Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Marine Site Characterization Surveys off New Jersey and New York for Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, LLC, 4200-4225 [2022-01557]

Download as PDF 4200 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 bigger issue. Specifically, scenarios are stories about possible future developments. This approach is designed to help stakeholders and managers think broadly about the future implications of climate change to help define what changes can potentially be made now to be better prepared. Three introductory ‘‘kick-off’’ webinars were held in 2021 to explain the overall initiative and share draft objectives and possible outcomes of the work with the public. The next phase of this initiative, the exploration phase, includes another series of webinars outlined in this notice. The primary objective of these meetings is to share information about and discuss the key drivers of change that could shape East Coast fisheries over the next 20 years— which will then become the ‘‘building blocks’’ for scenario creation. Three separate webinars are planned, each dealing with a different area of driving forces/uncertainties that are shaped by climate change. The first on February 14, 2022, will cover oceanographic drivers of change (e.g., ocean temperature, sea level rise, acidification, ocean currents). The second on February 23, 2022, will focus on biological drivers of change (e.g., changing spatial distributions, health of stocks, habitat loss, rate of ecosystem change). And the last webinar on March 2, 2022, will focus on social and economic drivers of change (e.g., competing ocean uses, community impacts, consumer demand). During each webinar a brief overview and status of the initiative will be presented followed by a more detailed presentation by a lead presenter outlining the current and future trends for each topic. Next, a small panel of experts will join the lead presenter to provide additional perspectives. Finally, there will be an opportunity for questions of the panelists and presenters as well as limited public comments at the end of each webinar. Additional details about the webinars will be posted to this page once available: https://www.mafmc.org/ climate-change-scenario-planning. The public also should be aware that the meeting will be recorded. Consistent with 16 U.S.C. 1852, a copy of the recording is available upon request. Special Accommodations These meetings are physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to: Thomas A. Nies, Executive Director, at (978) 465–0492, at least 5 days prior to the meeting date. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 Dated: January 24, 2022. Tracey L. Thompson, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2022–01658 Filed 1–26–22; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XB392] Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Marine Site Characterization Surveys off New Jersey and New York for Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, LLC National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments on proposed authorization and possible renewal. AGENCY: NMFS has received a request from Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, LLC (Atlantic Shores) for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to marine site characterization surveys off New Jersey and New York in the area of Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands for Renewable Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf Lease Area OCS–A 0499. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to incidentally take marine mammals during the specified activities. NMFS is also requesting comments on a possible one-time, oneyear Renewal that could be issued under certain circumstances and if all requirements are met, as described in Request for Public Comments at the end of this notification. NMFS will consider public comments prior to making any final decision on the issuance of the requested MMPA authorizations and agency responses will be summarized in the final notification of our decision. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than February 28, 2022. ADDRESSES: 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 for comments sent by any other method, SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period. Comments, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25 megabyte file size. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted online at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/ national/marine-mammal-protection/ incidental-take-authorizations-otherenergy-activities-renewable without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kelsey Potlock, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. Electronic copies of the application and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in this document, may be obtained online at: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/incidentaltake-authorizations-other-energyactivities-renewable. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background The MMPA prohibits the ‘‘take’’ of marine mammals, with certain exceptions. sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce (as delegated to NMFS) 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 incidental take authorization may be provided to the public for review. Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s) and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for taking for subsistence uses (where relevant). Further, NMFS must prescribe the permissible methods of taking and other ‘‘means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact’’ on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of the species or stocks for taking for certain subsistence uses E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices (referred to in shorthand as ‘‘mitigation’’); and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of the takings are set forth. The definitions of all applicable MMPA statutory terms cited above are included in the relevant sections below. National Environmental Policy Act To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216–6A, NMFS must review our proposed action (i.e., the issuance of an IHA) with respect to potential impacts on the human environment. This action is consistent with categories of activities identified in Categorical Exclusion B4 (IHAs with no anticipated serious injury or mortality) of the Companion Manual for NOAA Administrative Order 216– 6A, which do not individually or cumulatively have the potential for significant impacts on the quality of the human environment and for which we have not identified any extraordinary circumstances that would preclude this categorical exclusion. Accordingly, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the issuance of the proposed IHA qualifies to be categorically excluded from further NEPA review. We will review all comments submitted in response to this notification prior to concluding our NEPA process or making a final decision on the IHA request. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Summary of Request On August 16, 2021, NMFS received a request from Atlantic Shores for an IHA to take marine mammals incidental to marine site characterization surveys occurring in three locations (Lease Area and Export Cable Routes (ECR) North and South) off of New Jersey and New York in the area of Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands for Renewable Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf Lease Area (OCS)–A 0499. NMFS deemed the application adequate and complete on December 13, 2021. Atlantic Shores’ request is for take of a small number of 15 species of marine mammals (comprised of 16 stocks) by Level B harassment only. Neither Atlantic Shores nor NMFS expects serious injury or mortality to result from this activity and, therefore, an IHA is appropriate. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:59 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 NMFS previously issued two IHAs to Atlantic Shores for similar work (85 FR 21198, April 16, 2020; 86 FR 21289, April 22, 2021 (Renewal)). As required, Atlantic Shores provided a monitoring report for the work performed under the 2020 IHA (85 FR 21198, April 16, 2020; available at https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/ incidental-take-authorization-atlanticshores-offshore-wind-llc-marine-sitecharacterization). At the time of developing this proposed IHA for Atlantic Shores’ 2022 project, the 2021 (Renewal) monitoring report was not available as the renewed project is ongoing until its expiration date on April 19, 2022 (86 FR 21289; April 22, 2021). However, the 2020 monitoring report confirmed that Atlantic Shores had previously implemented the required mitigation and monitoring, and demonstrated that no impacts of a scale or nature not previously analyzed or authorized had occurred as a result of the activities conducted under the 2020 IHA. days over the course of a single year within the three survey areas (Table 1). As multiple vessels (i.e., three survey vessels) may be operating concurrently across the Lease Area and two ECRs, each day that a survey vessel is operating counts as a single survey day. For example, if three vessels are operating in the two ECRs and Lease Area concurrently, this counts as three survey days. This schedule is based on 24-hours of operations throughout 12 months. The schedule presented here for this proposed project has accounted for potential down time due to inclement weather or other projectrelated delays. Proposed activities would occur from April 20, 2022 through April 19, 2023 as to not overlap the Renewal IHA that expires after April 19, 2022. TABLE 1—NUMBER OF SURVEY DAYS THAT ATLANTIC SHORES PLANS TO PERFORM THE DESCRIBED HRG SURVEY ACTIVITIES Description of Proposed Activity Overview Survey area As part of its overall marine site characterization survey operations, Atlantic Shores proposes to conduct high-resolution geophysical (HRG) surveys in the Lease Area (OCS)-A 0499 and along potential submarine cable routes (ECRs North and South) to a landfall location in either New York or New Jersey. The purpose of the proposed surveys are to support the site characterization, siting, and engineering design of offshore wind project facilities including wind turbine generators, offshore substations, and submarine cables within the Lease Area and along export cable routes (ECRs). As many as three survey vessels may operate concurrently as part of the proposed surveys. Underwater sound resulting from Atlantic Shores’ proposed site characterization survey activities, specifically HRG surveys, has the potential to result in incidental take of marine mammals in the form of behavioral harassment. Dates and Duration The estimated duration of the surveys is expected to be up to 360 total survey PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 4201 Number of active survey days expected 1 Lease Area ........................... ECR North ............................ ECR South ............................ 120 180 60 Total ............................... 360 1 Surveys in each area may temporally overlap; therefore, actual number of days of activity in a given year would be less than 360. Specific Geographic Region Atlantic Shores’ proposed activities would occur in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean within Federal and state waters (Figure 1). Surveys would occur in the Lease Area and along potential submarine cable routes to landfall in either New York or New Jersey. Proposed activities would occur within the Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands for Renewable Energy Development in OCS–A 0499. The survey area is approximately 1,450,006 acres (2,265.6 square miles (mi2); 5,868 square kilometers (km2)) and extends approximately 24 nautical miles (nm; 28 miles (mi); 44 kilometers (km)) offshore. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices Figure 1-- Map of the Three Sites (Lease Area and Export Cable Routes North and South) that Atlantic Shores Proposes to Perform Site Characterization Surveys (HRG). BILLING CODE 3510–22–C VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 EN27JA22.006</GPH> lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 4202 4203 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices Detailed Description of Specific Activity Atlantic Shores’ proposed marine site characterization surveys include HRG and geotechnical survey activities. These survey activities would occur within the both the Lease Area and within ECRs between the Lease Area and the coasts of New York and New Jersey. The Lease Area is approximately 5,867.97 km2 (1,450,006 acres) and is located approximately 24 nm (44 km) from the coastline (see Figure 1). The proposed survey area is approximately from Long Island, New York to Atlantic City, New Jersey. For the purpose of this proposed IHA, the Lease Area and ECRs are collectively referred to as the survey area. Atlantic Shores’ survey activities are anticipated to be supported by vessels, which will maintain a speed of approximately to 3.5 knots (kn; 6.5 kilometer per hour (km/h)) while transiting survey lines. The proposed HRG and geotechnical survey activities are described below. Proposed Geotechnical Survey Activities Atlantic Shores’ proposed geotechnical activities would include the drilling of sample boreholes, deep cone penetration tests (CPTs), and shallow CPTs. Such proposed activities have been performed before by Atlantic Shores and considerations of the impacts produced from geotechnical activities have been previously analyzed and included in the proposed 2020 Federal Register notice for Atlantic Shores’ HRG activities (85 FR 7926; February 12, 2020). The same discussion by NMFS to not analyze the geotechnical activities further that was included in that notification applies to this proposed project. In that notification, NMFS determined that the likelihood of the proposed geotechnical surveys resulting in harassment of marine mammals was to be so low as to be discountable. As this information remains applicable and NMFS’ determination has not changed, these activities will not be discussed further in this proposed notification. Proposed Geophysical Survey Activities Atlantic Shores has proposed that HRG survey operations would be conducted continuously 24 hours a day. Based on 24-hour operations, the estimated total duration of the proposed activities would be approximately 360 survey days. This includes 120 days of survey activities in the Lease Area, 180 days in ECR North, and 60 days in ECR South (refer back to Table 1). As previously discussed above, this schedule does include potential down time due to inclement weather or other project-related delays. The HRG survey activities will be supported by vessels of sufficient size to accomplish the survey goals in each of the specified survey areas. It is assumed surveys in each of the identified survey areas will be executed by a single vessel during any given campaign (i.e., no more than one survey vessel would operate in the Lease Area at any given time, but there may be one survey vessel operating in the Lease Area and one vessel operating each of the ECR areas concurrently, i.e., three vessels). HRG equipment will either be mounted to or towed behind the survey vessel at a typical survey speed of approximately 3.5 knot (6.5 km) per hour. The geophysical survey activities proposed by Atlantic Shores would include the following: • Depth sounding (multibeam depth sounder and single beam echosounder) to determine water depths and general bottom topography (currently estimated to range from approximately 16-feet (ft; 5-m to 131-ft (40-m) in depth); • Magnetic intensity measurements (gradiometer) for detecting local variations in regional magnetic field from geological strata and potential ferrous objects on and below the bottom; • Seafloor imaging (side scan sonar survey) for seabed sediment classification purposes, to identify natural and man-made acoustic targets resting on the bottom as well as any anomalous features; • Shallow penetration sub-bottom profiler (pinger/chirp) to map the near surface stratigraphy (top 0-ft to 16-ft (0m to 5-m) soils below seabed); and, • Medium penetration sub-bottom profiler (chirps/parametric profilers/ sparkers) to map deeper subsurface stratigraphy as needed (soils down to 246-ft (75-m) to 328-ft (100-m) below seabed). Table 2 identifies the representative survey equipment that may be used in support of planned geophysical survey activities. The make and model of the listed geophysical equipment may vary depending on availability and the final equipment choices will vary depending upon the final survey design, vessel availability, and survey contractor selection. Geophysical surveys are expected to use several equipment types concurrently in order to collect multiple aspects of geophysical data along one transect. Selection of equipment combinations is based on specific survey objectives. All categories of representative HRG survey equipment shown in Table 2 work with operating frequencies <180 kHz. TABLE 2—SUMMARY OF REPRESENTATIVE EQUIPMENT SPECIFICATIONS WITH OPERATING FREQUENCIES BELOW 180 kHz Representative equipment type Sparker (impulsive) ............. Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 a ............................. Geo Marine Geo-Source ............................................... Edgetech 2000–DSS ..................................................... Edgetech 216 ................................................................. Edgetech 424 ................................................................. Edgetech 512i ................................................................ Pangeosubsea Sub-Bottom ImagerTM .......................... CHIRPs (non-impulsive) ..... lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Operating frequency ranges (kHz) HRG survey equipment (sub-bottom profiler) 0.01 to 1.9 0.2 to 5 2 to 16 2 to 16 4 to 24 0.7 to 12 4 to 12.5 Operational source level ranges (dBRMS) b 203 195 195 179 180 179 190 Beamwidth ranges (degrees) 180 180 24 17, 20, or 24 71 80 120 Typical pulse durations RMS (millisecond) Pulse repetition rate (Hz) 3.4 7.2 6.3 10 4 9 4.5 2 0.41 10 10 2 8 44 Note: Two sources proposed for use by Atlantic Shores (i.e., the INNOMAR SES–2000 Medium-100 Parametric and the INNOMAR deep-36 Parametric) are not expected to result in take due to their higher frequencies and extremely narrow beamwidths. Because of this, these sources were not considered when calculating the Level B harassment isopleths and are not discussed further in this notification. Acoustic parameters on these parametric sub-bottom profilers can be found in Atlantic Shores’ IHA application on NMFS’ website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-other-energy-activities-renewable). a Atlantic Shores discussed with NMFS and include information in their application that while the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 is planned to be used during project activities, the equipment specifications and subsequent analysis are based on the SIG ELC 820 with a power level of 750 joules (J) at a 5-meter depth (Crocker and Fratantonio (2016)). However, Atlantic Shores expects a more reasonable power level to be 500–600 J based on prior experience with HRG surveys; 750 J was used as a worst-case scenario to conservatively account for take of marine mammals as these higher electrical outputs would only be used in areas with denser substrates (700–800 J). b Root mean square (RMS) = 1 microPa. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 4204 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices Atlantic Shores has indicated to NMFS that the expected energy levels of the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark would range between 500–600 joules (J) in most cases. However, in their IHA application, Atlantic Shores includes a discussion that, based on their previous experiences and survey efforts using the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark, Atlantic Shores do not expect the electrical output to exceed 700–800 J, except in situations where denser substrates are present. The deployment of HRG survey equipment, including the equipment planned for use during Atlantic Shores’ proposed activities produces sound in the marine environment that has the potential to result in harassment of marine mammals. Proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures are described in detail later in this document (please see Proposed Mitigation and Proposed Monitoring and Reporting). Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of Specified Activities Sections 3 and 4 of the application summarize available information regarding status and trends, distribution and habitat preferences, and behavior and life history, of the potentially affected species. Additional information regarding population trends and threats may be found in NMFS’s Stock Assessment Reports (SARs; https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/marinemammal-stock-assessments) and more general information about these species (e.g., physical and behavioral descriptions) may be found on NMFS’s website (https://www.fisheries. noaa.gov/find-species). Table 3 lists all species or stocks for which take is expected and proposed to be authorized for this action, and summarizes information related to the population or stock, including regulatory status under the MMPA and Endangered Species Act (ESA) and potential biological removal (PBR), where known. For taxonomy, we follow Committee on Taxonomy (2021). PBR is defined by the MMPA as the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population (as described in NMFS’s SARs). While no mortality is anticipated or authorized here, PBR and annual serious injury and mortality from anthropogenic sources are included here as gross indicators of the status of the species and other threats. Marine mammal abundance estimates presented in this document represent the total number of individuals that make up a given stock or the total number estimated within a particular study or survey area. NMFS’s stock abundance estimates for most species represent the total estimate of individuals within the geographic area, if known, that comprises that stock. For some species, this geographic area may extend beyond U.S. waters. All managed stocks in this region are assessed in NMFS’s draft 2021 U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal Stock Assessment (SARs). All values presented in Table 3 are the most recent available at the time of publication and are available in the draft 2021 SARs available online at: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/marinemammal-stock-assessments. TABLE 3—MARINE MAMMAL SPECIES LIKELY TO OCCUR NEAR THE SURVEY AREA THAT MAY BE AFFECTED BY ATLANTIC SHORES’ PROPOSED HRG ACTIVITIES Common name Scientific name Stock I ESA/ MMPA status; strategic (Y/N) 1 I Stock abundance (CV, Nmin, most recent abundance survey) 2 Annual M/SI 3 PBR I I Order Cetartiodactyla—Cetacea—Superfamily Mysticeti (baleen whales) North Atlantic right whale .......... Humpback whale ....................... Fin whale ................................... Sei whale ................................... Minke whale ............................... Eubalaena glacialis ........ Megaptera novaeangliae Balaenoptera physalus ... Balaenoptera borealis .... Balaenoptera acutorostrata. Western Atlantic Stock ............. Gulf of Maine ............................ Western North Atlantic Stock ... Nova Scotia Stock .................... Canadian East Coastal Stock ... E/D, Y -/-; Y E/D, Y E/D, Y -/-, N I 368 (0; 364; 2019) .................... 1,396 (0; 1,380; 2016) .............. 6,802 (0.24; 5,573; 2016) ......... 6,292 (1.02; 3,098; 2016) ......... 21,968 (0.31; 17,002; 2016) ..... I 0.7 22 11 6.2 170 I 7.7 12.15 1.8 0.8 10.6 I Superfamily Odontoceti (toothed whales, dolphins, and porpoises) Sperm whale .............................. Long-finned pilot whale .............. Atlantic white-sided dolphin ....... Bottlenose dolphin ..................... Common dolphin ........................ Atlantic spotted dolphin ............. Risso’s dolphin ........................... Harbor porpoise ......................... Physeter macrocephalus Globicephala melas ........ Lagenorhynchus acutus Tursiops truncatus .......... Delphinus delphis ........... Stenella frontalis ............. Grampus griseus ............ Phocoena phocoena ...... North Atlantic Stock .................. Western North Atlantic Stock ... Western North Atlantic Stock ... Western North Atlantic Northern Migratory Coastal Stock. Western North Atlantic Offshore Stock. Western North Atlantic Stock ... Western North Atlantic Stock ... Western North Atlantic Stock ... Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy Stock. E/D, Y -/-, N -/-, N -/D, Y 4,349 (0.28; 3,451; 2016) ......... 39,215 (0.3; 30,627; 2016) ....... 93,233 (0.71; 54,443; 2016) ..... 6,639 (0.41; 4,759; 2016) ......... 3.9 306 544 48 0 29 227 12.2–21.5 -/-, N 62,851 (0.23; 51,914; 2016) ..... 519 28 -/-, -/-, -/-, -/-, 172,974 (0.21, 145,216, 2016) 39,921 (0.27; 32,032; 2016) ..... 35,215 (0.19; 30,051; 2016) ..... 95,543 (0.31; 74,034; 2016) ..... 1,452 320 301 851 390 0 34 164 61,336 (0.08; 57,637; 2018) ..... 27,300 (0.22; 22,785; 2016) ..... 1,729 1,389 339 4,453 N N N N Order Carnivora—Superfamily Pinnipedia lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Harbor seal ................................ Gray seal 4 ................................. Phoca vitulina ................. Halichoerus grypus ......... Western North Atlantic Stock ... Western North Atlantic Stock ... -/-, N -/-, N 1 ESA status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (-) indicates that the species is not listed under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one for which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds PBR or which is determined to be declining and likely to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed under the ESA is automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock. 2 NMFS marine mammal stock assessment reports online at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments. CV is the coefficient of variation; Nmin is the minimum estimate of stock abundance. In some cases, CV is not applicable. 3 These values, found in NMFS’ SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g., commercial fisheries, ship strike). 4 NMFS’ stock abundance estimate (and associated PBR value) applies to U.S. population only. Total stock abundance (including animals in Canada) is approximately 451,431. The annual mortality and serious injury (M/SI) value given is for the total stock. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices As indicated above, all 15 species (with 16 managed stocks) in Table 3 temporally and spatially co-occur with the activity to the degree that take is reasonably likely to occur, and we have proposed authorizing it. Four marine mammal species that are listed under the ESA may be present in the survey area and are included in the take request: The North Atlantic right, fin, sei, and sperm whale. The temporal and/or spatial occurrence of several cetacean and pinniped species listed in Table 3–1 of Atlantic Shores’ 2022 IHA application is such that take of these species is not expected to occur either because they have very low densities in the survey area or are known to occur further offshore than the survey area. These include: The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), four species of Mesoplodont beaked whale (Mesoplodon spp.), dwarf and pygmy sperm whale (Kogia sima and Kogia breviceps), short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus), killer whale (Orcinus orca), pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata), false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens), melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra), striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), whitebeaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris), pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata), Fraser’s dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei), rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis), Clymene dolphin (Stenella clymene), spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris), hooded seal (Cystophora cristata), and harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus). As harassment and subsequent take of these species is not anticipated as a result of the proposed activities, these species are not analyzed or discussed further. In addition, the Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus; a sub-species of the West Indian manatee) has been previously documented as an occasional visitor the Northeast region during summer months (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) 2019). However, manatees are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and are not considered further in this document. For the majority of species potentially present in the specific geographic region, NMFS has designated only a single generic stock (e.g., ‘‘western North Atlantic’’) for management purposes. This includes the ‘‘Canadian east coast’’ stock of minke whales, which includes all minke whales found in U.S. waters and is also a generic stock for management purposes. For humpback whales, NMFS defines stocks VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 on the basis of feeding locations, i.e., Gulf of Maine. However, references to humpback whales in this document refer to any individuals of the species that are found in the specific geographic region. Additional information on these animals can be found in Sections 3 and 4 of Atlantic Shores’ IHA application, the draft 2021 SARs (https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/marinemammal-stock-assessments), and NMFS’ website. Below is a description of the species that have the highest likelihood of occurring in the survey area and are thus expected to potentially be taken by the proposed activities as well as further detail informing the baseline for select species (i.e., information regarding current Unusual Mortality Events (UMEs) and important habitat areas). North Atlantic Right Whale The North Atlantic right whale ranges from calving grounds in the southeastern United States to feeding grounds in New England waters and into Canadian waters (Hayes et al., 2018). Surveys have demonstrated the existence of seven areas where North Atlantic right whales congregate seasonally, including north and east of the proposed survey area in Georges Bank, off Cape Cod, and in Massachusetts Bay (Hayes et al., 2018). In the late fall months (e.g., October), right whales are generally thought to depart from the feeding grounds in the North Atlantic and move south to their calving grounds off Georgia and Florida. However, recent research indicates our understanding of their movement patterns remains incomplete (Davis et al., 2017). A review of passive acoustic monitoring data from 2004 to 2014 throughout the western North Atlantic demonstrated nearly continuous yearround right whale presence across their entire habitat range (for at least some individuals), including in locations previously thought of as migratory corridors, suggesting that not all of the population undergoes a consistent annual migration (Davis et al., 2017). However, given that Atlantic Shores’ surveys would be concentrated offshore New Jersey, any right whales in the vicinity of the survey areas are expected to be transient, most likely migrating through the area. The western North Atlantic population demonstrated overall growth of 2.8 percent per year between 1990 to 2010, despite a decline in 1993 and no growth between 1997 and 2000 (Pace et al., 2017). However, since 2010 the population has been in decline, with a 99.99 percent probability of a decline of PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 4205 just under 1 percent per year (Pace et al., 2017). Between 1990 and 2015, calving rates varied substantially, with low calving rates coinciding with all three periods of decline or no growth (Pace et al., 2017). On average, North Atlantic right whale calving rates are estimated to be roughly half that of southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) (Pace et al., 2017), which are increasing in abundance (NMFS, 2015). In 2018, no new North Atlantic right whale calves were documented in their calving grounds; this represented the first time since annual NOAA aerial surveys began in 1989 that no new right whale calves were observed. Eighteen right whale calves were documented in 2021. As of December 8, 2021 and the writing of this proposed Notification, two North Atlantic right whale calves have documented to have been born during this calving season. Presently, the best available population estimate for North Atlantic right whales is 386 per the draft 2021 SARs (https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/marinemammal-stock-assessments). The proposed survey area is part of a migratory corridor Biologically Important Area (BIA) for North Atlantic right whales (effective March–April and November–December) that extends from Massachusetts to Florida (LeBrecque et al., 2015). Off the coast of New Jersey, the migratory BIA extends from the coast to beyond the shelf break. This important migratory area is approximately 269,488 km2 in size (compared with the approximately 5,605.2 km2 of total estimated Level B harassment ensonified area associated with the 360 planned survey days) and is comprised of the waters of the continental shelf offshore the East Coast of the United States, extending from Florida through Massachusetts. NMFS’ regulations at 50 CFR part 224.105 designated nearshore waters of the MidAtlantic Bight as Mid-Atlantic U.S. Seasonal Management Areas (SMA) for right whales in 2008. SMAs were developed to reduce the threat of collisions between ships and right whales around their migratory route and calving grounds. A portion of one SMA, which occurs off the mouth of Delaware Bay, overlaps spatially with a section of the proposed survey area. The SMA, which occurs off the mouth of Delaware Bay, is active from November 1 through April 30 of each year. Within SMAs, the regulations require a mandatory vessel speed (less than 10 kn) for all vessels greater than 65 ft. A portion of one SMA overlaps spatially with the northern section of the proposed survey area. All E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 4206 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices Atlantic Shores survey vessels, regardless of length, would be required to adhere to a 10 knot vessel speed restriction when operating within this SMA. In addition, all Atlantic Shores survey vessels, regardless of length, would be required to adhere to a 10 knot vessel speed restriction when operating in any Dynamic Management Area (DMA) declared by NMFS. Elevated North Atlantic right whale mortalities have occurred since June 7, 2017, along the U.S. and Canadian coast. This event has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME), with human interactions, including entanglement in fixed fishing gear and vessel strikes, implicated in at least 15 of the mortalities thus far. As of October 13, 2021, a total of 34 confirmed dead stranded whales (21 in Canada; 13 in the United States) have been documented. The cumulative total number of animals in the North Atlantic right whale UME has been updated to 49 individuals to include both the confirmed mortalities (dead stranded or floaters) (n=34) and seriously injured free-swimming whales (n=15) to better reflect the confirmed number of whales likely removed from the population during the UME and more accurately reflect the population impacts. More information is available online at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-life-distress/2017-2021-northatlantic-right-whale-unusual-mortalityevent. Furthermore, we continue to evaluate our North Atlantic right whale vessel strike reduction programs, both regulatory and non-regulatory. NMFS anticipates releasing a proposed rule modifying the right whale speed regulations in Spring 2022 to further address the risk of mortality and serious injury from vessel collisions in U.S. waters. During the development of this proposed notification, several Slow Zones were implemented off New Jersey and New York that are worth mentioning. On November 11, 2021, December 11, 2021, and December 20, 2021, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Ocean City buoy detected the presence of right whales east of Ocean City, Maryland. In response, NMFS implemented two right whale Slow Zones for the area with expiration dates of November 26, 2021, December 26, 2021, and January 4, 2022, respectively. Additionally, as of November 8, 2021, NMFS extended a voluntary right whale Slow Zone (via acoustic trigger) located south of Nantucket, Massachusetts. This is due to expire on November 19, 2021. Four other voluntary right whale Slow Zones were announced by NMFS on November VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 20, 2021, November 30, 2021, December 13, 2021, and December 21, 2021, via an acoustic trigger of a right whale detected off New York City, New York. These, at the time of the development of this notification, expired after December 5, 2021, December 14, 2021, December 26, 2021, and January 5, 2022, respectively. Lastly, four more Slow Zones were implemented on November 30, 2021, December 2, 2021, December 13, 2021, and December 20, 2021 after the acoustic detection of right whales southeast of Atlantic City, New Jersey. These zones were active through December 8, 2021, December 17, 2021, December 26, 2021, and January 4, 2022, respectively. More information on these right whale Slow Zones can be found on NMFS’ website (https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ endangered-species-conservation/ reducing-vessel-strikes-north-atlanticright-whales). Humpback Whale Humpback whales are found worldwide in all oceans. Humpback whales were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act (ESCA) in June 1970. In 1973, the ESA replaced the ESCA, and humpbacks continued to be listed as endangered. On September 8, 2016, NMFS divided the species into 14 distinct population segments (DPS), removed the current species-level listing, and in its place listed four DPSs as endangered and one DPS as threatened (81 FR 62259; September 8, 2016). The remaining nine DPSs were not listed. The West Indies DPS, which is not listed under the ESA, is the only DPS of humpback whale that is expected to occur in the survey area, although are not necessarily from the Gulf of Maine feeding population managed as a stock by NMFS. Barco et al., (2002) estimated that, based on photo-identification, only 39 percent of individual humpback whales observed along the mid- and south Atlantic U.S. coast are from the Gulf of Maine stock. Bettridge et al., (2015) estimated the size of this population at 12,312 (95 percent CI 8,688–15,954) whales in 2004–05, which is consistent with previous population estimates of approximately 10,000–11,000 whales (Stevick et al., 2003; Smith et al., 1999) and the increasing trend for the West Indies DPS (Bettridge et al., 2015). Humpback whales utilize the midAtlantic as a migration pathway between calving/mating grounds to the south and feeding grounds in the north (Waring et al., 2007a; Waring et al., 2007b). A key question with regard to humpback whales off the mid-Atlantic PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 states is their stock identity. Using fluke photographs of living and dead whales observed in the region, Barco et al., (2002) reported that 43 percent of 21 live whales matched to the Gulf of Maine, 19 percent to Newfoundland, and 4.8 percent to the Gulf of St Lawrence, while 31.6 percent of 19 dead humpbacks were known Gulf of Maine whales. Although Gulf of Maine whales apparently dominate the population composition of the mid-Atlantic, lack of photographic effort in Newfoundland makes it likely that the observed match rates under-represent the true presence of Canadian whales in the region (Waring et al., 2016). Barco et al., (2002) suggested that the mid-Atlantic region primarily represents a supplemental winter-feeding ground used by humpbacks. Recent research by King et al., (2021) has demonstrated a high occurrence and use (foraging) of the New York Bight area by humpback whales than previously known. Furthermore, King et al., (2021) highlights important concerns for humpback whales found specifically in the nearshore environment (<10 km from shore) from various anthropogenic impacts. Three previous UMEs involving humpback whales have occurred since 2000, in 2003, 2005, and 2006. Since January 2016, elevated humpback whale mortalities have occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida. Partial or full necropsy examinations have been conducted on approximately half of the 154 known cases (as of October 13, 2021). Of the whales examined, about 50 percent had evidence of human interaction, either ship strike or entanglement. While a portion of the whales have shown evidence of pre-mortem vessel strike, this finding is not consistent across all whales examined and more research is needed. NOAA is consulting with researchers that are conducting studies on the humpback whale populations, and these efforts may provide information on changes in whale distribution and habitat use that could provide additional insight into how these vessel interactions occurred. More information is available at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-life-distress/2016-2021humpback-whale-unusual-mortalityevent-along-atlantic-coast. Fin Whale Fin whales are common in waters of the U.S. Atlantic Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), principally from Cape Hatteras northward (Waring et al., 2016). Fin whales are present north of 35-degree latitude in every season and E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices are broadly distributed throughout the western North Atlantic for most of the year (Waring et al., 2016). They are typically found in small groups of up to five individuals (Brueggeman et al., 1987). The main threats to fin whales are fishery interactions and vessel collisions (Waring et al., 2016). Sei Whale The Nova Scotia stock of sei whales can be found in deeper waters of the continental shelf edge waters of the northeastern U.S. and northeastward to south of Newfoundland. The southern portion of the stock’s range during spring and summer includes the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. Spring is the period of greatest abundance in U.S. waters, with sightings concentrated along the eastern margin of Georges Bank and into the Northeast Channel area, and along the southwestern edge of Georges Bank in the area of Hydrographer Canyon (Waring et al., 2015). Sei whales occur in shallower waters to feed. Sei whales are listed as engendered under the ESA, and the Nova Scotia stock is considered strategic and depleted under the MMPA. The main threats to this stock are interactions with fisheries and vessel collisions. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Minke Whale Minke whales can be found in temperate, tropical, and high-latitude waters. The Canadian East Coast stock can be found in the area from the western half of the Davis Strait (45 °W) to the Gulf of Mexico (Waring et al., 2016). This species generally occupies waters less than 100-m deep on the continental shelf. There appears to be a strong seasonal component to minke whale distribution in the survey areas, in which spring to fall are times of relatively widespread and common occurrence while during winter the species appears to be largely absent (Waring et al., 2016). Since January 2017, elevated minke whale mortalities have occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine through South Carolina, with a total of 118 strandings (as of October 13, 2021). This event has been declared a UME. Full or partial necropsy examinations were conducted on more than 60 percent of the whales. Preliminary findings in several of the whales have shown evidence of human interactions or infectious disease, but these findings are not consistent across all of the whales examined, so more research is needed. More information is available at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-life-distress/2017-2021-minke- VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 whale-unusual-mortality-event-alongatlantic-coast. Sperm Whale The distribution of the sperm whale in the U.S. EEZ occurs on the continental shelf edge, over the continental slope, and into mid-ocean regions (Waring et al., 2014). The basic social unit of the sperm whale appears to be the mixed school of adult females plus their calves and some juveniles of both sexes, normally numbering 20–40 animals in all. There is evidence that some social bonds persist for many years (Christal et al., 1998). This species forms stable social groups, site fidelity, and latitudinal range limitations in groups of females and juveniles (Whitehead, 2002). In summer, the distribution of sperm whales includes the area east and north of Georges Bank and into the Northeast Channel region, as well as the continental shelf (inshore of the 100-m isobath) south of New England. In the fall, sperm whale occurrence south of New England on the continental shelf is at its highest level, and there remains a continental shelf edge occurrence in the mid-Atlantic bight. In winter, sperm whales are concentrated east and northeast of Cape Hatteras. Long-Finned Pilot Whale Long-finned pilot whales are found from North Carolina and north to Iceland, Greenland and the Barents Sea (Waring et al., 2016). In U.S. Atlantic waters the species is distributed principally along the continental shelf edge off the northeastern U.S. coast in winter and early spring and in late spring, pilot whales move onto Georges Bank and into the Gulf of Maine and more northern waters and remain in these areas through late autumn (Waring et al., 2016). Long-finned pilot whales are not listed under the ESA. The Western North Atlantic stock is considered strategic under the MMPA. Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin White-sided dolphins are found in temperate and sub-polar waters of the North Atlantic, primarily in continental shelf waters to the 100m depth contour from central West Greenland to North Carolina (Waring et al., 2016). The Gulf of Maine stock is most common in continental shelf waters from Hudson Canyon to Georges Bank, and in the Gulf of Maine and lower Bay of Fundy. Sighting data indicate seasonal shifts in distribution (Northridge et al., 1997). During January to May, low numbers of white-sided dolphins are found from Georges Bank to Jeffreys Ledge (off New Hampshire), with even lower numbers PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 4207 south of Georges Bank, as documented by a few strandings collected on beaches of Virginia to South Carolina. From June through September, large numbers of white-sided dolphins are found from Georges Bank to the lower Bay of Fundy. From October to December, white-sided dolphins occur at intermediate densities from southern Georges Bank to southern Gulf of Maine (Payne and Heinemann, 1990). Sightings south of Georges Bank, particularly around Hudson Canyon, occur year round but at low densities. Atlantic Spotted Dolphin Atlantic spotted dolphins are found in tropical and warm temperate waters ranging from southern New England, south to Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean to Venezuela (Waring et al., 2014). This stock regularly occurs in continental shelf waters south of Cape Hatteras and in continental shelf edge and continental slope waters north of this region (Waring et al., 2014). There are two forms of this species, with the larger ecotype inhabiting the continental shelf and is usually found inside or near the 200-m isobaths (Waring et al., 2014). Common Dolphin The short-beaked common dolphin is found worldwide in temperate to subtropical seas. In the North Atlantic, short-beaked common dolphins are commonly found over the continental shelf between the 100-m and 2,000-m isobaths and over prominent underwater topography and east to the mid-Atlantic Ridge (Waring et al., 2016). Bottlenose Dolphin There are two distinct bottlenose dolphin morphotypes in the western North Atlantic: The coastal and offshore forms (Waring et al., 2016). The offshore form is distributed primarily along the outer continental shelf and continental slope in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean from Georges Bank to the Florida Keys. The coastal morphotype is morphologically and genetically distinct from the larger, more robust morphotype that occupies habitats further offshore. Spatial distribution data, tag-telemetry studies, photo-ID studies and genetic studies demonstrate the existence of a distinct Northern Migratory stock of coastal bottlenose dolphins (Waring et al., 2014). During summer months (July–August), this stock occupies coastal waters from the shoreline to approximately the 25-m isobath between the Chesapeake Bay mouth and Long Island, New York; during winter months (January–March), the stock occupies coastal waters from Cape Lookout, North Carolina, to the E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 4208 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices North Carolina/Virginia border (Waring et al., 2014). The Western North Atlantic northern migratory coastal stock and the Western North Atlantic offshore stock may be encountered by the proposed survey. Harbor Porpoise In the Lease Area, only the Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy stock may be present. This stock is found in U.S. and Canadian Atlantic waters and is concentrated in the northern Gulf of Maine and southern Bay of Fundy region, generally in waters less than 150-m deep (Waring et al., 2016). They are seen from the coastline to deep waters (>1,800-m; Westgate et al., 1998), although the majority of the population is found over the continental shelf (Waring et al., 2016). The main threat to the species is interactions with fisheries, with documented take in the U.S. northeast sink gillnet, mid-Atlantic gillnet, and northeast bottom trawl fisheries and in the Canadian herring weir fisheries (Waring et al., 2016). Pinninpeds (Harbor Seal and Gray Seal) The harbor seal is found in all nearshore waters of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans and adjoining seas above about 30°N (Burns, 2009). In the western North Atlantic, harbor seals are distributed from the eastern Canadian Arctic and Greenland south to southern New England and New York, and occasionally to the Carolinas (Waring et al., 2016). Haul-out and pupping sites are located off Manomet, MA and the Isles of Shoals, ME, but generally do not occur in areas in southern New England (Waring et al., 2016). There are three major populations of gray seals found in the world; eastern Canada (western North Atlantic stock), northwestern Europe and the Baltic Sea. Gray seals in the survey area belong to the western North Atlantic stock. The range for this stock is thought to be from New Jersey to Labrador. Current population trends show that gray seal abundance is likely increasing in the U.S. Atlantic EEZ (Waring et al., 2016). Although the rate of increase is unknown, surveys conducted since their arrival in the 1980s indicate a steady increase in abundance in both Maine and Massachusetts (Waring et al., 2016). It is believed that recolonization by Canadian gray seals is the source of the U.S. population (Waring et al., 2016). Since July 2018, elevated numbers of harbor seal and gray seal mortalities have occurred across Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This event has been declared a UME. Additionally, stranded seals have shown clinical signs as far south as Virginia, although not in elevated numbers, therefore the UME investigation now encompasses all seal strandings from Maine to Virginia. Ice seals (harp and hooded seals) have also started stranding with clinical signs, again not in elevated numbers, and those two seal species have also been added to the UME investigation. A total of 3,152 reported strandings (of all species) had occurred from July 1, 2018, through March 13, 2020. Full or partial necropsy examinations have been conducted on some of the seals and samples have been collected for testing. Based on tests conducted thus far, the main pathogen found in the seals is phocine distemper virus. NMFS is performing additional testing to identify any other factors that may be involved in this UME. Presently, this UME is non-active and is pending closure by NMFS as of March 2020. Information on this UME is available online at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/new-englandmid-atlantic/marine-life-distress/20182020-pinniped-unusual-mortality-eventalong. Marine Mammal Hearing Hearing is the most important sensory modality for marine mammals underwater, and exposure to anthropogenic sound can have deleterious effects. To appropriately assess the potential effects of exposure to sound, it is necessary to understand the frequency ranges marine mammals are able to hear. Current data indicate that not all marine mammal species have equal hearing capabilities (e.g., Richardson et al., 1995; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999; Au and Hastings, 2008). To reflect this, Southall et al. (2007) recommended that marine mammals be divided into functional hearing groups based on directly measured or estimated hearing ranges on the basis of available behavioral response data, audiograms derived using auditory evoked potential techniques, anatomical modeling, and other data. Note that no direct measurements of hearing ability have been successfully completed for mysticetes (i.e., low-frequency cetaceans). Subsequently, NMFS (2018) described generalized hearing ranges for these marine mammal hearing groups. Generalized hearing ranges were chosen based on the approximately 65 decibel (dB) threshold from the normalized composite audiograms, with the exception for lower limits for lowfrequency cetaceans where the lower bound was deemed to be biologically implausible and the lower bound from Southall et al. (2007) retained. Marine mammal hearing groups and their associated hearing ranges are provided in Table 4. TABLE 4—MARINE MAMMAL HEARING GROUPS lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 [NMFS, 2018] Hearing group Generalized hearing range * Low-frequency (LF) cetaceans (baleen whales) ......................................................................................................................... Mid-frequency (MF) cetaceans (dolphins, toothed whales, beaked whales, bottlenose whales) .............................................. High-frequency (HF) cetaceans (true porpoises, Kogia, river dolphins, cephalorhynchid, Lagenorhynchus cruciger & L. australis). Phocid pinnipeds (PW) (underwater) (true seals) ....................................................................................................................... Otariid pinnipeds (OW) (underwater) (sea lions and fur seals) .................................................................................................. 