[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 84 (Tuesday, May 1, 2012)]
[Notices]
[Pages 25693-25706]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-10495]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XB063


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Marine Geophysical Survey in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, March Through 
May, 2012

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

ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization.

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SUMMARY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) 
regulation, notification is hereby given that NMFS has issued an 
Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to Lamont-Doherty Earth 
Observatory (L-DEO), a part of Columbia University, for an Incidental 
Harassment Authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, 
incidental to conducting a marine geophysical (seismic) survey in the 
northwest Pacific Ocean, March through May, 2012.

DATES: Effective March 24 through May 7, 2012.

ADDRESSES: An electronic copy of the IHA and application containing a 
list of the references used in this document may be obtained by writing 
to P. Michael Payne, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office 
of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-
West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225 or by visiting the internet 
at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm#applications.
    An electronic copy of the application containing a list of the 
references used in this document may be obtained by writing to the 
above address, telephoning the contact listed here (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT), or by visiting the internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm#applications.
    The following associated documents are also available at the same 
internet address: The National Science Foundation's (NSF) draft 
Environmental Analysis (EA) pursuant to Executive Order 12114. The EA 
incorporates an ``Environmental Assessment of a Marine Geophysical 
Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, 
March-April, 2012,'' prepared by LGL Limited, on behalf of NSF; and a 
finding of no significant impact (FONSI) prepared by the NSF. NMFS 
prepared its own EA and FONSI, which is available at the same Internet 
address.. Documents cited in this notice may be viewed, by appointment, 
during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address.
    The NMFS Biological Opinion will be available online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/consultation/opinions.htm.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protect Act of 1972, as 
amended (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs the Secretary of 
Commerce to authorize, upon request, the incidental, but not 
intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals of a species or 
population stock, by United States citizens who engage in a specified 
activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified 
geographical region if certain findings are made and, if the taking is 
limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided 
to the public for review.

[[Page 25694]]

    Authorization for the incidental taking of small numbers of marine 
mammals 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 subsistence uses (where relevant). The authorization must 
set forth the permissible methods of taking, other means of effecting 
the least practicable adverse impact on the species or stock and its 
habitat, and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and 
reporting of such takings. 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.''
    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process 
by which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization 
to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. 
Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA establishes a 45-day time limit for 
NMFS' review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and 
comment period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental 
harassment of small numbers of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the 
close of the public comment period, NMFS must either issue or deny the 
authorization. NMFS must publish a notice in the Federal Register 
within 30 days of its determination to issue or deny the authorization.
    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering [Level B harassment].
Summary of Request
    NMFS received an application on October 31, 2011, from L-DEO for 
the taking by harassment, of marine mammals, incidental to conducting a 
marine geophysical survey in the northwest Pacific Ocean in 
international waters. Upon receipt of additional information, NMFS 
determined the application complete and adequate on December 23, 2011. 
NMFS made the complete application available for public comment (see 
ADDRESSES) for this IHA.
    L-DEO, with research funding from the U.S. National Science 
Foundation (NSF), plans to conduct the survey from March 24, 2012, 
through April 16, 2012. Some minor deviation from these dates is 
possible, depending on logistics, weather conditions, and the need to 
repeat some lines if data quality is substandard. Therefore, the 
authorization is effective from March 24, 2012 to May 7, 2012.
    L-DEO received an IHA in 2010 to conduct the same specified 
activity in the same location. However, due to medical emergencies, L-
DEO suspended its operations and was unable to complete the seismic 
survey. Thus, this 2012 survey will allow L-DEO to acquire data 
necessary to complete the abbreviated 2010 study.
    L-DEO plans to use one source vessel, the R/V Marcus G. Langseth 
(Langseth), a seismic airgun array, and a single hydrophone streamer to 
conduct a geophysical survey at the Shatsky Rise, a large igneous 
plateau in the northwest Pacific Ocean. The survey will provide data 
necessary to decipher the crustal structure of the Shatsky Rise; may 
address major questions of earth history, geodynamics, and tectonics; 
could impact the understanding of terrestrial magmatism and mantle 
convection; and may obtain data that could be used to improve estimates 
of regional earthquake occurrence and distribution. In addition to the 
operations of the seismic airgun array and hydrophone streamer, L-DEO 
intends to operate a multibeam echosounder (MBES) and a sub-bottom 
profiler (SBP) continuously throughout the survey.
    L-DEO, the Langseth's operator, will conduct all planned seismic 
data acquisition activities, with on-board assistance by the scientists 
who will conduct the study. The scientific team for this survey 
consists of Drs. Jun Korenaga (Yale University, New Haven, CT) and 
William Sager (Texas A&M University, College Station, TX).
    NMFS expects that acoustic stimuli resulting from the operation of 
the single airgun or the 36-airgun array has the potential to harass 
marine mammals, incidental to the conduct of the seismic survey. NMFS 
expects these disturbances to be temporary and result in a temporary 
modification in behavior and/or low-level physiological effects (Level 
B harassment only) of small numbers of certain species of marine 
mammals.
    NMFS does not expect that the movement of the Langseth, during the 
conduct of the seismic survey, has the potential to harass marine 
mammals because of the relatively slow operation speed of the vessel 
(4.6 knots (kts); 8.5 kilometers per hour (km/h); 5.3 miles per hour 
(mph)) during seismic acquisition.
    NMFS outlined the purpose of the program in a previous notice for 
the proposed IHA (77 FR 4765, January 31, 2012). The activities to be 
conducted have not changed between the proposed IHA notice and this 
final notice announcing the issuance of the IHA. For a more detailed 
description of the authorized action, including vessel and acoustic 
source specifications, the reader should refer to the notice of the 
proposed IHA (77 FR 4765, January 31, 2012), the application, and 
associated documents referenced above this section.

Description of the Specified Geographic Region

    L-DEO will conduct the survey in international waters in the 
northwest Pacific Ocean. The study area will encompass an area on the 
Shatsky Rise bounded by approximately 33.5-36 degrees ([deg]) North by 
156-161[deg] East. Water depths in the survey area range from 
approximately 3,000 to 5,000 meters (m) (1.9 to 3.1 mi).

Comments and Responses

    NMFS published a notice of receipt of the L-DEO application and 
proposed IHA in the Federal Register on January 31, 2012 (77 FR 4765). 
During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS received comments from 
the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) only. The Commission's 
comments are online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. Following are their comments and NMFS' responses.
    Comment 1: The Commission recommends that, before issuing the 
requested IHA, NMFS require L-DEO to re-estimate the proposed exclusion 
zones (EZ) and buffer zones and associated takes of marine mammals 
using site-specific information--if the EZs and buffer zones and 
numbers of takes are not re-estimated, require L-DEO to provide a 
detailed justification: (1) For basing the EZs and buffer zones for the 
proposed survey in the northwest Pacific Ocean on empirical data 
collected in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) or on modeling that relies on 
measurements from the GOM; and (2) that explains why simple ratios were 
used to adjust for tow depth.
    Response: The Langseth will conduct the survey in water depths 
where site-specific source signature requirements are neither warranted 
nor practical. Site signature measurements are normally

[[Page 25695]]

