Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys Related to Oil and Gas Activities in the Gulf of Mexico, 37313-37316 [2021-15048]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 133 / Thursday, July 15, 2021 / Notices Authorization Special Accommodations NMFS has determined that the level of taking for this LOA request is consistent with the findings made for the total taking allowable under the incidental take regulations and that the amount of take authorized under the LOA is of no more than small numbers. Accordingly, we have issued an LOA to Shell authorizing the take of marine mammals incidental to its geophysical survey activity, as described above. The meeting is physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to Kathy Collins at the Council Office, (302) 526–5253, at least 5 days prior to the meeting date. Dated: July 12, 2021. Catherine Marzin, Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: July 7, 2021. Tracey L. Thompson, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2021–14782 Filed 7–14–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P [FR Doc. 2021–15047 Filed 7–14–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XB212] Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys Related to Oil and Gas Activities in the Gulf of Mexico [RTID 0648–XB225] Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC); Meeting National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; public meeting. AGENCY: The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish (MSB) Monitoring Committee will hold a public meeting. DATES: The meeting will be held on Monday, July 26, 2021; from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For agenda details, see SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION. ADDRESSES: The meeting will be held via webinar. Webinar connection information will be available at www.mafmc.org/council-events. Council address: Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 800 N State Street, Suite 201, Dover, DE 19901; telephone: (302) 674–2331; www.mafmc.org. SUMMARY: khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Christopher M. Moore, Ph.D., Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, telephone: (302) 526–5255. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The purpose of the meeting is for the MSB Monitoring Committee to provide recommendations regarding Atlantic mackerel, potentially including: 2021/ 2022 emergency action, future specifications, and/or rebuilding plan modifications and options. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:11 Jul 14, 2021 Jkt 253001 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of issuance of Letter of Authorization. AGENCY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as amended, its implementing regulations, and NMFS’ MMPA Regulations for Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys Related to Oil and Gas Activities in the Gulf of Mexico, notification is hereby given that a Letter of Authorization (LOA) has been issued to Chevron U.S.A. Inc. (Chevron) for the take of marine mammals incidental to geophysical survey activity in the Gulf of Mexico. DATES: The LOA is effective from August 1, 2021, through June 1, 2022. ADDRESSES: The LOA, LOA request, and supporting documentation are available online at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/ action/incidental-take-authorization-oiland-gas-industry-geophysical-surveyactivity-gulf-mexico. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ben Laws, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00040 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 37313 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). On January 19, 2021, we issued a final rule with regulations to govern the unintentional taking of marine mammals incidental to geophysical survey activities conducted by oil and gas industry operators, and those persons authorized to conduct activities on their behalf (collectively ‘‘industry operators’’), in Federal waters of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM) over the course of 5 years (86 FR 5322; January 19, 2021). The rule was based on our findings that the total taking from the specified activities over the 5-year period will have a negligible impact on the affected species or stock(s) of marine mammals and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of those species or stocks for subsistence uses. The rule became effective on April 19, 2021. E:\FR\FM\15JYN1.SGM 15JYN1 37314 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 133 / Thursday, July 15, 2021 / Notices khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES Our regulations at 50 CFR 217.180 et seq. allow for the issuance of LOAs to industry operators for the incidental take of marine mammals during geophysical survey activities and prescribe the permissible methods of taking and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat (often referred to as mitigation), as well as requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking. Under 50 CFR 217.186(e), issuance of an LOA shall be based on a determination that the level of taking will be consistent with the findings made for the total taking allowable under these regulations and a determination that the amount of take authorized under the LOA is of no more than small numbers. Summary of Request and Analysis Chevron plans to conduct a 3D borehole seismic survey using an airgun array as the sound source, covering portions of approximately 40 lease blocks centered around Lease Block G16942 (Big Foot). The survey is a type of vertical seismic profile (VSP) survey. The array consists of 32 elements, with a total volume of 5,040 cubic inches (in3). Please see Chevron’s application for additional detail. Consistent with the preamble to the final rule, the survey effort proposed by Chevron in its LOA request was used to develop LOA-specific take estimates based on the acoustic exposure modeling results described in the preamble (86 FR 5322, 5398; January 19, 2021). In order to generate the appropriate take number for authorization, the following information was considered: (1) Survey type; (2) location (by modeling zone); 1 (3) number of days; and (4) season.2 The acoustic exposure modeling performed in support of the rule provides 24-hour exposure estimates for each species, specific to each modeled survey type in each zone and season. No VSP surveys were included in the modeled survey types, and use of existing proxies (i.e., 2D, 3D NAZ, 3D WAZ, Coil) is generally conservative for use in evaluation of VSP survey effort. Summary descriptions of these modeled survey geometries are available in the preamble to the proposed rule (83 FR 29212, 29220; June 22, 2018). 