7 Hz to 35 kHz. 150 Hz to 160 kHz. 275 Hz to 160 kHz. 50 Hz to 86 kHz. 60 Hz to 39 kHz. * Represents the generalized hearing range for the entire group as a composite (i.e., all species within the group), where individual species’ hearing ranges are typically not as broad. Generalized hearing range chosen based on ∼65 dB threshold from normalized composite audiogram, with the exception for lower limits for LF cetaceans (Southall et al., 2007) and PW pinniped (approximation). The pinniped functional hearing group was modified from Southall et al., (2007) on the basis of data indicating that phocid species have consistently VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 demonstrated an extended frequency range of hearing compared to otariids, especially in the higher frequency range PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 (Hemila¨ et al., 2006; Kastelein et al., 2009; Reichmuth, 2013). For more detail concerning these groups and associated frequency ranges, please see NMFS (2018) for a review of E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices available information. Fifteen marine mammal species (13 cetacean and 2 pinniped (both phocid) species) have the reasonable potential to co-occur with the proposed survey activities. Please refer back to Table 3. Of the cetacean species that may be present, five are classified as low-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all mysticete species), seven are classified as mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all delphinid species and the sperm whale), and one is classified as a high-frequency cetacean (i.e., harbor porpoise). lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Potential Effects of Specified Activities on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that components of the specified activity may impact marine mammals and their habitat. Detailed descriptions of the potential effects of similar specified activities have been provided in other recent and related Federal Register notifications, including for survey activities using similar HRG methodologies, over similar amounts of time, and occurring within the same specified geographical region (e.g., 82 FR 20563, May 3, 2017; 85 FR 36537, June 17, 2020; 85 FR 7926, February 12, 2020; 85 FR 37848, June 24, 2020; 85 FR 48179, August 10, 2020; 86 FR 16327, March 29, 2021; 86 FR 17782, April 6, 2021). No significant new information is available, and we refer the reader to these documents rather than repeating the details here. The Estimated Take section later in this document includes a quantitative analysis of the number of individuals that are expected to be taken by Atlantic Shores’ activities. The Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination section considers the content of this section, the Estimated Take section, and the Proposed Mitigation section, to draw conclusions regarding the likely impacts of these activities on the reproductive success or survivorship of individuals and how those impacts on individuals are likely to impact marine mammal species or stocks. Background on Active Acoustic Sound Sources and Acoustic Terminology This subsection contains a brief technical background on sound, on the characteristics of certain sound types, and on metrics used in this proposal inasmuch as the information is relevant to the specified activity and to the summary of the potential effects of the specified activity on marine mammals. For general information on sound and its interaction with the marine environment, please see, e.g., Au and Hastings (2008); Richardson et al., (1995); Urick (1983). VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 Sound travels in waves, the basic components of which are frequency, wavelength, velocity, and amplitude. Frequency is the number of pressure waves that pass by a reference point per unit of time and is measured in hertz or cycles per second. Wavelength is the distance between two peaks or corresponding points of a sound wave (length of one cycle). Higher frequency sounds have shorter wavelengths than lower frequency sounds, and typically attenuate (decrease) more rapidly, except in certain cases in shallower water. Amplitude is the height of the sound pressure wave or the ‘‘loudness’’ of a sound and is typically described using the relative unit of the decibel. A sound pressure level (SPL) in dB is described as the ratio between a measured pressure and a reference pressure (for underwater sound, this is 1 microPascal (mPa)), and is a logarithmic unit that accounts for large variations in amplitude. Therefore, a relatively small change in dB corresponds to large changes in sound pressure. The source level (SL) represents the SPL referenced at a distance of 1-m from the source (referenced to 1 mPa), while the received level is the SPL at the listener’s position (referenced to 1 mPa). Root mean square (rms) is the quadratic mean sound pressure over the duration of an impulse. Root mean square is calculated by squaring all of the sound amplitudes, averaging the squares, and then taking the square root of the average (Urick, 1983). Root mean square accounts for both positive and negative values; squaring the pressures makes all values positive so that they may be accounted for in the summation of pressure levels (Hastings and Popper, 2005). This measurement is often used in the context of discussing behavioral effects, in part because behavioral effects, which often result from auditory cues, may be better expressed through averaged units than by peak pressures. Sound exposure level (SEL; represented as dB re 1 mPa2-s) represents the total energy in a stated frequency band over a stated time interval or event and considers both intensity and duration of exposure. The per-pulse SEL is calculated over the time window containing the entire pulse (i.e., 100 percent of the acoustic energy). SEL is a cumulative metric; it can be accumulated over a single pulse, or calculated over periods containing multiple pulses. Cumulative SEL represents the total energy accumulated by a receiver over a defined time window or during an event. Peak sound pressure (also referred to as zero-to-peak sound pressure or 0-pk) is the maximum PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 4209 instantaneous sound pressure measurable in the water at a specified distance from the source and is represented in the same units as the rms sound pressure. When underwater objects vibrate or activity occurs, sound-pressure waves are created. These waves alternately compress and decompress the water as the sound wave travels. Underwater sound waves radiate in a manner similar to ripples on the surface of a pond and may be directed either in a beam or in beams or may radiate in all directions (omnidirectional sources). The compressions and decompressions associated with sound waves are detected as changes in pressure by aquatic life and man-made sound receptors such as hydrophones. Even in the absence of sound from the specified activity, the underwater environment is typically loud due to ambient sound, which is defined as environmental background sound levels lacking a single source or point (Richardson et al., 1995). The sound level of a region is defined by the total acoustical energy being generated by known and unknown sources. These sources may include physical (e.g., wind and waves, earthquakes, ice, atmospheric sound), biological (e.g., sounds produced by marine mammals, fish, and invertebrates), and anthropogenic (e.g., vessels, dredging, construction) sound. A number of sources contribute to ambient sound, including wind and waves, which are a main source of naturally occurring ambient sound for frequencies between 200 Hz and 50 kHz (Mitson, 1995). In general, ambient sound levels tend to increase with increasing wind speed and wave height. Precipitation can become an important component of total sound at frequencies above 500 Hz, and possibly down to 100 Hz during quiet times. Marine mammals can contribute significantly to ambient sound levels, as can some fish and snapping shrimp. The frequency band for biological contributions is from approximately 12 Hz to over 100 kHz. Sources of ambient sound related to human activity include transportation (surface vessels), dredging and construction, oil and gas drilling and production, geophysical surveys, sonar, and explosions. Vessel noise typically dominates the total ambient sound for frequencies between 20 and 300 Hz. In general, the frequencies of anthropogenic sounds are below 1 kHz and, if higher frequency sound levels are created, they attenuate rapidly. The sum of the various natural and anthropogenic sound sources that comprise ambient sound at any given E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 4210 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices location and time depends not only on the source levels (as determined by current weather conditions and levels of biological and human activity) but on the ability of sound to propagate through the environment. In turn, sound propagation is dependent on the spatially and temporally varying properties of the water column and sea floor, and is frequency-dependent. As a result of the dependence on a large number of varying factors, ambient sound levels can be expected to vary widely over both coarse and fine spatial and temporal scales. Sound levels at a given frequency and location can vary by 10–20 dB from day to day (Richardson et al., 1995). The result is that, depending on the source type and its intensity, sound from the specified activity may be a negligible addition to the local environment or could form a distinctive signal that may affect marine mammals. Details of source types are described in the following text. Sounds are often considered to fall into one of two general types: Pulsed and non-pulsed (defined in the following). The distinction between these two sound types is important because they have differing potential to cause physical effects, particularly with regard to hearing (e.g., Ward, 1997 in Southall et al., 2007). Please see Southall et al., (2007) for an in-depth discussion of these concepts. The distinction between these two sound types is not always obvious, as certain signals share properties of both pulsed and non-pulsed sounds. A signal near a source could be categorized as a pulse, but due to propagation effects as it moves farther from the source, the signal duration becomes longer (e.g., Greene and Richardson, 1988). Pulsed sound sources (e.g., airguns, explosions, gunshots, sonic booms, impact pile driving) produce signals that are brief (typically considered to be less than one second), broadband, atonal transients (ANSI, 1986, 2005; Harris, 1998; NIOSH, 1998) and occur either as isolated events or repeated in some succession. Pulsed sounds are all characterized by a relatively rapid rise from ambient pressure to a maximal pressure value followed by a rapid decay period that may include a period of diminishing, oscillating maximal and minimal pressures, and generally have an increased capacity to induce physical injury as compared with sounds that lack these features. Non-pulsed sounds can be tonal, narrowband, or broadband, brief or prolonged, and may be either continuous or intermittent (ANSI, 1995; NIOSH, 1998). Some of these nonpulsed sounds can be transient signals VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 of short duration but without the essential properties of pulses (e.g., rapid rise time). Examples of non-pulsed sounds include those produced by vessels, aircraft, machinery operations such as drilling or dredging, vibratory pile driving, and active sonar systems. The duration of such sounds, as received at a distance, can be greatly extended in a highly reverberant environment. Sparkers produce pulsed signals with energy in the frequency ranges specified in Table 2. The amplitude of the acoustic wave emitted from sparker sources is equal in all directions (i.e., omnidirectional), while other sources planned for use during the proposed surveys have some degree of directionality to the beam, as specified in Table 2. Other sources planned for use during the proposed survey activity (e.g., CHIRPs) should be considered non-pulsed, intermittent sources. Summary on Specific Potential Effects of Acoustic Sound Sources Underwater sound from active acoustic sources can include one or more of the following: Temporary or permanent hearing impairment, behavioral disturbance, masking, stress, and non-auditory physical effects. The degree of effect is intrinsically related to the signal characteristics, received level, distance from the source, and duration of the sound exposure. Marine mammals exposed to high-intensity sound, or to lower-intensity sound for prolonged periods, can experience hearing threshold shift (TS), which is the loss of hearing sensitivity at certain frequency ranges (Finneran, 2015). TS can be permanent (PTS; permanent threshold shift), in which case the loss of hearing sensitivity is not fully recoverable, or temporary (TTS; temporary threshold shift), in which case the animal’s hearing threshold would recover over time (Southall et al., 2007). Animals in the vicinity of Atlantic Shores’ proposed HRG survey activity are unlikely to incur even TTS due to the characteristics of the sound sources, which include relatively low source levels (179 to 245 dB re 1 mPa m), and generally very short pulses and potential duration of exposure. These characteristics mean that instantaneous exposure is unlikely to cause TTS, as it is unlikely that exposure would occur close enough to the vessel for received levels to exceed peak pressure TTS criteria, and that the cumulative duration of exposure would be insufficient to exceed cumulative sound exposure level (SEL) criteria. Even for high-frequency cetacean species (e.g., PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 harbor porpoises), which have the greatest sensitivity to potential TTS, individuals would have to make a very close approach and also remain very close to vessels operating these sources in order to receive multiple exposures at relatively high levels, as would be necessary to cause TTS. Intermittent exposures—as would occur due to the brief, transient signals produced by these sources—require a higher cumulative SEL to induce TTS than would continuous exposures of the same duration (i.e., intermittent exposure results in lower levels of TTS). Moreover, most marine mammals would more likely avoid a loud sound source rather than swim in such close proximity as to result in TTS. Kremser et al., (2005) noted that the probability of a cetacean swimming through the area of exposure when a sub-bottom profiler emits a pulse is small—because if the animal was in the area, it would have to pass the transducer at close range in order to be subjected to sound levels that could cause TTS and would likely exhibit avoidance behavior to the area near the transducer rather than swim through at such a close range. Further, the restricted beam shape of many of HRG survey devices planned for use (Table 2) makes it unlikely that an animal would be exposed more than briefly during the passage of the vessel. Behavioral disturbance may include a variety of effects, including subtle changes in behavior (e.g., minor or brief avoidance of an area or changes in vocalizations), more conspicuous changes in similar behavioral activities, and more sustained and/or potentially severe reactions, such as displacement from or abandonment of high-quality habitat. Behavioral responses to sound are highly variable and context-specific and any reactions depend on numerous intrinsic and extrinsic factors (e.g., species, state of maturity, experience, current activity, reproductive state, auditory sensitivity, time of day), as well as the interplay between factors. Available studies show wide variation in response to underwater sound; therefore, it is difficult to predict specifically how any given sound in a particular instance might affect marine mammals perceiving the signal. In addition, sound can disrupt behavior through masking, or interfering with, an animal’s ability to detect, recognize, or discriminate between acoustic signals of interest (e.g., those used for intraspecific communication and social interactions, prey detection, predator avoidance, navigation). Masking occurs when the receipt of a sound is interfered with by another coincident sound at similar frequencies E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices and at similar or higher intensity, and may occur whether the sound is natural (e.g., snapping shrimp, wind, waves, precipitation) or anthropogenic (e.g., shipping, sonar, seismic exploration) in origin. Marine mammal communications would not likely be masked appreciably by the acoustic signals given the directionality of the signals for most HRG survey equipment types planned for use (Table 2) and the brief period when an individual mammal is likely to be exposed. Classic stress responses begin when an animal’s central nervous system perceives a potential threat to its homeostasis. That perception triggers stress responses regardless of whether a stimulus actually threatens the animal; the mere perception of a threat is sufficient to trigger a stress response (Moberg 2000; Seyle 1950). Once an animal’s central nervous system perceives a threat, it mounts a biological response or defense that consists of a combination of the four general biological defense responses: Behavioral responses, autonomic nervous system responses, neuroendocrine responses, or immune responses. In the case of many stressors, an animal’s first and sometimes most economical (in terms of biotic costs) response is behavioral avoidance of the potential stressor or avoidance of continued exposure to a stressor. An animal’s second line of defense to stressors involves the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system and the classical ‘‘fight or flight’’ response which includes the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, the exocrine glands, and the adrenal medulla to produce changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and gastrointestinal activity that humans commonly associate with ‘‘stress.’’ These responses have a relatively short duration and may or may not have significant long-term effect on an animal’s welfare. An animal’s third line of defense to stressors involves its neuroendocrine systems; the system that has received the most study has been the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system (also known as the HPA axis in mammals). Unlike stress responses associated with the autonomic nervous system, virtually all neuro-endocrine functions that are affected by stress— including immune competence, reproduction, metabolism, and behavior—are regulated by pituitary hormones. Stress-induced changes in the secretion of pituitary hormones have been implicated in failed reproduction (Moberg 1987; Rivier 1995), reduced immune competence (Blecha 2000), and VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 behavioral disturbance. Increases in the circulation of glucocorticosteroids (cortisol, corticosterone, and aldosterone in marine mammals; see Romano et al., 2004) have been long been equated with stress. The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does not normally place an animal at risk) and distress is the biotic cost of the response. In general, there are few data on the potential for strong, anthropogenic underwater sounds to cause non-auditory physical effects in marine mammals. The available data do not allow identification of a specific exposure level above which nonauditory effects can be expected (Southall et al., 2007). There is currently no definitive evidence that any of these effects occur even for marine mammals in close proximity to an anthropogenic sound source. In addition, marine mammals that show behavioral avoidance of survey vessels and related sound sources are unlikely to incur nonauditory impairment or other physical effects. NMFS does not expect that the generally short-term, intermittent, and transitory HRG and geotechnical survey activities would create conditions of long-term, continuous noise and chronic acoustic exposure leading to long-term physiological stress responses in marine mammals. Sound may affect marine mammals through impacts on the abundance, behavior, or distribution of prey species (e.g., crustaceans, cephalopods, fish, and zooplankton) (i.e., effects to marine mammal habitat). Prey species exposed to sound might move away from the sound source, experience TTS, experience masking of biologically relevant sounds, or show no obvious direct effects. The most likely impacts (if any) for most prey species in a given area would be temporary avoidance of the area. Surveys using active acoustic sound sources move through an area, limiting exposure to multiple pulses. In all cases, sound levels would return to ambient once a survey ends and the noise source is shut down and, when exposure to sound ends, behavioral and/ or physiological responses are expected to end relatively quickly. Finally, the HRG survey equipment will not have significant impacts to the seafloor and does not represent a source of pollution. Vessel Strike Vessel collisions with marine mammals, or ship strikes, can result in death or serious injury of the animal. These interactions are typically associated with large whales, which are less maneuverable than are smaller cetaceans or pinnipeds in relation to large vessels. Ship strikes generally PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 4211 involve commercial shipping vessels, which are generally larger and of which there is much more traffic in the ocean than geophysical survey vessels. Jensen and Silber (2004) summarized ship strikes of large whales worldwide from 1975–2003 and found that most collisions occurred in the open ocean and involved large vessels (e.g., commercial shipping). For vessels used in geophysical survey activities, vessel speed while towing gear is typically only 4–5 knots. At these speeds, both the possibility of striking a marine mammal and the possibility of a strike resulting in serious injury or mortality are so low as to be discountable. At average transit speed for geophysical survey vessels, the probability of serious injury or mortality resulting from a strike is less than 50 percent. However, the likelihood of a strike actually happening is again low given the smaller size of these vessels and generally slower speeds. Notably in the Jensen and Silber study, no strike incidents were reported for geophysical survey vessels during that time period. The potential effects of Atlantic Shores’ specified survey activity are expected to be limited to Level B behavioral harassment. No permanent or temporary auditory effects, or significant impacts to marine mammal habitat, including prey, are expected. Marine Mammal Habitat The HRG survey equipment will not contact the seafloor and does not represent a source of pollution. We are not aware of any available literature on impacts to marine mammal prey from sound produced by HRG survey equipment. However, as the HRG survey equipment introduces noise to the marine environment, there is the potential for it to result in avoidance of the area around the HRG survey activities on the part of marine mammal prey. Any avoidance of the area on the part of marine mammal prey would be expected to be short term and temporary. Because of the temporary nature of the disturbance, and the availability of similar habitat and resources (e.g., prey species) in the surrounding area, the impacts to marine mammals and the food sources that they utilize are not expected to cause significant or longterm consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. Impacts on marine mammal habitat from the proposed activities will be temporary, insignificant, and discountable. E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 4212 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices Estimated Take This section provides an estimate of the number of incidental takes proposed for authorization through this IHA, which will inform both NMFS’ consideration of ‘‘small numbers’’ and the negligible impact determination. Harassment is the only type of take expected to result from these activities. Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, section 3(18) of the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance, which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (Level B harassment). Authorized takes would be by Level B harassment only, in the form of disruption of behavioral patterns for individual marine mammals resulting from exposure to noise from certain HRG acoustic sources. Based primarily on the characteristics of the signals produced by the acoustic sources planned for use and the proposed mitigation measures, Level A harassment is neither anticipated, nor proposed to be authorized. Take by Level A harassment (injury) is considered unlikely, even absent mitigation, based on the characteristics of the signals produced by the acoustic sources planned for use, and is not proposed for authorization. Implementation of required mitigation further reduces this potential. Furthermore and as previously described, no serious injury or mortality is anticipated or proposed to be authorized for this activity. Below we describe how the take is estimated. Generally speaking, we estimate take by considering: (1) Acoustic thresholds above which NMFS believes the best available science indicates marine mammals will be behaviorally harassed or incur some degree of permanent hearing impairment; (2) the area or volume of water that will be ensonified above these levels in a day; (3) the density or occurrence of marine mammals within these ensonified areas; and, (4) and the number of days of activities. We note that while these basic factors can contribute to a basic calculation to provide an initial prediction of takes, additional information that can qualitatively inform take estimates is also sometimes available (e.g., previous monitoring results or average group size). Below, we describe the factors considered here in more detail and present the proposed take estimate. Acoustic Thresholds NMFS recommends the use of acoustic thresholds that identify the received level of underwater sound above which exposed marine mammals would be reasonably expected to be behaviorally harassed (equated to Level B harassment) or to incur PTS of some degree (equated to Level A harassment). Level B Harassment—Though significantly driven by received level, the onset of behavioral disturbance from anthropogenic noise exposure is also informed to varying degrees by other factors related to the source (e.g., frequency, predictability, duty cycle), the environment (e.g., bathymetry), and the receiving animals (hearing, motivation, experience, demography, behavioral context) and can be difficult to predict (Southall et al., 2007, Ellison et al., 2012). Based on what the available science indicates and the practical need to use a threshold based on a factor that is both predictable and measurable for most activities, NMFS uses a generalized acoustic threshold based on received level to estimate the onset of behavioral harassment. NMFS predicts that marine mammals may be behaviorally harassed (i.e., Level B harassment) when exposed to underwater anthropogenic noise above received levels of 160 dB re 1 mPa (rms) for the impulsive sources (i.e., sparkers) and non-impulsive, intermittent sources (e.g., CHIRPs) evaluated here for Atlantic Shores’ proposed activity. Level A harassment—NMFS’ Technical Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing (Version 2.0) (NMFS, 2018) identifies dual criteria to assess auditory injury (Level A harassment) to five different marine mammal groups (based on hearing sensitivity) as a result of exposure to noise from two different types of sources (impulsive or non-impulsive). These thresholds are provided in the table below (Table 5). The references, analysis, and methodology used in the development of the thresholds are described in NMFS (2018) Technical Guidance, which may be accessed at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/ national/marine-mammal-protection/ marine-mammal-acoustic-technicalguidance. TABLE 5—THRESHOLDS IDENTIFYING THE ONSET OF PERMANENT THRESHOLD SHIFT PTS onset acoustic thresholds * (received level) Hearing group Impulsive lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Low-Frequency (LF) Cetaceans ...................................... Mid-Frequency (MF) Cetaceans ...................................... High-Frequency (HF) Cetaceans ..................................... Phocid Pinnipeds (PW) (Underwater) ............................. Otariid Pinnipeds (OW) (Underwater) ............................. Cell Cell Cell Cell Cell 1: 3: 5: 7: 9: Lpk,flat: Lpk,flat: Lpk,flat: Lpk,flat: Lpk,flat: 219 230 202 218 232 dB; dB; dB; dB; dB; Non-impulsive LE,LF,24h: 183 dB ......................... LE,MF,24h: 185 dB ........................ LE,HF,24h: 155 dB ........................ LE,PW,24h: 185 dB ........................ LE,OW,24h: 203 dB ....................... Cell Cell Cell Cell Cell 2: LE,LF,24h: 199 dB. 4: LE,MF,24h: 198 dB. 6: LE,HF,24h: 173 dB. 8: LE,PW,24h: 201 dB. 10: LE,OW,24h: 219 dB. * Dual metric acoustic thresholds for impulsive sounds: Use whichever results in the largest isopleth for calculating PTS onset. If a non-impulsive sound has the potential of exceeding the peak sound pressure level thresholds associated with impulsive sounds, these thresholds should also be considered. Note: Peak sound pressure (Lpk) has a reference value of 1 μPa, and cumulative sound exposure level (LE) has a reference value of 1μPa2s. In this Table, thresholds are abbreviated to reflect American National Standards Institute standards (ANSI, 2013). However, ANSI defines peak sound pressure as incorporating frequency weighting, which is not the intent for this Technical Guidance. Hence, the subscript ‘‘flat’’ is being included to indicate peak sound pressure should be flat weighted or unweighted within the generalized hearing range. The subscript associated with cumulative sound exposure level thresholds indicates the designated marine mammal auditory weighting function (LF, MF, and HF cetaceans, and PW and OW pinnipeds) and that the recommended accumulation period is 24 hours. The cumulative sound exposure level thresholds could be exceeded in a multitude of ways (i.e., varying exposure levels and durations, duty cycle). When possible, it is valuable for action proponents to indicate the conditions under which these acoustic thresholds will be exceeded. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 4213 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices The 2020 proposed notification for Atlantic Shores’ HRG surveys (85 FR 7926; February 12, 2020) previously analyzed the potential for Level A harassment (refer to Table 5 in that notification and additional discussion therein). Similar to the past IHAs issued to Atlantic Shores, the proposed activities for 2022 include the use of impulsive (i.e.,) and non-impulsive (e.g., CHIRPs) sources. Carrying through the same logic as the locations, species, survey durations, equipment used, and source levels are all of a similar scope previously analyzed for Atlantic Shores’ surveys, and as discussed above, NMFS has concluded that Level A harassment is not a reasonably likely outcome for marine mammals exposed to noise through use of the sources proposed for use here due to the mitigation measures Atlantic Shores has proposed, and the potential for Level A harassment is not evaluated further in this document. Atlantic Shores did not request authorization of take by Level A harassment, and no take by Level A harassment is proposed for authorization by NMFS. Ensonified Area Here, we describe operational and environmental parameters of the activity that will feed into identifying the area ensonified above the acoustic thresholds, which include source levels and transmission loss coefficient. NMFS has developed a user-friendly methodology for estimating the extent of the Level B harassment isopleths associated with relevant HRG survey equipment (NMFS, 2020). This methodology incorporates frequency and directionality to refine estimated ensonified zones. For acoustic sources that operate with different beamwidths, the maximum beamwidth was used, and the lowest frequency of the source was used when calculating the frequencydependent absorption coefficient (Table 2). NMFS considers the data provided by Crocker and Fratantonio (2016) to represent the best available information on source levels associated with HRG survey equipment and, therefore, recommends that source levels provided by Crocker and Fratantonio (2016) be incorporated in the method described above to estimate isopleth distances to harassment thresholds. In cases when the source level for a specific type of HRG equipment is not provided in Crocker and Fratantonio (2016), NMFS recommends that either the source levels provided by the manufacturer be used, or, in instances where source levels provided by the manufacturer are unavailable or unreliable, a proxy from Crocker and Fratantonio (2016) be used instead. Table 2 shows the HRG equipment types that may be used during the proposed surveys and the source levels associated with those HRG equipment types. The computations and results from the Level B ensonified area analysis are displayed in Tables 6 and 7 below. TABLE 6—INPUTS INTO THE LEVEL B HARASSMENT SPREADSHEET FOR HIGH RESOLUTION GEOPHYSICAL SOURCES USING A TRANSMISSION LOSS COEFFICIENT OF 20 Input values in spreadsheet Source name Threshold level SIG ELC 820 Sparker at 750J * .................... Geo Marine Survey System 2D SUHRS at 400J ...................... Edgetech 2000–DSS ... Edgetech 216 ............... Edgetech 424 ............... Edgetech 512i .............. Pangeosubsea SubBottom Imager TM ..... Source level (dBrms) Frequency (kH) Computed values (meters) Beamwidth (degrees) Water depth (m) Slant distance of threshold Horizontal threshold range (m) 160 203 0.01 180 5 141 141 160 160 160 160 160 195 195 179 180 179 0.2 2 2 4 0.7 180 24 24 71 80 5 5 5 10 10 56 56 9 10 9 56 1 1 6 6 160 190 4 120 5 32 9 * Used as a proxy for the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 because the specific energy setting is not described in Crocker and Franantonio (2016). TABLE 7—MAXIMUM DISTANCES TO LEVEL B 160 dBRMS THRESHOLD BY EQUIPMENT TYPE OPERATING BELOW 180 kHz Representative equipment type Sparker ............................ Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 ............................................................................................................ Geo Marine Survey System 2D SUHRS ................................................................................................... Edgetech 2000–DSS ................................................................................................................................. Edgetech 216 ............................................................................................................................................. Edgetech 424 ............................................................................................................................................. Edgetech 512i ............................................................................................................................................ Pangeosubsea Sub-Bottom ImagerTM ...................................................................................................... CHIRP ............................. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Distances to level B threshold (m) HRG survey equipment (sub-bottom profiler) Results of modeling using the methodology described and shown above indicated that, of the HRG survey VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 equipment planned for use by Atlantic Shores that has the potential to result in Level B harassment of marine mammals, PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 141 56 56 9 10 9 32 the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 would produce the largest Level B harassment isopleth (141-m; please refer E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 4214 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices back to Tables 6 and 7 above, as well as Table 6–1 in Atlantic Shores’ IHA application). Estimated Level B harassment isopleths associated with the CHIRP equipment planned for use are also found in Tables 6 and 7. All CHIRPs equipment produced Level B harassment isopleths much smaller than the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 sparker did. Although Atlantic Shores does not expect to use sparker sources on all planned survey days and during the entire duration that surveys are likely to occur, Atlantic Shores proposes to assume for purposes of analysis that the sparker would be used on all survey days and across all hours. This is a conservative approach, as the actual sources used on individual survey days may produce smaller harassment distances. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Marine Mammal Occurrence In this section, we provide the information about presence, density, or group dynamics of marine mammals that will inform the take calculations. Habitat-based density models produced by the Duke University Marine Geospatial Ecology Laboratory and the Marine-life Data and Analysis Team, based on the best available marine mammal data from 1992–201 obtained in a collaboration between Duke University, the Northeast Regional Planning Body, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, and NOAA (Roberts et al., 2016a; Curtice et al., 2018), represent the best available information regarding marine mammal densities in the survey area. More recently, these data have been updated with new modeling results and include density estimates for pinnipeds (Roberts et al., 2016b, 2017, 2018). The density data presented by Roberts et al., (2016b, 2017, 2018, 2020) incorporates aerial and shipboard linetransect survey data from NMFS and other organizations and incorporates data from eight physiographic and 16 dynamic oceanographic and biological covariates, and controls for the influence of sea state, group size, availability bias, and perception bias on the probability of making a sighting. These density models were originally developed for all cetacean taxa in the U.S. Atlantic (Roberts et al., 2016a). In VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 subsequent years, certain models have been updated based on additional data as well as certain methodological improvements. More information is available online at https://seamap.env. duke.edu/models/Duke/EC/. Marine mammal density estimates in the survey area (animals/km2) were obtained using the most recent model results for all taxa (Roberts et al., 2016b, 2017, 2018, 2020). The updated models incorporate additional sighting data, including sightings from NOAA’s Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) surveys. For the exposure analysis, density data from Roberts et al., (2016b, 2017, 2018, 2021) were mapped using a geographic information system (GIS). For each of the survey areas (i.e., Lease Area, ECR North, ECR South), the densities of each species as reported by Roberts et al. (2016b, 2017, 2018, 2021) were averaged by season; thus, a density was calculated for each species for spring, summer, fall and winter. To be conservative, the greatest seasonal density calculated for each species was then carried forward in the exposure analysis. Estimated seasonal densities (animals per km2) of all marine mammal species that may be taken by the proposed survey, for all survey areas are shown in Tables C–1, C–2 and C–3 in Appendix C of Atlantic Shores’ IHA application. The maximum seasonal density values used to estimate take numbers are shown in Table 8 below. Below, we discuss how densities were assumed to apply to specific species for which the Roberts et al. (2016b, 2017, 2018, 2021) models provide results at the genus or guild level. For bottlenose dolphin densities, Roberts et al., (2016b, 2017, 2018) does not differentiate by stock. The Western North Atlantic northern migratory coastal stock is generally expected to occur only in coastal waters from the shoreline to approximately the 20-m (65-ft) isobath (Hayes et al., 2018). As the Lease Area is located within depths exceeding 20-m, where the offshore stock would generally be expected to occur, all calculated bottlenose dolphin exposures within the Lease Area were assigned to the offshore stock. However, both stocks have the potential to occur in the ECR North and ECR South survey areas. To account for the potential for mixed stocks within ECR North and PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 South, the survey areas ECR North and South were divided approximately along the 20-m depth isobath, which roughly corresponds to the 10-fathom contour on NOAA navigation charts. As approximately 33 percent of ECR North and ECR South are 20-m or less in depth, 33 percent of the estimated take calculation for bottlenose dolphins was applied to the Western North Atlantic northern migratory coastal stock and the remaining 67 percent was applied to the offshore stock. For this proposed project, Atlantic Shores has used the same pilot whale densities that were previously used in the 2020 and subsequent 2021 (Renewal) IHAs. To better estimate the number of pilot whales that could potentially be impacted by the proposed project, although exposure is noted as unlikely to occur in the IHA application, Atlantic Shores adjusted the take estimate by average group size. Because the seasonality, feeding preferences, and habitat use by gray seals often overlaps with that of harbor seals in the survey areas, it was assumed that modeled takes of seals could occur to either of the respective species. Furthermore, as the density models produced by Roberts et al. (2016b, 2017, 2018) do not differentiate between the different pinniped species, the same density estimates were applied to both seal species. Because of this, pinniped density values reported in Atlantic Shores’ IHA application are described as ‘‘seals’’ and not species-specific. Since Atlantic Shores’ 2020 and 2021 (Renewal) IHAs for HRG surveys were completed, the North Atlantic right whale density data has been updated for this proposed project. This is due to the inclusion of three new datasets: 2011– 2015 Northeast Large Pelagic Survey Cooperative, 2017–2018 Marine Mammal Surveys of the Wind Energy Areas conducted by the New England Aquarium, and 2017–2018 New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program surveys conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental conservation (NYSDEC). This new density data shows distribution changes that are likely influenced by oceanographic and prey covariates in the whale density model (Roberts et al., 2021). E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 4215 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices TABLE 8—MAXIMUM SEASONAL MARINE MAMMAL DENSITIES (NUMBER OF ANIMALS PER 100 km2) IN THE SURVEY AREAS (APPENDIX C OF ATLANTIC SHORES’ IHA APPLICATION) Maximum seasonal densities Species groups Species Lease area ECR north ECR south Cetaceans ........... North Atlantic right whale ........................................................................... Humpback whale ........................................................................................ Fin whale .................................................................................................... Sei whale .................................................................................................... Minke whale ............................................................................................... Sperm whale .............................................................................................. Long-finned pilot whale .............................................................................. Bottlenose dolphin (Western North Atlantic coastal migratory) ................. Bottlenose dolphin (Western North Atlantic offshore) ............................... Common dolphin ........................................................................................ Atlantic white-sided dolphin ....................................................................... Atlantic spotted dolphin .............................................................................. Risso’s dolphin ........................................................................................... Harbor porpoise ......................................................................................... 0.499 0.076 0.100 0.004 0.055 0.013 0.036 ........................ 21.752 3.120 0.487 0.076 0.010 2.904 0.182 0.082 0.080 0.004 0.017 0.005 0.012 21.675 21.675 1.644 0.213 0.059 0.001 7.357 0.179 0.103 0.057 0.002 0.019 0.003 0.009 58.524 58.524 1.114 0.152 0.021 0.002 2.209 Pinnipeds ............ Gray seal .................................................................................................... Harbor seal ................................................................................................. 4.918 4.918 9.737 9.737 6.539 6.539 Note—Many of the densities provided in this table have been previously used and applied during the 2020 IHA to Atlantic Shores and its subsequent Renewal and remain applicable. Take Calculation and Estimation Here we describe how the information provided above is brought together to produce a quantitative take estimate. In order to estimate the number of marine mammals predicted to be exposed to sound levels that would result in harassment, radial distances to predicted isopleths corresponding to Level B harassment thresholds are calculated, as described above. The maximum distance (i.e., 141-m distance associated with the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240) to the Level B harassment criterion and the estimated distance traveled per day by a given survey vessel (i.e., 55-km (34.2-mi)) are then used to calculate the daily ensonified area, or zone of influence (ZOI) around the survey vessel. Atlantic Shores estimates that proposed surveys will achieve a maximum daily track line distance of 55 km per day (24-hour period) during proposed HRG surveys. This distance accounts for the vessel traveling at approximately 3.5 knots and accounts for non-active survey periods. Based on the maximum estimated distance to the Level B harassment threshold of 141-m (Table 7) and the maximum estimated daily track line distance of 55 km across all survey sites, an area of 15.57 km2 would be ensonified to the Level B harassment threshold per day across all survey sites during Atlantic Shores’ proposed surveys (Table 9) based on the following formula: Mobile Source ZOI = (Distance/day × 2r) + pr 2 Where: Distance/day = the maximum distance a survey vessel could travel in a 24-hour period; and r = the maximum radial distance from a given sound source to the NOAA Level A or Level B harassment thresholds. TABLE 9—MAXIMUM HRG SURVEY AREA DISTANCES FOR ATLANTIC SHORES’ PROPOSED PROJECT Number of active survey days Survey area lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Lease Area ........................................................................... ECR North ............................................................................ ECR South ........................................................................... As described above, this is a conservative estimate as it assumes the HRG source that results in the greatest isopleth distance to the Level B harassment threshold would be operated at all times during the entire survey, which may not ultimately occur. The number of marine mammals expected to be incidentally taken per day is then calculated by estimating the number of each species predicted to VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 Survey distances per day in km (mi) 120 180 60 55 (34.2) occur within the daily ensonified area (animals/km2), incorporating the maximum seasonal estimated marine mammal densities as described above. Estimated numbers of each species taken per day across all survey sites are then multiplied by the total number of survey days (i.e., 360). The product is then rounded, to generate an estimate of the total number of instances of harassment expected for each species PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Maximum radial distance (r) in m (ft) 141 (463) Calculated ZOI per day (km2) 15.57 Total annual ensonified area (km2) 1,868.4 2,802.6 934.2 over the duration of the survey. A summary of this method is illustrated in the following formula with the resulting proposed take of marine mammals is shown below in Table 10: Estimated Take = D × ZOI × # of days Where: D = average species density (per km2); and ZOI = maximum daily ensonified area to relevant thresholds. E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 4216 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices TABLE 10—NUMBERS OF POTENTIAL INCIDENTAL TAKE OF MARINE MAMMALS PROPOSED FOR AUTHORIZATION AND PROPOSED TAKES AS A PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION Total Calculated takes by Level B harassment e Species North Atlantic right whale ................................................................................ Humpback whale ............................................................................................. Fin whale ......................................................................................................... Sei whale ......................................................................................................... Minke whale ..................................................................................................... Sperm whale .................................................................................................... Long-finned pilot whale .................................................................................... Bottlenose dolphin (W.N. Atlantic Coastal Migratory) ..................................... Bottlenose dolphin (W.N. Atlantic Offshore) .................................................... Common dolphin (short-beaked) ..................................................................... Atlantic white-sided dolphin ............................................................................. Atlantic spotted dolphin ................................................................................... Risso’s dolphin ................................................................................................. Harbor porpoise ............................................................................................... Harbor seal ...................................................................................................... Gray seal ......................................................................................................... Takes proposed for Level B harassment to be authorized f 17 4 5 2 2 1 20 385 1,175 406 17 50 30 282 426 426 17 c8 5 2 2 1 20 385 1,175 b 560 17 d 100 30 282 426 426 Proposed takes (Level B Harassment) to be authorized f Proposed takes (Level B Harassment) as a percentage of population/ stock a f 17 8 5 2 2 1 20 385 1,175 560 17 100 30 282 426 426 4.62 0.57 0.07 0.03 0.01 0.03 0.05 5.80 1.87 0.32 0.02 0.25 0.08 0.30 0.56 1.56 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 a Calculated percentages of population/stock were based on the population estimates (Nest) found in the NMFS’s draft 2021 U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal Stock Assessment on NMFS’s website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessment-reports). b Based on information obtained from the monitoring report provided to NMFS after the completion of the 2020 project, as well as information provided by Atlantic Shores (P. Phifer, personal communication, October 29, 2021), NMFS has proposed to increase the number of authorized takes (by Level B harassment only) for common dolphins. c Based on recent data from King et al. (2021) where humpback whales were the most commonly sighted species in the New York Bight, NMFS has proposed to increase the take of humpback whales by assuming that Atlantic Shores’ four modeled exposures would be of groups rather than individuals, and therefore multiplied by an average group size of two to yield eight. d Based on information obtained from the monitoring report provided to NMFS after the completion of the 2020 project, as well as information provided by Atlantic Shores (P. Phifer, personal communication, October 29, 2021), NMFS has proposed to increase the number of authorized takes (by Level B harassment only) for Atlantic spotted dolphins. e These values were proposed by Atlantic Shores. f These values were proposed by NMFS. The take numbers shown in Table 10 represent those originally calculated and requested by Atlantic Shores with minor modifications by NMFS for humpback whales, common dolphins, and Atlantic spotted dolphins, which are discussed below. As noted within Atlantic Shores’ IHA application and discussed within the Renewal IHA application (see Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, 2021), there was an adjustment made for Risso’s dolphins, common dolphins, and longfinned pilot whales based on typical pod and group sizes, which yielded the values described above in Table 10. NMFS agrees with these approaches, as described in the IHA applications, with exception for three cetacean species described below. Estimated takes of common dolphins were increased from the density-based estimate based on information provided by Atlantic Shores (P. Phifer, personal communication, October 29, 2021) and sightings described in the 2020 monitoring report. Based on these previous observations, exposures of common dolphins above the 160-dB VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 harassment threshold were estimated at 1.55 per day. Assuming that this same exposure rate continues for the presently planned activity yields the estimate provided in Table 10. Based on recent information from King et al. (2021) that demonstrated that the humpback whale is commonly sighted along the New York Bight area, NMFS determined that the humpback whale take request may be too low given the occurrence of animals near the survey area. Because of this, NMFS proposes to double the requested take to account for underestimates to the actual occurrence of this species within the density data. Previously, 100 takes of Atlantic spotted dolphins, by Level B harassment, were authorized to Atlantic Shores during their 2020 IHA. Based on a lack of sightings in the 2020 field season per the submitted monitoring report, Atlantic Shores had requested and been authorized half of these takes (50 Level B harassment) during their 2021 field season for their Renewal IHA. However, based on information provided by Atlantic Shores (P. Phifer, PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 personal communication, October 29, 2021) as the monitoring report for the 2021 field season is not yet available, NMFS has proposed to increase the take previously requested by Atlantic Shores from 50 to 100 to account for the numerous sightings of Atlantic spotted dolphins that had already occurred early into Atlantic Shores’ 2021 field season (17 takes out of 50 authorized for the Renewal IHA). As described above, Roberts et al. (2018) produced density models for all seals and did not differentiate by seal species. The take calculation methodology as described above resulted in an estimate of 852 total seal takes for both species. Based on this estimate, Atlantic Shores has requested 852 takes total for pinnipeds (426 each species), based on the use of the same density for both species as they are known to overlap in habitat use, foraging, and spatial scale. Furthermore, as the density estimates were not split by species in Roberts et al. (2016b, 2017, 2018) this approach assumes that the likelihood of either species occurring during the survey is equal. We think E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 4217 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices this is a reasonable approach and therefore propose to authorize the requested amount of take, as shown in Table 10. Worth noting is the proposed authorized take of North Atlantic right whales, which stems from an increase in the density of North Atlantic right whales at the survey site. Atlantic Shores used information from Roberts et al., (2020) that demonstrated that the density of North Atlantic right whales has increased by approximately 40 percent in some portions of the survey area compared to the 2020 IHA (see Table 11), which justifies the total proposed take number presented above in Table 10. While past monitoring reports (see the 2020 report on NMFS’ website) have reported no observations of North Atlantic right whales during the 2020 surveys, NMFS agrees with the approach taken by Atlantic Shores as using the best available science to be conservative and proposes to authorize 17 takes by Level B harassment only of North Atlantic right whales during the proposed project. TABLE 11—CHANGES IN NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALE DENSITIES IN THE PROJECT SITE FROM THE 2020 IHA TO THIS PROPOSED 2022 IHA PER DATA FROM ROBERTS ET AL., (2020) Winter 2020 IHA Lease Area ....................... Northern ECR .................. Southern ECR .................. 