group size of one whale.
    Northern Bottlenose Whale--Northern bottlenose whales are 
considered extremely rare in U.S. Atlantic waters, with only five NMFS 
sightings. The southern extent of distribution is generally considered 
to be approximately Nova Scotia (though Mitchell and Kozicki (1975) 
reported stranding records as far south as Rhode Island), and there 
have been no sightings within the proposed survey areas. Whitehead and 
Wimmer (2005) estimated the size of the population on the Scotian Shelf 
at 163 whales (95 percent CI 119-214). Whitehead and Hooker (2012) 
report that northern bottlenose whales are found north of approximately 
37.5[deg] N. and prefer deep waters along the continental slope. 
Roberts et al. (2016) produced a stratified density model on the basis 
of four sightings in the vicinity of Georges Bank (Roberts et al., 
2015b). The five sightings in U.S. waters yield a mean group size of 
2.2 whales, while MacLeod and D'Amico report a mean group size of 3.6 
(n = 895). Here, we assume an average group size of four whales.
    Killer Whale--Killer whales are also considered rare in U.S. 
Atlantic waters (Katona et al., 1988; Forney and Wade, 2006), 
constituting 0.1 percent of marine mammal sightings in the 1978-81 
Cetacean and Turtle Assessment Program surveys (CETAP, 1982). Roberts 
et al. (2016) produced a stratified density model on the basis of four 
killer whale sightings (Roberts et al., 2015g), though Lawson and 
Stevens (2014) provide a minimum abundance estimate of 67 photo-
identified individual killer whales. Available information suggests 
that survey encounters with killer whales would be unlikely but could 
occur anywhere within the proposed survey area and at any time of year 
(e.g., Lawson and Stevens, 2014). Silber et al. (1994) reported 
observations of two and 15 killer whales in the Gulf of California 
(mean group size 8.5), while May-Collado et al. (2005) described mean 
group size of 3.6 whales off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Based on 
12 CETAP sightings and one group observed during NOAA surveys (CETAP, 
1982; NMFS, 2014), the average group size in the Atlantic is 6.8 
whales. Therefore, we assume an average group size of seven whales.

[[Page 26294]]

