Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys Related to Oil and Gas Activities in the Gulf of Mexico, 38022-38025 [2021-15239]

Download as PDF 38022 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 135 / Monday, July 19, 2021 / Notices 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 2 annual takes by Level A harassment and 77 annual takes by Level B harassment. Based on the analysis contained herein of bp’s proposed survey activity described in its LOA applications 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 (i.e., less than one-third of the best available abundance estimate) and therefore the taking is of no more than small numbers. Authorization NMFS has determined that the level of taking for these LOA requests 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 LOAs is of no more than small numbers. Accordingly, we have issued two LOAs to bp authorizing the take of marine mammals incidental to its geophysical survey activity, as described above. Dated: July 14, 2021. Catherine Marzin, Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2021–15241 Filed 7–16–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XB243] Pacific Fishery Management Council; Public Meeting National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of public meeting. AGENCY: The Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (Pacific Council) Salmon Technical Team (STT) will host an online meeting that is open to the public. SUMMARY: The online meeting will be held Tuesday, August 3, 2021, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time, or until business for the day has been completed. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 DATES: This meeting will be held online. Specific meeting information, including directions on how to join the meeting and system requirements will be provided in the meeting ADDRESSES: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Jul 16, 2021 Jkt 253001 announcement on the Pacific Council’s website (see www.pcouncil.org). You may send an email to Mr. Kris Kleinschmidt (kris.kleinschmidt@ noaa.gov) or contact him at (503) 820– 2412 for technical assistance. Council address: Pacific Fishery Management Council, 7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 101, Portland, OR 97220–1384. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Robin Ehlke, Staff Officer, Pacific Council; telephone: (503) 820–2410. The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss the NMFS rule to implement provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) that require all fishery management plans (FMPs) to establish a standardized bycatch reporting methodology (SBRM) to assess the amount and type of bycatch occurring in a fishery. The STT will focus on the Pacific salmon FMP and develop, as needed, potential SBRM language to meet the NMFS requirement. The STT may also discuss and prepare for future STT meetings and future meetings with the Pacific Council and its advisory bodies, including, but not limited to, such topics as the annual salmon methodology review and technical material from the Pacific Council’s AdHoc Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast coho workgroup. Although non-emergency issues not contained in the meeting agenda may be discussed, those issues may not be the subject of formal action during this meeting. Action will be restricted to those issues specifically listed in this document and any issues arising after publication of this document that require emergency action under section 305(c) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, provided the public has been notified of the intent to take final action to address the emergency. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Special Accommodations Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to Mr. Kris Kleinschmidt (kris.kleinschmidt@ noaa.gov; (503) 820–2412) at least 10 days prior to the meeting date. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Dated: July 13, 2021. Tracey L. Thompson, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2021–15225 Filed 7–16–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XB252] Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys Related to Oil and Gas Activities in the Gulf of Mexico 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 April 30, 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: 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 E:\FR\FM\19JYN1.SGM 19JYN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 135 / Monday, July 19, 2021 / Notices 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. 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Jul 16, 2021 Jkt 253001 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 zero offset vertical seismic profile (VSP) survey of Lease Block 822 in the Green Canyon area. See Section J of Chevron’s application for a map. Chevron plans to use either an airgun array consisting of 12 elements, with a total volume of 2,400 cubic inches (in3), or a 6-element array with total volume of 1,500 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). Zero offset VSP surveys are significantly different from modeled survey geometries, in that they are conducted from a stationary or near-stationary deployment very close to an active drilling platform. For this survey, the seismic source array will be deployed from a drilling rig at or near the borehole, with the seismic receivers 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). PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 38023 (i.e., geophones) deployed in the borehole on wireline at specified depth intervals. Use of the 2D proxy for zero offset VSP surveys is expected to be significantly conservative. In addition, all available 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 very conservative (i.e., they likely overestimate take) 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 2 days in Zone 5. 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. 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. E:\FR\FM\19JYN1.SGM 19JYN1 38024 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 135 / Monday, July 19, 2021 / Notices 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 effort from 2017–18 (Waring et al., 2013; www.boem.gov/gommapps). Two other species were also observed on fewer than 20 occasions during the 1992–2009 NOAA surveys (Fraser’s dolphin and false killer whale 3). 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 1–30 m in 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 will generally result in 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 this case, use of the acoustic exposure modeling produces an estimate of one killer whale exposure. Given the foregoing, it is unlikely that even one killer whale would be encountered during this 2-day survey, and accordingly no take of killer whales is authorized through this LOA. Based on the results of our analysis, NMFS has determined that the level of taking expected for this survey and 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, which are determined as described above, are used by NMFS in making the necessary small numbers determinations, 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., 3-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. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 TABLE 1—TAKE ANALYSIS Authorized take 1 Species Rice’s whale 3 .............................................................................................................................. Sperm whale ................................................................................................................................ 0 71 3 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 18:23 Jul 16, 2021 Jkt 253001 PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\19JYN1.SGM 19JYN1 Abundance 2 51 2,207 Percent abundance n/a 3.2 38025 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 135 / Monday, July 19, 2021 / Notices TABLE 1—TAKE ANALYSIS—Continued Authorized take 1 Species 4 27 Kogia spp ..................................................................................................................................... Beaked whales ............................................................................................................................ 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 ............................................................................................................... 378 45 259 152 98 688 184 59 5 65 46 6 100 20 31 0 28 Abundance 2 4,373 3,768 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 Percent abundance 0.6 10.0 0.9 0.1 1.3 0.1 0.7 0.7 1.1 3.9 1.2 1.4 0.9 1.0 n/a 1.4 1 Scalar ratios were not applied in this case due to brief survey duration. 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 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). 4 Includes 1 take by Level A harassment and 26 takes by Level B harassment. 5 Modeled take of 17 increased to account for potential encounter with group of average size (Maze-Foley and Mullin, 2006). 6 Modeled take of 97 increased to account for potential encounter with group of average size (Maze-Foley and Mullin, 2006). 2 Best 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 (i.e., less than one-third of the best available abundance estimate) and therefore the taking is of no more than small numbers. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE Authorization AGENCY: 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 14, 2021. Catherine Marzin, Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 [FR Doc. 2021–15239 Filed 7–16–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Jul 16, 2021 Jkt 253001 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XB149] Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the Service Pier Extension Project at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, Washington renewal requirements have been satisfied, and NMFS is now providing an additional 15-day comment period to allow for any additional comments on the proposed renewal not previously provided during the initial 30-day comment period. Comments and information must be received no later than August 3, 2021. DATES: Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Written comments should be submitted via email to ITP.Potlock@noaa.gov. Instructions: NMFS is not responsible SUMMARY: NMFS received a request from for comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or the United States Navy (Navy) for the received after the end of the comment renewal of their currently active period. Comments, including all incidental harassment authorization attachments, must not exceed a 25(IHA) to take marine mammals megabyte file size. Attachments to incidental to the Service Pier Extension comments will be accepted in Microsoft (SPE) Project at Naval Base Kitsap Word or Excel or Adobe PDF file Bangor in Silverdale, Washington. formats only. All comments received are These activities are identical with a part of the public record and will activities that were covered by the generally be posted online at https:// current authorization, but will not be www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/ completed prior to its expiration. incidental-take-authorizations-underPursuant to the Marine Mammal marine-mammal-protection-act without Protection Act, prior to issuing the change. All personal identifying currently active IHA, NMFS requested information (e.g., name, address) comments on both the proposed IHA voluntarily submitted by the commenter and the potential for renewing the may be publicly accessible. Do not initial authorization if certain submit confidential business requirements were satisfied. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; request for comments on proposed renewal incidental harassment authorization. PO 00000 Frm 00039 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 ADDRESSES: E:\FR\FM\19JYN1.SGM 19JYN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 86, Number 135 (Monday, July 19, 2021)]
[Notices]
[Pages 38022-38025]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2021-15239]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[RTID 0648-XB252]