2022 IHA 0.087 0.068 0.073 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 In order to issue an IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to the activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on the species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of the species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (latter not applicable for this action). NMFS regulations require applicants for incidental take authorizations to include information about the availability and feasibility (economic and technological) of equipment, methods, and manner of conducting the activity or other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact upon the affected species or stocks and their habitat (50 CFR 216.104(a)(11)). In evaluating how mitigation may or may not be appropriate to ensure the least practicable adverse impact on species or stocks and their habitat, as well as subsistence uses where applicable, we carefully consider two primary factors: (1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measure(s) is expected to reduce impacts to marine mammals, marine mammal species or stocks, and their habitat. This considers the nature of the potential adverse impact being mitigated (likelihood, scope, range). It further considers the likelihood that the measure will be effective if implemented (probability of accomplishing the mitigating result if implemented as planned), the likelihood of effective implementation 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 2020 IHA 0.499 0.182 0.179 Proposed Mitigation VerDate Sep<11>2014 Spring 0.060 0.056 0.055 Summer 2022 IHA 2020 IHA 0.426 0.149 0.097 Proposed Mitigation Measures NMFS proposes the following proposed mitigation measures be implemented during Atlantic Shores’ proposed marine site characterization surveys, in compliance with the proposed IHA and with the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Office (GARFO) programmatic consultation (specifically Project Design Criteria (PDC) 4, 5, and 7) regarding geophysical surveys along the U.S. Atlantic coast in the three Atlantic Renewable Energy Regions (NOAA GARFO, 2021; https://www.fisheries. noaa.gov/new-england-mid-atlantic/ consultations/section-7-take-reportingprogrammatics-greateratlantic#offshore-wind-site-assessmentand-site-characterization-activitiesprogrammatic-consultation). Marine Mammal Exclusion Zones and Level B Harassment Zones Marine mammal Exclusion Zones would be established around the HRG survey equipment and monitored by protected species observers (PSOs). These PSOs will be NMFS-approved visual PSOs. Based upon the acoustic source in use (impulsive: Sparkers; nonimpulsive: Non-parametric sub-bottom profilers), a minimum of one PSO must be on duty, per source vessel, during PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 2022 IHA 0.008 0.008 0.007 (probability implemented as planned), and; (2) The practicability of the measures for applicant implementation, which may consider such things as cost, impact on operations, and, in the case of a military readiness activity, personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the effectiveness of the military readiness activity. Fall 0.002 0.001 0.000 2020 IHA 0.006 0.006 0.006 2022 IHA 0.009 0.011 0.005 daylight hours and two PSOs must be on duty, per source vessel, during nighttime hours. These PSO will monitor Exclusion Zones based upon the radial distance from the acoustic source rather than being based around the vessel itself. The Exclusion Zone distances are as follows: • A 500-m Exclusion Zone for North Atlantic right whales during use of specified acoustic sources (impulsive: Sparkers; non-impulsive: Nonparametric sub-bottom profilers). • A 100-m Exclusion Zone for all other marine mammals (excluding NARWs) during use of specified acoustic sources (except as specified below). All visual monitoring must begin no less than 30 minutes prior to the initiation of the specified acoustic source and must continue until 30 minutes after use of specified acoustic sources ceases. If a marine mammal were detected approaching or entering the Exclusion Zones during the HRG survey, the vessel operator would adhere to the shutdown procedures described below to minimize noise impacts on the animals. These stated requirements will be included in the site-specific training to be provided to the survey team. Ramp-Up of Survey Equipment and PreClearance of the Exclusion Zones When technically feasible, a ramp-up procedure would be used for HRG survey equipment capable of adjusting energy levels at the start or restart of survey activities. A ramp-up would begin with the powering up of the smallest acoustic HRG equipment at its lowest practical power output appropriate for the survey. The ramp-up procedure would be used in order to provide additional protection to marine E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 4218 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices mammals near the survey area by allowing them to vacate the area prior to the commencement of survey equipment operation at full power. When technically feasible, the power would then be gradually turned up and other acoustic sources would be added. All ramp-ups shall be scheduled so as to minimize the time spent with the source being activated. Ramp-up activities will be delayed if a marine mammal(s) enters its respective Exclusion Zone. Ramp-up will continue if the animal has been observed exiting its respective Exclusion Zone or until an additional time period has elapsed with no further sighting (i.e., 15 minutes for small odontocetes and seals and 30 minutes for all other species). Atlantic Shores would implement a 30 minute pre-clearance period of the Exclusion Zones prior to the initiation of ramp-up of HRG equipment. The operator must notify a designated PSO of the planned start of ramp-up where the notification time should not be less than 60 minutes prior to the planned ramp-up. This would allow the PSOs to monitor the Exclusion Zones for 30 minutes prior to the initiation of rampup. Prior to ramp-up beginning, Atlantic Shores must receive confirmation from the PSO that the Exclusion Zone is clear prior to proceeding. During this 30 minute pre-start clearance period, the entire applicable Exclusion Zones must be visible. The exception to this would be in situations where ramp-up may occur during periods of poor visibility (inclusive of nighttime) as long as appropriate visual monitoring has occurred with no detections of marine mammals in 30 minutes prior to the beginning of ramp-up. Acoustic source activation may only occur at night where operational planning cannot reasonably avoid such circumstances. During this period, the Exclusion Zone will be monitored by the PSOs, using the appropriate visual technology. Ramp-up may not be initiated if any marine mammal(s) is within its respective Exclusion Zone. If a marine mammal is observed within an Exclusion Zone during the pre-clearance period, ramp-up may not begin until the animal(s) has been observed exiting its respective Exclusion Zone or until an additional time period has elapsed with no further sighting (i.e., 15 minutes for small odontocetes and pinnipeds and 30 minutes for all other species). If a marine mammal enters the Exclusion Zone during ramp-up, ramp-up activities must cease and the source must be shut down. Any PSO on duty has the authority to delay the start of survey operations if a marine mammal VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 is detected within the applicable prestart clearance zones. The pre-clearance zones would be: • 500-m for all ESA-listed species (North Atlantic right, sei, fin, sperm whales); and • 100-m for all other marine mammals. If any marine mammal species that are listed under the ESA are observed within the clearance zones, the 30 minute clock must be paused. If the PSO confirms the animal has exited the zone and headed away from the survey vessel, the 30 minute clock that was paused may resume. The pre-clearance clock will reset to 30 minutes if the animal dives or visual contact is otherwise lost. If the acoustic source is shut down for brief periods (i.e., less than 30 minutes) for reasons other than implementation of prescribed mitigation (e.g., mechanical difficulty), it may be activated again without ramp-up if PSOs have maintained constant visual observation and no detections of marine mammals have occurred within the applicable Exclusion Zone. For any longer shutdown, pre-start clearance observation and ramp-up are required. Activation of survey equipment through ramp-up procedures may not occur when visual detection of marine mammals within the pre-clearance zone is not expected to be effective (e.g., during inclement conditions such as heavy rain or fog). The acoustic source(s) must be deactivated when not acquiring data or preparing to acquire data, except as necessary for testing. Unnecessary use of the acoustic source shall be avoided. Shutdown Procedures An immediate shutdown of the impulsive HRG survey equipment (Table 7) would be required if a marine mammal is sighted entering or within its respective Exclusion Zone(s). Any PSO on duty has the authority to call for a shutdown of the acoustic source if a marine mammal is detected within the applicable Exclusion Zones. Any disagreement between the PSO and vessel operator should be discussed only after shutdown has occurred. The vessel operator would establish and maintain clear lines of communication directly between PSOs on duty and crew controlling the HRG source(s) to ensure that shutdown commands are conveyed swiftly while allowing PSOs to maintain watch. The shutdown requirement is waived for small delphinids (belonging to the genera of the Family Delpinidae: Delphinus, Lagenorhynchus, Stenella, or Tursiops) and pinnipeds if they are PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 visually detected within the applicable Exclusion Zones. If a species for which authorization has not been granted, or, a species for which authorization has been granted but the authorized number of takes have been met, approaches or is observed within the applicable Level B harassment zone, shutdown would occur. In the event of uncertainty regarding the identification of a marine mammal species (i.e., such as whether the observed marine mammal belongs to Delphinus, Lagenorhynchus, Stenella, or Tursiops for which shutdown is waived, PSOs must use their best professional judgement in making the decision to call for a shutdown. Specifically, if a delphinid from the specified genera or a pinniped is visually detected approaching the vessel (i.e., to bow ride) or towed equipment, shutdown is not required. Upon implementation of a shutdown, the source may be reactivated after the marine mammal has been observed exiting the applicable Exclusion Zone or following a clearance period of 15 minutes for harbor porpoises and 30 minutes for all other species where there are no further detections of the marine mammal. Shutdown, pre-start clearance, and ramp-up procedures are not required during HRG survey operations using only non-impulsive sources (e.g., parametric sub-bottom profilers) other than non-parametric sub-bottom profilers (e.g., CHIRPs). Pre-clearance and ramp-up, but not shutdown, are required when using non-impulsive, non-parametric sub-bottom profilers. Seasonal Operating Requirements As described above, the section of the proposed survey area partially overlaps with a portion of a North Atlantic right whale SMA off the port of New York/ New Jersey. This SMA is active from November 1 through April 30 of each year. All survey vessels, regardless of length, would be required to adhere to vessel speed restrictions (<10 knots) when operating within the SMA during times when the SMA is active. In addition, between watch shifts, members of the monitoring team would consult NMFS’ North Atlantic right whale reporting systems for the presence of North Atlantic right whales throughout survey operations. Members of the monitoring team would also monitor the NMFS North Atlantic right whale reporting systems for the establishment of Dynamic Management Areas (DMA). NMFS may also establish voluntary right whale Slow Zones any time a right whale (or whales) is acoustically detected. Atlantic Shores should be aware of this possibility and E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 4219 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices remain attentive in the event a Slow Zone is established nearby or overlapping the survey area (Table 12). TABLE 12—NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALE DYNAMIC MANAGEMENT AREA (DMA) AND SEASONAL MANAGEMENT AREA (SMA) RESTRICTIONS WITHIN THE SURVEY AREAS Survey area Lease Area ...................... Species DMA restrictions North Atlantic right (Eubalaena glacialis). whale I Slow zones If established by NMFS, all of Atlantic Shores’ vessels will abide by the described restrictions ECR North ....................... SMA restrictions N/A. November 1 through July 31 (Raritan Bay). N/A. ECR South ....................... More information on Ship Strike Reduction for the North Atlantic right whale can be found at NMFS’ website: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/endangeredspecies-conservation/reducing-vessel-strikes-north-atlantic-right-whales. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 There are no known marine mammal rookeries or mating or calving grounds in the survey area that would otherwise potentially warrant increased mitigation measures for marine mammals or their habitat (or both). The proposed survey would occur in an area that has been identified as a biologically important area for migration for North Atlantic right whales. However, given the small spatial extent of the survey area relative to the substantially larger spatial extent of the right whale migratory area and the relatively low amount of noise generated by the survey, the survey is not expected to appreciably reduce the quality of migratory habitat nor to negatively impact the migration of North Atlantic right whales, thus mitigation to address the proposed survey’s occurrence in North Atlantic right whale migratory habitat is not warranted. Vessel Strike Avoidance Vessel operators must comply with the below measures except under extraordinary circumstances when the safety of the vessel or crew is in doubt or the safety of life at sea is in question. These requirements do not apply in any case where compliance would create an imminent and serious threat to a person or vessel or to the extent that a vessel is restricted in its ability to maneuver and, because of the restriction, cannot comply. Survey vessel crewmembers responsible for navigation duties will receive site-specific training on marine mammals sighting/reporting and vessel strike avoidance measures. Vessel strike avoidance measures would include the following, except under circumstances when complying with these requirements would put the safety of the vessel or crew at risk: • Atlantic Shores will ensure that vessel operators and crew maintain a vigilant watch for cetaceans and pinnipeds and slow down, stop their vessels, or alter course, as appropriate and regardless of vessel size, to avoid striking any marine mammal. A single VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:59 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 marine mammal at the surface may indicate the presence of additional submerged animals in the vicinity of the vessel; therefore, precautionary measures should always be exercised. A visual observer aboard the vessel must monitor a vessel strike avoidance zone around the vessel (species-specific distances detailed below). Visual observers monitoring the vessel strike avoidance zone may be third-party observers (i.e., PSOs) or crew members, but crew members responsible for these duties must be provided sufficient training to (1) distinguish marine mammal from other phenomena, and (2) broadly to identify a marine mammal as a right whale, other whale (defined in this context as sperm whales or baleen whales other than right whales), or other marine mammals. All vessels, regardless of size, must observe a 10-knot speed restriction in specific areas designated by NMFS for the protection of North Atlantic right whales from vessel strikes, including seasonal management areas (SMAs) and dynamic management areas (DMAs) when in effect. See www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ endangered-species-conservation/ reducing-ship-strikes-north-atlanticright-whales for specific detail regarding these areas. • All vessels must reduce their speed to 10-knots or less when mother/calf pairs, pods, or large assemblages of cetaceans are observed near a vessel; • All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 500-m (1,640-ft) from right whales and other ESA-listed species. If an ESA-listed species is sighted within the relevant separation distance, the vessel must steer a course away at 10-knots or less until the 500-m separation distance has been established. If a whale is observed but cannot be confirmed as a species that is not ESA-listed, the vessel operator must assume that it is an ESAlisted species and take appropriate action. • All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 100-m PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 (328-ft) from non-ESA-listed baleen whales. • All vessels must, to the maximum extent practicable, attempt to maintain a minimum separation distance of 50-m (164-ft) from all other marine mammals, with an understanding that, at times, this may not be possible (e.g., for animals that approach the vessel, bowriding species). • When marine mammal are sighted while a vessel is underway, the vessel shall take action as necessary to avoid violating the relevant separation distance (e.g., attempt to remain parallel to the animal’s course, avoid excessive speed or abrupt changes in direction until the animal has left the area, reduce speed and shift the engine to neutral). This does not apply to any vessel towing gear or any vessel that is navigationally constrained. Members of the monitoring team will consult NMFS North Atlantic right whale reporting system and Whale Alert, daily and as able, for the presence of North Atlantic right whales throughout survey operations, and for the establishment of a DMA. If NMFS should establish a DMA in the survey area during the survey, the vessels will abide by speed restrictions in the DMA. Training All PSOs must have completed a PSO training program and received NMFS approval to act as a PSO for geophysical surveys. Documentation of NMFS approval and most recent training certificates of individual PSOs’ successful completion of a commercial PSO training course must be provided upon request. Further information can be found at www.fisheries.noaa.gov/ national/endangered-speciesconservation/protected-speciesobservers. In the event where third-party PSOs are not required, crew members serving as lookouts must receive training on protected species identification, vessel strike minimization procedures, how and when to communicate with the vessel captain, and reporting requirements. E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 4220 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices Atlantic Shores shall instruct relevant vessel personnel with regard to the authority of the marine mammal monitoring team, and shall ensure that relevant vessel personnel and the marine mammal monitoring team participate in a joint onboard briefing (hereafter PSO briefing), led by the vessel operator and lead PSO, prior to beginning survey activities to ensure that responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocols, safety and operational procedures, and IHA requirements are clearly understood. This PSO briefing must be repeated when relevant new personnel (e.g., PSOs, acoustic source operator) join the survey operations before their responsibilities and work commences. Project-specific training will be conducted for all vessel crew prior to the start of a survey and during any changes in crew such that all survey personnel are fully aware and understand the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements. All vessel crew members must be briefed in the identification of protected species that may occur in the survey area and in regulations and best practices for avoiding vessel collisions. Reference materials must be available aboard all project vessels for identification of listed species. The expectation and process for reporting of protected species sighted during surveys must be clearly communicated and posted in highly visible locations aboard all project vessels, so that there is an expectation for reporting to the designated vessel contact (such as the lookout or the vessel captain), as well as a communication channel and process for crew members to do so. Prior to implementation with vessel crews, the training program will be provided to NMFS for review and approval. Confirmation of the training and understanding of the requirements will be documented on a training course log sheet. Signing the log sheet will certify that the crew member understands and will comply with the necessary requirements throughout the survey activities. Based on our evaluation of Atlantic Shores’ proposed measures, as well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means effecting the least practicable impact on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 Proposed Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an IHA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking. The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for authorizations must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area. Effective reporting is critical to both compliance as well as ensuring that the most value is obtained from the required monitoring. Monitoring and reporting requirements prescribed by NMFS should contribute to improved understanding of one or more of the following: • Occurrence of marine mammal species or stocks in the area in which take is anticipated (e.g., presence, abundance, distribution, density). • Nature, scope, or context of likely marine mammal exposure to potential stressors/impacts (individual or cumulative, acute or chronic), through better understanding of: (1) Action or environment (e.g., source characterization, propagation, ambient noise); (2) affected species (e.g., life history, dive patterns); (3) co-occurrence of marine mammal species with the action; or (4) biological or behavioral context of exposure (e.g., age, calving or feeding areas). • Individual marine mammal responses (behavioral or physiological) to acoustic stressors (acute, chronic, or cumulative), other stressors, or cumulative impacts from multiple stressors. • How anticipated responses to stressors impact either: (1) Long-term fitness and survival of individual marine mammals; or (2) populations, species, or stocks. • Effects on marine mammal habitat (e.g., marine mammal prey species, acoustic habitat, or other important physical components of marine mammal habitat). • Mitigation and monitoring effectiveness. Proposed Monitoring Measures Atlantic Shores must use independent, dedicated, trained PSOs, meaning that the PSOs must be employed by a third-party observer provider, must have no tasks other than to conduct observational effort, collect PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 data, and communicate with and instruct relevant vessel crew with regard to the presence of marine mammal and mitigation requirements (including brief alerts regarding maritime hazards), and must have successfully completed an approved PSO training course for geophysical surveys. Visual monitoring must be performed by qualified, NMFSapproved PSOs. PSO resumes must be provided to NMFS for review and approval prior to the start of survey activities. PSO names must be provided to NMFS by the operator for review and confirmation of their approval for specific roles prior to commencement of the survey. For prospective PSOs not previously approved, or for PSOs whose approval is not current, NMFS must review and approve PSO qualifications. Resumes should include information related to relevant education, experience, and training, including dates, duration, location, and description of prior PSO experience. Resumes must be accompanied by relevant documentation of successful completion of necessary training. NMFS may approve PSOs as conditional or unconditional. A conditionally-approved PSO may be one who is trained but has not yet attained the requisite experience. An unconditionally-approved PSO is one who has attained the necessary experience. For unconditional approval, the PSO must have a minimum of 90 days at sea performing the role during a geophysical survey, with the conclusion of the most recent relevant experience not more than 18 months previous. At least one of the visual PSOs aboard the vessel must be unconditionallyapproved. One unconditionallyapproved visual PSO shall be designated as the lead for the entire PSO team. This lead should typically be the PSO with the most experience, would coordinate duty schedules and roles for the PSO team, and serve as primary point of contact for the vessel operator. To the maximum extent practicable, the duty schedule shall be planned such that unconditionally-approved PSOs are on duty with conditionally-approved PSOs. PSOs must have successfully attained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a major in one of the natural sciences, a minimum of 30 semester hours or equivalent in the biological sciences, and at least one undergraduate course in math or statistics. The educational requirements may be waived if the PSO has acquired the relevant skills through alternate experience. Requests for such a waiver E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices shall be submitted to NMFS and must include written justification. Alternate experience that may be considered includes, but is not limited to (1) secondary education and/or experience comparable to PSO duties; (2) previous work experience conducting academic, commercial, or government-sponsored marine mammal surveys; and (3) previous work experience as a PSO (PSO must be in good standing and demonstrate good performance of PSO duties). PSOs must successfully complete relevant training, including completion of all required coursework and passing (80 percent or greater) a written and/or oral examination developed for the training program. PSOs must coordinate to ensure 360° visual coverage around the vessel from the most appropriate observation posts and shall conduct visual observations using binoculars or night-vision equipment and the naked eye while free from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, and diligent manner. PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of four consecutive hours followed by a break of at least two hours between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours of observation per 24-hour period. Any observations of marine mammal by crew members aboard any vessel associated with the survey shall be relayed to the PSO team. Atlantic Shores must work with the selected third-party PSO provider to ensure PSOs have all equipment (including backup equipment) needed to adequately perform necessary tasks, including accurate determination of distance and bearing to observed marine mammals, and to ensure that PSOs are capable of calibrating equipment as necessary for accurate distance estimates and species identification. Such equipment, at a minimum, shall include: • At least one thermal (infrared) imagine device suited for the marine environment; • Reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 × 50) of appropriate quality (at least one per PSO, plus backups); • Global Positioning Units (GPS) (at least one plus backups); • Digital cameras with a telephoto lens that is at least 300-mm or equivalent on a full-frame single lens reflex (SLR) (at least one plus backups). The camera or lens should also have an image stabilization system; • Equipment necessary for accurate measurement of distances to marine mammal; • Compasses (at least one plus backups); VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 • Means of communication among vessel crew and PSOs; and • Any other tools deemed necessary to adequately and effectively perform PSO tasks. The equipment specified above may be provided by an individual PSO, the third-part PSO provider, or the operator, but Atlantic Shores is responsible for ensuring PSOs have the proper equipment required to perform the duties specified in the IHA. During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state 3 or less), PSOs shall conduct observations when the specified acoustic sources are not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and without use of the specified acoustic sources and between acquisition periods, to the maximum extent practicable. The PSOs will be responsible for monitoring the waters surrounding each survey vessel to the farthest extent permitted by sighting conditions, including Exclusion Zones, during all HRG survey operations. PSOs will visually monitor and identify marine mammals, including those approaching or entering the established Exclusion Zones during survey activities. It will be the responsibility of the PSO(s) on duty to communicate the presence of marine mammals as well as to communicate the action(s) that are necessary to ensure mitigation and monitoring requirements are implemented as appropriate. Atlantic Shores plans to utilize six PSOs across each vessel to account for shift changes, with a total of 18 during this project (six PSOs per vessel x three vessels). At a minimum, during all HRG survey operations (e.g., any day on which use of an HRG source is planned to occur), one PSO must be on duty during daylight operations on each survey vessel, conducting visual observations at all times on all active survey vessels during daylight hours (i.e., from 30 minutes prior to sunrise through 30 minutes following sunset) and two PSOs will be on watch during nighttime operations. The PSO(s) would ensure 360° visual coverage around the vessel from the most appropriate observation posts and would conduct visual observations using binoculars and/or night vision goggles and the naked eye while free from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, and diligent manner. PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of four consecutive hours followed by a break of at least two hours between watches and may conduct a maximum of 12 hours of observation per 24-hr period. In cases where multiple vessels are surveying concurrently, any observations of marine mammals would be PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 4221 communicated to PSOs on all nearby survey vessels. PSOs must be equipped with binoculars and have the ability to estimate distance and bearing to detect marine mammals, particularly in proximity to Exclusion Zones. Reticulated binoculars must also be available to PSOs for use as appropriate based on conditions and visibility to support the sighting and monitoring of marine mammals. During nighttime operations, night-vision goggles with thermal clip-ons and infrared technology would be used. Position data would be recorded using hand-held or vessel GPS units for each sighting. During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state (BSS) 3 or less), to the maximum extent practicable, PSOs would also conduct observations when the acoustic source is not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and without use of the active acoustic sources. Any observations of marine mammals by crew members aboard any vessel associated with the survey would be relayed to the PSO team. Data on all PSO observations would be recorded based on standard PSO collection requirements (see Proposed Reporting Measures). This would include dates, times, and locations of survey operations; dates and times of observations, location and weather; details of marine mammal sightings (e.g., species, numbers, behavior); and details of any observed marine mammal behavior that occurs (e.g., noted behavioral disturbances). Proposed Reporting Measures Atlantic Shores shall submit a draft comprehensive report on all activities and monitoring results within 90 days of the completion of the survey or expiration of the IHA, whichever comes sooner. The report must describe all activities conducted and sightings of marine mammals, must provide full documentation of methods, results, and interpretation pertaining to all monitoring, and must summarize the dates and locations of survey operations and all marine mammals sightings (dates, times, locations, activities, associated survey activities). The draft report shall also include geo-referenced, time-stamped vessel tracklines for all time periods during which acoustic sources were operating. Tracklines should include points recording any change in acoustic source status (e.g., when the sources began operating, when they were turned off, or when they changed operational status such as from full array to single gun or vice versa). GIS files shall be provided in ESRI E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 4222 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices shapefile format and include the UTC date and time, latitude in decimal degrees, and longitude in decimal degrees. All coordinates shall be referenced to the WGS84 geographic coordinate system. In addition to the report, all raw observational data shall be made available. The report must summarize the information submitted in interim monthly reports (if required) as well as additional data collected. A final report must be submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report. All draft and final marine mammal and acoustic monitoring reports must be submitted to PR.ITP.MonitoringReports@noaa.gov and ITP.Potlock@noaa.gov. PSOs must use standardized electronic data forms to record data. PSOs shall record detailed information about any implementation of mitigation requirements, including the distance of marine mammal to the acoustic source and description of specific actions that ensued, the behavior of the animal(s), any observed changes in behavior before and after implementation of mitigation, and if shutdown was implemented, the length of time before any subsequent ramp-up of the acoustic source. If required mitigation was not implemented, PSOs should record a description of the circumstances. At a minimum, the following information must be recorded: 1. Vessel names (source vessel and other vessels associated with survey), vessel size and type, maximum speed capability of vessel; 2. Dates of departures and returns to port with port name; 3. The lease number; 4. PSO names and affiliations; 5. Date and participants of PSO briefings; 6. Visual monitoring equipment used; 7. PSO location on vessel and height of observation location above water surface; 8. Dates and times (Greenwich Mean Time) of survey on/off effort and times corresponding with PSO on/off effort; 9. Vessel location (decimal degrees) when survey effort begins and ends and vessel location at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts; 10. Vessel location at 30-second intervals if obtainable from data collection software, otherwise at practical regular interval 11. Vessel heading and speed at beginning and end of visual PSO duty shifts and upon any change; 12. Water depth (if obtainable from data collection software); 13. Environmental conditions while on visual survey (at beginning and end of PSO shift and whenever conditions VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 change significantly), including BSS and any other relevant weather conditions including cloud cover, fog, sun glare, and overall visibility to the horizon; 14. Factors that may contribute to impaired observations during each PSO shift change or as needed as environmental conditions change (e.g., vessel traffic, equipment malfunctions); and 15. Survey activity information (and changes thereof), such as acoustic source power output while in operation, number and volume of airguns operating in an array, tow depth of an acoustic source, and any other notes of significance (i.e., pre-start clearance, ramp-up, shutdown, testing, shooting, ramp-up completion, end of operations, streamers, etc.). Upon visual observation of any marine mammal, the following information must be recorded: 1. Watch status (sighting made by PSO on/off effort, opportunistic, crew, alternate vessel/platform); 2. Vessel/survey activity at time of sighting (e.g., deploying, recovering, testing, shooting, data acquisition, other); 3. PSO who sighted the animal; 4. Time of sighting; 5. Initial detection method; 6. Sightings cue; 7. Vessel location at time of sighting (decimal degrees); 8. Direction of vessel’s travel (compass direction); 9. Speed of the vessel(s) from which the observation was made; 10. Identification of the animal (e.g., genus/species, lowest possible taxonomic level or unidentified); also note the composition of the group if there is a mix of species; 11. Species reliability (an indicator of confidence in identification); 12. Estimated distance to the animal and method of estimating distance; 13. Estimated number of animals (high/low/best); 14. Estimated number of animals by cohort (adults, yearlings, juveniles, calves, group composition, etc.); 15. Description (as many distinguishing features as possible of each individual seen, including length, shape, color, pattern, scars, or markings, shape and size of dorsal fin, shape of head, and blow characteristics); 16. Detailed behavior observations (e.g., number of blows/breaths, number of surfaces, breaching, spyhopping, diving, feeding, traveling; as explicit and detailed as possible; note any observed changes in behavior before and after point of closest approach); 17. Mitigation actions; description of any actions implemented in response to PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 the sighting (e.g., delays, shutdowns, ramp-up, speed or course alteration, etc.) and time and location of the action; 18. Equipment operating during sighting; 19. Animal’s closest point of approach and/or closest distance from the center point of the acoustic source; and 20. Description of any actions implemented in response to the sighting (e.g., delays, shutdown, ramp-up) and time and location of the action. If a North Atlantic right whale is observed at any time by PSOs or personnel on any project vessels, during surveys or during vessel transit, Atlantic Shores must report the sighting information to the NMFS North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Advisory System (866–755–6622) within two hours of occurrence, when practicable, or no later than 24 hours after occurrence. North Atlantic right whale sightings in any location may also be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard via channel 16 and through the WhaleAlert app (https:// www.whalealert.org). In the event that Atlantic Shores personnel discover an injured or dead marine mammal, regardless of the cause of injury or death. In the event that personnel involved in the survey activities discover an injured or dead marine mammal, Atlantic Shores must report the incident to NMFS as soon as feasible by phone (866–755–6622) and by email (nmfs.gar.stranding@noaa.gov and PR.ITP.MonitoringReports@ noaa.gov) as soon as feasible. The report must include the following information: 1. Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the first discovery (and updated location information if known and applicable); 2. Species identification (if known) or description of the animal(s) involved; 3. Condition of the animal(s) (including carcass condition if the animal is dead); 4. Observed behaviors of the animal(s), if alive; 5. If available, photographs or video footage of the animal(s); and 6. General circumstances under which the animal was discovered. In the unanticipated event of a ship strike of a marine mammal by any vessel involved in the activities covered by the IHA, Atlantic Shores must report the incident to NMFS by phone (866–755– 6622) and by email (nmfs.gar.stranding@noaa.gov and PR.ITP.MonitoringReports@noaa.gov) as soon as feasible. The report would include the following information: 1. Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; 2. Species identification (if known) or description of the animal(s) involved; E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 3. Vessel’s speed during and leading up to the incident; 4. Vessel’s course/heading and what operations were being conducted (if applicable); 5. Status of all sound sources in use; 6. Description of avoidance measures/ requirements that were in place at the time of the strike and what additional measures were taken, if any, to avoid strike; 7. Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, visibility) immediately preceding the strike; 8. Estimated size and length of animal that was struck; 9. Description of the behavior of the marine mammal immediately preceding and/or following the strike; 10. If available, description of the presence and behavior of any other marine mammals immediately preceding the strike; 11. Estimated fate of the animal (e.g., dead, injured but alive, injured and moving, blood or tissue observed in the water, status unknown, disappeared); and 12. To the extent practicable, photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination NMFS has defined negligible impact 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 (50 CFR 216.103). A negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., populationlevel effects). An estimate of the number of takes alone is not enough information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be ‘‘taken’’ through harassment, NMFS considers other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context of any responses (e.g., critical reproductive time or location, migration), as well as effects on habitat, and the likely effectiveness of the mitigation. We also assess the number, intensity, and context of estimated takes by evaluating this information relative to population status. Consistent with the 1989 preamble for NMFS’s implementing regulations (54 FR 40338; September 29, 1989), the impacts from other past and ongoing anthropogenic activities are incorporated into this analysis via their VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 impacts on the environmental baseline (e.g., as reflected in the regulatory status of the species, population size and growth rate where known, ongoing sources of human-caused mortality, or ambient noise levels). To avoid repetition, our analysis applies to all the species listed in Table 4, given that NMFS expects the anticipated effects of the proposed survey to be similar in nature. Where there are meaningful differences between species or stocks—as is the case of the North Atlantic right whale— they are included as separate subsections below. NMFS does not anticipate that serious injury or mortality would occur as a result from HRG surveys, even in the absence of mitigation, and no serious injury or mortality is proposed to be authorized. As discussed in the Potential Effects section, non-auditory physical effects and vessel strike are not expected to occur. NMFS expects that all potential takes would be in the form of short-term Level B behavioral harassment in the form of temporary avoidance of the area or decreased foraging (if such activity was occurring), reactions that are considered to be of low severity and with no lasting biological consequences (e.g., Southall et al., 2007). Even repeated Level B harassment of some small subset of an overall stock is unlikely to result in any significant realized decrease in viability for the affected individuals, and thus would not result in any adverse impact to the stock as a whole. As described above, Level A harassment is not expected to occur given the nature of the operations, the estimated size of the Level A harassment zones, and the required shutdown zones for certain activities. In addition to being temporary, the maximum expected harassment zone around a survey vessel is 141 m. Although this distance is assumed for all survey activity in estimating take numbers proposed for authorization and evaluated here, in reality, the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 would likely not be used across the entire 24-hour period and across all 360 days. As noted in Table 7, the other acoustic sources Atlantic Shores has included in their application produce Level B harassment zones below 60-m. Therefore, the ensonified area surrounding each vessel is relatively small compared to the overall distribution of the animals in the area and their use of the habitat. Feeding behavior is not likely to be significantly impacted as prey species are mobile and are broadly distributed throughout the survey area; therefore, marine mammals that may be temporarily displaced during survey PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 4223 activities are expected to be able to resume foraging once they have moved away from areas with disturbing levels of underwater noise. Because of the temporary nature of the disturbance and the availability of similar habitat and resources in the surrounding area, the impacts to marine mammals and the food sources that they utilize are not expected to cause significant or longterm consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations. There are no rookeries, mating or calving grounds known to be biologically important to marine mammals within the proposed survey area and there are no feeding areas known to be biologically important to marine mammals within the proposed survey area. There is no designated critical habitat for any ESA-listed marine mammals in the proposed survey area. North Atlantic Right Whales The status of the North Atlantic right whale population is of heightened concern and, therefore, merits additional analysis. As noted previously, elevated North Atlantic right whale mortalities began in June 2017 and there is an active UME. Overall, preliminary findings support human interactions, specifically vessel strikes and entanglements, as the cause of death for the majority of right whales. As noted previously, the proposed survey area overlaps a migratory corridor BIA for North Atlantic right whales. Due to the fact that the proposed survey activities are temporary and the spatial extent of sound produced by the survey would be very small relative to the spatial extent of the available migratory habitat in the BIA, right whale migration is not expected to be impacted by the proposed survey. Given the relatively small size of the ensonified area, it is unlikely that prey availability would be adversely affected by HRG survey operations. Required vessel strike avoidance measures will also decrease risk of ship strike during migration; no ship strike is expected to occur during Atlantic Shores’ proposed activities. The 500-m shutdown zone for right whales is conservative, considering the Level B harassment isopleth for the most impactful acoustic source (i.e., sparker) is estimated to be 141-m, and thereby minimizes the potential for behavioral harassment of this species. As noted previously, Level A harassment is not expected due to the small PTS zones associated with HRG equipment types proposed for use. The proposed authorizations for Level B harassment takes of North Atlantic right E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 4224 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 whale are not expected to exacerbate or compound upon the ongoing UME. The limited North Atlantic right whale Level B harassment takes proposed for authorization are expected to be of a short duration, and given the number of estimated takes, repeated exposures of the same individual are not expected. Further, given the relatively small size of the ensonified area during Atlantic Shores’ proposed activities, it is unlikely that North Atlantic right whale prey availability would be adversely affected. Accordingly, NMFS does not anticipate North Atlantic right whales takes that would result from Atlantic Shores’ proposed activities would impact annual rates of recruitment or survival. Thus, any takes that occur would not result in population level impacts. Other Marine Mammal Species With Active UMEs As noted previously, there are several active UMEs occurring in the vicinity of Atlantic Shores’ proposed survey area. Elevated humpback whale mortalities have occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine through Florida since January 2016. Of the cases examined, approximately half had evidence of human interaction (ship strike or entanglement). The UME does not yet provide cause for concern regarding population-level impacts. Despite the UME, the relevant population of humpback whales (the West Indies breeding population, or DPS) remains stable at approximately 12,000 individuals. Beginning in January 2017, elevated minke whale strandings have occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine through South Carolina, with highest numbers in Massachusetts, Maine, and New York. This event does not provide cause for concern regarding population level impacts, as the likely population abundance is greater than 20,000 whales. Elevated numbers of harbor seal and gray seal mortalities were first observed in July 2018 and have occurred across Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Based on tests conducted so far, the main pathogen found in the seals is phocine distemper virus, although additional testing to identify other factors that may be involved in this UME are underway. The UME does not yet provide cause for concern regarding population-level impacts to any of these stocks. For harbor seals, the population abundance is over 75,000 and annual M/SI (350) is well below PBR (2,006) (Hayes et al., 2020). The population abundance for gray seals in the United States is over VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 27,000, with an estimated abundance, including seals in Canada, of approximately 450,000. In addition, the abundance of gray seals is likely increasing in the U.S. Atlantic as well as in Canada (Hayes et al., 2020). The required mitigation measures are expected to reduce the number and/or severity of proposed takes for all species listed in Table 4, including those with active UMEs, to the level of least practicable adverse impact. In particular, they would provide animals the opportunity to move away from the sound source throughout the survey area before HRG survey equipment reaches full energy, thus preventing them from being exposed to sound levels that have the potential to cause injury (Level A harassment) or more severe Level B harassment. As discussed previously, take by Level A harassment (injury) is considered unlikely, even absent mitigation, based on the characteristics of the signals produced by the acoustic sources planned for use, and is not proposed for authorization. Implementation of required mitigation would further reduce this potential. Therefore, NMFS is not proposing any Level A harassment for authorization. NMFS expects that takes would be in the form of short-term Level B behavioral harassment by way of brief startling reactions and/or temporary vacating of the area, or decreased foraging (if such activity was occurring)—reactions that (at the scale and intensity anticipated here) are considered to be of low severity, with no lasting biological consequences. Since both the sources and marine mammals are mobile, animals would only be exposed briefly to a small ensonified area that might result in take. Additionally, required mitigation measures would further reduce exposure to sound that could result in more severe behavioral harassment. Biologically Important Areas for Other Species As previously discussed, impacts from the proposed project are expected to be localized to the specific area of activity and only during periods of time where Atlantic Shores’ acoustic sources are active. While areas of biological importance to fin whales, humpback whales, and harbor seals can be found off the coast of New Jersey and New York, NMFS does not expect this proposed action to affect these areas. This is due to the combination of the mitigation and monitoring measures being required of Atlantic Shores as well as the location of these biologically important areas. All of these important areas are found outside of the range of PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 this survey area, as is the case with fin whales and humpback whales (BIAs found further north), and, therefore, not expected to be impacted by Atlantic Shores’ proposed survey activities. Three major haul-out sites exist for harbor seals within ECR North along New Jersey, including at Great Bay, Sand Hook, and Barnegat Inlet (CWFNJ, 2015). As hauled out seals would be out of the water, no in-water effects are expected. Preliminary Determinations In summary and as described above, the following factors primarily support our preliminary determination that the impacts resulting from this activity are not expected to adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival: • No mortality or serious injury is anticipated or proposed to be authorized; • No Level A harassment (PTS) is anticipated, even in the absence of mitigation measures, or proposed for authorization; • Foraging success is not likely to be impacted as effects on species that serve as prey species for marine mammals from the survey are expected to be minimal; • The availability of alternate areas of similar habitat value for marine mammals to temporarily vacate the survey area during the planned survey to avoid exposure to sounds from the activity; • Take is anticipated to be by Level B behavioral harassment only consisting of brief startling reactions and/or temporary avoidance of the survey area; • While the survey area is within areas noted as a migratory BIA for North Atlantic right whales, the activities would occur in such a comparatively small area such that any avoidance of the survey area due to activities would not affect migration; and • The proposed mitigation measures, including effective visual monitoring, and shutdowns are expected to minimize potential impacts to marine mammals. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine mammal take from the proposed activity will have a negligible impact on all affected marine mammal species or stocks. E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Notices Small Numbers As noted above, only small numbers of incidental take may be authorized under sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA for specified activities other than military readiness activities. The MMPA does not define small numbers and so, in practice, where estimated numbers are available, NMFS compares the number of individuals taken to the most appropriate estimation of abundance of the relevant species or stock in our determination of whether an authorization is limited to small numbers of marine mammals. When the predicted number of individuals to be taken is less than one third of the species or stock abundance, the take is considered to be of small numbers. Additionally, other qualitative factors may be considered in the analysis, such as the temporal or spatial scale of the activities. NMFS proposes to authorize incidental take (by Level B harassment only) of 15 marine mammal species (with 16 managed stocks). The total amount of takes proposed for authorization relative to the best available population abundance is less than 6 percent for all stocks (Table 9). Therefore, NMFS preliminarily finds that small numbers of marine mammals may be taken relative to the estimated overall population abundances for those stocks. Based on the analysis contained herein of the proposed activity (including the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures) and the anticipated take of marine mammals, NMFS preliminarily finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the population size of the affected species or stocks. Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Determination There are no relevant subsistence uses of the affected marine mammal stocks or species implicated by this action. Therefore, NMFS has determined that the total taking of affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for subsistence purposes. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Endangered Species Act Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA: 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires that each Federal agency insure that any action it authorizes, funds, or carries out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:53 Jan 26, 2022 Jkt 256001 designated critical habitat. To ensure ESA compliance for the issuance of IHAs, NMFS Office of Protected Resources (OPR) consults internally whenever we propose to authorize take for endangered or threatened species. NMFS OPR is proposing to authorize the incidental take of four species of marine mammals which are listed under the ESA, including the North Atlantic right, fin, sei, and sperm whale, and has determined that this activity falls within the scope of activities analyzed in NMFS GARFO’s programmatic consultation regarding geophysical surveys along the U.S. Atlantic coast in the three Atlantic Renewable Energy Regions (completed June 29, 2021; revised September 2021). NMFS GARFO concurred with this determination. Proposed Authorization As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to Atlantic Shores authorizing take, by Level B harassment incidental to conducting marine site characterization surveys off of New Jersey and New York from April 20, 2022 through April 19, 2023, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. A draft of the proposed IHA can be found at https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/incidentaltake-authorizations-other-energyactivities-renewable. Request for Public Comments We request comment on our analyses, the proposed authorization, and any other aspect of this notice of proposed IHA for the proposed site characterization surveys. We also request at this time comment on the potential Renewal of this proposed IHA as described in the paragraph below. Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform decisions on the request for this proposed IHA or a subsequent Renewal IHA. On a case-by-case basis, NMFS may issue a one-time, one-year Renewal IHA following notification to the public providing an additional 15 days for public comments when (1) up to another year of identical or nearly identical, or nearly identical, activities as described in the Description of Proposed Activities section of this notification is planned or (2) the activities as described in the Description of Proposed Activities section of this notification would not be completed by the time the IHA expires and a Renewal would allow for completion of the activities beyond that described in the PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 4225 Dates and Duration section of this notification, provided all of the following conditions are met: • A request for Renewal is received no later than 60 days prior to the needed Renewal IHA effective date (recognizing that the Renewal IHA expiration date cannot extend beyond one year from expiration of the initial IHA); • The request for Renewal must include the following: (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted under the requested Renewal IHA are identical to the activities analyzed under the initial IHA, are a subset of the activities, or include changes so minor (e.g., reduction in pile size) that the changes do not affect the previous analyses, mitigation and monitoring requirements, or take estimates (with the exception of reducing the type or amount of take); and (2) A preliminary monitoring report showing the results of the required monitoring to date and an explanation showing that the monitoring results do not indicate impacts of a scale or nature not previously analyzed or authorized. Upon review of the request for Renewal, the status of the affected species or stocks, and any other pertinent information, NMFS determines that there are no more than minor changes in the activities, the mitigation and monitoring measures will remain the same and appropriate, and the findings in the initial IHA remain valid. Dated: January 21, 2022. Kimberly Damon-Randall, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2022–01557 Filed 1–26–22; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XB749] North Pacific Fishery Management Council; Public Meeting National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of web conference. AGENCY: The North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (Council) Scallop Plan Team will meet February 16, 2022. DATES: The meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 16, 2022, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Alaska Time. SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\27JAN1.SGM 27JAN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 87, Number 18 (Thursday, January 27, 2022)]
[Notices]
[Pages 4200-4225]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2022-01557]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[RTID 0648-XB392]