conducted commercially by shooting a test pattern over an ocean bottom 
instrument in shallow water. This method is neither practical nor valid 
in water depths as great as 3,000 meters (m) (9,842.5 feet (ft)). The 
alternative method of conducting site-specific attenuation measurements 
would require a second vessel, which is impractical both logistically 
and financially. Sound propagation varies noticeably less between deep 
water sites than between shallow water sites (because of the reduced 
signature of bottom interaction), thus decreasing the importance of 
site-specific estimates.
    Based on these reasons, and the information provided by L-DEO in 
their application and environmental analysis, NMFS is satisfied that 
the data supplied are sufficient for NMFS to conduct its analysis and 
support its determinations and therefore no further effort is needed by 
the applicant. While exposures of marine mammals to acoustic stimuli 
are difficult to estimate, NMFS is confident that the levels of take 
provided by L-DEO in their IHA application and EA, and authorized 
herein are estimated based upon the best available scientific 
information and estimation methodology. The 160-decibel (dB) zone used 
to estimate exposure is appropriate and sufficient for purposes of 
supporting NMFS' analysis and determinations required under section 
101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA and its implementing regulations.
    Appendix A in the environmental analysis includes information from 
the calibration study conducted on the Langseth in 2007 and 2008. This 
information is available in the EA on NSF's Web site at http://www.nsf.gov/geo/oce/envcomp/index.jsp. Appendix A describes the 
modeling process and compares the model results with results of the 
2007 to 2008 Langseth calibration experiment in shallow, intermediate, 
and deep water. The conclusions identified in Appendix A show that the 
model represents the actual produced levels, particularly within the 
first few kilometers, where the predicted EZs (i.e., safety radii) lie. 
At greater distances, local oceanographic variations begin to take 
effect, and the model tends to over predict. Further, since the 
modeling matches the observed measurement data, the authors have 
concluded that the models can continue to be used for defining EZs, 
including for predicting mitigation radii for various tow depths. The 
data results from the studies were peer reviewed, and calibration 
results, although viewed as conservative, were used to determine the 
cruise-specific EZs.
    At present, the L-DEO model does not account for site-specific 
environmental conditions. The calibration study of the L-DEO model 
predicted that using site-specific information may actually provide 
less conservative EZ radii at greater distances. The Final Programmatic 
Environmental Impact Statement for Marine Seismic Research Funded by 
the National Science Foundation or Conducted by the U.S. Geological 
Survey prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act 
(NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) did incorporate various site-specific 
environmental conditions in the modeling of the Detailed Analysis 
Areas.
    The IHA issued to L-DEO, under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA 
provides monitoring and mitigation requirements that will protect 
marine mammals from injury, serious injury, or mortality. L-DEO is 
required to comply with the IHA's requirements. These analyses are 
supported by extensive scientific research and data. NMFS is confident 
in the peer-reviewed results of the L-DEO scientific calibration 
studies which, although viewed as conservative, are used to determine 
cruise-specific EZs and which factor into exposure estimates. NMFS 
determined that these reviews are the best scientific data available 
for review of the IHA application and to support the necessary analyses 
and determinations under the MMPA, Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and NEPA.
    Based on NMFS' analysis of the likely effects of the specified 
activity on marine mammals and their habitat, NMFS has determined that 
the EZs identified in the IHA are appropriate for the survey and that 
additional field measurement is not necessary at this time. While 
exposures of marine mammals to acoustic stimuli are difficult to 
estimate, NMFS is confident that the levels of take authorized have 
been estimated based upon the best scientific information and 
estimation methodology. The 160-dB zone used to estimate exposure is 
appropriate and sufficient for purposes of supporting NMFS' analysis 
and determinations required under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA and 
its implementing regulations.
    Comment 2: The Commission recommends that, before issuing the 
requested IHA, NMFS use species-specific maximum densities (i.e., 
estimated by multiplying the existing density estimates by a 
precautionary correction factor) and then re-estimate the anticipated 
number of takes.
    Response: For purposes of this IHA, NMFS is using the best (i.e., 
average or mean) densities to estimate the number of authorized takes 
for L-DEO's seismic survey in the northwestern Pacific Ocean as NMFS is 
confident in the assumptions and calculations used to estimate density 
for this survey area. NMFS makes a decision on whether to use maximum 
or best densities on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature and 
robustness of existing data. NMFS has used best densities to estimate 
the number of incidental takes in IHAs for several seismic surveys in 
the past. The results of the associated monitoring reports show that 
the use of the best estimates is appropriate for and does not refute 
NMFS' determinations.
    Comment 3: The Commission recommends that, before issuing the 
requested IHA, NMFS condition the authorization to prohibit the use of 
a shortened pause before ramping-up after a power-down or shut-down of 
the airguns based on the presence of a marine mammal in the EZ and the 
Langseth's movement (speed and direction).
    Response: The IHA specifies the conditions under which the Langseth 
will resume full-power operations of the airguns. During periods of 
active seismic operations, there are occasions when the airguns need to 
be temporarily shut-down (e.g., due to equipment failure, maintenance, 
or shut-down) or when a power-down is necessary (e.g., when a marine 
mammal is seen to either enter or about to enter the EZ). In these 
instances, should the airguns be inactive or powered-down for more than 
eight minutes, then L-DEO would follow the ramp-up procedures 
identified in the ``Mitigation'' section (discussed later in this 
document) where airguns will be re-started beginning with the smallest 
airgun in the array and increase in steps not to exceed 6 dB per 5 
minutes over a total duration of approximately 30 minutes. NMFS and NSF 
believe that the 8-minute period in question is an appropriate minimum 
amount of time to pass after which a ramp-up process should be 
followed. In these instances, should it be possible for L-DEO to 
reactivate the airguns without exceeding the 8-minute period (e.g., 
equipment is fixed or a marine mammal is visually observed to have left 
the EZ for the full source level), then L-DEO would reactivate the 
airguns to the full operating source level identified for the survey 
(in this case, 6,600 in\3\) without need for initiating ramp-up 
procedures. In the event a marine mammal enters the EZ and L-DEO 
initiates a power-down, and the protected species observers do not 
visually observe the marine mammal leaving the EZ, then L-DEO must wait 
15 minutes (for

[[Page 25696]]

species with shorter dive durations--small odontocetes and pinnipeds) 
or 30 minutes (for species with longer dive durations--mysticetes and 
large odontocetes) after the last sighting before initiating a 30-
minute ramp-up. However, ramp-up will not occur as long as a marine 
mammal is detected within the EZ, which provides more time for animals 
to leave the EZ, and accounts for the position, swim speed, and heading 
of marine mammals within the EZ.
    Comment 4: The Commission recommends that, before issuing the 
requested IHA, NMFS extend the 30-minute period following a marine 
mammal sighting in the EZ to cover the maximum dive times of all 
species likely to be encountered.
    Response: NMFS recognizes that several species of deep-diving 
cetaceans are capable of remaining underwater for more than 30 minutes 
(e.g., sperm whales and several species of beaked whales); however, for 
the following reasons NMFS believes that 30 minutes is an adequate 
length for the monitoring period prior to the ramp-up of airguns:
    (1) Because the Langseth is required to monitor before ramp-up of 
the airgun array, the time of monitoring prior to the start-up of any 
but the smallest array is effectively longer than 30 minutes (ramp-up 
will begin with the smallest airgun in the array and airguns will be 
added in sequence such that the source level of the array will increase 
in steps not exceeding approximately 6 dB per 5-minute period over a 
total duration of about 30 minutes;
    (2) In many cases PSVOs are observing during times when L-DEO is 
not operating the seismic airguns and would observe the area prior to 
the 30-minute observation period;
    (3) The majority of the species that may be exposed do not stay 
underwater more than 30 minutes; and
    (4) All else being equal and if deep-diving individuals happened to 
be in the area in the short time immediately prior to the pre-ramp-up 
monitoring, if an animal's maximum underwater dive time is 45 minutes, 
then there is only a one in three chance that the last random surfacing 
would occur prior to the beginning of the required 30-minute monitoring 
period and that the animal would not be seen during that 30-minute 
period.
    Finally, seismic vessels are moving continuously (because of the 
long, towed array and streamer) and NMFS believes that unless the 
animal submerges and follows at the speed of the vessel (highly 
unlikely, especially when considering that a significant part of their 
movement is vertical [deep-diving]), the vessel will be far beyond the 
length of the EZ within 30 minutes, and therefore it will be safe to 
start the airguns again.
    Under the MMPA, incidental take authorizations must include means 
of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammal species and 
their habitat. Monitoring and mitigation measures are designed to 
comply with this requirement. The effectiveness of monitoring is 
science-based, and monitoring and mitigation measures must be 
``practicable.'' NMFS believes that the framework for visual monitoring 
will: (1) Be effective at spotting almost all species for which take is 
requested; and (2) that imposing additional requirements, such as those 
suggested by the Commission, would not meaningfully increase the 
effectiveness of observing marine mammals approaching or entering the 
EZs and thus further minimize the potential for take.
    Comment 5: The Commission recommends that, before issuing the 
requested IHA, NMFS provide additional justification for its 
preliminary determination that the proposed monitoring program will be 
sufficient to detect, with a high level of confidence, all marine 
mammals within or entering the identified EZs and buffer zones, 
including:
    (1) Identifying those species that it believes can be detected with 
a high degree of confidence using visual monitoring only;
    (2) Describing detection probability as a function of distance from 
the vessel;
    (3) Describing changes in detection probability under various sea 
state and weather conditions and light levels; and
    (4) Explaining how close to the vessel marine mammals must be for 
Protected Species Visual Observers (PSVOs) to achieve high nighttime 
detection rates.
    Response: NMFS believes that the planned monitoring program will be 
sufficient to detect (using visual monitoring and passive acoustic 
monitoring (PAM)), with reasonable certainty, marine mammals within or 
entering identified EZs. This monitoring, along with the required 
mitigation measures, will result in the least practicable adverse 
impact on the affected species or stocks and will result in a 
negligible impact on the affected species or stocks of marine mammals. 
Also, NMFS expects some animals to avoid areas around the airgun array 
ensonified at the level of the EZ.
    NMFS acknowledges that the detection probability for certain 
species of marine mammal varies depending on the animal's size and 
behavior, as well as sea state and weather conditions and light levels. 
The detectability of marine mammals likely decreases in low light 
(i.e., darkness), higher Beaufort sea states and wind conditions, and 
poor weather (e.g., fog and/or rain). However, at present, NMFS views 
the combination of visual monitoring and PAM as the most effective 
monitoring and mitigation techniques available for detecting marine 
mammals within or entering the EZ. The final monitoring and mitigation 
measures are the most effective feasible measures and NMFS is not aware 
of any additional measures which could meaningfully increase the 
likelihood of detecting marine mammals in and around the EZ. Further, 
public comment has not revealed any additional monitoring and 
mitigation measures that could be feasibly implemented to increase the 
effectiveness of detection.
    NSF and L-DEO are receptive to incorporating proven technologies 
and techniques to enhance the current monitoring and mitigation 
program. Until proven technological advances are made, nighttime 
mitigation measures during operations include combinations of the use 
of PSVOs for ramp-ups, PAM, night vision devices, and continuous 
shooting of a mitigation airgun. Should the airgun array be powered-
down, the operation of a single airgun would continue to serve as a 
sound deterrent to marine mammals. In the event of a complete shut-down 
of the airgun array at night for mitigation or repairs, L-DEO suspends 
the data collection until 30 minutes after nautical twilight-dawn (when 
PSVOs are able to clear the EZ). L-DEO will not activate the airguns 
until the entire EZ is visible for at least 30 minutes.
    In cooperation with NMFS, L-DEO will be conducting efficacy 
experiments of NVDs during a future Langseth cruise. In addition, in 
response to a recommendation from NMFS, L-DEO is evaluating the use of 
forward-looking thermal imaging cameras to supplement nighttime 
monitoring and mitigation practices. During other low-power seismic and 
seafloor mapping surveys, L-DEO successfully used these devices while 
conducting nighttime seismic operations.
    Comment 6: The Commission recommends that, before issuing the 
requested IHA, NMFS consult with the funding agency (i.e., NSF) and 
individual applicants (e.g., L-DEO) to develop, validate, and implement 
a monitoring program that provides a scientifically sound, reasonably 
accurate assessment of the types of marine mammal taking and the number 
of marine mammals taken.

