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.
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.
" 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."
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