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Marine Site Characterization 
Surveys off New Jersey and New York for Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, 
LLC

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

ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request 
for comments on proposed authorization and possible renewal.

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SUMMARY: NMFS has received a request from Atlantic Shores Offshore 
Wind, LLC (Atlantic Shores) for authorization to take marine mammals 
incidental to marine site characterization surveys off New Jersey and 
New York in the area of Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands for 
Renewable Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf Lease Area 
OCS-A 0499. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS 
is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an incidental 
harassment authorization (IHA) to incidentally take marine mammals 
during the specified activities. NMFS is also requesting comments on a 
possible one-time, one-year Renewal that could be issued under certain 
circumstances and if all requirements are met, as described in Request 
for Public Comments at the end of this notification. NMFS will consider 
public comments prior to making any final decision on the issuance of 
the requested MMPA authorizations and agency responses will be 
summarized in the final notification of our decision.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than February 
28, 2022.

ADDRESSES: 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 [email protected].
    Instructions: NMFS is not responsible for comments sent by any 
other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the 
end of the comment period. Comments, including all attachments, must 
not exceed a 25 megabyte file size. All comments received are a part of 
the public record and will generally be posted online at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-other-energy-activities-renewable without change. 
All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily 
submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit 
confidential business information or otherwise sensitive or protected 
information.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kelsey Potlock, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401. Electronic copies of the application 
and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in 
this document, may be obtained online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-other-energy-activities-renewable. In case of 
problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed 
above.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    The MMPA prohibits the ``take'' of marine mammals, with certain 
exceptions. sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 
et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce (as delegated to NMFS) 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 incidental take authorization may be provided to the public 
for review.
    Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds 
that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or 
stock(s) and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for taking for subsistence uses 
(where relevant). Further, NMFS must prescribe the permissible methods 
of taking and other ``means of effecting the least practicable adverse 
impact'' on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying 
particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar 
significance, and on the availability of the species or stocks for 
taking for certain subsistence uses

[[Page 4201]]

(referred to in shorthand as ``mitigation''); and requirements 
pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of the takings 
are set forth.
    The definitions of all applicable MMPA statutory terms cited above 
are included in the relevant sections below.

National Environmental Policy Act

    To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 
42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216-6A, 
NMFS must review our proposed action (i.e., the issuance of an IHA) 
with respect to potential impacts on the human environment. This action 
is consistent with categories of activities identified in Categorical 
Exclusion B4 (IHAs with no anticipated serious injury or mortality) of 
the Companion Manual for NOAA Administrative Order 216-6A, which do not 
individually or cumulatively have the potential for significant impacts 
on the quality of the human environment and for which we have not 
identified any extraordinary circumstances that would preclude this 
categorical exclusion. Accordingly, NMFS has preliminarily determined 
that the issuance of the proposed IHA qualifies to be categorically 
excluded from further NEPA review.
    We will review all comments submitted in response to this 
notification prior to concluding our NEPA process or making a final 
decision on the IHA request.

Summary of Request

    On August 16, 2021, NMFS received a request from Atlantic Shores 
for an IHA to take marine mammals incidental to marine site 
characterization surveys occurring in three locations (Lease Area and 
Export Cable Routes (ECR) North and South) off of New Jersey and New 
York in the area of Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands for Renewable 
Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf Lease Area (OCS)-A 
0499. NMFS deemed the application adequate and complete on December 13, 
2021. Atlantic Shores' request is for take of a small number of 15 
species of marine mammals (comprised of 16 stocks) by Level B 
harassment only. Neither Atlantic Shores nor NMFS expects serious 
injury or mortality to result from this activity and, therefore, an IHA 
is appropriate.
    NMFS previously issued two IHAs to Atlantic Shores for similar work 
(85 FR 21198, April 16, 2020; 86 FR 21289, April 22, 2021 (Renewal)). 
As required, Atlantic Shores provided a monitoring report for the work 
performed under the 2020 IHA (85 FR 21198, April 16, 2020; available at 
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/incidental-take-authorization-atlantic-shores-offshore-wind-llc-marine-site-characterization).
    At the time of developing this proposed IHA for Atlantic Shores' 
2022 project, the 2021 (Renewal) monitoring report was not available as 
the renewed project is ongoing until its expiration date on April 19, 
2022 (86 FR 21289; April 22, 2021). However, the 2020 monitoring report 
confirmed that Atlantic Shores had previously implemented the required 
mitigation and monitoring, and demonstrated that no impacts of a scale 
or nature not previously analyzed or authorized had occurred as a 
result of the activities conducted under the 2020 IHA.