    False Killer Whale--Although records of false killer whales from 
the U.S. Atlantic are uncommon, a combination of sighting, stranding, 
and bycatch records indicates that this species does occur in the 
western North Atlantic (Waring et al., 2015). Baird (2009) suggests 
that false killer whales may be naturally uncommon throughout their 
range. Roberts et al. (2016) produced a stratified density model on the 
basis of two false killer whale sightings (Roberts et al., 2015m), and 
NMFS produced the first abundance estimate for false killer whales on 
the basis of one sighting during 2011 shipboard surveys (Waring et al., 
2015). Similar to the killer whale, we believe survey encounters would 
be unlikely but could occur anywhere within the proposed survey area 
and at any time of year. Mullin et al. (2004) reported a mean false 
killer whale group size of 27.5 from the Gulf of Mexico, and May-
Collado et al. (2005) described mean group size of 36.2 whales off the 
Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The few sightings from CETAP (1982) and 
from NOAA shipboard surveys give an average group size of 10.3 whales. 
As a precaution, we will assume an average group size of 28 whales, as 
reported from the Gulf of Mexico.
    Pygmy Killer Whale--The pygmy killer whale is distributed worldwide 
in tropical to sub-tropical waters, and is assumed to be part of the 
cetacean fauna of the tropical western North Atlantic (Jefferson et al. 
1994; Waring et al., 2007). Pygmy killer whales are rarely observed by 
NOAA surveys outside the Gulf of Mexico--one group was observed off of 
Cape Hatteras in 1992--and the rarity of such sightings may be due to a 
naturally low number of groups compared to other cetacean species 
(Waring et al., 2007). NMFS has never produced an abundance estimate 
for this species and Roberts et al. (2016) were not able to produce a 
density model for the species. The 1992 sighting was of six whales; 
therefore, we assume an average group size of six.
    Melon-headed Whale--Similar to the pygmy killer whale, the melon-
headed whale is distributed worldwide in tropical to sub-tropical 
waters, and is assumed to be part of the cetacean fauna of the tropical 
western North Atlantic (Jefferson et al. 1994; Waring et al., 2007). 
Melon-headed whales are rarely observed by NOAA surveys outside the 
Gulf of Mexico--groups were observed off of Cape Hatteras in 1999 and 
2002--and the rarity of such sightings may be due to a naturally low 
number of groups compared to other cetacean species (Waring et al., 
2007). NMFS has never produced an abundance estimate for this species 
and Roberts et al. (2016) produced a stratified density model on the 
basis of four sightings (Roberts et al., 2015d). The two sightings 
reported by Waring et al. (2007) yield an average group size of 50 
whales.
    Spinner Dolphin--Distribution of spinner dolphins in the Atlantic 
is poorly known, but they are thought to occur in deep water along most 
of the U.S. coast south to the West Indies and Venezuela (Waring et 
al., 2014). There have been a handful of sightings in deeper waters off 
the northeast U.S. and one sighting during a 2011 NOAA shipboard survey 
off North Carolina, as well as stranding records from North Carolina 
south to Florida and Puerto Rico (Waring et al., 2014). Roberts et al. 
(2016) provide a stratified density model on the basis of two sightings 
(Roberts et al., 2015i). Regarding group size, Mullin et al. (2004) 
report a mean of 91.3 in the Gulf of Mexico; May-Collado (2005) 
describe a mean of 100.6 off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica; and CETAP 
(1982) sightings in the Atlantic yield a mean group size of 42.5 
dolphins. As a precaution, we will assume an average group size of 91 
dolphins, as reported from the Gulf of Mexico.
    Fraser's Dolphin--As was stated for both the pygmy killer whale and 
melon-headed whale, the Fraser's dolphin is distributed worldwide in 
tropical waters, and is assumed to be part of the cetacean fauna of the 
tropical western North Atlantic (Perrin et al., 1994; Waring et al., 
2007). The paucity of sightings of this species may be due to naturally 
low abundance compared to other cetacean species (Waring et al., 2007). 
Despite possibly being more common in the Gulf of Mexico than in other 
parts of its range (Dolar, 2009), there were only five reported 
sightings during NOAA surveys from 1992-2009. In the Atlantic, NOAA 
surveys have yielded only two sightings (Roberts et al., 2015f). May-
Collado et al. (2005) reported a single observation of 158 Fraser's 
dolphins off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and Waring et al. (2007) 
describe a single observation of 250 Fraser's dolphins in the Atlantic, 
off Cape Hatteras. Therefore, we assume an average group size of 204 
dolphins.
    Atlantic White-sided Dolphin--White-sided dolphins are found in 
temperate and sub-polar continental shelf waters of the North Atlantic, 
primarily in the Gulf of Maine and north into Canadian waters (Waring 
et al., 2016). Palka et al. (1997) suggest the existence of stocks in 
the Gulf of Maine, Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Labrador Sea. Stranding 
records from Virginia and North Carolina suggest a southerly winter 
range extent of approximately 35[deg] N. (Waring et al., 2016); 
therefore, it is possible that the proposed surveys could encounter 
white-sided dolphins. Roberts et al. (2016) elected to split their 
study area at the north wall of the Gulf Stream, separating the cold 
northern waters, representing probable habitat, from warm southern 
waters, where white-sided dolphins are likely not present (Roberts et 
al., 2015k). Over 600 observations of Atlantic white-sided dolphins 
during CETAP (1982) and during NMFS surveys provide a mean group size 
estimate of 47.7 dolphins, while Weinrich et al. (2001) reported a mean 
group size of 52 dolphins. Here, we assume an average group size of 48 
dolphins.
    Table 10 displays the estimated incidents of potential exposures 
above given received levels of sound that are used to estimate Level B 
harassment, as derived by various methods described above. We do not 
include the 11 rarely occurring species described above, because our 
assumption that a single group of each species would be encountered 
does not constitute an exposure estimate (however they are considered 
in Table 11 for our proposed take authorizations). Total applicant-
specific exposure estimates as a proportion of the most appropriate 
abundance estimate are presented. As described previously, for most 
species these estimated exposure levels apply to a generic western 
North Atlantic stock defined by NMFS for management purposes. For the 
humpback and sei whale, any takes are assumed to occur to individuals 
of the species occurring in the specific geographic region (which may 
or may not be individuals from the Gulf of Maine and Nova Scotia 
stocks, respectively). For bottlenose dolphins, NMFS defines an 
offshore stock and multiple coastal stocks of dolphins, and we are not 
able to quantitatively determine the extent to which the estimated 
exposures may accrue to the oceanic versus various coastal stocks. 
However, because of the spatial distribution of proposed survey effort 
and our proposed mitigation, we assume that almost all incidents of 
take for bottlenose dolphins would accrue to the offshore stock.