3D NAZ was selected as the best available proxy survey type. In addition, all available 1 For purposes of acoustic exposure modeling, the GOM was divided into seven zones. Zone 1 is not included in the geographic scope of the rule. 2 For purposes of acoustic exposure modeling, seasons include Winter (December–March) and Summer (April–November). VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:11 Jul 14, 2021 Jkt 253001 acoustic exposure modeling results assume use of a 72 element, 8,000 in3 array. In this case, take numbers authorized through the LOA are considered conservative due to differences in both the airgun array and the survey geometry planned by Chevron, as compared to those modeled for the rule. The survey is planned to occur for 22 days, with 14 days occurring in Zone 5 and 8 days in Zone 7. The season is not known in advance. Therefore, the take estimates for each species are based on the season that has the greater value for the species (i.e., winter or summer). For some species, take estimates based solely on the modeling yielded results that are not realistically likely to occur when considered in light of other relevant information available during the rulemaking process regarding marine mammal occurrence in the GOM. Thus, although the modeling conducted for the rule is a natural starting point for estimating take, our rule acknowledged that other information could be considered (see, e.g., 86 FR 5322, 5442 (January 19, 2021), discussing the need to provide flexibility and make efficient use of previous public and agency review of other information and identifying that additional public review is not necessary unless the model or inputs used differ substantively from those that were previously reviewed by NMFS and the public). For this survey, NMFS has other relevant information reviewed during the rulemaking that indicates use of the acoustic exposure modeling to generate a take estimate for certain marine mammal species produces results inconsistent with what is known regarding their occurrence in the GOM. Accordingly, we have adjusted the calculated take estimates for those species as described below. Rice’s whales (formerly known as GOM Bryde’s whales) 3 are generally found within a small area in the northeastern GOM in waters between 100–400 meters (m) depth along the continental shelf break (Rosel et al., 2016). Whaling records suggest that Rice’s whales historically had a broader distribution within similar habitat parameters throughout the GOM (Reeves et al., 2011; Rosel and Wilcox, 2014), and a NOAA survey reported observation of a Rice’s whale in the western GOM in 2017 (NMFS, 2018). Habitat-based density modeling identified similar habitat (i.e., 3 The final rule refers to the GOM Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni). These whales were subsequently described as a new species, Rice’s whale (Balaenoptera ricei) (Rosel et al., 2021). PO 00000 Frm 00041 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 approximately 100–400 m water depths along the continental shelf break) as being potential Rice’s whale habitat (Roberts et al., 2016), although a ‘‘core habitat area’’ defined in the northeastern GOM (outside the scope of the rule) contained approximately 92 percent of the predicted abundance of Rice’s whales. See discussion provided at, e.g., 83 FR 29212, 29228, 29280 (June 22, 2018); 86 FR 5322, 5418 (January 19, 2021). Although it is possible that Rice’s whales may occur outside of their core habitat, NMFS expects that any such occurrence would be limited to the narrow band of suitable habitat described above (i.e., 100–400 m). Chevron’s planned activity will occur in water depths of approximately 1,200– 2,000 m in the central GOM. NMFS does not expect there to be the reasonable potential for take of Rice’s whale in association with this survey and, accordingly, does not authorize take of Rice’s whale through this LOA. Killer whales are the most rarely encountered species in the GOM, typically in deep waters of the central GOM (Roberts et al., 2015; Maze-Foley and Mullin, 2006). The approach used in the acoustic exposure modeling, in which seven modeling zones were defined over the U.S. GOM, necessarily averages fine-scale information about marine mammal distribution over the large area of each modeling zone. NMFS has determined that the approach results in unrealistic projections regarding the likelihood of encountering killer whales. As discussed in the final rule, the density models produced by Roberts et al. (2016) provide the best available scientific information regarding predicted density patterns of cetaceans in the U.S. GOM. The predictions represent the output of models derived from multi-year observations and associated environmental parameters that incorporate corrections for detection bias. However, in the case of killer whales, the model is informed by few data, as indicated by the coefficient of variation associated with the abundance predicted by the model (0.41, the second-highest of any GOM species model; Roberts et al., 2016). The model’s authors noted the expected non-uniform distribution of this rarelyencountered species (as discussed above) and expressed that, due to the limited data available to inform the model, it ‘‘should be viewed cautiously’’ (Roberts et al., 2015). NOAA surveys in the GOM from 1992–2009 reported only 16 sightings of killer whales, with an additional three encounters during more recent survey E:\FR\FM\15JYN1.SGM 15JYN1 37315 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 133 / Thursday, July 15, 2021 / Notices effort from 2017–18 (Waring et al., 2013; www.boem.gov/gommapps). Two other species were also observed on less than 20 occasions during the 1992–2009 NOAA surveys (Fraser’s dolphin and false killer whale).4 However, observational data collected by protected species observers (PSOs) on industry geophysical survey vessels from 2002–2015 distinguish the killer whale in terms of rarity. During this period, killer whales were encountered on only 10 occasions, whereas the next most rarely encountered species (Fraser’s dolphin) was recorded on 69 occasions (Barkaszi and Kelly, 2019). The false killer whale and pygmy killer whale were the next most rarely encountered species, with 110 records each. The killer whale was the species with the lowest detection frequency during