Description of Proposed Activity

Overview

    As part of its overall marine site characterization survey 
operations, Atlantic Shores proposes to conduct high-resolution 
geophysical (HRG) surveys in the Lease Area (OCS)-A 0499 and along 
potential submarine cable routes (ECRs North and South) to a landfall 
location in either New York or New Jersey.
    The purpose of the proposed surveys are to support the site 
characterization, siting, and engineering design of offshore wind 
project facilities including wind turbine generators, offshore 
substations, and submarine cables within the Lease Area and along 
export cable routes (ECRs). As many as three survey vessels may operate 
concurrently as part of the proposed surveys. Underwater sound 
resulting from Atlantic Shores' proposed site characterization survey 
activities, specifically HRG surveys, has the potential to result in 
incidental take of marine mammals in the form of behavioral harassment.

Dates and Duration

    The estimated duration of the surveys is expected to be up to 360 
total survey days over the course of a single year within the three 
survey areas (Table 1). As multiple vessels (i.e., three survey 
vessels) may be operating concurrently across the Lease Area and two 
ECRs, each day that a survey vessel is operating counts as a single 
survey day. For example, if three vessels are operating in the two ECRs 
and Lease Area concurrently, this counts as three survey days. This 
schedule is based on 24-hours of operations throughout 12 months. The 
schedule presented here for this proposed project has accounted for 
potential down time due to inclement weather or other project-related 
delays. Proposed activities would occur from April 20, 2022 through 
April 19, 2023 as to not overlap the Renewal IHA that expires after 
April 19, 2022.

Table 1--Number of Survey Days That Atlantic Shores Plans To Perform the
                     Described HRG Survey Activities
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                             Number of
                                                           active survey
                       Survey area                        days  expected
                                                                \1\
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lease Area..............................................             120
ECR North...............................................             180
ECR South...............................................              60
                                                         ---------------
    Total...............................................             360
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Surveys in each area may temporally overlap; therefore, actual
  number of days of activity in a given year would be less than 360.

Specific Geographic Region

    Atlantic Shores' proposed activities would occur in the Northwest 
Atlantic Ocean within Federal and state waters (Figure 1). Surveys 
would occur in the Lease Area and along potential submarine cable 
routes to landfall in either New York or New Jersey. Proposed 
activities would occur within the Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands 
for Renewable Energy Development in OCS-A 0499. The survey area is 
approximately 1,450,006 acres (2,265.6 square miles (mi\2\); 5,868 
square kilometers (km\2\)) and extends approximately 24 nautical miles 
(nm; 28 miles (mi); 44 kilometers (km)) offshore.
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

[[Page 4202]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TN27JA22.006

BILLING CODE 3510-22-C

[[Page 4203]]

Detailed Description of Specific Activity

    Atlantic Shores' proposed marine site characterization surveys 
include HRG and geotechnical survey activities. These survey activities 
would occur within the both the Lease Area and within ECRs between the 
Lease Area and the coasts of New York and New Jersey. The Lease Area is 
approximately 5,867.97 km\2\ (1,450,006 acres) and is located 
approximately 24 nm (44 km) from the coastline (see Figure 1). The 
proposed survey area is approximately from Long Island, New York to 
Atlantic City, New Jersey. For the purpose of this proposed IHA, the 
Lease Area and ECRs are collectively referred to as the survey area.
    Atlantic Shores' survey activities are anticipated to be supported 
by vessels, which will maintain a speed of approximately to 3.5 knots 
(kn; 6.5 kilometer per hour (km/h)) while transiting survey lines. The 
proposed HRG and geotechnical survey activities are described below.
Proposed Geotechnical Survey Activities
    Atlantic Shores' proposed geotechnical activities would include the 
drilling of sample boreholes, deep cone penetration tests (CPTs), and 
shallow CPTs. Such proposed activities have been performed before by 
Atlantic Shores and considerations of the impacts produced from 
geotechnical activities have been previously analyzed and included in 
the proposed 2020 Federal Register notice for Atlantic Shores' HRG 
activities (85 FR 7926; February 12, 2020). The same discussion by NMFS 
to not analyze the geotechnical activities further that was included in 
that notification applies to this proposed project. In that 
notification, NMFS determined that the likelihood of the proposed 
geotechnical surveys resulting in harassment of marine mammals was to 
be so low as to be discountable. As this information remains applicable 
and NMFS' determination has not changed, these activities will not be 
discussed further in this proposed notification.
Proposed Geophysical Survey Activities
    Atlantic Shores has proposed that HRG survey operations would be 
conducted continuously 24 hours a day. Based on 24-hour operations, the 
estimated total duration of the proposed activities would be 
approximately 360 survey days. This includes 120 days of survey 
activities in the Lease Area, 180 days in ECR North, and 60 days in ECR 
South (refer back to Table 1). As previously discussed above, this 
schedule does include potential down time due to inclement weather or 
other project-related delays.
    The HRG survey activities will be supported by vessels of 
sufficient size to accomplish the survey goals in each of the specified 
survey areas. It is assumed surveys in each of the identified survey 
areas will be executed by a single vessel during any given campaign 
(i.e., no more than one survey vessel would operate in the Lease Area 
at any given time, but there may be one survey vessel operating in the 
Lease Area and one vessel operating each of the ECR areas concurrently, 
i.e., three vessels). HRG equipment will either be mounted to or towed 
behind the survey vessel at a typical survey speed of approximately 3.5 
knot (6.5 km) per hour. The geophysical survey activities proposed by 
Atlantic Shores would include the following:
     Depth sounding (multibeam depth sounder and single beam 
echosounder) to determine water depths and general bottom topography 
(currently estimated to range from approximately 16-feet (ft; 5-m to 
131-ft (40-m) in depth);
     Magnetic intensity measurements (gradiometer) for 
detecting local variations in regional magnetic field from geological 
strata and potential ferrous objects on and below the bottom;
     Seafloor imaging (side scan sonar survey) for seabed 
sediment classification purposes, to identify natural and man-made 
acoustic targets resting on the bottom as well as any anomalous 
features;
     Shallow penetration sub-bottom profiler (pinger/chirp) to 
map the near surface stratigraphy (top 0-ft to 16-ft (0-m to 5-m) soils 
below seabed); and,
     Medium penetration sub-bottom profiler (chirps/parametric 
profilers/sparkers) to map deeper subsurface stratigraphy as needed 
(soils down to 246-ft (75-m) to 328-ft (100-m) below seabed).
    Table 2 identifies the representative survey equipment that may be 
used in support of planned geophysical survey activities. The make and 
model of the listed geophysical equipment may vary depending on 
availability and the final equipment choices will vary depending upon 
the final survey design, vessel availability, and survey contractor 
selection. Geophysical surveys are expected to use several equipment 
types concurrently in order to collect multiple aspects of geophysical 
data along one transect. Selection of equipment combinations is based 
on specific survey objectives. All categories of representative HRG 
survey equipment shown in Table 2 work with operating frequencies <180 
kHz.

                          Table 2--Summary of Representative Equipment Specifications With Operating Frequencies Below 180 kHz
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                  Operational
                                                                                     Operating   source level    Beamwidth   Typical pulse      Pulse
 HRG survey equipment (sub-bottom profiler)      Representative equipment type       frequency      ranges        ranges     durations RMS   repetition
                                                                                   ranges (kHz)   (dBRMS) \b\    (degrees)   (millisecond)    rate (Hz)
 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sparker (impulsive).........................  Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240      0.01 to 1.9           203           180            3.4             2
                                               \a\.
                                              Geo Marine Geo-Source..............      0.2 to 5           195           180            7.2          0.41
CHIRPs (non-impulsive)......................  Edgetech 2000-DSS..................       2 to 16           195            24            6.3            10
                                              Edgetech 216.......................       2 to 16           179    17, 20, or             10            10
                                                                                                                         24
                                              Edgetech 424.......................       4 to 24           180            71              4             2
                                              Edgetech 512i......................     0.7 to 12           179            80              9             8
                                              Pangeosubsea Sub-Bottom Imager\TM\.     4 to 12.5           190           120            4.5            44
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Two sources proposed for use by Atlantic Shores (i.e., the INNOMAR SES-2000 Medium-100 Parametric and the INNOMAR deep-36 Parametric) are not
  expected to result in take due to their higher frequencies and extremely narrow beamwidths. Because of this, these sources were not considered when
  calculating the Level B harassment isopleths and are not discussed further in this notification. Acoustic parameters on these parametric sub-bottom
  profilers can be found in Atlantic Shores' IHA application on NMFS' website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-other-energy-activities-renewable).
\a\ Atlantic Shores discussed with NMFS and include information in their application that while the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 is planned to be
  used during project activities, the equipment specifications and subsequent analysis are based on the SIG ELC 820 with a power level of 750 joules (J)
  at a 5-meter depth (Crocker and Fratantonio (2016)). However, Atlantic Shores expects a more reasonable power level to be 500-600 J based on prior
  experience with HRG surveys; 750 J was used as a worst-case scenario to conservatively account for take of marine mammals as these higher electrical
  outputs would only be used in areas with denser substrates (700-800 J).
\b\ Root mean square (RMS) = 1 microPa.


[[Page 4204]]

    Atlantic Shores has indicated to NMFS that the expected energy 
levels of the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark would range between 500-600 
joules (J) in most cases. However, in their IHA application, Atlantic 
Shores includes a discussion that, based on their previous experiences 
and survey efforts using the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark, Atlantic 
Shores do not expect the electrical output to exceed 700-800 J, except 
in situations where denser substrates are present.
    The deployment of HRG survey equipment, including the equipment 
planned for use during Atlantic Shores' proposed activities produces 
sound in the marine environment that has the potential to result in 
harassment of marine mammals. Proposed mitigation, monitoring, and 
reporting measures are described in detail later in this document 
(please see Proposed Mitigation and Proposed Monitoring and Reporting).

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of Specified Activities

    Sections 3 and 4 of the application summarize available information 
regarding status and trends, distribution and habitat preferences, and 
behavior and life history, of the potentially affected species. 
Additional information regarding population trends and threats may be 
found in NMFS's Stock Assessment Reports (SARs; https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments) and more general information about these species 
(e.g., physical and behavioral descriptions) may be found on NMFS's 
website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/find-species).
    Table 3 lists all species or stocks for which take is expected and 
proposed to be authorized for this action, and summarizes information 
related to the population or stock, including regulatory status under 
the MMPA and Endangered Species Act (ESA) and potential biological 
removal (PBR), where known. For taxonomy, we follow Committee on 
Taxonomy (2021). PBR is defined by the MMPA as the maximum number of 
animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a 
marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its 
optimum sustainable population (as described in NMFS's SARs). While no 
mortality is anticipated or authorized here, PBR and annual serious 
injury and mortality from anthropogenic sources are included here as 
gross indicators of the status of the species and other threats.
    Marine mammal abundance estimates presented in this document 
represent the total number of individuals that make up a given stock or 
the total number estimated within a particular study or survey area. 
NMFS's stock abundance estimates for most species represent the total 
estimate of individuals within the geographic area, if known, that 
comprises that stock. For some species, this geographic area may extend 
beyond U.S. waters. All managed stocks in this region are assessed in 
NMFS's draft 2021 U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal Stock 
Assessment (SARs). All values presented in Table 3 are the most recent 
available at the time of publication and are available in the draft 
2021 SARs available online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments.

          Table 3--Marine Mammal Species Likely To Occur Near the Survey Area That May Be Affected by Atlantic Shores' Proposed HRG Activities
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                         ESA/ MMPA status;   Stock abundance (CV,
             Common name                  Scientific name               Stock             strategic (Y/N)      Nmin, most recent       PBR     Annual  M/
                                                                                                \1\          abundance survey) \2\               SI \3\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Order Cetartiodactyla--Cetacea--Superfamily Mysticeti (baleen whales)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Atlantic right whale..........  Eubalaena glacialis....  Western Atlantic Stock.  E/D, Y              368 (0; 364; 2019)....        0.7        7.7
Humpback whale......................  Megaptera novaeangliae.  Gulf of Maine..........  -/-; Y              1,396 (0; 1,380; 2016)         22      12.15
Fin whale...........................  Balaenoptera physalus..  Western North Atlantic   E/D, Y              6,802 (0.24; 5,573;            11        1.8
                                                                Stock.                                       2016).
Sei whale...........................  Balaenoptera borealis..  Nova Scotia Stock......  E/D, Y              6,292 (1.02; 3,098;           6.2        0.8
                                                                                                             2016).
Minke whale.........................  Balaenoptera             Canadian East Coastal    -/-, N              21,968 (0.31; 17,002;         170       10.6
                                       acutorostrata.           Stock.                                       2016).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Superfamily Odontoceti (toothed whales, dolphins, and porpoises)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sperm whale.........................  Physeter macrocephalus.  North Atlantic Stock...  E/D, Y              4,349 (0.28; 3,451;           3.9          0
                                                                                                             2016).
Long-finned pilot whale.............  Globicephala melas.....  Western North Atlantic   -/-, N              39,215 (0.3; 30,627;          306         29
                                                                Stock.                                       2016).
Atlantic white-sided dolphin........  Lagenorhynchus acutus..  Western North Atlantic   -/-, N              93,233 (0.71; 54,443;         544        227
                                                                Stock.                                       2016).
Bottlenose dolphin..................  Tursiops truncatus.....  Western North Atlantic   -/D, Y              6,639 (0.41; 4,759;            48  12.2-21.5
                                                                Northern Migratory                           2016).
                                                                Coastal Stock.
                                                               Western North Atlantic   -/-, N              62,851 (0.23; 51,914;         519         28
                                                                Offshore Stock.                              2016).
Common dolphin......................  Delphinus delphis......  Western North Atlantic   -/-, N              172,974 (0.21,              1,452        390
                                                                Stock.                                       145,216, 2016).
Atlantic spotted dolphin............  Stenella frontalis.....  Western North Atlantic   -/-, N              39,921 (0.27; 32,032;         320          0
                                                                Stock.                                       2016).
Risso's dolphin.....................  Grampus griseus........  Western North Atlantic   -/-, N              35,215 (0.19; 30,051;         301         34
                                                                Stock.                                       2016).
Harbor porpoise.....................  Phocoena phocoena......  Gulf of Maine/Bay of     -/-, N              95,543 (0.31; 74,034;         851        164
                                                                Fundy Stock.                                 2016).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                         Order Carnivora--Superfamily Pinnipedia
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Harbor seal.........................  Phoca vitulina.........  Western North Atlantic   -/-, N              61,336 (0.08; 57,637;       1,729        339
                                                                Stock.                                       2018).
Gray seal \4\.......................  Halichoerus grypus.....  Western North Atlantic   -/-, N              27,300 (0.22; 22,785;       1,389      4,453
                                                                Stock.                                       2016).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ ESA status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (-) indicates that the species is not listed under the ESA or
  designated as depleted under the MMPA. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one for which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds PBR or
  which is determined to be declining and likely to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed under the ESA is
  automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock.
\2\ NMFS marine mammal stock assessment reports online at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments. CV
  is the coefficient of variation; Nmin is the minimum estimate of stock abundance. In some cases, CV is not applicable.
\3\ These values, found in NMFS' SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g., commercial
  fisheries, ship strike).
\4\ NMFS' stock abundance estimate (and associated PBR value) applies to U.S. population only. Total stock abundance (including animals in Canada) is
  approximately 451,431. The annual mortality and serious injury (M/SI) value given is for the total stock.


[[Page 4205]]

    As indicated above, all 15 species (with 16 managed stocks) in 
Table 3 temporally and spatially co-occur with the activity to the 
degree that take is reasonably likely to occur, and we have proposed 
authorizing it. Four marine mammal species that are listed under the 
ESA may be present in the survey area and are included in the take 
request: The North Atlantic right, fin, sei, and sperm whale.
    The temporal and/or spatial occurrence of several cetacean and 
pinniped species listed in Table 3-1 of Atlantic Shores' 2022 IHA 
application is such that take of these species is not expected to occur 
either because they have very low densities in the survey area or are 
known to occur further offshore than the survey area. These include: 
The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius 
cavirostris), four species of Mesoplodont beaked whale (Mesoplodon 
spp.), dwarf and pygmy sperm whale (Kogia sima and Kogia breviceps), 
short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), northern 
bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus), killer whale (Orcinus orca), 
pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata), false killer whale (Pseudorca 
crassidens), melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra), striped 
dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus 
albirostris), pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata), 
Fraser's dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei), rough-toothed dolphin (Steno 
bredanensis), Clymene dolphin (Stenella clymene), spinner dolphin 
(Stenella longirostris), hooded seal (Cystophora cristata), and harp 
seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus). As harassment and subsequent take of 
these species is not anticipated as a result of the proposed 
activities, these species are not analyzed or discussed further.
    In addition, the Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus; a sub-
species of the West Indian manatee) has been previously documented as 
an occasional visitor the Northeast region during summer months (U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) 2019). However, manatees are managed 
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and are not considered 
further in this document.
    For the majority of species potentially present in the specific 
geographic region, NMFS has designated only a single generic stock 
(e.g., ``western North Atlantic'') for management purposes. This 
includes the ``Canadian east coast'' stock of minke whales, which 
includes all minke whales found in U.S. waters and is also a generic 
stock for management purposes. For humpback whales, NMFS defines stocks 
on the basis of feeding locations, i.e., Gulf of Maine. However, 
references to humpback whales in this document refer to any individuals 
of the species that are found in the specific geographic region. 
Additional information on these animals can be found in Sections 3 and 
4 of Atlantic Shores' IHA application, the draft 2021 SARs (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments), and NMFS' website.
    Below is a description of the species that have the highest 
likelihood of occurring in the survey area and are thus expected to 
potentially be taken by the proposed activities as well as further 
detail informing the baseline for select species (i.e., information 
regarding current Unusual Mortality Events (UMEs) and important habitat 
areas).

North Atlantic Right Whale

    The North Atlantic right whale ranges from calving grounds in the 
southeastern United States to feeding grounds in New England waters and 
into Canadian waters (Hayes et al., 2018). Surveys have demonstrated 
the existence of seven areas where North Atlantic right whales 
congregate seasonally, including north and east of the proposed survey 
area in Georges Bank, off Cape Cod, and in Massachusetts Bay (Hayes et 
al., 2018). In the late fall months (e.g., October), right whales are 
generally thought to depart from the feeding grounds in the North 
Atlantic and move south to their calving grounds off Georgia and 
Florida. However, recent research indicates our understanding of their 
movement patterns remains incomplete (Davis et al., 2017). A review of 
passive acoustic monitoring data from 2004 to 2014 throughout the 
western North Atlantic demonstrated nearly continuous year-round right 
whale presence across their entire habitat range (for at least some 
individuals), including in locations previously thought of as migratory 
corridors, suggesting that not all of the population undergoes a 
consistent annual migration (Davis et al., 2017). However, given that 
Atlantic Shores' surveys would be concentrated offshore New Jersey, any 
right whales in the vicinity of the survey areas are expected to be 
transient, most likely migrating through the area.
    The western North Atlantic population demonstrated overall growth 
of 2.8 percent per year between 1990 to 2010, despite a decline in 1993 
and no growth between 1997 and 2000 (Pace et al., 2017). However, since 
2010 the population has been in decline, with a 99.99 percent 
probability of a decline of just under 1 percent per year (Pace et al., 
2017). Between 1990 and 2015, calving rates varied substantially, with 
low calving rates coinciding with all three periods of decline or no 
growth (Pace et al., 2017). On average, North Atlantic right whale 
calving rates are estimated to be roughly half that of southern right 
whales (Eubalaena australis) (Pace et al., 2017), which are increasing 
in abundance (NMFS, 2015). In 2018, no new North Atlantic right whale 
calves were documented in their calving grounds; this represented the 
first time since annual NOAA aerial surveys began in 1989 that no new 
right whale calves were observed. Eighteen right whale calves were 
documented in 2021. As of December 8, 2021 and the writing of this 
proposed Notification, two North Atlantic right whale calves have 
documented to have been born during this calving season. Presently, the 
best available population estimate for North Atlantic right whales is 
386 per the draft 2021 SARs (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments).
    The proposed survey area is part of a migratory corridor 
Biologically Important Area (BIA) for North Atlantic right whales 
(effective March-April and November-December) that extends from 
Massachusetts to Florida (LeBrecque et al., 2015). Off the coast of New 
Jersey, the migratory BIA extends from the coast to beyond the shelf 
break. This important migratory area is approximately 269,488 km\2\ in 
size (compared with the approximately 5,605.2 km\2\ of total estimated 
Level B harassment ensonified area associated with the 360 planned 
survey days) and is comprised of the waters of the continental shelf 
offshore the East Coast of the United States, extending from Florida 
through Massachusetts. NMFS' regulations at 50 CFR part 224.105 
designated nearshore waters of the Mid-Atlantic Bight as Mid-Atlantic 
U.S. Seasonal Management Areas (SMA) for right whales in 2008. SMAs 
were developed to reduce the threat of collisions between ships and 
right whales around their migratory route and calving grounds. A 
portion of one SMA, which occurs off the mouth of Delaware Bay, 
overlaps spatially with a section of the proposed survey area. The SMA, 
which occurs off the mouth of Delaware Bay, is active from November 1 
through April 30 of each year. Within SMAs, the regulations require a 
mandatory vessel speed (less than 10 kn) for all vessels greater than 
65 ft. A portion of one SMA overlaps spatially with the northern 
section of the proposed survey area. All

[[Page 4206]]

Atlantic Shores survey vessels, regardless of length, would be required 
to adhere to a 10 knot vessel speed restriction when operating within 
this SMA. In addition, all Atlantic Shores survey vessels, regardless 
of length, would be required to adhere to a 10 knot vessel speed 
restriction when operating in any Dynamic Management Area (DMA) 
declared by NMFS.
    Elevated North Atlantic right whale mortalities have occurred since 
June 7, 2017, along the U.S. and Canadian coast. This event has been 
declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME), with human interactions, 
including entanglement in fixed fishing gear and vessel strikes, 
implicated in at least 15 of the mortalities thus far. As of October 
13, 2021, a total of 34 confirmed dead stranded whales (21 in Canada; 
13 in the United States) have been documented. The cumulative total 
number of animals in the North Atlantic right whale UME has been 
updated to 49 individuals to include both the confirmed mortalities 
(dead stranded or floaters) (n=34) and seriously injured free-swimming 
whales (n=15) to better reflect the confirmed number of whales likely 
removed from the population during the UME and more accurately reflect 
the population impacts. More information is available online at: 
www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-life-distress/2017-2021-north-atlantic-right-whale-unusual-mortality-event. Furthermore, we continue 
to evaluate our North Atlantic right whale vessel strike reduction 
programs, both regulatory and non-regulatory. NMFS anticipates 
releasing a proposed rule modifying the right whale speed regulations 
in Spring 2022 to further address the risk of mortality and serious 
injury from vessel collisions in U.S. waters.
    During the development of this proposed notification, several Slow 
Zones were implemented off New Jersey and New York that are worth 
mentioning. On November 11, 2021, December 11, 2021, and December 20, 
2021, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Ocean City buoy 
detected the presence of right whales east of Ocean City, Maryland. In 
response, NMFS implemented two right whale Slow Zones for the area with 
expiration dates of November 26, 2021, December 26, 2021, and January 
4, 2022, respectively. Additionally, as of November 8, 2021, NMFS 
extended a voluntary right whale Slow Zone (via acoustic trigger) 
located south of Nantucket, Massachusetts. This is due to expire on 
November 19, 2021. Four other voluntary right whale Slow Zones were 
announced by NMFS on November 20, 2021, November 30, 2021, December 13, 
2021, and December 21, 2021, via an acoustic trigger of a right whale 
detected off New York City, New York. These, at the time of the 
development of this notification, expired after December 5, 2021, 
December 14, 2021, December 26, 2021, and January 5, 2022, 
respectively. Lastly, four more Slow Zones were implemented on November 
30, 2021, December 2, 2021, December 13, 2021, and December 20, 2021 
after the acoustic detection of right whales southeast of Atlantic 
City, New Jersey. These zones were active through December 8, 2021, 
December 17, 2021, December 26, 2021, and January 4, 2022, 
respectively. More information on these right whale Slow Zones can be 
found on NMFS' website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/endangered-species-conservation/reducing-vessel-strikes-north-atlantic-right-whales).

Humpback Whale

    Humpback whales are found worldwide in all oceans. Humpback whales 
were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act 
(ESCA) in June 1970. In 1973, the ESA replaced the ESCA, and humpbacks 
continued to be listed as endangered. On September 8, 2016, NMFS 
divided the species into 14 distinct population segments (DPS), removed 
the current species-level listing, and in its place listed four DPSs as 
endangered and one DPS as threatened (81 FR 62259; September 8, 2016). 
The remaining nine DPSs were not listed. The West Indies DPS, which is 
not listed under the ESA, is the only DPS of humpback whale that is 
expected to occur in the survey area, although are not necessarily from 
the Gulf of Maine feeding population managed as a stock by NMFS. Barco 
et al., (2002) estimated that, based on photo-identification, only 39 
percent of individual humpback whales observed along the mid- and south 
Atlantic U.S. coast are from the Gulf of Maine stock. Bettridge et al., 
(2015) estimated the size of this population at 12,312 (95 percent CI 
8,688-15,954) whales in 2004-05, which is consistent with previous 
population estimates of approximately 10,000-11,000 whales (Stevick et 
al., 2003; Smith et al., 1999) and the increasing trend for the West 
Indies DPS (Bettridge et al., 2015).
    Humpback whales utilize the mid-Atlantic as a migration pathway 
between calving/mating grounds to the south and feeding grounds in the 
north (Waring et al., 2007a; Waring et al., 2007b). A key question with 
regard to humpback whales off the mid-Atlantic states is their stock 
identity. Using fluke photographs of living and dead whales observed in 
the region, Barco et al., (2002) reported that 43 percent of 21 live 
whales matched to the Gulf of Maine, 19 percent to Newfoundland, and 
4.8 percent to the Gulf of St Lawrence, while 31.6 percent of 19 dead 
humpbacks were known Gulf of Maine whales. Although Gulf of Maine 
whales apparently dominate the population composition of the mid-
Atlantic, lack of photographic effort in Newfoundland makes it likely 
that the observed match rates under-represent the true presence of 
Canadian whales in the region (Waring et al., 2016). Barco et al., 
(2002) suggested that the mid-Atlantic region primarily represents a 
supplemental winter-feeding ground used by humpbacks. Recent research 
by King et al., (2021) has demonstrated a high occurrence and use 
(foraging) of the New York Bight area by humpback whales than 
previously known. Furthermore, King et al., (2021) highlights important 
concerns for humpback whales found specifically in the nearshore 
environment (<10 km from shore) from various anthropogenic impacts.
    Three previous UMEs involving humpback whales have occurred since 
2000, in 2003, 2005, and 2006. Since January 2016, elevated humpback 
whale mortalities have occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine to 
Florida. Partial or full necropsy examinations have been conducted on 
approximately half of the 154 known cases (as of October 13, 2021). Of 
the whales examined, about 50 percent had evidence of human 
interaction, either ship strike or entanglement. While a portion of the 
whales have shown evidence of pre-mortem vessel strike, this finding is 
not consistent across all whales examined and more research is needed. 
NOAA is consulting with researchers that are conducting studies on the 
humpback whale populations, and these efforts may provide information 
on changes in whale distribution and habitat use that could provide 
additional insight into how these vessel interactions occurred. More 
information is available at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-life-distress/2016-2021-humpback-whale-unusual-mortality-event-along-atlantic-coast.

Fin Whale

    Fin whales are common in waters of the U.S. Atlantic Exclusive 
Economic Zone (EEZ), principally from Cape Hatteras northward (Waring 
et al., 2016). Fin whales are present north of 35-degree latitude in 
every season and

[[Page 4207]]

are broadly distributed throughout the western North Atlantic for most 
of the year (Waring et al., 2016). They are typically found in small 
groups of up to five individuals (Brueggeman et al., 1987). The main 
threats to fin whales are fishery interactions and vessel collisions 
(Waring et al., 2016).

Sei Whale

    The Nova Scotia stock of sei whales can be found in deeper waters 
of the continental shelf edge waters of the northeastern U.S. and 
northeastward to south of Newfoundland. The southern portion of the 
stock's range during spring and summer includes the Gulf of Maine and 
Georges Bank. Spring is the period of greatest abundance in U.S. 
waters, with sightings concentrated along the eastern margin of Georges 
Bank and into the Northeast Channel area, and along the southwestern 
edge of Georges Bank in the area of Hydrographer Canyon (Waring et al., 
2015). Sei whales occur in shallower waters to feed. Sei whales are 
listed as engendered under the ESA, and the Nova Scotia stock is 
considered strategic and depleted under the MMPA. The main threats to 
this stock are interactions with fisheries and vessel collisions.

Minke Whale

    Minke whales can be found in temperate, tropical, and high-latitude 
waters. The Canadian East Coast stock can be found in the area from the 
western half of the Davis Strait (45 [deg]W) to the Gulf of Mexico 
(Waring et al., 2016). This species generally occupies waters less than 
100-m deep on the continental shelf. There appears to be a strong 
seasonal component to minke whale distribution in the survey areas, in 
which spring to fall are times of relatively widespread and common 
occurrence while during winter the species appears to be largely absent 
(Waring et al., 2016).
    Since January 2017, elevated minke whale mortalities have occurred 
along the Atlantic coast from Maine through South Carolina, with a 
total of 118 strandings (as of October 13, 2021). This event has been 
declared a UME. Full or partial necropsy examinations were conducted on 
more than 60 percent of the whales. Preliminary findings in several of 
the whales have shown evidence of human interactions or infectious 
disease, but these findings are not consistent across all of the whales 
examined, so more research is needed. More information is available at: 
www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-life-distress/2017-2021-minke-whale-unusual-mortality-event-along-atlantic-coast.

Sperm Whale

    The distribution of the sperm whale in the U.S. EEZ occurs on the 
continental shelf edge, over the continental slope, and into mid-ocean 
regions (Waring et al., 2014). The basic social unit of the sperm whale 
appears to be the mixed school of adult females plus their calves and 
some juveniles of both sexes, normally numbering 20-40 animals in all. 
There is evidence that some social bonds persist for many years 
(Christal et al., 1998). This species forms stable social groups, site 
fidelity, and latitudinal range limitations in groups of females and 
juveniles (Whitehead, 2002). In summer, the distribution of sperm 
whales includes the area east and north of Georges Bank and into the 
Northeast Channel region, as well as the continental shelf (inshore of 
the 100-m isobath) south of New England. In the fall, sperm whale 
occurrence south of New England on the continental shelf is at its 
highest level, and there remains a continental shelf edge occurrence in 
the mid-Atlantic bight. In winter, sperm whales are concentrated east 
and northeast of Cape Hatteras.

Long-Finned Pilot Whale

    Long-finned pilot whales are found from North Carolina and north to 
Iceland, Greenland and the Barents Sea (Waring et al., 2016). In U.S. 
Atlantic waters the species is distributed principally along the 
continental shelf edge off the northeastern U.S. coast in winter and 
early spring and in late spring, pilot whales move onto Georges Bank 
and into the Gulf of Maine and more northern waters and remain in these 
areas through late autumn (Waring et al., 2016). Long-finned pilot 
whales are not listed under the ESA. The Western North Atlantic stock 
is considered strategic under the MMPA.

Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin

    White-sided dolphins are found in temperate and sub-polar waters of 
the North Atlantic, primarily in continental shelf waters to the 100m 
depth contour from central West Greenland to North Carolina (Waring et 
al., 2016). The Gulf of Maine stock is most common in continental shelf 
waters from Hudson Canyon to Georges Bank, and in the Gulf of Maine and 
lower Bay of Fundy. Sighting data indicate seasonal shifts in 
distribution (Northridge et al., 1997). During January to May, low 
numbers of white-sided dolphins are found from Georges Bank to Jeffreys 
Ledge (off New Hampshire), with even lower numbers south of Georges 
Bank, as documented by a few strandings collected on beaches of 
Virginia to South Carolina. From June through September, large numbers 
of white-sided dolphins are found from Georges Bank to the lower Bay of 
Fundy. From October to December, white-sided dolphins occur at 
intermediate densities from southern Georges Bank to southern Gulf of 
Maine (Payne and Heinemann, 1990). Sightings south of Georges Bank, 
particularly around Hudson Canyon, occur year round but at low 
densities.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

    Atlantic spotted dolphins are found in tropical and warm temperate 
waters ranging from southern New England, south to Gulf of Mexico and 
the Caribbean to Venezuela (Waring et al., 2014). This stock regularly 
occurs in continental shelf waters south of Cape Hatteras and in 
continental shelf edge and continental slope waters north of this 
region (Waring et al., 2014). There are two forms of this species, with 
the larger ecotype inhabiting the continental shelf and is usually 
found inside or near the 200-m isobaths (Waring et al., 2014).

Common Dolphin

    The short-beaked common dolphin is found worldwide in temperate to 
subtropical seas. In the North Atlantic, short-beaked common dolphins 
are commonly found over the continental shelf between the 100-m and 
2,000-m isobaths and over prominent underwater topography and east to 
the mid-Atlantic Ridge (Waring et al., 2016).

Bottlenose Dolphin

    There are two distinct bottlenose dolphin morphotypes in the 
western North Atlantic: The coastal and offshore forms (Waring et al., 
2016). The offshore form is distributed primarily along the outer 
continental shelf and continental slope in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean 
from Georges Bank to the Florida Keys. The coastal morphotype is 
morphologically and genetically distinct from the larger, more robust 
morphotype that occupies habitats further offshore. Spatial 
distribution data, tag-telemetry studies, photo-ID studies and genetic 
studies demonstrate the existence of a distinct Northern Migratory 
stock of coastal bottlenose dolphins (Waring et al., 2014). During 
summer months (July-August), this stock occupies coastal waters from 
the shoreline to approximately the 25-m isobath between the Chesapeake 
Bay mouth and Long Island, New York; during winter months (January-
March), the stock occupies coastal waters from Cape Lookout, North 
Carolina, to the

[[Page 4208]]

North Carolina/Virginia border (Waring et al., 2014). The Western North 
Atlantic northern migratory coastal stock and the Western North 
Atlantic offshore stock may be encountered by the proposed survey.