[[Page 25697]]

    Response: Several studies have reported on the abundance and 
distribution of marine mammals inhabiting the Pacific Ocean, and L-DEO 
has incorporated this data into their analyses used to predict marine 
mammal take in their application. NMFS believes that L-DEO's current 
approach for estimating abundance in the survey area (prior to the 
survey) is the best available approach.
    There will be significant amounts of transit time during the 
cruise, and PSVOs will be on watch prior to and after the seismic 
portions of the survey, in addition to during the survey. The 
collection of this visual observational data by PSVOs may contribute to 
baseline data on marine mammals (presence/absence) and provide some 
generalized support for estimated take numbers, but it is unlikely that 
the information gathered from this single cruise alone would result in 
any statistically robust conclusions for any particular species because 
of the small number of animals typically observed.
    NMFS acknowledges the Commission's recommendations and is open to 
further coordination with the Commission, NSF (the vessel owner), and 
L-DEO (the ship operator on behalf of NSF), to develop, validate, and 
implement a monitoring program that will provide or contribute towards 
a more scientifically sound and reasonably accurate assessment of the 
types of marine mammal taking and the number of marine mammals taken. 
However, the cruise's primary focus is marine geophysical research and 
the survey may be operationally limited due to considerations such as 
location, time, fuel, services, and other resources.
    Comment 7: The Commission recommends that, before issuing the 
requested IHA NMFS require the applicant to:
    (1) Report the number of marine mammals that were detected 
acoustically and for which a power-down or shut-down of the airguns was 
initiated;
    (2) Specify if such animals also were detected visually;
    (3) Compare the results from the two monitoring methods (visual 
versus acoustic) to help identify their respective strengths and 
weaknesses; and
    (4) Use that information to improve mitigation and monitoring 
methods.
    Response: The IHA requires that PSAOs on the Langseth do and record 
the following when a marine mammal is detected by PAM:
    (i) Notify the on-duty PSVO(s) immediately of a vocalizing marine 
mammal so a power-down or shut-down can be initiated, if required;
    (ii) Enter the information regarding the vocalization into a 
database. The data to be entered include an acoustic encounter 
identification number, whether it was linked with a visual sighting, 
date, time when first and last heard and whenever any additional 
information was recorded, position, and water depth when first 
detected, bearing if determinable, species or species group (e.g., 
unidentified dolphin, sperm whale), types and nature of sounds heard 
(e.g., clicks, continuous, sporadic, whistles, creaks, burst pulses, 
strength of signal, etc.), and any other notable information.
    NMFS acknowledges the Commission's request for a comparison between 
L-DEO's visual and acoustic monitoring programs and we will work with 
the NSF (the vessel owner) and L-DEO (the ship operator on behalf of 
NSF) to analyze the results of the two monitoring methods to help 
identify their respective strengths and weaknesses. The results of our 
analyses may provide information to improve mitigation and monitoring 
for future seismic surveys.
    L-DEO reports on the number of acoustic detections made by the PAM 
system within the post-cruise monitoring reports as required by the 
IHA. The report also includes a description of any acoustic detections 
that were concurrent with visual sightings, which allows for a 
comparison of acoustic and visual detection methods for each cruise. 
The post-cruise monitoring reports also include the following 
information: The total operation effort in daylight (hours), the total 
operation effort at night (hours), the total number of hours of visual 
observations conducted, the total number of sightings, and the total 
number of hours of acoustic detections conducted.
    LGL Ltd., Environmental Research Associates (LGL), a contractor for 
L-DEO, has processed sighting and density data, and their publications 
can be viewed online at: http://www.lgl.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=69&Itemid=162&lang=en. Post-cruise monitoring 
reports are currently available on NMFS' MMPA Incidental Take Program 
Web site and on the NSF Web site (http://www.nsf.gov/geo/oce/envcomp/index.jsp) should there be interest in further analysis of this data by 
the public.
    Comment 8: The Commission recommends that, before issuing the 
requested IHA, NMFS work with NSF to analyze those data to help 
determine the effectiveness of ramp-up procedures as a mitigation 
measure for seismic surveys after the data are compiled and quality 
control measures have been completed.
    Response: The IHA requires that PSVOs on the Langseth make 
observations for 30 minutes prior to ramp-up, during all ramp-ups, and 
during all daytime seismic operations and record the following 
information when a marine mammal is sighted:
    (i) Species, group size, age/size/sex categories (if determinable), 
behavior when first sighted and after initial sighting, heading (if 
consistent), bearing and distance from seismic vessel, sighting cue, 
apparent reaction of the airguns or vessel (e.g., none, avoidance, 
approach, paralleling, etc., and including responses to ramp-up), and 
behavioral pace; and
    (ii) Time, location, heading, speed, activity of the vessel 
(including number of airguns operating and whether in state of ramp-up 
or power-down), Beaufort sea state and wind force, visibility, and sun 
glare.
    One of the primary purposes of monitoring is to result in 
``increased knowledge of the species'' and the effectiveness of 
monitoring and mitigation measures; the effectiveness of ramp-up as a 
mitigation measure and marine mammal reaction to ramp-up would be 
useful information in this regard. NMFS has asked NSF and L-DEO to 
gather all data that could potentially provide information regarding 
the effectiveness of ramp-ups as a mitigation measure. However, 
considering the low numbers of marine mammal sightings and low numbers 
of ramp-ups, it is unlikely that the information will result in any 
statistically robust conclusions for this particular seismic survey. 
Over the long term, these requirements may provide information 
regarding the effectiveness of ramp-up as a mitigation measure, 
provided animals are detected during ramp-up.

Description of the Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    Thirty-four marine mammal species may occur in the Shatsky Rise 
survey area, including 26 odontocetes (toothed cetaceans), seven 
mysticetes (baleen whales) and one species of pinniped during March 
through May. Six of these species are listed as endangered under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), including 
the blue (Balaenoptera musculus), fin (Balaenoptera physalus), humpback 
(Megaptera novaeangliae), north Pacific right (Eubalaena japonica), sei 
(Balaenoptera borealis),and sperm (Physeter macrocephalus) whales.

[[Page 25698]]

    Based on available data, it is unlikely that the western north 
Pacific gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus), the pygmy killer (Feresa 
attenuata), the ginkgo-toothed (Mesoplodon ginkgodens), the Stejneger's 
(M. stejnegeri), or the Hubb's (M. carlhubbsi) beaked whale would occur 
in the survey area. Based on available data, L-NMFS does not expect to 
L-DEO to encounter the western north Pacific gray whale within the 
study area as gray whales are known to prefer nearshore coastal waters. 
However, NMFS has authorized take for the species to account for an 
estimated mean group size that may potentially be exposed to sounds 
from the seismic survey. L-DEO did not request and NMFS did not 
authorize take of four species: pygmy killer whale or ginkgo-toothed, 
Stejneger's, or Hubb's beaked whales; because of the low likelihood of 
encountering these species during the cruise. Thus, the issued IHA only 
addresses requested take authorizations for 30 species: seven 
mysticetes, 22 odontocetes, and one species of pinniped. The species of 
marine mammals expected to be most common in the survey area (all 
delphinids) include the short-beaked common (Delphinus delphis), 
striped (Stenella coeruleoalba), and Fraser's (Lagenodelphis hosei) 
dolphins, and Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli).
    NMFS has presented a more detailed discussion of the status of 
these stocks and their occurrence in the northwestern Pacific Ocean in 
the notice of the proposed IHA (77 FR 4765, January 31, 2012).