each period over which PSO data were synthesized (2002–2008 and 2009– 2015). This information qualitatively informed our rulemaking process, as discussed at 86 FR 5322, 5334 (January 19, 2021), and similarly informs our analysis here. The rarity of encounter during seismic surveys is not likely to be the product of high bias on the probability of detection. Unlike certain cryptic species with high detection bias, such as Kogia spp. or beaked whales, or deep-diving species with high availability bias, such as beaked whales or sperm whales, killer whales are typically available for detection when present and are easily observed. Roberts et al. (2015) stated that availability is not a major factor affecting detectability of killer whales from shipboard surveys, as they are not a particularly long-diving species. Baird et al. (2005) reported that mean dive durations for 41 fish-eating killer whales for dives greater than or equal to 1 minute in duration was 2.3–2.4 minutes, and Hooker et al. (2012) reported that killer whales spent 78 percent of their time at depths between 0–10 m. Similarly, Kvadsheim et al. (2012) reported data from a study of four killer whales, noting that the whales performed 20 times as many dives to 1– 30 m depth than to deeper waters, with an average depth during those most common dives of approximately 3 m. In summary, killer whales are the most rarely encountered species in the GOM and typically occur only in particularly deep water. While this information is reflected through the density model informing the acoustic exposure modeling results, there is relatively high uncertainty associated with the model for this species, and the acoustic exposure modeling applies mean distribution data over areas where the species is in fact less likely to occur. NMFS’ determination in reflection of the data discussed above, which informed the final rule, is that use of the generic acoustic exposure modeling results for killer whales would result in high estimated take numbers that are inconsistent with the assumptions made in the rule regarding expected killer whale take (86 FR 5322, 5403; January 19, 2021). In past authorizations, NMFS has often addressed situations involving the low likelihood of encountering a rare species such as killer whales in the GOM through authorization of take of a single group of average size (i.e., representing a single potential encounter). See 83 FR 63268, December 7, 2018. See also 86 FR 29090, May 28, 2021; 85 FR 55645, September 9, 2020. For the reasons expressed above, NMFS determined that a single encounter of killer whales is more likely than the model-generated estimates and has authorized take associated with a single killer whale group encounter (i.e., up to 7 animals). Based on the results of our analysis, NMFS has determined that the level of taking authorized through the LOA is consistent with the findings made for the total taking allowable under the regulations. See Table 1 in this notice and Table 9 of the rule (86 FR 5322; January 19, 2021). Small Numbers Determination Under the GOM rule, NMFS may not authorize incidental take of marine mammals in an LOA if it will exceed ‘‘small numbers.’’ In short, when an acceptable estimate of the individual marine mammals taken is available, if the estimated number of individual animals taken is up to, but not greater than, one-third of the best available abundance estimate, NMFS will determine that the numbers of marine mammals taken of a species or stock are small. For more information please see NMFS’ discussion of the MMPA’s small numbers requirement provided in the final rule (86 FR 5322, 5438; January 19, 2021). The take numbers for authorization are determined as described above. Subsequently, the total incidents of harassment for each species are multiplied by scalar ratios to produce a derived product that better reflects the number of individuals likely to be taken within a survey (as compared to the total number of instances of take), accounting for the likelihood that some individual marine mammals may be taken on more than one day (see 86 FR 5322, 5404; January 19, 2021). The output of this scaling, where appropriate, is incorporated into an adjusted total take estimate that is the basis for NMFS’ small numbers determination, as depicted in Table 1 for Chevron’s 22-day survey. This product is used by NMFS in making the necessary small numbers determination, through comparison with the best available abundance estimates (see discussion at 86 FR 5322, 5391; January 19, 2021). For this comparison, NMFS’ approach is to use the maximum theoretical population, determined through review of current stock abundance reports (SAR; www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/marinemammal-stock-assessments) and modelpredicted abundance information (https://seamap.env.duke.edu/models/ Duke/GOM/). For the latter, for taxa where a density surface model could be produced, we use the maximum mean seasonal (i.e., three-month) abundance prediction for purposes of comparison as a precautionary smoothing of monthto-month fluctuations and in consideration of a corresponding lack of data in the literature regarding seasonal distribution of marine mammals in the GOM. Information supporting the small numbers determinations is provided in Table 1. khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES TABLE 1—TAKE ANALYSIS Authorized take Species Sperm whale .................................................................................................... Kogia spp ......................................................................................................... Beaked whales ................................................................................................ Scaled take 1 673 3 255 3,423 284.7 79.6 345.7 4 However, note that these species have been observed over a greater range of water depths in the GOM than have killer whales. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:11 Jul 14, 2021 Jkt 253001 PO 00000 Frm 00042 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\15JYN1.SGM 15JYN1 Abundance 2 2,207 4,373 3,768 % Abundance 12.9 2.0 9.2 37316 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 133 / Thursday, July 15, 2021 / Notices TABLE 1—TAKE ANALYSIS—Continued Authorized take Species Rough-toothed dolphin .................................................................................... Bottlenose dolphin ........................................................................................... Clymene dolphin .............................................................................................. Atlantic spotted dolphin ................................................................................... Pantropical spotted dolphin ............................................................................. Spinner dolphin ................................................................................................ Striped dolphin ................................................................................................. Fraser’s dolphin ............................................................................................... Risso’s dolphin ................................................................................................. Melon-headed whale ....................................................................................... Pygmy killer whale ........................................................................................... False killer whale ............................................................................................. Killer whale ...................................................................................................... Short-finned pilot whale ................................................................................... Scaled take 1 491 2,154 1,552 834 8,521 1,618 642 188 429 1,008 248 361 7 251 140.9 618.2 445.4 239.4 2,445.5 464.4 184.3 54.0 126.6 297.4 73.2 106.5 n/a 74.0 Abundance 2 % Abundance 4,853 176,108 11,895 74,785 102,361 25,114 5,229 1,665 3,764 7,003 2,126 3,204 267 1,981 2.9 0.4 3.7 0.3 2.4 1.8 3.5 3.2 3.4 4.2 3.4 3.3 2.6 3.7 1 Scalar ratios were applied to ‘‘Authorized Take’’ values as described at 86 FR 5322, 5404 (January 19, 2021) to derive scaled take numbers shown here. 2 Best abundance estimate. For most taxa, the best abundance estimate for purposes of comparison with take estimates is considered here to be the model-predicted abundance (Roberts et al., 2016). For those taxa where a density surface model predicting abundance by month was produced, the maximum mean seasonal abundance was used. For those taxa where abundance is not predicted by month, only mean annual abundance is available. For the killer whale, the larger estimated SAR abundance estimate is used. 3 Includes 7 takes by Level A harassment and 248 takes by Level B harassment. Scalar ratio is applied to takes by Level B harassment only; small numbers determination made on basis of scaled Level B harassment take plus authorized Level A harassment take. Based on the analysis contained herein of Chevron’s proposed survey activity described in its LOA application and the anticipated take of marine mammals, NMFS finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the affected species or stock sizes and therefore is of no more than small numbers. Authorization NMFS has determined that the level of taking for this LOA request is consistent with the findings made for the total taking allowable under the incidental take regulations and that the amount of take authorized under the LOA is of no more than small numbers. Accordingly, we have issued an LOA to Chevron authorizing the take of marine mammals incidental to its geophysical survey activity, as described above. Dated: July 12, 2021. Catherine Marzin, Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2021–15048 Filed 7–14–21; 8:45 am] DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES Patent and Trademark Office [Docket No.: PTO–P–2021–0032] Patent Eligibility Jurisprudence Study United States Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Commerce. ACTION: Request for information; correction. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:11 Jul 14, 2021 Jkt 253001 FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Courtney Stopp, USPTO, Office of Policy and International Affairs, at Courtney.Stopp@uspto.gov or 571–272– 9300. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Correction In the Federal Register of July 9, 2021, in FR Doc. 2021–14628, on page 36258, in the first column, correct the information provided under the caption FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT to read: FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Courtney Stopp, USPTO, Office of Policy and International Affairs, at Courtney.Stopp@uspto.gov or 571–272– 9300. Please direct media inquiries to the USPTO’s Office of the Chief Communications Officer at 571–272– 8400. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P AGENCY: The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a document in the Federal Register of July 9, 2021 requesting public comments on the current state of patent eligibility jurisprudence in the United States. This notice corrects the section of the document that identifies the individual who may be contacted for information regarding the request. SUMMARY: Andrew Hirshfeld, Commissioner for Patents, Performing the Functions and Duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. [FR Doc. 2021–15010 Filed 7–14–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–16–P PO 00000 Frm 00043 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION [Docket No.: ED–2021–SCC–0104] Agency Information Collection Activities; Comment Request; 21st Century Community Learning Centers Annual Performance Report Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), Department of Education (ED). ACTION: Notice. AGENCY: In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, ED is proposing an extension without change of a currently approved collection. DATES: Interested persons are invited to submit comments on or before September 13, 2021. ADDRESSES: To access and review all the documents related to the information collection listed in this notice, please use http://www.regulations.gov by searching the Docket ID number ED– 2021–SCC–0104. Comments submitted in response to this notice should be submitted electronically through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http:// www.regulations.gov by selecting the Docket ID number or via postal mail, commercial delivery, or hand delivery. If the regulations.gov site is not available to the public for any reason, ED will temporarily accept comments at ICDocketMgr@ed.gov. Please include the docket ID number and the title of the information collection request when requesting documents or submitting comments. Please note that comments submitted by fax or email and those submitted after the comment period will SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\15JYN1.SGM 15JYN1

