NMFS Responds to MMC Comments on Scripps Seismic IHA
On November 7, 2011, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service published Federal Register notice of NMFS' issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization to Scripps Institution of
Oceanography. This IHA authorizes Scripps to take marine mammals, by Level B harassment, incidental to conducting a low-energy marine geophysical (i.e., seismic) survey in the western tropical Pacific Ocean, November to December 2011. NMFS issued this IHA pursuant to NMFS' authority under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The U.S. Marine Mammal Commission commented on NMFS's proposed issuance of this IHA. Several of the MMC's comments relate to calculation of exclusion and buffer zones for Scripps' seismic activity. NMFS' responded to these and other comments in its Federal Register notice of IHA issuance. For example, the MMC recommended
" that NMFS require SIO to re-estimate the proposed exclusion and buffer zones for the two airgun array and associated numbers of marine mammal takes using operational and
site-specific environmental parameters. If the exclusion zones (EZ) and buffer zones are not re-estimated for the two airgun array, require SIO to provide a detailed justification for basing the EZs and buffer zones for the proposed survey in the western tropical Pacific Ocean on modeling that relies on measurements from the GOM."
NMFS responded to this MMC comment on part by stating that
"NMFS is confident in the peer reviewed results of L-DEO's seismic
calibration studies, which although viewed as conservative, were used to
determine the sound radii for the mitigation airgun for this cruise and
which factor into exposure estimates. NMFS had 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 of 1973 (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), and
NEPA. Further, the 160 dB (i.e., buffer) zone used to estimate exposure is
appropriate and sufficient for purposes of supporting NMFS's analysis and
determinations required under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA and its
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