Harbor Porpoise

    In the Lease Area, only the Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy stock may be 
present. This stock is found in U.S. and Canadian Atlantic waters and 
is concentrated in the northern Gulf of Maine and southern Bay of Fundy 
region, generally in waters less than 150-m deep (Waring et al., 2016). 
They are seen from the coastline to deep waters (>1,800-m; Westgate et 
al., 1998), although the majority of the population is found over the 
continental shelf (Waring et al., 2016). The main threat to the species 
is interactions with fisheries, with documented take in the U.S. 
northeast sink gillnet, mid-Atlantic gillnet, and northeast bottom 
trawl fisheries and in the Canadian herring weir fisheries (Waring et 
al., 2016).

Pinninpeds (Harbor Seal and Gray Seal)

    The harbor seal is found in all nearshore waters of the North 
Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans and adjoining seas above about 
30[deg]N (Burns, 2009). In the western North Atlantic, harbor seals are 
distributed from the eastern Canadian Arctic and Greenland south to 
southern New England and New York, and occasionally to the Carolinas 
(Waring et al., 2016). Haul-out and pupping sites are located off 
Manomet, MA and the Isles of Shoals, ME, but generally do not occur in 
areas in southern New England (Waring et al., 2016).
    There are three major populations of gray seals found in the world; 
eastern Canada (western North Atlantic stock), northwestern Europe and 
the Baltic Sea. Gray seals in the survey area belong to the western 
North Atlantic stock. The range for this stock is thought to be from 
New Jersey to Labrador. Current population trends show that gray seal 
abundance is likely increasing in the U.S. Atlantic EEZ (Waring et al., 
2016). Although the rate of increase is unknown, surveys conducted 
since their arrival in the 1980s indicate a steady increase in 
abundance in both Maine and Massachusetts (Waring et al., 2016). It is 
believed that recolonization by Canadian gray seals is the source of 
the U.S. population (Waring et al., 2016).
    Since July 2018, elevated numbers of harbor seal and gray seal 
mortalities have occurred across Maine, New Hampshire and 
Massachusetts. This event has been declared a UME. Additionally, 
stranded seals have shown clinical signs as far south as Virginia, 
although not in elevated numbers, therefore the UME investigation now 
encompasses all seal strandings from Maine to Virginia. Ice seals (harp 
and hooded seals) have also started stranding with clinical signs, 
again not in elevated numbers, and those two seal species have also 
been added to the UME investigation. A total of 3,152 reported 
strandings (of all species) had occurred from July 1, 2018, through 
March 13, 2020. Full or partial necropsy examinations have been 
conducted on some of the seals and samples have been collected for 
testing. Based on tests conducted thus far, the main pathogen found in 
the seals is phocine distemper virus. NMFS is performing additional 
testing to identify any other factors that may be involved in this UME. 
Presently, this UME is non-active and is pending closure by NMFS as of 
March 2020. Information on this UME is available online at: 
www.fisheries.noaa.gov/new-england-mid-atlantic/marine-life-distress/2018-2020-pinniped-unusual-mortality-event-along.

Marine Mammal Hearing

    Hearing is the most important sensory modality for marine mammals 
underwater, and exposure to anthropogenic sound can have deleterious 
effects. To appropriately assess the potential effects of exposure to 
sound, it is necessary to understand the frequency ranges marine 
mammals are able to hear. Current data indicate that not all marine 
mammal species have equal hearing capabilities (e.g., Richardson et 
al., 1995; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999; Au and Hastings, 2008). To reflect 
this, Southall et al. (2007) recommended that marine mammals be divided 
into functional hearing groups based on directly measured or estimated 
hearing ranges on the basis of available behavioral response data, 
audiograms derived using auditory evoked potential techniques, 
anatomical modeling, and other data. Note that no direct measurements 
of hearing ability have been successfully completed for mysticetes 
(i.e., low-frequency cetaceans). Subsequently, NMFS (2018) described 
generalized hearing ranges for these marine mammal hearing groups. 
Generalized hearing ranges were chosen based on the approximately 65 
decibel (dB) threshold from the normalized composite audiograms, with 
the exception for lower limits for low-frequency cetaceans where the 
lower bound was deemed to be biologically implausible and the lower 
bound from Southall et al. (2007) retained. Marine mammal hearing 
groups and their associated hearing ranges are provided in Table 4.

                  Table 4--Marine Mammal Hearing Groups
                              [NMFS, 2018]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Hearing group                 Generalized hearing range *
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Low-frequency (LF) cetaceans (baleen   7 Hz to 35 kHz.
 whales).
Mid-frequency (MF) cetaceans           150 Hz to 160 kHz.
 (dolphins, toothed whales, beaked
 whales, bottlenose whales).
High-frequency (HF) cetaceans (true    275 Hz to 160 kHz.
 porpoises, Kogia, river dolphins,
 cephalorhynchid, Lagenorhynchus
 cruciger & L. australis).
Phocid pinnipeds (PW) (underwater)     50 Hz to 86 kHz.
 (true seals).
Otariid pinnipeds (OW) (underwater)    60 Hz to 39 kHz.
 (sea lions and fur seals).
------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Represents the generalized hearing range for the entire group as a
  composite (i.e., all species within the group), where individual
  species' hearing ranges are typically not as broad. Generalized
  hearing range chosen based on ~65 dB threshold from normalized
  composite audiogram, with the exception for lower limits for LF
  cetaceans (Southall et al., 2007) and PW pinniped (approximation).

    The pinniped functional hearing group was modified from Southall et 
al., (2007) on the basis of data indicating that phocid species have 
consistently demonstrated an extended frequency range of hearing 
compared to otariids, especially in the higher frequency range 
(Hemil[auml] et al., 2006; Kastelein et al., 2009; Reichmuth, 2013).
    For more detail concerning these groups and associated frequency 
ranges, please see NMFS (2018) for a review of

[[Page 4209]]

available information. Fifteen marine mammal species (13 cetacean and 2 
pinniped (both phocid) species) have the reasonable potential to co-
occur with the proposed survey activities. Please refer back to Table 
3. Of the cetacean species that may be present, five are classified as 
low-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all mysticete species), seven are 
classified as mid-frequency cetaceans (i.e., all delphinid species and 
the sperm whale), and one is classified as a high-frequency cetacean 
(i.e., harbor porpoise).

Potential Effects of Specified Activities on Marine Mammals and Their 
Habitat

    This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that 
components of the specified activity may impact marine mammals and 
their habitat. Detailed descriptions of the potential effects of 
similar specified activities have been provided in other recent and 
related Federal Register notifications, including for survey activities 
using similar HRG methodologies, over similar amounts of time, and 
occurring within the same specified geographical region (e.g., 82 FR 
20563, May 3, 2017; 85 FR 36537, June 17, 2020; 85 FR 7926, February 
12, 2020; 85 FR 37848, June 24, 2020; 85 FR 48179, August 10, 2020; 86 
FR 16327, March 29, 2021; 86 FR 17782, April 6, 2021). No significant 
new information is available, and we refer the reader to these 
documents rather than repeating the details here.
    The Estimated Take section later in this document includes a 
quantitative analysis of the number of individuals that are expected to 
be taken by Atlantic Shores' activities. The Negligible Impact Analysis 
and Determination section considers the content of this section, the 
Estimated Take section, and the Proposed Mitigation section, to draw 
conclusions regarding the likely impacts of these activities on the 
reproductive success or survivorship of individuals and how those 
impacts on individuals are likely to impact marine mammal species or 
stocks.

Background on Active Acoustic Sound Sources and Acoustic Terminology

    This subsection contains a brief technical background on sound, on 
the characteristics of certain sound types, and on metrics used in this 
proposal inasmuch as the information is relevant to the specified 
activity and to the summary of the potential effects of the specified 
activity on marine mammals. For general information on sound and its 
interaction with the marine environment, please see, e.g., Au and 
Hastings (2008); Richardson et al., (1995); Urick (1983).
    Sound travels in waves, the basic components of which are 
frequency, wavelength, velocity, and amplitude. Frequency is the number 
of pressure waves that pass by a reference point per unit of time and 
is measured in hertz or cycles per second. Wavelength is the distance 
between two peaks or corresponding points of a sound wave (length of 
one cycle). Higher frequency sounds have shorter wavelengths than lower 
frequency sounds, and typically attenuate (decrease) more rapidly, 
except in certain cases in shallower water. Amplitude is the height of 
the sound pressure wave or the ``loudness'' of a sound and is typically 
described using the relative unit of the decibel. A sound pressure 
level (SPL) in dB is described as the ratio between a measured pressure 
and a reference pressure (for underwater sound, this is 1 microPascal 
([mu]Pa)), and is a logarithmic unit that accounts for large variations 
in amplitude. Therefore, a relatively small change in dB corresponds to 
large changes in sound pressure. The source level (SL) represents the 
SPL referenced at a distance of 1-m from the source (referenced to 1 
[mu]Pa), while the received level is the SPL at the listener's position 
(referenced to 1 [mu]Pa).
    Root mean square (rms) is the quadratic mean sound pressure over 
the duration of an impulse. Root mean square is calculated by squaring 
all of the sound amplitudes, averaging the squares, and then taking the 
square root of the average (Urick, 1983). Root mean square accounts for 
both positive and negative values; squaring the pressures makes all 
values positive so that they may be accounted for in the summation of 
pressure levels (Hastings and Popper, 2005). This measurement is often 
used in the context of discussing behavioral effects, in part because 
behavioral effects, which often result from auditory cues, may be 
better expressed through averaged units than by peak pressures.
    Sound exposure level (SEL; represented as dB re 1 [mu]Pa\2\-s) 
represents the total energy in a stated frequency band over a stated 
time interval or event and considers both intensity and duration of 
exposure. The per-pulse SEL is calculated over the time window 
containing the entire pulse (i.e., 100 percent of the acoustic energy). 
SEL is a cumulative metric; it can be accumulated over a single pulse, 
or calculated over periods containing multiple pulses. Cumulative SEL 
represents the total energy accumulated by a receiver over a defined 
time window or during an event. Peak sound pressure (also referred to 
as zero-to-peak sound pressure or 0-pk) is the maximum instantaneous 
sound pressure measurable in the water at a specified distance from the 
source and is represented in the same units as the rms sound pressure.
    When underwater objects vibrate or activity occurs, sound-pressure 
waves are created. These waves alternately compress and decompress the 
water as the sound wave travels. Underwater sound waves radiate in a 
manner similar to ripples on the surface of a pond and may be directed 
either in a beam or in beams or may radiate in all directions 
(omnidirectional sources). The compressions and decompressions 
associated with sound waves are detected as changes in pressure by 
aquatic life and man-made sound receptors such as hydrophones.
    Even in the absence of sound from the specified activity, the 
underwater environment is typically loud due to ambient sound, which is 
defined as environmental background sound levels lacking a single 
source or point (Richardson et al., 1995). The sound level of a region 
is defined by the total acoustical energy being generated by known and 
unknown sources. These sources may include physical (e.g., wind and 
waves, earthquakes, ice, atmospheric sound), biological (e.g., sounds 
produced by marine mammals, fish, and invertebrates), and anthropogenic 
(e.g., vessels, dredging, construction) sound. A number of sources 
contribute to ambient sound, including wind and waves, which are a main 
source of naturally occurring ambient sound for frequencies between 200 
Hz and 50 kHz (Mitson, 1995). In general, ambient sound levels tend to 
increase with increasing wind speed and wave height. Precipitation can 
become an important component of total sound at frequencies above 500 
Hz, and possibly down to 100 Hz during quiet times. Marine mammals can 
contribute significantly to ambient sound levels, as can some fish and 
snapping shrimp. The frequency band for biological contributions is 
from approximately 12 Hz to over 100 kHz. Sources of ambient sound 
related to human activity include transportation (surface vessels), 
dredging and construction, oil and gas drilling and production, 
geophysical surveys, sonar, and explosions. Vessel noise typically 
dominates the total ambient sound for frequencies between 20 and 300 
Hz. In general, the frequencies of anthropogenic sounds are below 1 kHz 
and, if higher frequency sound levels are created, they attenuate 
rapidly.
    The sum of the various natural and anthropogenic sound sources that 
comprise ambient sound at any given

[[Page 4210]]

location and time depends not only on the source levels (as determined 
by current weather conditions and levels of biological and human 
activity) but on the ability of sound to propagate through the 
environment. In turn, sound propagation is dependent on the spatially 
and temporally varying properties of the water column and sea floor, 
and is frequency-dependent. As a result of the dependence on a large 
number of varying factors, ambient sound levels can be expected to vary 
widely over both coarse and fine spatial and temporal scales. Sound 
levels at a given frequency and location can vary by 10-20 dB from day 
to day (Richardson et al., 1995). The result is that, depending on the 
source type and its intensity, sound from the specified activity may be 
a negligible addition to the local environment or could form a 
distinctive signal that may affect marine mammals. Details of source 
types are described in the following text.
    Sounds are often considered to fall into one of two general types: 
Pulsed and non-pulsed (defined in the following). The distinction 
between these two sound types is important because they have differing 
potential to cause physical effects, particularly with regard to 
hearing (e.g., Ward, 1997 in Southall et al., 2007). Please see 
Southall et al., (2007) for an in-depth discussion of these concepts. 
The distinction between these two sound types is not always obvious, as 
certain signals share properties of both pulsed and non-pulsed sounds. 
A signal near a source could be categorized as a pulse, but due to 
propagation effects as it moves farther from the source, the signal 
duration becomes longer (e.g., Greene and Richardson, 1988).
    Pulsed sound sources (e.g., airguns, explosions, gunshots, sonic 
booms, impact pile driving) produce signals that are brief (typically 
considered to be less than one second), broadband, atonal transients 
(ANSI, 1986, 2005; Harris, 1998; NIOSH, 1998) and occur either as 
isolated events or repeated in some succession. Pulsed sounds are all 
characterized by a relatively rapid rise from ambient pressure to a 
maximal pressure value followed by a rapid decay period that may 
include a period of diminishing, oscillating maximal and minimal 
pressures, and generally have an increased capacity to induce physical 
injury as compared with sounds that lack these features.
    Non-pulsed sounds can be tonal, narrowband, or broadband, brief or 
prolonged, and may be either continuous or intermittent (ANSI, 1995; 
NIOSH, 1998). Some of these non-pulsed sounds can be transient signals 
of short duration but without the essential properties of pulses (e.g., 
rapid rise time). Examples of non-pulsed sounds include those produced 
by vessels, aircraft, machinery operations such as drilling or 
dredging, vibratory pile driving, and active sonar systems. The 
duration of such sounds, as received at a distance, can be greatly 
extended in a highly reverberant environment.
    Sparkers produce pulsed signals with energy in the frequency ranges 
specified in Table 2. The amplitude of the acoustic wave emitted from 
sparker sources is equal in all directions (i.e., omnidirectional), 
while other sources planned for use during the proposed surveys have 
some degree of directionality to the beam, as specified in Table 2. 
Other sources planned for use during the proposed survey activity 
(e.g., CHIRPs) should be considered non-pulsed, intermittent sources.

Summary on Specific Potential Effects of Acoustic Sound Sources

    Underwater sound from active acoustic sources can include one or 
more of the following: Temporary or permanent hearing impairment, 
behavioral disturbance, masking, stress, and non-auditory physical 
effects. The degree of effect is intrinsically related to the signal 
characteristics, received level, distance from the source, and duration 
of the sound exposure. Marine mammals exposed to high-intensity sound, 
or to lower-intensity sound for prolonged periods, can experience 
hearing threshold shift (TS), which is the loss of hearing sensitivity 
at certain frequency ranges (Finneran, 2015). TS can be permanent (PTS; 
permanent threshold shift), in which case the loss of hearing 
sensitivity is not fully recoverable, or temporary (TTS; temporary 
threshold shift), in which case the animal's hearing threshold would 
recover over time (Southall et al., 2007).
    Animals in the vicinity of Atlantic Shores' proposed HRG survey 
activity are unlikely to incur even TTS due to the characteristics of 
the sound sources, which include relatively low source levels (179 to 
245 dB re 1 [micro]Pa m), and generally very short pulses and potential 
duration of exposure. These characteristics mean that instantaneous 
exposure is unlikely to cause TTS, as it is unlikely that exposure 
would occur close enough to the vessel for received levels to exceed 
peak pressure TTS criteria, and that the cumulative duration of 
exposure would be insufficient to exceed cumulative sound exposure 
level (SEL) criteria. Even for high-frequency cetacean species (e.g., 
harbor porpoises), which have the greatest sensitivity to potential 
TTS, individuals would have to make a very close approach and also 
remain very close to vessels operating these sources in order to 
receive multiple exposures at relatively high levels, as would be 
necessary to cause TTS. Intermittent exposures--as would occur due to 
the brief, transient signals produced by these sources--require a 
higher cumulative SEL to induce TTS than would continuous exposures of 
the same duration (i.e., intermittent exposure results in lower levels 
of TTS). Moreover, most marine mammals would more likely avoid a loud 
sound source rather than swim in such close proximity as to result in 
TTS. Kremser et al., (2005) noted that the probability of a cetacean 
swimming through the area of exposure when a sub-bottom profiler emits 
a pulse is small--because if the animal was in the area, it would have 
to pass the transducer at close range in order to be subjected to sound 
levels that could cause TTS and would likely exhibit avoidance behavior 
to the area near the transducer rather than swim through at such a 
close range. Further, the restricted beam shape of many of HRG survey 
devices planned for use (Table 2) makes it unlikely that an animal 
would be exposed more than briefly during the passage of the vessel.
    Behavioral disturbance may include a variety of effects, including 
subtle changes in behavior (e.g., minor or brief avoidance of an area 
or changes in vocalizations), more conspicuous changes in similar 
behavioral activities, and more sustained and/or potentially severe 
reactions, such as displacement from or abandonment of high-quality 
habitat. Behavioral responses to sound are highly variable and context-
specific and any reactions depend on numerous intrinsic and extrinsic 
factors (e.g., species, state of maturity, experience, current 
activity, reproductive state, auditory sensitivity, time of day), as 
well as the interplay between factors. Available studies show wide 
variation in response to underwater sound; therefore, it is difficult 
to predict specifically how any given sound in a particular instance 
might affect marine mammals perceiving the signal.
    In addition, sound can disrupt behavior through masking, or 
interfering with, an animal's ability to detect, recognize, or 
discriminate between acoustic signals of interest (e.g., those used for 
intraspecific communication and social interactions, prey detection, 
predator avoidance, navigation). Masking occurs when the receipt of a 
sound is interfered with by another coincident sound at similar 
frequencies

[[Page 4211]]

and at similar or higher intensity, and may occur whether the sound is 
natural (e.g., snapping shrimp, wind, waves, precipitation) or 
anthropogenic (e.g., shipping, sonar, seismic exploration) in origin. 
Marine mammal communications would not likely be masked appreciably by 
the acoustic signals given the directionality of the signals for most 
HRG survey equipment types planned for use (Table 2) and the brief 
period when an individual mammal is likely to be exposed.
    Classic stress responses begin when an animal's central nervous 
system perceives a potential threat to its homeostasis. That perception 
triggers stress responses regardless of whether a stimulus actually 
threatens the animal; the mere perception of a threat is sufficient to 
trigger a stress response (Moberg 2000; Seyle 1950). Once an animal's 
central nervous system perceives a threat, it mounts a biological 
response or defense that consists of a combination of the four general 
biological defense responses: Behavioral responses, autonomic nervous 
system responses, neuroendocrine responses, or immune responses. In the 
case of many stressors, an animal's first and sometimes most economical 
(in terms of biotic costs) response is behavioral avoidance of the 
potential stressor or avoidance of continued exposure to a stressor. An 
animal's second line of defense to stressors involves the sympathetic 
part of the autonomic nervous system and the classical ``fight or 
flight'' response which includes the cardiovascular system, the 
gastrointestinal system, the exocrine glands, and the adrenal medulla 
to produce changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and gastrointestinal 
activity that humans commonly associate with ``stress.'' These 
responses have a relatively short duration and may or may not have 
significant long-term effect on an animal's welfare. An animal's third 
line of defense to stressors involves its neuroendocrine systems; the 
system that has received the most study has been the hypothalamus-
pituitary-adrenal system (also known as the HPA axis in mammals). 
Unlike stress responses associated with the autonomic nervous system, 
virtually all neuro-endocrine functions that are affected by stress--
including immune competence, reproduction, metabolism, and behavior--
are regulated by pituitary hormones. Stress-induced changes in the 
secretion of pituitary hormones have been implicated in failed 
reproduction (Moberg 1987; Rivier 1995), reduced immune competence 
(Blecha 2000), and behavioral disturbance. Increases in the circulation 
of glucocorticosteroids (cortisol, corticosterone, and aldosterone in 
marine mammals; see Romano et al., 2004) have been long been equated 
with stress. The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive 
and does not normally place an animal at risk) and distress is the 
biotic cost of the response. In general, there are few data on the 
potential for strong, anthropogenic underwater sounds to cause non-
auditory physical effects in marine mammals. The available data do not 
allow identification of a specific exposure level above which non-
auditory effects can be expected (Southall et al., 2007). There is 
currently no definitive evidence that any of these effects occur even 
for marine mammals in close proximity to an anthropogenic sound source. 
In addition, marine mammals that show behavioral avoidance of survey 
vessels and related sound sources are unlikely to incur non-auditory 
impairment or other physical effects. NMFS does not expect that the 
generally short-term, intermittent, and transitory HRG and geotechnical 
survey activities would create conditions of long-term, continuous 
noise and chronic acoustic exposure leading to long-term physiological 
stress responses in marine mammals.
    Sound may affect marine mammals through impacts on the abundance, 
behavior, or distribution of prey species (e.g., crustaceans, 
cephalopods, fish, and zooplankton) (i.e., effects to marine mammal 
habitat). Prey species exposed to sound might move away from the sound 
source, experience TTS, experience masking of biologically relevant 
sounds, or show no obvious direct effects. The most likely impacts (if 
any) for most prey species in a given area would be temporary avoidance 
of the area. Surveys using active acoustic sound sources move through 
an area, limiting exposure to multiple pulses. In all cases, sound 
levels would return to ambient once a survey ends and the noise source 
is shut down and, when exposure to sound ends, behavioral and/or 
physiological responses are expected to end relatively quickly. 
Finally, the HRG survey equipment will not have significant impacts to 
the seafloor and does not represent a source of pollution.

Vessel Strike

    Vessel collisions with marine mammals, or ship strikes, can result 
in death or serious injury of the animal. These interactions are 
typically associated with large whales, which are less maneuverable 
than are smaller cetaceans or pinnipeds in relation to large vessels. 
Ship strikes generally involve commercial shipping vessels, which are 
generally larger and of which there is much more traffic in the ocean 
than geophysical survey vessels. Jensen and Silber (2004) summarized 
ship strikes of large whales worldwide from 1975-2003 and found that 
most collisions occurred in the open ocean and involved large vessels 
(e.g., commercial shipping). For vessels used in geophysical survey 
activities, vessel speed while towing gear is typically only 4-5 knots. 
At these speeds, both the possibility of striking a marine mammal and 
the possibility of a strike resulting in serious injury or mortality 
are so low as to be discountable. At average transit speed for 
geophysical survey vessels, the probability of serious injury or 
mortality resulting from a strike is less than 50 percent. However, the 
likelihood of a strike actually happening is again low given the 
smaller size of these vessels and generally slower speeds. Notably in 
the Jensen and Silber study, no strike incidents were reported for 
geophysical survey vessels during that time period.
    The potential effects of Atlantic Shores' specified survey activity 
are expected to be limited to Level B behavioral harassment. No 
permanent or temporary auditory effects, or significant impacts to 
marine mammal habitat, including prey, are expected.

Marine Mammal Habitat

    The HRG survey equipment will not contact the seafloor and does not 
represent a source of pollution. We are not aware of any available 
literature on impacts to marine mammal prey from sound produced by HRG 
survey equipment. However, as the HRG survey equipment introduces noise 
to the marine environment, there is the potential for it to result in 
avoidance of the area around the HRG survey activities on the part of 
marine mammal prey. Any avoidance of the area on the part of marine 
mammal prey would be expected to be short term and temporary.
    Because of the temporary nature of the disturbance, and the 
availability of similar habitat and resources (e.g., prey species) in 
the surrounding area, the impacts to marine mammals and the food 
sources that they utilize are not expected to cause significant or 
long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their 
populations. Impacts on marine mammal habitat from the proposed 
activities will be temporary, insignificant, and discountable.

[[Page 4212]]

Estimated Take

    This section provides an estimate of the number of incidental takes 
proposed for authorization through this IHA, which will inform both 
NMFS' consideration of ``small numbers'' and the negligible impact 
determination.
    Harassment is the only type of take expected to result from these 
activities. Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent 
here, section 3(18) of the MMPA defines ``harassment'' as any act of 
pursuit, torment, or annoyance, which (i) has the potential to injure a 
marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); 
or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal 
stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, 
including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, 
feeding, or sheltering (Level B harassment).
    Authorized takes would be by Level B harassment only, in the form 
of disruption of behavioral patterns for individual marine mammals 
resulting from exposure to noise from certain HRG acoustic sources. 
Based primarily on the characteristics of the signals produced by the 
acoustic sources planned for use and the proposed mitigation measures, 
Level A harassment is neither anticipated, nor proposed to be 
authorized. Take by Level A harassment (injury) is considered unlikely, 
even absent mitigation, based on the characteristics of the signals 
produced by the acoustic sources planned for use, and is not proposed 
for authorization. Implementation of required mitigation further 
reduces this potential. Furthermore and as previously described, no 
serious injury or mortality is anticipated or proposed to be authorized 
for this activity. Below we describe how the take is estimated.
    Generally speaking, we estimate take by considering: (1) Acoustic 
thresholds above which NMFS believes the best available science 
indicates marine mammals will be behaviorally harassed or incur some 
degree of permanent hearing impairment; (2) the area or volume of water 
that will be ensonified above these levels in a day; (3) the density or 
occurrence of marine mammals within these ensonified areas; and, (4) 
and the number of days of activities. We note that while these basic 
factors can contribute to a basic calculation to provide an initial 
prediction of takes, additional information that can qualitatively 
inform take estimates is also sometimes available (e.g., previous 
monitoring results or average group size). Below, we describe the 
factors considered here in more detail and present the proposed take 
estimate.

Acoustic Thresholds

    NMFS recommends the use of acoustic thresholds that identify the 
received level of underwater sound above which exposed marine mammals 
would be reasonably expected to be behaviorally harassed (equated to 
Level B harassment) or to incur PTS of some degree (equated to Level A 
harassment).
    Level B Harassment--Though significantly driven by received level, 
the onset of behavioral disturbance from anthropogenic noise exposure 
is also informed to varying degrees by other factors related to the 
source (e.g., frequency, predictability, duty cycle), the environment 
(e.g., bathymetry), and the receiving animals (hearing, motivation, 
experience, demography, behavioral context) and can be difficult to 
predict (Southall et al., 2007, Ellison et al., 2012). Based on what 
the available science indicates and the practical need to use a 
threshold based on a factor that is both predictable and measurable for 
most activities, NMFS uses a generalized acoustic threshold based on 
received level to estimate the onset of behavioral harassment. NMFS 
predicts that marine mammals may be behaviorally harassed (i.e., Level 
B harassment) when exposed to underwater anthropogenic noise above 
received levels of 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) for the impulsive sources 
(i.e., sparkers) and non-impulsive, intermittent sources (e.g., CHIRPs) 
evaluated here for Atlantic Shores' proposed activity.
    Level A harassment--NMFS' Technical Guidance for Assessing the 
Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing (Version 2.0) 
(NMFS, 2018) identifies dual criteria to assess auditory injury (Level 
A harassment) to five different marine mammal groups (based on hearing 
sensitivity) as a result of exposure to noise from two different types 
of sources (impulsive or non-impulsive). These thresholds are provided 
in the table below (Table 5). The references, analysis, and methodology 
used in the development of the thresholds are described in NMFS (2018) 
Technical Guidance, which may be accessed at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-acoustic-technical-guidance.

                     Table 5--Thresholds Identifying the Onset of Permanent Threshold Shift
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     PTS onset acoustic thresholds * (received level)
             Hearing group              ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  Impulsive                         Non-impulsive
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Low-Frequency (LF) Cetaceans...........  Cell 1: Lpk,flat: 219 dB;   Cell 2: LE,LF,24h: 199 dB.
                                          LE,LF,24h: 183 dB.
Mid-Frequency (MF) Cetaceans...........  Cell 3: Lpk,flat: 230 dB;   Cell 4: LE,MF,24h: 198 dB.
                                          LE,MF,24h: 185 dB.
High-Frequency (HF) Cetaceans..........  Cell 5: Lpk,flat: 202 dB;   Cell 6: LE,HF,24h: 173 dB.
                                          LE,HF,24h: 155 dB.
Phocid Pinnipeds (PW) (Underwater).....  Cell 7: Lpk,flat: 218 dB;   Cell 8: LE,PW,24h: 201 dB.
                                          LE,PW,24h: 185 dB.
Otariid Pinnipeds (OW) (Underwater)....  Cell 9: Lpk,flat: 232 dB;   Cell 10: LE,OW,24h: 219 dB.
                                          LE,OW,24h: 203 dB.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Dual metric acoustic thresholds for impulsive sounds: Use whichever results in the largest isopleth for
  calculating PTS onset. If a non-impulsive sound has the potential of exceeding the peak sound pressure level
  thresholds associated with impulsive sounds, these thresholds should also be considered.
Note: Peak sound pressure (Lpk) has a reference value of 1 [micro]Pa, and cumulative sound exposure level (LE)
  has a reference value of 1[micro]Pa\2\s. In this Table, thresholds are abbreviated to reflect American
  National Standards Institute standards (ANSI, 2013). However, ANSI defines peak sound pressure as
  incorporating frequency weighting, which is not the intent for this Technical Guidance. Hence, the subscript
  ``flat'' is being included to indicate peak sound pressure should be flat weighted or unweighted within the
  generalized hearing range. The subscript associated with cumulative sound exposure level thresholds indicates
  the designated marine mammal auditory weighting function (LF, MF, and HF cetaceans, and PW and OW pinnipeds)
  and that the recommended accumulation period is 24 hours. The cumulative sound exposure level thresholds could
  be exceeded in a multitude of ways (i.e., varying exposure levels and durations, duty cycle). When possible,
  it is valuable for action proponents to indicate the conditions under which these acoustic thresholds will be
  exceeded.


[[Page 4213]]

    The 2020 proposed notification for Atlantic Shores' HRG surveys (85 
FR 7926; February 12, 2020) previously analyzed the potential for Level 
A harassment (refer to Table 5 in that notification and additional 
discussion therein).
    Similar to the past IHAs issued to Atlantic Shores, the proposed 
activities for 2022 include the use of impulsive (i.e.,) and non-
impulsive (e.g., CHIRPs) sources. Carrying through the same logic as 
the locations, species, survey durations, equipment used, and source 
levels are all of a similar scope previously analyzed for Atlantic 
Shores' surveys, and as discussed above, NMFS has concluded that Level 
A harassment is not a reasonably likely outcome for marine mammals 
exposed to noise through use of the sources proposed for use here due 
to the mitigation measures Atlantic Shores has proposed, and the 
potential for Level A harassment is not evaluated further in this 
document. Atlantic Shores did not request authorization of take by 
Level A harassment, and no take by Level A harassment is proposed for 
authorization by NMFS.

Ensonified Area

    Here, we describe operational and environmental parameters of the 
activity that will feed into identifying the area ensonified above the 
acoustic thresholds, which include source levels and transmission loss 
coefficient.
    NMFS has developed a user-friendly methodology for estimating the 
extent of the Level B harassment isopleths associated with relevant HRG 
survey equipment (NMFS, 2020). This methodology incorporates frequency 
and directionality to refine estimated ensonified zones. For acoustic 
sources that operate with different beamwidths, the maximum beamwidth 
was used, and the lowest frequency of the source was used when 
calculating the frequency-dependent absorption coefficient (Table 2).
    NMFS considers the data provided by Crocker and Fratantonio (2016) 
to represent the best available information on source levels associated 
with HRG survey equipment and, therefore, recommends that source levels 
provided by Crocker and Fratantonio (2016) be incorporated in the 
method described above to estimate isopleth distances to harassment 
thresholds. In cases when the source level for a specific type of HRG 
equipment is not provided in Crocker and Fratantonio (2016), NMFS 
recommends that either the source levels provided by the manufacturer 
be used, or, in instances where source levels provided by the 
manufacturer are unavailable or unreliable, a proxy from Crocker and 
Fratantonio (2016) be used instead. Table 2 shows the HRG equipment 
types that may be used during the proposed surveys and the source 
levels associated with those HRG equipment types. The computations and 
results from the Level B ensonified area analysis are displayed in 
Tables 6 and 7 below.