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[Federal Register Volume 86, Number 133 (Thursday, July 15, 2021)]
[Notices]
[Pages 37313-37316]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2021-15048]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[RTID 0648-XB212]


Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals 
Incidental to Geophysical Surveys Related to Oil and Gas Activities in 
the Gulf of Mexico

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

ACTION: Notice of issuance of Letter of Authorization.

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SUMMARY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as 
amended, its implementing regulations, and NMFS' MMPA Regulations for 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys Related to Oil 
and Gas Activities in the Gulf of Mexico, notification is hereby given 
that a Letter of Authorization (LOA) has been issued to Chevron U.S.A. 
Inc. (Chevron) for the take of marine mammals incidental to geophysical 
survey activity in the Gulf of Mexico.

DATES: The LOA is effective from August 1, 2021, through June 1, 2022.

ADDRESSES: The LOA, LOA request, and supporting documentation are 
available online at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/incidental-take-authorization-oil-and-gas-industry-geophysical-survey-activity-gulf-mexico. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the 
contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) 
direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the 
incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine 
mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than 
commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain 
findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking 
is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is 
provided to the public for review.
    An authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS 
finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or 
stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where 
relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements 
pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings 
are set forth. NMFS has defined ``negligible impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 
as an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be 
reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely 
affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of 
recruitment or survival.
    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering (Level B harassment).
    On January 19, 2021, we issued a final rule with regulations to 
govern the unintentional taking of marine mammals incidental to 
geophysical survey activities conducted by oil and gas industry 
operators, and those persons authorized to conduct activities on their 
behalf (collectively ``industry operators''), in Federal waters of the 
U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM) over the course of 5 years (86 FR 5322; 
January 19, 2021). The rule was based on our findings that the total 
taking from the specified activities over the 5-year period will have a 
negligible impact on the affected species or stock(s) of marine mammals 
and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of 
those species or stocks for subsistence uses. The rule became effective 
on April 19, 2021.

[[Page 37314]]

    Our regulations at 50 CFR 217.180 et seq. allow for the issuance of 
LOAs to industry operators for the incidental take of marine mammals 
during geophysical survey activities and prescribe the permissible 
methods of taking and other means of effecting the least practicable 
adverse impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat 
(often referred to as mitigation), as well as requirements pertaining 
to the monitoring and reporting of such taking. Under 50 CFR 
217.186(e), issuance of an LOA shall be based on a determination that 
the level of taking will be consistent with the findings made for the 
total taking allowable under these regulations and a determination that 
the amount of take authorized under the LOA is of no more than small 
numbers.