[[Page 26295]]



                                       Table 10--Estimated Incidents of Potential Exposure for Level B Harassment
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  Spectrum                 TGS                   ION                 Western                 CGG
          Common name            Abundance -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                  estimate   Level B       %       Level B       %       Level B       %       Level B       %       Level B       %
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Atlantic right whale.....        440         64         15         12          3         11          3          6          1          1         <1
Humpback whale.................      1,637         46          3         72          4          7         <1         49          3          7         <1
Minke whale....................     20,741        428          2        219          1         12         <1        103         <1        134          1
Fin whale......................      3,522        341         10      1,148         33          5         <1        538         15         50          1
Sperm whale....................      5,353      1,145         21      3,974         74         39          1      2,001         37      1,406         26
Kogia spp......................      3,785        211          6      1,232         33         31          1        577         15        249          7
Beaked whales..................     14,491      3,497         24     13,423         93        516          4      5,095         35      3,722         26
Rough-toothed dolphin..........        532        206         39        270         52         13          2        127         24        183         34
Common bottlenose dolphin......     97,476     38,091         39     45,041         46      2,646          3     23,849         24      9,276         10
Clymene dolphin................     12,515      6,613         53      1,102          9        273          2        517          4      6,609         53
Atlantic spotted dolphin.......     55,436     17,421         31     45,594         82        639          1     19,063         34      6,880         12
Pantropical spotted dolphin....      4,436      1,671         38      1,542         35         84          2        723         16      1,623         37
Striped dolphin................     75,657      8,339         11     26,136         35        233         <1      9,191         12      6,722          9
Short-beaked common dolphin....    173,486     11,312          7     57,793         33        428         <1     20,936         12      6,220          4
Risso's dolphin................      7,732        772         10      3,563         46         95          1      1,627         21        831         11
Globicephala spp...............     18,977      2,841         15      9,834         52        217          1      4,766         25      2,043         11
Harbor porpoise................     45,089        637          1        334          1         21         <1        157         <1         32         <1
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
``Abundance estimate'' reflects what we believe is the most appropriate abundance estimate against which to compare each applicant's estimated exposures
  exceeding the 160 dB rms criterion. ``%'' represents predicted exposures exceeding the Level B harassment criterion as a percentage of abundance. We
  do not include predicted Level A exposures because these incidents are also included as Level B exposures and inclusion of these numbers would result
  in double-counting.

    Table 11 provides the numbers of take by Level A and Level B 
harassment proposed for authorization. The proposed take authorizations 
combine the exposure estimates displayed in Table 10, estimated 
potential incidents of Level A harassment derived as described above, 
and the average group size information discussed previously in this 
section for sei whale, Bryde's whale, blue whale, northern bottlenose 
whale, Fraser's dolphin, melon-headed whale, false killer whale, pygmy 
killer whale, killer whale, spinner dolphin, and white-sided dolphin. 
For applicant- and species-specific proposed take authorizations marked 
by an asterisk, the predicted exposures (Table 10) have been reduced to 
30 percent of the abundance estimate. The MMPA limits our ability to 
authorize take incidental to a specified activity to ``small numbers'' 
of marine mammals and, although this concept is not defined in the 
statute, NMFS interprets the concept in relative terms through 
comparison of the estimated number of individuals expected to be taken 
to an estimation of the relevant species or stock size. A relative 
approach to small numbers has been upheld in past litigation (see, 
e.g., CBD v. Salazar, 695 F.3d 893 (9th Cir. 2012)). Here, we propose a 
take authorization limit of 30 percent of a stock abundance estimate. 
Although 30 percent is not a hard and fast cut-off, in cases such as 
this where exposure estimates constitute sizable percentages of the 
stock abundance and there are no qualitative factors to inform why the 
actual percentages are likely to be lower in fact, we believe it is 
appropriate to limit our proposed take authorizations to reasonably 
ensure the levels do not exceed ``small numbers.'' Proposed mechanisms 
to limit take to this amount are discussed further under ``Small 
Numbers Analyses'' and ``Proposed Monitoring and Reporting.''