       Table 6--Inputs Into the Level B Harassment Spreadsheet for High Resolution Geophysical Sources Using a Transmission Loss Coefficient of 20
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                    Input values in spreadsheet                              Computed values (meters)
                                         ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
               Source name                                                                                                                  Horizontal
                                             Threshold     Source level   Frequency (kH)     Beamwidth      Water depth   Slant distance     threshold
                                               level          (dBrms)                        (degrees)          (m)        of threshold      range (m)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SIG ELC 820 Sparker at 750J *...........             160             203            0.01             180               5             141             141
Geo Marine Survey System 2D SUHRS at                 160             195             0.2             180               5              56              56
 400J...................................
Edgetech 2000-DSS.......................             160             195               2              24               5              56               1
Edgetech 216............................             160             179               2              24               5               9               1
Edgetech 424............................             160             180               4              71              10              10               6
Edgetech 512i...........................             160             179             0.7              80              10               9               6
Pangeosubsea Sub-Bottom Imager TM.......             160             190               4             120               5              32               9
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Used as a proxy for the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 because the specific energy setting is not described in Crocker and Franantonio (2016).


 Table 7--Maximum Distances to Level B 160 dBRMS Threshold by Equipment
                      Type Operating Below 180 kHz
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                              Distances
 HRG survey equipment (sub-bottom  Representative equipment   to level B
            profiler)                        type             threshold
                                                                 (m)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sparker..........................  Applied Acoustics Dura-           141
                                    Spark 240.
                                   Geo Marine Survey System           56
                                    2D SUHRS.
CHIRP............................  Edgetech 2000-DSS.......           56
                                   Edgetech 216............            9
                                   Edgetech 424............           10
                                   Edgetech 512i...........            9
                                   Pangeosubsea Sub-Bottom            32
                                    ImagerTM.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Results of modeling using the methodology described and shown above 
indicated that, of the HRG survey equipment planned for use by Atlantic 
Shores that has the potential to result in Level B harassment of marine 
mammals, the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 would produce the largest 
Level B harassment isopleth (141-m; please refer

[[Page 4214]]

back to Tables 6 and 7 above, as well as Table 6-1 in Atlantic Shores' 
IHA application). Estimated Level B harassment isopleths associated 
with the CHIRP equipment planned for use are also found in Tables 6 and 
7. All CHIRPs equipment produced Level B harassment isopleths much 
smaller than the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 240 sparker did.
    Although Atlantic Shores does not expect to use sparker sources on 
all planned survey days and during the entire duration that surveys are 
likely to occur, Atlantic Shores proposes to assume for purposes of 
analysis that the sparker would be used on all survey days and across 
all hours. This is a conservative approach, as the actual sources used 
on individual survey days may produce smaller harassment distances.

Marine Mammal Occurrence

    In this section, we provide the information about presence, 
density, or group dynamics of marine mammals that will inform the take 
calculations.
    Habitat-based density models produced by the Duke University Marine 
Geospatial Ecology Laboratory and the Marine-life Data and Analysis 
Team, based on the best available marine mammal data from 1992-201 
obtained in a collaboration between Duke University, the Northeast 
Regional Planning Body, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, 
the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, and NOAA (Roberts et 
al., 2016a; Curtice et al., 2018), represent the best available 
information regarding marine mammal densities in the survey area. More 
recently, these data have been updated with new modeling results and 
include density estimates for pinnipeds (Roberts et al., 2016b, 2017, 
2018).
    The density data presented by Roberts et al., (2016b, 2017, 2018, 
2020) incorporates aerial and shipboard line-transect survey data from 
NMFS and other organizations and incorporates data from eight 
physiographic and 16 dynamic oceanographic and biological covariates, 
and controls for the influence of sea state, group size, availability 
bias, and perception bias on the probability of making a sighting. 
These density models were originally developed for all cetacean taxa in 
the U.S. Atlantic (Roberts et al., 2016a). In subsequent years, certain 
models have been updated based on additional data as well as certain 
methodological improvements. More information is available online at 
https://seamap.env.duke.edu/models/Duke/EC/. Marine mammal density 
estimates in the survey area (animals/km\2\) were obtained using the 
most recent model results for all taxa (Roberts et al., 2016b, 2017, 
2018, 2020). The updated models incorporate additional sighting data, 
including sightings from NOAA's Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for 
Protected Species (AMAPPS) surveys.
    For the exposure analysis, density data from Roberts et al., 
(2016b, 2017, 2018, 2021) were mapped using a geographic information 
system (GIS). For each of the survey areas (i.e., Lease Area, ECR 
North, ECR South), the densities of each species as reported by Roberts 
et al. (2016b, 2017, 2018, 2021) were averaged by season; thus, a 
density was calculated for each species for spring, summer, fall and 
winter. To be conservative, the greatest seasonal density calculated 
for each species was then carried forward in the exposure analysis. 
Estimated seasonal densities (animals per km\2\) of all marine mammal 
species that may be taken by the proposed survey, for all survey areas 
are shown in Tables C-1, C-2 and C-3 in Appendix C of Atlantic Shores' 
IHA application. The maximum seasonal density values used to estimate 
take numbers are shown in Table 8 below. Below, we discuss how 
densities were assumed to apply to specific species for which the 
Roberts et al. (2016b, 2017, 2018, 2021) models provide results at the 
genus or guild level.
    For bottlenose dolphin densities, Roberts et al., (2016b, 2017, 
2018) does not differentiate by stock. The Western North Atlantic 
northern migratory coastal stock is generally expected to occur only in 
coastal waters from the shoreline to approximately the 20-m (65-ft) 
isobath (Hayes et al., 2018). As the Lease Area is located within 
depths exceeding 20-m, where the offshore stock would generally be 
expected to occur, all calculated bottlenose dolphin exposures within 
the Lease Area were assigned to the offshore stock. However, both 
stocks have the potential to occur in the ECR North and ECR South 
survey areas. To account for the potential for mixed stocks within ECR 
North and South, the survey areas ECR North and South were divided 
approximately along the 20-m depth isobath, which roughly corresponds 
to the 10-fathom contour on NOAA navigation charts. As approximately 33 
percent of ECR North and ECR South are 20-m or less in depth, 33 
percent of the estimated take calculation for bottlenose dolphins was 
applied to the Western North Atlantic northern migratory coastal stock 
and the remaining 67 percent was applied to the offshore stock.
    For this proposed project, Atlantic Shores has used the same pilot 
whale densities that were previously used in the 2020 and subsequent 
2021 (Renewal) IHAs. To better estimate the number of pilot whales that 
could potentially be impacted by the proposed project, although 
exposure is noted as unlikely to occur in the IHA application, Atlantic 
Shores adjusted the take estimate by average group size.
    Because the seasonality, feeding preferences, and habitat use by 
gray seals often overlaps with that of harbor seals in the survey 
areas, it was assumed that modeled takes of seals could occur to either 
of the respective species. Furthermore, as the density models produced 
by Roberts et al. (2016b, 2017, 2018) do not differentiate between the 
different pinniped species, the same density estimates were applied to 
both seal species. Because of this, pinniped density values reported in 
Atlantic Shores' IHA application are described as ``seals'' and not 
species-specific.
    Since Atlantic Shores' 2020 and 2021 (Renewal) IHAs for HRG surveys 
were completed, the North Atlantic right whale density data has been 
updated for this proposed project. This is due to the inclusion of 
three new datasets: 2011-2015 Northeast Large Pelagic Survey 
Cooperative, 2017-2018 Marine Mammal Surveys of the Wind Energy Areas 
conducted by the New England Aquarium, and 2017-2018 New York Bight 
Whale Monitoring Program surveys conducted by the New York State 
Department of Environmental conservation (NYSDEC). This new density 
data shows distribution changes that are likely influenced by 
oceanographic and prey covariates in the whale density model (Roberts 
et al., 2021).

[[Page 4215]]



     Table 8--Maximum Seasonal Marine Mammal Densities (Number of Animals per 100 km\2\) in the Survey Areas
                                (Appendix C of Atlantic Shores' IHA Application)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                            Maximum seasonal densities
           Species groups                      Species           -----------------------------------------------
                                                                    Lease area       ECR north       ECR south
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Cetaceans..........................  North Atlantic right whale.           0.499           0.182           0.179
                                     Humpback whale.............           0.076           0.082           0.103
                                     Fin whale..................           0.100           0.080           0.057
                                     Sei whale..................           0.004           0.004           0.002
                                     Minke whale................           0.055           0.017           0.019
                                     Sperm whale................           0.013           0.005           0.003
                                     Long-finned pilot whale....           0.036           0.012           0.009
                                     Bottlenose dolphin (Western  ..............          21.675          58.524
                                      North Atlantic coastal
                                      migratory).
                                     Bottlenose dolphin (Western          21.752          21.675          58.524
                                      North Atlantic offshore).
                                     Common dolphin.............           3.120           1.644           1.114
                                     Atlantic white-sided                  0.487           0.213           0.152
                                      dolphin.
                                     Atlantic spotted dolphin...           0.076           0.059           0.021
                                     Risso's dolphin............           0.010           0.001           0.002
                                     Harbor porpoise............           2.904           7.357           2.209
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pinnipeds..........................  Gray seal..................           4.918           9.737           6.539
                                     Harbor seal................           4.918           9.737           6.539
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note--Many of the densities provided in this table have been previously used and applied during the 2020 IHA to
  Atlantic Shores and its subsequent Renewal and remain applicable.

Take Calculation and Estimation

    Here we describe how the information provided above is brought 
together to produce a quantitative take estimate.
    In order to estimate the number of marine mammals predicted to be 
exposed to sound levels that would result in harassment, radial 
distances to predicted isopleths corresponding to Level B harassment 
thresholds are calculated, as described above. The maximum distance 
(i.e., 141-m distance associated with the Applied Acoustics Dura-Spark 
240) to the Level B harassment criterion and the estimated distance 
traveled per day by a given survey vessel (i.e., 55-km (34.2-mi)) are 
then used to calculate the daily ensonified area, or zone of influence 
(ZOI) around the survey vessel.
    Atlantic Shores estimates that proposed surveys will achieve a 
maximum daily track line distance of 55 km per day (24-hour period) 
during proposed HRG surveys. This distance accounts for the vessel 
traveling at approximately 3.5 knots and accounts for non-active survey 
periods. Based on the maximum estimated distance to the Level B 
harassment threshold of 141-m (Table 7) and the maximum estimated daily 
track line distance of 55 km across all survey sites, an area of 15.57 
km\2\ would be ensonified to the Level B harassment threshold per day 
across all survey sites during Atlantic Shores' proposed surveys (Table 
9) based on the following formula:

Mobile Source ZOI = (Distance/day x 2r) + [pi]r[hairsp]\2\

Where:

Distance/day = the maximum distance a survey vessel could travel in 
a 24-hour period; and
r = the maximum radial distance from a given sound source to the 
NOAA Level A or Level B harassment thresholds.

                Table 9--Maximum HRG Survey Area Distances for Atlantic Shores' Proposed Project
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Number of        Survey      Maximum radial  Calculated ZOI   Total annual
           Survey area             active survey   distances per   distance (r)       per day       ensonified
                                       days       day in km (mi)     in m (ft)        (km\2\)      area (km\2\)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lease Area......................             120       55 (34.2)       141 (463)           15.57         1,868.4
ECR North.......................             180                                                         2,802.6
ECR South.......................              60                                                           934.2
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    As described above, this is a conservative estimate as it assumes 
the HRG source that results in the greatest isopleth distance to the 
Level B harassment threshold would be operated at all times during the 
entire survey, which may not ultimately occur.
    The number of marine mammals expected to be incidentally taken per 
day is then calculated by estimating the number of each species 
predicted to occur within the daily ensonified area (animals/km\2\), 
incorporating the maximum seasonal estimated marine mammal densities as 
described above. Estimated numbers of each species taken per day across 
all survey sites are then multiplied by the total number of survey days 
(i.e., 360). The product is then rounded, to generate an estimate of 
the total number of instances of harassment expected for each species 
over the duration of the survey. A summary of this method is 
illustrated in the following formula with the resulting proposed take 
of marine mammals is shown below in Table 10:

Estimated Take = D x ZOI x # of days

Where:

D = average species density (per km\2\); and
ZOI = maximum daily ensonified area to relevant thresholds.

[[Page 4216]]



 Table 10--Numbers of Potential Incidental Take of Marine Mammals Proposed for Authorization and Proposed Takes
                                          as a Percentage of Population
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                               Total
                                                                                 -------------------------------
                                                    Calculated    Takes proposed                  Proposed takes
                                                  takes by Level    for Level B   Proposed takes     (Level B
                     Species                       B harassment    harassment to     (Level B     Harassment) as
                                                        \e\        be authorized  Harassment) to   a percentage
                                                                        \f\        be authorized  of population/
                                                                                        \f\        stock \a\ \f\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Atlantic right whale......................              17              17              17            4.62
Humpback whale..................................               4           \c\ 8               8            0.57
Fin whale.......................................               5               5               5            0.07
Sei whale.......................................               2               2               2            0.03
Minke whale.....................................               2               2               2            0.01
Sperm whale.....................................               1               1               1            0.03
Long-finned pilot whale.........................              20              20              20            0.05
Bottlenose dolphin (W.N. Atlantic Coastal                    385             385             385            5.80
 Migratory).....................................
Bottlenose dolphin (W.N. Atlantic Offshore).....           1,175           1,175           1,175            1.87
Common dolphin (short-beaked)...................             406         \b\ 560             560            0.32
Atlantic white-sided dolphin....................              17              17              17            0.02
Atlantic spotted dolphin........................              50         \d\ 100             100            0.25
Risso's dolphin.................................              30              30              30            0.08
Harbor porpoise.................................             282             282             282            0.30
Harbor seal.....................................             426             426             426            0.56
Gray seal.......................................             426             426             426            1.56
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\a\ Calculated percentages of population/stock were based on the population estimates (Nest) found in the NMFS's
  draft 2021 U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal Stock Assessment on NMFS's website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessment-reports).
\b\ Based on information obtained from the monitoring report provided to NMFS after the completion of the 2020
  project, as well as information provided by Atlantic Shores (P. Phifer, personal communication, October 29,
  2021), NMFS has proposed to increase the number of authorized takes (by Level B harassment only) for common
  dolphins.
\c\ Based on recent data from King et al. (2021) where humpback whales were the most commonly sighted species in
  the New York Bight, NMFS has proposed to increase the take of humpback whales by assuming that Atlantic
  Shores' four modeled exposures would be of groups rather than individuals, and therefore multiplied by an
  average group size of two to yield eight.
\d\ Based on information obtained from the monitoring report provided to NMFS after the completion of the 2020
  project, as well as information provided by Atlantic Shores (P. Phifer, personal communication, October 29,
  2021), NMFS has proposed to increase the number of authorized takes (by Level B harassment only) for Atlantic
  spotted dolphins.
\e\ These values were proposed by Atlantic Shores.
\f\ These values were proposed by NMFS.

    The take numbers shown in Table 10 represent those originally 
calculated and requested by Atlantic Shores with minor modifications by 
NMFS for humpback whales, common dolphins, and Atlantic spotted 
dolphins, which are discussed below.
    As noted within Atlantic Shores' IHA application and discussed 
within the Renewal IHA application (see Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, 
2021), there was an adjustment made for Risso's dolphins, common 
dolphins, and long-finned pilot whales based on typical pod and group 
sizes, which yielded the values described above in Table 10. NMFS 
agrees with these approaches, as described in the IHA applications, 
with exception for three cetacean species described below.
    Estimated takes of common dolphins were increased from the density-
based estimate based on information provided by Atlantic Shores (P. 
Phifer, personal communication, October 29, 2021) and sightings 
described in the 2020 monitoring report. Based on these previous 
observations, exposures of common dolphins above the 160-dB harassment 
threshold were estimated at 1.55 per day. Assuming that this same 
exposure rate continues for the presently planned activity yields the 
estimate provided in Table 10.
    Based on recent information from King et al. (2021) that 
demonstrated that the humpback whale is commonly sighted along the New 
York Bight area, NMFS determined that the humpback whale take request 
may be too low given the occurrence of animals near the survey area. 
Because of this, NMFS proposes to double the requested take to account 
for underestimates to the actual occurrence of this species within the 
density data.
    Previously, 100 takes of Atlantic spotted dolphins, by Level B 
harassment, were authorized to Atlantic Shores during their 2020 IHA. 
Based on a lack of sightings in the 2020 field season per the submitted 
monitoring report, Atlantic Shores had requested and been authorized 
half of these takes (50 Level B harassment) during their 2021 field 
season for their Renewal IHA. However, based on information provided by 
Atlantic Shores (P. Phifer, personal communication, October 29, 2021) 
as the monitoring report for the 2021 field season is not yet 
available, NMFS has proposed to increase the take previously requested 
by Atlantic Shores from 50 to 100 to account for the numerous sightings 
of Atlantic spotted dolphins that had already occurred early into 
Atlantic Shores' 2021 field season (17 takes out of 50 authorized for 
the Renewal IHA).
    As described above, Roberts et al. (2018) produced density models 
for all seals and did not differentiate by seal species. The take 
calculation methodology as described above resulted in an estimate of 
852 total seal takes for both species. Based on this estimate, Atlantic 
Shores has requested 852 takes total for pinnipeds (426 each species), 
based on the use of the same density for both species as they are known 
to overlap in habitat use, foraging, and spatial scale. Furthermore, as 
the density estimates were not split by species in Roberts et al. 
(2016b, 2017, 2018) this approach assumes that the likelihood of either 
species occurring during the survey is equal. We think

[[Page 4217]]

this is a reasonable approach and therefore propose to authorize the 
requested amount of take, as shown in Table 10.
    Worth noting is the proposed authorized take of North Atlantic 
right whales, which stems from an increase in the density of North 
Atlantic right whales at the survey site. Atlantic Shores used 
information from Roberts et al., (2020) that demonstrated that the 
density of North Atlantic right whales has increased by approximately 
40 percent in some portions of the survey area compared to the 2020 IHA 
(see Table 11), which justifies the total proposed take number 
presented above in Table 10. While past monitoring reports (see the 
2020 report on NMFS' website) have reported no observations of North 
Atlantic right whales during the 2020 surveys, NMFS agrees with the 
approach taken by Atlantic Shores as using the best available science 
to be conservative and proposes to authorize 17 takes by Level B 
harassment only of North Atlantic right whales during the proposed 
project.

 Table 11--Changes in North Atlantic Right Whale Densities in the Project Site From the 2020 IHA to This Proposed 2022 IHA per Data From Roberts et al.,
                                                                         (2020)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                           Winter                    Spring                    Summer                     Fall
                                                 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                    2020 IHA     2022 IHA     2020 IHA     2022 IHA     2020 IHA     2022 IHA     2020 IHA     2022 IHA
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lease Area......................................        0.087        0.499        0.060        0.426        0.008        0.002        0.006        0.009
Northern ECR....................................        0.068        0.182        0.056        0.149        0.008        0.001        0.006        0.011
Southern ECR....................................        0.073        0.179        0.055        0.097        0.007        0.000        0.006        0.005
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Proposed Mitigation

    In order to issue an IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, 
NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to the 
activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on 
the species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to 
rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on 
the availability of the species or stock for taking for certain 
subsistence uses (latter not applicable for this action). NMFS 
regulations require applicants for incidental take authorizations to 
include information about the availability and feasibility (economic 
and technological) of equipment, methods, and manner of conducting the 
activity or other means of effecting the least practicable adverse 
impact upon the affected species or stocks and their habitat (50 CFR 
216.104(a)(11)).
    In evaluating how mitigation may or may not be appropriate to 
ensure the least practicable adverse impact on species or stocks and 
their habitat, as well as subsistence uses where applicable, we 
carefully consider two primary factors:
    (1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful 
implementation of the measure(s) is expected to reduce impacts to 
marine mammals, marine mammal species or stocks, and their habitat. 
This considers the nature of the potential adverse impact being 
mitigated (likelihood, scope, range). It further considers the 
likelihood that the measure will be effective if implemented 
(probability of accomplishing the mitigating result if implemented as 
planned), the likelihood of effective implementation (probability 
implemented as planned), and;
    (2) The practicability of the measures for applicant 
implementation, which may consider such things as cost, impact on 
operations, and, in the case of a military readiness activity, 
personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the 
effectiveness of the military readiness activity.

Proposed Mitigation Measures

    NMFS proposes the following proposed mitigation measures be 
implemented during Atlantic Shores' proposed marine site 
characterization surveys, in compliance with the proposed IHA and with 
the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Office (GARFO) 
programmatic consultation (specifically Project Design Criteria (PDC) 
4, 5, and 7) regarding geophysical surveys along the U.S. Atlantic 
coast in the three Atlantic Renewable Energy Regions (NOAA GARFO, 2021; 
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/new-england-mid-atlantic/consultations/section-7-take-reporting-programmatics-greater-atlantic#offshore-wind-site-assessment-and-site-characterization-activities-programmatic-consultation).
Marine Mammal Exclusion Zones and Level B Harassment Zones
    Marine mammal Exclusion Zones would be established around the HRG 
survey equipment and monitored by protected species observers (PSOs). 
These PSOs will be NMFS-approved visual PSOs. Based upon the acoustic 
source in use (impulsive: Sparkers; non-impulsive: Non-parametric sub-
bottom profilers), a minimum of one PSO must be on duty, per source 
vessel, during daylight hours and two PSOs must be on duty, per source 
vessel, during nighttime hours. These PSO will monitor Exclusion Zones 
based upon the radial distance from the acoustic source rather than 
being based around the vessel itself. The Exclusion Zone distances are 
as follows:
     A 500-m Exclusion Zone for North Atlantic right whales 
during use of specified acoustic sources (impulsive: Sparkers; non-
impulsive: Non-parametric sub-bottom profilers).
     A 100-m Exclusion Zone for all other marine mammals 
(excluding NARWs) during use of specified acoustic sources (except as 
specified below). All visual monitoring must begin no less than 30 
minutes prior to the initiation of the specified acoustic source and 
must continue until 30 minutes after use of specified acoustic sources 
ceases.
    If a marine mammal were detected approaching or entering the 
Exclusion Zones during the HRG survey, the vessel operator would adhere 
to the shutdown procedures described below to minimize noise impacts on 
the animals. These stated requirements will be included in the site-
specific training to be provided to the survey team.
Ramp-Up of Survey Equipment and Pre-Clearance of the Exclusion Zones
    When technically feasible, a ramp-up procedure would be used for 
HRG survey equipment capable of adjusting energy levels at the start or 
restart of survey activities. A ramp-up would begin with the powering 
up of the smallest acoustic HRG equipment at its lowest practical power 
output appropriate for the survey. The ramp-up procedure would be used 
in order to provide additional protection to marine

[[Page 4218]]

mammals near the survey area by allowing them to vacate the area prior 
to the commencement of survey equipment operation at full power. When 
technically feasible, the power would then be gradually turned up and 
other acoustic sources would be added. All ramp-ups shall be scheduled 
so as to minimize the time spent with the source being activated.
    Ramp-up activities will be delayed if a marine mammal(s) enters its 
respective Exclusion Zone. Ramp-up will continue if the animal has been 
observed exiting its respective Exclusion Zone or until an additional 
time period has elapsed with no further sighting (i.e., 15 minutes for 
small odontocetes and seals and 30 minutes for all other species).
    Atlantic Shores would implement a 30 minute pre-clearance period of 
the Exclusion Zones prior to the initiation of ramp-up of HRG 
equipment. The operator must notify a designated PSO of the planned 
start of ramp-up where the notification time should not be less than 60 
minutes prior to the planned ramp-up. This would allow the PSOs to 
monitor the Exclusion Zones for 30 minutes prior to the initiation of 
ramp-up. Prior to ramp-up beginning, Atlantic Shores must receive 
confirmation from the PSO that the Exclusion Zone is clear prior to 
proceeding. During this 30 minute pre-start clearance period, the 
entire applicable Exclusion Zones must be visible. The exception to 
this would be in situations where ramp-up may occur during periods of 
poor visibility (inclusive of nighttime) as long as appropriate visual 
monitoring has occurred with no detections of marine mammals in 30 
minutes prior to the beginning of ramp-up. Acoustic source activation 
may only occur at night where operational planning cannot reasonably 
avoid such circumstances.
    During this period, the Exclusion Zone will be monitored by the 
PSOs, using the appropriate visual technology. Ramp-up may not be 
initiated if any marine mammal(s) is within its respective Exclusion 
Zone. If a marine mammal is observed within an Exclusion Zone during 
the pre-clearance period, ramp-up may not begin until the animal(s) has 
been observed exiting its respective Exclusion Zone or until an 
additional time period has elapsed with no further sighting (i.e., 15 
minutes for small odontocetes and pinnipeds and 30 minutes for all 
other species). If a marine mammal enters the Exclusion Zone during 
ramp-up, ramp-up activities must cease and the source must be shut 
down. Any PSO on duty has the authority to delay the start of survey 
operations if a marine mammal is detected within the applicable pre-
start clearance zones.
    The pre-clearance zones would be:
     500-m for all ESA-listed species (North Atlantic right, 
sei, fin, sperm whales); and
     100-m for all other marine mammals.
    If any marine mammal species that are listed under the ESA are 
observed within the clearance zones, the 30 minute clock must be 
paused. If the PSO confirms the animal has exited the zone and headed 
away from the survey vessel, the 30 minute clock that was paused may 
resume. The pre-clearance clock will reset to 30 minutes if the animal 
dives or visual contact is otherwise lost.
    If the acoustic source is shut down for brief periods (i.e., less 
than 30 minutes) for reasons other than implementation of prescribed 
mitigation (e.g., mechanical difficulty), it may be activated again 
without ramp-up if PSOs have maintained constant visual observation and 
no detections of marine mammals have occurred within the applicable 
Exclusion Zone. For any longer shutdown, pre-start clearance 
observation and ramp-up are required.
    Activation of survey equipment through ramp-up procedures may not 
occur when visual detection of marine mammals within the pre-clearance 
zone is not expected to be effective (e.g., during inclement conditions 
such as heavy rain or fog).
    The acoustic source(s) must be deactivated when not acquiring data 
or preparing to acquire data, except as necessary for testing. 
Unnecessary use of the acoustic source shall be avoided.
Shutdown Procedures
    An immediate shutdown of the impulsive HRG survey equipment (Table 
7) would be required if a marine mammal is sighted entering or within 
its respective Exclusion Zone(s). Any PSO on duty has the authority to 
call for a shutdown of the acoustic source if a marine mammal is 
detected within the applicable Exclusion Zones. Any disagreement 
between the PSO and vessel operator should be discussed only after 
shutdown has occurred. The vessel operator would establish and maintain 
clear lines of communication directly between PSOs on duty and crew 
controlling the HRG source(s) to ensure that shutdown commands are 
conveyed swiftly while allowing PSOs to maintain watch.
    The shutdown requirement is waived for small delphinids (belonging 
to the genera of the Family Delpinidae: Delphinus, Lagenorhynchus, 
Stenella, or Tursiops) and pinnipeds if they are visually detected 
within the applicable Exclusion Zones. If a species for which 
authorization has not been granted, or, a species for which 
authorization has been granted but the authorized number of takes have 
been met, approaches or is observed within the applicable Level B 
harassment zone, shutdown would occur. In the event of uncertainty 
regarding the identification of a marine mammal species (i.e., such as 
whether the observed marine mammal belongs to Delphinus, 
Lagenorhynchus, Stenella, or Tursiops for which shutdown is waived, 
PSOs must use their best professional judgement in making the decision 
to call for a shutdown.
    Specifically, if a delphinid from the specified genera or a 
pinniped is visually detected approaching the vessel (i.e., to bow 
ride) or towed equipment, shutdown is not required.
    Upon implementation of a shutdown, the source may be reactivated 
after the marine mammal has been observed exiting the applicable 
Exclusion Zone or following a clearance period of 15 minutes for harbor 
porpoises and 30 minutes for all other species where there are no 
further detections of the marine mammal.
    Shutdown, pre-start clearance, and ramp-up procedures are not 
required during HRG survey operations using only non-impulsive sources 
(e.g., parametric sub-bottom profilers) other than non-parametric sub-
bottom profilers (e.g., CHIRPs). Pre-clearance and ramp-up, but not 
shutdown, are required when using non-impulsive, non-parametric sub-
bottom profilers.
Seasonal Operating Requirements
    As described above, the section of the proposed survey area 
partially overlaps with a portion of a North Atlantic right whale SMA 
off the port of New York/New Jersey. This SMA is active from November 1 
through April 30 of each year. All survey vessels, regardless of 
length, would be required to adhere to vessel speed restrictions (<10 
knots) when operating within the SMA during times when the SMA is 
active. In addition, between watch shifts, members of the monitoring 
team would consult NMFS' North Atlantic right whale reporting systems 
for the presence of North Atlantic right whales throughout survey 
operations. Members of the monitoring team would also monitor the NMFS 
North Atlantic right whale reporting systems for the establishment of 
Dynamic Management Areas (DMA). NMFS may also establish voluntary right 
whale Slow Zones any time a right whale (or whales) is acoustically 
detected. Atlantic Shores should be aware of this possibility and

[[Page 4219]]

remain attentive in the event a Slow Zone is established nearby or 
overlapping the survey area (Table 12).

      Table 12--North Atlantic Right Whale Dynamic Management Area (DMA) and Seasonal Management Area (SMA)
                                      Restrictions Within the Survey Areas
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           Survey area                  Species        DMA restrictions       Slow zones       SMA restrictions
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lease Area......................  North Atlantic          If established by NMFS, all of      N/A.
                                   right whale          Atlantic Shores' vessels will abide
                                   (Eubalaena              by the described restrictions
                                   glacialis).
ECR North.......................                                                              November 1 through
                                                                                               July 31 (Raritan
                                                                                               Bay).
ECR South.......................                                                              N/A.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
More information on Ship Strike Reduction for the North Atlantic right whale can be found at NMFS' website:
  https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/endangered-species-conservation/reducing-vessel-strikes-north-atlantic-right-whales.

    There are no known marine mammal rookeries or mating or calving 
grounds in the survey area that would otherwise potentially warrant 
increased mitigation measures for marine mammals or their habitat (or 
both). The proposed survey would occur in an area that has been 
identified as a biologically important area for migration for North 
Atlantic right whales. However, given the small spatial extent of the 
survey area relative to the substantially larger spatial extent of the 
right whale migratory area and the relatively low amount of noise 
generated by the survey, the survey is not expected to appreciably 
reduce the quality of migratory habitat nor to negatively impact the 
migration of North Atlantic right whales, thus mitigation to address 
the proposed survey's occurrence in North Atlantic right whale 
migratory habitat is not warranted.
Vessel Strike Avoidance
    Vessel operators must comply with the below measures except under 
extraordinary circumstances when the safety of the vessel or crew is in 
doubt or the safety of life at sea is in question. These requirements 
do not apply in any case where compliance would create an imminent and 
serious threat to a person or vessel or to the extent that a vessel is 
restricted in its ability to maneuver and, because of the restriction, 
cannot comply.
    Survey vessel crewmembers responsible for navigation duties will 
receive site-specific training on marine mammals sighting/reporting and 
vessel strike avoidance measures. Vessel strike avoidance measures 
would include the following, except under circumstances when complying 
with these requirements would put the safety of the vessel or crew at 
risk:
     Atlantic Shores will ensure that vessel operators and crew 
maintain a vigilant watch for cetaceans and pinnipeds and slow down, 
stop their vessels, or alter course, as appropriate and regardless of 
vessel size, to avoid striking any marine mammal. A single marine 
mammal at the surface may indicate the presence of additional submerged 
animals in the vicinity of the vessel; therefore, precautionary 
measures should always be exercised. A visual observer aboard the 
vessel must monitor a vessel strike avoidance zone around the vessel 
(species-specific distances detailed below). Visual observers 
monitoring the vessel strike avoidance zone may be third-party 
observers (i.e., PSOs) or crew members, but crew members responsible 
for these duties must be provided sufficient training to (1) 
distinguish marine mammal from other phenomena, and (2) broadly to 
identify a marine mammal as a right whale, other whale (defined in this 
context as sperm whales or baleen whales other than right whales), or 
other marine mammals. All vessels, regardless of size, must observe a 
10-knot speed restriction in specific areas designated by NMFS for the 
protection of North Atlantic right whales from vessel strikes, 
including seasonal management areas (SMAs) and dynamic management areas 
(DMAs) when in effect. See www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/endangered-species-conservation/reducing-ship-strikes-north-atlantic-right-whales 
for specific detail regarding these areas.
     All vessels must reduce their speed to 10-knots or less 
when mother/calf pairs, pods, or large assemblages of cetaceans are 
observed near a vessel;
     All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 
500-m (1,640-ft) from right whales and other ESA-listed species. If an 
ESA-listed species is sighted within the relevant separation distance, 
the vessel must steer a course away at 10-knots or less until the 500-m 
separation distance has been established. If a whale is observed but 
cannot be confirmed as a species that is not ESA-listed, the vessel 
operator must assume that it is an ESA-listed species and take 
appropriate action.
     All vessels must maintain a minimum separation distance of 
100-m (328-ft) from non-ESA-listed baleen whales.
     All vessels must, to the maximum extent practicable, 
attempt to maintain a minimum separation distance of 50-m (164-ft) from 
all other marine mammals, with an understanding that, at times, this 
may not be possible (e.g., for animals that approach the vessel, bow-
riding species).
     When marine mammal are sighted while a vessel is underway, 
the vessel shall take action as necessary to avoid violating the 
relevant separation distance (e.g., attempt to remain parallel to the 
animal's course, avoid excessive speed or abrupt changes in direction 
until the animal has left the area, reduce speed and shift the engine 
to neutral). This does not apply to any vessel towing gear or any 
vessel that is navigationally constrained.
    Members of the monitoring team will consult NMFS North Atlantic 
right whale reporting system and Whale Alert, daily and as able, for 
the presence of North Atlantic right whales throughout survey 
operations, and for the establishment of a DMA. If NMFS should 
establish a DMA in the survey area during the survey, the vessels will 
abide by speed restrictions in the DMA.
Training
    All PSOs must have completed a PSO training program and received 
NMFS approval to act as a PSO for geophysical surveys. Documentation of 
NMFS approval and most recent training certificates of individual PSOs' 
successful completion of a commercial PSO training course must be 
provided upon request. Further information can be found at 
www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/endangered-species-conservation/protected-species-observers. In the event where third-party PSOs are 
not required, crew members serving as lookouts must receive training on 
protected species identification, vessel strike minimization 
procedures, how and when to communicate with the vessel captain, and 
reporting requirements.