Summary of Request and Analysis

    Chevron plans to conduct a 3D borehole seismic survey using an 
airgun array as the sound source, covering portions of approximately 40 
lease blocks centered around Lease Block G16942 (Big Foot). The survey 
is a type of vertical seismic profile (VSP) survey. The array consists 
of 32 elements, with a total volume of 5,040 cubic inches (in\3\). 
Please see Chevron's application for additional detail.
    Consistent with the preamble to the final rule, the survey effort 
proposed by Chevron in its LOA request was used to develop LOA-specific 
take estimates based on the acoustic exposure modeling results 
described in the preamble (86 FR 5322, 5398; January 19, 2021). In 
order to generate the appropriate take number for authorization, the 
following information was considered: (1) Survey type; (2) location (by 
modeling zone); \1\ (3) number of days; and (4) season.\2\ The acoustic 
exposure modeling performed in support of the rule provides 24-hour 
exposure estimates for each species, specific to each modeled survey 
type in each zone and season.
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    \1\ For purposes of acoustic exposure modeling, the GOM was 
divided into seven zones. Zone 1 is not included in the geographic 
scope of the rule.
    \2\ For purposes of acoustic exposure modeling, seasons include 
Winter (December-March) and Summer (April-November).
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    No VSP surveys were included in the modeled survey types, and use 
of existing proxies (i.e., 2D, 3D NAZ, 3D WAZ, Coil) is generally 
conservative for use in evaluation of VSP survey effort. Summary 
descriptions of these modeled survey geometries are available in the 
preamble to the proposed rule (83 FR 29212, 29220; June 22, 2018). 3D 
NAZ was selected as the best available proxy survey type. In addition, 
all available acoustic exposure modeling results assume use of a 72 
element, 8,000 in\3\ array. In this case, take numbers authorized 
through the LOA are considered conservative due to differences in both 
the airgun array and the survey geometry planned by Chevron, as 
compared to those modeled for the rule.
    The survey is planned to occur for 22 days, with 14 days occurring 
in Zone 5 and 8 days in Zone 7. The season is not known in advance. 
Therefore, the take estimates for each species are based on the season 
that has the greater value for the species (i.e., winter or summer).
    For some species, take estimates based solely on the modeling 
yielded results that are not realistically likely to occur when 
considered in light of other relevant information available during the 
rulemaking process regarding marine mammal occurrence in the GOM. Thus, 
although the modeling conducted for the rule is a natural starting 
point for estimating take, our rule acknowledged that other information 
could be considered (see, e.g., 86 FR 5322, 5442 (January 19, 2021), 
discussing the need to provide flexibility and make efficient use of 
previous public and agency review of other information and identifying 
that additional public review is not necessary unless the model or 
inputs used differ substantively from those that were previously 
reviewed by NMFS and the public). For this survey, NMFS has other 
relevant information reviewed during the rulemaking that indicates use 
of the acoustic exposure modeling to generate a take estimate for 
certain marine mammal species produces results inconsistent with what 
is known regarding their occurrence in the GOM. Accordingly, we have 
adjusted the calculated take estimates for those species as described 
below.
    Rice's whales (formerly known as GOM Bryde's whales) \3\ are 
generally found within a small area in the northeastern GOM in waters 
between 100-400 meters (m) depth along the continental shelf break 
(Rosel et al., 2016). Whaling records suggest that Rice's whales 
historically had a broader distribution within similar habitat 
parameters throughout the GOM (Reeves et al., 2011; Rosel and Wilcox, 
2014), and a NOAA survey reported observation of a Rice's whale in the 
western GOM in 2017 (NMFS, 2018). Habitat-based density modeling 
identified similar habitat (i.e., approximately 100-400 m water depths 
along the continental shelf break) as being potential Rice's whale 
habitat (Roberts et al., 2016), although a ``core habitat area'' 
defined in the northeastern GOM (outside the scope of the rule) 
contained approximately 92 percent of the predicted abundance of Rice's 
whales. See discussion provided at, e.g., 83 FR 29212, 29228, 29280 
(June 22, 2018); 86 FR 5322, 5418 (January 19, 2021).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \3\ The final rule refers to the GOM Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera 
edeni). These whales were subsequently described as a new species, 
Rice's whale (Balaenoptera ricei) (Rosel et al., 2021).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Although it is possible that Rice's whales may occur outside of 
their core habitat, NMFS expects that any such occurrence would be 
limited to the narrow band of suitable habitat described above (i.e., 
100-400 m). Chevron's planned activity will occur in water depths of 
approximately 1,200-2,000 m in the central GOM. NMFS does not expect 
there to be the reasonable potential for take of Rice's whale in 
association with this survey and, accordingly, does not authorize take 
of Rice's whale through this LOA.
    Killer whales are the most rarely encountered species in the GOM, 
typically in deep waters of the central GOM (Roberts et al., 2015; 
Maze-Foley and Mullin, 2006). The approach used in the acoustic 
exposure modeling, in which seven modeling zones were defined over the 
U.S. GOM, necessarily averages fine-scale information about marine 
mammal distribution over the large area of each modeling zone. NMFS has 
determined that the approach results in unrealistic projections 
regarding the likelihood of encountering killer whales.
    As discussed in the final rule, the density models produced by 
Roberts et al. (2016) provide the best available scientific information 
regarding predicted density patterns of cetaceans in the U.S. GOM. The 
predictions represent the output of models derived from multi-year 
observations and associated environmental parameters that incorporate 
corrections for detection bias. However, in the case of killer whales, 
the model is informed by few data, as indicated by the coefficient of 
variation associated with the abundance predicted by the model (0.41, 
the second-highest of any GOM species model; Roberts et al., 2016). The 
model's authors noted the expected non-uniform distribution of this 
rarely-encountered species (as discussed above) and expressed that, due 
to the limited data available to inform the model, it ``should be 
viewed cautiously'' (Roberts et al., 2015).
    NOAA surveys in the GOM from 1992-2009 reported only 16 sightings 
of killer whales, with an additional three encounters during more 
recent survey

