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Soundings Archive

MMC Questions Ability to Spot Marine Mammals Near Seismic Vessels
On July 29, 2010, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service published Federal Register notice of NMFS' Incidental Harassment Authorization under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. This IHA authorizes Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (L-DEO), a part of Columbia University, to take small numbers of marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to conducting a marine geophysical survey at the Shatsky Rise in the northwest Pacific Ocean, July through September, 2010.

A notice of receipt of the L-DEO application and proposed IHA was published in the Federal Register on May 21, 2010 (75 FR 28568). During the comment period, NMFS received comments from the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. MMC's comments can be found online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. MMC questioned whether NMFS' monitoring requirements in the IHA were "sufficient to detect with a high level of confidence, all marine mammals within or entering the identified exclusion zones" around the seismic vessels.

NMFS responded to MMC's question as follows:

    "NMFS believes that the planned monitoring program will be sufficient to detect (using visual detection and PAM [passive acoustic monitoring]), with reasonable certainty, most marine mammals within or entering identified exclusion zones (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.

    " At present, NMFS views the combination of visual and passive acoustic monitoring as the most effective mitigation techniques available for detecting marine mammals within or entering the exclusion zone. L-DEO and the federal funding agency (NSF) 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 protected species visual observers (PSVOs), PAM, night vision devices, and continuous shooting of a mitigation gun. Should the airgun array be powered-down, it is believed that the operation of a single airgun continues to serve as a sound source deterrent to marine mammals. In the event of a complete airgun array shut down, for mitigation or repairs, then science is suspended until one half hour after civil dawn (when PSO's are able to clear the safety zone). Science does not begin until the entire safety radius is visible for at least 30 minutes."
NMFS' response also points out that L-DEO will be evaluating and reporting on the efficacy of other monitoring techniques such as Night Vision Devices and handheld thermal imaging cameras. These devices are currently successfully utilized by another federal agency while conducting nighttime seismic operations.

Whether marine mammal monitoring techniques work has been a recurring comment and concern for MMC. NMFS seems to be exploring new ways of addressing this comment and concern.
  • Click here to read NMFS' Federal Register notice of and response to comments on the L-DEO IHA

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