Potential Effects on Marine Mammals

    Acoustic stimuli generated by the operation of the airguns, which 
introduce sound into the marine environment, may have the potential to 
cause Level B harassment of marine mammals in the survey area. The 
effects of sounds from airgun operations might include one or more of 
the following: Tolerance, masking of natural sounds, behavioral 
disturbance, temporary or permanent impairment, or non-auditory 
physical or physiological effects (Richardson et al., 1995; Gordon et 
al., 2004; Nowacek et al., 2007; Southall et al., 2007).
    Permanent hearing impairment, in the unlikely event that it 
occurred, would constitute injury, but temporary threshold shift (TTS) 
is not an injury (Southall et al., 2007). Although the possibility 
cannot be entirely excluded, it is unlikely that the project would 
result in any cases of temporary or permanent hearing impairment, or 
any significant non-auditory physical or physiological effects. Based 
on the available data and studies described here, some behavioral 
disturbance is expected, but NMFS expects the disturbance to be 
localized and short-term.
    The notice of the proposed IHA (77 FR 4765, January 31, 2012) 
included a discussion of the effects of sounds from airguns on 
mysticetes and odontocetes including tolerance, masking, behavioral 
disturbance, hearing impairment, and other non-auditory physical 
effects. NMFS refers the reader to L-DEO's application and 
environmental analysis and NMFS' EA for additional information on the 
behavioral reactions (or lack thereof) by all types of marine mammals 
to seismic vessels.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    NMFS included a detailed discussion of the potential effects of 
this action on marine mammal habitat, including physiological and 
behavioral effects on marine fish and invertebrates in the notice of 
the proposed IHA (77 FR 4765, January 31, 2012). While NMFS anticipates 
that the specified activity may result in marine mammals avoiding 
certain areas due to temporary ensonification, this impact to habitat 
is temporary and reversible which NMFS considered in further detail in 
the notice of the proposed IHA (77 FR 4765, January 31, 2012) as 
behavioral modification. The main impact associated with the activity 
would be temporarily elevated noise levels and the associated direct 
effects on marine mammals.

Mitigation

    In order to issue an incidental take authorization (ITA) under 
section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible 
methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of 
effecting the least practicable adverse impact on such species or stock 
and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating 
grounds, and areas of similar significance, and the availability of 
such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses.
    L-DEO has based the mitigation measures described herein, to be 
implemented for the proposed seismic survey, on the following:
    (1) Protocols used during previous L-DEO seismic research cruises 
as approved by NMFS;
    (2) Previous IHA applications and IHAs approved and authorized by 
NMFS; and
    (3) Recommended best practices in Richardson et al. (1995), Pierson 
et al. (1998), and Weir and Dolman, (2007).
    To reduce the potential for disturbance from acoustic stimuli 
associated with the activities, L-DEO and/or its designees would 
implement the following mitigation measures for marine mammals:
    (1) Proposed exclusion zones (EZ);
    (2) Power-down procedures;
    (3) Shutdown procedures; and
    (4) Ramp-up procedures.
    Exclusion Zones--L-DEO uses safety radii to designate EZs and to 
estimate take for marine mammals. The 180-dB and 190-dB level shut-down 
criteria are applicable to cetaceans and pinnipeds, respectively, as 
specified by NMFS (2000); and L-DEO used these levels to establish the 
EZs. If the PSVO detects marine mammal(s) within or about to enter the 
appropriate EZ, the Langseth crew will immediately power-down the 
airgun array, or perform a shut down if necessary (see Shut-down 
Procedures). Table 1 shows the distances at which three sound levels 
(160-, 180-, and 190-dB) are expected to be received from the 36-airgun 
array and a single airgun in deep water.

 Table 1--Measured (Array) or Predicted (Single Airgun) Distances to Which Sound Levels Greater Than or Equal to
160 and 180 dB re: 1 [mu]Parms That Could be Received in Deep Water Using a 36-Airgun Array, as Well as a Single
Airgun Towed at a Depth of 9 m (29.5 ft) During the Proposed Survey in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, During March-
                                                   May, 2012.
                            [Distances are based on model results provided by L-DEO.]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                            Predicted RMS distances (m)
           Source and volume                   Water depth       -----------------------------------------------
                                                                      160 dB          180 dB          190 dB
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Single Bolt airgun....................  Deep (> 1,000 m)........             385              40              12

[[Page 25699]]

 
36-Airgun Array.......................  Deep (> 1,000 m)........           3,850             940             400
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Power-down Procedures--A power-down involves decreasing the number 
of airguns in use such that the radius of the 180-dB (or 190-dB) zone 
is decreased to the extent that marine mammals are no longer in or 
about to enter the EZ. A power-down of the airgun array can also occur 
when the vessel is moving from one seismic line to another. During a 
power-down for mitigation, L-DEO will operate one airgun (40 cubic 
inches (in\3\)). The continued operation of one airgun is intended to 
alert marine mammals to the presence of the seismic vessel in the area. 
In contrast, a shutdown occurs when the Langseth suspends all airgun 
activity.
    If the PSVO detects a marine mammal outside the EZ, which is likely 
to enter the EZ, L-DEO will power-down the airguns before the animal 
enters the EZ. Likewise, if a mammal is already within the EZ, when 
first detected L-DEO will power-down the airguns immediately. During a 
powerdown of the airgun array, L-DEO will operate the 40-in\3\ airgun. 
If a marine mammal is detected within or near the smaller EZ around 
that single airgun (Table 1), L-DEO will shut down the airgun (see next 
section).
    Following a power-down, L-DEO will not resume airgun activity until 
the marine mammal has cleared the safety zone. L-DEO will consider the 
animal to have cleared the EZ if:
     A PSVO has visually observed the animal leave the EZ; or
     A PSVO has not sighted the animal within the EZ for 15 
minutes for species with shorter dive durations (i.e., small 
odontocetes or pinnipeds), or 30 minutes for species with longer dive 
durations (i.e., mysticetes and large odontocetes, including sperm, 
pygmy sperm, dwarf sperm, and beaked whales); or
     The vessel has moved outside the EZ (e.g., if a marine 
mammal is sighted close to the vessel and the ship speed is 8.5 km/h 
(5.3 mph), it would take the vessel approximately eight minutes to 
leave the vicinity of the marine mammal).
    During airgun operations following a power-down or shutdown whose 
duration has exceeded the time limits specified previously, L-DEO will 
ramp up the airgun array gradually (see Shutdown and Ramp-up 
Procedures).
    Shut-down Procedures--L-DEO will shut down the operating airgun(s) 
if a marine mammal is seen within or approaching the EZ for the single 
airgun. L-DEO will implement a shut-down:
    (1) If an animal enters the EZ of the single airgun after L-DEO has 
initiated a power- down; or
    (2) If an animal is initially seen within the EZ of the single 
airgun when more than one airgun (typically the full airgun array) is 
operating.
    L-DEO will not resume airgun activity until the marine mammal has 
cleared the EZ, or until the PSVO is confident that the animal has left 
the vicinity of the vessel. Criteria for judging that the animal has 
cleared the EZ will be as described in the preceding section.
    Considering the conservation status for north Pacific right whales, 
L-DEO will shut down the airgun(s) immediately in the unlikely event 
that this species is observed, regardless of the distance from the 
Langseth. L-DEO will only begin a ramp-up if the right whale has not 
been seen for 30 minutes.
    Ramp-up Procedures--L-DEO will follow a ramp-up procedure when the 
airgun subarrays begin operating after a specified period without 
airgun operations or when a power-down has exceeded that period. L-DEO 
estimates that, for the present cruise, this period will be 
approximately 8 minutes. This period is based on the 180-dB radius (940 
m; 3,083 ft) for the 36-airgun array towed at a depth of 9 m (29.5 ft) 
in relation to the minimum planned speed of the Langseth while shooting 
(8.5 km/h; 5.3 mph; 4.6 kts). L-DEO has used similar periods (8-10 min) 
during previous L-DEO surveys. L-DEO will not resume operations if a 
marine mammal has not cleared the EZ as described earlier.
    Ramp-up will begin with the smallest airgun in the array (40-
in\3\). Airguns will be added in a sequence such that the source level 
of the array will increase in steps not exceeding six dB per 5-minute 
period over a total duration of approximately 30 minutes. During ramp-
up, the PSVOs will monitor the EZ, and if he/she sights a marine 
mammal, L-DEO will implement a power-down or shut down as though the 
full airgun array were operational.
    If the complete EZ is not visible to the PSVO for at least 30 
minutes prior to the start of operations in either daylight or 
nighttime, L-DEO will not commence the ramp-up unless at least one 
airgun (40-in\3\ or similar) has been operating during the interruption 
of seismic survey operations. Given these provisions, it is likely that 
L-DEO will not ramp up the airgun array from a complete shut-down at 
night or in thick fog, because the outer part of the EZ for that array 
will not be visible during those conditions. If one airgun has operated 
during a power-down period, ramp-up to full power will be permissible 
at night or in poor visibility, on the assumption that marine mammals 
will be alerted to the approaching seismic vessel by the sounds from 
the single airgun and could move away. L-DEO will not initiate a ramp-
up of the airguns if a marine mammal is sighted within or near the 
applicable EZs during the day or close to the vessel at night.
    NMFS has carefully evaluated the applicant's proposed mitigation 
measures and has considered a range of other measures in the context of 
ensuring that NMFS prescribed the means of effecting the least 
practicable adverse impact on the affected marine mammal species and 
stocks and their habitat. NMFS' evaluation of potential measures 
included consideration of the following factors in relation to one 
another:
    (1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful 
implementation of the measure is expected to minimize adverse impacts 
to marine mammals;
    (2) The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to 
minimize adverse impacts as planned; and