[[Page 37315]]

effort from 2017-18 (Waring et al., 2013; www.boem.gov/gommapps). Two 
other species were also observed on less than 20 occasions during the 
1992-2009 NOAA surveys (Fraser's dolphin and false killer whale).\4\ 
However, observational data collected by protected species observers 
(PSOs) on industry geophysical survey vessels from 2002-2015 
distinguish the killer whale in terms of rarity. During this period, 
killer whales were encountered on only 10 occasions, whereas the next 
most rarely encountered species (Fraser's dolphin) was recorded on 69 
occasions (Barkaszi and Kelly, 2019). The false killer whale and pygmy 
killer whale were the next most rarely encountered species, with 110 
records each. The killer whale was the species with the lowest 
detection frequency during each period over which PSO data were 
synthesized (2002-2008 and 2009-2015). This information qualitatively 
informed our rulemaking process, as discussed at 86 FR 5322, 5334 
(January 19, 2021), and similarly informs our analysis here.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \4\ However, note that these species have been observed over a 
greater range of water depths in the GOM than have killer whales.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The rarity of encounter during seismic surveys is not likely to be 
the product of high bias on the probability of detection. Unlike 
certain cryptic species with high detection bias, such as Kogia spp. or 
beaked whales, or deep-diving species with high availability bias, such 
as beaked whales or sperm whales, killer whales are typically available 
for detection when present and are easily observed. Roberts et al. 
(2015) stated that availability is not a major factor affecting 
detectability of killer whales from shipboard surveys, as they are not 
a particularly long-diving species. Baird et al. (2005) reported that 
mean dive durations for 41 fish-eating killer whales for dives greater 
than or equal to 1 minute in duration was 2.3-2.4 minutes, and Hooker 
et al. (2012) reported that killer whales spent 78 percent of their 
time at depths between 0-10 m. Similarly, Kvadsheim et al. (2012) 
reported data from a study of four killer whales, noting that the 
whales performed 20 times as many dives to 1-30 m depth than to deeper 
waters, with an average depth during those most common dives of 
approximately 3 m.
    In summary, killer whales are the most rarely encountered species 
in the GOM and typically occur only in particularly deep water. While 
this information is reflected through the density model informing the 
acoustic exposure modeling results, there is relatively high 
uncertainty associated with the model for this species, and the 
acoustic exposure modeling applies mean distribution data over areas 
where the species is in fact less likely to occur. NMFS' determination 
in reflection of the data discussed above, which informed the final 
rule, is that use of the generic acoustic exposure modeling results for 
killer whales would result in high estimated take numbers that are 
inconsistent with the assumptions made in the rule regarding expected 
killer whale take (86 FR 5322, 5403; January 19, 2021).
    In past authorizations, NMFS has often addressed situations 
involving the low likelihood of encountering a rare species such as 
killer whales in the GOM through authorization of take of a single 
group of average size (i.e., representing a single potential 
encounter). See 83 FR 63268, December 7, 2018. See also 86 FR 29090, 
May 28, 2021; 85 FR 55645, September 9, 2020. For the reasons expressed 
above, NMFS determined that a single encounter of killer whales is more 
likely than the model-generated estimates and has authorized take 
associated with a single killer whale group encounter (i.e., up to 7 
animals).
    Based on the results of our analysis, NMFS has determined that the 
level of taking authorized through the LOA is consistent with the 
findings made for the total taking allowable under the regulations. See 
Table 1 in this notice and Table 9 of the rule (86 FR 5322; January 19, 
2021).