                                        Table 11--Numbers of Potential Incidental Take Proposed for Authorization
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  Spectrum                 TGS                   ION                 Western                 CGG
                Common name                -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             Level A    Level B    Level A    Level B    Level A    Level B    Level A    Level B    Level A    Level B
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Atlantic right whale................          0         64          0         12          0         11          0          6          0      \1\ 2
Humpback whale............................         16         46         22         72         12          7          2         49         22          7
Minke whale...............................          0        428          1        219          0         12          0        103          1        134
Bryde's whale.............................          0          2          0          2          0          2          0          2          0          2
Sei whale.................................          0          2          0          2          0          2          0          2          0          2
Fin whale.................................          0        341          0    * 1,057          0          5          0        538          0         50
Blue whale................................          0          1          0          1          0          1          0          1          0          1
Sperm whale...............................          5      1,145          4    * 1,606          1         39          2    * 1,606          1      1,406
Kogia spp.................................         14        211         10    * 1,136          3         31          5        577          4        249
Beaked whales.............................         13      3,497         10    * 4,347          0        516          5    * 4,347          4      3,722
Northern bottlenose whale.................          0          4          0          4          0          4          0          4          0          4
Rough-toothed dolphin.....................          0      * 160          0      * 160          0     \2\ 14          0        127          0      * 160
Common bottlenose dolphin.................        210   * 29,243        162   * 29,243         44      2,646         84     23,849         62      9,276
Clymene dolphin...........................          7    * 3,755          5      1,102          1        273          3        517          2    * 3,755
Atlantic spotted dolphin..................        102   * 16,631         78   * 16,631         21        639         41   * 16,631         30      6,880
Pantropical spotted dolphin...............         15    * 1,331         12    * 1,331          3         84          6        723          4    * 1,331
Spinner dolphin...........................          0         91          0         91          0         91          0         91          0         91
Striped dolphin...........................         67      8,339         52   * 22,697         14        233         27      9,191         20      6,722
Short-beaked common dolphin...............        113     11,312         87   * 52,046         24        428         45     20,936         33      6,220
Fraser's dolphin..........................          0        204          0        204          0        204          0        204          0        204
Atlantic white-sided dolphin..............          0         48          0         48          0         48          0         48          0         48
Risso's dolphin...........................         56        772         43    * 2,320         12         95         22      1,627         17        831
Melon-headed whale........................          0         50          0         50          0         50          0         50          0         50
Pygmy killer whale........................          0          6          0          6          0          6          0          6          0          6
False killer whale........................          0         28          0         28          0         28          0         28          0         28
Killer whale..............................          0          7          0          7          0          7          0          7          0          7
Pilot whales..............................         94      2,841         72    * 5,693         20        217         38      4,766         28      2,043

[[Page 26296]]

 
Harbor porpoise...........................          6        637          4        334          1         21          2        157          2         32
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Proposed take authorization limited to 30 percent of best population abundance estimate.
\1\ Increased from predicted exposure of one whale (Table 10) to account for assumed minimum group size (e.g., Parks and Tyack, 2005).
\2\ Exposure estimate (Table 10) increased by one to account for average group size observed during AMAPPS survey effort.

Analyses and Preliminary Determinations

Negligible Impact Analyses

    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.'' 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. In addition to considering estimates of the number of 
marine mammals that might be ``taken'' through harassment, we consider 
other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (e.g., 
intensity, duration), the context of any responses (e.g., critical 
reproductive time or location, migration), as well as effects on 
habitat. We also assess the number, intensity, and context of estimated 
takes by evaluating this information relative to population status. 
Consistent with the 1989 preamble for NMFS's implementing regulations 
(54 FR 40338; September 29, 1989), the impacts from other past and 
ongoing anthropogenic activities are incorporated into these analyses 
via their impacts on the environmental baseline (e.g., as reflected in 
the regulatory status of the species, population size and growth rate 
where known, ongoing sources of human-caused mortality).
    We first provide a generic description of our approach to the 
negligible impact analyses for this action, which incorporates elements 
of the impact assessment methodology described by Wood et al. (2012), 
before providing applicant-specific analysis. For each potential 
activity-related stressor, we consider the potential impacts on 
affected marine mammals and the likely significance of those impacts to 
the affected stock or population as a whole. Potential risk due to 
vessel collision and related mitigation measures as well as potential 
risk due to entanglement and contaminant spills were addressed under 
``Proposed Mitigation'' and ``Potential Effects of the Specified 
Activity on Marine Mammals'' and are not discussed further, as there 
are minimal risks expected from these potential stressors.
    Our analyses incorporate a simple matrix assessment approach to 
generate relative impact ratings that couple potential magnitude of 
effect on a stock and likely consequences of those effects for 
individuals, given biologically relevant information (e.g., 
compensatory ability). Impact ratings are then combined with 
consideration of contextual information, such as the status of the 
stock or species, in conjunction with our proposed mitigation strategy, 
to ultimately inform our preliminary determinations. Figure 5 provides 
an overview of this framework. Elements of this approach are subjective 
and relative within the context of these particular actions and, 
overall, these analyses necessarily require the application of 
professional judgment.
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