[[Page 25700]]

    (3) The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation.
    Based on NMFS' evaluation of the applicant's proposed measures, as 
well as other measures considered by NMFS or recommended by the public, 
NMFS has determined that the mitigation measures provide the means of 
effecting the least practicable adverse impacts on marine mammal 
species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to 
rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance.

Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an ITA 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 IHAs 
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 action area.

Monitoring

    L-DEO will conduct marine mammal monitoring during the present 
project, in order to implement the mitigation measures that require 
real-time monitoring, and to satisfy the monitoring requirements of the 
IHA. L-DEO's Monitoring Plan is described below this section. L-DEO 
understands that this monitoring plan will be subject to review by 
NMFS, and that refinements may be required. L-DEO has planned the 
monitoring work as a self-contained project independent of any other 
related monitoring projects that may be occurring simultaneously in the 
same regions. L-DEO is prepared to discuss coordination of its 
monitoring program with any related work that might be done by other 
groups insofar as this is practical and desirable.

Vessel-Based Visual Monitoring

    L-DEO will position PSVOs aboard the seismic source vessel to watch 
for marine mammals near the vessel during daytime airgun operations and 
during any start-ups at night. PSVOs will also watch for marine mammals 
near the seismic vessel for at least 30 minutes prior to the start of 
airgun operations after an extended shut down (i.e., greater than 
approximately eight minutes for this proposed cruise). When feasible, 
the PSVOs will conduct observations during daytime periods when the 
seismic system is not operating for comparison of sighting rates and 
behavior with and without airgun operations and between acquisition 
periods. Based on PSVO observations, the Langseth will power-down or 
shut down the airguns when marine mammals are observed within or about 
to enter a designated EZ. The EZ is a region in which a possibility 
exists of adverse effects on animal hearing or other physical effects.
    During seismic operations on the Shatsky Rise, at least four 
protected species observers (PSO) (i.e., either a PSVO and/or a 
protected species acoustic observer (PSAO)) will be based aboard the 
Langseth. L-DEO will appoint the PSOs with NMFS' concurrence. The PSOs 
will conduct observations during ongoing daytime operations and 
nighttime ramp-ups of the airgun array. During the majority of seismic 
operations, two PSVOs will be on duty from the observation tower to 
monitor marine mammals near the seismic vessel. Use of two simultaneous 
PSVOs will increase the effectiveness of detecting animals near the 
source vessel. However, during mealtimes and bathroom breaks, it is 
sometimes difficult to have two PSVOs on effort, but at least one PSVO 
will be on watch during bathroom breaks and mealtimes. PSVOs will be on 
duty in shifts of no longer than four hours in duration.
    Two PSVOs will also be on visual watch during all nighttime ramp-
ups of the seismic airguns. A third PSAO will monitor the PAM equipment 
24 hours a day to detect vocalizing marine mammals present in the 
action area. In summary, a typical daytime cruise would have scheduled 
two PSVOs on duty from the observation tower, and a third PSAO on PAM. 
Other crew will also be instructed to assist in detecting marine 
mammals and implementing mitigation requirements (if practical). Before 
the start of the seismic survey, the crew will be given additional 
instruction on how to do so.
    The Langseth is a suitable platform for marine mammal observations. 
When stationed on the observation platform, the eye level will be 
approximately 21.5 m (70.5 ft) above sea level, and the observer will 
have a good view around the entire vessel. During daytime, the PSVOs 
will scan the area around the vessel systematically with reticle 
binoculars (e.g., 7 x 50 Fujinon), Big-eye binoculars (25 x 150), and 
with the naked eye. During darkness, night vision devices (NVDs) will 
be available (ITT F500 Series Generation 3 binocular-image intensifier 
or equivalent), when required. Laser range-finding binoculars (Leica 
LRF 1200 laser rangefinder or equivalent) will be available to assist 
with distance estimation. Those are useful in training observers to 
estimate distances visually, but are generally not useful in measuring 
distances to animals directly; that is done primarily with the reticles 
in the binoculars.
    When the PSVOs observe marine mammals within or about to enter the 
designated EZ, the Langseth will immediately power-down or shut-down 
the airguns if necessary. The PSVO(s) will continue to maintain watch 
to determine when the animal(s) are outside the EZ by visual 
confirmation. Airgun operations will not resume until the animal is 
confirmed to have left the EZ, or if not observed after 15 minutes for 
species with shorter dive durations (small odontocetes and pinnipeds) 
or 30 minutes for species with longer dive durations (mysticetes and 
large odontocetes, including sperm, pygmy sperm, dwarf sperm, killer, 
and beaked whales).

Passive Acoustic Monitoring

    Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) will complement the visual 
monitoring program, when practicable. Visual monitoring typically is 
not effective during periods of poor visibility or at night, and even 
with good visibility, is unable to detect marine mammals when they are 
below the surface or beyond visual range. Acoustical monitoring can be 
used in conjunction with visual observations to improve detection, 
identification, and localization of cetaceans. The acoustic monitoring 
will serve to alert visual observers (if on duty) when vocalizing 
cetaceans are detected. It is only useful when marine mammals call, but 
it can be effective either by day or by night, and does not depend on 
good visibility. The PSAO will monitor the system in real time so that 
he/she can advise the PSVO when cetaceans are detected. When bearings 
(primary and mirror-image) to calling cetacean(s) are determined, the 
bearings will be relayed to the visual observer to help him/her sight 
the calling animal(s).
    The PAM system consists of hardware (i.e., hydrophones) and 
software. The ``wet end'' of the system consists of a towed hydrophone 
array that is connected to the vessel by a tow cable. The tow cable is 
250 m (820.2 ft) long, and the hydrophones are fitted in the last 10 m 
(32.8 ft) of cable. A depth gauge is attached to the free end of the 
cable, and the cable is typically towed at depths less than 20 m (65.6 
ft). L-DEO will deploy the array from a winch located on the back deck. 
A deck cable will connect the tow cable to the electronics unit in the 
main computer lab where the acoustic station, signal

[[Page 25701]]

conditioning, and processing system will be located. The acoustic 
signals received by the hydrophones are amplified, digitized, and then 
processed by the Pamguard software. The system can detect marine mammal 
vocalizations at frequencies up to 250 kilohertz.
    One PSAO, an expert bioacoustician with primary responsibility for 
PAM, will be aboard the Langseth in addition to the four PSVOs. The 
PSAO will monitor the towed hydrophones 24 hours per day during airgun 
operations and during most periods when the Langseth is underway while 
the airguns are not operating. However, PAM may not be possible if 
damage occurs to both the primary and back-up hydrophone arrays during 
operations. The primary PAM streamer on the Langseth is a digital 
hydrophone streamer. Should the digital streamer fail, back-up systems 
should include an analog spare streamer and a hull-mounted hydrophone.
    One PSAO will monitor the acoustic detection system by listening to 
the signals from two channels via headphones and/or speakers and 
watching the real-time spectrographic display for frequency ranges 
produced by cetaceans. The PSAO monitoring the acoustical data will be 
on shift for one to six hours at a time. The other PSVOs are expected 
to rotate through the PAM position, although the expert PSAO will be on 
PAM duty more frequently.
    When a vocalization is detected while visual observations are in 
progress, the PSAO on duty will contact the PSVO immediately, to alert 
him/her to the presence of cetaceans (if they have not already been 
seen), and to allow a power-down or shut down to be initiated, if 
required. The information regarding the call will be entered into a 
database. Data entry will include an acoustic encounter identification 
number, whether it was linked with a visual sighting, date, time when 
first and last heard and whenever any additional information was 
recorded, position and water depth when first detected, bearing if 
determinable, species or species group (e.g., unidentified dolphin, 
sperm whale), types and nature of sounds heard (e.g., clicks, 
continuous, sporadic, whistles, creaks, burst pulses, strength of 
signal, etc.), and any other notable information. The acoustic 
detection can also be recorded for further analysis.