[[Page 4220]]

    Atlantic Shores shall instruct relevant vessel personnel with 
regard to the authority of the marine mammal monitoring team, and shall 
ensure that relevant vessel personnel and the marine mammal monitoring 
team participate in a joint onboard briefing (hereafter PSO briefing), 
led by the vessel operator and lead PSO, prior to beginning survey 
activities to ensure that responsibilities, communication procedures, 
marine mammal monitoring protocols, safety and operational procedures, 
and IHA requirements are clearly understood. This PSO briefing must be 
repeated when relevant new personnel (e.g., PSOs, acoustic source 
operator) join the survey operations before their responsibilities and 
work commences.
    Project-specific training will be conducted for all vessel crew 
prior to the start of a survey and during any changes in crew such that 
all survey personnel are fully aware and understand the mitigation, 
monitoring, and reporting requirements. All vessel crew members must be 
briefed in the identification of protected species that may occur in 
the survey area and in regulations and best practices for avoiding 
vessel collisions. Reference materials must be available aboard all 
project vessels for identification of listed species. The expectation 
and process for reporting of protected species sighted during surveys 
must be clearly communicated and posted in highly visible locations 
aboard all project vessels, so that there is an expectation for 
reporting to the designated vessel contact (such as the lookout or the 
vessel captain), as well as a communication channel and process for 
crew members to do so. Prior to implementation with vessel crews, the 
training program will be provided to NMFS for review and approval. 
Confirmation of the training and understanding of the requirements will 
be documented on a training course log sheet. Signing the log sheet 
will certify that the crew member understands and will comply with the 
necessary requirements throughout the survey activities.
    Based on our evaluation of Atlantic Shores' proposed measures, as 
well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has preliminarily 
determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means 
effecting the least practicable impact on the affected species or 
stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, 
mating grounds, and areas of similar significance.

Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an IHA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth requirements pertaining to the 
monitoring and reporting of such taking. The MMPA implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for 
authorizations must include the suggested means of accomplishing the 
necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased 
knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on 
populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the 
proposed action area. Effective reporting is critical to both 
compliance as well as ensuring that the most value is obtained from the 
required monitoring.
    Monitoring and reporting requirements prescribed by NMFS should 
contribute to improved understanding of one or more of the following:
     Occurrence of marine mammal species or stocks in the area 
in which take is anticipated (e.g., presence, abundance, distribution, 
density).
     Nature, scope, or context of likely marine mammal exposure 
to potential stressors/impacts (individual or cumulative, acute or 
chronic), through better understanding of: (1) Action or environment 
(e.g., source characterization, propagation, ambient noise); (2) 
affected species (e.g., life history, dive patterns); (3) co-occurrence 
of marine mammal species with the action; or (4) biological or 
behavioral context of exposure (e.g., age, calving or feeding areas).
     Individual marine mammal responses (behavioral or 
physiological) to acoustic stressors (acute, chronic, or cumulative), 
other stressors, or cumulative impacts from multiple stressors.
     How anticipated responses to stressors impact either: (1) 
Long-term fitness and survival of individual marine mammals; or (2) 
populations, species, or stocks.
     Effects on marine mammal habitat (e.g., marine mammal prey 
species, acoustic habitat, or other important physical components of 
marine mammal habitat).
     Mitigation and monitoring effectiveness.

Proposed Monitoring Measures

    Atlantic Shores must use independent, dedicated, trained PSOs, 
meaning that the PSOs must be employed by a third-party observer 
provider, must have no tasks other than to conduct observational 
effort, collect data, and communicate with and instruct relevant vessel 
crew with regard to the presence of marine mammal and mitigation 
requirements (including brief alerts regarding maritime hazards), and 
must have successfully completed an approved PSO training course for 
geophysical surveys. Visual monitoring must be performed by qualified, 
NMFS-approved PSOs. PSO resumes must be provided to NMFS for review and 
approval prior to the start of survey activities.
    PSO names must be provided to NMFS by the operator for review and 
confirmation of their approval for specific roles prior to commencement 
of the survey. For prospective PSOs not previously approved, or for 
PSOs whose approval is not current, NMFS must review and approve PSO 
qualifications. Resumes should include information related to relevant 
education, experience, and training, including dates, duration, 
location, and description of prior PSO experience. Resumes must be 
accompanied by relevant documentation of successful completion of 
necessary training.
    NMFS may approve PSOs as conditional or unconditional. A 
conditionally-approved PSO may be one who is trained but has not yet 
attained the requisite experience. An unconditionally-approved PSO is 
one who has attained the necessary experience. For unconditional 
approval, the PSO must have a minimum of 90 days at sea performing the 
role during a geophysical survey, with the conclusion of the most 
recent relevant experience not more than 18 months previous.
    At least one of the visual PSOs aboard the vessel must be 
unconditionally-approved. One unconditionally-approved visual PSO shall 
be designated as the lead for the entire PSO team. This lead should 
typically be the PSO with the most experience, would coordinate duty 
schedules and roles for the PSO team, and serve as primary point of 
contact for the vessel operator. To the maximum extent practicable, the 
duty schedule shall be planned such that unconditionally-approved PSOs 
are on duty with conditionally-approved PSOs.
    PSOs must have successfully attained a bachelor's degree from an 
accredited college or university with a major in one of the natural 
sciences, a minimum of 30 semester hours or equivalent in the 
biological sciences, and at least one undergraduate course in math or 
statistics. The educational requirements may be waived if the PSO has 
acquired the relevant skills through alternate experience. Requests for 
such a waiver

[[Page 4221]]

shall be submitted to NMFS and must include written justification. 
Alternate experience that may be considered includes, but is not 
limited to (1) secondary education and/or experience comparable to PSO 
duties; (2) previous work experience conducting academic, commercial, 
or government-sponsored marine mammal surveys; and (3) previous work 
experience as a PSO (PSO must be in good standing and demonstrate good 
performance of PSO duties).
    PSOs must successfully complete relevant training, including 
completion of all required coursework and passing (80 percent or 
greater) a written and/or oral examination developed for the training 
program.
    PSOs must coordinate to ensure 360[deg] visual coverage around the 
vessel from the most appropriate observation posts and shall conduct 
visual observations using binoculars or night-vision equipment and the 
naked eye while free from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, 
and diligent manner.
    PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of four consecutive hours 
followed by a break of at least two hours between watches and may 
conduct a maximum of 12 hours of observation per 24-hour period.
    Any observations of marine mammal by crew members aboard any vessel 
associated with the survey shall be relayed to the PSO team.
    Atlantic Shores must work with the selected third-party PSO 
provider to ensure PSOs have all equipment (including backup equipment) 
needed to adequately perform necessary tasks, including accurate 
determination of distance and bearing to observed marine mammals, and 
to ensure that PSOs are capable of calibrating equipment as necessary 
for accurate distance estimates and species identification. Such 
equipment, at a minimum, shall include:
     At least one thermal (infrared) imagine device suited for 
the marine environment;
     Reticle binoculars (e.g., 7 x 50) of appropriate quality 
(at least one per PSO, plus backups);
     Global Positioning Units (GPS) (at least one plus 
backups);
     Digital cameras with a telephoto lens that is at least 
300-mm or equivalent on a full-frame single lens reflex (SLR) (at least 
one plus backups). The camera or lens should also have an image 
stabilization system;
     Equipment necessary for accurate measurement of distances 
to marine mammal;
     Compasses (at least one plus backups);
     Means of communication among vessel crew and PSOs; and
     Any other tools deemed necessary to adequately and 
effectively perform PSO tasks.
    The equipment specified above may be provided by an individual PSO, 
the third-part PSO provider, or the operator, but Atlantic Shores is 
responsible for ensuring PSOs have the proper equipment required to 
perform the duties specified in the IHA.
    During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state 3 
or less), PSOs shall conduct observations when the specified acoustic 
sources are not operating for comparison of sighting rates and behavior 
with and without use of the specified acoustic sources and between 
acquisition periods, to the maximum extent practicable.
    The PSOs will be responsible for monitoring the waters surrounding 
each survey vessel to the farthest extent permitted by sighting 
conditions, including Exclusion Zones, during all HRG survey 
operations. PSOs will visually monitor and identify marine mammals, 
including those approaching or entering the established Exclusion Zones 
during survey activities. It will be the responsibility of the PSO(s) 
on duty to communicate the presence of marine mammals as well as to 
communicate the action(s) that are necessary to ensure mitigation and 
monitoring requirements are implemented as appropriate.
    Atlantic Shores plans to utilize six PSOs across each vessel to 
account for shift changes, with a total of 18 during this project (six 
PSOs per vessel x three vessels). At a minimum, during all HRG survey 
operations (e.g., any day on which use of an HRG source is planned to 
occur), one PSO must be on duty during daylight operations on each 
survey vessel, conducting visual observations at all times on all 
active survey vessels during daylight hours (i.e., from 30 minutes 
prior to sunrise through 30 minutes following sunset) and two PSOs will 
be on watch during nighttime operations. The PSO(s) would ensure 
360[deg] visual coverage around the vessel from the most appropriate 
observation posts and would conduct visual observations using 
binoculars and/or night vision goggles and the naked eye while free 
from distractions and in a consistent, systematic, and diligent manner. 
PSOs may be on watch for a maximum of four consecutive hours followed 
by a break of at least two hours between watches and may conduct a 
maximum of 12 hours of observation per 24-hr period. In cases where 
multiple vessels are surveying concurrently, any observations of marine 
mammals would be communicated to PSOs on all nearby survey vessels.
    PSOs must be equipped with binoculars and have the ability to 
estimate distance and bearing to detect marine mammals, particularly in 
proximity to Exclusion Zones. Reticulated binoculars must also be 
available to PSOs for use as appropriate based on conditions and 
visibility to support the sighting and monitoring of marine mammals. 
During nighttime operations, night-vision goggles with thermal clip-ons 
and infrared technology would be used. Position data would be recorded 
using hand-held or vessel GPS units for each sighting.
    During good conditions (e.g., daylight hours; Beaufort sea state 
(BSS) 3 or less), to the maximum extent practicable, PSOs would also 
conduct observations when the acoustic source is not operating for 
comparison of sighting rates and behavior with and without use of the 
active acoustic sources. Any observations of marine mammals by crew 
members aboard any vessel associated with the survey would be relayed 
to the PSO team. Data on all PSO observations would be recorded based 
on standard PSO collection requirements (see Proposed Reporting 
Measures). This would include dates, times, and locations of survey 
operations; dates and times of observations, location and weather; 
details of marine mammal sightings (e.g., species, numbers, behavior); 
and details of any observed marine mammal behavior that occurs (e.g., 
noted behavioral disturbances).

Proposed Reporting Measures

    Atlantic Shores shall submit a draft comprehensive report on all 
activities and monitoring results within 90 days of the completion of 
the survey or expiration of the IHA, whichever comes sooner. The report 
must describe all activities conducted and sightings of marine mammals, 
must provide full documentation of methods, results, and interpretation 
pertaining to all monitoring, and must summarize the dates and 
locations of survey operations and all marine mammals sightings (dates, 
times, locations, activities, associated survey activities). The draft 
report shall also include geo-referenced, time-stamped vessel 
tracklines for all time periods during which acoustic sources were 
operating. Tracklines should include points recording any change in 
acoustic source status (e.g., when the sources began operating, when 
they were turned off, or when they changed operational status such as 
from full array to single gun or vice versa). GIS files shall be 
provided in ESRI

[[Page 4222]]

shapefile format and include the UTC date and time, latitude in decimal 
degrees, and longitude in decimal degrees. All coordinates shall be 
referenced to the WGS84 geographic coordinate system. In addition to 
the report, all raw observational data shall be made available. The 
report must summarize the information submitted in interim monthly 
reports (if required) as well as additional data collected. A final 
report must be submitted within 30 days following resolution of any 
comments on the draft report. All draft and final marine mammal and 
acoustic monitoring reports must be submitted to 
[email protected] and [email protected].
    PSOs must use standardized electronic data forms to record data. 
PSOs shall record detailed information about any implementation of 
mitigation requirements, including the distance of marine mammal to the 
acoustic source and description of specific actions that ensued, the 
behavior of the animal(s), any observed changes in behavior before and 
after implementation of mitigation, and if shutdown was implemented, 
the length of time before any subsequent ramp-up of the acoustic 
source. If required mitigation was not implemented, PSOs should record 
a description of the circumstances. At a minimum, the following 
information must be recorded:
    1. Vessel names (source vessel and other vessels associated with 
survey), vessel size and type, maximum speed capability of vessel;
    2. Dates of departures and returns to port with port name;
    3. The lease number;
    4. PSO names and affiliations;
    5. Date and participants of PSO briefings;
    6. Visual monitoring equipment used;
    7. PSO location on vessel and height of observation location above 
water surface;
    8. Dates and times (Greenwich Mean Time) of survey on/off effort 
and times corresponding with PSO on/off effort;
    9. Vessel location (decimal degrees) when survey effort begins and 
ends and vessel location at beginning and end of visual PSO duty 
shifts;
    10. Vessel location at 30-second intervals if obtainable from data 
collection software, otherwise at practical regular interval
    11. Vessel heading and speed at beginning and end of visual PSO 
duty shifts and upon any change;
    12. Water depth (if obtainable from data collection software);
    13. Environmental conditions while on visual survey (at beginning 
and end of PSO shift and whenever conditions change significantly), 
including BSS and any other relevant weather conditions including cloud 
cover, fog, sun glare, and overall visibility to the horizon;
    14. Factors that may contribute to impaired observations during 
each PSO shift change or as needed as environmental conditions change 
(e.g., vessel traffic, equipment malfunctions); and
    15. Survey activity information (and changes thereof), such as 
acoustic source power output while in operation, number and volume of 
airguns operating in an array, tow depth of an acoustic source, and any 
other notes of significance (i.e., pre-start clearance, ramp-up, 
shutdown, testing, shooting, ramp-up completion, end of operations, 
streamers, etc.).
    Upon visual observation of any marine mammal, the following 
information must be recorded:
    1. Watch status (sighting made by PSO on/off effort, opportunistic, 
crew, alternate vessel/platform);
    2. Vessel/survey activity at time of sighting (e.g., deploying, 
recovering, testing, shooting, data acquisition, other);
    3. PSO who sighted the animal;
    4. Time of sighting;
    5. Initial detection method;
    6. Sightings cue;
    7. Vessel location at time of sighting (decimal degrees);
    8. Direction of vessel's travel (compass direction);
    9. Speed of the vessel(s) from which the observation was made;
    10. Identification of the animal (e.g., genus/species, lowest 
possible taxonomic level or unidentified); also note the composition of 
the group if there is a mix of species;
    11. Species reliability (an indicator of confidence in 
identification);
    12. Estimated distance to the animal and method of estimating 
distance;
    13. Estimated number of animals (high/low/best);
    14. Estimated number of animals by cohort (adults, yearlings, 
juveniles, calves, group composition, etc.);
    15. Description (as many distinguishing features as possible of 
each individual seen, including length, shape, color, pattern, scars, 
or markings, shape and size of dorsal fin, shape of head, and blow 
characteristics);
    16. Detailed behavior observations (e.g., number of blows/breaths, 
number of surfaces, breaching, spyhopping, diving, feeding, traveling; 
as explicit and detailed as possible; note any observed changes in 
behavior before and after point of closest approach);
    17. Mitigation actions; description of any actions implemented in 
response to the sighting (e.g., delays, shutdowns, ramp-up, speed or 
course alteration, etc.) and time and location of the action;
    18. Equipment operating during sighting;
    19. Animal's closest point of approach and/or closest distance from 
the center point of the acoustic source; and
    20. Description of any actions implemented in response to the 
sighting (e.g., delays, shutdown, ramp-up) and time and location of the 
action.
    If a North Atlantic right whale is observed at any time by PSOs or 
personnel on any project vessels, during surveys or during vessel 
transit, Atlantic Shores must report the sighting information to the 
NMFS North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Advisory System (866-755-6622) 
within two hours of occurrence, when practicable, or no later than 24 
hours after occurrence. North Atlantic right whale sightings in any 
location may also be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard via channel 16 
and through the WhaleAlert app (https://www.whalealert.org).
    In the event that Atlantic Shores personnel discover an injured or 
dead marine mammal, regardless of the cause of injury or death. In the 
event that personnel involved in the survey activities discover an 
injured or dead marine mammal, Atlantic Shores must report the incident 
to NMFS as soon as feasible by phone (866-755-6622) and by email 
([email protected] and [email protected]) as 
soon as feasible. The report must include the following information:
    1. Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the first 
discovery (and updated location information if known and applicable);
    2. Species identification (if known) or description of the 
animal(s) involved;
    3. Condition of the animal(s) (including carcass condition if the 
animal is dead);
    4. Observed behaviors of the animal(s), if alive;
    5. If available, photographs or video footage of the animal(s); and
    6. General circumstances under which the animal was discovered.
    In the unanticipated event of a ship strike of a marine mammal by 
any vessel involved in the activities covered by the IHA, Atlantic 
Shores must report the incident to NMFS by phone (866-755-6622) and by 
email ([email protected] and 
[email protected]) as soon as feasible. The report 
would include the following information:
    1. Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the incident;
    2. Species identification (if known) or description of the 
animal(s) involved;

[[Page 4223]]

    3. Vessel's speed during and leading up to the incident;
    4. Vessel's course/heading and what operations were being conducted 
(if applicable);
    5. Status of all sound sources in use;
    6. Description of avoidance measures/requirements that were in 
place at the time of the strike and what additional measures were 
taken, if any, to avoid strike;
    7. Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, visibility) immediately preceding the 
strike;
    8. Estimated size and length of animal that was struck;
    9. Description of the behavior of the marine mammal immediately 
preceding and/or following the strike;
    10. If available, description of the presence and behavior of any 
other marine mammals immediately preceding the strike;
    11. Estimated fate of the animal (e.g., dead, injured but alive, 
injured and moving, blood or tissue observed in the water, status 
unknown, disappeared); and
    12. To the extent practicable, photographs or video footage of the 
animal(s).

Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination

    NMFS has defined negligible impact 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 (50 CFR 216.103). A 
negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population-
level effects). An estimate of the number of takes alone is not enough 
information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to 
considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be 
``taken'' through harassment, NMFS considers other factors, such as the 
likely nature of any responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context 
of any responses (e.g., critical reproductive time or location, 
migration), as well as effects on habitat, and the likely effectiveness 
of the mitigation. We also assess the number, intensity, and context of 
estimated takes by evaluating this information relative to population 
status. Consistent with the 1989 preamble for NMFS's implementing 
regulations (54 FR 40338; September 29, 1989), the impacts from other 
past and ongoing anthropogenic activities are incorporated into this 
analysis via their impacts on the environmental baseline (e.g., as 
reflected in the regulatory status of the species, population size and 
growth rate where known, ongoing sources of human-caused mortality, or 
ambient noise levels).
    To avoid repetition, our analysis applies to all the species listed 
in Table 4, given that NMFS expects the anticipated effects of the 
proposed survey to be similar in nature. Where there are meaningful 
differences between species or stocks--as is the case of the North 
Atlantic right whale--they are included as separate subsections below. 
NMFS does not anticipate that serious injury or mortality would occur 
as a result from HRG surveys, even in the absence of mitigation, and no 
serious injury or mortality is proposed to be authorized. As discussed 
in the Potential Effects section, non-auditory physical effects and 
vessel strike are not expected to occur. NMFS expects that all 
potential takes would be in the form of short-term Level B behavioral 
harassment in the form of temporary avoidance of the area or decreased 
foraging (if such activity was occurring), reactions that are 
considered to be of low severity and with no lasting biological 
consequences (e.g., Southall et al., 2007). Even repeated Level B 
harassment of some small subset of an overall stock is unlikely to 
result in any significant realized decrease in viability for the 
affected individuals, and thus would not result in any adverse impact 
to the stock as a whole. As described above, Level A harassment is not 
expected to occur given the nature of the operations, the estimated 
size of the Level A harassment zones, and the required shutdown zones 
for certain activities.
    In addition to being temporary, the maximum expected harassment 
zone around a survey vessel is 141 m. Although this distance is assumed 
for all survey activity in estimating take numbers proposed for 
authorization and evaluated here, in reality, the Applied Acoustics 
Dura-Spark 240 would likely not be used across the entire 24-hour 
period and across all 360 days. As noted in Table 7, the other acoustic 
sources Atlantic Shores has included in their application produce Level 
B harassment zones below 60-m. Therefore, the ensonified area 
surrounding each vessel is relatively small compared to the overall 
distribution of the animals in the area and their use of the habitat. 
Feeding behavior is not likely to be significantly impacted as prey 
species are mobile and are broadly distributed throughout the survey 
area; therefore, marine mammals that may be temporarily displaced 
during survey activities are expected to be able to resume foraging 
once they have moved away from areas with disturbing levels of 
underwater noise. Because of the temporary nature of the disturbance 
and the availability of similar habitat and resources in the 
surrounding area, the impacts to marine mammals and the food sources 
that they utilize are not expected to cause significant or long-term 
consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations.
    There are no rookeries, mating or calving grounds known to be 
biologically important to marine mammals within the proposed survey 
area and there are no feeding areas known to be biologically important 
to marine mammals within the proposed survey area. There is no 
designated critical habitat for any ESA-listed marine mammals in the 
proposed survey area.

North Atlantic Right Whales

    The status of the North Atlantic right whale population is of 
heightened concern and, therefore, merits additional analysis. As noted 
previously, elevated North Atlantic right whale mortalities began in 
June 2017 and there is an active UME. Overall, preliminary findings 
support human interactions, specifically vessel strikes and 
entanglements, as the cause of death for the majority of right whales. 
As noted previously, the proposed survey area overlaps a migratory 
corridor BIA for North Atlantic right whales. Due to the fact that the 
proposed survey activities are temporary and the spatial extent of 
sound produced by the survey would be very small relative to the 
spatial extent of the available migratory habitat in the BIA, right 
whale migration is not expected to be impacted by the proposed survey. 
Given the relatively small size of the ensonified area, it is unlikely 
that prey availability would be adversely affected by HRG survey 
operations. Required vessel strike avoidance measures will also 
decrease risk of ship strike during migration; no ship strike is 
expected to occur during Atlantic Shores' proposed activities. The 500-
m shutdown zone for right whales is conservative, considering the Level 
B harassment isopleth for the most impactful acoustic source (i.e., 
sparker) is estimated to be 141-m, and thereby minimizes the potential 
for behavioral harassment of this species.
    As noted previously, Level A harassment is not expected due to the 
small PTS zones associated with HRG equipment types proposed for use. 
The proposed authorizations for Level B harassment takes of North 
Atlantic right

[[Page 4224]]

whale are not expected to exacerbate or compound upon the ongoing UME. 
The limited North Atlantic right whale Level B harassment takes 
proposed for authorization are expected to be of a short duration, and 
given the number of estimated takes, repeated exposures of the same 
individual are not expected. Further, given the relatively small size 
of the ensonified area during Atlantic Shores' proposed activities, it 
is unlikely that North Atlantic right whale prey availability would be 
adversely affected. Accordingly, NMFS does not anticipate North 
Atlantic right whales takes that would result from Atlantic Shores' 
proposed activities would impact annual rates of recruitment or 
survival. Thus, any takes that occur would not result in population 
level impacts.

Other Marine Mammal Species With Active UMEs

    As noted previously, there are several active UMEs occurring in the 
vicinity of Atlantic Shores' proposed survey area. Elevated humpback 
whale mortalities have occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine 
through Florida since January 2016. Of the cases examined, 
approximately half had evidence of human interaction (ship strike or 
entanglement). The UME does not yet provide cause for concern regarding 
population-level impacts. Despite the UME, the relevant population of 
humpback whales (the West Indies breeding population, or DPS) remains 
stable at approximately 12,000 individuals.
    Beginning in January 2017, elevated minke whale strandings have 
occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine through South Carolina, 
with highest numbers in Massachusetts, Maine, and New York. This event 
does not provide cause for concern regarding population level impacts, 
as the likely population abundance is greater than 20,000 whales.
    Elevated numbers of harbor seal and gray seal mortalities were 
first observed in July 2018 and have occurred across Maine, New 
Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Based on tests conducted so far, the main 
pathogen found in the seals is phocine distemper virus, although 
additional testing to identify other factors that may be involved in 
this UME are underway. The UME does not yet provide cause for concern 
regarding population-level impacts to any of these stocks. For harbor 
seals, the population abundance is over 75,000 and annual M/SI (350) is 
well below PBR (2,006) (Hayes et al., 2020). The population abundance 
for gray seals in the United States is over 27,000, with an estimated 
abundance, including seals in Canada, of approximately 450,000. In 
addition, the abundance of gray seals is likely increasing in the U.S. 
Atlantic as well as in Canada (Hayes et al., 2020).
    The required mitigation measures are expected to reduce the number 
and/or severity of proposed takes for all species listed in Table 4, 
including those with active UMEs, to the level of least practicable 
adverse impact. In particular, they would provide animals the 
opportunity to move away from the sound source throughout the survey 
area before HRG survey equipment reaches full energy, thus preventing 
them from being exposed to sound levels that have the potential to 
cause injury (Level A harassment) or more severe Level B harassment. As 
discussed previously, take by Level A harassment (injury) is considered 
unlikely, even absent mitigation, based on the characteristics of the 
signals produced by the acoustic sources planned for use, and is not 
proposed for authorization. Implementation of required mitigation would 
further reduce this potential. Therefore, NMFS is not proposing any 
Level A harassment for authorization.
    NMFS expects that takes would be in the form of short-term Level B 
behavioral harassment by way of brief startling reactions and/or 
temporary vacating of the area, or decreased foraging (if such activity 
was occurring)--reactions that (at the scale and intensity anticipated 
here) are considered to be of low severity, with no lasting biological 
consequences. Since both the sources and marine mammals are mobile, 
animals would only be exposed briefly to a small ensonified area that 
might result in take. Additionally, required mitigation measures would 
further reduce exposure to sound that could result in more severe 
behavioral harassment.

Biologically Important Areas for Other Species

    As previously discussed, impacts from the proposed project are 
expected to be localized to the specific area of activity and only 
during periods of time where Atlantic Shores' acoustic sources are 
active. While areas of biological importance to fin whales, humpback 
whales, and harbor seals can be found off the coast of New Jersey and 
New York, NMFS does not expect this proposed action to affect these 
areas. This is due to the combination of the mitigation and monitoring 
measures being required of Atlantic Shores as well as the location of 
these biologically important areas. All of these important areas are 
found outside of the range of this survey area, as is the case with fin 
whales and humpback whales (BIAs found further north), and, therefore, 
not expected to be impacted by Atlantic Shores' proposed survey 
activities.
    Three major haul-out sites exist for harbor seals within ECR North 
along New Jersey, including at Great Bay, Sand Hook, and Barnegat Inlet 
(CWFNJ, 2015). As hauled out seals would be out of the water, no in-
water effects are expected.

Preliminary Determinations

    In summary and as described above, the following factors primarily 
support our preliminary determination that the impacts resulting from 
this activity are not expected to adversely affect the species or stock 
through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival:
     No mortality or serious injury is anticipated or proposed 
to be authorized;
     No Level A harassment (PTS) is anticipated, even in the 
absence of mitigation measures, or proposed for authorization;
     Foraging success is not likely to be impacted as effects 
on species that serve as prey species for marine mammals from the 
survey are expected to be minimal;
     The availability of alternate areas of similar habitat 
value for marine mammals to temporarily vacate the survey area during 
the planned survey to avoid exposure to sounds from the activity;
     Take is anticipated to be by Level B behavioral harassment 
only consisting of brief startling reactions and/or temporary avoidance 
of the survey area;
     While the survey area is within areas noted as a migratory 
BIA for North Atlantic right whales, the activities would occur in such 
a comparatively small area such that any avoidance of the survey area 
due to activities would not affect migration; and
     The proposed mitigation measures, including effective 
visual monitoring, and shutdowns are expected to minimize potential 
impacts to marine mammals.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and 
mitigation measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine 
mammal take from the proposed activity will have a negligible impact on 
all affected marine mammal species or stocks.

[[Page 4225]]

Small Numbers

    As noted above, only small numbers of incidental take may be 
authorized under sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA for 
specified activities other than military readiness activities. The MMPA 
does not define small numbers and so, in practice, where estimated 
numbers are available, NMFS compares the number of individuals taken to 
the most appropriate estimation of abundance of the relevant species or 
stock in our determination of whether an authorization is limited to 
small numbers of marine mammals. When the predicted number of 
individuals to be taken is less than one third of the species or stock 
abundance, the take is considered to be of small numbers. Additionally, 
other qualitative factors may be considered in the analysis, such as 
the temporal or spatial scale of the activities.
    NMFS proposes to authorize incidental take (by Level B harassment 
only) of 15 marine mammal species (with 16 managed stocks). The total 
amount of takes proposed for authorization relative to the best 
available population abundance is less than 6 percent for all stocks 
(Table 9). Therefore, NMFS preliminarily finds that small numbers of 
marine mammals may be taken relative to the estimated overall 
population abundances for those stocks.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the proposed activity 
(including the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures) and the 
anticipated take of marine mammals, NMFS preliminarily finds that small 
numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the population size 
of the affected species or stocks.

Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Determination

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

Endangered Species Act

    Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA: 16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires that each Federal agency insure that any 
action it authorizes, funds, or carries out is not likely to jeopardize 
the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species or 
result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated 
critical habitat. To ensure ESA compliance for the issuance of IHAs, 
NMFS Office of Protected Resources (OPR) consults internally whenever 
we propose to authorize take for endangered or threatened species.
    NMFS OPR is proposing to authorize the incidental take of four 
species of marine mammals which are listed under the ESA, including the 
North Atlantic right, fin, sei, and sperm whale, and has determined 
that this activity falls within the scope of activities analyzed in 
NMFS GARFO's programmatic consultation regarding geophysical surveys 
along the U.S. Atlantic coast in the three Atlantic Renewable Energy 
Regions (completed June 29, 2021; revised September 2021). NMFS GARFO 
concurred with this determination.

Proposed Authorization

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
issue an IHA to Atlantic Shores authorizing take, by Level B harassment 
incidental to conducting marine site characterization surveys off of 
New Jersey and New York from April 20, 2022 through April 19, 2023, 
provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
requirements are incorporated. A draft of the proposed IHA can be found 
at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-other-energy-activities-renewable.

Request for Public Comments

    We request comment on our analyses, the proposed authorization, and 
any other aspect of this notice of proposed IHA for the proposed site 
characterization surveys. We also request at this time comment on the 
potential Renewal of this proposed IHA as described in the paragraph 
below. Please include with your comments any supporting data or 
literature citations to help inform decisions on the request for this 
proposed IHA or a subsequent Renewal IHA.
    On a case-by-case basis, NMFS may issue a one-time, one-year 
Renewal IHA following notification to the public providing an 
additional 15 days for public comments when (1) up to another year of 
identical or nearly identical, or nearly identical, activities as 
described in the Description of Proposed Activities section of this 
notification is planned or (2) the activities as described in the 
Description of Proposed Activities section of this notification would 
not be completed by the time the IHA expires and a Renewal would allow 
for completion of the activities beyond that described in the Dates and 
Duration section of this notification, provided all of the following 
conditions are met:
     A request for Renewal is received no later than 60 days 
prior to the needed Renewal IHA effective date (recognizing that the 
Renewal IHA expiration date cannot extend beyond one year from 
expiration of the initial IHA);
     The request for Renewal must include the following:
    (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted under the 
requested Renewal IHA are identical to the activities analyzed under 
the initial IHA, are a subset of the activities, or include changes so 
minor (e.g., reduction in pile size) that the changes do not affect the 
previous analyses, mitigation and monitoring requirements, or take 
estimates (with the exception of reducing the type or amount of take); 
and
    (2) A preliminary monitoring report showing the results of the 
required monitoring to date and an explanation showing that the 
monitoring results do not indicate impacts of a scale or nature not 
previously analyzed or authorized.
    Upon review of the request for Renewal, the status of the affected 
species or stocks, and any other pertinent information, NMFS determines 
that there are no more than minor changes in the activities, the 
mitigation and monitoring measures will remain the same and 
appropriate, and the findings in the initial IHA remain valid.

    Dated: January 21, 2022.
Kimberly Damon-Randall,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2022-01557 Filed 1-26-22; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P