[[Page 26297]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TN06JN17.004

BILLING CODE 3510-22-C
    Magnitude--We consider magnitude of effect as a semi-quantitative 
evaluation of measurable factors presented as relative ratings that 
address the extent of expected impacts to a species or stock and their 
habitat. Magnitude ratings are developed as a combination of measurable 
factors: The amount of take, the spatial extent of the effects in the 
context of the species range, and the duration of effects.
Amount of Take
    We consider authorized Level B take less than five percent of 
population abundance to be de minimis, while authorized Level B taking 
between 5[hyphen]15 percent is low. A moderate amount of authorized 
taking by Level B harassment would be from 15-25 percent, and high 
above 25 percent. Although we do not define quantitative metrics 
relating to amount of potential take by Level A harassment, for all 
applicant companies the expected potential for Level A harassment is 
expected to be low (Table 11).
Spatial Extent
    Spatial extent relates to overlap of the expected range of the 
affected stock with the expected footprint of the stressor. While we do 
not define quantitative metrics relative to assessment of spatial 
extent, a relatively low impact would be a localized effect on the 
stock's range, a relatively moderate impact would be a regional-scale 
effect (meaning that the overlap between stressor and range was 
partial), and a relatively high impact would be one in which the degree 
of overlap between stressor and range is near total. For a mobile 
activity occurring over a relatively large, regional-scale area, this 
categorization is made largely on the basis of the stock range in 
relation to the action area. For example, the harbor porpoise is 
expected to occur almost entirely outside of the proposed survey areas 
(Waring et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2016) and therefore despite the 
large extent of proposed survey activity, the spatial extent of 
potential stressor effect would be low. A medium degree of effect would 
be expected for a species such as the Risso's dolphin, which has a 
distribution in shelf and slope waters along the majority of the U.S. 
Atlantic coast, and which also would be expected to have greater 
abundance in mid-Atlantic waters north of the proposed survey areas in 
the summer (Waring et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2016). This means that 
the extent of potential stressor for this species would at all times be 
expected to have some overlap with a portion of the stock, while some 
portion (increasing in summer and fall months) would at all times be 
outside the stressor footprint. A higher degree of impact with regard 
to spatial extent would be expected for a species such as the Clymene 
dolphin, which is expected to have a generally more southerly 
distribution (Waring et al., 2016; Roberts et al., 2016) and thus more 
nearly complete overlap with the expected stressor footprint in BOEM's 
Mid- and South Atlantic planning areas.
    In Tables 14-18 below, spatial extent is presented as a range for 
certain species with known migratory patterns. We expect spatial extent 
(overlap of stock range with proposed survey area) to be low for right 
whales from May through October but moderate from November through 
April, due to right

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whale movements into southeastern shelf waters in the winter for 
calving. The overlap is considered moderate during winter because not 
all right whales make this winter migration, and those that do are 
largely found in shallow waters where little survey effort is planned. 
Spatial extent for humpback whales is expected to be low for most of 
the year, but likely moderate during winter, while spatial extent for 
minke whales is likely low in summer, moderate in spring and fall, and 
high in winter. While we consider spatial extent to be low year-round 
for fin whales, their range overlap with the proposed survey area does 
vary across the seasons and is closer to moderate in winter and spring. 
We expect spatial extent for common dolphins to be lower in fall but 
generally moderate. Similarly, we expect spatial extent for Risso's 
dolphins to be lower in summer but generally moderate. Although 
proposed survey plans differ across applicant companies, all cover 
large spatial scales that extend throughout much of BOEM's Mid- and 
South Atlantic OCS planning areas, and we do not expect meaningful 
differences across surveys with regard to spatial extent.
Temporal Extent
    We consider a temporary effect lasting up to one month (prior to 
the animal or habitat reverting to a ``normal'' condition) to be short-
term, whereas long[hyphen]term effects are more permanent, lasting 
beyond one season (with animals or habitat potentially reverting to a 
``normal'' condition). Moderate[hyphen]term is therefore defined as 
between 1[hyphen]3 months. Duration describes how long the effects of 
the stressor last. Temporal frequency may range from continuous to 
isolated (may occur one or two times), or may be intermittent. These 
metrics and their potential combinations help to derive the ratings 
summarized in Table 12. Temporal extent is not indicated in Tables 14-
18 below, as it did not affect the magnitude rating for each applicant.