PSVO Data and Documentation

    PSVOs will record data to estimate the numbers of marine mammals 
exposed to various received sound levels and to document apparent 
disturbance reactions or lack thereof. Data will be used to estimate 
numbers of animals potentially `taken' by harassment (as defined in the 
MMPA). They will also provide information needed to order a power-down 
or shut-down of the airguns when a marine mammal is within or near the 
EZ.
    When a sighting is made, the following information about the 
sighting will be recorded:
    1. Species, group size, age/size/sex categories (if determinable), 
behavior when first sighted and after initial sighting, heading (if 
consistent), bearing and distance from seismic vessel, sighting cue, 
apparent reaction to the airguns or vessel (e.g., none, avoidance, 
approach, paralleling, etc.), and behavioral pace.
    2. Time, location, heading, speed, activity of the vessel, sea 
state, visibility, and sun glare.
    The data listed under (2) will also be recorded at the start and 
end of each observation watch, and during a watch whenever there is a 
change in one or more of the variables.
    All observations and power-downs or shut-downs will be recorded in 
a standardized format. Data will be entered into an electronic 
database. The accuracy of the data entry will be verified by 
computerized data validity checks as the data are entered and by 
subsequent manual checking of the database. These procedures will allow 
initial summaries of data to be prepared during and shortly after the 
field program, and will facilitate transfer of the data to statistical, 
graphical, and other programs for further processing and archiving.
    Results from the vessel-based observations will provide:
    1. The basis for real-time mitigation (airgun power-down or shut-
down).
    2. Information needed to estimate the number of marine mammals 
potentially taken by harassment, which must be reported to NMFS.
    3. Data on the occurrence, distribution, and activities of marine 
mammals and turtles in the area where the seismic study is conducted.
    4. Information to compare the distance and distribution of marine 
mammals and turtles relative to the source vessel at times with and 
without seismic activity.
    5. Data on the behavior and movement patterns of marine mammals 
seen at times with and without seismic activity.

Reporting

    L-DEO will submit a report to NMFS and NSF within 90 days after the 
end of the cruise. The report will describe the operations that were 
conducted and sightings of marine mammals and turtles near the 
operations. The report will provide full documentation of methods, 
results, and interpretation pertaining to all monitoring. The 90-day 
report will summarize the dates and locations of seismic operations, 
and all marine mammal sightings (dates, times, locations, activities, 
associated seismic survey activities). The report will also include 
estimates of the number and nature of exposures that could result in 
``takes'' of marine mammals by harassment or in other ways.
    In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly 
causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by the IHA, 
such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury or mortality 
(e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), L-DEO shall 
immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the 
incident to the Acting Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, 
Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401 and/or by email to 
Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and ITP.Cody@noaa.gov and the NMFS Pacific 
Islands Regional Stranding Coordinator at 808-944-2269 
(David.Schofield@noaa.gov). The report must include the following 
information:
     Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the 
incident;
     Name and type of vessel involved;
     Vessel's speed during and leading up to the incident;
     Description of the incident;
     Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding 
the incident;
     Water depth;
     Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
     Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 
hours preceding the incident;
     Species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
     Fate of the animal(s); and
     Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if 
equipment is available).
    Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS shall work with L-DEO to 
determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further 
prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. L-DEO may not resume their 
activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone.
    In the event that L-DEO discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, 
and the lead PSVO determines that the cause of the injury or death is 
unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a 
moderate state of decomposition

[[Page 25702]]

as described in the next paragraph), L-DEO will immediately report the 
incident to the Acting Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, 
Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401 and/or by email to 
Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and ITP.Cody@noaa.gov and the NMFS Pacific 
Islands Regional Stranding Coordinator at 808-944-2269 
(David.Schofield@noaa.gov). The report must include the same 
information identified in the paragraph above this section. Activities 
may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS 
will work with L-DEO to determine whether modifications in the 
activities are appropriate.
    In the event that L-DEO discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, 
and the lead PSVO determines that the injury or death is not associated 
with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., 
previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced 
decomposition, or scavenger damage), L-DEO will report the incident to 
the Acting Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401 and/or by email to 
Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and ITP.Cody@noaa.gov and the NMFS Pacific 
Islands Regional Stranding Coordinator at 808-944-2269 
(David.Schofield@noaa.gov), within 24 hours of the discovery. L-DEO 
will provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other 
documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the 
MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or 
annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or 
marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the 
potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering [Level B harassment].
    NMFS anticipates and authorizes take by Level B harassment only as 
a result of the marine geophysical survey in the northwestern Pacific 
Ocean. Acoustic stimuli (i.e., increased underwater sound) generated 
during the operation of the seismic airgun array may have the potential 
to cause marine mammals in the survey area to be exposed to sounds at 
or greater than 160 dB or cause temporary, short-term changes in 
behavior. There is no evidence that the planned activities could result 
in injury, serious injury or mortality within the specified geographic 
area for which L-DEO seeks the IHA. The required mitigation and 
monitoring measures will minimize any potential risk for injury, 
serious injury, or mortality.
    The following sections describe L-DEO's methods to estimate take by 
incidental harassment and present the applicant's estimates of the 
numbers of marine mammals that could be affected during the proposed 
seismic program. The estimates are based on a consideration of the 
number of marine mammals that could be disturbed appreciably by 
operations with the 36-airgun array to be used during approximately 
1,216 km (755.6 mi) of survey lines on the Shatsky Rise in the 
northwestern Pacific Ocean.
    L-DEO assumes that, during simultaneous operations of the airgun 
array and the other sources, any marine mammals close enough to be 
affected by the MBES and SBP would already be affected by the airguns. 
However, whether or not the airguns are operating simultaneously with 
the other sources, marine mammals are expected to exhibit no more than 
short-term and inconsequential responses to the MBES and SBP given 
their characteristics (e.g., narrow downward-directed beam) and other 
considerations described previously. Such reactions are not considered 
to constitute ``taking'' (NMFS, 2001). Therefore, L-DEO provides no 
additional allowance for animals that could be affected by sound 
sources other than airguns.
    Density data on 18 marine mammal species in the Shatsky Rise area 
are available from two sources using conventional line transect 
methods: Japanese sighting surveys conducted since the early 1980s, and 
fisheries observers in the high-seas driftnet fisheries during 1987-
1990 (see Table 3 in L-DEO's application).
    For the 16 other marine mammal species that could be encountered in 
the proposed survey area, data from the western North Pacific right 
whale are not available (see Table 3 in L-DEO's application). L-DEO is 
not aware of any density estimates for three of those species--Hubb's 
(Mesoplodon carlhubbsi), Stejneger's (Mesoplodon stejnegeri), and 
gingko-toothed beaked whales (Mesoplodon ginkgodens). For the remaining 
13 species out of the 16, (see Table 3 in L-DEO's application), density 
estimates are available from other areas of the Pacific: 11 species 
from the offshore stratum of the 2002 Hawaiian Islands survey (Barlow, 
2006) and two species from surveys of the California Current ecosystem 
off the U.S. west coast between 1991 and 2005 (Barlow and Forney, 
2007). Those estimates are based on standard line-transect protocols 
developed by NMFS' Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC).
    Densities for 14 species are available from Japanese sighting 
surveys in the Shatsky Rise survey area. Miyashita (1993a) provided 
estimates for six dolphin species in this area that have been taken in 
the Japanese drive fisheries. The densities used here are Miyashita's 
(1993a) estimates for the Eastern offshore survey area (30-42[deg] N, 
145[deg]-180[deg] E). Kato and Miyashita (1998) provided estimates for 
sperm whale densities from Japanese sightings data during 1982 to 1996 
in the western North Pacific (20-50[deg] N, 130[deg]-180[deg] E), and 
Hakamada et al. (2004) provided density estimates for sei whales during 
August through September in the JARPN II sub-areas 8 and 9 (35-50[deg] 
N, 150-170[deg] E excluding waters in the Exclusive Economic Zone of 
Russia) during 2002 and 2003. L-DEO used density estimates during 1994 
through 2007 for minke whales at 35-40[deg] N, 157-170[deg] E from 
Hakamada et al. (2009), density estimates during 1998 through 2002 for 
Bryde's whales at 31-43[deg] N, 145-165[deg] E from Kitakado et al. 
(2008), and density estimates during 1994-2007 for blue, fin, humpback, 
and North Pacific right whales at 31-51[deg]N, 140-170[ordm]E from 
Matsuoka et al. (2009).
    For four species (northern fur seal, Dall's porpoise, Pacific 
white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), northern right-whale 
dolphin (Lissodelphis borealis)), estimates of densities in the Shatsky 
Rise area are available from sightings data collected by observers in 
the high-seas driftnet fisheries during 1987 through 1990 (Buckland et 
al., 1993). Those data were analyzed for 5[deg] x 5[deg] blocks, and 
the densities used here are from blocks for which available data 
overlap the proposed survey area. In general, those data represent the 
average annual density in the northern half of the Shatsky Rise survey 
area (35-40[deg] N).
    The densities mentioned above had been corrected by the original 
authors for detectability bias and, with the exception of Kitakado et 
al. (2008) and Hakamada et al. (2009), for availability bias. 
Detectability bias is associated with diminishing sightability with 
increasing lateral distance from the track line [f(0)]. Availability 
bias refers to the fact that there is less than a 100 percent 
probability of sighting an animal that is present along the survey 
track line, and it is measured by g(0).
    There is some uncertainty about the accuracy of the density data 
from the