Small Numbers Determination

    Under the GOM rule, NMFS may not authorize incidental take of 
marine mammals in an LOA if it will exceed ``small numbers.'' In short, 
when an acceptable estimate of the individual marine mammals taken is 
available, if the estimated number of individual animals taken is up 
to, but not greater than, one-third of the best available abundance 
estimate, NMFS will determine that the numbers of marine mammals taken 
of a species or stock are small. For more information please see NMFS' 
discussion of the MMPA's small numbers requirement provided in the 
final rule (86 FR 5322, 5438; January 19, 2021).
    The take numbers for authorization are determined as described 
above. Subsequently, the total incidents of harassment for each species 
are multiplied by scalar ratios to produce a derived product that 
better reflects the number of individuals likely to be taken within a 
survey (as compared to the total number of instances of take), 
accounting for the likelihood that some individual marine mammals may 
be taken on more than one day (see 86 FR 5322, 5404; January 19, 2021). 
The output of this scaling, where appropriate, is incorporated into an 
adjusted total take estimate that is the basis for NMFS' small numbers 
determination, as depicted in Table 1 for Chevron's 22-day survey.
    This product is used by NMFS in making the necessary small numbers 
determination, through comparison with the best available abundance 
estimates (see discussion at 86 FR 5322, 5391; January 19, 2021). For 
this comparison, NMFS' approach is to use the maximum theoretical 
population, determined through review of current stock abundance 
reports (SAR; www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments) and model-predicted abundance 
information (https://seamap.env.duke.edu/models/Duke/GOM/). For the 
latter, for taxa where a density surface model could be produced, we 
use the maximum mean seasonal (i.e., three-month) abundance prediction 
for purposes of comparison as a precautionary smoothing of month-to-
month fluctuations and in consideration of a corresponding lack of data 
in the literature regarding seasonal distribution of marine mammals in 
the GOM. Information supporting the small numbers determinations is 
provided in Table 1.

                                             Table 1--Take Analysis
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                    Authorized      Scaled take
                     Species                           take             \1\        Abundance \2\    % Abundance
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sperm whale.....................................             673           284.7           2,207            12.9
Kogia spp.......................................         \3\ 255            79.6           4,373             2.0
Beaked whales...................................           3,423           345.7           3,768             9.2

[[Page 37316]]

 
Rough-toothed dolphin...........................             491           140.9           4,853             2.9
Bottlenose dolphin..............................           2,154           618.2         176,108             0.4
Clymene dolphin.................................           1,552           445.4          11,895             3.7
Atlantic spotted dolphin........................             834           239.4          74,785             0.3
Pantropical spotted dolphin.....................           8,521         2,445.5         102,361             2.4
Spinner dolphin.................................           1,618           464.4          25,114             1.8
Striped dolphin.................................             642           184.3           5,229             3.5
Fraser's dolphin................................             188            54.0           1,665             3.2
Risso's dolphin.................................             429           126.6           3,764             3.4
Melon-headed whale..............................           1,008           297.4           7,003             4.2
Pygmy killer whale..............................             248            73.2           2,126             3.4
False killer whale..............................             361           106.5           3,204             3.3
Killer whale....................................               7             n/a             267             2.6
Short-finned pilot whale........................             251            74.0           1,981             3.7
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Scalar ratios were applied to ``Authorized Take'' values as described at 86 FR 5322, 5404 (January 19, 2021)
  to derive scaled take numbers shown here.
\2\ Best abundance estimate. For most taxa, the best abundance estimate for purposes of comparison with take
  estimates is considered here to be the model-predicted abundance (Roberts et al., 2016). For those taxa where
  a density surface model predicting abundance by month was produced, the maximum mean seasonal abundance was
  used. For those taxa where abundance is not predicted by month, only mean annual abundance is available. For
  the killer whale, the larger estimated SAR abundance estimate is used.
\3\ Includes 7 takes by Level A harassment and 248 takes by Level B harassment. Scalar ratio is applied to takes
  by Level B harassment only; small numbers determination made on basis of scaled Level B harassment take plus
  authorized Level A harassment take.

    Based on the analysis contained herein of Chevron's proposed survey 
activity described in its LOA application and the anticipated take of 
marine mammals, NMFS finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be 
taken relative to the affected species or stock sizes and therefore is 
of no more than small numbers.

Authorization

    NMFS has determined that the level of taking for this LOA request 
is consistent with the findings made for the total taking allowable 
under the incidental take regulations and that the amount of take 
authorized under the LOA is of no more than small numbers. Accordingly, 
we have issued an LOA to Chevron authorizing the take of marine mammals 
incidental to its geophysical survey activity, as described above.

    Dated: July 12, 2021.
Catherine Marzin,
Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2021-15048 Filed 7-14-21; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P