                                           Table 12--Magnitude Rating
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           Amount of take                Spatial extent      Duration and frequency        Magnitude rating
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
High...............................  Any...................  Any...................  High.
Any except de minimis..............  High..................  Any.
Moderate...........................  Moderate..............  Any except short-term/  ...........................
                                                              isolated
Moderate...........................  Moderate..............  Short-term/isolated...  Medium.
Moderate...........................  Low...................  Any.
Low................................  Moderate..............  Any.
Low................................  Low...................  Any except short-term/  ...........................
                                                              intermittent or
                                                              isolated
Low................................  Low...................  Short-term/             Low.
                                                              intermittent or
                                                              isolated.
De minimis.........................  Any...................  Any...................  De minimis.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Adapted from Table 3.4 of Wood et al. (2012).

    Likely Consequences--These considerations of amount, extent, and 
duration give an understanding of expected magnitude of effect for the 
stock or species and their habitat, which is then considered in context 
of the likely consequences of those effects for individuals. We 
consider likely relative consequences through a qualitative evaluation 
of species-specific information that helps predict the consequences of 
the known information addressed through the magnitude rating, i.e., 
expected effects. This evaluation considers factors including acoustic 
sensitivity, communication range, known aspects of behavior relevant to 
a consideration of consequences of effects, and assumed compensatory 
abilities to engage in important behaviors (e.g., breeding, foraging) 
in alternate areas. The magnitude rating and likely consequences are 
combined to produce an impact rating (Table 13).
    For example, if a delphinid species is predicted to have a high 
amount of disturbance and over a high degree of spatial extent, that 
stock would receive a high magnitude rating for that particular 
proposed survey. However, we may then assess that the species may have 
a high degree of compensatory ability; therefore, our conclusion would 
be that the consequences of any effects are likely low. The overall 
impact rating in this scenario would be moderate. Table 13 summarizes 
impact rating scenarios.

                         Table 13--Impact Rating
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                            Consequences (for
    Magnitude rating           individuals)            Impact rating
------------------------------------------------------------------------
High...................  High/medium............  High.
High...................  Low....................  Moderate.
Medium.................  High/medium              ......................
Low....................  High                     ......................
Medium.................  Low....................  Low.
Low....................  Medium/low               ......................
De minimis.............  Any....................  De minimis.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Adapted from Table 3.5 of Wood et al. (2012).

    Likely consequences, as presented in Tables 14-18 below, are 
considered medium for each species of mysticete whales with greater 
than a de minimis amount of exposure, due to the greater potential that 
survey noise may subject individuals of these species to masking of 
acoustic space for social purposes (i.e., they are low frequency 
hearing specialists). Likely consequences are considered medium for 
sperm whales due to potential for survey noise to disrupt foraging 
activity. The likely consequences are considered high for beaked whales 
due to the combination of known acoustic sensitivity and expected 
residency patterns, as we expect that compensatory ability for beaked 
whales will be low due to presumed residency in certain shelf break and 
deepwater canyon areas covered by the proposed survey area. Similarly, 
Kogia spp. are presumed to be a more acoustically sensitive species, 
but unlike beaked whales we expect that Kogia spp. would have a 
reasonable compensatory ability to perform important behavior in 
alternate areas, as they are expected to occur broadly over the 
continental slope (e.g., Bloodworth and Odell, 2008)--therefore, we 
assume that consequences would be low for Kogia spp. generally. 
Consequences are considered low for most delphinids, as it is unlikely 
that disturbance due to survey noise would entail significant 
disruption of normal behavioral patterns, long-term displacement, or 
significant potential for masking of acoustic space. However, for pilot 
whales we believe likely consequences to be medium due to expected 
residency in areas of importance and, therefore, lack of compensatory 
ability. Because the nature of the stressor is the same across 
applicant companies, we do not expect meaningful differences with 
regard to likely consequences.
    Context--In addition to impact ratings, we then also consider 
additional relevant contextual factors in a