[[Page 25703]]

Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit (JARPN/JARPN II). 
For example, The available densities in Miyashita (1993a) and Buckland 
et al. (1993) are from the 1980s; although these densities represent 
the best available information for the Shatsky Rise area at present, 
they will be biased if abundance or distributions of those species have 
changed since the data were collected. Therefore, there is uncertainty 
with respect to the expected marine mammal densities during this time. 
However, the approach used here is based on the best available data.
    The estimated numbers of individuals potentially exposed are based 
on the 160-dB re: 1 [mu]Pa criterion for all cetaceans (see Table 2 in 
this notice). It is assumed that marine mammals exposed to airgun 
sounds that strong might change their behavior sufficiently to be 
considered ``taken by harassment.''
    L-DEO's estimates of exposures to various sound levels assume that 
the proposed surveys will be completed; in fact, the ensonified areas 
calculated using the planned number of line-kilometers have been 
increased by 25 percent to accommodate turns, lines that may need to be 
repeated, equipment testing, etc. As is typical during ship surveys, 
inclement weather and equipment malfunctions are likely to cause delays 
and may limit the number of useful line-kilometers of seismic 
operations that can be undertaken. Furthermore, any marine mammal 
sightings within or near the designated exclusion zone will result in 
the shutdown of seismic operations as a mitigation measure. Thus, the 
following estimates of the numbers of marine mammals potentially 
exposed to 160-dB re: 1 [mu]Pa sounds are precautionary, and probably 
overestimate the actual numbers of marine mammals that might be 
involved. These estimates assume that there will be no weather, 
equipment, or mitigation delays, which is highly unlikely.
    L-DEO estimated the number of different individuals that may be 
exposed to airgun sounds with received levels greater than or equal to 
160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa on one or more occasions by considering the total 
marine area that would be within the 160-dB radius around the operating 
airgun array on at least one occasion and the expected density of 
marine mammals. The number of possible exposures (including repeated 
exposures of the same individuals) can be estimated by considering the 
total marine area that would be within the 160-dB radius around the 
operating airguns, including areas of overlap. In the proposed survey, 
the majority of seismic lines are widely spaced in the survey area, so 
few individual mammals would be exposed numerous times during the 
survey. The area including overlap is only 1.01 times the area 
excluding overlap, so a marine mammal that stayed in the survey area 
during the entire survey could be exposed only once. However, it is 
unlikely that a particular animal would stay in the area during the 
entire survey.
    The number of different individuals potentially exposed to received 
levels greater than or equal to 160 re: 1 [mu]Pa was calculated by 
multiplying:
    (1) The expected species density, times;
    (2) The anticipated area to be ensonified to that level during 
airgun operations excluding overlap, which is approximately 10,971 
square kilometers (km\2\) (4,235.9 square miles (mi\2\)).
    The area expected to be ensonified was determined by entering the 
planned survey lines into a MapInfo GIS, using the GIS to identify the 
relevant areas by ``drawing'' the applicable 160-dB buffer (see Table 1 
in this document) around each seismic line, and then calculating the 
total area within the buffers. Areas of overlap were included only once 
when estimating the number of individuals exposed. Applying this 
approach, approximately 9,229 km\2\ (3,563 mi\2\) (11,536 km\2\; 4, 454 
mi\2\ including the 25 percent contingency) would be within the 160-dB 
isopleth on one or more occasions during the survey. Because this 
approach does not allow for turnover in the mammal populations in the 
study area during the course of the survey, the actual number of 
individuals exposed could be underestimated. However, the approach 
assumes that no cetaceans will move away from or toward the trackline 
as the Langseth approaches in response to increasing sound levels prior 
to the time the levels reach 160-dB, which will result in overestimates 
for those species known to avoid seismic vessels.
    The total estimate of the number of individual cetaceans that could 
be exposed to seismic sounds with received levels greater than or equal 
to 160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa during the survey is 7,375 (see Table 2). That 
total includes 74 baleen whales, 39 of which are endangered: 5 humpback 
whales or 0.53% of the regional population, 21 sei whales (0.21%), 9 
fin whales (0.05%), and 4 blue whales (0.13%). In addition, 12 sperm 
whales (also listed as endangered under the ESA) or 0.04% of the 
regional population could be exposed during the survey, and 108 beaked 
whales including Cuvier's, Longman's, Baird's, and Blainville's beaked 
whales. Most (96 percent) of the cetaceans potentially exposed are 
delphinids; short-beaked common, striped, pantropical spotted, and 
Pacific white-sided dolphins are estimated to be the most common 
species in the area, with estimates of 3,569 (0.12% of the regional 
population), 1,374 (0.24%), 812 (0.19%), and 420 (0.04%) exposed to 
greater than or equal to 160 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa, respectively.

Table 2--Estimates of the Possible Numbers of Marine Mammals Exposed to Different Sound Levels During L-DEO's Seismic Survey in the Northwestern Pacific
                                                          Ocean During March Through May, 2012
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                     Estimated number of
                            Species                             individuals exposed to sound   Requested or adjusted take      Approximate percent of
                                                                levels >=160 dB re: 1 FPa\1\          authorization            regional population \3\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
North Pacific right whale.....................................                             0                         \2\ 2                          0.23
Humpback whale................................................                             5                             5                          0.53
Minke whale...................................................                            29                            29                          0.12
Bryde's whale.................................................                             6                             6                          0.03
Sei whale.....................................................                            21                            21                          0.21
Fin whale.....................................................                             9                             9                          0.05
Blue whale....................................................                             4                             4                          0.13
Sperm whale...................................................                            12                            12                          0.04
Pygmy sperm whale.............................................                            37                            37                          N.A.
Dwarf sperm whale.............................................                            90                            90                         <0.01
Cuvier's beaked whale.........................................                            78                            78                          0.39
Baird's beaked whale..........................................                            10                            10                          N.A.
Longman's beaked whale........................................                             5                        \3\ 18                          N.A.

[[Page 25704]]

 
Blainville's beaked whale.....................................                            15                            15                          0.06
Rough-toothed dolphin.........................................                            36                            36                          0.02
Bottlenose dolphin............................................                           277                           277                          0.16
Pantropical spotted dolphin...................................                           812                           812                          0.19
Spinner dolphin...............................................                            10                        \2\ 32                         <0.01
Striped dolphin...............................................                          1374                          1374                          0.24
Fraser's dolphin..............................................                            53                       \2\ 286                          0.02
Short-beaked common dolphin...................................                          3569                          3569                          0.12
Pacific white-sided dolphin...................................                           420                           420                          0.04
Northern right whale dolphin..................................                             5                             5                         <0.01
Risso's dolphin...............................................                           125                           125                          0.01
Melon-headed whale............................................                            15                        \2\ 89                          0.03
False killer whale............................................                            24                            24                          0.15
Killer whale..................................................                             2                            73                          0.02
Short-finned pilot whale......................................                            58                        \2\ 65                          0.11
Dall's porpoise...............................................                           253                           253                          0.02
Northern fur seal.............................................                            21                            21                         <0.01
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Estimates are based on densities in Table 3 of L-DEO's application and an ensonified area (including 25% contingency 11,536 km\2\).
\2\ Requested Take Authorization increased to mean group size from density sources in Table 3 of L-DEO's application.
\3\ Regional population size estimates are from Table 4 of L-DEO's application; NA means not available.

Encouraging and Coordinating Research

    L-DEO and NSF will coordinate the planned marine mammal monitoring 
program associated with the seismic survey in the northwestern Pacific 
Ocean with other parties that may have interest in the area and/or be 
conducting marine mammal studies in the same region during the seismic 
survey.

