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Soundings Archive

NMFS Issues Regulations for Navy Low Frequency Sonar
The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service has issued final regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to govern the Navy's unintentional taking of marine mammals incidental to conducting operations of Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active sonar. The regulations authorize a maximum of four naval surveillance vessels in areas of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. The regulations are effective from the period of August 15, 2012, through August 15, 2017. They allow NMFs to issue Letters of Authorization for the incidental take of marine mammals during the Navy's specified activities and timeframes; set forth the permissible methods of taking; and set forth other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammal species.

The regulations require that within the first year of their five-year rule, the Navy will convene a Scientific Advisory Group. The goal of this SAG will be to analyze different types of monitoring and research that could increase the understanding of the potential effects of low-frequency active sonar transmissions on beaked whales and/or harbor porpoises. The Navy will work closely with the SAG to characterize likely available assets and resources to help them frame their analysis, in order to identify monitoring/research options that would be most feasible for the Navy to implement. SAG members will include recognized marine biology and marine bio-acoustic scientific subject matter experts. The results from the SAG meeting will be considered independent scientific findings, fully accessible to the public.

The Navy's execution of any monitoring/research with beaked whales or harbor porpoises recommended in the SAG's findings will depend on the availability of scientists with the appropriate background and experience to execute the field research, as well as the availability of adequate resources to plan and conduct the research project and to process, analyze, and report on the collected data.

Following the SAG's submission of findings, and assuming the SAG recommends going forward with beaked whale and/or harbor porpoise monitoring/research, the Navy will either: (1) draft a plan of action outlining their strategy for implementing the SAG's recommendations, or (2) describe, in writing, why none of the SAG's recommendations are feasible and meet with NMFS to discuss any other potential options habitat; and set forth requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of the incidental take.

NMFS intends to publish its Navy sonar regulations in the August 20, 2012 Federal Register.

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