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qualitative fashion. This consideration of context is applied to a 
given impact rating in order to produce a final assessment of impact to 
the stock or species, i.e., our preliminary negligible impact 
determinations. Relevant contextual factors include population status, 
other stressors, and proposed mitigation.
    Here, we reiterate discussion relating to our development of 
targeted mitigation measures and note certain contextual factors, which 
are applicable to negligible impact analyses for all five applicant 
companies. Applicant-specific analyses are provided later.
     We developed mitigation requirements (i.e., time-area 
restrictions) designed specifically to provide benefit to certain 
species or stocks for which we predict a relatively moderate to high 
amount of exposure to survey noise and/or which have contextual factors 
that we believe necessitate special consideration. The proposed time-
area restrictions, described in detail in ``Proposed Mitigation'' and 
depicted in Figures 3-4), are designed specifically to provide benefit 
to the North Atlantic right whale, bottlenose dolphin, sperm whale, 
beaked whales, pilot whales, and Atlantic spotted dolphin. In addition, 
we expect these areas to provide some subsidiary benefit to additional 
species that may be present. In particular, Area #5 (Figure 4), 
although delineated in order to specifically provide an area of 
anticipated benefit to beaked whales, sperm whales, and pilot whales, 
is expected to host a diverse assemblage of cetacean species. The 
output of the Roberts et al. (2016) models, as used in core abundance 
area analyses (described in detail in ``Proposed Mitigation''), 
indicates that species most likely to derive subsidiary benefit from 
this time-area restriction include the bottlenose dolphin (offshore 
stock), Risso's dolphin, and common dolphin. For species with density 
predicted through stratified models, core abundance analysis is not 
possible and assumptions regarding potential benefit of time-area 
restrictions are based on known ecology of the species and sightings 
patterns and are less robust. Nevertheless, subsidiary benefit for 
Areas #2-5 (Figure 4) should be expected for species known to be 
present in these areas (e.g., assumed affinity for shelf/slope/abyss 
areas off Cape Hatteras): Kogia spp., pantropical spotted dolphin, 
Clymene dolphin, and rough-toothed dolphin.
    These proposed measures benefit both the primary species for which 
they were designed and the species that may benefit secondarily by 
reducing the likely number of individuals exposed to survey noise and, 
for resident species in areas where seasonal closures are proposed, 
reducing the numbers of times that individuals are exposed to survey 
noise (also discussed in ``Small Numbers Analyses,'' below). However, 
and perhaps of greater importance, we expect that these restrictions 
will reduce disturbance of these species in the places most important 
to them for critical behaviors such as foraging and socialization. Area 
#2 (Figure 4), which is proposed as a year-round closure, is assumed to 
be an area important for beaked whale foraging, while Areas #3-4 (also 
proposed as year-round closures) are assumed to provide important 
foraging opportunities for sperm whales as well as beaked whales. Area 
#5, proposed as a seasonal closure, is comprised of shelf-edge habitat 
where beaked whales and pilot whales are believed to be year-round 
residents as well as slope and abyss habitat predicted to contain high 
abundance of sperm whales during the period of closure. Further detail 
regarding rationale for these closures is provided under ``Proposed 
Mitigation.''
     The North Atlantic right whale, sei whale, fin whale, blue 
whale, and sperm whale are listed as endangered under the Endangered 
Species Act, and all coastal stocks of bottlenose dolphin are 
designated as depleted under the MMPA (and have recently experienced an 
unusual mortality event, described earlier in this document). However, 
sei whales and blue whales are unlikely to be meaningfully impacted by 
the proposed activities (see ``Rare Species'' below). All four 
mysticete species are also classified as endangered (i.e., ``considered 
to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild'') on the 
International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened 
Species, whereas the sperm whale is classified as vulnerable (i.e., 
``considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild'') 
(IUCN, 2016). Our proposed mitigation is designed to avoid impacts to 
the right whale and to depleted stocks of bottlenose dolphin. Survey 
activities must avoid all areas where the right whale and coastal 
stocks of bottlenose dolphin may be reasonably expected to occur, and 
we propose to require shutdown of the acoustic source upon observation 
of any right whale at any distance. If the observed right whale is 
within the behavioral harassment zone, it would still be considered to 
have experienced harassment, but by immediately shutting down the 
acoustic source the duration of harassment is minimized and the 
significance of the harassment event reduced as much as possible.
    Although listed as endangered, the primary threat faced by the 
sperm