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.

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

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 April 30, 
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

[[Page 38023]]

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.
    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 zero offset vertical seismic profile 
(VSP) survey of Lease Block 822 in the Green Canyon area. See Section J 
of Chevron's application for a map. Chevron plans to use either an 
airgun array consisting of 12 elements, with a total volume of 2,400 
cubic inches (in\3\), or a 6-element array with total volume of 1,500 
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.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \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).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    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). Zero 
offset VSP surveys are significantly different from modeled survey 
geometries, in that they are conducted from a stationary or near-
stationary deployment very close to an active drilling platform. For 
this survey, the seismic source array will be deployed from a drilling 
rig at or near the borehole, with the seismic receivers (i.e., 
geophones) deployed in the borehole on wireline at specified depth 
intervals. Use of the 2D proxy for zero offset VSP surveys is expected 
to be significantly conservative. 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 very conservative (i.e., they likely overestimate take) 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 2 days in Zone 5. 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.
    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.

[[Page 38024]]

    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 effort from 2017-18 (Waring et al., 2013; www.boem.gov/gommapps). Two other species were also observed on fewer than 20 
occasions during the 1992-2009 NOAA surveys (Fraser's dolphin and false 
killer whale \3\). 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.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \3\ 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 1-30 m in 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 will generally result in 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 this case, 
use of the acoustic exposure modeling produces an estimate of one 
killer whale exposure. Given the foregoing, it is unlikely that even 
one killer whale would be encountered during this 2-day survey, and 
accordingly no take of killer whales is authorized through this LOA.
    Based on the results of our analysis, NMFS has determined that the 
level of taking expected for this survey and 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, which are determined as 
described above, are used by NMFS in making the necessary small numbers 
determinations, 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., 3-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                        Percent
                             Species                                 take \1\      Abundance \2\     abundance
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Rice's whale \3\................................................               0              51             n/a
Sperm whale.....................................................              71           2,207             3.2

[[Page 38025]]

 
Kogia spp.......................................................          \4\ 27           4,373             0.6
Beaked whales...................................................             378           3,768            10.0
Rough-toothed dolphin...........................................              45           4,853             0.9
Bottlenose dolphin..............................................             259         176,108             0.1
Clymene dolphin.................................................             152          11,895             1.3
Atlantic spotted dolphin........................................              98          74,785             0.1
Pantropical spotted dolphin.....................................             688         102,361             0.7
Spinner dolphin.................................................             184          25,114             0.7
Striped dolphin.................................................              59           5,229             1.1
Fraser's dolphin................................................          \5\ 65           1,665             3.9
Risso's dolphin.................................................              46           3,764             1.2
Melon-headed whale..............................................         \6\ 100           7,003             1.4
Pygmy killer whale..............................................              20           2,126             0.9
False killer whale..............................................              31           3,204             1.0
Killer whale....................................................               0             267             n/a
Short-finned pilot whale........................................              28           1,981             1.4
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Scalar ratios were not applied in this case due to brief survey duration.
\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\ 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).
\4\ Includes 1 take by Level A harassment and 26 takes by Level B harassment.
\5\ Modeled take of 17 increased to account for potential encounter with group of average size (Maze-Foley and
  Mullin, 2006).
\6\ Modeled take of 97 increased to account for potential encounter with group of average size (Maze-Foley and
  Mullin, 2006).

    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 (i.e., less than 
one-third of the best available abundance estimate) and therefore the 
taking 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 14, 2021.
Catherine Marzin,
Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2021-15239 Filed 7-16-21; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P