Negligible Impact and Small Numbers 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.'' In making 
a negligible impact determination, NMFS considers:
    (1) The number of anticipated injuries, serious injuries, or 
mortalities;
    (2) The number, nature, and intensity, and duration of Level B 
harassment (all relatively limited); and
    (3) The context in which the takes occur (i.e., impacts to areas of 
significance, impacts to local populations, and cumulative impacts when 
taking into account successive/contemporaneous actions when added to 
baseline data);
    (4) The status of stock or species of marine mammals (i.e., 
depleted, not depleted, decreasing, increasing, stable, impact relative 
to the size of the population);
    (5) Impacts on habitat affecting rates of recruitment/survival; and
    (6) The effectiveness of monitoring and mitigation measures.
    For reasons stated previously in this document, the specified 
activities associated with the marine seismic survey are not likely to 
cause permanent threshold shift (PTS), or other non-auditory injury, 
serious injury, or death because:
    (1) The likelihood that, given sufficient notice through relatively 
slow ship speed, marine mammals are expected to move away from a noise 
source that is annoying prior to its becoming potentially injurious;
    (2) The potential for temporary or permanent hearing impairment is 
relatively low and would likely be avoided through the incorporation of 
the required monitoring and mitigation measures (described previously 
in this document);
    (3) The fact that cetaceans would have to be closer than 940 m 
(3,084 ft) in deep water when the 36-airgun array is in use at 9 m 
(29.5 ft) tow depth, and 40 m (131.2 ft) in deep water when the single 
airgun is in use at 9 m from the vessel to be exposed to levels of 
sound believed to have even a minimal chance of causing PTS; and
    (4) The likelihood that marine mammal detection ability by trained 
PSVOs is high at close proximity to the vessel.
    No injuries, serious injuries, or mortalities are anticipated to 
occur as a result of the L-DEO's marine seismic survey, and none are 
authorized by NMFS. NMFS anticipates that only short-term behavioral 
disturbance would occur due to the brief duration of the survey 
activities. Table 2 of this document outlines the number of requested 
Level B harassment takes that are anticipated as a result of these 
activities. Due to the nature, degree, and context of Level B 
(behavioral) harassment anticipated and described (see ``Potential 
Effects on Marine Mammals'' section in this notice), the activity is 
not expected to impact rates of recruitment or survival for any 
affected species or stock. Additionally, the seismic survey will not 
adversely impact marine mammal habitat.
    Many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, 
traveling, and socializing, on a diel cycle (i.e., 24 hour cycle). 
Behavioral reactions to noise exposure (such as disruption of critical 
life functions, displacement, or avoidance of important habitat) are 
more likely to be significant if they last more than one diel cycle or 
recur on subsequent days (Southall et al., 2007). While seismic 
operations are anticipated to occur on consecutive days, the entire 
duration of the survey is not expected to last more than approximately 
23 days (i.e., 7 days of seismic operations, 16 days of transit) and 
the Langseth will be continuously moving along planned tracklines that 
are geographically spread-out. Therefore, the seismic survey will be 
increasing sound levels in the marine environment in a relatively small 
area surrounding the vessel, which is constantly travelling over far 
distances,

[[Page 25705]]

for a relatively short time period (i.e., one week) in the study area.
    Of the 34 marine mammal species under NMFS' jurisdiction that are 
known to occur or likely to occur in the study area, six of these 
species are listed as endangered under the ESA: The blue, fin, 
humpback, north Pacific right, sei, and sperm whales. These species are 
also categorized as depleted under the MMPA. L-DEO has requested 
authorized take for the six listed species. To protect these animals 
(and other marine mammals in the study area), L-DEO must cease or 
reduce airgun operations if animals enter designated zones. No injury, 
serious injury, or mortality is expected to occur, and due to the 
nature, degree, and context of the Level B harassment anticipated, the 
activity is not expected to impact rates of recruitment or survival. 
Further, the activity would not take place in areas of significance for 
marine mammal feeding, resting, breeding, or calving.
    As mentioned previously, NMFS estimates that 30 species of marine 
mammals under its jurisdiction could be potentially affected by Level B 
harassment over the course of the IHA. As stated previously, L-DEO did 
not request and NMFS did not authorize take of four species: Pygmy 
killer whale or ginkgo-toothed, Stejneger's, or Hubb's beaked whales; 
because of the low likelihood of encountering these species during the 
cruise.
    For each species, these numbers are small (each, less than one 
percent) relative to the regional population size. NMFS provided the 
population estimates for the marine mammal species that may be taken by 
Level B harassment in Table 2 of this document.
    NMFS' practice has been to apply the 160 dB re: 1 [micro]Pa 
received level threshold for underwater impulse sound levels to 
determine whether take by Level B harassment occurs. Southall et al. 
(2007) provides a severity scale for ranking observed behavioral 
responses of both free-ranging marine mammals and laboratory subjects 
to various types of anthropogenic sound (see Table 4 in Southall et al. 
[2007]).
    NMFS has determined, provided that the aforementioned mitigation 
and monitoring measures are implemented, that the impact of conducting 
a marine seismic survey on the Shatsky Rise in the northwestern Pacific 
Ocean, March to May, 2012, may result, at worst, in a temporary 
modification in behavior and/or low-level physiological effects (Level 
B harassment) of small numbers of certain species of marine mammals. 
See Table 2 in this document for the requested authorized take numbers 
of marine mammals.
    While behavioral modifications, including temporarily vacating the 
area during the operation of the airgun(s), may be made by these 
species to avoid the resultant acoustic disturbance, the availability 
of alternate areas and the short duration of the research activities, 
have led NMFS to determine that this action will have a negligible 
impact on the species in the specified geographic region.
    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 mitigation and monitoring 
measures, NMFS finds that L-DEO's planned research activities will 
result in the incidental take of small numbers of marine mammals, by 
Level B harassment only, and that the total taking from the marine 
seismic survey will have a negligible impact on the affected species or 
stocks of marine mammals; and that impacts to affected species or 
stocks of marine mammals have been mitigated to the lowest level 
practicable.

Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for 
Subsistence Uses

    Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA also requires NMFS to determine 
that the authorization will not have an unmitigable adverse effect on 
the availability of marine mammal species or stocks for subsistence 
use. There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals in the 
study area (Shatsky Rise, northwestern Pacific Ocean) that implicate 
MMPA section 101(a)(5)(D).

Endangered Species Act

    Of the species of marine mammals that may occur in the proposed 
survey area, several are listed as endangered under the ESA, including 
the blue, fin, humpback, north Pacific right, sei, and sperm whales. L-
DEO did not request take of endangered western north Pacific gray 
whales because of the low likelihood of encountering these species 
during the cruise.
    Under section 7 of the ESA, NSF has initiated formal consultation 
with the NMFS', Office of Protected Resources, Endangered Species Act 
Interagency Cooperation Division, on this proposed seismic survey. 
NMFS' Office of Protected Resources, Permits and Conservation Division, 
also initiated formal consultation under section 7 of the ESA with 
NMFS' Office of Protected Resources, Endangered Species Act Interagency 
Cooperation Division, to obtain a Biological Opinion (BiOp) evaluating 
the effects of issuing an IHA for threatened and endangered marine 
mammals and, if appropriate, authorizing incidental take. In March, 
2012, NMFS issued a BiOp and concluded that the action and issuance of 
the IHA are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of blue, 
fin, humpback, north Pacific right, sei, and sperm whales. The BiOp 
also concluded that designated critical habitat for these species would 
not be affected by the survey. NSF and L-DEO must comply with the 
Relevant Terms and Conditions of the Incidental Take Statement (ITS) 
corresponding to NMFS' BiOp issued to NSF, L-DEO, and NMFS' Office of 
Protected Resources. L-DEO must also comply with the mitigation and 
monitoring requirements included in the IHA in order to be exempt under 
the ITS in the BiOp from the prohibition on take of listed endangered 
marine mammal species otherwise prohibited by section 9 of the ESA.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    To meet NMFS' National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 
4321 et seq.) requirements for the issuance of an IHA to L-DEO, NMFS 
has prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) titled ``Issuance of an 
Incidental Harassment Authorization to the Lamont-Doherty Earth 
Observatory to Take Marine Mammals by Harassment Incidental to a Marine 
Geophysical Survey in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, March through May, 
2012.'' This EA incorporated the NSF's Environmental Analysis Pursuant 
To Executive Order 12114 (NSF, 2010) and an associated report (Report) 
prepared by LGL Limited Environmental Research Associates (LGL) for 
NSF, titled, ``Environmental Assessment of a Marine Geophysical Survey 
by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, March-
April, 2012,'' by reference pursuant to 40 CFR 1502.21 and NOAA 
Administrative Order (NAO) 216-6 Sec.  5.09(d). NMFS provided relevant 
environmental information to the public through the notice for the 
proposed IHA (77 FR 4765, January 31, 2012) and has considered public 
comments received in response prior to finalizing its EA and deciding 
whether or not to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).
    NMFS has concluded that issuance of an IHA would not significantly 
affect the quality of the human environment and has issued a FONSI. 
Because the NMFS has made a FONSI, it is not necessary to prepare an 
environmental impact statement for the issuance of an

[[Page 25706]]

IHA to L-DEO for this activity. The EA and FONSI for this activity are 
available upon request (see ADDRESSES).

Authorization

    As a result of these determinations, NMFS has issued an IHA to L-
DEO for the take of small numbers of marine mammals, by Level B 
harassment incidental to conducting a marine geophysical survey in the 
northwest Pacific Ocean, March through May, 2012, provided the 
previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements 
are incorporated.

    Dated: April 25, 2012.
Helen M. Golde,
Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-10495 Filed 4-30-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P